Author Topic: God's Context  (Read 224 times)

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Offline Willie

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God's Context
« on: May 04, 2014, 10:32:46 PM »
Theists sometimes claim that God exists outside of our universe, and is therefore not bound by its laws or limited to the extent of its finite past. This is not postulated because of any evidence for such an existence, but rather because these characteristics seem to be necessary in order for a being to function as a "first cause" for the universe. So, if not the universe and its laws of physics, what, then, is the context within which God exists? What are the laws that govern what he can and cannot do, and that provide the underlying mechanisms by which he functions? Are there any such laws? Where did they come from? Are any of them discernable to us from within our, presumably more limited, universe?

Euclid offered a simple and elegant proof that there is no largest prime number. It goes something like this:

Consider an unbroken sequence of prime numbers starting with 2, which we'll call P1, and continuing to some arbitrary large prime that we'll call Pn. If we multiply all of these primes together, we'll get a composite number that is larger (potentially MUCH larger) than Pn. Because this number is the product of every prime number up to Pn, we know that it is evenly divisible by every prime number up to Pn. If we then add one to that number, we get a number that is NOT evenly divisible by ANY of the primes up to and including Pn. (I can elaborate on that if it isn't clear why this is true.) This sum may or may not be a prime number, so we will consider both cases. If it is prime, then that number itself demonstrates that there is a prime number larger than Pn. If it is composite, then it must have one or more prime factors, and those prime factors cannot be any of the primes less than Pn, therefore demonstrating that there is at least one prime number larger than Pn.

That's beautiful, isn't it?[1] It doesn't matter what Pn we choose. And we don't have to actually calculate the potentially gigantic product of our sequence of known primes, or test the primeness of that product plus one, because we know that every possible result will always satisfy the proof. For any prime number, no matter how large, there is always a larger one.

It seems to me that a proof like this says something about the nature of reality that is even more fundamental than the laws of physics. I suspect that these rules, the rules of mathematics, are more than just universal. They govern not only our universe, but every possible universe, and any larger context, if there is such a thing, within which our universe exists. These rules are not created, because they are aspects of the context within which any creator must exist. They are not arbitrary or random. They cannot be anything other than what they are. They are not dependent on the values of physical constants, or the quantity or arrangement of matter, energy, time, or space. They apply to everything that is real. Thus, if God is real, then God must be governed by these rules.

What do you think? Are there laws that are more than universal? Laws that cannot be anything other than what they are in ANY context? Laws that, if some supernatural realm does exist, apply even there?



P.s. This is not a set up for some kind of argument that God doesn't exist. I'm just waxing philosophical, and curious about other's speculations about this, from both theistic and non-theistic perspectives.
 1. Seriously, if you're not already familiar with this proof and didn't quite get it in one pass, it's worth the effort to work through it until you fully understand it. It is a strikingly beautiful bit of mathematics and doesn't require anything more advanced than understanding multiplication, addition, and primeness.

Offline Add Homonym

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Re: God's Context
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2014, 03:32:56 AM »
God could have created the universe around himself; he doesn't have to be outside of it, or not be a part of it.

As to whether there are universal laws: I don't know.
Humans, in general, don't waste any opportunity to be unfathomably stupid - Dr Cynical.

Offline Graybeard

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Re: God's Context
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2014, 08:17:21 AM »
Thus, if God is real, then God must be governed by these rules.

What do you think? Are there laws that are more than universal?
Laws explain and describe our experiences. All laws are universal. That they would only work in certain circumstances and for us is neither here nor there.

The weight of a given lump of iron differs in water and in air. On Jupiter and the Moon, it will differ again, but the law that establishes weight is universal: it explains weight to us, and will anywhere.

In all the above circumstances, the mass will remain constant: the law of mass explains mass to us, and will anywhere.

As an analogy, you recognise all the words in the passage you have written and you understand my words. However, every now and again, you encounter a word that you do not know. That word is either (i) an accepted word that you simply had never seen, and that includes a foreign word or (iii) it is entirely fictitious - i.e. not a word.

Once we know whether it is (i) or (ii) we can say if it is a word. The same is true of laws. No matter where you are in this, or any other universe, the word will be (i) or (ii) – that is the law.

The law is what explains things to us wherever we are. If it doesn’t work as a word at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it never does. Thus a new word in another universe becomes part of the members of the set of words that “mean something” to us.

If the word is real, it will have an origin in some other language or its origins may be unknown[1]. We can work out origins. If we forget them, we will rediscover them and they will be the same. If no one knows the origin but nevertheless knows empirically of its meaning, we look for the origin to establish the validity of the word.

The universe is a huge Mandelbrot set: it's puzzles all the way down but all the puzzles are connected. In many cases we know how, in some we don't and to state the obvious, we don't know the ones of which we are unaware: we don't even know if those types exist. But they will all be connected.

The laws we know, work in our universe and they will work anywhere - but (i) they may not be always complete and (ii) there may be others that we do not know and (iii) others that only apply in totally different circumstances.

