Agnosticism in The Light of The Big Bang
This post is also available in: Russian
AGNOSTICISM IN THE LIGHT OF THE BIG BANG
The agnostic neither advocates that God exists and matter is created, nor espouses the idea that God does not exist and matter has an eternal existence. He merely posits that neither of these assumptions can be proved or falsified. The postulation about the fact that matter cannot be eternal is also an answer to the agnostic approach that affirms that both views are devoid of evidential proof. Let me summarize as follows:
1-Either the view according to which “God does not exist and matter is eternal” is correct; or the view that suggests that “both God and matter are eternal,” or that “God exists and matter is created” is correct.
2-Having demonstrated that matter does not have eternal existence, the view that advocates that God does not exist and that matter is eternal has been invalidated (Chapter 6) and the view that maintains that ” God and matter have eternal existence” has been proven false. (Chapter 7).
3-It follows that the postulate that suggests that “God exists and that matter is created” is correct.
Those who defend the agnostic attitude will not raise any objection to the first premise. Their objection will be against the second one. They have argued that the views we have refuted could not be refuted. Therefore, the correctness of the conclusions reached in chapters six and seven of this book invalidate the agnostic approach and demonstrate the correctness of the view we have indicated under premises two and three.
AGNOSTICISM IN ANCIENT GREECE
The origin of agnosticism dates back to Ancient Greece, in fact, as far back as the Sophists. Protagoras, the most famous among the agnostics, was of the opinion that nothing certain can be known about anything and that man should do better to deal with himself only. He said that humans were the measure of all, i.e there is no objective truth; the world exists for each person as it appears to that person. Had Protagoras been alive today and seen that you were reading the present book, he would quite probably have said that you should do well not to waste your time and try instead to find ways to make yourself happy. I hope, however, that you turn a deaf ear to him.
One of the possible consequences of the assertion that there can be no correct and reliable knowledge will lead a man to self-centeredness and oblige him to deal with all the events of life, like the difficulties of everyday life and death with what lies in his own power. However, not all agnostics have had the same view of life and moral criteria. Those like Protagoras and Gorgias, who advocated that all criteria were relative and that nothing certain can be known, could not work out the most fundamental moral laws like respect for human life and property. The demonstration of the fact that agnosticism is in error, will, of necessity, bring changes in the most practical issues of life, such as ethics. Establishment of certain facts in such fundamental issues will also determine the background on which moral values will be based and save the practical side of life from relativism and nihilism. It is not our intention to go into the details of moral philosophy; however, the theoretical character of discussions in this book draws attention to practical ends related to our dealings in daily life, to the manner we shall be handling what, how and why.
DAVID HUME AND SUFFICIENT UNIVERSE
Although the roots and history of agnosticism date back to Ancient Greece, David Hume and Immanuel Kant were also prominent representatives of agnosticism. Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, suggests that an eternal universe may be conceived of, just as we conceive of an eternal God. Hume’s approach fits the viewpoint of materialistic philosophers exactly.
While Hume renders the existence of God doubtful, materialistic philosophers claim that God does not exist and that the universe is eternal. Hume casts doubt on the “causality” that the materialists have never denied; he even goes so far as to doubt the existence of matter and the universe which materialism posits as the only eternal basic fact.
According to Hume, the material world may be deemed to be essentially the eternal basic element and God may be ignored; if this probability is also taken into account, God’s existence becomes doubtful. He says that the universe may well be the product of coincidental processes rather than the work of a conscious Creator. According to him, we cannot assert that there is finality and an intelligent design in the universe; the whole order of the universe may be immanent only in it. Hume is of the opinion that we have no corroborative evidence for any claim.
Hume’s heritage had a great influence on Kant’s agnostic views. Kant is claimed to be the most systematic thinker advocating agnosticism. However, unlike many other agnostics, he did not transfer his skeptical approach in metaphysics and cosmology to that of morality. Kant opposed the kind of relativity that denied absolute truths in the field of ethics and advocated a system in which the ‘sense of duty,’ the existence of God and the Hereafter were incontestable tenets for the actualization of ethics. He is the only philosopher who used ethics to try to demonstrate the existence of God.
