by Robert Lewis (July 2022)
Chaos, Nr. 2, Hilma of Klint, 1906
That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. —Christopher Hitchens
Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived. —Isaac Asimov
Why is there something and not nothing, or how does something evolve out of nothing asked Sophocles in the 5th century BC; an unsettling question taken up by the philosopher Martin Heidegger in the 20th century in his Introduction to Metaphysics (1935). The query presupposes the existence of a creative intelligence (God or Prime Mover) that is the cause of everything that is, otherwise known as the universe. But the inquiry is doomed to St. Peter out as an reductio ad infinitum because if there is a God, we must ask how did It come into being, and then what came before It—and so on.
Epistemological dualism (light-dark, good-evil) proposes that from the very outset the wrong question has been asked and allowed to set the tone for metaphysics for more than two millennia. It beggars belief that philosophy and theology’s greatest thinkers have been ensnared in a cause and effect loop that has significantly diminished their sphere of influence, a development not helped by the ascendency of astrophysics (astronomy).
When it comes to accounting for everything that is, the principle or law of dualism proposes that evil does not originate or evolve out of the good or vice versa, that hot does not issue out of cold, and intelligence does not erupt out of dumbness, but rather they are co-dependent, co-existent. So where you have one, you simultaneously have the other.
Dualism is founded on the notion that whatever anything is, it has an opposite, or at a minimum something other than itself. It is impossible for there to be one of anything. The one implies the many. Singularity cannot exist without plurality. If there were only one single unvarying temperature of 27 Celsius, the very concept of temperature would disappear. In order to exist, 27 Celsius requires other ‘unlike’ temperatures. As a universal organizing principle, dualism knows no circumvention or eclipse. It is the basis of everything that is—and isn’t.
The nothingness out of which presumably issued the universe, a cause and effect we attribute to God or a Prime Mover, is an untenable premise. Inherent in nothing is something: you cannot have one without the other. We do not require a conventional God or Prime Mover to account for the universe. The universe, as a something, which implicates a nothing, or a void, has always been there. Just as dumb, non-sentient life and intelligence have always co-existed. Every concept presupposes its opposite or something unlike itself.
The reason it is so difficult to wrap the brain around the idea that there is no beginning or end to the universe is because everything we know of life, which includes all manifestations of life, begins and ends: the workday, the calendar year, friendships/relationships; even an obdurate cliff side will one day crumble into pebble and sand. But the universe itself has always been.
Therefore, we need not ask from out of what originates intelligence since it has always existed as a vital counterpoint to dumb nature, a fact which renders nul and void questions such as what does God expect of us or how does God move through us or why does God permit suffering.
Notwithstanding the limitations of human intelligence, the God-seeker’s primary challenge is to isolate the known operations of the universe with the view that they might infer the existence of a cosmic (creative and controlling) intelligence. In particular, the seeker, perhaps a metaphysician, an astronomer, will want to bring into unconcealment the relationship between the order and chaos that constitutes the very heartbeat of the universe. And beyond that, he will want to know if there is a correspondence between the notion of order and a creative intelligence.
Since Spinoza (1632-77), who introduced the concept of pantheism (deity as everything that is), the orbit of God has not been brought any closer to human understanding. Or, to cite Nietzsche: “we are all equidistant from God.” The only thing we can state for certain, in accordance with the principle of dualism, is that a creative intelligence exists in opposition to dumb nature since there cannot be one without the other.
The universe simultaneously features both chaos and order as co-dependents. To better understand the ordering principle that governs the universe, and the implied insufficiency of human intelligence to make it intelligible, we adduce a cell in a human foot which belongs to a body that is maneuvered by an intelligence (the mind) that it cannot begin to fathom. The foot that is made to move is forever dumb to the cause of its movements. We know as fact that a single human intelligence can be the cause of moving thousands of non-sentient legs and feet of other intelligences, such as when a field general commands his troops to take up strategic position on the battlefield, or when a business hub sends out a workforce. The feet in these massive movements cannot begin to comprehend the cause of their mobility.
