First Cause

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 30, 2009 in General Atheism,Science

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.) Last time, I discussed one of my favorite sections, The Nature and Origin of the Universe. Today I discuss section III.3.4 The Multiverse as Ultimate Being.

Theists and atheists agree there must be some ultimate explanation, some end to the infinite regress. But they disagree over which properties this “ultimate being” must have:

Theists think it has a whole plethora of amazing powers and attributes, including the most complex mind imaginable. But as atheists point out, there is no evidence for any of those tacked-on assumptions… There are only two properties that we can be sure the ultimate being has: its nature is to exist, and it had a reasonable chance of producing our universe exactly as we see it. We can’t say anything more than that without sufficient evidence. And there is no actual evidence for any of the traditional divine attributes.

Carrier does a great job explaining why naturalists think it’s more likely the “multiverse” is a more likely Ultimate Being than “god”:

The multiverse explains everything that exists, and so even from the start it is just as good as “God did it.” It is even better than that, since the multiverse fits and follows from known scientific facts, and it makes the exact features of the universe highly probable – whereas there is no reason to believe this is the universe god would probably make, nor is there any evidence that a god actually did any of the making… Both solutions leave the same questions unanswered. [Why is there something instead of nothing. How come the Ultimate Being doesn't need a cause?] But we find the god hypothesis leaves far too many more questions unanswered. So we take the multiverse instead, as our ultimate “brute fact.”

But now, what about those Big Questions? Did the multiverse have a beginning? How did it get started, if nothing came before it?

The first cause

Has the multiverse always existed, or did it have a beginning? We don’t know. Either option fits the major theories, like Chaotic Inflation or Smolin Selection. Also, most cosmologists no longer think the Big Bang entails the beginning of time, since that only follows from a singularity, which quantum mechanics showed to be physically impossible. So we don’t know if time had a beginning.

So Carrier claims, anyway. I don’t know enough cosmology to fact-check this. If Big Bang theory no longer entails a singularity, then Wikipedia has not been updated, though one other fine resource supports Carrier’s assertion. I’d like to see a poll of cosmologists. (I’m sure the arguments themselves for and against a singularity are way over my head.)

Anyway, one might question the idea that it could be “universes all the way down,” in an infinite regress. If the multiverse is infinitely old, how could we have ever arrived at the present moment? But this objection requires a “tensed” theory of time, which may be incorrect. As we’ll see later, a “tenseless” theory of time – in which all time exists at once just like all space does – is quite plausible.

Also, notice that any objection raised about multiverse theories can also be raised of any god theory. If you ask, “Why does the multiverse exist?” I can just as well ask, “Why does God exist?” If you ask, “How can the multiverse be infinitely old?” I can just as well ask, “How can God be infinitely old?” If you ask, “How did the universe just happen to be so orderly and complex so as to produce our rich universe, which supports intelligent life?” I can just as well ask, “How did God just happen to be so orderly and complex so as to produce our rich universe, which supports intelligent life?”

A god is no help in solving these problems, and it fact brings up lots of other problems.

The origin of order

How did we get an ordered universe? Both multiverse theories presented by Carrier explain this better than the God theory. Consider: “who rolled the die that gave us our [extremely well-ordered] god, rather than some other god, or no god at all?” That’s extremely perplexing. In contrast, the multiverse theories begin with pure chaos, out of which order must inevitably arise.

An analogy. If you roll a dice you get a random string of numbers. But orderly sequences always arise from this random string. If you roll the die enough times, you must get an exact sequence of: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” Every random chaos must contain certain pools of order. Random chaos leads inevitably to the minimal order required to kickstart Chaotic Inflation or Smolin Selection, “which in turn lead inevitably to more and more order, and eventually to us. In other words, from chaos we can predict order, even incredibly complex order. But we have no comparable explanation for where an orderly god would come from…”

We’re pretty bad at noticing who unintelligent forces can produce highly complex order. For example, the ancient Greeks couldn’t figure out how the planets moved with such precise order. The theologians had an answer: “the gods did it!”

Centuries later, Newton discovered the motions of the planets were actually caused by a very simple natural force: gravity. All you needed were masses, motion, and gravity, and presto! you have a solar system.

So now the theologians said, “But wait! For such a convenient, orderly law as gravity to exist, it must have been designed, even if the solar system wasn’t.” A bit later, Einstein discovered that gravity wasn’t a “law” at all, but a natural outcome of how mass bends spacetime. So all you needed to explain the astonishing order of the solar system were masses.

Now the theologians say, “Well, okay, but an intelligent designer must have given mass the ability to bend spacetime in such a way!” But I think we should stop listening to the theologians, who keep getting it wrong, and start listening to scientists, who keep getting it right.

There are thousands of examples of order arising from chaos, but no known examples of magical, super-complex beings just existing for no reason. Why on earth should we pick the god hypothesis? We could just as well say invisible, quantum-sized telepathic gremlins created and sustain the universe.

The multiverse and time

Carrier thinks that “most scientists” see time as “eternal and fixed” rather than flowing unstoppably from the past into the future. I’d like to see a source for that.

