Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is The Infinite, By Definition, God?

Salon.com gives its interview with biologist Stuart Kauffman the title, "God Enough," meaning -- as Kauffman explains in a very interesting and profound conversation with interviewer Steve Paulson -- that the "ceaseless creativity of nature" fulfills for him the role of what has traditionally been understood as God. Says Kauffman, "One either does or does not take the step of saying God is the creativity of the universe. I do. Or you say there is divinity in the creativity in the universe."

If by "ceaseless" Kauffman means "eternal" or "infinite," then he is taking seriously a kind of elephant-in-the-room topic that I find missing in the arguments of the so-called "new atheists:" Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. These writers (whose rants are, for the most part, against the church rather than the existence of an eternal God), fail to deal with those age-old questions of "what was there before there was something?" and "why is there something and not nothing?"

Dawkins posits (and many others seem to assume) a kind of random eternality (my phrase) out of which the universe springs of its own accord, but this, it seems to me, begs the question. If you are going to bypass the prime mover or "first cause" argument of Aristotle and Aquinas (that which is material and finite must by necessity have been brought into existence by that which is non-material and infinite) and go straight to an eternal material universe, then are you not defining the divine ? That which is infinite, by any name, is God. (And by "God" I mean a creative power without beginning or end -- not necessarily the divinity of Judeo-Christian tradition.) Reader, where is the flaw in this thinking?

3 comments:

Warren said...

There may be no flaw in this thinking if one accepts that you, the writer, have built the corral out of your own timbers. By using, in your last paragraph, terms such as "my phrase", "it seems to me" (twice), and "I mean", you have defined the rules of this rodeo by your own terms. Even the implied acceptance of the verity of Aristotle and Aquinas slams the gates to certain paths of discussion.

And then there's Plato. He looked at horses and came to the conclusion that there must exist an epitome of horse-ness which all these other horses try but fail to attain. Perfect horse-ness is a human construct which, I suggest, does not actually exist except in the infinitely (I'm on thin ice there, I know, but I allude to Kauffman's "ceaseless creativity of nature") creative human mind. In fact, the concept of perfection in any form may be a human creation and completely unattainable. Yet we hold up this epitome of human-ness, measure ourselves against it, fall short, and so create an entire mythology that promises perfection in the next life. For once we have concocted the concept of perfection, we will forever see ourselves as imperfect, needing forgiveness and absolution and a second chance to get it right.

Similarly, then, we accept that there must be a first cause, a prime mover, a divine creator, because we need to devise an explanation for what we don't actually know.

Lest I be herded into the same corral as Dawkins and his ilk, I must say that this does not mean I believe there is no God, no divine creator, no infinitely creative power. In fact, sometimes I think that we humans believe that we have seen God, and He is us. Yes, those big questions are age-old, yet we seem convinced that we are capable of answering them. We are scared to death to say, "I don't know." In thinking that we can explain concepts as grand and complex as infinity and eternity, we are in danger of congratulating ourselves for attaining perfect horse-ness. And there just ain't no such animal.

Richard Jorgensen said...

Warren: Thanks. No door-slamming intended, but your point is well-taken. (Our English profs taught us not to use "it seems to me" if we're trying to state something affirmatively.) But as the title and the last sentence of the blog indicate, the whole thing is intended as a question. A summary of my current thinking: If it were to be proven beyond doubt that the material universe was un-created -- that is, always has been -- that would be "God enough" for me; that would be my own answer to the question of the title.

Warren said...

I once went to an eye doctor because of a small inflammation on my eyelid. He explained that it was most likely the work of some microscopic critter living there. His next words have lived with me for years: "There's the equivalent of an entire city living inside your eyelid." It's the vastness of the universe seen through the other end of the telescope. I will probably never know how such a universe came to be. But, grand or small, it is, for me too, "God enough".