A New Argument for God?

“Science is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence
by the process of conceptualization.” ~Albert Einstein

I’m certainly no physicist. But I do find physics fascinating. I probably don’t understand quantum physics well enough to hazard a comment about it, but hey, that’s what blogs are for! I’m sure somebody will set me straight. Anyway, it’s my understanding that modern physics includes information as a fundamental property of (subatomic) matter and also suggests a role for consciousness in physical reality. Combined, these 2 points seem curious to me. Why would physics have ANY role for information and consciousness unless there is (or was) an intelligence to receive and make use of them? Additionally, there’s the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences“: a point raised by Galileo and more fully fleshed out by the 1963 Nobel Prize winner for physics, Eugene Wigner.

The laws of physics, as we know them, were set within the first second of cosmological inflation (or after the Big Bang). From there, it probably took 150 million years for the first stars to form, then many millions more years before they died and coughed up the essential elements of life. That means it took hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion, years before life (as we know it) could possibly have appeared anywhere in the universe. It would then have to evolve intelligence, which, on Earth, took billions of years after life first appeared. So, if we take an optimistic scenario, we might admit intelligent life arose – somewhere in the universe – within the first billion years.

But the laws of physics – including information as a fundamental property – were set in the first second of the universe’s existence. Information versus intelligence: one second versus one billion years. That’s just plain damn strange.

Or maybe intelligence arose in the universe BECAUSE information is structured into existence. Maybe, because of information, matter itself evolves. From a plasma of subatomic particles, to elementary atoms, to chemical compounds, to RNA and DNA: the double-helix code of life. All made possible because information is part and parcel of everything. Perhaps intelligence is an inevitable property of the universe. Given enough time, it will – it must — arise. When you think about it, information is what’s responsible for animate life emerging from inanimate matter: the double-helix code of DNA.

Of course, there’s also an alternative possibility: maybe intelligence PRECEDED the universe. After all, information was structured into the universe from the beginning – not a billion years later. Could there have been an intelligence preceding the universe? If so, what (if anything) separates such an intelligence from God?

Everything has a reason. Cause and effect. What reason could there be for information and consciousness in nature? As an atheist, this question bothers me because it seems to give traction to, at least, a pantheistic view of reality . . . and provides some coverage for deists and, even (with imagination), theists.

We’re still at square one. As Albert Einstein has pointed out: “Knowledge is a sphere of light in a universe of darkness – the greater the sphere of light grows, the greater will be the periphery of darkness.”

What do you think?


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30 thoughts on “A New Argument for God?”

    1. LoL . . . you and me both, Roy 🙂

      Hmmmm . . . if an entire universe can spring from nothing, maybe God can too. Now we’re in deep doodoo.

      EDIT:
      Oops . . . I misread you. I missed the “my” in “my intelligence”. That completely changes the complexion of the comment! Oh well, it’s funny either way 🙂

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  1. On the other hand Krauss imagines that the something that arose from a mathematical nothing at the big bang was preceded by an unmeasurable wave function. Function being the essential element and purpose of intelligence.

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    1. I think Krauss’ “A Universe from Nothing”, represents the modern, conventional, view of cosmology. It’s an exciting theory for existence because of supporting evidence, impressive agreement with theoretical predictions and explanation of dark matter and dark energy. As a layman, it blew my mind to watch his hour-long video on YouTube.

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  2. As I see it, and my view is shared by Dr. Stephen Hawking, neither information nor influence can traverse the inflationary period or anything, what ever it may be (i.e. singularity, etc.), prior to that period. Also, what we view as information in both the physical and biological realms is actually a recognition of patterns. Something for which our brain has a propensity —to a fault. What it may be, is in looking back through the processes of the formation of the universe we find what may seem to be patterns resembling information matched to particular constructs which can, from a reversed perspective, merely be an elimination of alternatives as an accumulation of simpler forms compound into evermore complexity.

    Imagine a universal set of a multitude of say six solidly colored blocks with a north or south poled magnet on one of four of the six sides and one set of poles is twice as powerful as the other (one can even imagine a couple of those colored blocks are all north or all south poles if you wish). It doesn’t take much imagination to see that what will emerge from the mixing of these blocks with the forces of, say, gravity and centrifugal force will produce a hexadecimal pattern of something resembling information from the mere rejection by two strong poles if a weak one with no intelligence involved.

