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Does God Exist?

A revised and edited version of this page will appear in my book
"New Skins for Old Wine"


I have been prompted to write this essay by conversations with a number of friends. In particular, I would refer my readers to the excellent presentation of "The Anthropic Principle" by Dr Paul Miller; excerpts of which are included in this text.

This question has been central to the life and concerns of humanity since the earliest days. Perhaps it was at first taken for granted that God or "the gods" existed. How else could primitive men and women explain the wonders and horrors of life and the world in which it was played out? Over time the question has become more contentious as many have come to believe that belief itself is at least misguided and delusional and at most pathological. Before considering the arguments in favour of "the existence of God" (not all of which I approve of or agree with!) I shall review some of the arguments against belief in God, and before that I shall address the prime issue "What is God?"

What is God?

Note first that I ask what and not who is God. This discussion is not going to be getting to the God of any (ostensibly) "revealed religion". I am here dealing with the God of "natural theology" or metaphysics. Although, as a Catholic I believe in a personal God, I shall endeavour not to involve any such notion in what follows. The concept of God I will be dealing with is that of some source of being or reality or value that is "out there" and distinct from "the Cosmos". A source of reality that is itself not dependent upon or derivative for its being on any thing that we could experience. Of course, the "gods" of some religions don't qualify as candidates for such a God. Indeed, the kind of "God" that some Christians informally profess belief in doesn't either!

Some believers are happy to attribute to God dependencies upon the Cosmos that make the "divinity" nothing more than the most elevated of all things: not absolutely distinct from everything else, but only the greatest thing of all. This is normally done on the basis of portraying God as compassionate, loving and caring: all of which I believe God to be, in a fundamentally important but not simple sense. The ultimate version of this doctrine is "patripassionism", the notion that God the Father suffered in the crucifixion of Jesus; something that was unequivocally condemned by the Early Fathers of the Church. Such a "divinity" is simply not divine. At best it is the "demi-urge" of Gnosticism, an instrument that God might use to do the dirty work of creation. There are echoes here of Arianism, the doctrine that the Christ was not God, but only "divine" in the sense of (very) god-like. There are understandable motives for such a view of God, as I shall describe in my brief treatment of the "Problem of Pain", but these do not excuse the simple metaphysical mistake. If God is not absolutely independent of the Cosmos, utterly other and sovereign then God isn't God and we are talking incoherent nonsense.

What is existence?

In passing, one should also remark on the word existence. In its Latin origins, this word means "to stand out proud from", as an embossed pattern stands out from the smoothness of the bronze shield which it decorates. As a physicist interested in "scattering theory", this has a particular resonance, for me. In the formalism that I am familiar with, something is something when it differs (locally) from the general environment. Things are simply deviations from the norm. That norm may itself  may be composed of other smaller things: in a hierarchy of being, on many scales of time and space. In this strict sense of existence, the question "Does God exist?" has a trivial answer: "No!" God isn't a thing like this at all. God is not a part of a greater whole. He cannot be associated or categorized with anything. God is utterly other. God doesn't inhabit some environment of things (even Heaven) which can form a backdrop from which God can "stand out". God doesn't have a context. God is not an actor on a stage. God is no-thing at all. A better question to ask is simply "Is God?" but this sounds affected in English. For a discussion of this topic, I recommend the play "Jumpers" by Tom Stoppard, in which the hero agonizes over this question at some amusing length.

Some misexplanations of Theism

An emotional crutch

I think that it is manifest that some people choose to profess belief in some kind of divinity in an attempt to make sense of their lives. Perhaps they feel unloved, or that life can have no meaning without some great figurehead "up there". Perhaps they feel overwhelmed by their troubles or just by the size of the Universe. Whatever the reason, a perceived emotional need for something to be so does not, I am sad to say obviate it to be so. When I was deeply and pathologically in love, my need for that love to be requited had no causal effect. I could whisper the magic words "I love you" as a mantra as often as I cared to, but they did not achieve the object that I intensely wished they would. They helped me to get through the agonies I subjectively endured, but they did not affect objective reality.

Of course, the fact that some people entertain the notion that "God is" from personal inadequacy does not mean that "God is not." The fact that many people find such an inadequacy within themselves is rather some sort of an argument for God's being: but not a very good one, I think.

