Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Case for a Creator - Ch 02


This is the second post in a series reviewing the arguments for believing in a Creator of the universe, as presented in the book "Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel. Chapter two covers the cosmological argument, and I suggest it does so poorly. (For those who think I'm out to discredit the book, just wait until Chapter three where I get much more positive.)

The cosmological argument was presented in a confusing kind of way, even though Strobel was trying to do the best he could.

Philosophers will know this argument well. There is only one piece of evidence that is depended on, which is currently supported by science - that the cosmos had a beginning.

They then use the idea of cause and effect to claim that the Universe was created. Every effect we can see has a cause - everything that we can see that has been "brought into" existence has been "made".

This is making a grave error, and one which is not picked up by Strobel, nor any of the people interviewed. The concept of cause-and-effect, in and of itself, implies a framework of before-and-after. While one can identify a historical progression to the universe, concluding that there is some "point" at which it was "caused" is a mis-understanding.

What is going here is that people are struggling with here is the knotty problem of time. We can draw a line on a graph, with "the past" on the left and "the future" on the right, and put a dot someplace on it, and say "Here Starteth The Universe". It is an open question as to whether it will ever endeth. Regardless, people then start to wonder what goes to the left of the dot marking the start of the universe. What existed before the universe?

And here's the error.

Every understanding of time, space, mass, cause, effect, existence is necessarily existence-in-the-world. We can't say that the Universe was "created", because the concept "creation" refers to an essentially *real* phenomena. Creation always occurs within a timeline, but time itself has no meaning other than time-in-the-universe.

People might be familiar with the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment, in which brains are subjected to an artificial reality. While inside the vat, they speak only vat-english - their words refer to objects within their artificial reality. Their beliefs about the world simply won't correspond to the world we real people see and interact with. They won't be false exactly, but they will be true to their world, not true to ours.

It would even be possible to *change* the apparent laws of cause-and-effect within this vat world, should we design it as such. We can imagine a Matrix-like world, in which people could break the laws of cause and effect. Perhaps some people could be given the opportunity to change the past. But those people couldn't change our reality.

My point is this - cause and effect as we know it is the cause and effect of our reality. Talking about the "time before time" is a referential error. It's completely impossible to properly use the word "before" in the context of the beginning of time. The word "before" only has meaning because of our historicity - the nature of our existence within time.



Blogger Bill Cooper said...

Trying to use science to prove the existence of a 'creator' is at this point in time a futile endeavour. What is known about the origin of the universe is still rather sketchy and there are many theories to explain what we live in. Using time to justify a creator is of no use as time can run backwards, forwards,slow down or speed up, it is just another dimension in our universe. I would rather explore what is meant by the expression 'Creator' do we mean an enitity, a cause and effect or a god? Or something else? Normally I do this with a couple of glasses of scotch in me, it seems easier then.

5/20/2005 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/21/2005 02:24:00 AM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

I think it's interesting that we always look 'up' for an answer to all the order and structure we see in the universe. It does seem logical that we would expect that it was designed (like we would design a car or a computer), but the fascinating thing is the more we learn about the way things work, the more we realize that complexity and structure can arrive from the bottom-up, emerging from little interactions involving extraordinarily simple rule-sets. When I learn about these things I don’t think ‘gee – no designer, no top-down hierarchy, therefore: no God.’ I think ‘Wow! How fascinating’ and ‘we were always looking in the wrong ways/wrong places for understanding.’ Perhaps the biggest hurdle we have to overcome is our outrageous tendency to anthropomorphize this concept of ‘God’ (whoever/whatever that really is). Isn’t it rather strange that we feel we need to argue whether there really is ‘manlike designer’ at all? We use seemingly logical arguments that always start with the assumption that we understand what it would mean ‘to be’ or ‘to have’ God. Why should we presume we even know that much?

5/21/2005 02:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you Tennessee. Concepts, just like mathematical functions, have domains. This domain is determined by the data with which they were inferred. "Cause and effect" is a concept which was inferred from observation of events in time. As such, its domain is events in time (past, present, and future.) So to say that "A caused X", where A is something outside of time, is invalid. It is like asking what the answer to "6 + cello" is: the answer is not 6, 8, true or false. The question is nonsense, and so the answer will be correspondingly nonsense aswell.
(Ack... this is what happends when you spend a weekend with the Tractatus and little else.)

5/22/2005 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a reason that this series stopped after chapter 2? I am interested in your reactions through the rest of the book.

8/05/2005 05:07:00 AM  

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