Monday, June 29, 2009

How to Prove God Exists

This may be the most complex blog post I attempt, but it's also the most important: it's on the existence of God.

I.
God and Cassandra.

An anti-theist (that is, someone who not only doesnt' believe in God, but is bitter towards those who still can), posed a "question" on a Catholic forum I was reading. He set up his proposition this way:

1.)God is infallible, yes?
2.)God is omniscient, yes?
3.)If #2 is true, God knows when I'm going to sin, yes?
4.)If 1, 2 and 3 are true, I have no choice but to sin, yes?
5.)However, God gave me free will apparently, yes?

Now, I think that there are good arguments related to free will, but this one isn't. It's the most common one I've heard, and I think it's an absurd logical fallacy. So let me be clear about a few things:

  • Perfect foreknowledge doesn't deprive anyone of their free will. I could know the events of the past perfectly, and it wouldn't deprive historical actors of their freedom to make those choices.
  • Omniscience doesn't require or imply omnipotence, although omnipotence does require omniscience. In Greek mythology, Cassandra is given the gift of prophesies by Apollo. When she doesn't return his affections, he curses her to not having her prophesies believed.
So a hypothetical Cassandra could meet conditions 1, 2, and 3, and yet be unable to stop a person from sinning. Obviously, in such a case, there's no deprivation of free will: there's not even a possibility of deprivation of free will. But a more important force is at work here.

II. Einstein, Newton, and Space-Time.
Peter Kreeft put is this way (this is from p. 93 of his book Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them?:

Material time is a function of matter, is relative to matter. It does not exist before matter exists. Newton was wrong: there is no absolute and infinite time and space. Einstein is right: time and space are relative to matter in motion. They are generated by the motion of matter, somewhat as heat or scent is generated by an animal as it runs.

Now this is where things get confusing, because we're not used to thinking in this manner. But try and imagine a world where all of time is laid out before you, past, present, and future, like a book which you can flip back and forth in. Now, leave the question of a Creator God out of things for a second. Even a powerless being, a cosmic Cassandra, who existed outside of the material universe would exist outside of material time. Presuming that such a being existed outside of all time altogether (I say this, because, as Kreeft notes, angels are governed by a form of time which isn't tied to material reality: we know this because they're created beings). Such a being would have to have a total awareness of what you were going to do, since there is not a future-tense "going to" in any meaningful capacity if we step beyond the series of causal perceptions known as material time.

So in fact, anything or anyone operating outside of time would fulfill requirements #1, 2, and 3 as applies to this problem set. So by eliminating God, you don't actually solve anything: we still live in a material universe bound by time, with an awareness that time is a seemingly arbitrary property of the universe itself: that it doesn't exist above and beyond the universe. Einstein settled this pretty well. Put another way, there is no such time as 13.8 billion years ago. It's before time. We can think we can imagine it, but it doesn't exist. It's pre-singularity.

So even if God weren't true, we'd still be predestined, and a being who existed outside of space and time would still have a perfect knowledge of (what we consider) past, present, and future. In fact, even if there were no being observing our universe, we'd still be predestined in some way: our actions have already occurred in the future.

The common misconception (amongst Christians as well as atheists, and even the ancient Romans, who believed in blind Fate) is that predestination automatically strips an individual of free will. It doesn't. Anyone outside the universe can know what will happen. That doesn't tell us why those things happen. They could happen because of an uncontrollable cycle, like domnios falling, or things could happen because a person felt love, or artistic desire, or any number of other things, and carefully and deliberately did something which they didn't have to do. Put another way, if you had a time machine and could observe (but not interact with) Caravaggio about to paint one of his masterpieces, the fact that you knew 100% for sure what he was going to paint wouldn't make him a mindless robot: he made a free decision, you just happen to know which choice he will make.

III. What This Tells Us About God.
The first two parts, I think, dismantle the argument as presented: it's not a particularly strong argument, but it makes a lot of "gut sense," because we can't wrap our minds around the relationship of time to matter and both of those to cause and effect. But in disproving it, a pretty incredible counterpoint arises, which I'd like to share as best I can.

Modern science proves that material time is relative, and we've got a pretty solid indication that something like the Big Bang occurred at some point in history: that is, at some point, time began (both Creationists and evolutionists agree on this: the how isn't really relevant for purposes of this argument, so let's leave it aside. I happen to believe "Let there be light," is the Big Bang; others may disagree, but that's for another time). Scientists call this origin-point of space-time a "singularity."

So time began, and as Aquinas points out in his Summa, the cause of that beginning cannot be temporal. To go from non-existence to existence is a cause and effect. The effect is material time, so the cause cannot be. Stop and try and wrap your head around that concept, because a lot of people mess that up. As soon as you acknowledge that there's a beginning to the material universe, and a beginning to time, there has to be an external agent which caused it.

Prior to the Big Bang theory, scientists believed in a "stable universe," that is, a universe which moved around a bit, but not in a single direction (outwards or inwards, I mean), and which had just always existed. When Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and brilliant scientist, proposed the Big Bang Theory, it was originally perceptive atheists who opposed him. The reason is that their idea of the universe was one of an infinite series of causes and effects - imagine an endless series of dominos falling for all eternity. It had certain logical problems, but as it went, it allowed for the possibility of atheism. That's not a tenable theory and longer. At the point that we say, "here's the Big Bang, here's the singularity, this is the first domino," we're left with a basic problem: what made the first domino fall? It can't be the stock materialist answer, "the domino before it." It leaves only "the finger of God," or at least of an external force acting upon the Universe [this is true even if God didn't, hypothetically, create the initial matter of the Big Bang; it so happens that He did].

From this, we can deduce two things about the First Mover: first, that He must be eternal and infinite, since He exists outside of time; and second, that He has to be all-knowing, at least in the sense of having perfect knowledge of past, present, and future. These conclusions eliminate nearly all of the competition to Christianity from the field. It also eliminates certain views within Christianity: "open Theism" isn't scientifically or physically possible, to say nothing of its metaphysical impossibility.

It turns out that properly tuned, science may be one of the best tools that Christian apologists have against, for example, the secular materialist I quoted above.

Tomorrow, I'm going to add a twist, which I think complicates it a lot more. Namely, God's omnipotence. This will transition the discussion from the problem of Free Will to the problem of Evil (why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil?). The two questions are necessarily related, but distinct.

2 comments:

  1. Still quite behind on reading your stuff, so out of respect, I'll be brief. Two things: 1) You (a created being) said that God must know everything. "Such a being would HAVE to HAVE..." However, my question here would be why? Why must He? Because your logic demands it? Having an ability is not the same as using it. So, what if God chooses not to use it? I don't think this is the same as asking can God make a boulder too heavy for even him to move. 2) Atheist scientists have already begun to respond to this line of thinking by going back precisely to the (weak) arguement of "infinite series of causes and effects." This universe is a) not the only universe, b) not the first - it was birthed in the death on another, c) not the last - it will birth another upon it's death. I agree, the arguement is still untenable, but increasing the scope using functional variables can make the arguement acceptable.

    Honestly, the only people who can believably argue there is no God are those who do not believe there is a God, and the only people who can believe such arguements are those who already don't believe in God.

    DJ|AMDG

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  2. DJ | AMDG,

    I assure you that there's no requirement to read every post before commenting. Besides, I really enjoy your take on things - don't needlessly deprive us of that!

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