Kant, who advocated a faith in God and in the Hereafter for practical reason, was the foremost representative of agnosticism for pure reason. No important philosopher before him let theory be dominated by practice. He produced a philosophy that perfectly fitted fideistic views (the doctrine that the principles of some areas of inquiry cannot be established by reason, but must be accepted by faith). He fought in this way against all the rationalistic evidences of both religion and atheism.
“ABSURD” AND “INCONCEIVABLE”
To demonstrate the impossibility of rational metaphysics, Kant claims that when the mind begins to meditate on metaphysical issues it runs into insoluble contradictions. He calls this antinomy, a contradiction between two laws or beliefs that are reasonable in themselves. The first such antimony is as follows:
Thesis: The universe has a beginning in time and is confined in space.
Antithesis: The universe does not have a beginning in time and is not confined in space.
For a possible solution of Kant’s antinomies I suggest that a differentiation be made between the concept of “absurd” and “inconceivable.” If either of these propositions is proved to be absurd, the other one will be correct. If the universe is eternal, then the time past was infinite and the said past time had been crossed over to come to the here and now. This fact contradicts the definition. An infinite set is a set that goes on without ever coming to an end, which means that there is no crossing over the infinite. The error in the proposition that the “infinite” has been surpassed (a sine qua non of the eternity of the universe) is perceived by the analytical analysis (analysis of the concept of eternity) of the said proposition. This is similar to the conceiving of the error in the “triangle has four sides” by analytic analysis. The fact that a triangle cannot have four sides is evident by its very definition; the fact that infinite cannot be surpassed is evident from its definition.
An incorrect proposition in analytical terms is a proposition whose absurdity is evident. Therefore, the antithesis of Kant’s first antinomy may be reduced to absurdity and refuted. On the other hand, the expression stating that the universe had an origin in the thesis of Kant’s antinomy cannot be reduced to absurdity. We can evidently affirm that how the beginning of the universe took place is itself inconceivable; we can state that we are not in a position to know how God gave the start to time. But then, this is in the category of that which is “inconceivable.” We do not know how the bee makes the most perfect hexagon in the world. We do not know why and how water molecule freezes at zero degrees. We cannot refute these propositions about things beyond our conception. Yet, no one can possibly refute the existence of either the bee or the water.
Time, by definition, does not require being without a beginning. Using an analytical approach we cannot assert anything to the contrary and cannot reduce the absurdity of the thesis that time has a beginning. (I believe similar differentia would also be applicable in the solution of Kant’s other antinomies).
ABSOLUTE AND RELATIVE TIME
We observe that Kant has arranged his antinomies in terms of “absolute time.” The reason is that he was strongly under the influence of Newtonian physics. According to the concept of “absolute time,” time flows independently from the universe and the universe has existence within this “absolute time.” Yet, according to the “relative time” that Einstein postulated theoretically and supported later by observational data, time is affected by universal variables like speed and gravitation; time-space-matter are inextricably bound together and if any of them is absent the rest also cease to exist.
The Big Bang theory put an end to the insolubility of Kant’s antinomy by pointing to the moment of the beginning of the universe. Moreover, by positing the continuously expanding model of universe, it provided a solution to Kant’s antinomy as to its infinity in contradistinction with the “infinite universe idea” like the one imagined by Giordano Bruno and the “confined universe” of Aristotle.
The conclusion of William Lane Craig, who worked on the antinomy of Kant we have analyzed, is interesting. Craig says: “The answer to Kant’s conundrum was carefully explained by Ghazzali and enshrined in the Islamic principle of determination. According to that principle, when two different states of affairs are equally possible and one results, this realization of one rather than the other must be the result of the action of a personal agent who freely chooses one rather than the other. Thus, Ghazzali argues that while it is true that no mechanical cause existing from eternity could create the universe in time, such a production of a temporal effect from an eternal cause is possible if and only if the cause is a personal agent who wills from eternity to create a temporally finite effect. For while a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions would either produce the effect from eternity or not at all, a personal being may freely choose to create at any time wholly apart from any distinguishing conditions of one moment from another. For it is the very function of will to distinguish like from like. Thus, on a Newtonian view of time, a personal being could choose from eternity to create the universe at any moment he pleased. On a relational view of time, he could will timelessly to create and that creation would mark the inception of time. Thus, Kant’s antithesis, far from disproving the beginning of the universe, actually provides a dramatic illumination of the nature of the cause of the universe; for if the universe began to exist, and if the universe is caused, then the cause of the universe must be a personal being who freely chooses to create the world.”
