Friday, 14 November 2008

Shrinking Gods And Narrowing Gaps

I found myself intrigued by the description of Michael Poole's piece on the Guardian website right now:
Confusing creation with creationism

Intelligent design and young Earth creationism are both false, but that does not discount the notion of creation, writes Michael Poole.

It's hardly a tremendously novel article: Poole points out that the fact Young Earth Creationism is scientifically disprovable and ID shot full of logical holes doesn't invalidate the possibility of a Creator. Which, of course, is true, but it fails to address a more fundamental point. Once science maps out a framework under which the universe can exist perfectly happily without needing God to nudge it from time to time, what good does God do anyway?

Arguments such as Poole's generally boil down to "We can never tell". No matter what is defined and described and explained and proved by science, none of it will ever totally remove the possibility of a man behind the curtain. To some extent you can see how that would be unarguable, in much the same way we can never prove we're not in the Matrix right now. The degree to which the faithful are placated by being told their God might not actually do or ever have done anything, and while effectively useless within the universe might still exist maybe, is a topic for another time.

In fact, I'm not even convinced that the "maybe" argument is particularly compelling. Richard Herring said something along the lines that "Claiming the universe suddenly appeared because of a massive explosion that came from nowhere doesn't seem any more sensible than 'God did it'". I'm not an astrophysicist, so I don't get the Big Bang either, but even so I'm not sure you can equate the two.

Even if you can, though, it's at least arguable that it's only a matter of time before the Big Bang is explained to our satisfaction (if, indeed, it hasn't already, some of my regulars will know more about this than I do). Once we get there, though, we can describe the entire existence of the universe without recourse to a Creator of any kind. At this point, the logic position to take would be non-belief. We can accept the universe's existence without a God to create it, and any belief that such a Creator exists immediately begs the question "What created the Creator?" In other words, how did an entity more complex than the universe spring into being in order to start the Big Bang itself? This doesn't disprove God, but it does lead to a logic trap that we don't need to resort to any more. Option A: a fully cogent description of existence. Option B: an idea that has no proof and actually requires the collapse of deductive reasoning.

So I don't think Poole's platitudes, as well-meaning as I'm sure they are, particularly convince. I suspect the "God of the gaps" is not long for this world, and that sooner or later faith in any God will no longer become simply unprovable, but, in the strictest sense of the word, irrational.

Right: I'm going dark for the weekend, as I get my game on over in Lancashire. See you all on Monday.

1 comment:

Pause said...

I wasn't going to say anything, but since you've subsequently asked me specifically: on the subject of sufficient 'explanation' of the Big Bang, it's still far from understood, but there are a lot of theories abound. Some involve
singularities, some don't, some involve other universes (before/after/alongside ours), some don't, some don't even require a "Big Bang" in the sense it's now typically used to describe, although the difference would likely be invisible to a layman.

In short, the main problem is that they're all hypotheses; they're as yet untested. Some of them are impossible to test based on current scientific principle, some just need us to build bigger particle accelerators a few decades/centuries from now, some are theoretically testable already but very difficult to analyse sufficiently accurately/obtain enough data. Lots of explanations, but no-one knows who's right.

However, there is one deeper problem, and that's what created the manifold/brane/hypersurface/field that the universe itself was created from. You can already see the problem: it leads to the same infinite regression as 'who created the creator' (or even 'if this is a simulation, so are the people who made it').

To the best of my knowledge (which is very limited at this level of quantum cosmology), no-one's made a significant attempt to go back a step further than what created the universe (yet); we have enough trouble just supposing (read: inventing) various fields and branes in order to explain all we can see rather than worrying about why they were there already. (There are some people with loose suggestions - not least science fiction writers - but nothing you would ever want to call a theory.) The current theories are too incomplete to do more than worry about which one is right, never mind what's behind it. In essence, I guess we're still too busy trying to figure out what 'god' is before we get to what created it; religious/philosophical thinking has a few millenia head start on science.