Saturday, January 27, 2018

If There Was A Cosmological Design, What about the Designer?

I have been speculating about the origins of the universe and consciousness for some time now. Following St. Thomas’ finger, modern science points to an act of creation tightly constrained to produce the universe of matter and energy that we see around us (and in which conscious beings arose). If the fundamental constants of physics were not exactly what they are, if the Higgs boson did not manifest itself in a way to create the menagerie of particles that physics has discovered, the Big Bang would have produced some other kind of universe or perhaps none at all. We discover the laws of nature because they – the laws – appear to be there. They were there from the very first moment something “exploded” into spacetime. We exist in a universe that seems to have been designed according to these laws, or better, was created through using a particular set of fundamental constants and rules.

Of course, if there was a design, it suggests there was a designer. (I’m now reading Mind & Cosmos by Thomas Nagel. He suggests something like a design without a designer but more on that another time.) My question this time is why anything capable of designing a law governed creation on the order of the cosmos would have to use or obey law? The traditional notion of a Transcendental God is a being all-powerful and without constraints. As noted here before, I tend not to believe in such a god. And in fact, it seems that whatever set in motion the particular universe we find ourselves in was constrained to act through rules of the game we now discover as fundamental physics. Could an omnipotent god be constrained? Could not such a god simply call a universe that would look like ours into being by commanding or dreaming it? What kind of “god” would work with a rule book and where would that rule book have come from? Either that rule book precedes its use or for some unknowable reason the god created it in order to use it? What kind of god would do the later? And if the rules predate the god then we have not yet reached the First Cause.

I have no answers to these questions so let me have some fun. Let’s imagine a toolkit of cosmic software that allows the creation of universes. It contains menus of all sorts of starting conditions, rules and variables. A “player” – amateur or professional – plugs in, picks through the many choices available and runs the program. The “machine” cranks and out spews the result. Some might crash immediately, others just sit there shining or in the dark, others maybe moving forward in whatever way the rules encourage. A “successful” run might eventually contain things like stars, planets and people. If this program came on the market here, it would quickly outsell any of Sid Meier’s creations.

I said fun, but this is really a thought experiment for it raises the question of why any designer would create a universe and let it run without further ado. For it seems that the putative designer plays no further part in influencing outcomes. There is good and evil in our world and one must assume that it exists anywhere conscious beings exist. Lots of bad things have happened here on earth – to civilizations, societies, individuals – despite whatever prayers or entities were sent the gods’ way. One might argue that God showed its care for us by allowing us free will, by allowing us reason, by giving us the ability to tell right from wrong. There is scant evidence that that has worked out very well when one looks at the present state of the world, or as my historian friend would say, at any period of history. What possibly could be the intention of the possible designer who set our world in motion? Play, experiment or maybe child-rearing?

What if there was no designer but simply a design and the universe is an example of the eternal return?

1 comment:

Common Sense in Foreign POlicy said...

The answer was given by Wordsworth many years ago.

Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room
By William Wordsworth

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.