We know that human intelligence can decide to observe and track the behaviour of a colony of red ants or douse it with kerosene and eliminate it altogether. The colony cannot begin to conceive of the intelligence that allows it to dwell in peace or decides on its total destruction or why a small percentage of it was saved while the rest were conflagrated. From the surviving ants’ perspective, there is no why they were saved; some were and some weren’t. The flow of intelligence between the human and ant is strictly one way, just as a meaningful encounter between the intelligence that inheres in the universe and human intelligence may be strictly one way. For all we know, we—the planet and the life it supports—may be no more than dumb cells in an intelligence that is comprised of billons of galaxies.
Human beings can manipulate entities and introduce products into the world that never existed: a rock can yield a mineral that can be bent into a tool, a tree can be sculpted into a chair, an animal, such as a mule or camel, can be used as a conveyance, the hides refashioned into protective clothing. None can comprehend its radical transformation, that is the creative intelligence directing the purposeful activity.
Chaos and order are not separate, absolute entities. And while each operates within in its own singularity or particular law, both are in constant flux, the one, over time, transitioning into the other and vice versa. Their relationship or interdependence is not so much fixed as relative or quantum.
Let us hypothesize a theater where a dancer enters the stage and mimics having a seizure. If asked to describe the spectacle in terms of its aesthetic value, the viewer (reviewer) would characterize it as chaotic, disorderly and thoroughly displeasing to the eye. However, if a dozen dancers were to perform those exact same movements, the viewer would now describe the dance as meticulously choreographed and aesthetically pleasing. So depending on perspective, the exact same movements can represent both order and chaos.
The orderly expansion of the universe allows for entities being ripped out of their orbits and sucked into a black hole that explodes into a galaxy before once again expanding in an orderly manner. Are these macro-events purely random or is there a creative intelligence that produces, directs and presides over them?
Everything that exists is subject to its own particular law that derives from its particular environment, and this holds true for the universe. A rock’s erosion is a function of the elementals of wind, rain and sun. Even in a pure vacuum, which precludes changes in volume, the rock is subject to gravitational forces which determine its position at any given moment. But there is nothing internal in the rock that bears in the unfolding of its destiny. It has no DNA.
Organic entities are subject to both their DNA and environmental pressures. Deciduous trees lose their leaves as the hours of sunlight diminish or the temperature falls below zero: coniferous trees do not lose their leaves.
While animals do not have the capacity to choose, they possess an energy (an élan vital) that compels them to seek out environments favourable to survival.
Since human intelligence is synonymous with choice and the ability to manipulate entities, is it unreasonable to hypothesize that the creative intelligence that inheres in the universe must be capable of manipulating the entities of the universe? If it cannot manipulate its environment (the universe), can it be called a creative intelligence?
Human beings, in perpetuity, are writing their own scripts while being subject to random events. At this stage of man’s evolution, human intelligence cannot determine whether the major cosmic events that have determined the nature of life on the planet earth are random or the work of a cosmic intelligence. Just as we don’t know if human life is an accident or the work of this intelligence. Our planet is subject to its own internal laws that govern its temperature and topography as well as external events such as another star’s gravitational pull, but its much used (and abused) surface tells the story of man’s very deliberate and measured intervention.
The sheep species (Ovis Aries) with which we are all familiar shares a common evolution that does not account for the existence of Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep. Dolly owes its existence to a creative intelligence that it cannot begin to fathom while all the world’s other sheep are products of biological determinism. Does the example of Dolly and the species to which it belongs mirror the workings of the universe? Did we evolve from the apes, or like Dolly, are we—sentient, self-conscious—the product of a creative intelligence that presently lies beyond the purview of human inquiry?
As it concerns free choice in the unfolding of destiny of the species, the power and impotence of human intelligence are co-existent. Man has manipulated his environment in order to create a vast supply chain to feed upward of eight billion people. But he is powerless to affect the rotation of the earth. Does the creative intelligence that inheres in the universe similarly manipulate the entities of the cosmos? Is it random or deliberate when a galaxy collapses and disappears into a black hole? Since we exercise partial control over our lives and destiny of the planet, is the universe, that includes a creative intelligence, subject to the same selective manipulations? We know that planet earth hosts many entities that are strictly passive, that is subject to the physical laws of their environment. Other entities are subject to the full force of human intelligence.
