Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Ultimate Question

On several blogs that I frequent there are debates and arguments amongst people who normally agree, with debates centering on Intelligent Design and the existence of God. One of the better reasons that agnostics and atheists point to is that the origin and existence of God cannot be explained.

That misses a philosophical point of great significance. Why does anything exist? I am not talking about teleological purpose but the why as in the origins of existence. Existence itself can be analyzed but in the end, it cannot be explained.

We know that everything is made up of atoms which in turn are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, which in turn come from various quark configurations, or at least so I understand. It has been a few years since I looked at anything on sub-atomic particles. However, about 20 years ago, I was playing AD&D with a group that were mostly graduate students, including 4 or 5 Christians, 2 Atheists and 2 Neo-Pagans. (We got along well enough to play the game.) I remember a conversation between a couple who doing graduate work in Physics at MSU and they discussed a hypothesis that they were working on where quarks were simply 4 dimensional folds of 3 dimensional space. (I do not know if this is still a working hypothesis or if it's been discredited, but it really doesn't matter for what I am saying.) If this is the way it is, that means everything is 4-D waves interacting with 3-D space, and if you think about it, that could explain both charge and mass. If this is the truth, still much is unexplained such as how does space fold on itself, why does it, and whatever forces it to do so must be outside of our entire sphere of reference. If it is not the way it works, the final question still stands.

In truth, the only thing we can be certain of is our own existence (I think therefore I am), but to philosophically center on that would put us in the absurd position of that guy in the second book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series who believed that he was the only thing that existed and only interacted with others because he felt like it and it was better than sitting around being lonely. There is a point at which we need to trust our senses and our senses tell us that existence is real.

But existence itself cannot be explained. The universe was born of a big bang, but what was the so-called Cosmic Egg that existed before the big bang? Or did nothingness itself explode. We have to go to a point where something came into being out of nothing or we have keep going back forever and ever. Either path will lead to a point where reality itself as we understand it will break down. We intuitively pass over that point in a leap of faith that leads some to Atheism and others to God, but it is a leap of faith for both.

When we say that atoms are made of certain elementary particles which are constructed of quarks, we may be more factually accurate than the ancients but we in the end come to the same spot.

The earth sits on the back of giant elephants
Who stand on the shell of a great turtle
Who swims in a great sea

but what holds the sea, no one knows.

Science too will reach the point where reality passes beyond what we can see and analyze. The point where everything either goes on forever, or is made of nothing.

12 Comments:

Blogger Lone Pony said...

SR, I think I liked this the best: "We intuitively pass over that point in a leap of faith that leads some to Atheism and others to God, but it is a leap of faith for both." I agree. I'm very much enjoying what you and others have to say about this subject.

1:01 AM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

Shoprat: TAG! You're it!

4:02 AM  
Blogger NEO, SOC said...

Excellent post, Shoprat! Actually, this Sunday, I will be teaching on the religion of Buddhism, which relates all things to illusion to escape suffering. And think about it, in Buddhism, isn't this what the devil would want? Make everything illusory in that even the very suffering they are attempting to escape, falls into the category of illusion. Yet, they can't see past the paradox of their thinking. Hence, they are enraptured with themselves and the false presumption that they are wise; while neglecting to see that they're riding the HellBound Express, in first class.

Man's existence and beginning, in and of itself, is not a difficult concept to understand. The real problem in the end for non-believers and nominal believers is accountability. Nominal believers have believed the illusory lie about making more of a committment later (Screwtape Letters, right?). Non-believers can't go back to an origin with a Creator because it would mean creation came through order and in order is law and in law is right and wrong. Hence, to acknowledge that one would be wrong; would mean that one would have to change their lives, and adhere to the mandates of God.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

I like the way you phrase things NEO.

12:33 PM  
Blogger NEO, SOC said...

thanx lone pony. I think my comments improve as everyone on this site puts up with my psychosis. What's really cool is the freedom of the expression we yield via BlogMedia. Anyone and everyone who wants to write can get the practice and critiquing they need to be tomorrow's journalist. What's real cool as well is to how this site is helping me develop crazier ideas for my book projects.

1:41 PM  
Blogger The Conservative UAW Guy said...

Great post, Shoprat.
I think those who believe that existence and life are accidents have more faith than anyone. Talk about a leap.
A faith in luck and happenstance.

And yet, Christians are labeled the ignorant, misguided ones...

Heh.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

It turns out an even better idea from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is that the Babel Fish is viewed by some as proof of the non-existence of God. The arguement, for those who don't know, goes something like this:

God says, "I refuse to prove I exist, because proof denies faith and without faith, I am nothing."
Man says, "But the Babel Fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguement, you don't. Q.E.D."
God says, "Oh, I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"That was easy," says Man, and goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed at the next zebra crossing.