A support for sanity

This is a more sophisticated and significant version of my first bad reason for theism. The idea is that as humanity evolved physiological self-consciousness, and individuals grew aware of their mortality, the thought that their lives were futile would have inevitably driven them mad unless a parallel evolution of ideas hadn't developed. This was the comforting (but erroneous) hypothesis that there was an ultimate purpose in life: beyond, above and apart from their doomed mortality. This transcendent significance was labelled "God". So God, on this account of the matter, is a convenient expedient "developed for us by nature" to stop us going mad! God is an indispensable component of the mental framework of any self-conscious rational being: a conceptual antidepressant, if you like.

I find this highly plausible, except for the fact that there are many people who profess to be agnostic or atheist, have no notion that their lives have any lasting or objective significance and yet seem to maintain their sanity well enough. I'm not sure that I could do this, if I became unconvinced of God's being: after forty years of theism!  However the fact that they can and do invalidates this argument, it seems to me. In any case, I would argue that belief in God doesn't really answer this purpose. The futility of final extinction is no more mitigated by the fact that "God is" than by the fact that friends and family may survive one's death - for a while. The horror of the termination of my particularity of personhood can only be mitigated by a belief in some kind of continuity of life, experience and activity after death!

Of course, this has most definitely not been a core feature of all religions. While the Egyptians had a sophisticated doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the Hebrews got by very well for over a millennium with no belief in any kind of worth-while after-life. Even in Jesus' day, the elite Sadducees rejected the novel doctrine of the populist Pharisee party in this regard [Mat 22:23]. For the Sadducees it was good enough to be faithful to God, that was its own reward [Psalms 1 & 118]. It was enough to do what was right, because it was right, and to expect no reward or recompense except - hopefully - some tranquility and prosperity in this short life [Job 1:8-11, 42:10].

An externalization of parenthood

This is the first of two related psychological theories of theism. It is the hypothesis that the unsafe dependency of the infant upon its too fallible parents is transformed into a safe dependency upon a fictional infallible parent figure, which is called God. This gives security just as it dawns upon the child that its parents cannot be absolutely relied upon for truth: or even sustenance and shelter. This is yet another version of the first two explanations for theism. It has the advantage of not claiming that it is necessary to externalize parenthood to maintain sanity, but only that it is a common strategy employed to do so. Hence it cannot be falsified, and is not strictly speaking scientific: which doesn't make it silly or wrong!

Moreover, I suppose that there is a core element of truth in it. If God was not, then perhaps we would invent God. However, this analysis tells us nothing whatever about whether God is or is not: only about what our response might be if God was not! In any case St. Paul admits the relationship between parenthood and God when he says "....I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" [Eph 3:14,15].

Finally, I want to say that problems an individual has with their own parents tend to have a detrimental affect on their attitude towards God, especially when God is presented to them as a Father (or Mother!) that they cannot choose and did not choose them as persons, rather than as a Friend, who they can choose and has chosen them knowing exactly who and what they are.

A projection of the Super-Ego

This is a more abstract variation on the previous hypothesis. Rather than identifying the origin of the notion of God as "The  Parent", God is said to buttress or justify "conscience". Whatever the origin or purpose or function of our moral sense, of our self-judgement, values and internal ideals: we attempt to bolster them by externalizing and promoting them to the status of decrees of an objective, all-knowing, all-wise and infallible judge. We can then use this fabrication either as an emotional crutch, or as a stick to beat our own backs with: as the mood takes us or psychological need arises.

I am quite sure that this process takes place. I think it is manifest in some of the most extreme forms of fundamentalist religion such as Calvinist Christianity or Conservative Catholicism.

The opium of the masses

The political theorist gives yet another explanation for theism. Namely that it is a scheme hatched by secular authorities to enslave the rabble that they rule. On the one hand, God conveniently serves as a source of ultimate authority which is useful in order to keep the populace in awe of their rulers, and so subjugated. On the other hand, God can offer the prospect of "Cloud Cookoo Land" and "pie in the sky when you die" ["Animal Farm", George Orwell], and so calm discontent among the downtrodden and disadvantaged. "Religion is the opium of the masses" [Marx]. It is certain that the idea of God has often been used in this way. Indeed, even leaders of the Catholic Church have done and continue to do so! However, the fact that something can be misused and exploited for ill does not mean that it is wrong or mistaken or evil.

A conceptual virus

This is a sophisticated and telling hypothesis. In brief, the notion is that an evolution of ideas parallels the evolution of biological species, and that those ideas, hypotheses and beliefs survive and prosper which are themselves most "fit" to do so. They can prosper in at least two very different ways:
  1. symbioticaly: by helping their mental owners to survive and prosper,
  2. parasiticaly: by diverting much of their proponents' energy into propagating them,

  3. perhaps even contrary to their own self-interest.
This second kind of relationship is parasitic of the individual in much the same way as is a physiological child, engendered by sexual intercourse.