If we are presently incapable of isolating and/or assigning attributes to a cosmic intelligence, there is every reason to believe that this insufficiency, in accordance with the law of dualism, will, over time, produce a variant of itself. But for now, it seems that it is not necessary that human intelligence understand how and why and what moves this cosmic intelligence. Man fully grasps as an epistemological certainty that he is the only life form on the planet earth for whom dumb nature, in whose midst he dwells, exists, and that dumbness precludes a Creative Intelligence. He also knows experientially that knowledge, once identified as such, is subject, over time, to increase, so there is every reason to believe that human intelligence will one day be capable of identifying, as fact, something of the nature or essence of the universe and the Creative Intelligence it subsumes.
Among the many implicit directives that issue from the above speculations, one stands out: not in god, but in Mind we must trust.
Robert Lewis was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He has been published in The Spectator. He is also a guitarist who composes in the Alt-Classical style. You can listen here.
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A very deep and interesting piece. I’m not sure I could do a reply justice without spending an inordinate amount of time. Here are few comments nevertheless.
>In particular, the seeker, perhaps a metaphysician, an astronomer, will want to bring into unconcealment the relationship between the order and chaos that constitutes the very heartbeat of the universe. And beyond that, he will want to know if there is a correspondence between the notion of order and a creative intelligence.
I think you are correct. In earlier times, believers stood on solid ground in any argument because the accepted default position was that God exists. Now, however, it is the other way around. We must “prove” that God exists, whereas atheists can sit back, high and dry.
>Human beings, in perpetuity, are writing their own scripts while being subject to random events.
There’s a lot packed into this. Writing your own script? This implies free-will, rather than any deterministic notion of how the universe works.
And my big question is — just what is “random”? For example, in computers, “pseudo random number generators” are used. While the numbers they spit out look random, they are not random at all — they are purely deterministic. Once their initial starting value is known, the number sequence they give can be instantly known for all (computer) time.
It is possible to calculate the “amount of information content” in a message. Here is a little (Shannon information) calculator I wrote a while back:
The thing is, if we give it random (real or pseudo) numbers as the message, it gives a result for the maximum amount of information possible. This is why you can ZIP compress a text file containing English language text, but not a file containing random numbers.
People invariable say that “random sequences” DO NOT contain information because they are just random. But that is an assumption, and what if it was wrong? What if randomness does indeed contain information at some profound level? What if true randomness is only something that God can generate (i.e. at the quantum vacuum level, let’s say)?
>He also knows experientially that knowledge, once identified as such, is subject, over time, to increase, so there is every reason to believe that human intelligence will one day be capable of identifying, as fact, something of the nature or essence of the universe and the Creative Intelligence it subsumes.
Yes, I would like that — to “identify”, but not to fully grasp or understand. It seems to me that the universe is “constructed” to deny its denizens omniscience (or the knowledge of God). Things are conscious at the level they have choices — it may be argued that an ant’s nest is conscious (as a super-organism) but only on the level it has choices to make. Without choice there is no consciousness. If we had omniscience, we would no longer have “free-will”. Free-will and omniscience are mutually exclusive — if you know the future then you no longer have choices over anything and, instead, reduced to a mere automaton.
The way I tend to see things now is that a consciousness of some kind has always existed, or more specifically, is outside of time as we know it. Without consciousness, the universe as we know it could not exist.
I’m reminded of a couple of quotes from the Bible (John):
In the beginning was the word (Logos)…
The light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness understood it not.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics proves that the universe had a beginning some 13.8 billion years ago. There was no ‘before’ the universe, but there was ‘ontologically prior’ to the universe an eternal Mind that brought space, time and matter into existence. The ‘Who made God’ question is a misunderstanding of an uncaused, eternal entity. When theistic scientists and philosophers say the universe came out of nothing, what they mean is nothing physical (Naturalism).
As for Christopher Hitchens’s quote:
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
To quote William Lane Craig: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence… Most historical events don’t leave sufficient evidence to reconstruct them, so the absence of evidence isn’t itself proof that an event didn’t occur.”
