April 30, 2009

God is Not Enough

Leibniz: “Why is there something rather than nothing? For nothing is both simpler and easier than something. Moreover, assuming that things must exist, there must be a reason why they exist thus and not otherwise?”

Nagarjuna: “Since all is empty, all is possible.”

The idea of origins has been floating around in my mind recently. Part of this is expressed in an exploration of cause and conditions, specifically those which created the momentary and illusive “me” of my current existence. I feel as though I have been seeking my identity, but in an unorthodox sense. I have been unraveling the strands of my past, my life in an effort to find what is at the center of the ball of string. Anyone who has ever unraveled a ball of string will tell you there is nothing in the middle, and my intellect insists this is true, but the stubborn ego insists it is not. Thus I find myself in this strange exercise to understand emptiness in more than a merely intellectual sense.

Beyond that little ball of string greater questions loom, fundamental questions, shaping questions. I thought I had asked and answered them a long time ago, but they have been popping up in my mind of late, weeds that need pulling. What a teacher once called “questions not suited to one’s edification” catch me at odd times. I wonder if these are mere distractions, entertainments like my cheesy science fiction shows. Yet, I often find myself in awe that humanity even possesses the ability to ask such questions.

I have been reading The Quantum and The Lotus by Matthieu Richard and Trinh Xuan Thuan, a monk and a physicist. It boggles my mind. Physics postulates the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe as we know it, some fifteen billion years ago. Yet Buddhism insists that nothing comes from nothing, a logical standpoint if there ever was one. Buddhism defines the world as cyclical and every thing in it subject to cause and condition, including the Big Bang.

The problem is not so much with the Big Bang itself, but merely that no amount of mathematics can describe what occurred before something called Planck’s wall, a point in time ten to the negative forty-three after the so-called “beginning” of the universe. Whatever existed prior to this is simply indescribable, if it existed at all, as Buddhism insists that it must have.

Mathieu writes “All religions and philosophies have come unstuck on the problem of creation. Science has gotten rid of it by removing God the Creator, who had become unnecessary. Buddhism has done so by eliminating the very idea of a beginning.”

This provides me with no answers. If the insistence on cyclic existence is merely attempt to solve the plaguing puzzle of creation, how is that better than insistence in divine creation? What makes it any more correct?

One thing the argument for causality seems to have going for it is that it trumps the argument for divinity. If everything comes from cause and condition, then so must God. If the world cannot pop into existence of its own accord, Big Bang or not, than neither can God manifest from nothing. “The reason why ‘nothing’ can’t become ‘something’ is that in order to do so, the ‘nothing’ would be done away with. But how is it possible to get rid of something that does not exist?” Mathieu asks.

Ironically, it is Trinh who seems to provide the strongest argument for a divine hand in the presence of existence. “Modern cosmology has discovered that the conditions that allow for human life seem to be coded into the properties of each atom, star, and galaxy in our universe and in all the physical laws that govern it. The way our university evolved depended on what are called ‘initial conditions’ and on about fifteen numbers called ‘physical constants.’ [Gravity, the speed of light, electro-magnetism, etc.]

“If these constants and initial conditions were just slightly different, then we wouldn’t be here talking about them. The universe, right from the start, seems to have carried the seeds that allowed for the emergence of consciousness, of an observer. In the words of physicist Freeman Dyson, ‘The universe in some sense must have known that we were coming…So far we haven’t come up with a theory that explains why these constants were fixed at a particular value and not a different one…By constructing a large number of ‘model universes’ on their computers, astrophysicists have discovered that if the physical constants and the initial conditions were just slightly different, then there’d be no life in the universe.”

Why are these constants as they are? What was the cause and condition or these seemly arbitrary phenomena? These are phenomena which ultimately set in motion, from Planck time forward, the seeds of existence of every star, planet, and ultimately, life. Is this the fingerprint of God?

This theory presupposes intention rather than causation. In other words, we evolved simply because we could evolve. If the constants had been other than what they are, the laws of physics bent just a little, who is to say someone other than us wouldn’t have evolved? No life, or no life as we would recognize it? I find great wonder in this. I am reminded of a conversation years earlier in which a friend remarked that the wonder of existence was enough to convince her of the presence of divinity and that without this divinity, the universe was rendered small and cold.

Steven Weinberg: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

But what if it is pointless? What if it is random? What if we are here merely by chance? How cool is that?

If there was only a one in a billion trillion chance for sentient life to exist, just think of how many times the dice rolled up snake eyes before it got us? And we’re here anyway. We’re here, still here! How truly immeasurable must the universe then be? How long must the monkey have sat at that typewriter before it hammered out Shakespeare? So if we are still here, if we are possible, then anything is possible. And I like the sound of that.

Physics leaves much unanswered, but it has begun to demonstrate just how the universe could come about, from the way stars and planets form to how amino acids hook together to form DNA in tidal “broths” of young planets. Trinh relates a story from two centuries ago about French mathmetician Pierre-Simon de Laplace. “When he gave Napoleon a copy of his great book on celestial mechanics, the emperor scolded him for not once mentioning the ‘Great Architect.’ Laplace replied: ‘But, Your Highness, I have no need of that hypothesis.’”

At the same time, Buddhism leaves much unanswered. How can I believe the answer to a question to which I know humanity will postulate almost anything simply in order to have an answer? How do I reconcile the belief in a cyclical existence of causation with Leibniz’s nagging question as to why anything exists at all?

