Is the universe necessary?

During a recent discussion, I was posed the following question:

”So… you’re not saying that the universe is necessary, and you acknowledge that you cannot show the universe is necessary.. so why should we then think that it is?” – Findo

These types of questions raise interesting problems for both theists and atheists. They also seem to raise difficult problems for theoretical physicists. The problem seem to boil down to two unpalatable options which both imply that something has always existed (“necessary” in the language of philosophy).

The options seem to be:

1) The universe is necessary, or
2) The universe is contingent (caused).

The first option solves raises no further questions, but does present us with the mind bending idea that the universe always exists in some form.

The second raises a two further apparent possibilities:

2a) The universe is contingent on something necessary, or
2b) The universe’s cause is also contingent.

This later option leads to the possibility of infinite causal chains, while the former allows an necessary entity. Again, neither seem satisfactory; or at least they are equally unpalatable as a necessary universe.

“Cogito ergo sum.” – René Descartes

Given we empirically test the universe, we know it exists – at least insofar as we know anything truly exists, but modern physicists are often quoted saying “the universe began when nothing exploded”. Of course this is a massive straw man, since the universe began with a singularity.

It is important to note we have been able to experimentally verify many of the prediction made by big bang cosmology, however we have yet to push our science as far we we can push our mathematical models.

Apologists assert their God caused the universe, either by magic 6,000 years ago (if they are fundamentalists), or by conjuring the singularity into being (of they are more reasonable). When pressed on how they have come to know this information, we are often presented with faith or philosophical reasoning (an argument to allow the conclusion). Of course, physicists are also capable of making these philosophical arguments as well.

The mutiverse (M-Theory) is an hypothesis to explain the universe’s particular characteristics, but I feel it’s a solution looking for a problem. After all, why should the mutiverse have its characteristics? Is an infinite number of universes, each with different characteristics, really more palatable than an infinite chain of causation, or an infinite God? I don’t think it is, and there is currently no experimental way to verify M-Theory.

“… the Judeo-Christian God under discussion is described/understood as necessary and thus, to ask who made it is simply a category error which renders the question meaningless.” – Findo

And that’s how we determine reality in every other sphere on endeavour. We construct a model of how the world works, then set about testing that model against reality. Where the model fails, we adjust the model to suit. Rinse, repeat.

Apologists seem to abandon this rational approach when it finally and inevitably fails them. This is preciously the purpose of faith – belief in contempt of the evidence. They “have faith” the cause of the universe is necessary, eternal, and “maximal”. Asking for empirical evidence of God (a real being, we are told) and you’ll be accused of making “category error which renders the question meaningless.” This is goal post shifting at it’s worst.

The question is not “how do we know the universe is not contingent” or “how have we ruled out other possible physical universe” or “how did you rule out ‘God’ as a possible cause”, but how could you know any of these things?

It is the responsibility of those making the claims to provide the evidence to support them.

Posted February 7, 2011
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  • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

    Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, or belief against the evidence – it is defined in the Bible as the
    hopeful belief of things unknown

    Right – that's what I said. Faith is belief where little or no evidence exists.

    For most reasonable minded Christians faith does not leave us blocking our orifices in the face of scientific claims, but rather science reveals to us the mechanisms of God's workings – it's not like knowing how something works explains away the need for agency

    I have heard the argument of agency verses mechanisms before and reject it. I should address this specifically in another post.

    But not all faith is blind.

    If there is evidence, what use is faith?

    You seem to be making a broad brushed off hand dismissal of "apologists" as if having an agenda…

    Apologists do have an agenda. The very meaning of the word comes from the Greek apologizesthai ‘give an account'. What preciously do you think they are "giving an account" of?

    But it seems like you're saying "that person is an apologist therefore I will not listen"

    I certainly did not mean to imply that. By all means listen to the apologists arguments and examine the evidence they present (if any). If what they say is true, it will stand rigorous scrutiny and interrogation.

    • Nathan

      That's not what you said faith was at all.

      This is what you said faith was:

      "belief in contempt of the evidence"

      When the evidence is in it's not faith – at that point it's trust. When we're talking about the existence of God – since you can't scientifically prove it one way or the other – unless you're willing to accept that Jesus was God and that others have done the science (eg Thomas – who touched him post resurrection and allayed his doubts) – faith will always cover that gap between what we know we know, and what we know we can't know but hope for, based on the evidence. To suggest that faith is in conflict with evidence is a fallacy.

      • Nathan

        I didn't say that having an agenda was bad – I said it should be taken into account when listening to somebody – but not used to dismiss what they say simply because you have a problem with it.

      • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

        Using 'contempt' certainly makes it sound like in spite of the evidence, perhaps it is more a difference of tone. You seem to be arguing for a position of agnostic theism (I don't know god exists but I believe it to be true anyway). Would that be accurate?

