The Thin End of the Cosmic Funnel***
(Picture from the Wikipedia page on the Big Bang)
In this post I want to reply to “Anonymous” who left a comment on my blog entry here. My blog is a pretty quiet backwater of the www, so when someone comes along with some intelligent comments it’s a big deal on this part of web and so worth showcasing. I actually think of my blogs more as a kind of “get-it-off-my-chest” quasi-private diary of thoughts and reactions to life. But if fair minded people stumble upon them and comment intelligently they’re more than welcome. It’s a bonus!
Anyway, let me first publish (again) Anonymous’ comment:
Tinkering, interruptions, call them what you will, but at the end of the day the question remains, has the deity of your conception sufficient power, intellect, and rationality to set forth a Universe which from its initial state unfolds in accordance with the laws of physics thus established to bring about complexity, life, ultimately intelligent life, without need for any 'interruptions' of any kind? And let me raise the stakes a bit, is able to set forth a Universe in this manner which in its unfolding ends up exactly as the Universe we perceive today, in every particular? For this is precisely the capacity asserted to be that of the Creator in Pandeism.
But I would not wish to leave an incomplete sense of what Pandeism proposes. So here it is.
Pandeism proposes that prior to the existence of our Universe (or, in some sense 'outside' the existence of our Universe, for those who would limit the existence of linear time to being within such existence) there was an entity of, as supposed above, sufficient power, intellect, and rationality to set forth a Universe of the scope and operation of our own. This entity had some rational motivation compelling it to set forth a Universe, perhaps because as a unitary being it could only learn the lessons of dichotomy by experiencing the existence of limited beings interacting with one another. And so, it set forth laws of physics designed to bring about the complexity which would ultimately create these beings, and it poured its energy into that which is now the energy of which our Universe is ultimately made. The laws of physics point to an end but are not determinative. Imagine a large funnel into which many small rubber balls are thrown against the wall; the balls may bounce randomly, unpredictably, but will ultimately end up going down then hole at the narrow end of the funnel. Just so, our laws of physics. No telling when or where exactly intelligent life will develop, or what form it will take, but the brilliantly constructed governing dynamics of our Universe make it highly likely that it will happen at some times and places.
And where is the Creator in all this? Well, it has become our Universe, so it's everywhere; it's power continually sustains all things in being, but it has not the need to 'interrupt' the obedience of every particle of energy in existence to the laws of physics which were well-enough made in the first place to bring about everything required to fulfill its initial motivation. Indeed, it would have an overriding incentive to not interrupt the natural development of things, which would be to not interrupt the natural development of things, and instead see how things unfold, how the true randoms play out, absent any intervention at all.
And what of man's millions of competing revelations and prophecies, visions, scriptures, oracles, miracles, spiritual emotions, supernatural feelings, ghosts, answered prayers, egrigores, and like beliefs? These are after all a constant across all cultures, even those whose take from them is completely opposite to their neighbors, suggesting either a deity doing a rather sloppy job of trying to communicate a single truth, or man doing a rather sloppy (and often self-serving) job of interpreting the unconscious manifestations of the mind of a deity not trying to communicate anything at all. For if, after all, our Creator became the Creation, then we are all fragments of it, and some talented few of us may in our own minds touch some small portion of the incomprehensibly vast and complex mind which underlies all things for however long our Universe is set to bounce around before it ends up down the funnel.
Hi Mr. Anonymous (Or Ms. Anonymous?)
I like your metaphor of a funnel: It gives us a good picture of the blend of law and disorder* that constitutes our physical regime as we understand it. However, we really need to turn the funnel round to get a closer approximation to our Cosmos where the Second Law of Thermodynamics rules OK. In effect the universe is coming out of a funnel and not being pushed into it; but in its “early” stages it is still in the narrow neck of the funnel where there are relatively (and I stress “relatively”) few states available to it. This inverted funnel metaphor gives us one way of picturing why the second law is consistent with self organization: The “neck” of the funnel may be constrictive enough to ensure that of the states available in the constriction the class of life bearing states is proportionately large enough to give them a realistic probability of making a showing. Although I’m actually equivocal about this possibility, the inverted funnel metaphor is one way of picturing why, in spite of the claims of those who should know better such as Granville Sewell, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, in and of itself, not inconsistent with evolution. But I digress from the real thrust of your comment.