    Some say that hindsight is 20-20, but I say it is also mostly biased by the conclusion to effect agency at the origin.

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    1. Hi Beachbum,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. It prompts a couple of responses of my own :–).

      First of all, the article simply discusses a scientific curiosity that could be appropriated (by pantheists, deists or, even, theists) to suggest some sort of universal intelligence or creator. I don’t doubt that, with time, we’ll be able to completely disspell their ideas but for now, all we’ve got are counter-arguments.

      It was intelligence — not information — I speculated might have preceded the universe (i.e. your “prior to that period” of inflationary expansion). However, I concede that it’s natural to assume that if intelligence preceded the universe, so did information. And you may claim laymen think of the word, “information” in a certain way but I was, after all, discussing information in relation to quantum physics. Whether it be polarity, spin, momentum, position or whatever, information is simply data that reveals something about the objective universe (reality). If you reread the piece, I think you’ll see that’s the way I meant it and that’s the way I wrote it.

      P.S.
      Stephen Hawking takes the materialist position that God is not possible because nothing, including time, existed before the universe. But there’s plenty of equally notable materialists who entertain the possibility of a “multiverse” and that our universe is but one of many (perhaps an infinite number of) universes. But this really does nothing to resolve the chicken/egg question of where God came from: it simply adds another layer of complexity. Occam’s Razor still favors no God at all.

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  3. “But the laws of physics – including information as a fundamental property – were set in the first second of the universe’s existence. Information versus intelligence: one second versus one billion years. That’s just plain damn strange.”

    Except that if our laws are probabilistic, they will likely have evolved themselves, depending on which universe and its conditions have had need of them. The intelligence in this or any universe will be reflected in the strategies that were thus “lawfully” evolved.
    The assumption that everything was dumb and dead before it evolved life is about as paradoxical as our logic can get. Even worse, perhaps, than assuming there was a first universe.

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    1. Hey Roy!

      I missed your comments. Once you’ve had a comment approved, any subsequent comments are approved automatically and no email to me is generated. I only happened to see your comments after visiting the web page.

      I think I get your point from the second paragraph. With quantum mechanics, if it’s a conceivable possibility, it WILL happen if given enough time. And given the cosmic scales of time, the “just right” conditions for life were inevitable. But I’m not sure I really understand your last paragraph. To me, you can’t have intelligence without life: plus, intelligence comes long after life because it must first evolve (i.e. have a well-developed brain).

      The materialist view sees the entire universe as inanimate until life introduced animate beings (single-celled life). If you’re speaking of a pantheistic intelligence that permeates the universe, then that’s a different kind of intelligence (lifeform?) that you need to specify in your comment.

      And your last sentence, “Even worse, perhaps, than assuming there was a first universe.” . . . are you referring to the multiverse idea or to a universal intelligence (or creator) preceding the universe? Or maybe something else?

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      1. “To me, you can’t have intelligence without life: plus, intelligence comes long after life because it must first evolve (i.e. have a well-developed brain).”

        Intelligence is defined as:
        1 the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills

        All living creatures have it. In fact if you are not intelligent in some fashion, you are not alive. And if you believe life introduced intelligence and not vice versa, you might want to rethink that. The realm of possibilities is, as they say, vast.

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        1. Hi Roy,

          I have no problem with your definition of intelligence, as provided. Some animals can be trained to repeat specific tasks. That might be seen as acquiring a skill but I’m not sure it qualifies as knowledge. Other animals, like certain birds and primates, can mimic something they’ve seen or heard often enough. Again, this might be seen as a skill . . . but knowledge? There’s some indication larger-brained mammals, like primates and dolphins, might actually be able to acquire knowledge but this isn’t yet proven. And, of course, most living things, are very small and primitive (amoeba, bacteria, insects, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, amphibians) and don’t have brains complex enough to notice — much less learn — anything abstract. No matter which creature we know of (including ourselves), we don’t attribute intelligence to them until they exist. That would be attributing intelligence to nothing, wouldn’t it?

