The self-sufficiency of nature and the case for atheism
The discussion in the Comment section of the previous showed that there are some ambiguities in the use of the terms God, Atheism, consciousness, and Being. I will continue to work on clarifying my take on these words, but in the meantime I will continue to post the ideas that I have been working on, knowing that some improvements will be called for. I have purchased and begun to study Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture,” at Ted Drange’s suggestion. This will also lead to some further development of my thinking.
But in the next several posts I am going to use the name “God” to mean Creator, knowing that there is a lot I don’t know about the meaning of Creator and creation. My assumption is that a Creator is conscious and purposeful. Let us continue.
The case for no Creator:
The first argument, mentioned in the previous post, that evolution renders the need for a Creator superfluous, rests on the premise that, in the vastness of time and space, anything that could happen will happen somewhere at some time.
Advocates of this idea depict biological evolution on earth as just one small instance of physical evolution by which the universe takes on the structure of elements and molecules following patterns that we call laws. When writers such as Daniel Dennett speak of “vastness”, they do not limit themselves to the 13.7 billion years or so that mark the progress of our universe since the big bang. Rather they posit a vast if not infinite number of alternate universes that may have no spatial temporal or gravitational relationship with our universe. Every universe that could exist probably does exist and we are part of one that happens to have a structure that supports life and consciousness.
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow offer an atheist explanation of reality in their 2010 book, The Grand Design. The title is ironic, I assume deliberately so, because theists have traditionally argued that design implies an Intelligent Designer.
But Hawking and Mlodinow posit a design without the need for a designer. They contend that the laws of physics can create new universes out of nothing. As Hawking and Mlodinow describe the universe producing laws:
Any set of laws that describes a continuous world such as ours will have a concept of energy, which is a constant quantity, meaning it does not change in time…One requirement any law of nature must satisfy is that it dictates that the energy of an isolated body surrounded by empty space is positive, which means that one has to do work to assemble the body.
It is not clear whether these laws and concepts, which dictate what energy must do, are aspects of reality or “merely” the brain products of very intelligent physicists, at this stage of human evolution. In the first chapter of The Grand Design, the authors stipulate that they are employing a “model dependent realism,” which means that our brains must employ a model to interpret the sensory data received by our senses from whatever is real. So there will always be a gap between what even our best physicists know and what really exists.
For Hawking and Mlodinow, and perhaps for all atheistic scientists, the laws constitute an uncaused cause, and given the vastness of time and space, there is no limit to the number of universes that exist, have existed, or will exist. In the view of self-creating universes, each universe may have its own local laws. We are lucky to live in a universe whose laws allow for planets like earth to exist and for life and a degree of intelligence to evolve.
But the process that provides for a countless number of universes requires a basic law of energy and gravity that creates from nothing. The nothingness consists of negative energy. Neither atheists nor theists can imagine or think of nothing, so we all posit a kind of reality that enables something to come from “nothing.”
For theists, the reality is a conscious Creator, for atheists the “creative” reality consists of unconscious laws. (No one can think of nothingness, because if there were nothing, there would be no thinking. We may not be able to go as far as Descartes and posit a thinking substance, but we could not deny that there is thinking.)
Not only do materialists believe that, in a universe such as ours, 13.7 billion years allows for random events to produce life and consciousness, but also that the enormity of time supports the belief that the evolutionary process occurs randomly. The slowness of the process is compatible with randomness, but not with a purposeful Creator.
Atheists see the ten billion years from the big bang to the beginning of life on earth, and the 3.5 billion years from the beginning of life to the emergence of human scientists, as a prodigal waste of time. The god in whom atheists do not believe would have been much quicker and more efficient.