Anyway, there are two popular theories of time. One is tensed time, which is what you probably think of: that time flows unstoppably from the past into the future. The other is tenseless time, which says that time is like the other three dimensions: just as all of space exists “at once,” so does all of time. Everything that was, is, and will be is already there.

On the one hand, we experience time as if it is tensed. On the other hand, tenseless time fits best with Relativity (see About Time), Quantum Mechanics (see Timeless Reality), and many other well-tested theories in physics, which suggests a convergence on a common result from independent investigations – a strong indicator of truth.

Carrier explains some of the details over several pages, which I won’t get into. Merely, let it be repeated that the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose. If we hadn’t discovered evidence for it, would our science fiction authors ever have invented the bizarre and counter-intuitive discoveries of quantum mechanics and tenseless time?

Now, you may have noticed that an eternal and fixed understanding of time implies determinism – the abandonment of contra-causal free will. And that’s what Carrier discusses next, in III.4 The Fixed Universe and Freedom of the Will.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben June 30, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Is tensed time really the “default” position?  That’s so sad.
 
Ben

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Heuristics June 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Theists think it has a whole plethora of amazing powers and attributes, including the most complex mind imaginable.

- Carrier

They do not, though it is often claimed that they do  by anti-theists. Theists infact generally think the opposite.

First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn’t only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is “a single and simple spiritual being.”) So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex
Alvin Plantinga – http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/marapr/1.21.html

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Taranu June 30, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Heuristics: So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex – Alvin Plantinga

According to William Lane Craig, God is the maximal being. His atributes: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence etc. are all maximal. Further more God is transcendent. In other words He is more complex than any object or being found in nature. This being is above and beyond it. The multiverse on the other hand requires only nature, nothing transcendent.

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Heuristics June 30, 2009 at 11:55 pm

You have not shown how you derive complexity out of those terms and I would like to see a quote where William claims God to be complex.
omniscience – lack of separation into knwing and not knowing = simpler then knowing some things and not knwing others since such a separation would havto entail an apparatus for separation
omnipresence – lack of seperation between being somewhere and not being somewhere else = simpler
omnipotence – lack of separation between being able to do one thing and not being able to do another = simpler
The multiverse is compatible with theism, and if true, makes theism (via abductive arguments about a simple creator) more probable. What is this nature you write of btw? Is it run on mathematics? And if so what is the mechanism by which the mathematics is created or selected, is that mechanism simple or complicated?

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oliver July 1, 2009 at 12:31 am

Heuristics: According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn’t only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is “a single and simple spiritual being.”) So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex Alvin Plantinga –

I’m sorry if my question betrays my ignorance, but can someone please tell me on what basis Aquinas, Plantinga or anybody knows this? Where is the evidence that God is a ‘simple’ being (assuming it exists), and on what basis can it be deemed not ‘complex’?

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Derek July 1, 2009 at 1:17 am


 “Theists and atheists agree there must be some ultimate explanation, some end to the infinite regress.”

It’s important to distinguish which infinite regress needs to be stopped.  Even if you can find the beginning of a sequence (which, by the way, you wouldn’t need to do if you’re a four-dimensionalist or “B-theorist” about time), you still need to stop the regress of contingent causes.  Suppose that there universe as we know it never began to be, but always was, is, and shall be.   Pace a statistical notion of modality, the universe could still be a contingent being.  Since “contingent”, by definition, is that which does not exist by necessity, any contingent being’s existence, in this case, the universe, is due to its cause—viz., any contingent being depends upon another to be (if not, it neither could be, or it itself is a necessary being.  But its cause must be a necessary being, or else its cause is merely another contingent being, and so on.  I have doubts about whether the “multiverse” could count as a necessary being, even if it could play the role of first cause.  More on this in a bit.

“But they disagree over which properties this “ultimate being” must have:
Theists think it has a whole plethora of amazing powers and attributes, including the most complex mind imaginable.”

Classical theists of an Aristotelian bent would deny that God is complex.  God is pure act, according to them, and absolutely simple.  So you (and presumably Carrier) need to be careful here.

“There are only two properties that we can be sure the ultimate being has: its nature is to exist… there is no actual evidence for any of the traditional divine attributes.”

Here’s some evidence.
(1) If there are contingent beings, then there must be a necessary one.
By reductio: if there were no necessary beings, then (a) each and every thing is necessary, or (b) there would be an infinite regress of contingent causes.
But, contra (a), there are contingent beings (myself, for example- I didn’t have to exist), and contra (b) an infinite chain of contingent causes is impossible.
By the truth of (1)’s antecedent, there must be a necessary being.  Hence,
(2) There is a necessary being.
But the necessary being couldn’t be the multiverse.  The multiverse, if it’s the cause of our universe, must act from contingency.  If not, our universe itself would be a necessary being, since whatever effect flows from its cause necessarily is itself necessary.  But if our universe is necessary, it’s a necessary being, in which case there would be no need to postulate the mutiverse to explain our universe.

But the multiverse couldn’t act from contingency either, for only an agent could act from contingency. The only thing that can (3) be necessary, and (4) act from contingency, is a necessary agent. And this is what all men call God.