          Are you a pantheist? I’ve noticed, throughout our exchanges, that you seem to attribute intelligence to everything; as if it permeates the universe. Although that’s an unconventional worldview, it does enjoy some support and adherents. How, exactly, would you label yourself (if forced to)?

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          1. No I’m not a pantheist, and I don’t care much for labels. I would hope to be a realist in the world of science and philosophy (and a pragmatist in politics).
            I don’t see the world or universe as simply a set of lawfully abiding and determinately reacting materials. I’ve pretty much said here already what I think is going on out there, and these are my ideas, not some recitation of some accepted (and often nutcase) philosophy.
            I look for corroboration from respected sources, as well as for objections, before I settle on any particular position, but in the end, I take responsibility for my own ideas. I don’t believe we live in an otherwise dead universe. It’s simply not a logical conclusion that I would advise anyone to come to. Logic however is a very hard thing for most of us to get right, let alone find the facts to correctly activate our premises.
            What I advise in the end that we all try to occasionally rethink our beliefs and adapt them to new knowledge, rather than to adapt new knowledge to fit our old convictions.

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          2. “And, of course, most living things, are very small and primitive (amoeba, bacteria, insects, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, amphibians) and don’t have brains complex enough to notice — much less learn — anything abstract.”
            Which in my view is simply wrong. All living things are feelers, observers, rememberers, assessors, anticipators, and proactive choice makers, from a very limited set of options available to such as bacteria to the much vaster list of the options available to humans. But I’m not going to advise you as to what books or papers to read on this. You’ll have to want to find them on your own to then be open to their ideas.

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          3. My horse only drinks Perrier. I bought him from Michael Jackson. All that expense, and he won’t even let me ride him. For some reason, he’ll only let young boys mount him. I got gypped!

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          4. Hi Roy,

            Well, quantum mechanics certainly opens the door to a strange and counter-intuitive universe. The truth of reality might well be far removed from our experience of it. I think scientists know they need to be open to all possibilities but even they are subject to confirmation bias and other human frailties. But that’s what the scientific method is for; to weed out such errors. Nothing’s perfect but, as far as I know, nothing’s better at building our base of knowledge. I would never claim absolute certainty and neither would any scientist worth his salt. It seems we’re in agreement there.

            As for the rest, I enjoy discussing ideas from all quarters . . . it’s the exchange that matters: you know, sharing with and learning from each other. Agreement is not a requirement. I’m perfectly fine with agreeing to disagree. Of course I always hope to persuade but I certainly don’t demand agreement or feel offended for its lack. We all have minds of our own and I think most of us find disagreement more compelling than consensus because it draws out our differences.

            Most importantly, I’ve gotten a glimpse of your perspective and you’ve gotten a glimpse of mine and the exchange is preserved here to give others food for thought and, perhaps, spark further comments that flesh out new ideas. That’s certainly the case for me as I peruse and participate in various discussions around the Internet.

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          5. Well remember that science comes actually from the philosophy of science, and depends on that philosophy to speculate and form hypotheses for experimental testing. And if you are into determining and explaining purposes, it’s the philosophic part of the system that does that better than the experimental part. (In my opinion.)
            And don’t forget to bone up on evolutionary biology (the newer stuff of course).

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          6. Right now, I’m reading “Epigenetics” by Richard C. Francis. It’s pretty interesting stuff and dumbed down to be more accessible to laymen. Nontheless, it’s a pretty good education.

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          7. Good book, according to the reviews. It shows that evolution is more closely related to experience than the stochastic selection theories will admit to.
            Think about the experience of other creatures, and how they might have evolved accordingly. Then wonder if this might reflect some intelligently driven responses to experience on their part.

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          8. Although it can be trans-generational (3 or 4, max), as I understand it, epigenetics does not make permanent alterations to DNA; so it can’t alter the evolution of a species.

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          9. Actually there’s evidence that if the experience is wide spread in the population over time, then the epigenetic changes persist until they become fixed in the population as heritable traits. All of our behavioral instincts were at one time learned reactions to experience. We don’t know precisely how the new strategies become transcribed genetically in animals, but it clearly occurs in such as bacteria, for example. Also different groups of chimpanzees have learned and inherited different tool using traits, and same species of birds have inherited different songs in different regions, etc..

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          10. I should add that even when the learned behavior is transmitted as cultural lessons, it speeds up the adaptation of the physical structures that will need to use the newer strategies.