Some say the world is balanced atop the backs of four elephants who are standing on the back of a turtle. Certain people try to get clever and say, "So what's the turtle standing on?" You can't fool me; it's turtles all the way down.

It seems that most of the philosophizing is going on in relation to the the ID/creationism vs. Evolution debate. I don't see religion and science as mutually exclusive, but the distinction must be made between philisophical reasoning and scientific reasoning, and each should be taught accordingly and appropriately separate. I also don't understand why, when the edge of understanding is reached, we must default to a God. What if we are the penultimate intelligence? What if we are unique and all alone, and there is no afterlife so what you do here doesn't change what happens when you die?

Well, then, it's what you do here and now that counts. Your afterlife is people's memories of you. So religion can serve as guidance, but it's not the right guidance for everyone. Call me agnostic, if you need a label, but my quarrel is not with God or Christianity (as I have leapt to the defense many times), but organized religion. I find the people involved genereally deceptive or decieved; either coaxing people to think how they want them to think, or be convinced not to use their (perhaps) God-given reasoning skills. Religions are run by people and therefore fallable (same goes for science). If God's word is fact, then it is our interpretation of it that gets in the way. I hope everyone understands I am not trying to personally insult anyone. I do not find Christians ignorant, I do find religious people more willing to attribute things they do not understand to a being whose very definition is that he can't be described. Or Xenu, or whatever.

I don't know how life and Earth started, and neither do you. Nor can you ever know. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't use the methods we know in order to try to find out and turn a blind eye to fact in favor of opinion.

3:46 PM  
Blogger NEO, SOC said...

Interesting comment robosquirrel. You are allowed your opinion and I can respect that. There are many areas I can address, but I will look at the first two (2) statements of your last paragraph. (Also, no insult was taken, well proposed, and appreciated).

I don't know how life and Earth started, and neither do you. Nor can you ever know.

Your statement is presented as fact, yet that presupposes that your application of epistemology is correct. You say some would define you as agnostic, then I ask you: If we can never know, how do you KNOW that? The agnostic view puts the agnostic in a superior view to others, yet it means that somehow the agnostic attained an understanding of truth not relegated to common folk. Yet, how do we really KNOW that to be the case? Again, there are many mysteries of God that man will never know (Deut. 29:29). The fact that He is Eternal, All-Knowing and All-Powerful makes it impossible to everything about Him because infinity means never-ending. Your view presupposes that we cannot appreciate the Truth of God's Word which reveals the creation of matter (see Genesis 1).

4:11 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Shoprat, interesting post, as always. I think you made my point from the other day in a much better way than I was capable of.

The cosmic egg does bring up an interesting thought, were all of our proteins, etc, existing there, and just happened to end up here when it exploded?

Nothingness itself couldn't have exploded, as from nothing you get nothing. If it was truly a big bang, what ever blew up contained the exact mass of everything we know of in the universe, at least according to the laws of physics. If that isn't true, we need to write some more laws.

7:09 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

CP That is the ultimate Paradox of existence. Either God exists entirely apart from the universe or the universe was made out of nothing. That is something many fail to understand, God is not part of this universe, it is His work.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Robosquirrel said...

Your statement is presented as fact, yet that presupposes that your application of epistemology is correct. You say some would define you as agnostic, then I ask you: If we can never know, how do you KNOW that? The agnostic view puts the agnostic in a superior view to others, yet it means that somehow the agnostic attained an understanding of truth not relegated to common folk.

OK, maybe I wasn't clear. I don't know about "The Agnostic View", but I don't pretend to have some some kind of superiority over those who believe in God (or don't - I accept that anything's possible but that don't think there is a way to prove it). What I didn't say in so many words is that my view is that knowledge can not be absolute. I don't KNOW that we can never know, how could I? How do you know God is eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful? That is certainly belief, but belief and fact are no more mutually exclusive than they are mutually inclusive. Perhaps

Perhaps, when we die and go to heaven, we are suddenly instilled with the Ultimate Answer and everything makes sense. Even if we were able to determine scientifically how life began and the world was formed, we probably wouldn't really know whether we'd actually figured it out or not.

This is going to be a never-ending philosophical circle. I don't know that you can't know, but you don't know that I don't know that you can't know, and so on. What I mean is that there is a limit to human understanding, because the only things we can even come close to considering fact are things we can observe. One can believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans and sculpted out of mud by God, but the only evidence we have of that is a book written by people and translated and reinterpreted and edited by people over the course of well over thousands of years. Does that make it fact? Some say yes; that's their opinion. I think that's a pretty shaky foundation for understanding the way the world works.

12:45 PM  
Blogger NEO, SOC said...

robosquirrel, thank you for your response.I am going to address this Existence issue here and the bible reliability issue here (in progress) so we can have the neverending philosophical conversation.

6:36 AM  

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