Theologies majoring in "guilt" and "threats of damnation", certainly have the required characteristics: but this theory hardly explains the undoubted success of more gentle religions like Shikism, Buddhism (where there is no real basis for a concern for the "salvation" of anyone else other than oneself, and no tradition of missionary zeal) or Judaism (where no strategy to spread beyond the national boundary of the Jewish people has ever taken off, other than in the more aggressive "Jewish heresies" of Christianity and Islam.)

I suspect that it is a dim awareness of the second possibility (of mental parasitism) that makes many people wary of "The God Squad". Some forms of religion certainly match up well with the model of a contagious "social disease". The evangelical preoccupation with proselytism conforms closely to this paradigm.

Of course, Christianity claims to be "good news": to have a message that gives the clue to the living of a fulfilling life. The simple pleasure and satisfaction of seeing others discover the same truth and delight that oneself has benefited from is a coherent motive for "passing it on". A shared joy is a joy multiplied. A problem that I agonize with is how much I do or don't wish various close non-Catholic friends to become Catholics. As a faithful Catholic, I believe that it is objectively right for them to do so. As a realistic person I fear that it may be subjectively harmful for them to do so. In the present state of the Church, they are liable to receive only emotional hurt and intellectual misdirection; and to suffer greatly for no clear purpose. I cannot wish that fate on anyone.

The problem of pain

It is with much trepidation that I attempt any account of this subject. I consider that it is the central problem of religion; or at least of Theodicy: the justification of God's ways to Man's judgement. Some would argue that it is not for (wo)men to judge God. I vehemently disagree and will argue against such a position below. I think that I am in good company here, namely Abraham [Gen 18:23-33] and Moses [Ex 32:9-14], the two men who are specifically called "friends of God".

The problem is familiar to any but the most callous and hard-hearted soul. It is this: "How can a God that is supposed to be both good and omnipotent tolerate evil, death, sickness, suffering, injustice and pain? Either God mustn't care about such matters: in which case God isn't good; or God is unable to do anything: in which case God isn't omnipotent."

It is possible to avoid this difficulty by taking one of the two gambits offered. Now, it may be possible to make some sort of a case for either a good but impotent God, or for an omnipotent but disinterested God: but I have no interest in doing so. This paper is not an attempt to score debating points, but rather to make an attempt on the truth. My intuition, fostered by the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, is that God is both good and omnipotent. I wish to explore how this can be, given our undoubted experience of sorrow and sickness and death.

Clearly, the following partial answers can be proposed:

Personally, I find the above remarks sufficient to answer the question I have put forward. I accept that the answers I have given are neither complete nor adequate. I suggest that a little reflection tells one that no better kind of answer is possible. After all, we are on the inside of the problem and so cannot be objective. I know that the occasional cry of my heart "Oh dear God, why did you make, us when our lives are so full of tears?" is adequately answered, for me, by the promise of Jesus: "Behold, I make all things New" [Apoc 21:5], and this I choose to believe.

Some mistaken ideas of God


One response to the problem of pain is to distance God from responsibility for and involvement with the Cosmos. The God of Deism is a remote figure who "watches from a distance" [Julie Gold], with no particular interest in and certainly no commitment to "the world that He created" [Queen]. This is, I think, a logical possibility, and I will not attempt to refute it here. Of course, it is quite foreign to the Judaeo-Christian tradition; and incompatible with the idea that God is either loving or just: but I do not seek to establish either of these propositions here, dear though they both be to my heart!


Another response to the presence of evil in the world is to hypothesize that it has a primary source, other than God. This may be Arhiman of the ancient and noble Parsee (Zoroastrian) religion or "Lord Foul" of Stephen Donaldson's mythical "Land" [The "Unbeliever" series of fantasy books]. This makes it possible to insulate God from all possibility of moral blame. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has always rejected this. While Satan is a feature of their theologies, the Devil and demons are only "bit players", they are nothing more than examples of denizens of entirely spiritual realms who are wrongdoers in the same way that (wo)men are. Such is the Tolkein's vision of Sauron in his classic "The Lord of the Rings". While Satan (Sauron) may be responsible for tempting many humans (the Ring Wraiths) to sin [Gen 3:1, Job 1:6], his responsibility is not different in kind from the responsibility that a lesser being, for example Saruman, can have in leading others down the wide road to "The Destruction".

