The X-Factor: Reformulating the Etiological Argument

I generally would agree with Immanuel Kant's assertion that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. And I doubt the following will convince anyone. However, I still find it important to articulate the logical framework for my belief in God; at the very least, I would hope to demonstrate that God is plausible.

I would consider this argument an expansion of the spatiotemporal etiological (or cosmological) argument. (Big words are fun.) Just as time has a direction, so does truth; truths flow from other truths as events flow from causes.

So it's a sort of synthesis of the cosmological argument and the teleological argument, and can be condensed to one statement:

Unless mathematics and logic alone can prove that the universe must be exactly the way it is, some other determining factor must exist.

From here, the transition from "determining factor" to "God" is mostly one of semantics.

(This is not meant as a formal proof, although it is structured as such. Also, Leibniz basically already thought of this.)

The Physicalist Assumptions

1. An objective physical reality exists.

This is something that would be a bigger problem for postmodernists than physicalists...but it bears brief discussion. Could it all be in our heads? The short answer is yes but. If the universe does, in fact, exist only in our heads, then our heads, at least, are real and exist in a different reality. Although I would contend that our perceptions are often extremely fallible, they are not completely imperfect. And if a simulated reality is all we know, it is reality for all intents and purposes (except in The Matrix).

2. The objective physical reality is governed by the "laws of thought." In other words, truth and reality are rational.

I would think of the "laws of thought" as "natural axioms," propositions that are only true because we cannot conceive or comprehend reality without them. It is not necessary here to enumerate them. Examples would be the law of identity (A is A) and the law of noncontradiction (A and not-A cannot both be true). Notice that it is impossible to prove these laws without invoking them, but it is also impossible to disprove them or even consider them without invoking them.

3. The objective physical reality is governed by the "mathematical axioms." In other words, truth and reality are mathematical.

There is much more debate about the underlying theory of mathematics, probably because much of mathematics is far less intuitive than foundational logic (although logic might not be intuitive either). Regardless of the controversy surrounding the philosophy of mathematics (That, ladies and gentleman, is sarcasm, by the way), I also do not know anyone who would contest this assumption. In other words, people might argue about why 2 + 2 = 4 is true, but they do not argue about whether or not it is, in fact, true.

4. The objective physical reality behaves in an orderly manner.

For obvious reasons, I doubt any physicalist would disagree, because this assumption is the foundation of science. It could be rephrased, "Given fixed physical conditions, a system can only behave in one way." (This is somewhat related to determinism.)

Think about how science works: you measure something under certain conditions, and then formulate a theory based on the assumption your experiment is repeatable. What do you call someone who does the same thing twice and expects different results each time? Insane.

1-4. An objective physical reality exists and behaves in a predictable and orderly manner. It is governed only by the laws of logic and mathematics.

I added the "only" to indicate the true claim physicalists make, that no knowledge, existence, or meaning exists outside logic, mathematics, and physics.

This could be restated this way: Except for the principles of mathematics and logic, everything exists within the closed system of physical reality.

My Counter-Assumption and Its Implications

5. The physical universe is governed by the principle of sufficient reason and is not solely contingent on the "laws of thought" and the "mathematical axioms."

Mathematical and logical truths resist any exterior explanation; that is why they are considered to be "self-evident." The same is not true for purely physical truths. Almost by definition, they require an explanation; otherwise, they are indistinguishable from magic.

It is impossible to imagine a world without the law of identity, but it isn't impossible to conceive of a world without special relativity. Thus, the structure of the universe (insofar as we understand it now) is completely arbitrary; it is independent of mathematical and logical truths. I know of no one (yet) who has ever attempted to derive the universe's structure from pure mathematics and logic; to me (and seemingly to everyone else), it seems impossible. Even assuming we were to identity the Theory of Everything, that theory itself would not depend solely upon pure mathematics and logic; otherwise, mathematics and logic themselves would be the Theory of Everything! And I know no one so audacious as to make that claim.

To illustrate what I mean, consider that we have both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries. The universe is (supposedly) non-Euclidean; why isn't it Euclidean? Has it not arbitrarily chosen a non-Euclidean geometry for itself? Could a Euclidean universe not exist that would satisfy mathematics and logic? I'm not saying this is the best example, but it illustrates the variability in what the universe could be. After all, physicalists tacitly admit that the universe could exist in many different forms when they advocate the multiverse theory.

Therefore, by the physicalists' own admission, what the universe is must depend upon something else: the X-Factor. It cannot depend on mathematics and logic alone, because they allow for an infinite number of different universes. Therefore, there must be some other explanation for why the universe behaves the way it does. (Remember that a Theory of Everything would only explain how the universe fundamentally behaves, not why that is how it behaves.)

If physicalists argue this point, then we must wonder why a random universe (such as ours) would appear and then cease to behave in a random manner. To deny the existence of the X-Factor is to attribute the X-Factor's properties to the universe itself. This is not a scientific statement; this is arbitrarily excluding physical reality from the principle of sufficient reason.

Thus, the X-Factor exists. At the very least, it is impossible to reject the possibility of its existence without invoking the universe as the X-Factor.

Possible Objections

1. What if the universe isn't orderly, but random? Quantum physics could indicate the universe very well is random. Can't randomness be explained by the multiverse theory?

