@jstump and I collaborated on this revision, so one or both of us will chime in to answer thoughtful questions or comments.
It seems like Sagan’s “why not save a step?” question would apply here. If we can conclude that God is transcendent, creator and sustainer… why not save a step and conclude that the universe is transcendent, creator and sustainer?
@fuzzyBSc, that is essentially to restate the question. The central point of the answer is that we need something fundamentally different in order to escape the causal structure of the universe and provide an explanation for its existence. The universe can’t transcend itself.
I think the better answer for one who is determined to remain within the worldview of naturalism is the sort given by cosmologist Sean Carroll. He says we just have to take the existence of the universe as a brute fact; there is no answer to the “why it exists” question. Christians think there is an answer, but it can’t be given in terms of science.
@fuzzyBSc just to piggyback on Jim’s answer, a potential way to answer Sagan’s question is to ask, “why save a step?” In other words, what is it that compels Sagan to put the burden of proof on the theist? The answer is Sagan’s naturalistic worldview, coupled with his belief that “progress” compels us to see naturalistic answers as superior to pre-scientific, mythological/religious answers—even concerning questions that are more philosophical than scientific. Fair enough, but simply framing things that way is not an argument.
If Carl Sagan or whomever says that the universe has the qualities of God, that means that the universe must be God, and must be rational and caring as is God. In other words giving the universe the metaphysical qualities of God, lifts it up, rather than drags God down.
Of course I really do not think that Sagan was a panentheist. but it is a possible position that needs to be discussed if its proponents are serious. See Tony.
It seems strange that scientists are speculating about what was the Source of the Big Bang. After all as far as the evidence points, there was no energy/matter, and no time and space before the Big Bang, therefore whatever caused it must be by definition, supernatural, and thus beyond the realm of science.
I wonder if this discussion gets squashed by forcing it into the options of blind material forces or the Judeo-Christian God. Perhaps a more interesting question is, “on what grounds can Christians claim that the uncaused cause is the Christian God?” As you correctly point out, Sagan’s option deifies the universe, so what we really have is a question of which sort of god, rather than if God exists.
Sorry for this long message and sorry for not directly addressing each response to my original post. I’ll try to keep this high level and appropriate to the forum in which I appreciate that I am merely a guest.
I’ve read with interest the responses to my impression of Carl Sagan. It’s always hard to get across complex topics is a forum such as this but I think it is worthwhile dealing very directly with the source of the “If God created the universe, what created God?” question. It isn’t, at its heart, a question about who created God. It is an interrogative that seeks to draw out and shine line on this potential underlying fallacy:
The universe must have a cause, so God must exist to create the universe. God doesn’t need a cause because he is God.
The key question to consider here is as the article notes “why does God get a free pass?”. If that question remains unaddressed then we have fallen into the special pleading fallacy. We have made a rule that says the universe must have a cause, but we ignore the rule when it comes to God. We must directly address this question of why the rule applies to one but not the other in order to avoid the fallacy.
The danger in saying that God escapes the rule because he is transcendent is that we don’t have a way of defining and measuring the term such that we can clearly claim the property doesn’t apply also the the universe. We run the risk of defining properties for God whose only basis is that we need him to have that property in order to win an argument.
I think the article is wise to refer to Colossians as a source to avoid falling too hard into that trap, but I hope the authors can forgive a materialist for thinking that something else could fill the “transcendance” role other than a god. Nothing in science that I am aware of rules out the possibility that the universe always existed in some form, similar to the way this article describes God’s eternal nature. Likewise we don’t have satisfactory evidence at this stage that there was a cause for the universe. It may be that it has “always” existed but “always” ends 14 billion years ago: That the big bang is the origin of time as well as of space.
God’s eternal nature itself brings problems that challenge our understanding. Does time pass for God? Does he exist within or have a temporal dimension? If he existed forever, has he experienced an infinite amount of time prior to the creation of the universe? When did that infinite amount of time begin and when did it end?
Given the strange nature of all of these questions I think there is more than one credible solution available, and that it is difficult to settle on a single solution based on our present knowledge.
Hi I’ll take a shot at some of your points in brief:
“Why does God get a free pass?” (if no good reason, then pleading fallacy) - We’ll use the transcendent God definition provided above for this question
Time is property associated with the material universe due to gravity. I’ll throw a few links out because I haven’t studied quantum mechanics / relativistic physics (How Does Light Have Momentum Without Mass? | Physics Van | UIUC, http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html) but in any case, the point I want to make is: time, as we know it, exists as part of the material universe only. It is dependent on the universe, because it is dependent on gravity. So, in short, if we are talking about something that is “outside” of the material universe, it is nonsensical to discuss time. There is no “before, during, after” or “sequence of events” outside of time. “Outside” of time, things are “eternal” by definition simply because they exist and are timeless. This already answers the questions:
Does he exist within or have a temporal dimension? - No
Does time pass for God? - Time passes for God in the way time passes for a story in a book. That is, time does not truly pass, since the words of the book are fixed, but the story itself has a series of events that occur within “time.” The one distinction is that it would take us (humans) a certain amount of time to read the book, so years of story time will elapse within minutes/hours of human time. For God, infinite story time can elapse, but God is not bound by time because he is the writer.
If he existed forever, has he experienced an infinite amount of time prior to the creation of the universe? - No. Again, God is eternal because he is timeless, not because he lives a long time.
When did that infinite amount of time begin and when did it end? - This is why the Bible refers to God as “the beginning and the end.” He writes the story, and concludes the story. Time is part of the telling.
The danger in saying that God escapes the rule because he is transcendent is that we don’t have a way of defining and measuring the term such that we can clearly claim the property doesn’t apply also the the universe.
- Defining, yes, measuring no, claiming properties, yes. Properties do not have to be measurable in order to be distinguished from one-another. In fact, whether or not they are measurable itself is a distinction. For example: truth and weight.
- So this is where we get into the fact that science cannot answer all questions. So depending on the level of the question you are asking, we utilize a different level of thought. At the lowest level is science, then a bit higher up comes mathematics, then finally philosophy. Already, at the level of mathematics, we see how we can have a variety of useful, abstract concepts exists solely because the logic allows, and not because they’re associated with any physical observation.
- Given the strange nature of all of these questions I think there is more than one credible solution available, and that it is difficult to settle on a single solution based on our present knowledge.
- Agreed. In some cases science can settle a debate, in others we must rely on pure logic. Earlier, someone mentioned “why the Christian God.” Without attempting to answer, for lack of time (puns ftw), this highlights the accurate criticism about these kinds of topics. The flying spaghetti monster and all that. So it may be possible to have several valid competing answers, and the best we can do is throw a bunch of razors and the occasional graduated cylinder at them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have good, solid, reasonable answers. It just means we need to keep questioning and seeking… which, despite church history, is actually at the core of Christianity.
Any rebuttals, comments or corrections? I’d be interested in reading a naturalistic take on logical problems with God being “outside” of the universe if possible.
Only something the begins to exist requires a cause (Creator). God is eternal and therefore is uncaused. God is outside of space and time.
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