“The multiverse explains everything that exists, and so even from the start it is just as good as “God did it.” It is even better than that, since the multiverse fits and follows from known scientific facts, and it makes the exact features of the universe highly probable – whereas there is no reason to believe this is the universe god would probably make, nor is there any evidence that a god actually did any of the making… Both solutions leave the same questions unanswered.”

If there are contingent beings, there must be a necessary being, and if we are to avoid modal collapse, the necessary being must act from contingency, in which case, the necessary being must be an agent.  But the mutiverse is not an agent, and hence cannot act from contingency. 

“[Why is there something instead of nothing. How come the Ultimate Being doesn't need a cause?]” 

Because if there are contingent beings, there must be a necessary being which acts from contingency.
 
“Has the multiverse always existed, or did it have a beginning? We don’t know. Either option fits the major theories, like Chaotic Inflation or Smolin Selection. Also, most cosmologists no longer think the Big Bang entails the beginning of time, since that only follows from a singularity, which quantum mechanics showed to be physically impossible. So we don’t know if time had a beginning.”

Even if there were no “beginning”, the (physical) universe would be a contingent being.

“If you ask, “Why does the multiverse exist?””

It seems sensible to ask this, because it seems the multiverse is itself a contingent being.  It’s possible that it does not exist.
 I can just as well ask, “Why does God exist?”
Cf. above.
If you ask, “How can the multiverse be infinitely old?” I can just as well ask, “How can God be infinitely old?”
Craig would deny this.  God began to be in time when he created time.  Sans time, God simply is, timelessly.  So Theism can answer this question.

“That’s extremely perplexing. In contrast, “…the multiverse theories begin with pure chaos, out of which order must inevitably arise.””

Pure chaos is impossible.

“An analogy. If you roll a dice you get a random string of numbers. But orderly sequences always arise from this random string. If you roll the die enough times, you must get an exact sequence of: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” Every random chaos must contain certain pools of order. Random chaos leads inevitably to the minimal order required to kickstart Chaotic Inflation or Smolin Selection…”
This isn’t an example of a pure chaos.  If it was, dice wouldn’t role, the atoms that make up their numbers would rearrange an infinite amount of ways at every instance, etc.

“We’re pretty bad at noticing who unintelligent forces can produce highly complex order.”
If there are “forces”, then there already is order, in which case a system with “forces” is already an ordered one.
“For example, the ancient Greeks couldn’t figure out how the planets moved with such precise order. The theologians had an answer: “the gods did it!”
“Centuries later, Newton discovered the motions of the planets were actually caused by a very simple natural force: gravity. All you needed were masses, motion, and gravity, and presto! you have a solar system.”
You forgot to mention that Newton also says, “God did it!”
 
“There are thousands of examples of order arising from chaos…”
Not out of pure chaos.
 
 “Merely, let it be repeated that the universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose. If we hadn’t discovered evidence for it, would our science fiction authors ever have invented the bizarre and counter-intuitive discoveries of quantum mechanics and tenseless time?”

So much for “common sense [sic] atheism”

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Rick July 1, 2009 at 1:27 am

@Heueristics – The universe is a large and complicated system. In fact, the motion of a simple mole of gas is so complicated physicists can’t even begin to describe it except statistically – and yet, because the particles are so numerous, the measurements of aggregate force expressed in the pressure exerted by that gas are very very accurate above certain microscopic scales. This is possible because of the law of large numbers applies to the particles of such a gas.
 
If, however, god is omniscient, he will know everything there is to know about every smallest bit of that mole of gas. Let’s consider a single molecule of nitrogen, with 14 protons, 14 neutrons, and 14 electrons. Just the charged particles alone must interact; if we simplify the protons to point charges, then we have 2 positive charges and 14 negative charges, so there are (14+2)! static electric interactions per molecule. This is roughly 3.05 x 10^29, and there are 6.022 x 10^23 molecules in a mole of nitrogen; all the molecules interact with each other, even on a merely gravitational and electrical level, with each other, so that’s a further (6.023 x 10^23)! interactions. You repeatedly claim that knowing everything about everything in the universe for all time must require a simple being. I think you’re underestimating.
 
Please excuse me for using such a ridiculously oversimplified example. Bear in mind, the universe is more complex than we know. The argument Plantinga makes about god’s simplicity ignores the universe and all reasonable definitions of complexity.
 
Furthermore, why does one need a mechanism, mathematical or otherwise, to separate knowing from unknowing? I’m really confused by what you mean here. Surely you’d agree that god must be more complex than a human being, and that human beings don’t know some things. By your argument, though, humans must necessarily be more complex than god, and there must exist a mechanism, mathematical or otherwise, for separating human knowledge from human unknowledge. This same analogy can be applied to your claims about omnipotence and omnipresence. Humans exist only in one location, and are finite in power. We must therefore be more complex than a being for whom these distinctions don’t exist?
 
You have not shown that god is simple, or how simplicity is necessary for your invisible friend to exist. Your claim about the probability of simple god collapses if you fail to provide supporting evidence, just as any other claim about the world would.

