Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Greatest Scientific Mind

by Shane Hayes

[This is a reply to a reader’s comment on my posting “Is God’s Existence Improbable?” The full text of his comment can be found by clicking “comments” under that essay, which appears below. I quote here only the last paragraph of it.]

Autumnal Harvest,

Your algebraic way of expressing thoughts and arguments is interesting and impressive. Alas, my poor brain is so unmathematical that I can't reply in kind.

The point of my essay is simply that the improbability argument cuts both ways. I don't claim that because science has not accounted for the existence of life and consciousness, the God hypothesis must be true. I merely say that to embrace that hypothesis is a rational choice, no more improbable than life occurring by chemical accident, and to my mind more credible. The New Atheists talk as if they have an absolutely sure thing (Stenger and Harris) or a virtually sure thing (Dawkins), and that the pro-faith position is “delusion.” My essay contends that their attitude is arrogant, and their assessment of the probabilities is so unbalanced as to be, well, self-delusion.

You misread me if you think I’m offering a God-of-the-Gaps proof for God’s existence. I'm an agnostic. I don't attempt proof. I do have the impudence to point out weaknesses in the case for God’s nonexistence (despite the ire this arouses in Dawkins et al). I applaud science’s efforts to fill the gaps; most scientific advances improve the human condition. I’m pro-science. It’s no threat to my faith.

God and Einstein

Even if every gap were filled, every scientific question answered, the philosophical conundrum would remain: Do these explanations merely tell us how the Cosmic Intellect did its work, or do they explain God away? Where did the infinitely dense “singularity” come from, the “point of zero volume” that exploded with a Big Bang at the birth of the universe? The singularity caused the Big Bang, but what caused the singularity?

A magic particle, smaller than an atom, that contained the whole universe. Did it simply spring into being, charged with potentiality so stupendous that all space and time, all matter and energy – all of natural and human history – were compressed in this invisible unmeasurable inexplicable seed? Is there a work of science fiction that rivals the imaginative genius of that plot premise? Are we to believe it had no Author?

Can you seriously ascribe it to chemical randomness or blind chance? And if you can, is that the best theory? Is it more likely that some arcane chemical quirk caused the singularity and its infinite consequences, or that an immense intellect conceived these wonders and had the power to make them real in time and space? A chemical quirk, or a dazzling intellect? Which better explains? (At moments like this, I confess, my agnosticism is shaken. But it will recover.)

Lemaitre -- with help from Einstein, Friedmann, and Hubble -- gave us the Big Bang theory, but he didn’t give us the Big Bang. That required creativity of a higher order.

The God of my hypothesis is not the paper tiger – the intellectual primitive – atheists delight in attacking, based on a literal view of Genesis. The God I believe in had a scientific mind as superior to Newton’s and Einstein’s as theirs were to the Neanderthal. Which is greater, the mind that propounds grand theories, or the Mind that produced the mind -- and the universe the theorizing mind explains? I don’t pray to the God of the Gaps but to the God of the Gestalt, the God of the Totality. I can’t prove him, but his existence is eminently credible. And highly probable.

The Sovereignty of Hope

The last paragraph in your comment said: “As for life after death, I wouldn't say that there's evidence against it, or that I have any meaningful way of assessing the probability of life after death. I would just say that generally before one believes in statement Z, we require more than a statement that no one has shown Z to be impossible - we generally require positive evidence for Z.”

Even if there were no evidence of life after death (there is some), the possibility is so intriguing – it would make so vast a difference -- that to hope for it is neither irrational nor unjustified. If true (and it well might be) think how it transforms our perception of ourselves, our universe, and our future!

I know of a writer who showed no evidence of talent, but hoped it was there, acted on unsubstantiated hope for decades, and finally saw it materialize. If he had not staked his future on hope alone as a starting point, it would never have been fulfilled. So with forming a view of the universe, of the origin and destiny of human life: Clues of the divine abound; yet were there none, a real possibility, even without evidence, can justify hope. And life with hope is better than life without it.



  1. Shane, I tend to lean towards your belief that there had to be a creator, i.e., intelligent design, however, there is one big question. Where did this creator come from? Was he also created or did he always exist? Also, if there is a creator, one must realize that there still might not be life after death. You mentioned evidence of such? I assume you mean that there are those who supposedly die and come back with word that they went through a tunnel and met with dead relatives, but this is not necessarily evidence. Astronauts have had similar experiences while riding the centrifugal machine and it was due to lack of oxygen to the brain. Also, my son is reading a book titled DMT the Spirit Molecule. Supposedly this molecule is present in our pituitary gland. Also, the dark tunnel into bright light could be memory of being born.

  2. It seems to me that the logic is the same as God-of-the-Gaps. Even if you're not attempting a proof, you're saying that when there are gaps in what science can currently explain (e.g. "The singularity caused the Big Bang, but what caused the singularity?") it's reasonable, or even probable, to explain those gaps by saying "God caused that."

    To me, saying that maybe the Big Bang was caused by God, doesn't seem like a probable or improbable explanation - it just seems like it's not what I would deem "an explanation." I don't see that attributing events to a mysterious unknown entity constitutes an explanation at all. And since your basis for thinking the universe occuring without outside influence is improbable, is that the universe is so magnificent and complex, then logically, if your creator is even more magnificent and complex, he/she must be even more improbable without an outside influence to create him/her; so I'm not sure how that's a solution.

    Believing in something based on hope rather than evidence seems like generally a bad idea, and one that we warn against in most non-religious contexts. I can certainly hope that I might win the lottery, or that my (hypothetical) cancer might be cured by eating potatoes. But if I have no evidence for these beliefs, it would be a bad idea for me to make plans based on these hopes. I might get lucky, but most people would consider planning based on hope, rather than evidence, a bad idea in those contexts.

  3. Wayne,

    Your thoughtful comment raises two questions large enough for homepage postings or a chapter in my book. The first question, about where the creator came from and whether he was created, I covered yesterday in my posting "Does Atheism Break Down Here?" The other about evidence of life after death I will give fuller treatment, as time permits. It may be a chapter in my book. Thank you for the stimulating remarks and questions. Shane