DESIGN OF SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL INTUITIONS
We shall now digress a bit and dwell on Kant’s a priori spatial and temporal intuitions. If we combine this conviction of Kant, a conviction that made him immortal, and the data of the relativity theory, I am of the opinion that we shall acquire important additional evidence for the design of the consciousness (or soul) of man. The agnostic attitude contends that a design or finality can have no foundation in the universe; therefore, it would be interesting to stress the error in an assertion of Kant with a point he himself has put forward.
Kant proves a series of evidences with a view to proving the fact that spatial and temporal intuitions originate not from experience but from reason, a priori. Little children, without having a distinct conception of distance, try to go near things that seem enticing and move away from things that seem to them to be repulsive. This shows that they have an a priori intuition of whether the thing in question is next to them, in front of them or outside their reach. A child also has an innate intuition of “before” and “after” without prior acquisition of knowledge about the outside world; had this not been the case, he could not have perceived the outside world or all his perceptions would have been in a muddle. We cannot think unless we take space and time into consideration. This impossibility proves that the said intuitive knowledge is already in the mind and does not derive from experience. According to Kant, a realization of the correctness of arithmetical and geometrical truths without recourse to any experiment is evidence of the fact that the spatio-temporal perceptions are innate, a priori conceptions. These truths come within the sphere of space and time.
Kant’s conception of man’s innate capacity of perception of space and time is correct. This manner of perception, which is innate, is as real as the entities of space and time. Kant merely pointed out the innateness of intuition of space and time in the mind. None of Kant’s demonstrations requires the denial of the existence of time and space. Modern physics and common sense posit that these have real existence – although not absolute, but relative – outside man’s mind, for, had it not been so, the order observed in perceptions would not have been possible. This harmony between the mind and the universe cannot be accounted for without acknowledging the existence of a Creator who has established a perfect harmony between the mind and the universe. Nor can we surmise the evolution of these categories to have been coincidental, for in the material universe no substance can be detected likely to form spatio-temporal perception in the mind. The substance out of which the universe is made exists in space and time, but the substance shows no evidence showing a potential susceptible to transformation into a spatio-temporal intuition; moreover, the spatio-temporal intuition cannot come about as a consequence of a haphazard mutation. One cannot imagine one-fourth temporal intuition or half-spatial intuition. Man cannot, in fact, exist without this capacity.
The Big Bang theory described the evolutionary process of the universe outside us up until now and was a blow to agnosticism. The outside world that was henceforth described in mathematical formulas and preconceptions about the universe, sub-atomic particles, planets and satellites proved to be correct. Satellites were launched into space thanks to these formulas and calculations were made of the ages of galaxies. Productions realized from these formulas were placed into the service of mankind. There is certainly no end of things awaiting discovery yet, but the fact that the mind’s conception of the universe within this framework is something to wonder at must not pass unnoticed. This perception of the mind is made possible by the harmony reigning between the mind and the universe. This, in turn, is not possible without a Designer of all these things. The simplest knowledge about the universe might have been incomprehensively complicated, or the universe might be a chaotic entity undecipherable like a dream, or again the mind might be deprived of the capacity and a priori intuitions to conceive the universe.
KANT AND ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Kant takes up three arguments for the existence of God’s and states that, based on these arguments, God’s existence cannot be proved. Kant’s first criticism is of the ontological argument. The ontological argument claims that the concept of God is innate in man. It is acknowledged to be an evidence of God’s existence. This evidence was corroborated by Anselm, Avicenna and Descartes, among others, in different arguments. Kant’s criticism of this evidence does not come under the present study.
Kant’s criticism of the second argument is cosmological. Based on this argument, one can deduce the existence of God as a consequence of the existence of the universe. This argument entails different formulas. It implies the existence of the universe as a fact; the universe is, therefore, a phenomenon necessitating clarification whose reason cannot be considered immanent in it, but can be explained by the existence of a Creator God. According to Kant cosmological evidence states unjustifiably that without Primary Cause there can be no causality. This is similar to the arguments put forth by Kant in his fourth and first antinomies that I rebutted (Kant’s objection to the cosmological argument is against Leibniz’s formulation).