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Derek July 1, 2009 at 1:27 am

oliver: I’m sorry if my question betrays my ignorance, but can someone please tell me on what basis Aquinas, Plantinga or anybody knows this? Where is the evidence that God is a ’simple’ being (assuming it exists), and on what basis can it be deemed not ‘complex’?

For Aristotle, any composite (complex) being is that which is actualized by something prior.  So, consider my desk, which is colored brown.  The coming to be of my desk being brown was due to my desk being in state of potency relative to the form of brown, and hence the form of brown is prior to my desk’s browness.  This goes for any composite (complex) being.  Any complex being was brought about by something prior.  But God is prior to all things. Nothing brings him about. He stands in no relation of potency to any other being.  But if he were complex, he couldn’t be prior to all things.  Hence, God is simple and not complex. 

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Rick July 1, 2009 at 1:28 am

Sorry for the junk in the header. I didn’t realize copy-paste into Word would do that.

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Silas July 1, 2009 at 2:01 am

So this is the most rational theistic explanation:
A simple, personal, uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful entity created the universe after being for infinity, to later uncreate the universe and live with some of his creation for yet another eternity.
Is this right?

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 2:24 am

@Rick – All the complexity you have listed vanishes when replaced with a algorithm that generates that complexity. Performing that algorithm causes the complexity to occur and the point of science is in large part uncovering that algorithm (TOE, though Gödel might object to it being possible to find that algorithm in it’s entirety for the system within the system itself). All knowledge is then not in the form of individual representative bits of information, cataloged and named, but in the form a process that gives rise to the information (note though that the term algorithm might need to be taken to be more powerful then one for a Turing machine since such a machine has known limitations that measurable events do not). All knowledge then comes from and is contained within the original simplicity, no matter how complex that knowledge seams when modeled with statistical laws. If you want a practical example of simplicity giving rise to infinite complexity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set
God, as pictured in classical theism is much (or infinitely depending on..) less complex then a human being, if nothing else just for the point of being a non-material spirit, complexity needs individual moving parts (material) interacting.
My invisible friend? Huh?
I have given a definition of God as simple, the one the majority of churches and theologians  in the world ascribe too. I have not claimed it to be a necessity for existence, nor have I claimed the opposite. I have also shown one mechanism (I have plenty more) in which simplicity gives rise to complexity.
Evidence? Are we not having a philosophical discussion? You want me to get some measurements? Of what?
What is nature? What is its basis, how is it connected to math? How does one universe get separated from another? Where does the ruleset for the separation come from?

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Silas July 1, 2009 at 2:42 am

Heuristics: non-material

What is a non-material being?

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 2:45 am

What is matter? Whatever matter is, something non-material would be different from that (unless matter is thought as in for example idealism, then there would be similarities).
In classical theism God is a spirit, an analogy would be “pure thought” or something similar.

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Silas July 1, 2009 at 2:58 am

Heuristics: What is matter? Whatever matter is, something non-material would be different from that (unless matter is thought as in for example idealism, then there would be similarities).

You don’t say…
So what is a non-material being?

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oliver July 1, 2009 at 3:08 am

Derek: Any complex being was brought about by something prior. But God is prior to all things. Nothing brings him about. He stands in no relation of potency to any other being. But if he were complex, he couldn’t be prior to all things. Hence, God is simple and not complex.

Thanks Derek. However, it still seems to me that God’s ‘simplicity’ or ‘simple’ nature  has not been demonstrated by your explanation. It’s more like the argument is:

“A complex thing necessarily requires something simple preceding it. But since the bible says Yahweh IS the beginning,  the word complex cannot be used to describe him – otherwise it would suggest that he is preceded by an even simpler thing. Then he wouldn’t be God. Therefore Yahweh is simple”

I’m not sure you have successfully demonstrated that he is ‘simple’. Your explanation strikes me as an ad hoc explanation designed to prevent the definition of God from contradicting itself. Because if this God is imbued with the kinds of feelings and emotions attributed to him in the bible (like anger, jealousy, love, hate), there is just no way of justifying the claim that he (or it, or whatever) is simple.

We know that living organisms evolved emotions because of the adaptive advantage they provide (in encouraging reproduction, self preservation, etc), and requires a complex array of electro-chemical reactions in our nervous systems to function. How is it, then, that a being – which you want to insist is SIMPLE – can have emotions?   Aren’t you trying to have your cake and eat it too?

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 3:13 am

 

Silas: In classical theism God is a spirit, an analogy would be “pure thought” or something similar.

In the part of my response  you cited I brought up some complications your question rises as material for further discussion, the part you didn’t cite is the part you will find the answer to your question in, though not the actuall question you asked for that answer would be “a non-material being is a non-material being”, a very stupid answer. If you had asked what is the difference between a non-material being and a material being the answer would be a little better but still stupid, that is a non-material being is not made up of matter. I however assumed that you did not want a stupid answer and instead guessed that the actuall question you asked was “if not non-material, how is the nature of God normally thought to be like” and the answer to that is: That nature is normally thought to be that of a spirit, or pure thought.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 3:19 am

 

oliver:
We know that living organisms evolved emotions because of the adaptive advantage they provide (in encouraging reproduction, self preservation, etc).