The thing about universes is that if we cannot detect them, either they don't exist or they are in a dimension that we cannot perceive. It does not matter which one it is, nothing in another universe, composed of entirely different dimensions, could possibly affect us in any way. If this is so and there is a god in another universe, he cannot affect us at all -> he remains undetectable and, for us, that is as good as his not being there. Imagine it like a dead leaf somewhere in an inaccessible part of the Brazilian jungle: whether it is there or not has no effect on your life.

However, the thing is that we have case of "entangled elementary particles" where information appears to be transmitted instantaneously and the weirdness of the double slit experiment. These may hint at other dimensions. If there are other dimensions, we may be able to show these exist in theory, but we would not be able to go any further as we are not equipped to perceive them.

Yet these strange findings would show that our laws work, even if we do not know the dimension in which they or parts of them are working.

Here are a couple of ants that I brought to life: these ants only perceived 2 dimensions plus a very short 3rd dimension: what if we were like them for the 5th and 6th dimensions:


The ant disappears and then reappears from the other direction. If ant-scientists were to try to explain this, they would have to “imagine” another dimension but the laws relating to movement could not be described as wrong, only, “incomplete.”

Our laws would still work anywhere and describe our experiences wherever we were but they may not describe everything all the time.
 1. this is like the laws of the universe.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline screwtape

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Re: God's Context
« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2014, 09:59:18 AM »
This is not postulated because of any evidence for such an existence, but rather because these characteristics seem to be necessary in order for a being to function as a "first cause" for the universe.

That is possible.  I think it is also possible that this is postulated for two other reasons.  One, it makes god sound greater.  The evolution of God (capital G) is one where a small god from a small pantheon who was just one of many gods (with a wife, even) and not even the boss god, with limited power and knowledge, because became the infinite, omnimax creator of all being.  This did not happen over night.  It came about due to geopolitics, conquests, crushing defeats and the general human inability to deal with being wrong.  As such, the hebrew people bragged their god into being God.  Each iteration of bragging made yhwh a little bigger, a little more powerful, until it got to the point where yhwh was the ONLY god.

Two, I think god lives outside time and space because that is a convenient hiding place.  As our esteemed kcrady points out, when it comes to expectations of reality, xians live in the same atheistic world we do.  That is, reality shows no evidence of their god.  So to protect their beliefs, they have to put god outside our ability to scrutinize him.  Greeks did that too, long ago.  They had the gods living on top of mount Olympus.  Then someone climbed Olympus and found no gods.  So, people had to put god somewhere some wiseass could not get to.  Outside time and space was a pretty good hiding place. 

However, it inadvertantly leaves a lot of explaining to do.  What does "outside time and space" even mean?  Is it even possible?  How does a being "outside time and space" affect things "inside" time and space?  How can you have a personal god be a thing so alien, distant and abstract?  What does love mean to such a being?

It's a can of worms.


So, if not the universe and its laws of physics, what, then, is the context within which God exists? What are the laws that govern what he can and cannot do, and that provide the underlying mechanisms by which he functions? Are there any such laws? Where did they come from? Are any of them discernable to us from within our, presumably more limited, universe?

I think we cannot know, and that is the point, as I said above.  Though I think logically, if they are right, there have to be laws.  Think about the very basic laws we take for granted and how necessary they are.  Causality, for example.  What would a "universe" without causality be like?  Is that even possible?  How would god function inside it?

can of worms.


edit - typo
« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 07:56:32 AM by screwtape »
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Offline Bluecolour

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Re: God's Context
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2014, 06:55:04 AM »
Theists sometimes claim that God exists outside of our universe, and is therefore not bound by its laws or limited to the extent of its finite past. This is not postulated because of any evidence for such an existence, but rather because these characteristics seem to be necessary in order for a being to function as a "first cause" for the universe. So, if not the universe and its laws of physics, what, then, is the context within which God exists? What are the laws that govern what he can and cannot do, and that provide the underlying mechanisms by which he functions? Are there any such laws? Where did they come from? Are any of them discernable to us from within our, presumably more limited, universe?

-snip-

What do you think? Are there laws that are more than universal? Laws that cannot be anything other than what they are in ANY context? Laws that, if some supernatural realm does exist, apply even there?


Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.

The Book begins with the words 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.' If you're like me then you can almost hear the voices of the millions of Sunday school attendees who raised their hands once this passage had been read to them to ask the question, 'but who created God?'
It's fascinating. This supposed compendium of divine knowledge and right here in the very first chapter of the very first book, even the meekest of intellect reaches an impasse.
How is it that all of our philosophers, all the Sartes and sages of old and all the wise men, the Solomons and the mystic prophets of ages past have been unable to glean what the mind of a child so easily perceives?

Of course to the Christian mind it is all very poetic.
'In the beginning, God...'
Completely unapologetic. But more than just so.  It is in equal parts a mystery. Most religions I think would point to some eternal state of being, Void or Chaos as a more sensible candidate for a progenitor. At most some vague primordial consciousness, some vast embryo, some mindless giant of the cosmos.
But this is quite different. Right there at the very beginning in every sense possible is God. Not just any god but Yahweh himself, fully formed with all of His jealousy and his madness. He's claimed himself king of the hill and is already going about shouting orders. 'Let there be such and such.'
No philosophical explanations are given, no metaphysical theories put forward.  It's important to note is that even the positive assertion of Gods existence is never made. It takes off.
 'In the beginning, God created...'