I for one am not sure about dualities in which the argument is anchored. In my view, for instance, the reference to “chaos and order” just isn’t right: “chaos” does not exist, and never did — that is, if by “chaos” is meant something not controlled by the laws of physics (whatever is controlled by laws, is by definition not chaos). It would be interesting to hear from a professional physicist, but I very much doubt that the term “chaos” itself is scientifically sound; all there is, is “order,” whatever form that “order” takes. The possible — but not certain — exceptions we know of are the black holes that are, for that reason, called “singularities”…
Very interesting point. In other words the laws of physics can account for everything; or everything that is — is its own law. Perhaps tamed versus untamed (subject to manipulation/intervention) would have been more accurate.
I can have a shot if you like. I’m certainly not a “professional physicist”, but I did study physics and have a passing interest in Chaos theory. So I’ll have to do.
“Chaos theory” is the study of hidden structures in behaviour which appear random (or chaotic), but is actually governed by deterministic laws.
Here’s a nice example:
It’s a double pendulum. Although deterministic and simple to analyse, it is inherently unpredictable. You can construct a nice computer model of it if you wish and spend a lot of time calibrating it with reality. But its predictions will always diverge from reality after a short time. Even though deterministic, many systems simply cannot be predicted no matter how much knowledge we have about them and how big our computers are.
Now, I find the phrase “Chaos vs Order” very profound. It is at the boundary between ordered states and chaotic ones that interesting things emerge — namely things which suddenly become self-organising and can direct entropy in reverse — i.e. life. There’s a field called “Complexity” which is the study of how such systems emerge from chaotic ones.
>“chaos” does not exist, and never did — that is, if by “chaos” is meant something not controlled by the laws of physics (whatever is controlled by laws, is by definition not chaos)
You are defining chaos to be simply randomness (outside the realm of deterministic laws). You say that it does not exist, and therefore, it follows from your statement that you believe the universe is purely deterministic. But this is not so. We do not live in a purely deterministic universe, but one with only “adequate determinism”.
Two immediate explanations come to mind:
1 The “No hidden variables” hypothesis of quantum mechanics. I.e. within a quantum system, there is no hidden clockwork to discover in order to figure out what the system is about to do. In other words, such systems are indeed purely random (i.e. non-deterministic). Sure you can apply probability distributions if you wish (i.e. wave-equations), but you cannot know what an individual system is about to do without uncertainty.
2. In order for determinism to hold, we must live in a universe where the amount of information in it is either static or decreasing. This must be so, because if the information is increasing, then the future cannot be determined using current knowledge of its state combined with knowledge of “laws”.
Now, here’s a little revelation — according to studies by David Layzer in the 1970s on the expansion of space, the amount of information in the universe is INCREASING! See below:
Rather than “running down”, the universe is actually booting up. Who or what is generating this information?
Are precisely what is “information”? This is actually a profound question. 🙂
What a lot of people fail to understand is that the ‘Big Bang’ did not create the universe; it instead started the cosmic ball rolling. In other words, an all-powerful, disembodied spirit Creator ‘ignited’ the ‘Big Bang’, and that concept is religiously neutral. However, the first book to state the ‘Big Bang’ was the Bible’s opening first words in the Old Testament: “In the beginning…”. In his book, ‘The Genesis Enigma’, Andrew Parker writes about why the first book of the Bible is scientifically accurate. Also, the majority of world religions are pantheistic, which is not compatible with science because on pantheism, the universe is eternal. Such a concept is easily debunked by the following analogy: Boil a pot of water, take it off the cooker and dip your finger into it after 10 to 15 minutes. The water is cooling down. Then after one hour, the water’s heat is rapidly loosing energy. Hence, The Second Law of Thermodynamics. The universe is also cooling down; running out of energy. Therefore it can’t be eternal.
You write: “What a lot of people fail to understand is that the Big Bang” did not create the universe.” But apparently you understand it, which means one of us doesn’t.
“An all-powerful, disembodied spirit Creator ignited the Big Bang.” How do you know that?
Talent is god-given: be humble.
Fame is man-given: be grateful.
Conceit is self-given: be careful.
Regarding, “An all-powerful, disembodied spirit Creator ignited the Big Bang.”, you ask: ‘How do you know that?’
I believe it because there is only one candidate for the creation of the universe and that is an all-powerful, eternal Mind. Can you think of any other candidate? But do I know that to be 100% true? Of course not, but I believe it in the same way as I believe in the existence of the external world but can’t prove it. There are also other things that I can’t prove but believe they exist: Love, Beauty, Logic, Mathematical Equations, etc.