OK, so let’s assume that living structures have a realistic probability of forming given our Cosmic law and disorder regime. That is, expressed mathematically Prob(Life|Physics) has a significant value for realistic Cosmic times. But given these circumstances what I don’t see is why pandeism follows from this; after all, as I have expressed many times before on this blog the law and disorder logic implicit in expressions like Prob(life|Physics) really only amounts to sophisticated descriptive statements from which one infers the likely patterns of cosmic behavior. It is conceivable that the Cosmos could have other patterns of behavior such as the inclusion of many irregular one-off exception events (= “the miraculous”?) making it intractable to the epistemology of law and disorder science, a science whose efficacy depends very much on a strict coherence. Why then should a Cosmos rich in irregularity be any less subject to a pandeist interpretation than the intelligible cosmos we are used to? What difference does the mathematical category of the cosmic behavioral patterns make?
But then again I think I can see where you are coming from. When anyone talks about Deity, particularly transcendent Deity, and its relation to the Cosmos, they have little choice but to talk about it using imaginative metaphorical models that have their origins in this-world-experience. In this connection I can see from the way you write that you intuitively invest far more in the notion of physical law than just a device of mathematical description. Viz:
“….of physics designed to bring about the complexity which would ultimately create these beings, and it poured its energy into that which is now the energy of which our Universe is ultimately made” …. And …….. the obedience of every particle of energy in existence to the laws of physics which were well-enough made in the first place to bring about everything required to fulfill its initial motivation."
You have made an intuitive leap here from physical laws as descriptive devices (which is about as far as the physicist can or should go) to physical laws as some kind of quasi-divine dynamic that is truly creative. Well, may be; who knows how Deity can delegate its energies, but we can’t make much progress on this theology using empirical science: The mathematical category of the patterns of cosmic behavior doesn’t in and of itself reveal much about an ex nihilo creative dynamic. In fact I would go as far as to say that the laws of physics are meaningless unless reified on some kind of ontological substrate, a substrate upon which observation and test can be made; that is, “physical law” is secondary to the primary matrix on which it is reified. Using a Marxist turn of phrase: Physical Law is the secondary mathematical superstructure raised upon a primary ontological foundation.
The “prescriptive” (as opposed to the merely “descriptive”) notion of physical law as a proactive creative dynamic is a very metaphysical, exotic and debatable notion that resides deep in the psyche of Western man. In fact it is intriguing to note that some atheists take it for granted that physical law constitutes a creative dynamic of quasi-divine status transcending the ontology which it appears to “control”. For example Stephen Hawking is somewhat overawed by the apparent “something for nothing” properties of gravity. But as the joke goes, when Hawking claimed that all he needed was gravity and no God, the Almighty said in reply “Go and get your own gravity Hawking!”
What then is at the bottom of this crypto-deist intuition that physical law is autonomous to such an extent that it is itself some kind of self-managing creative/controlling dynamic? I would suggest that this belief has its source in metaphors taken from the world of our everyday experience; I have given more detail in this post. I would therefore put it to you Mr. Anonymous that the pandeism you have expressed and which through physical law finds such a compelling reason to equate deity and the Cosmos, is based on this-world-metaphors.
However, having said that Mr. Anonymous, let me say that the first set of comments you left me gave me an issue I’m still very much chewing over. I was struck by your suggestion that perhaps Deity has the motive of creating a universal simulation because the outcome is unknown; after all, if Deity is pure Mind then perhaps like ourselves it passes from states of unknowing to knowing as it thinks through and explores the implications of certain problems in algorithmic logic. A corollary of this seems to be that the Cosmos is in some sense Deity – or at least the thoughts of Deity and therefore we have here a hint of pandesim.
