The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Inhumanity of the Cosmos

Regarding the apparent "inhumanity" of the Cosmos; how much "empty space" is "too much" empty space? After all, God is infinite so no amount of emptiness will seem to be of the slightest account to God. It only seems like a lot to us, because we are miniscule - but what does that matter? If we were making a Cosmos we might be more inclined to make it efficient and pretty in an obvious way: but that is because we would have finite resources and a finite perspective. Judging God's work by our standards in this way is simply silly.

The problem of pain and suffering and disasters and catastrophes and disorder (which is all the same thing seen from different perspectives) is a bigger problem, because it seems to indicate that God has created a world that is based on "injustice"; where things cannot get on with "minding their own business" but regularly come into conflict with each other.

Every time two electrons bounce off each other they experience what one could describe as "conflict". Their free motions are disrupted. Their natural progression is frustrated. They suffer defeat in their objective of travelling in a straight line at constant speed... but this is a silly way to describe things.

Electrons simply do what they do and when they bounce off each other there is no "catastrophe" in any ethical sense. Similarly, when a star goes super-nova or when galaxies collide: this is simply what matter does, and such events can have "positive" outcomes (such as the production of the heavy elements of which planets are later formed) as well as "negative" ones.

I suspect that the Cosmos simply has to have the characteristics that it has (or at least ones close to these) if it is "to serve God's purpose". This may be the same as "to produce life" or may be a wider matter than this - how can you or I possibly know, or even begin to guess. While I believe that God is just and loving I do not know what the issues at stake are.

You and I are like soldiers on the front line. We may have good reason to trust the integrity and honour and judgement of the General who is in command of us and if so we will trust that the orders he gives and the strategy that he employs are for the best even when from our point of view they seem to be incomprehensible or even misguided.

In such a situation one has a simple choice: to be courageous and keep faith in one's General or to act upon what seems to be the case according to one's own limited experience and knowledge. The horrible fact is that one might be wrong about one's belief in the General. Perhaps he is misguided or incompetent or ignorant of what is actually going on. Perhaps it would be better to question the orders that have been received...

There is no easy answer to this dilemma. In the end one has to decide that God is real and good (there are excellent arguments to indicate that these statements are true) and that all the evidence to the contrary must be set aside and put down to one not knowing the full story; or one has to decide that either God is not realm or else doesn't care about the Cosmos - in which case one has a fundamental problem with valuing anything, for it would seem that life is futile and devoid of any possible worth.

I rather suspect (both as a physicist and a Catholic) that the Cosmos is finite, though I don't fundamentally care whether this is actually true or not - with either of my hats on. Actually, to be honest, as a physicist I hope it is finite; the maths would be so much simpler and various strange things would be avoided (such as the existence of infinitely many copies of myself al typing the same message...)

The existence of an infinite Cosmos is in just as much need of an explanation as a finite one. The epistemological deficit (the need for explanation) is not about temporal or spatial inadequacy, but about the local contingency of each and every thing, event and process. Adding up an infinite amount of contingency doesn't get rid of it - it just makes it infinite :-) If the Cosmos is contingent, why was and will it ever be at all? Only of God can it be truly said: "as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be; unto ages of ages."

It is one option to believe that God = The Cosmos. This is called "Pantheism". I think that this is a coherent position; but I don't like it myself as I can't believe that the Whole could have a property which none of its parts even begins to demonstrate - namely "necessity of being". However, this is a matter of faith on my part - though there may be an argument against Pantheism that I am not presently aware of.

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