Showing posts with label infinity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label infinity. Show all posts

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hawking and Logic - From the book A Brief History of Time

Designed? Not designed? Can we infer design when we see it?

So, as I wrote before, I'm currently working in the Middle East as part of my job in the military. I have lots of time on my hands and as part of using that time wisely, I've recently been listening to more audiobooks. This is a common practice for me back home, but here I have even more time to kill, which leads to listening to more books. I recently started listening through this work by Stephen Hawking, who I'm sure you've heard of as he was a popular leader in making scientific ideas consumable by the general public. A popular popularizer of science. This book is quite easy to listen to and comprehend and I highly recommend it. He (Hawking) makes clear that he doesn't believe in God, but there are some interesting points that I think he makes that might lead one closer to belief in God. For example, this paragraph from chapter eight (not sure what page):
One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to understand. This would certainly have been within the power of an omnipotent being, but if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they refect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. It would be only natural to suppose that this order should apply not only to the laws, but also to the conditions at the boundary of space-time that specify the initial state of the universe. There may be a large number of models of the universe with different initial conditions that all obey the laws. There ought to be some principle that picks out one initial state, and hence one model, to represent our universe.
What I read into his writing here is that Hawking would have been more inclined to believe in God if an actual “theory of everything” (TOE) were to be discovered. It’s interesting to me because I have said something akin to that whenever someone talks about a TOE. If such an equation exists, to me that implies, even more so, that there is a Grand Designer. The idea I'm going for is quite simple. Hawking says the idea in reverse: "if [God] had started [the universe] off in such an incomprehensible way, why did [God] choose to let [the universe] evolve according to laws that we could understand?" Or, more simply, we find the universe understandable, so if God made it understandable now, the initial conditions of the universe should also be understandable. I completely agree, and so do many others. What Hawking is hinting at here is what many call "teleological arguments" for God. Put simply, the universe is orderly, orderliness implies design, design implies a designer, the only being capable of such design would be what we call "God." This makes complete sense to me and I feel like a TOE points to design and therefore a Designer.

Another interesting point in that same chapter is later when he talks about multiverse theories and the anthropic principle. I don't have a quote for this (audiobook), but two things stick out to me. He talks about infinity with regard to multiverse theories. I've written some about infinity and how people often misuse or misunderstand the concept herehere, here, here (infinite regress in epistemology), and here (Aquinas' third "way"). Hawking talks about different theories of a multiverse and though he is carefully skeptical of them because of our inability to contact, view, get to, or understand such things, he addresses the idea quite a bit. But, when he talks of them he has a very small view of the word "infinite." As many philosophers have pointed out, an actual infinite creates or contains irreconcilable paradoxes. So, Hawking says that given an infinite number of universes or parts of an infinite set of local universes within a larger infinite space, there would be more universes that are incapable of supporting life. However, this idea illustrates his small view of the word "infinite." If there truly is an infinite number of universes, there would be an infinite number of universes that are capable of sustaining life. In fact, there would be an infinite number of universes identical to our own universe. "Infinite" really is that large of a concept (when used properly). In this same chapter he references the anthropic principle, which to me, is not a threat to theistic belief systems. Within the idea of the anthropic principle are two primary views. The "weak anthropic principle" is counter to the "strong anthropic principle." The weak version basically says that any design in the universe that we infer from the fact that we're here and alive is wrong. We wouldn't be here if the universe weren't this way and we're using survivorship-bias to say that we wouldn't be here if it were any different. The weak version is anti-design, saying that we are assuming design when we shouldn't. It's obvious that we have to be here because we're here and design has no part in it. Like looking at a painting that was made by throwing paint randomly at a canvas and seeing design in it, but in reality there is no design and our assumption of design is found in our bias toward assuming design in things. Honestly, I find the strong version more compelling because it's a version of the teleological argument for God. We're here and that's not surprising. Everything in the universe seems set up with the intention of producing a place where our observation of such things is possible, and we're here.