But even if we take that latter suggestion on board it is still far too strong an identification to equate the Cosmos with Deity and Deity with the cosmos. By way of illustration let’s use the metaphor of a computer running a software simulation, a metaphor of which you said in the comments section here you liked. Let us note the paradox inherent in computer simulations: The simulation is in one sense part of the computer and yet in another sense it is very much other than the computer; the computer has a deeper and “firmer” reality than the simulation and significantly the simulation at no time has a life of its own; the software can’t run itself – the computer must be always there sustaining the simulation. Moreover the computer has the power to interrupt the flow of “normalcy” at anytime either through a hardware or system software interrupt. (Hence my preference for the notion of “interruptions” rather than “interventions”). Also it is possible for the computer to hold meta-information about the simulation it is running, information that may not exist in the simulation itself.
This computer simulation, like much talk about God, is, after all, a metaphor and therefore likely to only capture a facet of the nature of Deity and its relation to creation. However I like this particular metaphor for two reasons: Firstly because it conveys the sheer contingency of the cosmos; no simulation has a logical necessity to exist; the internal logic of the simulation is descriptive of the simulation but it in no way delivers aseity or self explanation. And secondly I like it because the simulation metaphor conveys something of the paradox of the simultaneous eminence and immanence of the Godhead that seems to have been recognized in Acts 17:27-28.
I also quite like the author-book metaphor as it has some features in its favour. But I do take your point that this metaphor has the failing of leading to a problematical dichotomy between God’s vision and a separate created world. I have always been in favour of employing multiple metaphors about God in order to bring facets of His nature to the fore and I try to avoid the over interpretation and over selling of any particular metaphor.
You refer to the “The deity of my conception”. My guess is that the majority of people have a conception of deity somewhere in the corner of their minds. In fact there are probably nearly as many conceptions of God as there are people, although those conceptions will likely have a lot of overlap with one another. Exclusive use of proprietary pet metaphors in trying to express our ideas about God can lead to much grief. For example attempts to put the doctrine of the Trinity on a clearer footing by over interpreting and overselling a particular metaphor such as “modalism”, for example, quickly leads to shouts of “heresy” from others**. But in the face of human cognitive infirmity we really need to bear in mind some of the other attributes God might have. You talk about God setting up a cosmic simulation motivated by an experimental curiosity. But if we are to hazard such an anthropomorphic motive why not hazard other motives such as love of the objects created? In fact this affective attribute of God is largely the concern of the New Testament; such a Deity may well be gracious toward our cognitive infirmity as we attempt to conceive His nature. He may look upon our attempts to describe Him as might a Parent who sees His child drawing a stickman depiction of Him. The offspring of the Almighty may abuse one another over the state of their respective stick-man depictions of deity, but I suspect God Himself has a very different point of view of those attempts.
Thanks again Mr. Anonymous for turning up. In these days when brain dead bigotry and block-headed religiosity gets such an airing it’s nice to see some fair minded intelligence being applied. I’ve really benefitted from your input.
A Note on Science
What is the scientific status of the speculative ideas I have discussed above? Scientific testability comes in degrees: Roughly speaking the higher the level and the more significant the conjectured ontology becomes the less tractable it is to an elementary hypothesis testing epistemology. This leaves little choice but to proceed with a “post-facto interpolation method”; that is, joining the dots of experience with imaginative background sense making structures. See here for more details.
* Law and Disorder is my short hand for patterns described by a combination of algorithms (or "functions") and statistics.
** Here are some so-called Christian “heresies” (re: the Godhead) as listed by Reachout Trust, Ministry to the Cults: Aphthartodocetism, Monophysitism, Apollinarianism, Alogi, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionitism, Encratite, Eutychainism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, Montanism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Sebellianism. The criterion used to identify these attempts at grappling with the nature of God as “heresy” sometimes involves a splitting of hairs that would probably make most of us “heretics”. God help us!
*** The funnel like shape of space-time diagram here is only meant to be symbolic of the funnel like shape of the disorder vs. time graph.
*** The funnel like shape of space-time diagram here is only meant to be symbolic of the funnel like shape of the disorder vs. time graph.