Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Aquinas’

God and the Comprehensibility of the Cosmos

June 7, 2009

A few months ago, Wakefield made this fascinating comment:

‘Ooops.

Meant to add that link, which is at
http://wakepedia.blogspot.com/2008/07/whats-so-great-about-christianity.html

Also, in another conversation with Doctor Logic, whom I note is also contributing now to Rational Perspectives (see
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/10/12/doctor-logic-on-the-argument-from-reason/)
, he asked me later on and I did not have an answer at the time for the following:

And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

This comment was apparently in answer to my suggestion (as you have posted also)
that genetically (by which I mean linkage, not genes per se physically) the history
of science indicates that along with Western society, culture and morals, it is the
inheriter of values and methods bequeathed to it from Christianity. Rodney Stark and
some others like yourself have commented on this, as you did in your article at RP
on the myth of the war of science and faith, in addition to you articles on the
development of democracy in Europe in no small part due to the influence of
Christianity. That was the context.

Of course DL did not take kindly to this. Thus the query. My attempt was NOT to
demonstrate that a linkage of Christianity and modern science (also argued well in a
book called The Soul Of Science, N. Pearcy) meant that God exists, but that the
feeling among scientists and theologians at the time indicated they thought God was
orderly and would have made an orderly Cosmos, and this more than much else was the main impetus for thinking the rest of the universe was comprehensible. This stood in stark contrast to the “animistic”, “magic” realm of what so much had passed for
explanation in centuries earlier.

Nevertheless, it is a good question he poses. To say that the universe is orderly
and to say that this order had to come only from God is what the early scientists
you’ve referenced too, along with many theologians, believed and worked from. And
perhaps it meant the development of what we call modern science. But to say this
does not count out other forms or sources of order. Right? DL points out that mere
comprehensibility is NOT the same as saying it had to have a source that is
supernatural, or beyond human knowledge, or that a god was behind it all. That is
another issue. But how to proceed?

My thinking is that the very fact that order is present and that apparent “rules”
(though in the strict materialist sense rules imply oversight and intelligence, not
mere patterns that just happen to happen) indicates an Author behind the “rules” of
the game.

Your article at RP
http://rationalperspective.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/cosmic-fantasies-by-numbers/
touches on some of this with the “fine tuning” issue that some, like Hugh Ross, have touched on. But the secular scientist answer has been to date that with Big Numbers, we have in our universe virtually infiniate chances for the coming together of the most unlikely of life-giving or life-allowing parameters on things like planetary size, rotation, periodicity, photosynthesis, life evolution, etc, etc, etc. The idea being that with the trillions of systems likely to exist similar to ours we have a higher chance of evolving by random shuffling the parameters you wrote might be fantasy. After all, lucky people win the lottery here in the USA every year and get to retire with millions in chance rangers of one in billions in some cases?
Right?

In any case, many continue, as DL does, to say for example that reason and faith are eternal enemies, and that the Christians are the ones who suppressed science and created the Dark Ages, etc.’

Thanks for the link to your review of Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity? It’s a great review of a work by one of the brightest Christian apologists around today, who has defended Christianity with some extremely effective arguments. Thanks also for recommending the book, The Soul of Science, by N. Pearcy. That sounds like an extremely useful work for attacking the common atheist belief that somehow Christianity was an opponent of science responsible for the ‘Dark Ages’.

Now let’s tackle Dr. Logic’s view that the existence of an orderly, intelligible universe does not have to be explained as caused by the existence of God, who possesses an orderly intelligence that is expressed in the profoundly orderly structure of His creation. Now Dr. Logic’s view is based on a number of assumptions that are themselves open to criticism.

Firstly, it assumes that the intelligibility of the Cosmos is in itself nothing particularly exceptional or surprising. Indeed, the intelligibility of the Cosmos is such that it can, without too much difficulty, be assumed as a given, rather than be considered as something profoundly remarkable that requires explanation.

Secondly, there’s also an implicit assumption that human intelligence is not remarkable and the ability of humans to understand the deep structure of the universe, and see similarities between its order and that the operations of their own minds, isn’t remarkable either, but the product of chance and coincidence.