The implications of randomness should be striking to the physicalist. (Note that randomness should not be confused with unpredictability or imprecision of data.) Imagine, if you will, a Lamborghini's appearing in your driveway. Imagine concluding that it came there for no reason whatsoever; that doesn't make sense. Randomness is worse than magic; instead of appealing to an unknown power, randomness appeals to no power at all. Randomness is chaos, and it should be unacceptable to physicalists.

(David Hume, a non-religious rationalist, said, "Chance is only our ignorance of real causes." Charles Darwin, who needs no introduction, said, "I cannot look at the universe as a result of blind chance." And we all remember Einstein's famous - and paraphrased - statement that "God does not play dice.")

What about the multiverse theory, which posits an infinite number of universes encompassing all possible physical realities? First of all, the multiverse theory merely pushes back the question; instead of asking why the universe is the way it is, we merely have to ask why the multiverse is the way it is.

And because these universes would (hypothetically) be parallel, it would probably be impossible to prove their existence. In other words, the multiverse theory is much more a religious than a scientific claim.

2. What if "physical laws" can be derived from mathematical and logical truths?

If this were true, mathematics and logic would become the proverbial Theory of Everything. But even if this were true, some physical truths would remain arbitrary. The amount of matter and energy in the universe is the most obvious example. There must be some explanation for why we do not have a little more or little less matter and energy. Our physical reality must depend on something besides logic and mathematics.

And as I said before, no one has even attempted to identify the Theory of Everything with first-order logic and mathematics.

3. Isn't this just the kalam cosmological argument?

I am not (necessarily) invoking the cosmological argument here. Before the Big Bang theory was accepted by the scientific community, physicalists argued that the universe was infinitely old, and that there was an infinite regression of spatiotemporal causes (thus leaving one infinitely removed uncaused cause). Now, of course, many would prefer to invoke an infinite regression of causes preceding or simultaneous to the Big Bang - but this isn't about spatiotemporal causes themselves, but the causes of truth. (I do, however, have one friend who invokes creatio ex nihilo in the physicalist sense.)

4. Why are only mathematical and logical principles independent of the principle of sufficient reason? Why are physical principles not included?

Physics consists merely of observations of our universe, while mathematics and logic are independent of our universe's structure. Physics very much depends upon the nature of the universe, and so "physical laws" are only descriptions and interpretations of data. F = ma depends very much upon how the universe works, but A = A does not. To say "The universe is the way it is because of physics" and "Physics is the way it is because the universe is the way it is" does not make sense. (What a horrible sentence.) The two are codependent. So physics requires an explanation because reality requires an explanation.

5. Why can't the universe itself be the X-Factor?

This is, in my opinion, the most difficult objection to counter. But it is still very surmountable.

Physicalism, in my mind, implies a closed rational system in which how the universe works can be explained by physics, mathematics, and logic alone. But this closed rational system is inherently flawed, because it cannot explain the system itself.

So any claim suggesting the universe needs no explanation or self-created is itself a non-scientific or religious claim.

I have heard the argument made that, because of Occam's Razor, the X-Factor (God) would be an unnecessarily complex entity to invoke. It would be one too many assumptions. However, historically, the existence of an uncaused Truth has been much more intuitive than the existence of a finite, self-causing universe. It seems much more reasonable to invoke an uncaused ethereal, abstract entity than a universe of quarks and bosons that spontaneously came into being.

We would have to posit a universe which first existed beyond spacetime, in a random flux of nothingness, and then arbitrarily created itself. In doing so, it would become temporal and orderly. Does that really make sense?

In short, the two alternatives I see are God...and magic.

But I don't know...


Spaceman Spiff said...

Isn't it possible that the amount of matter in the universe could be the necessary result of the Big Bang? And couldn't the way the Big Bang happened be the necessary result of what a singularity must necessarily be?

I dunno if I'm convinced that anyone can show that a TOE won't be something somehow derivable from mathematics just because it hasn't yet been derived.

I maintain that it is probably impossible to find such a theory even if it is true. But what if I say it another way. What if I say that if we understood God, and saw things from his perspective, then nothing would appear arbitrary?

Well, if you agree to that, I think you're stuck with the idea that nothing is in fact arbitrary, since how God sees it must in fact be the truth.

And if you've gone that far, then I would suggest that at that point you would have the proper mathematics for a true TOE. And in this TOE, nothing would be arbitrary, not even physical constants. Hence, if the Christian God exists, then a true TOE would contain zero arbitrary absolutes.

Now, coming at it from a physicalist perspective (and ignoring other problems with physicalism for the moment), I think if a physicalist believes that reality is rational and orderly, then via a similar route, he must agree that there are no arbitraries, either by the fact that all those seemingly arbitraries happen every way they possibly can (=many worlds theory) or by claiming that ultimately a TOE would necessarily have no absolutes.

Thus, the only people for whom true arbitrariness is ok is the person who claims the universe is not rational. Go atheistic existentialists, go!

Speaker for the Dead said...

I'm not saying it's not possible. I'm just saying that no one has even begun to demonstrate the logical connection between those things.

The point isn't that no such TOE exists, but that the existence of such a TOE REALLY needs to be taken on faith. It seems inconceivable to me.

I'm only saying that something must be arbitrary if God is removed from the equation. The universe cannot be explained solely as a closed rational system.

I wouldn't be that surprised if God came up with a wicked awesome TOE like that...although it would sort of undermine my argument.

A multiverse just pushes back the question one step, in my opinion. It also does no better at explaining how the universe actually began.

But I agree that physicalists would need FAITH in either a multiverse or a great TOE.