To summarize my counterpoints. A TOE is one more in a huge number of elements of design in the universe. This book lists 93 just for the formation of the universe, 154 for the formation and growth of life on the Earth, and 10 more for the formation of life as we know it. If there's a TOE then it would make sense that a Grand Designer with intelligence beyond comprehension set up the universe with that as a framework. Also, an actual infinite is paradoxical and nonsensical and should not be a part of our understanding of the universe or multiverse. That idea that there even is a multiverse (either concurrent multiple universes or an infinite series of past and future universes) is taken completely on faith. How can someone who claims to be a scientist, who claims to care about evidence and logic, who asks for evidence for God, who claims there is no evidence for God, believe in something like the multiverse which, by definition, cannot possibly be tested for or evidence gathered for it? This book has it right, it does take more faith to be an atheist.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 6: What Is God? The Divine Attributes

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas given in fourteen lectures by Professor Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and King's College.  A short note before I dig into this lecture.  I've noticed that these entries are getting way too long.  I think I need to pare down some of the lecture notes and only give a bullet point style outline of the lectures (of course when I came to the end I noticed I really hadn't shortened it much).

First about Thomas' philosophy in general, three things: disciplined, only going as far as logic takes it, his abstract deduction is fruitful from small premises a great edifice is built, although theoretical in nature Thomas' philosophy is full of powerful practicality.

To answer this question, "What is God?"  Thomas starts off, we can't know exactly what God is only what He is not.  All of the divine attributes are negations.  Infinite: not finite, Eternal: no termination, immutable: not changing, even oneness has a meaning that includes not divisible.  He starts off with and finishes with, God's unity.

Here are some of the compositional possibilities that Thomas proves cannot be within God:
He is not composed of material parts, of matter and form, of subject and nature, or substance and attributes, of essence and existence, of genus and difference, of substance and accident, of any other composition at all, or of composition with other beings.
God doesn't lack any perfection which exists within any genus.  The "argument" for God's perfection doesn't seem like an argument so much as an assertion.  God is such and such.  E.g. beauty, whatever beauty we recognize in the things we see, is in God fully actualized and whole, without limits.  A detachment from worldly beauty is a deeper appreciation of beauty because true beauty is in God.

The goodness of existence has two proofs for Thomas, one that all desire goodness, and perfection is only as far as a thing is actual, existence is what makes all things actual, existence is goodness.  That's not to say there isn't evil, that's from moral choices.  Just that existence itself is good.  Also, everything that exists is either the Creator or the creation.  The Creator is perfect goodness and anything the perfectly good Creator makes must also be good.  Thomas agrees with Aristotle that there are "three kinds of goodness: the pleasant, the useful, and the virtuous."  All things are created with these three things, it's only moral choices that can be virtuous or vicious.

The next feature is infinity.  An interesting comparison with Greek and Roman philosophy here, because in Greek and Roman thought infinitude is a negative thing.  Prof Kreeft's reasoning is that they were thinking too concretely/literally when it came to God.  They envisioned things in the physical sense.  God being infinitely tall or big would be a negative concept.  That's evident in their theology, even the greatest of their gods had physical bodies, physical attributes.  The God of Judaism and Christianity is infinite in His spiritual characteristics wisdom, goodness etc.

Next on omnipresent:
“God is in all things not as part of their essence nor as an accident but as an agent is present to that upon which it works . . . And since God is being itself by His own essence, created being must be His proper effect, as to ignite is the proper effect of fire. Now God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being (that distinguishes him from Deism), as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it. (Now watch what second premise he adds to this first premise to prove his stunning conclusion.) But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things. Hence God is in all things, and innermostly.” (Quote from lecture notes.  Prof Kreeft's interjections in parentheses.)
I could be mistaken here, and I don't want to try to claim that science has proven God or even described God per se, but I see an interesting parallel between Thomas' arguments and the idea of strong and weak nuclear forces (or all four of the "fundamental forces").  Prof Kreeft goes on to say that God is more present to everything than that thing is to itself.  God is more present to you than you are to yourself.  This does not contradict God's transcendence, see above God is not "of composition with other beings," because God is not in a way physically present in everything (that's why I'm not so sure about the fundamental forces parallel), rather God is present in everything as a mind or will.  God's transcendence is such that He's not limited by space (or time).