God is not an answer, merely a gateway to more questions. Where did God come from? Why did God create the universe as it is and not some other way? Why would an omnipotent and loving God allow for suffering? Does God suffer?

One thing I do know is that God is not enough.


Dogo Barry Graham said...

This is why theistic religion is unacceptable for me on both intellectual and moral grounds.

The anthropomorphic "God" seems to be simply an imaginary friend or parent, something for the ego to aim its prayers at. (It seems to me that religious debates are arguments over who has the best imaginary friend.) But, temporarily setting rationalism aside, if we assume that there is such a thing as "God", how does it logically follow that he/she/it merits our worship and obedience?

Ask a certain type of theist, why seemingly harmless behavior is forbidden, and the answer will be "because God forbids it." But, if "God" is an existential being, just bigger and more powerful than us, then unquestioning obedience to his/her/its whims is nothing other than supernatural fascism, a cowardly pandering to the bully. This is why theistic religion is essentially amoral - devotees are taught not to act upon their assessment of what is right or wrong, but rather to follow the orders of God/Allah/the voices in one's head. The imperative is not to do what is right because it is right, but rather to do what the deity says in order to obtain reward and avoid punishment. It is a way of being that is entirely self-serving. When a person functions in this state of childlike absence of responsibility, it is not so difficult to burn people at the stake or fly planes into buildings. Right and wrong, good and bad - you don't have to worry about these things when you're just following orders from on high.

(An exception that must be noted is Hinduism; in Hindu scripture, as I understand it, Arjuna proves to the deity that he is a good man by refusing to obey the deity's commands when he believes these commands to be morally wrong.)

In Zen Buddhism, there is a saying: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." This does not imply violence against a physical being, but rather the destruction of the ego's projections. The Buddha that you can meet on the road, that you can identify, in yourself or others, is just one more illusion, one more imaginary friend. In the end, whether there is a "God" is irrelevant; we are bigger and more powerful than mice, and there may be a being that is bigger and more powerful than us, but every being can only be a fragment of the absolute. Sustained contemplation reveals that there is not, as some theists contend, "only one God." Rather, there can only be one anything, only one nothing.

Monica said...


Jack said...

If universal conditions were different in the slightest way life would not exist. Or life as we know it.

Okay? So a different kind of life would have come into existence. One that follows those set of rules and constants. Something that would be utterly incomprehensible by our mind as they are in this universe.

I fall under a 99% certainty that there is no creative super power, at least as we understand the universe. But what if the creator of our universe lives in a universe of it's own where something does come from nothing?

Just having fun thinking. Thanks Monica.

Samantha said...

Goodness how I adore your blog. It's well written, refreshing, and so real. It's a blessing in a 'verse full of folk who want to qualify, quantify and label every little thing. I'm still fond of one particular line from Hamlet:

"There is more under the heaven's and earth than you have dreamed of ..."

It's elegant in it's simplicity because it allows for anything. Both a divine intent, and mathematics. It allows for cause to precede effect, and at the same time effect to precede cause. Because sometimes the effect of one cause it the cause required for another effect.

In Zen is is said there are no answers, only more questions. For truely the answer to one question, is in and of itself a question left wanting an answer.

Why did the chicken cross the road? How about why was there a road for the chicken to cross?

Humanity needs to divest itself of the linearness of time. Time is not actually linear. Time simply is. Only here in the physical manifestation of the "IS" does time have a start, middle and end. Birth in this frame of time/space is merely a change in state from another, and death of the body, is not the end, but another change in state. Who we are, what we are, neither starts suddenly, nor ends instantly when life processes in the body cease to function. I am. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm currently temporally focused, it's one of many times past, present and future. I have memories of people, places, things from longer ago than this incarnation, and long after this one. Why? Because I choose to.

I was for a goodly number of years a student of theology. Paper on the walls to prove it and everything. I had the temerity to debate not the existence of "God" so to speak, but to quite successfully argue that "God" as stipulated needs us, more than we need him/her. It changed my view of the 'verse dramatically.

"Put no distance between you and where you are." is an old Koan I am fond of. It's simple, it is clear, and says so much while saying nothing.

I exist now, this moment, this place. I am all at once the same person who started this note, and yet not her at all.

There are different forms of life, different 'verse's where the "rules" as we know them don't exist. It's all fluid, open, everything, everywhere, everywhen. What was, is and ever shall be. Why? Why NOT?

Why does "God" allow suffering? Because he/she doesn't know what suffering is. Different states of being, different frames of reference, different levels of existence. One man's trash is another's buffet. Nothing and everything exists, all at the same time, and we simply move from state to state, trying things on, raising our vibration, making sense and then moving on.

Entroy some say is a the universal law of chaos unmaking as order makes. Matter, antimatter. Positive, negative. Heads, tails.

Entroy is the universe seeking balance. For something to exist, nothing must also exist and the obverse is also true equally.

Thanks Monica! I love your blog.

john said...

I once read that the only reason there is a universe is because "nothing" is unstable. I can't argue with that. Great post. It made me think.

TK said...

Things neither exist nor not exist, for existence does not exist: existence is only a human thought construct. So are words, logics, math, physics or God. It's enough to realize that the product of human mind is maya, a product of evolution, and hence things in our Mind-only reality are devoid of self nature and empty.