Actually, emotions as they are normally understood (Subjective experiences, qualia) offer no evolutionary advantage over pure emotionless programming. This has caused the reductionist materialist philosophers to split into two camps, the churchlands and the dennets have taken a reductionist-eliminativist position (emotions do not exist) and the kims and the chalmerians have taken the dualist route, but they are still left with the problem of evolution for emotion. As an example of why emotion is not needed is reflexes, for example when you put your hand on something very hot, you retreat your hand before there is an experience of emotion. Very effective and very explainable by evolution. Emotion however has as of yet not had a materialistic explanation.

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Taranu July 1, 2009 at 4:03 am

Heuristics: I would like to see a quote where William claims God to be complex.

I said according to Craig, God is the maximal being (he also refers to God as the greatest conceivable being). All His attributes are as great as they could be. For instance in case of omniscience, Craig endorses Charles Taliaferro’s view: “[He] proposes … that omniscience be understood in terms of maximal cognitive power, to wit, a person S is omniscient if it is metaphysically impossible for there to be a being with greater cognitive power than S and this power is fully exercised.” http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_allen/kalam.html
If God’s attributes are maximal it is impossible for a being with greater attributes to exist. This is why I cannot see God as a simple being. Watch this clip. http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-God-All-Knowing-William-Lane-Craig-1-of-2-/245
You say: “The Multiverse is compatible with theism, and if true, makes theism (via abductive arguments about a simple creator) more probable. What is this nature you write of btw? Is it run on mathematics? And if so what is the mechanism by which the mathematics is created or selected, is that mechanism simple or complicated?”
Maybe I wasn’t as explicit as I should have been in my previous post. God as a transcendent disembodied mind is more complex that anything in nature, than any transcendent object or number. By being transcendent God is above and beyond nature, by being a mind he is more complex than objects in nature, transcendent objects and transcendent numbers. Furthermore according to Craig, God’s decision to create our Universe was simultaneous with the act of creating it (see his debates on the question Does God exist?). God had the knowledge, power and intention to create out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_nihilo ) a Universe fine-tunned for intelligent life. What can be more complex than that?
I don’t see how the Multiverse makes theism more probable. A Multiverse that exists out of necessity is simpler than God regardless if it runs on mathematics, regardless of the mechanism by which the mathematics is created or selected and regardless if the mechanism is simple or complex. If the Multiverse exists than our Universe is just one bubble in an ocean of bubbles, there is no intentionality (a characteristic that minds have).
A transcendent disembodied mind which exists as a necessary being, with maximal attributes and whom deliberately wished and simultaneously created our Universe out of nothing will always be greater in complexity.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 4:17 am

@Taranu
What definition of complexity are you using? How does attributes influence  complexity? What is an attribute here, possibility of action?

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Rick July 1, 2009 at 4:45 am

A materialistic explanation of emotion: http://discovermagazine.com/2003/may/featlove
 
It’s brain chemisty and neural activity. As to the question of why? I’d say because it enabled that breed of mammalian ancestor who protected and provided for their young to reproduce more successfully than the breed that didn’t have those emotions. No need for extra-materialistic ‘souls’ or spiritual realms in which we actually reside.
 
@Heueristics: I must have been mistaken in thinking you were defending a supernatural explanation in favor of a naturalistic one. I apologize for reading into your words more than was there. What are you asserting, exactly?
 
I must still disagree about the definition of omniscience. Nowhere have I heard that omniscience is an algorithm, or anything except what it implies: knowledge of all things. Furthermore, an algorithm requires a fairly complex computer (not necessarily a Turing device) to be anything more than an idea. Does god merely operate this computing device (because it’s complex, it can’t be part of its being)? If so, then how did it come about? This path leads to an infinite regress of ever-simpler algorithms and computing devices, sort of a backwards example of a self-improving intelligent machine. Is it your assertion that a simple god is a collection of algorithms?
 
I also have to disagree with your definition of complexity. Actually I have to say that I just don’t get what you mean when you use the word. Would you characterize the mathematics behind Ptolemy’s astronomy as more or less complex than that of Copernicus or Galileo? No mathematics that I know of has any moving parts, yet some of its theorems are vastly more complex than others. Take, for example, the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, as opposed to the proof that a triangle in Euclidian geometry has interior angles that add to 180°.
 
To the question of evidence: I am very interested in having evidence. Without evidence a theory, no matter how philosophical, is worthless. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve studied engineering and don’t have much respect for the infinite number of theories out there that are unsupported by any evidence. They’re not useful in the everyday world. They don’t make predictions that can be falsified, they don’t make understanding reality any more accurate, and they sure are confusing and usually self-contradictory.
 
This is also why I’m an atheist. On evidential grounds, no theory of the supernatural has yet been supported by evidence. Why should they be given the same respect as theories that are supported by evidence?

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oliver July 1, 2009 at 4:50 am

Heuristics: Emotion however has as of yet not had a materialistic explanation.