Muslim philosophers’ formulation of the cosmological argument can be summarized as follows:
1. Everything that has a beginning requires a cause.
2.The universe has a beginning.
3.Therefore the universe has a cause.
Kant seems to raise objection to the second proposition. In fact, the second proposition is the critical one. We have demonstrated in philosophical terms the correctness of this second proposition in the fourth chapter. All the evidence related to the Big Bang theory, and other scientific evidence like entropy, corroborates that the said proposition is true. Like Hume, Kant said that if God does not have to have a cause for His being, why not think that the universe should likewise be its own cause? Laws of thermodynamics and other physical and philosophical evidence, along with the Big Bang, demonstrate that the universe had a beginning, thus discrediting the most important objection to the cosmological argument posited by Hume and Kant.
I have already pointed out that the cosmological argument may have been assumed differently. The formulation of the evidence based on the differentiation between “Necessary Being” and “contingent beings” by philosophers of Islam is important for our issue. Asserting that the Necessary Being does not exist creates a contradiction in the mind; on the other hand, asserting that the contingent beings whose existence depends on others, do not exist is also possible or can exist is also possible. We cannot explain the contingent beings through the endless chain of causality moving backward; they must end up at the Necessary Being. According to this, in this universe where continuous changes occur, everything that did not exist before but came to be afterward was a possible being before coming to be realized and is a contingent being thereafter. Had their existence been impossible they would never have come into being anyhow. Thus, the contingent beings ought to come to an end at the Necessary Being who has no beginning; the Necessary Being we call God. The Big Bang theory supports this argument of the philosophers of Islam as follows:
1.Every contingent being necessitates a Necessary Being. To imagine the inexistence of what is contingent is not a contradictory statement.
2.Either the universe or God is the Necessary Being.
3.The universe is a contingent being; it cannot be the Necessary Being. The Big Bang theory has demonstrated that the universe had a beginning; therefore it cannot be the Necessary Being.
4.It follows that the universe requires a Necessary Being. Given the fact that the universe is not the Necessary Being; God must be the Necessary Being.
Kant’s attitude with respect to the teleological argument is somewhat different, although his agnosticism subsists. He refers to this argument as an argument of which man must think highly, for, according to him, it is the oldest, the dearest argument. While it encourages us to study nature, it draws its power from nature. It proves the way to an increase of our knowledge guided by the concept of mechanic unity. It leads us to the belief in the Creator of the world thanks to consolidated knowledge. Kant’s attitude is reverential to this argument. As a matter of fact, in one of his early works, namely “A General Natural History and Theory of the Heavens,” he makes statements in conformity with this argument. Acknowledgment of this argument by Kant would be tantamount to his defense of the possibility of a rational metaphysics. Yet Kant could not possibly acknowledge such contradiction. As a matter of fact, he denied the authority of such argument. In the last chapter, I will discuss in detail “the argument from design.” This indicates that such a design can be implemented by the intelligent arrangement of inherent characteristics within matter, like the laws of physics. This, in turn, demonstrates that matter is created. This also signifies that these pieces of evidence are the consequence of a design behind all the universal phenomena and that all the processes in the universe are dominated by God, so that all celestial bodies, sub-atomic particles, the earth and living beings are the products of design. Most of this was still unknown in Kant’s time. I am curious to know how Kant would have reacted had he come to know of this new body of evidence.
We can summarize briefly the corrections the Big Bang theory introduced to agnostic philosophers:
1. It has become clear that the universe is not eternal and that it had a beginning. The contention of philosophers like Hume and Kant expressed by the statement, “Why shouldn’t the universe be the explanation of everything?” has been negated.
2. The formulas of the Big Bang theory and of the theory of relativity have made clear that the beginning of the universe was also the beginning of time. The agnostic attitude that said that we could not know whether space and time had a beginning or not has been found untenable.
3. The Big Bang theory has demonstrated that the universe had expanding boundaries. Thus, the agnostic attitude that professed our ignorance about the boundaries of the universe has been corrected.
4. The data of the Big Bang theory demonstrates that the agnostic objection to the “teleological argument” has been invalidated.
5. The Big Bang theory postulates that the universe would come to an end just as it had had a beginning. The agnostic conception that ignored the possibility of a rational cosmology came to be discredited by the scientific acquisition of knowledge of towering importance, namely of the knowledge indicating that the universe will have an end.