Something From Nothing?

In the beginning there was nothing. Then nothing happened to nothing which caused nothing to happen. Then nothing created everything. Anonymous

Sure, makes sense to me. Of course, science says something comes from nothing on its own, because that had to happen and the proof is that we’re here, no other reason needed. Right, certainly. I’m listening for an offer of swamp land for a good price. . .

To say I have problems with the New Atheism is an understatement. Some would say that since I’m a Catholic priest, I have a vested interest in promoting the existence of God and convincing others of the same: that’s my business. My gut reaction is: I’m not in a business, don’t see what I do as a business and if I did, there isn’t enough profit or power in it to offset the losses and frustrations. If I thought ministry was primarily a business, I would have left and gotten into one that made more money and didn’t give me as many headaches a long time ago. I am a truth seeker who wants to travel with other truth seekers, and priesthood is where my journey has led me, among other reasons. At this point of my life, I can’t see anything that would lead me elsewhere.

I’ve just re-read a book on the New Atheism I’ve mentioned on this blog before: God and the New Atheism by John F. Haught (ISBN 978-0664233044). Haught punctures a lot of the critiques of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris by demonstrating the lack of comprehensive thought in their theories: it seems that these authors require a new dogmatism to replace the dogmatism they intend to destroy and do not exercise enough self-examination of their own precepts for inconsistencies. A particular point he makes that I’ve never seen answered adequately is about modality: there can be many reasons someone write a book, and they aren’t all mutually exclusive.  As Haught puts it on pages 84-5:

“For one example, one explanation of the page you are reading is that a printing press has stamped ink onto white paper.  Another is that the author intends to put certain ideas across.  Still another explanation is that a publisher asked the author to write a critical response to the new atheism.  Notice that these three layers all explain the page you are reading, but they are not competing with or contradicting one another.  It makes no sense to argue, for example, that the page you are reading can be explained by the printing press rather than by the author’s intention to write something. . .the distinct levels are noncompetitive and mutually compatible.”

Saying science can explain something completely, like a Mozart Symphony, doesn’t exhaust other reason the music came to be or the vastly different meanings it could have. Limiting the analysis of a Mozart Symphony to a chart of vibrations generated, and insisting this is the only things worth studying is a bit absurd. Saying Occam’s Razor eliminates theology in favor of science is like saying oranges are bad and should be destroyed because they’re not up to the standard of apples.

For me, the issue of saying the Scientific explanation of Reality (the Universe and its parallels) is complete and Theology is unnecessary isn’t scientific enough. To study anything objectively, one must stand outside the experiment, measure it from the outside, control all the parameters as one observes the totality of the experiment from beginning to end. For us as human beings, there is no outside for us to stand when looking at the reality we inhabit: we are part of the phenomenon. We weren’t there in the flesh at the beginning and we won’t be there in the flesh at the end. We can try to leave our perspective behind in our imagination, model it via computer graphics, but we’re ultimately chained to our own perceptions and there is no calculus to leave our perceptions or point of view behind. Our perceptions depend entirely on our perspective, our measurements are all completely arbitrary, and our logic depends on rules we create. To be objective and scientific, we have to stand outside of ourselves and our perceptions and we can’t do that with Existence as a whole.

There are many scientific theories and deductions that were logically believable and generally accepted before disproving by direct observation. The existence of the luminiferous ether was a commonly accepted fact until non-results in key experiments disproved it. The theory of relativity did turn out provable, and was experimentally proven, as were quantum mechanics.  However, these two theories may be absorbed into a future explanation at some point in time, and may prove as irrelevant to the future as Euclidean mathematics is to that field today. Saying a scientific explanation about anything is complete seems to be an oxymoron, and making science more conclusive than it’s meant to be.

Like Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, I would say any God that could be defined completely isn’t worthy of worship. Any believable definition of God, any attempt to define God scientifically, has to be incomplete, or it isn’t God we’re talking about. We can deduce many things about God from our experience and culture, but that could be said of every scientific discovery as well: there is always missing data of which some is unattainable. Incomplete studies prove nothing. Incomplete data proves nothing. Until the Universe itself ceases to exist at the far end of entropy, there will be nothing we will know completely.

How we function in the meantime is the issue.

To be continued two weeks from today

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