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The Big Ghost
Is it possible to disbelieve in Nothing and call it God?

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
January 30, 2011

A favorite gambit of believers and even some agnostics is to claim that atheists all state unequivocally that there is no god. Some atheists are a bit strident, of course, but most aren't, and a reasonable response is “It depends on what you mean when you say 'god.'”

The biblical god is a logical impossibility and an affront to reason. There is a syllogism that goes back at least 250 years that stipulates God is all knowing and all-benevolent, incapable of evil and with unlimited power to prevent it. And yet this same god is locked in combat with Satan, one of god's first creations and supposedly the embodiment of all evil. Therefore, if god is all-powerful he cannot be all-benevolent for he created evil; if he is all-benevolent he cannot be all-powerful because he cannot control Satan.

Most atheists have no problem stating that a god so described cannot possibly exist.

At that point, the redefining of “god” begins. If you don't believe in Jehovah, can you at least admit that something created the universe? The discussion then becomes interesting, if somewhat futile. The first argument is that order cannot arise spontaneously from chaos, and something must have caused it. Of course, order -does- arise from chaos, and does so on a daily basis. Anyone who has ever seen a snowflake has been presented with proof of this. A snowflake, unique and yet perfectly symmetrical, is the epitome of order, and it came from the ultimate work-a-day example of chaos—water vapor. Formless clouds give rise to perfectly formed snowflakes.

That doesn't preclude the existence of a god, of course. But it does defeat the argument that order cannot arise from chaos. Indeed, the entire universe did that, and what's more, we know the mechanism that caused it. It's the very same thing that causes an ice skater to rotate faster when he pulls his arms in. Everything we see in the universe came from gas clouds that began to rotate just like water swirling down a drain, and as they developed enough mass to have a gravitational focus to draw themselves in, they rotated faster, which further compacted them. Everything. Galaxies, stars, planets. Saturn's rings. All solid matter came from that action. If there is a god, his name might be Conservation of Angular Momentum.

It still happens, which is why we know about it, and it offers no evidence, one way or the other, for a divine intervention. My turn. I get to redefine order.

When we say “order” we're talking about our own limited perceptions. I'm writing this at a desk that is 99.9999% “not there”. The space between the atoms that make up my desk is far vaster than the size of the atoms themselves, and only the very tiniest percentage of my desk is anything other than a perfect vacuum. I really have to get a new desk. But it holds my computer up and gives the dog a place to hide during thunderstorms, so, “there” or not, it's perfectly serviceable as a desk. It gets worse at the quantum level. Just the mere existence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP) and the Observer Effect give rise to Indeterminacy, which precludes our ever knowing "reality." The HUP says that it is possible to know the location of an atom but not its momentum, or we can determine the momentum, but not the location. If we cannot observe the foundation of our universe in time and space simultaneously, we cannot understand the ultimate roots. The Observer Effect states that the action of measuring something affects its actual state. For instance, if you stick a room-temperature thermometer in a pot of boiling water, the thermometer absorbs some of the heat and cools the water, if only by a millionth of a degree. This all leads to Indeterminacy which is a fancy way of saying, “we don't know.”

Despite all this, we pretty much have concluded that at the subatomic level, it's all random. Atoms move about in a completely disorganized fashion as individual atoms, and only at the level where there are several million atoms does something resembling 'consensus' appear, and the atoms are, to lesser or greater degrees of stability, a molecule. It's just a matter of luck that the air in your room stays put and doesn't just arbitrarily bugger off somewhere, leaving you in a vacuum even more perfect than your desk's. But don't worry; the odds are in your favor. It won't happen. Probably.

All of quantum mechanics is descriptions of probabilities within chaos. I just read a popular article the other day in which a physicist is saying that gravity doesn't actually exist as its own entity, but is rather a side effect of an entropic decay of space and time. In other words, gravity came rapidly after the big bang, when the universe began to decay. It was an afterthought, but one utterly necessary to form the universe we live in. Without it, conservation of angular momentum doesn't work.

Would a consciousness that is comfortable at the quantum level, and which probably views the actual universe as just sort of a side- affect of the quantum dance, have any interest in human affairs? It doesn't seem likely.

Kurt Vonnegut, the noted not-science fiction writer, came up with the “Church of God the Utterly Indifferent”. The fictional church believed that God created the universe and wandered off, unaware that he had created the universe (much the way a rabbit drops a pellet) and the Church, recognizing that they are the victims of a string of extraordinary accidents, give thanks to God for His Utter Indifference that allows them their freedom to function as human beings.

The “universe creator” could be a consciousness. It could be a higher consciousness. But is it a God? Gods are defined as being superior beings, often immortal, with an interest, for better or worse, in human affairs. There isn't much point in propitiation if they don't concern themselves with us, and there's little reason to suppose a god of the quantum spaces, exemplified by Vonnegut, would match the description of “a god”.

This suggests that if a consciousness created the universe, it was utterly and thoroughly alien to anything we've ever experienced—or can experience.

The ultimate degraded definition of God has him present “before” the Big Bang, but never a part of this universe. He exists, but outside the Big Bang. The ultimately unknowable and unknown.

I treat the "Big Bang" as a mathematical construct, and one in which a key piece of information is missing. There was nothing, and then there was everything, in one atom-sized piece of something, which promptly exploded. While it lacks the utter absurdity of all creation myths, it isn't an answer, but merely conjecture. Same questions pertain: why was there a big bang, and why did it happen? What changed? At that point, the theist steps forward eagerly, finger upraised, and says, “God did it!”

OK. Why?

If God is eternal and created the Universe, you have to ask what he was doing before he created it, and why he created it. If there was nothing prior to the universe, why would there be an omnipotent god in the middle of all that nothingness and what was the point of his existence?

God has already spent an eternity in nothingness—and no, I'm not sure the grammar and logic in that sentence work. Assuming that he was in a stasis of nothingness for a long, long time, what would motivate him to create a universe?

If the universe -had- to be created, then that begs the question, what created the creator?

The usual response is, “God doesn't need a creator. God is eternal!”

Says who?

If God doesn't need a creator, the same applies to the universe.

It doesn't need a creator. Lacking evidence of a need for same, I regard it as unnecessary clutter until shown otherwise. I'm not saying some sort of god isn't possible; I'm just saying that one isn't NEEDED for a good theory of how it all began.

And the only type of creation entity that logically works is one that created the universe as a sort of a byproduct, since the type of consciousness needed to create the universe from the ground up isn't one compatible with human affairs.

At that point the definition of god has been broadened – or depreciated – to the point where it's just a sort of big ghost, incapable of leaving any physical evidence of its existence. That god could exist simply because there is no evidence in either direction that it exists. It would seem a rather pointless sort of god, and I doubt it's a definition that many believers in god will accept. But ok – I think we can all admit that there's room in the universe for a big ghost. Nobody can disprove the Big Ghost, which is the whole idea.

I think it's unlikely in the extreme that we will know anything about what exists (if anything) "outside" or "before" the universe. But, lacking any evidence to the contrary, the supposition that some being with infinite powers did it just strikes me as a lazy shortcut. "God magicked it" may be emotionally reassuring for some, but it is utterly intellectually sterile. It isn't an answer; it's a cut off point at which people are invited to stop considering the matter anyfurther. But what's the point in believing in something that is insubstantial, unprovable, and uninvolved with human affairs? What, in a Big Ghost, merits belief?

Posted: February 4, 2011

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