You’ve got to be joking.

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drj July 1, 2009 at 5:00 am

Something about these claims of divine simplicity don’t mesh for me, especially when you look at what many theists believe about the role of God in the universe.  I don’t think divine simplicity squares well with theist beliefs at all.
 
Most theists believe that God actively interacts in the material universe, affects outcomes.  This of course, necessitates that He actually has mechanisms to do this… to change states of things in the material universe.  Perhaps he pokes and prods atoms here and there with some ethereal tendril, I don’t know… some would even say he guides evolution, by causing certain desired genetic mutations.  Surely the existence of these mechanisms necessitates an extreme sort of complexity.
 
Along with the mechanism to affect change in the present universe, he must also have the capacity to evaluate and understand the total state (and possible states) of the universe.  Truly giving pause for thought as to the kind of intellect such feats would necessarily require, I believe assertions about omniscience as necessarily simpler that limited knowledge are especially flimsy.   At the very least, God is capable of far more complex thought than any human being.   So… at least one attribute of God must be extremely complex.
 
As for Aristotle and the brown table, surely one would not say the creator of the table, nor cognitive processes that allowed one to imagine, then actualize the brown table are more simple than the table itself, even when its brown.    The table didnt create its own brownness, and intellect did.    Is there actually an example of anything that has been intentionally designed by an agent, that is more complex than the cognition of the agent?
 
 

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oliver July 1, 2009 at 5:20 am

In short, this whole ‘God is simple’ idea ends up destroying Inelligent Design Theory. Oh, and the Teleological Arugment as well, since according to the theists on this thread, complexity CAN arise from simplicity! Well done, Heuristics! 

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 5:46 am

@ Rick
From the article you linked to:

Like all emotions, love originates in the brain as surely as brilliant mathematical theorems do. We feel the passions of love because our brains contain specific neurochemical systems that create those feelings in us. We are not torn between the heart and the brain but rather between different parts of the brain, parts that specialize in the cornerstones of rational thought, such as long-term planning, and parts that give our lives emotional color.

This explanation is a rather typical dualistic and non-materialistic explanation of emotions. It basically says “there is us and we are in the brain and when a chemical is released in the brain we experience it”. It makes a clear distinction between “we” and “brain”, the brain causes things to happen in us, not the materialistic reductionist and eliminativistic notion of the churchlands and dennets there there is no such thing as an experience of emotion. The problem is still there. The article in no way makes a connection between presence of chemical and experience, this is not surprising since it is THE UNSOLVED PROBLEM of philosophy of mind, the whole qualia thing. And if one does assume, like the article does, dualism, one gets the problem of trying to explain this leap from chemical to experience since it is not effective in any known way for an animal to have an experience of emotion rather then just action on emotion. Note that I have not mentioned “soul”, the defenders of dualism are atheistic naturalists (david chalmers and Jaegwon kim) and they make no use of such words.

What are you asserting, exactly?

There is no overriding point I am making, I am merely partaking in a discussion, providing things I see as complications for the points being brought up.

I also have to disagree with your definition of complexity.

From a pure materialistic point of view mathematics does not exist since all that exist is matter and mathematics is not material and so does not have complexity at all, from a naturalistic point of view that grants mathematics realism mathematics I guess could have complexity but I think it would be very hard to actually measure. As of yet mathematicians have no way of directly measuring the complexity of two different proofs against each other other then through length and beauty, but it is not really satisfying since a long proof can seem to be less complex then a short one. For algorithms one can define complexity in terms of runtime on a machine. So is it impossible to have consciousness without such a complicated thing as a computer? Perhaps, perhaps not, we don’t as of yet know what consciousness is so it’s a bit too early to say, if one wanted to argue for the possibility of consciousness apart from machines one could point to dualism (again, plenty of professional atheistic philosophers do, without mentioning souls) and computer science (artificial intelligence often claims that consciousness can be run with simply a computational machine, ie that it is something other then matter, it is computation), so they then normally claim that consciousness can exist as an emergent phenomenon of computability, so any system that can express mathematics can then have consciousness. And we have come up with machines that can express mathematics (and infarct are turing complete) that are incredibly small and uncomplicated: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_30 So, if mathematics exist apart from matter (which it needs to do if we are to assign a complexity to it) then perhaps there is also a possibility of performing mathematics on something immaterial, and that something is very simple (rule 30 can run microsoft word in theory and it is immaterial but needs to be put into material form to be able to run algorithms), so, if one accept these conditions then minds can exist apart from matter. However math is thought to be existent in it’s own right, without having a machine to run on, pure though is then believed by theists to be able to claim the same, that it is not necessarily dependent on anything else to exist.
But what is it you would like to have a measurement (evidence) of? In computer science we normally provide theoretical analysis and actual measurements for complexity with the aid of complexity theory and big o notation, but I don’t see how such a thing is relevant here, can you clarify?
I don’t understand the word supernatural. Perhaps because I don’t understand the word nature :)

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 5:48 am

@ Rick
I’m sorry, it is rule 110 that is Turing complete, not rule 30.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_110

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Jeff H July 1, 2009 at 5:57 am

Lol Oliver, I was about to point out the same thing…I love it when Christians say that complex beings can’t come from simpler beings through evolution, but somehow an amazingly complex universe came from an extremely “simple” God.
 
