Michael Battalio

Friday, March 14, 2014

This I Believe (part 26):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.

        Previously I’ve talked about my thoughts on the pope and on the Catholic Church in general. Now I consider the dichotomy of infinities.

        The fight between intelligent design and what I’ll call for lack of a better term the natural world (evolution, the big bang, actual provable science) comes down to a fight between infinities. Intelligent design imagines complexity from the top down (What a conservative, republican line of thought, evoking “trickle down economics”). God, in his infinite complexity, temporality, spatiality, designed the universe, the solar system and us and so on. The natural world makes complexity from the bottom up. Hydrogen coalesces into stars, planets, galaxies, more complicated elements via fusion and supernovae, which combine to form planets then simple molecule chains, then life increasing in complexity.

        Which is more complicated — an infinite universe (multiverse, m-branes, etc.) or an infinite being that created that universe? Which infinity do you believe? The God of most religions is infinite in scope. He always existed — a temporal infinity — and/or he is infinite in spatiality. The religious seem to have no problem with that infinity. (Who created God? “no one, he has always existed”) So why is there a problem with an infinite universe? You can’t reject one infinity for another. They are equal in difficulty for us mere humans to grasp (i.e. we can’t). So the obvious choice in choosing the infinity is the one with evidence (i.e. the natural world).

       I realize that this is somewhat of a false dichotomy for some people.  A lot of people choose to believe in both infinities, as in an infinite God created the universe that could become infinite in scope.  The part of me that wants God to exist takes this philosophy, but the agnostic in me realizes that it can only be one or the other.  The atheist in me automatically adopts the infinite of the universe.  


Owen said...

I wrote this comment before you updated this post, but felt inclined to post it anyway.

I think your last paragraph is a little too assumptive and general. There must be more than two sides to this argument, with a line drawn in the sand between 'believing in an infinite creator' and 'believing in infinite universes.' Yes, I know it's a division point of sorts, but doubt that it's that black and white, as if you necessarily must pick only one of those sides. I can believe in multiple universes, and understand that nature is built from the bottom up, but I don't think that means I also can't believe that a creator set that in motion.

Now, to address your updated paragraph.

This is a decent reply to my above comment (though I know you wrote it before reading my comment). Hopefully it is not such a black and white issue, as I find ways to accept both.

"...the agnostic in me realizes that it can only be one or the other."

What is the evidence that it can only be one way or the other?

Michael B. said...

I'll start by saying I have no evidence for anything. If I did I'd be a lot happier person. Let me address an adjacent point. If God exists, he went through a lot of trouble to cover up his existence. He started a universe that through all experimentation appears to be a natural phenomena with no premeditated design. [There are some parameters that seem to be tweaked for our existence (see the book "Just six numbers" my Martin Rees), but those can be explained away though the multiverse or through the anthropic principle.] To me it makes no sense that God has gone through all of this trouble. I suppose that an infinite God could have created the infinities around us, but why? Why send your son to perform miracles and convert people 2000 years ago, but painstakingly hide yourself now?

That's really all I have to answer your question. Perhaps I should have phrased this entry as more of a rebuttal against the Argument from Beauty for the existence of God rather than an argument for agnosticism. (Interestingly, physicists sometimes use, foolishly I think, the Argument from Beauty for why superstring theory could be a Grand Unified Theory. The math is so beautiful. It's just as misapplied here too.)

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