Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Cosmological Argument

As an engineer I'm often occupied with the question how: How can we extend electrical service into a new subdivision? How do we automate distribution switching to minimize outages? But it occurs to me that the question how is a trail without a final destination. It's not merely that there's always more how than all the world's engineers can handle, but that each question of means begets a complementary question of causation (e.g., answering the question "How do we prevent power outages?" compels one to ask the question, "What's been causing outages?") And each subsequent question of causation eventually leads inexorably to the original thermodynamic unanswerable: "What's the original cause of everything?" or "How did anything come into existence in the first place?"

Over the past fifty years cosmologists have been dragged reluctantly to acknowledging what even cosmetologists have always known: There was a point of creation. The Big Bang is now universally acknowledged as the most reasonable explanation of the expanding universe we inhabit. In an instant, all the energy that exists (or will ever exist) sprang into existence. And since that moment of creation, the universe (in slavishly obedience to the second law of thermodynamics) has merely been making a flashy show of dissipating all that concentrated energy. Physics dictates that eons from now the stellar show will end and the universe will end as nothing but uniformly distributed background radiation. T.S. Eliot was prescient. The universe that began "with a bang" is doomed to end "with a whimper."

But when we turn from considering the universe without to the universe within, we see an even more awesome sight: the impossible complexity of life. If the stellar universe echoes from the remote past, "I was created", life (working so mightily against entropy's flow) shouts from the intimate present: "I was designed!" I can't help but note that those who preach so ardently against "intelligent design" do so with a little too much religious fervor for ones claiming complete objectivity. Think about it: Does the belief in a creator threaten the study of the cosmos? No, but such a belief is a serious threat to the humanist's cosmic viewpoint.

Consider an analogy: Does belief in the existence of a poet void the study of his sonnets? No, quite the opposite; it's much more reasonable to doubt the scholarship of the English Lit student who insists that all Shakespeare's plays and sonnets sprang from a thoughtless ink spill. Humanists aren't compelled to reject the Cosmological Argument because of the evidence (for all evidence points the other way). They reject the notion of a creator because they can't deal psychologically with the implications of being beholden to their creator.

Thus, the world (both macroscopic and microscopic) confronts us, not merely with something that brought everything into existence, but with someone who acted with purpose in creating all things. But the trail doesn't end there. Having followed this trail of hows to its logic end (the existence of a rational creator), we look up to see a path of whys beckoning us onward. And (as every three-year-old knows) why is a very good question - any fool can explain what, but it takes real insight to see the purpose behind things. However, (as every parent of a three-year-old knows) each answer to the question why begets yet another why. So again we're forced to admit: Why can't be the ultimate question. You of course inquire "Why is that?" and of course, I answer: "Just because!" Because in the end, endlessly asking why only leads to one answer: "That's just the way God made it."

So as worthy as the questions how and why may be (and they are far nobler than their beggar cousin what), they merely escort us to the great question-of-all-questions: "Who? Who is this Creator that the universe discloses?" Is the Creator of all things someone we can meet, speak to, and even come to know? And if we got to know Him, would He be someone we'd find appealing? Even more importantly, would He care ... for us?

C.S. Lewis (in Surprised by Joy) addresses the possibility of meeting ones Maker: "If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing." Indeed, Hamlet (during his hour upon the stage) might soliloquize about the possibility that there is indeed a playwright who has placed us here to strut and fret. And (if Hamlet ponders rightly) he will surely conclude that his play must have an author. But knowing that there must be an author is not the same thing as knowing the author. So again we ask, "Could Hamlet actually step off the pages of the script and introduce himself to Shakespeare?" On the one hand, there's no need for any introduction since Shakespeare already knows Hamlet intimately, but the question remains: Can Hamlet know Shakespeare? Plainly the answer is no ... unless of course, as C.S. Lewis says, Shakespeare takes the initiative and writes himself into the play.

Christianity is unique among religions in its claim that this is precisely what the Creator has done - the Creator of all things has cast Himself as an actor in the drama of history. (Colossians 1:15-16) Of course, the Apostle Paul's assertion that Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things is not accepted by everyone (include some who mistakenly call themselves Christian). But regardless, one thing is clearly manifest to any thinking person: God does exist. Another thing about the identity of God is also clear (though less commonly accepted): You aren't God.

Our Creator is owed our respect, but "paying honor to whom honor is due" is the one thing we are least inclined to render. In fact, human history is an unbroken account of the human race either defying God or deifying that which isn't God. In fact, those two errors (defy and deifying) are merely opposite faces of the same sin, the original sin: the creature seeking to displace the Creator. Perhaps C.S. Lewis phrased it best (in The Great Divorce): "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell chose it."

So (during this season of self-evaluation) my point is simply this:
Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way. For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:11-12)


Bag Blog said...

Excellent post. I know of people who are willing to believe in a creator or maybe something spiritual, but they want to make that being into their image instead of being made into the creator's image.

Jerry said...

Good stuff, but you didn't answer the question of all questions:

Why is that the Electric Company can't keep my lights on all the time? Don't they know how many clocks I have to reset every time that the power goes out?

PrimoDonna said...

Bob, this is a very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

Jerry, we have electric clocks with 9-volt batteries as backups. They great because it seems like the electricity is always going out, even it only for a few seconds.

Bob said...

It's good of you to read my meanderings -- thanks. Don't worry about Jerry's electricity. There in New Mexico (where Jerry lives) electricity is still a novelty. However, as for your lights flickering -- on behalf of Oncor, I offer our sincere apologies.

Keeping the lights on "all the time" is a tall order. Typical non-storm SAIDI (system average interruption duration index) in urban areas in the U.S. is about an hour and a half a year, and SAIFI (... frequency index) is about once a year. Only downtown networks can approach no outages.

Bag Blog--
Precisely! The expression of the first sin was: "I will make myself like the Most High." (Isaiah 14:14) Psychologically, that's something that can be done either by seeing self as being like God or seeing God as being like self.

Ky Woman said...

Ya know Bob, you explained that well enough that a three year old could understand it...

So Why can't "everyone" understand it?

as for me? I'm a work in progress...