God Vs. Science and the Limits of Logic
The Issue at Hand
How did our universe arise?
From the Big Bang, one might reply. Or from a multiverse, one could theorize. Or from the action of a First Cause, often identified with a God, or a particular God.
Where did those causes arise, you press on.
The Big Bang emerged from nothing, one might reply. Or the multiverse never emerged, but rather has eternally replicated with no beginning in time. Or the First Cause needs no explanation, as the First Cause created itself.
We could press on, such as how can something emerge from nothing.
At this point, let’s step back. Let’s step back from the question of how did our universe, our actuality, how did that arise. Rather, let’s ask whether the logic we use, the rationales with which we attempt to answer the question, whether those are sufficient to the task.
We can use logic to deduce the chances in Blackjack, or figure out why the light in the bedroom doesn’t go on, or more globally engineer the great infrastructures which underlie our modern societies.
Can we use logic, however, to discern the greater question of the origins of our actuality, to understand that which caused our fundamental existence?
Let’s offer an answer to this greater question, then look at some possible issues with that answer, and finally work to draw some conclusion.
If our issue centers on the sufficiency of logic, where does logic come from? Let’s start with the proposition that logic emerges from the existence in which we find ourselves. We observe our world, and record through our senses and our instruments, the actuality around us. Then with our intellect we fit our observations into patterns and rules and create logic to formalize and validate the rules.
Take circles. The logic of circles emerges from the presence of circles in our actuality. Certainly we have extended logic of actual circles into esoteric realms of analytic geometry, topography, manifolds, Hilbert spaces and beyond. But the logic, math and science that built those realms remain grounded in the core attributes of actuality.
In short then, in this view, our logic emerges from, and remains connected to, our existence.
But what question lies before us? What do we seek to answer? Existence itself. The how and why of existence, or in other words what came before or outside of or around or at the genesis of existence.
I have just offered, though, that the origin of our logic is our existence. Our question, though, asks what enabled existence. If we bring logic to bear on the enabler of existence, we ask, in effect, that logic discern and elucidate that from which logic itself came, to turn back on itself and explain itself.
That descents into circularity. Existence explains logic, and now we ask logic to explain existence. In other words, A explains B, but now we want B to explain A.
Take causality. Causality underlies in essence our basic ability to live. That water grows food, and lumber supports structures, and electricity operates machines and lights, in short that nature follows a highly predictable pattern, reliably, permits life. That our core existence relies on causality gives rise to the logic of implication, in other words, that if A, then B.
Now step outside our actuality. Does causality still apply? We might answer of course it does, causality lies at the core of everything. But we have just accepted, for this line of argument, that logic emerges from within existence. When we step outside our actuality, what status does causality have? By the line of thought here, that our logic applies only within the bounds of where it emerged, we cannot make any definitive statement on the applicability of causality to the origin of existence. Or for that matter about the applicability of any element of logic.
Questions That Arise
That gives the argument, or an argument.
But as formulated, questions arise.
Could we not extend logic, extrapolate, so that logic provides explanatory power on the genesis of existence? Would we not take an acceptable leap, for example, to extrapolate that if causality underlies the actuality we observe, that causality also applies to the process that created our actuality?
And do we stand correct on a basic proposition here, that our human logic emerges from existence? Rather, might logic precede existence, might logic dwell independent of any actuality?
And do not science and religion offer explanations on the origin of existence, which regardless of this theorizing on the status of logic, provide real hypotheses that we can discuss and analyze?
We thus should continue on.
We extrapolate, successfully, all the time. We extrapolate, generalize, that the sun will rise in the morning, that leaves will fall in autumn, and that temperatures will drop in the winter. Athletes extrapolate the flight of the ball, industrial quality inspectors extrapolate the number of defects from a sample, and epidemiologists extrapolate the harm (or benefit) of toxins (or medicines) from experiments.