        What gets you from an admitted lack of evidence to thinking it is true regardless? Simply 'hope'? I hope for a great many things but I don't think I would say I have faith they will happen or are true. Hope seems terribly insufficient to me and I know I've upset religious people when I've sought to describe faith in similar terms (despite 1 Peter 3:15).

        the existence of God – since you can't scientifically prove it one way or the other

        Ignoring the idea of scientifically proving anything. Doesn't that depend on what you can justifiably expect to follow based on the properties of the god in question? If certain observable aspects or features of reality are inconsistent with what would follow from the existence of a particular God then wouldn't science be applicable in determining such a being does not exist and vice versa.

        Example: I claim I have a diamond the size of a small car in my garage. You are naturally sceptical of such a claim so you seek evidence. You look in my garage and see no diamond. As such, you reject the existence of the diamond on the basis of empirical observations which are inconsistent with the the diamond in my garage existing.

        To suggest that faith is in conflict with evidence is a fallacy.

        It certainly isn't consistent with evidence as you said, if you had evidence you would call that trust instead. However, faith can be in conflict with evidence. Consider a mother who persists in claiming her son innocent despite being convicted of murder, although I suppose some may call that denial too, not sure if there really is a practical difference though.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        When the evidence is in it's not faith – at that point it's trust.

        I think faith is trust (it is semantically linked) – and that Christian faith is trust in a person and his promises based on the evidence, reason and past experience (Ligon Duncan seems to take this view too btw). Obviously the evidence is not of the level of proof (as you rightly say, we cannot prove God scientifically, nor can we prove history) – I would say that any time we act on something unproven but for which there is some evidence, it is faith, reasonable faith, like the kind one might have in their spouse or in the safety of crossing the road. Notice that Thomas had the evidence (in that case perhaps even proof!) yet his faith was to put his trust in Christ because of that evidence.
        But whatever it is,it certainly is not blind faith as @askegg tried to imply.

        • askegg

          I would say that any time we act on something unproven but for which there is some evidence, it is faith …

          I would say that is trust. I trust my spouse based on my experiences with her over the past 10 years. I trust I can cross the road without being killed because I have done it before and see many others doing the same without incident.

          I deliberately reserve the term "faith" for belief without evidence.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            I deliberately reserve the term "faith" for belief without evidence.

            Then you are deliberately equivocating.

      • askegg

        Faith (using the definition I use) does not care about evidence. It does not care if there is a lack of evidence, and sometimes it does not care if there is evidence to the contrary. Faith holds evidence in contempt.

        As others here have pointed out, there are other words which have similar meanings. For example, "trust" is based on evidence. It is earned and can be destroyed if violated. Faith is not like that; especially religious faith.

        As I see no evidence to suggest Jesus was God (besides some fables), I place God (which I can't scientifically prove it one way or the other) in the faith category. I will reserve any leaps of faith lest I leap to the wrong conclusion.

        Of course, all of this is easily solved. I am open minded and willing to accept evidence for the most bizarre seeming ideas. Just provide demonstrable evidence Jesus was born of a virgin, resurrected, and flew into Heaven.

        • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

          Except if those events occured then they are only demonstrable (by what you would consider evidence) if they are expected to leave such evidence. No such evidence would exist at a time of limited technology.

          What evidence would you expect to exist if these events actually occured?

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            What evidence would you expect to exist if these events actually occurred?

            I have no idea. This is why I refrain from making such claims – I have almost no hope of showing they are true.

  • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

    Several posters have said 'you can't prove God exists one way or the other' or some such statement of similar sentiment.

    Stop saying this please.

    This is only true in regards to a God which by definition is unknowable and/or untestable (with a generous utilisation of the word 'prove' to mean demonstrate by some mutually and independently available method).

    If such a god is the discussion point I really can't help but wonder why this being would be relevant and worth discussing except to gaze thoughtfully at our navel.

    Knowability and testability are necessary components of a deity which is to be of any relevance to the way we are to live our lives. Otherwise we cannot distinguish between simple guesswork and reality-based conclusions regarding anything pertaining to a God.

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      Such as those who define their god as being outside the bounds of the universe?

      I have no idea how anybody could demonstrate such a thing is wrong. Of course, it does not follow that it is true either.

      • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

        That is my point. If someone defines a deity outside the bounds of the universe (which is pragmatically a limitation of experience to date) then it logically follows that person can know nothing about such a being (including whether it actually exists).

        However, this is not what any Christian believes but all to often people let this deistic concept of a god pass for the Christian theistic concept of God.

        In order to arrive at any form of Christian belief system it is necessary that God is knowable in some sense. Otherwise intercessary prayer is a massive waste of time, prophecy is effectively fraudulent, nevermind the whole becoming a man who lives and dies, etc. Furthermore, by the nature of the defined Christian God certain features of reality would be expected to follow (ignoring potentially philosophically contradictory components of this definition). When these features are found to be lacking it is logically sound to conclude the God does not exist.

        Atheists are all to often (sometimes myself) in the habit of politely entertaining a variety of arguments offered by theists which are not necessarily related to their particular belief system.

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

      Stop saying this please.

      This is only true in regards to a God which by definition is unknowable and/or untestable (with a generous utilisation of the word 'prove' to mean demonstrate by some mutually and independently available method).

