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Tipler Weighs In

Frank Tipler has responded to Glenn's post linking to my post about God and the Singularity. He writes:

I beg to differ with:

"PHIL BOWERMASTER writes on God and the Singularity. They're not the same thing, he notes."

The word "singularity" has several distinct meanings. P.B. is referring to a sudden and radical change in technology. But "singularity" also has a precise mathematical meaning" "points" where quantities diverge to infinity (or are otherwise not defined). The laws of physics tell us that the universe began in a singularity in this precise mathematical sense 13.7 billion years ago. This initial singularity is the Uncaused First Cause. Maimonides and Aquinas defined "God" to be the Uncaused First Cause. Hence, by definition, the Cosmological Singularity is God!

Several of those who responded to the original entry made similar comments, although without referencing Maimonides and Aquinas. Professor Tipler is correct to point out the referring to the predicted upcoming Technological Singularity as "The Singularity" is a subjective and arbitrary choice. However, at the risk of bandying cosmological ideas about with one of the authors of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, I would assert that it may be just as arbitrary to identify the singularity of 13.7 billion years ago as the Uncaused First Cause. If those who are now applying evo/devo concepts to cosmology are correct, the singularity that began this particular universe is just one of many in a developmental multiverse. As John Smart explains it:

In the simplest and most biological of these cosmological models, our universe’s genes self-organized, through many successive cycles in the multiverse, to produce the life-friendly and intelligence-friendly universe we live in today. This theory of intelligent self-organized design proposes that, analogous to living ecosystems, our universe's "genes, organisms, and environment" encode deep developmental intelligence on a macroscopic scale, while they use primarily evolutionary and chaotic mechanisms to unfold that intelligence on the scale that we normally observe it.

So our particular universe need not be the (direct) result of an Uncaused First Cause, and that singularity of 13.7 billion years ago may or may not be correctly identified with God. However, if there is a larger universe that evolves increasingly intelligence-supporting universes, we do face the question of how that ever came into being. The first and perhaps greatest singularity, maybe the one that really deserves to be called "the singularity" is at heart a conceptual one, having to do with the discontinuity between nothing existing and something existing. Stephen has called this singularity The Miracle, and about it he writes:

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.

So here, then, is that Uncaused First Cause of Maimonides and Aquinas. Or maybe it would be better to say where, then, is that Uncaused First Cause?

On an almost completely unrelated note, does anyone agree with me that Glenn ought to make an MP3 of his song about the Singularity available to a waiting world?

UPDATE: Upon closer reading, it looks like Glenn's song isn't so much about the Singularity as it is about Clarke's Three Laws. Well, Criminy...nobody wants to hear that.

Never mind.


Richard Gott, a well-known Princeton cosmologist, has suggested that the universe may be its own mother. This theory evades first cause arguments and seems to imply that there's no need for any initial singularity. I understand that nonetheless Gott himself is a Presbyterian.

The notion of God as “the uncaused cause” comes to us originally from Aristotle's Metaphysics. Both Aquinas and Maimonides barrow this concept from Aristotle and apply the Biblical notion of creation ex nihlo to it. Aristotle's notion of causation is not so much an initiating event as it is a continuous force – sort of like the difference between knocking down a domino and the continuous force of gravity keeping the earth in motion. Also Aristotle is not talking about efficient causation alone – remember Aristotle's four causes? In order for an entity to serve the function of Aristotle's God it must be more than a spacio-temporal event – it must be an intelligence. Aristotle was the first I.D. Theorist and Aristotle applies this conception to an evo/devo cosmology in which potentiality is moving toward actuality according to an intellectual principle of teleological cause.
I postulate that the movement toward technological singularity is a movement toward the telos of God and is God-like because it is the summa bonnum (greatest good) which both Aristotle and Aquinas theorized about.

woccam --

I can see how this model potentially explains the existence of the universe, but there is still an enormous gap between nothing at all and a universe that is its own mother. How did we get from point A to point B?

Micah --

You are correct. Aristotle is the originator of the notion of what he called a Prime Mover. However, if I recall correctly, although Aristotle was interested in the four different kinds of cause as you mentioned, the Uncaused First Cause was, in point of fact, a flavor of efficient cause.

(The only Aristotle I've read in the past two decades was The Rhetoric, so I'm a little rusty, here.)

Happy New Year all Ye Speculists. I got "The Privileged Planet" as a gift for Christmas--and learned more science and astronomy than I ever did in school. Contrary to the hype, it's not written to convince people that God exists, and it certainly doesn't fit creationsists' agenda--the fine-tuned universe took billions of years to reach our cosmic "habitable time zone." What struck me is how we are positioned for discovery. We were designed to wrestle with the very questions you write about in your post. It may be "turtles all the way down (and up)," but eventually we're going to find the first turtle. And each paradigm is essential to climb to the next. Nothing is wasted in the grand cosmic scale. Phil, I believe we'll truly discover the physics of eternity and meet God face to face.That would be a Singularity in itself, don't you think? And I'm beginning to think that the intelligence we call God is "immeasurably more vast, more ancient, and more magnificent than anything we've been willing to expect or imagine." (Quote is from the last line in the book-- and it sounds eerily like my life verse, Ephesians 3:20.)

I'm beginning to wonder if all the mult-verse and string theories we're cooking up to explain "the miracle" are a bit petulant. The fact that we are privileged to discover, oberve and measure this universe is sufficienlty sophisticated, elegant and grand.

You have probably come to think of the uncaused cause as "the prime mover" because Aquinas puts forth a cosmological argument for God's existence in which a prime mover is a necessity and this prime mover, it is said, must be God. However for both Aquinas and Aristotle all of the causes are interwoven. For both of these men change is an effect of mental agency and the four causes all depend on mental agents for their respective effects.

Micah --

Yes, Aquinas did argue as you point out, but he got the argument from Aristotle:

Now we have already determined (when we were discussing whether eternal motion exists or not, and its definition, if it does exist) that the origin of all other motions is that which moves itself, and that the origin of this is the immovable, and that the prime mover must of necessity be immovable.

I take Immovable Prime Mover to be another way of saying Uncaused First Cause. Whatever else he may have said, and whatever context he may have put it in, it seems that Aristotle did posit the prime mover as the (ultimate) efficient cause of...everything.

Kathy --

Happy New Year back at you. I've been meaning to read that book.

"I'm beginning to wonder if all the mult-verse and string theories we're cooking up to explain "the miracle" are a bit petulant. The fact that we are privileged to discover, oberve and measure this universe is sufficienlty sophisticated, elegant and grand."

What? Don't you know that Alexander wept when there were no more words to conquer? It isn't petulance. It's a guy thing!

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