But I’m not sure it’s at all clear how it can be said that God is simple, and I know the Christians here have been trying to explain it. Could I give an analogy, and see if you would agree with it? Is God simpler than humans in the same way that an overarching theory is simpler than a number of data points? Is that a roughly adequate way of describing it?

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Reginald Selkirk July 1, 2009 at 6:09 am

Anyway, one might question the idea that it could be “universes all the way down,” in an infinite regress. If the multiverse is infinitely old, how could we have ever arrived at the present moment?

I’m disappointed to see you repeating this Craig claim. I could repeat my clever and sarcastic response, but then everyone would know that it was not really spontaneous.

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lukeprog July 1, 2009 at 6:18 am

Heuristics,

I will certainly being doing some posts on the simplicity of God in the future.

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lukeprog July 1, 2009 at 6:30 am

Reginald,

I admit that in these posts it is hard to tell whether I am paraphrasing Craig’s article or responding to it. Here, I’m just illustrating the intuitive appeal of Craig’s argument.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 6:46 am

 

oliver:
In short, this whole ‘God is simple’ idea ends up destroying Inelligent Design Theory. Oh, and the Teleological Arugment as well, since according to the theists on this thread, complexity CAN arise from simplicity! Well done, Heuristics!

As far as I know the teleological arguments actually rest on God being simple for the argument to be the most preferable choice, if you are aware of such an argument that rests on God being complex I would be interested in reading it since I as of right now don’t know of one.
Complexity being able to arise from simplicity does have some problems for some forms of Intelligent Design, mainly the ones that talk about irreducible complexity, I have not been impressed by such arguments, they may sound interesting at first but they don’t ever really form a convincing chain of arguments to the conclusion that natural selection doesn’t work, there is always a huge gap somewhere in the argument.

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oliver July 1, 2009 at 7:21 am

Heuristics,
What evidence you actually have for God’s purported simplicity? Can you please share this with us? You can start by telling us what you mean by simple (in the context you are using it), and then giving examples of things that are simple. Then contrast it with complex things. And finally the evidence that shows that the entity you call God qualifies as simple, by the definition you are using.

I want to understand you better.

Thanks.

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lukeprog July 1, 2009 at 7:50 am

Yes, oliver, that would be helpful.

Heuristics, I admit I have always been a bit baffled by the doctrine of divine simplicity. How can an ultimately simple thing have personality, character traits, likes and dislikes, make decisions, perceive & remember & process & respond to trillions of complex events, etc.? God seems like the most complex thing imaginable, or else he is simple but inert. Moreover, I do not think it reflects the extremely personal and anthropomorphized God that the vast majority of Christians, Muslims, and Jews seem to worship.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 8:08 am

 
 

oliver:
Heuristics,
What evidence you actually have for God’s purported simplicity? Can you please share this with us? You can start by telling us what you mean by simple (in the context you are using it), and then giving examples of things that are simple. Then contrast it with complex things. And finally the evidence that shows that the entity you call God qualifies as simple, by the definition you are using.
I want to understand you better.
Thanks.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_simplicity
God is simple by definition, that is how theologians usually define God, by stating that God is simple. From the teleological argument one could say that the existence of coherent mathematics before being used practically in the sciences is evidence of the preexistence of mathematics to it’s discovery by mathematicians and the perfectly coherent existence of mathematics being a measurable evidence for the existence of a creator of the mathematics due to mathematics not existing in matter, but only in mind and since God is thought of as simple (pure thought/mind) then the discovery of mathematics by mathematicians would be evidence for the existence of God. Such an argument however would be abductive, one could reject the conclusion without a logical fault.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 8:26 am

 

lukeprog:
Yes, oliver, that would be helpful.
Heuristics, I admit I have always been a bit baffled by the doctrine of divine simplicity. How can an ultimately simple thing have personality, character traits, likes and dislikes, make decisions, perceive & remember & process & respond to trillions of complex events, etc.? God seems like the most complex thing imaginable, or else he is simple but inert. Moreover, I do not think it reflects the extremely personal and anthropomorphized God that the vast majority of Christians, Muslims, and Jews seem to worship.

A God, not of deism, but of the local pantecostal congregation down the street could definitely seem like the most complicated thing imaginable (but would not necessarily be that though I do not intend to argue for why that specific church at that corner has a plausible theology). However if a simple God exists then that simple God exists whether or not that specific church likes it or not. Memory I do not see as a problem, it flows from knowing everything in simplicity (the algorithm thing), personality would be problematic “why does god like ice cream but not fudge????”, different religions claim different personalities though, it would be very hard for me to defend them all at once.  It is a difficult subject for specific religions but not so much for theism vs atheism. One could always argue that even though it appears that God has a personality, God infact does not (negative theology), but it clashes with other theologies. Anyways, I cannot defend it all at once since a lot of theology contradicts other theologies at this point.