      It's not provable or knowable in the empirical sense in which most naturalists demand it. We do think God is knowable because we think he has revealed himself – but that is a personal not empirical revelation. I think that is a valid reason for me to accept his existence (combined with other reasons and evidence) – if I have experienced that – but it is not necessarily sufficient to persuade someone else.

      • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

        Wait a minute. You think flooding the planet isn't empirical? Do you think Jesus walking the Earth is not empirical? What about healing the sick, or walking on water? Was the crucifixion spiritual or empirical? Did Jesus really walk out of the tomb, or is it just metaphorical? Did Jesus fly into Heaven, or did his spirit go, leaving behind his body? Is the Bible empirical evidence, or is it somehow more than a book? How would you know?

        You LOVE empiricism when it suits you, but abandon it at the first hint of trouble. You have placed your god character beyond the realms of testability where no one can prove it false. Why should I waste time debating such a view point?

        • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

          And you just love skipping ahead when it suits you, don't you! (bait and switch…)
          We were talking about God in the sense of a transcendental causal agent.

          If you want to get specific and talk about Jesus – a particular claim about God incarnate, then yes, it's getting a little more empirical – but only if you also happened to be around at the time (it would have been easily falsified at the time), otherwise it's historical and we have to, like with all recorded history of persons, rely primarily on the witness of others. I happen to think the historical argument for the resurrection is persuasive, but as a unique, single event, it too is not a science question. Unfortunately you seem to think that using science when it is appropriate is 'abandoning it at the first hint of trouble', which is simply nonsense which appears to stem from your faith that science can or will be able to answer everything, and anything it cannot is a worthless question. Indeed, why do you spend so much time debating that which you perceive as worthless?

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            We were talking about God in the sense of a transcendental causal agent.

            Oh, OK. In response I posit there are multiple "transcendental causal agents". Can you prove me wrong, or is it "philosophically possible"?

            I happen to think the historical argument for the resurrection is persuasive, but as a unique, single event …

            History is rich with claims of resurrection. The ancient Greeks had Asclepius, Achilles, Memnon, Alcmene, Castor, Heracles, and Melicertes to name a few. Notably Herodotus, was found dead, after which his body disappeared and later found to have been resurrected and gained immortality.

            Jesus is nothing special, just a rehash of an ancient idea. Yawn.

            Unfortunately you seem to think that using science when it is appropriate is 'abandoning it at the first hint of trouble'…

            I asked you to supply scientific evidence – how is this abandoning science?

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Oh, OK. In response I posit there are multiple "transcendental causal agents". Can you prove me wrong, or is it "philosophically possible"?

            It's possible, but occam's razor would lead to the conclusion that it's less preferable.

            Jesus is nothing special, just a rehash of an ancient idea. Yawn

            Oh dear – not perpetuating more dead theories are you? Yawn. Unless you'd care to cite some evidence for this claim?

            I asked you to supply scientific evidence – how is this abandoning science?

            You asked me to supply scientific evidence for something which lies outside of science's scope (something you seem to think is heresy). To suggest that is abandoning science is like saying that I'm abandoning my bicycle when I fly overseas.

      • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

        It's not provable or knowable in the empirical sense in which most naturalists demand it.

        Well your God knows what would convince me otherwise…

        We do think God is knowable because we think he has revealed himself – but that is a personal not empirical revelation.

        You can understand then why someone who hasn't experienced this would look on your claims sceptically. Nevermind people of multiple religious faiths make similar claims and people who have had such experiences now view them differently after having disposed of their belief in God. Subjective experience is not just empirically problematic in drawing conclusions about reality it is philosophically problematic.

        combined with other reasons and evidence

        Oh! So you have evidence that isn't completely subjective in nature?

        Again, how am I to distinguish your god from one which doesn't exist?

        • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

          Subjective experience is not just empirically problematic in drawing conclusions about reality it is philosophically problematic.

          If it was my only reason, your objection would have more weight. At no point did I suggest this should be in any way persuasive to anyone else, but personal experience has some validity to oneself – we all believe certain things based on our own experience. If I find the weight of philosophical and historical evidence and my experience to be persuasive (if my experience matches the evidence – and before you cry 'confirmation bias' remember that it cuts both ways), it would be irrational of me to go against that, even if you are not persuaded.

          • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

            Well my personal experience and perception of historical, empirical evidence suggests that if a God exists it has either gone out of its way to remain hidden or it can't help but be undetectable.

            You also didn't tell me how I am to distinguish from your god and one which does not exist…

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  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

    Here you go – finally, my full response: http://www.thingsfindothinks.com/2011/02/reply-is

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      Long reply. Misses numerous points. Will respond in a few days.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        Please don't rush – I will only be able to correct that reply on the weekends :p

  • Nathan_Parsons

    I just watched a video in which Lawrence Krauss argues that the universe didn't require anything to exist before. It's well worth watching, and explains that science can allow a universe to come from nothing.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    • http://thinkingdoesnthurt.blogspot.com/ David_Gibson

      But what created the nothing!?!?!?

      • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

        Arrrrrrghghghhhhhhhh …..

      • Nathan_Parsons

        Need nothing be created. It's nothing. Either nothing is something, or nothing is nothing and so needs no beginning.

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