My personal reflections on this blog take inspiration from the Bahá’í teachings.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Belief in God -- what difference does it make?

I find it interesting to state the basic atheist premise and the basic Monotheistic premise in very similar terms:

Atheist: “Nothing has caused existence. It just is.”

Theist: “No thing has caused existence. Its Cause just is.”

Rewording it a little differently, the atheist says, “existence is caused by nothing”; while the Theist says, “existence is caused by no thing”. The premise of Theism can be expressed as the idea that the cause of all things is not itself a thing. The theist asserts that the non-thing from which all things emerge must surely be very great, for how could this vast and complex universe have a trivial origin. The atheist replies perhaps, that the theist is trying to make something out of nothing. The atheist says that the universe itself contains whatever it needs to explain its own complexity. The believer then enquires as to whence came these amazing characteristics, since every effect must have a cause. The atheist replies, why must the universe as a whole, necessarily have a cause? The law of cause and effect applies between entities within the universe. There is no reason to suppose that the universe as a whole requires a cause.

The argument now looks suspiciously like its going round in circles. The atheist says the universe as a whole is uncaused. The believer says it is caused by an Uncaused Cause, which is to say that whatever the being of the universe ultimately rests on, it is uncaused.

I am reminded of Marzieh Gail’s statement: “Atheism expounded is nothing less than theism with some changes of vocabulary ...”

As a God-believer, I come down on the side of the Uncaused Cause. But having learned from a thoughtful blogger, Psiomniac, who has a fruitful way of raising questions for discussion, I am just going to invite comment on the following question:

Is there any significant difference between the view that the universe “just is”, and the view that it exists at the behest of an Uncaused Cause?


Marco said...

Happy Naw-Ruz!

John Bryden said...

Much appreciated, Marco. Greetings to you and other friends in Portugal. - John.

Paul said...

Something must eternally exist: either God or the universe. Since there is scientific evidence for a beginning to this universe, then...well...theism just seems to emerge as, at minimum, a very reasonable proposition. Of course, I would secondarily argue that there is a problem with infinite time in the sense that time exists in our dimensional realm, which further complicates this issue for pure materialists.

John Bryden said...

Paul, well said. Thank you participating with this lucid comment. By the way, re the infinitude of time, what if there are multiple universes? (I don't doubt you've thought of this.)

Paul said...

Sorry I didn't get back sooner. Handling work, family, and my own blog stretches me.

Yes, I've dealt with this idea. It'll surely come up when I finally do a post on the Cosmological and/or Teleological Arguments.

In brief, this very popular idea is mostly an appeal to escape the issue of an origin of this universe, as well as the very precisely tuned laws of physics found within it. Being outside of our own universe it makes it (probably) an impossible theory to test. It simply pushes back the question of where did all this come from. And it begs the question of why each of the other universes should have different (random) laws of physics which could yield our very lucky one. There are scientific and philosophical issues relating to it as well, like you still do not escape the problems associated with the existence of actual infinities.

Paul said...

More food for though: If there are an infinite number of random universes, then how many would have the same laws of physics as ours? An infinite number! Of those, how many would have intelligent life? An infinite number! Of those, how many would have life just like us? An infinite number! Of those, how many would have a history of civilization like ours? An infinite number! Of those, how many would have people exactly like every one of us who had ever lived in history doing the exact same thing? An infinite number!

If there are an infinite number of universes, there are an infinite number of people just like you reading a blog comment posted by someone just like me at this very nanosecond. "Infinity" brings on these kinds of absurdities. It's hard enough to reconcile infinite time -- just imagine trying to climb out of an infinitely deep hole. That's an apt analogy for anything trying to traverse infinite time to arrive at this very moment.

John Bryden said...

Paul. I appreciate your taking the time to make some comments. At present most of my spare time is going on an effort to improve the state of my house -- stripping old wallpaper, painting, etc. So it will be a while longer before I come back with anything substantive. My apologies for being slow to respond.