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Lee A. P. July 1, 2009 at 8:37 am

Craig rejects the doctrine of divine simplicity.
 
See:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7189

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drj July 1, 2009 at 8:39 am

Heuristics, I admit I have always been a bit baffled by the doctrine of divine simplicity. How can an ultimately simple thing have personality, character traits, likes and dislikes, make decisions, perceive & remember & process & respond to trillions of complex events, etc.? God seems like the most complex thing imaginable, or else he is simple but inert. Moreover, I do not think it reflects the extremely personal and anthropomorphized God that the vast majority of Christians, Muslims, and Jews seem to worship.

 
Its very intuitive, this notion that complexity in our universe arises from arrangements or interactions of less complicated pieces.   We see it so much in the universe, that its extremely intuitive to believe that the universe itself must work the same way.
 
It just seems to make the most sense that the more complex something is, the less probable it is that it can “just exist”.    In that light, one can see why theologians are eager to define their God as the ultimate simple thing…. otherwise, we are naturally inclined to believe that such a being “just existing” is far fetched… far more far fetched than the existence of a simpler universe.  Establishing divine simplicity must be of utmost importance for the theist.
 
But I don’t think there are any grounds to assert that a being with the ability  to predict all possible outcomes of material universes,  invent those material universes, and alter those material universes so that the being’s desired outcome for that universe is realized, is anything but simple.
 
The attempts to reduce God to ultimate simplicity seem to reduce him to a universe producing algorithm… but you’re right, that doesnt seem to mesh with the God of theism at all.  In a sense.. that is what the multi-verse theory that Carrier suggests is such an algorithm.

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Heuristics July 1, 2009 at 8:52 am

 

Lee A. P.:
Craig rejects the doctrine of divine simplicity.

See:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7189

Interesting link, thanks. It does however look more like he is arguing for a little less simplicity rather then arguing for complexity (mostly just philosophical nit picking without any clear practical analogies).

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drj July 1, 2009 at 9:06 am

Important typo in my last post… why is it that they are only obvious AFTER I hit submit?  :)
 

But I don’t think there are any grounds to assert that a being with the ability  to predict all possible outcomes of material universes,  invent those material universes, and alter those material universes so that the being’s desired outcome for that universe is realized, is anything but simple.

 
Should be something like:

But I don’t think there are any grounds to assert that a being with the ability  to predict all possible outcomes of material universes,  invent those material universes, and alter those material universes so that the being’s desired outcome for that universe is realized, is simple at all.

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Taranu July 1, 2009 at 9:30 am

I should have checked W. L. Craig’s website first hand. Thanks Lee A. P.
It would have been nice for Craig to say more about this. Anyway I’m glad I learned something new today and  if anyone knows  a site where he further emphasizes on this issue please don’t hesitate to point it out.

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Haecceitas July 1, 2009 at 11:50 pm

“It does however look more like he is arguing for a little less simplicity rather then arguing for complexity (mostly just philosophical nit picking without any clear practical analogies).”
This would be similar to Swinburne’s view, I think. I don’t think he accepts the concept of divine simplicity as such, but he argues that God is the simplest possible person that there could be.
 
 

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Haecceitas July 1, 2009 at 11:52 pm

P.S.
I should add that there are differences in how they understand God’s omniscience and perfect goodness, and those might make some difference on the simplicity issue. But still, I remember that Craig has said something to the effect that the concept of God is “remarkably simple”.

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Steve Esser July 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

I’m an interested layperson who reads alot about physics. I think it is widely accepted that while we don’t know what the details will be, IF we find a theory of quantum gravity as a successor to general relativity, it will banish the singularities which are a feature of GR. (here’s an attempt to link to a recent SciAm article related to this: )
Best regards, – Steve Esser
(wonderful site, by the way).

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

I’ve read Carrier’s book and it was substantially higher in quality than most books on atheism. But it has its faults.
 
1. Most Christians identify the First Cause as a necessary entity. Atheists did too until the Big Bang took that away. Spinoza and determinists in general argued that the universe existed necessarily.
2. An necessary entity is eternal. An eternal entity makes more sense as the First Cause because you can’t have any more uncaused events.  If there were a new uncaused event it would have already existed a long time ago. By contrast, under atheism we could have new causal chains spontaneously leap into existence at any point. You could have an uncaused lump of matter spring into existence in front of you. Christians have a better explanation for the First Cause than atheists.
3. Steve Esser: The mathematical physicist Roger Penrose points out in his book ‘The Road to Reality’ that quantum gravity cannot provide an explanation for the second law of thermodynamics. In fact, that is true of all theories which get rid of the singularity.
 
4. Theories of the multiverse have problems.  But the points are very long and I can’t easily assemble them into the end of a post. See ‘The Trouble with Physics’ by Lee Smolin, a leading physicist critical of eternal inflation. See ‘the Road to Reality’ by Roger Penrose for criticisms of Smolin’s evolutionary alternative. And finally, see Robin Collins’ website for further thoughts on the multiverse, and his forthcoming book ‘The Well-Tempered Universe’.

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