Thirdly, it assumes that chance itself is sufficient to account for the universe and the objects within it. This has itself been criticised by theist philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas based his critique in Aristotelian philosophy, but some of these arguments regarding the first creation of matter are still relevant in modern Big Bang Cosmology.

Let’s examine these assumptions. Firstly, many scientists, including atheists, have expressed profound amazement at the utter intelligibility of the Cosmos. Sir Arthur Eddington, who was an opponent of the Big Bang theory stated in the 1920s that science pointed to the existence of divine Creator more strongly then that it before. His view was clearly based on the fact that the universe was rational, and obeyed orderly, predictable rules. Furthermore, some scientists have stated that they find it remarkable that beauty is an intrinsic part of the Cosmos. Mathematicians and physicists, for example, have remarked on the beauty and elegance of the equations that model the laws governing the Cosmos. Now aesthetic appreciation is part of human intelligence. It’s possible that if the universe were the product of chance, it wouldn’t necessarily be as comprehensible as it is to humanity, or have the very high level of order and mathematical elegance within it.

Moreover, if the laws that govern the cosmos were set at its very beginning, then clearly the evolution of the Cosmos isn’t a product of chance in that its development is not random, but proceeds according to those rules. This does not necessarily mean that the universe’s evolution is totally deterministic and that every phenomenon within the cosmos was predetermined at the very beginning. Nevertheless, it does indicate that the phenomena that constitute the Cosmos were shaped by a distinct set of parameters that determined their emergence and operation. In this view, the universe is not solely the product of chance.

Now if that view is taken, then the development of stars, galaxies and habitable planets are a necessary development from these initial laws, and even if there is nothing remarkable about the development of intelligent species, nevertheless the fact that the universe appears designed to allow the emergence of intelligent life in general, rather than humanity in particular, indicates that the Cosmos was designed to produce intelligent beings.

Then there’s the problem of human intelligence. As I said, part of the view that the universe is the product of chance assumes that human intelligence is itself not remarkable, and the ability of humans to understand the Cosmos is a coincidence that does not require further explanation. But as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out, according to the Darwinian view, intelligence developed purely for survival, not for a more profound understanding of the universe that may not have any immediate survival value. After all, there have been millions of species on Earth that appear to have developed and survived without possessing an intelligence like humans, and there is no guarantee that creatures like humanity would develop elsewhere in the Cosmos. Scientists such as James E. Oberg have remarked that many stars are not suitable for life, being the wrong spectral type, or having life-spans too short for life to emerge. In this view, intelligent species are likely to be extremely rare in the universe. Indeed, it could be considered that rather than an unremarkable feature of the universe that requires no explanation beyond the operation of physical law, the emergence of humanity is profoundly remarkable and our ability to understand the Cosmos a feature that goes beyond mere mathematical coincidence.

Then there is Thomas Aquinas’ view that the creation of the universe from nothing necessarily meant that chance could not have been involved in its creation. For Aquinas, matter was subject to chance. However, as the universe was created from nothing, chance could not have been involved in the production of matter. Now Aquinas’ argument is contradicted somewhat by modern Cosmology, as Aquinas believed in the creation of a fully formed Cosmos with the different creatures, objects and phenomena within it specially and individually created. Modern Cosmology sees this more as a process of separation and distinction, in which the Ylem, the plasma created after the Big Bang, cooled and separated into normal matter, which then coalesced to form stars and galaxies. Nevertheless, as this process followed the rules established at the Big Bang, this process of separation, distinction and development was not the product of chance.

Similarly, Aquinas believed that the good order of the individual parts of the Cosmos, and the way they were put together to form a supremely good whole, was due to the distinct nature of the individual parts of the universe. This in itself, he argued, demonstrated that the good of the universe existed as a final cause of its production, the creation of its individual parts and their orderly relation to each other. This was supremely good, and was therefore not the result of chance.

Thus, the profound intelligibility of the Cosmos and its order, operating according to rational laws, and having been created from nothing, argues against chance as the ultimate cause of the cosmos.