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The Miracle

"What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?...Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?"

Stephen Hawking

Whether or not it prevails in the classrooms of the future, Intelligent Design (ID) has already prevailed in the hearts and minds of most Americans.

almost two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) agree with the basic tenet of creationism, that "human beings were created directly by God."

Ten percent more would agree that "human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them."

Like many Americans I'm of two minds about Intelligent Design. Because I'm a Christian, I obviously accept a form of Intelligent Design. But I also completely accept the reality of macroevolution. All life on this planet has evolved from a single-celled organism.

This is not quite the "shocking contradiction" it formerly was thought to be. There's probably a dozen popular books devoted to reconciling Darwinian evolution and belief in God. Genesis and the Big Bang was the first book I read on the subject.

While I'm not conflicted in my personal beliefs (Christian faith v. evolution), I'm unsure of the best way to educate students on these subjects. Science class should be used to teach science. There are opportunities to discuss the issues that ID raises - while teaching evolution. But it would be a travesty to eliminate the teaching of evolution, which is accepted science, with a 100% ID class.

That said, those who think ID is pure superstition should step off their high-horse. There's a central question that science cannot address. For all of us, believers and secularists alike, it's "turtles all the way down."

Whether you believe in God, believe there is no god, or remain undecided - there is an undeniable miracle. Why does anything exist at all? Believers say "God made it." Yeah, well who or what made God? Secularists like to talk about the Singularity that caused the Big Bang. Okay, but where did that come from? If you say "Multiverse," or even that intelligent universes spawn other intelligent universes (as discussed James Gardner's book Biocosm) then that's just another turtle.

Drawing Hands.jpgAnd then there's the "Drawing Hands" theory that Phil has written about several times:

Maybe inhabitants of another universe created our universe and so, when the right time comes, we'll return the favor by creating their universe.

Interesting, but its still something from nothing - turtles standing on each other.

And the weak anthropic principle isn't an answer to this either. Existence doesn't lose it's mystery because we're here to marvel at it. And any existence at all - matter, energy, whatever - would remain an infinite miracle were we absent.

So we're talking about an unanswerable miracle that everybody lives with and does their best to ignore. Fine. Well, not really. We all come to a point when we ask, "Why?" It's the unavoidable existential crisis.

You can scream "Why?" to the void if you like. Many do. Believers are different only because we talk to God about it. And that seems appropriate, I mean, this is a miracle we're talking about.

By the way, the best answer to the "Why" question I've ever gotten was:

"Why not?"

It's a non-answer that is somehow still helpful. "Indeed. Why not?"

Comments

"Why Not?" is exactly the wrong answer. It harkens to the "prove me wrong" arguments for religion. They're all well and good for ordinary discussion, but in scientific inquiry, the burden of proof lies on the one postulating the existence of intelligent design, an intelligent designer, and so forth. If you cannot prove in a repeatable, documentable experiment that your intelligent designer exists, then for scientific purposes it may not be assumed to exist.

Yes, this view may exclude an intelligent designer who is in fact there; as you say there's no way to tell. But this is how science works, and how it has brought us from medieval times of living in our own filth and dying by 30 to the current, somewhat more enlightened age.

Since public education science classes are about teaching scientific fact and inquiry, it is therefore inappropriate to teach intelligent design.

Stephen --

I think a lot of people who are going to be uncomfortable with your use of the word "miracle" don't have any problem with the term "singularity." But the miracle you're talking about is a singularity of sorts. The (apparent) discontinuity between nothing existing and the reality we find ourselves in demands a rational explanation -- but no rational explanation gets us there. This doesn't mean that the answer has to be irrational, only that it lies out there somewhere beyong our current ability to reason.

What if, at some level we can't yet grasp, the equations breathe fire into themselves? Maybe there's an ultimate mathematical formula that somehow demands that things exist -- which, on the face of it, makes about as much sense as saying that maybe somehow the rules of English grammar are writing this comment.

But then again, if everything boils down to information, maybe math is all we need to account for everything, including the answer to "why." Note that this doesn't necessarily exclude the idea of God, any more than the Drawing Hands theory does. Even if math somehow explains everything -- right down to matter, energy, space and time all emerging from the void of nonexistence -- will it explain why there are numbers?

Let me amend my original comment by saying I *do* believe religion (which is what this is really about) should be taught in school - in Social Studies class. History makes precious little sense without an understanding of the religious forces behind much of it.

Like it or not, believe or not, religion has been a powerful force in welding supra-familial groups together into tribes and into nations. Diamond goes into this in some depth in Guns, Germs, and Steel, which I highly recommend.

-Jim

Positing an intelligent designer is, of course, just adding one more turtle. Better to say we don't know, than to "believe" in a fictional explanation, although the very real benefits of religious affiliation have provided substantial social benefits over time.

Paradox is always a matter of insufficient context, and it seems quite plausible that we have not yet gained the sophistication necessary to ask the right questions with regard to some of these "miraculous" observations.
- Jef

Oho, a *real* dual substances thinker! Dual substances thinkers say, with Newton, that there are two spheres with different substances. One we can explain, the other one we can't. So far, I'm sorry to say, this approach has been a complete failure. I'd rather take Spinoza, who thinks miracles cannot possibly exist. If - as most people seem to do - God and Nature are one, then the laws of nature would have to be necessary & then miracles can't exist. Miracles are fundamentally non-scientific and should not be taken seriously before they are.
Of course, the issue is not about religion, or darwinism for that matter. It's about a literalminded interpretation of religion: one that equates faith with holding doctrines. That sort of thing is unique to christianity, islam and judaism and it appears to be an exception and not the rule.
If you prefer instead a spiritual christianity, then whoever created the universe (answer: itself) and earth with everything on it, suddenly loses much of its importance. The metaphysical side of religion is simply dropped.

Ps. Ghosts and demons out there, come on... vampires are people who are addicted to blood & that's all there's to it.
I do believe in God, but I prefer the talking-to-Him-straightaway method. This is supposed to be newage-y, but I don't see how.

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