Extrapolation can work wonderfully, effectively, efficiently. But caution must reign. Extrapolation does not work universally. We can not extrapolate from the physics of falling apples to the gravity of black holes. We can not extrapolate from the dynamics of billiard balls to how atoms operate in semiconductors. We can not extrapolate from the changing speed of sound as a car passes to the nature of the speed of light. We can not extrapolate from the nature of matter that we touch to the mass composition of the universe. We can not extrapolate from how helium works in our holiday balloons to the conditions inside our sun. We can not extrapolate our sense of our bodies to the totality of our biology, i.e. can you feel your muscles grow, or your liver extract waste, or hemoglobin absorb oxygen?
Extrapolation of what appeared sound logic fails in these cases. As they developed the laws of gravity, philosophers and scientists from Euclid to Newtown extrapolated the orthogonal three dimensional reference frame we experience on Earth out to the wider universe. Seemed reasonable, actually almost obvious. But that logic failed. Einstein discovered that mass and energy curve and warp space, and make time relative.
In its treatment of the atoms, classical statistical mechanics first extrapolated our experience with solid objects down to the atomic level, to treat atoms as tiny oscillating objects. That logic failed. Planck and others overturned that logic with quantum mechanics.
In these cases, extrapolation of what appeared sound logic failed (or more appropriately lost applicability) as we reached further into the universe. That extrapolations do not work universally, and that learned individuals can toil centuries to locate when and where extrapolations stop working, should give us pause. We should exercise restraint in extending what appear as solid concepts, like causality, to questions in areas beyond the known applicability of those concepts.
Existence Precedes Logic
But doesn’t logic precede the universe. Do not ideas and concepts exist independent of any particular actuality? None other than Plato thought so. And his viewpoint has merit. No actual circle, or no one set of actual objects, represents the complete and permanent essence of a circle or of a set. Circles, and sets, and for that matter numbers, and logical operations, might they in their essence exist as concepts independent of the transitory nature of items in actuality.
As noted, Plato and others posited such.
But that Greek philosophers heralded an idea does not assure it correctness.
In Greek times a philosopher might, based on experience, conclude that for objects to stay in motion, a force must be applied. Now since no force appears to be applied to the Earth, the Earth must be motionless. Another Greek philosopher might determine, based on experience, and given the nature of triangles and parallel lines, that the angles of a triangle always sum to 180 degrees.
Now Newtown showed the first item on motion incorrect, and Riemann invented a geometry where the second item was not true, and Einstein used Riemann’s geometry to show that Newtown showed great insight but Newtown’s laws applied only in approximation, or in cases not at all.
I do not seek to discredit Greek philosophers, but rather to show how ideas in philosophy, math, science, metaphysics and logic stand subject to revisions and amendment. If logic preceded existence, then we might expect that logic to exhibit more stability, and not be subject to revision.
Maybe it is our understanding of logic that undergoes revision, not logic itself. Logic remains consistent and stable, its independent and timeless structure remains solid and immutable, but humanity evolves in its grasp of the Platonic forms and rational logic.
To examine this, let’s do a thought experiment. Picture we consist of just consciousness, and nothing else, and no objects exist, no space exists, and the “we” actually consists of just one of us, nobody else. This one individual is alive, certainly, and experiences, deeply, feelings, feelings of joy, elation, pain, horror, stress. The mental experience remains rich, but without any sense of time, space, matter, objects, i.e. nothing other than the mental experience.
Does logic exist in the world of this thought experiment? Well, this individual’s experiences provide no basis for their discerning logic. The individual only encounters feelings. Nothing else, not causality, not physical objects, not time, not space, language never arises, the person never designs or creates anything, makes no plans, solves no problems, faces no challenges. But as noted above, the inability in this thought experiment to discern logic, either correctly or at all, does not imply the lack of such a logic.
We now have reached the crux. Let’s assume a logic exists independent of any particular actuality. But we see both in our current actuality, and in the thought experiment, that human limitations could likely make us unable to discern that logic. The result? We cannot know to what extent the logic we do discern matches the “true” logic.
Thus we do not know whether our discerned logic applies outside our actuality. A “true” logic may govern creations of actualities, but our inability to discern the “true” logic leaves us unable to apply the logic we do know, to the question of the genesis of our existence.
Another thought experiment may illustrate this. Assume I exist as a fish in a huge, completely dark sphere of water in deep space (a sphere so large I never reach the wall). I would discern some laws of physics, for example that I must exert a force to move. I might generalize my experience to a law that objects in motion will stop in the absence of a continuously applied force.