Next is immutability: "God is pure actuality, without potentiality. All mutability, all change, begins with something potential and actualizes it. If there’s nothing potential in God, there’s no change in God. If there were, then some new perfection would be gained or some old perfection would be lost, and then God would not be perfect at every moment."  (Quote from lecture notes, not Thomas' writings.)  Part of immutability is wrapped up in eternality, that is to an eternal being there is no future, no change, no movement through time.  As humans we move through time one moment at a time, to God all moments are simultaneously now.  As a side note not really mentioned in the lecture.  Coming from this argument it's a simple step to say God is omniscient.  If God is everywhere, at all times obviously He knows all things.

Lastly, unity (against polytheism):
“The unity of God is proved from the infinity of His perfection. For it was shown above that God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to the one which did not belong to the other. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if it were a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist.”
How does this work with the Trinity?  The concept of the Triune God doesn't conflict with this concept of oneness as much as people think.  Thomas' theological points on this matter echo or quote Bernard of Clairvaux, that God, is love and the unity of love is stronger and more perfect than the unity in the mathematical unit, one.  Real love binds people together in such a way that one would die rather than let his or her beloved be harmed.  This is why the unity of the Trinity is greater than any other unity.

Sorry that this entry has been so long in coming.  I've been taking a break while I completed this semester of classes and I've been busy with other things.  Also, in all honesty, this one was quite difficult for me.  Some of the arguments seem circular though I think part of it is Prof Kreeft's style.  He doesn't seem to follow a clear, concise, flowing outline with bullet-points, introductions and conclusions.  He seems to have written these lectures in stream-of-consciousness style and they are often difficult to follow.

HDR from the Cub Scouts campout on Saturday

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


WOW deep stuff!  There's a whole Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article (sixteen pages long in 12pt type!) about time.  Needless to say, my entry won't be anywhere near as comprehensive.  Which I'm sure you'll all agree that's a shame.  Ha!  Well, here goes.  As usual this discussion was inspired by the History of Philosophy podcast, this time it was an episode about Aristotle's view of time.  I've done a quick search on my blog alone and found that I've used the word "time[s]" approximately 126 times (before this entry of course, I've used the word six times in this entry alone!).  Of course not all those usages were the simple noun, time.

We use the word all the time, but what do we really know about time?  "I don't have enough time."  "I ran out of time."  "A stitch in time saves nine."  "Time flies."  Numerous other casual references to time pop up in conversation all the time.  What do they all mean?  Is time measurable movements as Aristotle seems to define it?  Is time an empty void to be filled as Plato seems to define it?  Both seem to be acceptable ideas/definitions of time.  And when it comes down to brass tacks does it really matter?  The argument is, sort of, moot.  It's a discussion piece but it ends up in the same regression to which epistemology eventually runs, there's the skeptical answer that no matter how you slice it, you can never know for certain that you're experiencing what you're actually experiencing and that it's not all a figment of your imagination/dream/Matrix/brain-in-a-vat.  It's very similar when it comes to time.

We can number or measure time, we call it a watch or clock.  We experience the passing of time, assuming that we can trust our senses, at least we can see change over time which is how we perceive as time changing.  Is that what time is?  Change?  Something more substantive?  Does time actually exist?  If there weren't any minds to perceive time, would it still exist, if it exists in the first place?  I certainly don't have any answers, in fact, I really only want to bring up the questions about this.  What do you all think?  Do you have the answers?  Sorry to be pessimistic, but philosophers have been arguing/considering these thoughts for years and no one really has all the answers, so I doubt you (though you altogether form a formidable intellectual force) will be able to answer these questions.

One parting thought, these questions of the existence of time bring up the concept of infinity that I've discussed before.  Aristotle, because his concept of time relates to movement requires that time be infinite.  Here's my synopsis of the argument.  If time is the measurements related to movement then it has to be infinite, because if there was something that moved the first movement of time, then there had to be time before time.  So, if time is something moving or at least related to movement then it must be infinite.  I'll sum up my view, as I've already mentioned.  Infinity in time is related to space in that physical universe cannot be infinite and therefore time cannot be infinite.  God, however, is outside space and time and is the infinite unmoved mover, and uncaused first cause of all causes.  That's just my view, no real answers just what I think.  Good luck with your search for your answers.

If the tsunami/waterlevel ever gets this high, pretty much the whole island is screwed.