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  4. The main issue, upon which the article bases the claim:
    “Why would physics have ANY role for information and consciousness”

    Information here is taken out of context. “Information” are things like: momentum, current state, etc. Nothing about consciousness there.

    It’s like assuming laser beams are conscious because the thought experiment of a laser dot moving faster than c when pointed at the moon carrying “information”.

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    1. @Corey,

      Nobody has said that information is about consciousness . . . the point is: why information at all? If there’s a reason for everything (causality) then what’s the reason for (quantum) information?

      What I said was:

      “. . . modern physics includes information as a fundamental property of (subatomic) matter and also acknowledges a role for consciousness in physical reality. Combined, these 2 points seem curious to me. Why would physics have ANY role for information and consciousness unless there is (or was) an intelligence to receive and make use of them?”

      Nowhere do I state that information is about consciousness or vice versa. However, intelligence (as we know it) DOES require both information and consciousness. THAT is the relationship I’ve fleshed out here.

      It should be noted that I’m not really asserting anything . . . I’m posing scenarios and questions stemming from quantum factors. Scenarios and questions that don’t arise in classical physics.

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  5. Great post!

    I think it is great and interesting to contemplate this idea. I am also very interested in quantum theory as well. I read a great book called “The Quantum Enigma” which talks primarily about what quantum theory implies (which is what I’m most interested in) and leaves out the math. They point out that quantum mechanics is a very uncomfortable subject for physicists because it ultimately leads to our reality being created by consciousness.

    I tend to lean to some kind of intelligence behind everything. I do not believe in god, at least the way that statement is typically perceived, but because of what I experience and how it fits, it is more difficult for me to accept that our reality is accidental or by chance.

    I certainly don’t believe in a magical sky daddy that requires or needs worshiped and I loathe religion and think it is the most dangerous thing in existence. I think that if such an original intelligence exists, it must be shared by all and indeed is all meaning that we ARE it. If such a thing is true, it is simply beyond our comprehension. Which I guess makes it somewhat moot, but it’s still fun to ponder.

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    1. @dmosley,

      Thanks for the reply.

      Hey, does “The Quantum Enigma” cover the idea of information and consciousness as components of physical reality? It sounds like it does. It seems like such an obvious question that I’m surprised this topic hasn’t been covered more by writers and bloggers. And why haven’t religious apologists picked up on it? I’m going to the bookstore and to buy “The Quantum Enigma” (if it’s available — I’m in Cebu City, Philippines).

      This conjecture is reminiscent of the “fine-tuned universe” idea. They’re both unfalsifiable. Instead of suggesting that the laws of nature are fine-tuned for life, the info/intel link suggests the laws of nature are fine-tuned for intelligence. And since (I assume) intelligence first requires life, I suppose the info/intel idea is merely an adjunct of the fine-tuned-universe idea.

      The anthropic principle is the standard response to the fine-tuned-universe argument and could be paraphrased as a response to info/intel: “Physical law must be compatible with intelligence because, if it weren’t, nobody would know it and thus, we wouldn’t be discussing it.”

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  6. Interesting conjecture,but if there are multiple universes as current physics implies, then each universe probably has a different set of physical laws. There is also the idea that this universe was born out of another universe. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is intelligence behind it, it is a throw of the dice. Then there is the speculation that two universes/membranes collide and create a third universe and again it is a throw of the dice whether the physical laws are conducive to life or intelligence to evolve. I’m sure there are other people who understand these concepts better than I do who can explain it better than I and I hope they respond to this. This is a very fun article to contemplate.

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    1. Hi Robert Sloan,

      Thanks for your reply.

      Yes, it IS fun to speculate about ultimate sources. 🙂

      The multiverse, if it exists (and I tend to think it does), might have an infinite number of universes. The “infinity” of our own universe has always been less than satisfying to me. I mean, one can easily imagine standing outside our universe and taking it all in — while also gazing at other universes in the distance. I doubt there’s an ultimate intelligence seeding universes with information, but if it’s a possibility for one universe, it’s a possibility for any universe.

      Bottom line is that such an intelligence does not appear necessary. But that might only be because I’m far more ignorant than I am informed.

      Like

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