Any scholar or scientist would stumble over it the moment they tried to begin their investigation because no context is given.
The skeptic would fumble at the starting line because it is not given in doubt.
The materialist reading the opening words closes the book. 'This is not for me,' he resigns putting it down.
Then the pantheist. All his esoteric philosophies are thrown aside at the door. Of course, how can God be the world if God created the world.
The pagan spreads his deck but his cards are overturned. His hand is empty, all his might brought low before a King of kings.
'In the beginning, God...' And the argument is over before it began.
All discourse is silenced at the gateway perhaps because the Logus Himself is now present. Either way it becomes clear that there is only one way to proceed.
Submission. To be led in through the door of the sheepfold.
Standing in this new silence at the very threshold  of revelation those that listen might begin to hear the voice coming from within, commanding as it did with Moses at the burning bush, when he himself was faced with what his mind could not apprehend, 'Do not come near; put your shoes off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.' Perhaps even that still small voice asking that the old and the wise be born again before they enter into the kingdom of God.

'In the Beginning, God.'

It changes the way you look at things. In that first verse the mood of the entire book is set. All other lights are dimmed the moment this curtain is drawn.
Once this initial statement, made the way it is, is accepted as truth there is no longer any sensible grounds for rejecting whatever comes next to this line up of scripture. So when the talking snakes and the giants follow up on stage it makes no sense to begin protesting from the stands. 'Wait a minute, hold up a sec!'
A popular minister, I don't recall who, was once quoted as saying, 'I have no trouble believing that Jonah was swallowed by the whale, i would even have believed it if Jonah had swallowed the whale.'

This is not to say that Christians do not nor even should not question the things that they believe. The point is merely that they would approach such a question under an entirely different light than you would as a sceptic. And while it is easy to refer to this as mere gullibility, such misrepresentation does a disservice to the person who makes it.

There are many ways that i could have answered this thread but then most of them involved answers which I myself would find meaningful. They most likely might have appeared simplistic if not completely senseless to you. Again, this would not be as a result of their inferiority.
Quite simply if you are an atheist, any theological answer to your question would appear shallow, perhaps even repulsive. On the other hand a naturalistic answer, even a shoddy, incomplete one by my standards would be preferable to the most exhaustive writings by a theist on the subject.  I'm not talking about bias here, just an acclimatization of sorts. Anyway for me the answer is quite simple, it is not however simplistic:

'In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.'

There's your context, right there. Except it is not God being put in context. He is not the dependent but the point of reference. The inalterable and fundamental constant of all worlds and all reality. Through Him all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made. The only reason anything exists is because God exists. By faith we see all of reality being framed by the Word of God. And the Word was God.

And so at the very beginning of my universe we reach an impasse because this atheist wants to ask me 'who created God?'

Offline Graybeard

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Re: God's Context
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2014, 10:03:39 AM »
Standing in this new silence at the very threshold  of revelation those that listen might begin to hear the voice coming from within,

'In the Beginning, God.'
Your scores in literary prose (romantic-descriptive) must have been quite high. But I think we should be looking at (i) what a Bronze Age peasant thought was the truth and (ii) realising that for opposing that irrational, simplistic view hundreds or thousands died horribly.

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Once this initial statement, made the way it is, is accepted as truth there is no longer any sensible grounds for rejecting whatever comes next to this line up of scripture.
The reason not to believe was there in the various contradictions of the first creation and of the conflict with the second account of creation.

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A popular minister, I don't recall who, was once quoted as saying, 'I have no trouble believing that Jonah was swallowed by the whale, i would even have believed it if Jonah had swallowed the whale.'

And the Queen in 'Alice in Wonderland' said that she believed seven impossible things before breakfast - gullibility is not an attribute of which to be proud, nor one to admit in polite company.

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This is not to say that Christians do not nor even should not question the things that they believe. The point is merely that they would approach such a question under an entirely different light than you would as a sceptic. And while it is easy to refer to this as mere gullibility, such misrepresentation does a disservice to the person who makes it.
No it does not, and no amount of bald statements will change that. You are advocating wilful ignorance; a denial of common sense and yet you are happy that children should learn this? Deceive them now and your job will become easier later.

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Anyway for me the answer is quite simple, it is not however simplistic:

'In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.'
I think you have scaled new heights in being simplistic.

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And so at the very beginning of my universe we reach an impasse because this atheist wants to ask me 'who created God?'
We probably need a visa to enter your world, and the impasse is not with atheists, it is with anyone who is not swayed by empty rhetoric and does not delight in ignorance.

Hold on to your god by all means, and hold on to him tightly, he is slipping away from you as sand through an hourglass, but it is not gravity that causes his fall but our knowledge. Like the Cheshire Cat, soon all that will be left is his grin and it will be a grin that speaks of a joke that had succeeded for so long.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”