Everything must have a cause. This implies a never-ending series of prior causes. That is not rational. We solve the problem by positing at one point – rather far back – an uncaused cause. Is our hypothesis any more or less unbelievable than the infinite regression?
Take also the Universe. Did it have a Start – a time before which it was not? Was it Always (i.e., uncaused)? Or did it emerge from Nothing? Either case seems incredible.
To understand the ‘Cause’ question, the Copleston–Russell debate from 1948 (BBC Radio) is a good start. It’s available on youtube. In my opinion, Fr Copleston won the debate.
John 8:58, 59 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
In the event described above Jesus was in the temple at Jerusalem surrounded by enraged zealots intent on his death. He escaped unharmed. How did he do that? And how could he (or anyone else of his day) imagine to claim full-fledged living existence prior to that of Abraham unless the claim is true? Asking for a friend…
One unexpected consequence of Robert Lewis’s good idea —which we might call the ‘Existence of Polar Opposites principle’ is that there must be a polar opposite to mathematics. The bad news is that a secular priesthood has been in place, and has had such a tight stranglehold on interpreting and teaching maths for more than 2,000 years, that it never occurred to them to try to understand their subject better: an essential preliminary to conceptualising its opposite. The good news is that I have set out the basics of just such an ‘anti-mathematics’ discipline in my six essays in the New English Review starting with ‘The day Western Logic caved’ in the September 2021 issue. (The others are in the Nov, Jan, March, May, June issues.) To understand mathematics better requires a great deal of patience, trying to get to the heart of the reasoning. But I’m afraid this sets a standard which, as Wittgenstein was first to see clearly, is not going to allow us —when reasoning in philosophy— to take metaphysics at face value. Metaphysics is like loose money —it looks potent and positive, but in the last analysis no one quite knows where its meaning is coming from. It also lacks sustainability or, in other words, the capacity to lead to progressive problem-shifts as introduced by Imre Lakatos in the 1970s. It is really the experience of negotiating progressive problem shifts which gives one the feeling of gaining grip. When the idea of a Deity (monotheism) was being mooted in the ancient world it was a big step forward in explaining the existence of the universe. It was also a whopping abstraction, one which sprang no doubt from the potency and dominance of mathematics at that time. The Deity hypothesis had immense credibility. The only agencies any one had ever heard of —which were capable of great feats of creativity like new cities, temples, monuments— were leaders like Mausolus, Alexander, Hannibal, Augustus Caesar. So the hypothesis that a supermind (=God) must have created the universe was a no brainer. But the concept of ‘mind’ is not a simple, basic ‘given’. Lewis Carroll guyed it in Alice’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party where the works of the watch have been removed and replaced by butter and jam! We now know, thanks to the cybernetic insights of the last sixty years, that we can mimic some of the simplest attributes of mind with digital electronic circuitry. The brain, of which we know very little (for example where it stores its prodigious memories) is evidently a highly structured biological marvel, which, in some way we do not understand, manages to give us the experience of consciousness. There are only two options here. Either it is a wholly deterministic machine which can be described using mathematics, or it is a purposive, affective, creatively self-conscious agency which, hopefully, will be described in the future using anti-mathematics. There have been over-enthusiastic mathematicians —people like Laplace, Russell, Keynes— who should have known better who have plumped for determinism. Most lively, sensible people can see, however, that we undoubtedly have freewill and that determinism is a potentially dreadful weapon in the armoury of dictators and tyrants. So the most likely conclusion is that anti-mathematics will eventually be able to find a credible way to describe —but only in lucid qualitative terms— how the human brain works. At this point we reach a ‘Eureka singularity’ in human experience, because this brain will be capable in principle of creating the anti-mathematical structure which it, itself, consists of. It will of course embody a huge tranche of ‘common wisdom’ which we unconsciously acquire while growing up. This Eureka singularity is therefore a solution to the problem of how a supermind could come into being, and it fixes its location —inside the heads of every member of the human race. It also reveals the source of most of the metaphysic headaches which have been circulating since Emmanuel Kant first glimpsed the possibility of this creative singularity. (NB Eureka singularity is the anti-thesis of the much-bandied nightmare singularity postulated by some “experts” who have fallen for their own over-hyped AI illusions.)