Monday, September 3, 2012

Nobody said it would be hard

Christopher Howse, on Augus t 31, 2012, published a column entitled, 
"Big question from Stephen Hawking."

Christopher Howse is a religion columnist at the British newspaper, The Telegraph. I read him a lot, usually I learn something fun. This recent column about the questions of science reminded me of a recent perspective that Neil DeGrasse Tyson led me to. Tyson was repeating a common complaint among scientists, and he put it this way, (not an exact quote though) We don't know what happened before the big bang, but the religious people take this and say, aha, that proves there is a god.

Tyson and I say, Nah, this gap, PROVES, not a thing. And boy, is this logic prevalent in the religious press. My plan for this column is to just quote the questions Howse brings up, and at the end, let me have another go at explaining why these gaps in science do not prove anything at all. Oh, you can find the edge of the gap, and look and listen. But you cannot from this, say, here is an answer. Here is Howse with ellipses:

..."Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved an understanding of the underlying order of the world," Stephen Hawking said. "Why it is as it is and why it exists at all." The answers keep changing.

According to Saul Perlmutter, a winner of the Nobel prize last year, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate because of an entity called dark energy. A generation ago, the orthodoxy was that the expansion of the universe was slowing down.

The uncertainty of facts about the physical world makes it hard for those who hope to use them to prove the existence of God. ....

In setting out to prove God's existence, however, the task is not to say something extra about the universe. The God whose existence is to be proved, or disproved, is not part of the universe. If God by nature could be seen, he would lack the attributes that are part and parcel of what we mean by God.

Thus the infinity of God is not the mathematical infinity of time and space (whether it is "curved" or not). The kinds of infinity applicable to God are unlimited intellect, will (love) and power. Nor is God a cause in the universe like other secondary causes. He is the cause of the cosmos in the sense of explaining "why it exists at all" in Professor Hawking's words. God is called transcendent because he is not in the universe as one object among many. He is called immanent because he is intimately present to the cosmos as the cause of every bit of it existing.

So, to prove God's existence from traces that he leaves in the universe would not be like detecting dark energy.... Instead of inventing a sensitive meter to detect the presence of God, the argument has to proceed by examining metaphysical truths about the universe.

The universe seems very nicely arranged, for a start – with an "underlying order" as Professor Hawking notes. So what accounts for things, far and near, falling into patterns?

Then, to explain "why it exists at all" is not just to find a starting point, as if the Big Bang was someone lighting the blue touch-paper. Aristotle was happy to think it had always been there; some cosmologists draw an elegant graph in which space and time start at the same point. Neither view explains why there is anything there.

I suspect an argument can be constructed based on the intelligibility of things. It is not just that oxygen behaves the same way here as at 8.5 billion light years away. It is that material things can be known rationally. We do not just bump into them, we understand them, identify them as kinds of things, and use them.

As far as our poor minds go, understanding the principles of things is an ability to form universal concepts: not just an impression of a squawking feathery mass but of a kind of thing called a chicken. As far as things themselves go, they must have properties than can be understood.

....principles in things that correspond to our conception of them. ....logos, ...the name of one universal Word or principle that was there in the beginning.

Finished with quoting Howse. My point was to stress he saw answers as possible, answers expressed verbally.

Perhaps the quote was over long for my point, but I guess I am still entranced by the aspects which have apparently been accepted uncritically by the theologians. I count Howse as the best the theologians have to offer. Nothing above in his words lead me to think he has a clue about what an answer could consist of. You can stress the inadequacies of science, and they are legion. I like to put it simply that scientists are not empirical, enough. But Howse looks for answers---answers that can be put into words. That will not work from any kind of astute, inquiring perspective. Yes I am saying that the answers cannot be put into words. And what then would I be writing anything for. Because there are realities that cannot be summed up in words. In fact, and this is a point for another day, but it is obvious that there are realities that cannot be put into words. 

To phrase it this way, to point, the way Gurdjieff and Jan Cox, were tilting their heads, --over here. Questions are in a format like this --- words_words_words.  Answers are assumed to be in a comparable order-- word! words! words!  

NO NO NO. Words cannot be the answer, words cannot convey-- the answer. Words are a big part of the problem. Not certain words, words themselves.