Explorability Argument

Thursday, February 7, 2013

It’s past my bedtime as I write this. We’re back from Naginata class and we just finished showering Dinosaur. Doolies is getting ready for bed and as usual Dinosaur is in the bathroom bouncy watching her. I escaped down to the study to tap on some keys.

I’m not as tired today and it does look like my sickness is almost over. Not fully over but enough that I may not wear my sick sweatshirt tonight. You may be asking what a sick sweatshirt is. That’s a good question, my Dear Readers (although, to be fair, probably both Dear Readers know the answer to this question). I usually wear a t-shirt to bed except when I’m sick or feel I might get sick. Then I pull out a ratty gray Las Vegas t-shirt and wear it to bed. Hence, my sick sweatshirt. It’s too old to remember where it originated (the sweatshirt, not the routine) but it has served me well for many years. Except during this sickness. The magic may be wearing thin.

My first Nanowrimo (back when I still participated) had a magic sweater as the main conceit: a pink magical sweater. The magic worked only as long as you wore it, and it grew ratty as the protagonist refused to take it off. I see the parallels. You’re probably wondering where I went with that story. Don’t bother. I didn’t go anywhere with it. Like all my Nanowrimo successes—where success in is measured solely by counting to 50,000 words—there ended up not being a story. So is my pathetic writing career.

It was sunny today. This was lucky since I was in a small depression. Nothing seriously or probably noticeable, but work has been slower than usual and the darkness and rain was getting to me. By the late morning, the sun burnt away the crud in my head and I was back to my smile-therapy induced happy self.

The rest of these words are about philosophy and religion. I thought it only fair to warn you, Dear Readers.

I finally returned to the rabbi’s weekly class today. I haven’t gone since before Dinosaur was born. First with baby stuff and then work stuff and then sick stuff and then work stuff again. Today I walked in the sunshine to class. It was an enjoyable as we touched upon the foundation of ethics.

The rabbi argued (incorrectly) that without an absolute truth there can be no ethics, since its foundation must be, by definition, based on random human axioms. The counter that I tried to explain was that in a world where so many people believe they hold the only absolute truth (across the countless religious sects), some of those truths can’t be right, and yet even people with a false absolute truth still hold to an ethics system. I argue that the same is true for atheists. Their absolute truth is the axioms that they built their ethics system on: whether based on evolution or maximizing happiness or utilitarianism. Whatever absolute truth they hold can support an ethics system, even if it’s as faulty as, by definition, all but one religions must be, is as strong as the ethics systems for all religions. Therefore atheists are in no worse shape when it comes to the bedrock of their ethics system than any religion (with the exception of the true absolute truth holder—which doesn’t help them since, as South Park pointed out, there’s no way to know it’s the truth until you’re not around to talk about truth anymore).

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. As we were walking in the parking lot, I explained to the rabbi that I was not an atheist. He asked why. I told him that I’ve done a lot of reading on both atheism and the arguments for theism. And none of the theist arguments worked for me. What did work was what I call the Explorability Argument:

I can accept a random universe where random laws created the world and humans. It’s difficult to comprehend with our limited brains but so is infinity, and if you accept infinity can exist, then it’s probably large enough to contain all sorts of worlds, including our own. In itself a random universe doesn’t necessarily need a purpose.

This was why I was not enamored by the existence arguments as the author of Why Does The World Exist? To me, there are two clear possibilities: the universe exists because of random happenings, or it exists because of an all-good, all-powerful creator. Nothing else makes sense.

Our existence, therefore, doesn’t point to the presence or absence of a creator. What pushes me (slightly) over the edge is not that we’re here, but that we’re here and the universe is set up in such a way that it is understandable and explorable—i.e., humans can learn about themselves and the world and universe they live in. Think about that for a moment. There’s no reason why we can comprehend science. Science could just as easily have been either too complicated for our brain biology, or the world may have had hard limits on its observability in such a way that regardless of how smart humans were, we could not derive any laws of the universe.

A simple example is space. I can imagine a few minor tweaks to the laws of physics that would make it impossible for humans to observe any objects outside our world. We would live in a world where we may learn about what’s on it, but never anything beyond. Or even taking it one step more, a world where there is no observation that links to physical laws. The universe doesn’t have to be random but it could be set up in such a way that we could not observe it sufficient to derive any laws.

When I wrap my head around the Explorability of the Universe (and, as I’ve tried to explain, this is both its physical and mental explorabilitiy), I don’t see how a random universe could end up where we not only exist but exist in a way where we can explore the universe around us in a meaningful, and as of yet, unbounded way.(FN1)

Given its explorability, the random explanation doesn’t work for me. I end up looking to the alternative: the universe had to be created. Once you reach the created axiom then the rest of the Jewish (as influenced by Christian and modern philosophy) argument falls into place. I don’t have time to go through it, but I will summarize the steps: (1) one creator is more likely than multiple levels of creators (“it’s turtles all the way down”); (2) creator needs to be infinite to have the power to create an infinite universe; (3) an infinite being doesn’t have needs—i.e., He doesn’t need to create us; and (4) the only conceivable reason an infinite being would need to create us is because he was all-good and sharing the act of creation with created beings fulfilled His definition of all-good. We therefore have an all-powerful, all-good God who created us for a purpose.

Okay. I’m way past my time. Thanks for staying until the end if you managed to do so.

FN1: Some may argue this is still the case because there are physical limits on what we can observe, e.g., the boundaries set by the speed of light and the Heisenberg Uncertainty principal. This is a good counterargument, but I believe that given the amount of knowledge about the universe we’ve already obtained, even with limits, it still pushes me toward belief since there’s no reason I can think of why this is the case outside of that it was made that way.