I wonder what exists outside my water world, and use my generalizations to create theories. I would of course be in error. Outside my water world, the laws of motion differ, and gravity exists, and stars produce light, and life flourishes not just in water, but on land and in the air. Any laws I discern bear no resemblance to the large, actual laws.
So again, caution should reign. Even if universal logic exists independent of any actuality, we cannot know if the logic we discern matches whatever universal logic reigns.
Concepts for Existence
Okay, maybe, but both science and religion have offered hypotheses or beliefs on how existence came to being. We should examine these. Let’s take three, specifically: 1) our actuality came from nothing, 2) our actuality results from a continuous series of multiverses extending back infinitely and 3) a First Cause, say a God, or the specific Christian God, created our actuality.
Nothing – Could our actuality have emerged from nothing?
An immediate logical quandary arises. Nothing means nothing. Nothing here means more than just no air, or no objects, or no mass, or even no space or time. Nothing means no attributes, no characteristics, no description, no properties.
But when we consider nothing as the origin of existence, we endow nothing with a property, i.e. that from which existence arose. Nothing then becomes something. So we fall into a logical trap that we cannot study nothing as the origin of existence since when we do nothing becomes something.
Wait, you say, this trap just presents a sort of semantic sophistry, turning a word on itself. But not really. A sound theory on nothing as the origin of existence, and in particular our actuality, would involve an explanation, a description. For example, maybe nothing could spawn existence since positive attributes of our actuality, like mass, or energy, or space, have corresponding negative attributes, say anti-matter, or negative energy, and so on, summing to zero.
That however, assigns a zero state to nothing. Is a zero state equivalent to nothing? Likely not. I can envision physicists, in building a theory of existence from nothing, assigning a variable to this zero state, since a theory would need to show how the somethings in our actuality sum to this zero state. This variable imbues a property to nothing, at which point nothing converts to something.
You disagree, stating zero doesn’t imply a property. Maybe with enough discussion we can climb out of this logical quandary, but I offer we are at the edges of what words mean, at the edges of what logic can discern, and certainly beyond the edge of anything we experience (i.e. we have never encountered nothing.)
If we encounter this level of problems considering nothing as the origin of existence, I would offer that our logic falters.
Infinite Existence – Unlike “nothing,” with its ephemeral absence of anything, an infinite sequence of predecessor multiverses, or just universes, provides a rich palette of somethings from which our actuality around us could emerge.
No need to fret over properties. With this infinite sequence, we seek to logically explain the origin of existence by endowing that origin with an ultimate property, a property of never starting, but rather always existing.
We again, though, hit a logical snag. An infinite sequence of existence provides a causal foundation for our particular actuality, our universe. That infinite sequence, however, would represent a fairly amazing entity. It never started, it continues on with amazing dynamic stability, it generates new universes, by appearances it will continue forever.
Truly amazing. So amazing that its origin, the origin of the multiverse, presents as great or greater a question than if we consider just our humble local universe. Wait, you say, we don’t need to consider the origin of the infinite sequence, since that sequence never started. That response, however, defines “origin” too narrowly, as meaning only origin in time. We can properly consider origin in a broader sense of “what gave the sequence its properties?” not in the sense of time but in a sense of possessing.
Thus, rather than explain the origin of existence, a sequence of universes simple moves the question one step backward, or in some sense makes the question more confounding. A sequence of universes leaves us to wonder how existence came to exhibit such a complex, intricate and unending set of properties.
That such a questions arises, that we seem to fall into an infinite regress where each explanation requires another, speaks to our logic faltering when considering an infinite sequence.
God – When we considered nothing as the source of our existence, we found that “nothing” possessed too few (actually no) properties to analyze via our logic. When we considered an eternal string of multiverses, we found that such a string would contain properties sufficiently amazing, that the eternal sequence approach just creates a new question as to the origin of the properties of the eternal sequence.
When we consider now a Supreme Being as the origin of our existence, we do not lack properties (as with nothing), nor do those properties simply shift the question to a different existence (as with the infinite sequence). So can we bring logic to bear to discern and understand the origin of our existence by a Supreme Being?
Likely not. The properties we imbue into our Supreme Being differ in their basic substance from our actuality. They must, if we posit a God as the origin of existence. As we saw with the infinite sequence, any theorized origin with attributes resembling our local universe, for example as soon as we give this origin time, or energy, or change, or composition, we beg the question.
That difference in basic substance, I offer, deals our logic a debilitating blow in discerning, definitively, the Supreme Being.
God self-causes. God lacks composition. God exists everywhere and nowhere. God operates in time, and outside of time, and created time. Our logic, and our existence, embodies, centrally, the contrary, embodies implication, separation, location, change.
To envision a God sufficiently distinct to originate our existence, we must envision an entity sufficiently far from our logic that such a God escapes the scope of our logic, and thus we diminish the power of our logic to discern and understand that God.
Conclusion for Humbleness
What can we conclude? After all, this presents no formal proofs, lists no rigorous axioms and definitions, and employs no symbolic operators. So by strict logic, no deductive conclusion has been reached.
So what can conclude? Not a logical deduction in formality, but an admonition on conduct. And what is the admonition? To proceed with humility. Humility on what? On the issue of God vs. Science. Not on common or familiar issues like evolution, or miracles, or the date of the Shroud of Turin.
Rather, humility must reign on the basic question of God’s existence, and on the core ability of Science to explain all our existence.
But we have discussed the origin of our actuality? What links that to this basic question of God or this core ability of Science.
Very simply, implicit in our beliefs about God and Science rest statements, logical statements, about our origins. Statements such as “God must exist or else how did everything get here”, “We don’t need God since Science can explain things”, “God created in intelligent universe so mankind could understand it.” And so on.
In other words, core to our foundational beliefs about Science and God lie logical arguments on how God originated our existence and/or how Science can or will explain it. Almost unconsciously, we buttress our beliefs with this logic on existence.
But I offer here that logic falters on the question of existence. And, to the degree our logic falters, and I argue that it does, our logic on this matter does not buttress our beliefs. No, it can give rise to a false sense of security in them.
However, did you not state in your own words that you did not prove that logic falters.
Yes, I did not prove logic incapable of deducing the origins of existence. But I have laid out issues, deep issues, on the capability of logic to do so, and thus call into question assurance that logic can so discern. Thus, while I have not proven logic incapable, we must show caution and reserve on stating logic is so capable. Maybe it can. But I offer we have no assurance.
In what way must caution and humility reign, then? Can one not believe, or have a conviction, or act with passion concerning God and Science. Certainly. But, in our convictions on God and Science, we may, and may likely, state that we “know,” that we stand certain, that no doubt exists, that we can show clearly the truth and validity of our convictions.
I offer here, though, that to the degree that questions of existence stand open to hard logical questions, our certainty that we “know” with logical certainty the truth of God or the ultimate ability of Science also stands open to hard questions. We can believe, we can proclaim, we can act with conviction, but we must be humble and circumspect in stating we logically and rationally know, for certain. Because, I offer, we likely, no almost certainly, do not “know.”
And further we must refrain branding others “illogical” or “unthinking” or “wrong” or “confused.” Not about evolution, or miracles, or archeological findings about sacred sites. No, those appear to be bounded questions within the scope of logic. Rather, we must exercise humility about God vs. Science in the ultimate.
We can with high certainty agree on the logic of Blackjack, or of a computer algorithm, or of the operation of the electrical grid, or many other items of bounded scope. We can even logically explore and discuss the details of evolution and the nature of consciousness and the physics of time and space.
But at the core, does a God exist, and/or can Science explain everything, logic falters. Logic falls into circular catch-22’s, infinite regresses, and definitional quandaries, possibly with solutions, but I offer that no such certain solutions exist at present.
This should not undermine anyone’s faith, or beliefs, or convictions about existence and the nature of reality and the presence of God and the ultimate reach of Science. Rather, this implies, since we do not know with logical proof, that truth about the ultimate requires our taking a journey into the unknown, not standing in a place of certainty, and that finding truth requires walking, continually walking, past the edge of the known to discover what lies beyond.