According to the Christian tradition, evil is not a "thing in itself", a "substance" that can infect, possess or subvert other things, as vividly portrayed as a smoking coal in the film "The Time Bandits" [Terry Gillian] or as the "Illearth Stone" in the book of that name [Steven Donaldson]. Rather evil is a defect in reality, a distortion of the truth: a disordering of things that are in themselves  entirely good, simply because they are. Evil is a lie, as good is the truth. It is not true to say that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, or that each requires the other in order to exist: stand out from its background. Good is peace, harmony and wholeness: "Shalom", and has no need for conflict, discord or disease for its excellence to be manifest. On the contrary, even in the greatest evil there is necessarily a core of good. The most perverted act is a misguided attempt to obtain what is perceived to be of benefit. Evil wishes for its own good, and is (sadly) reinforced in its wickedness by its inevitable failure to achieve this desired end.

Because evil is not a substance (any more than is good, for that matter!) there is no need to hypothesize a source for it. While good isn't a substance, the Christian tradition identifies it with "being in itself": the ultimate good of any-thing is simply to exist, the purpose of Life is to Live! God, while no-thing: is Being [Ex 3:14] is Good [Mk 10:18] is Love [1Jn 4:8]. This analysis contrasts starkly with that of Buddhism, which tends to identify existence with striving, suffering and pain (so: existence is evil, not good; and God is not!) and prescribes the pursuit of passivity and non-existence (blending back into the background) as the practical answer to the Problem of Pain.

The source of order and meaning

It may seem odd that I give this as an example of a mistaken idea of God. My point is this: the Problem of Pain can be improperly dealt with by redefining what is "good" and "nobel" and "just" and "loving" as being whatever God says it is. This is a cop out! Over two millennia ago, Socrates asked the question "is piety that which the gods approve of; or rather do the gods approve of piety?" He meant: is that which is good good because of an extrinsic arbitrary diktat from heaven, or is it rather that heaven recognizes what is good as an objective observer, and then recommends it to us as a friend would? If one says that the purpose of everything; all goodness and beauty; justice, the standard of what is right and wrong: "the meaning of it all" are derivative of the Will of God, then one makes God into a despot. He is free of all responsibility to explain Himself to us; to set us any kind of example of morality in His dealings with us; to accept challenge from us. The Problem of Pain does not arise. God is loving and just only so far as our limited concepts happen to match up with God's inscrutable nature, and what might seem to us to be reprehensible, is "in fact" legitimate - just because God chooses to say that it is so!

Of course, as God is, ex hypothesis, the basis, origin and creative source of the Cosmos: it is God that determined (to within whatever freedom logic allowed) the specifics of its constitution. God inevitably decided "what was good", in the sense that God may have chosen to create one of a number of possible self consistent realities. To this extent, God rules His Cosmos by diktat. God decided which Universe to make: this one and no other (setting aside the possibility that God has made many Universes). God is answerable to no-one other than God, outside of the Act of Creation: though in that very act, God took on board a moral responsibility for and towards what God created. The fact that God made a Cosmos in which sentient beings consider that a maker has a responsibility of care towards the made [Pinnochio, the film "A.I."] tells a great deal about the character of God.

Finally, it is good simply to be. God cannot possibly vary or spin this. God is being in itself. From this point of view, God has no choice in setting up the ethics of the Cosmos. Contrary to my (inadequate!) understanding of the tenets of Buddhism, the foundational principle of ethics is the goodness of existence, and all detailed morality flows from that once the specific nature of the ethical agents and objects are known.

Urizen the Lawgiver
Perhaps the most extreme version of this error was encapsulated by William Blake, who parodied the god of respectable religious folk and the establishment of his day as the great rule maker or engineer in the sky. This god, was for Blake, a source of constraint, guilt and misery: an oppressor rather than a saviour; a graceless proponent of fear and hatred rather than love. Ironically, Blake proposed that the popular "Satan" was a happier notion than this; for the "vice" that he offered was often more wholesome, healthy and joyful than the supposed virtue of grey ecclesial folk [Songs of Experience; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell]. Of course, Blake saw Newton's mechanistic physics as implicated in all this; but at that time there was no idea that "to determine" and "to cause" were in any way different.

Some arguments for God's being

Descartes' metaphysical argument

This is a delightful curiosity. It is entirely specious, but worth spending a moment understanding. It appears to produce God as an absolute certainty from no premises worth mentioning, and certainly not from a consideration of the physical order (as we shall see the Catholic faith suggests is necessary). The argument, put succinctly is as follows:

Consider total perfection. If it did not exist it would not be totally perfect. Therefore it must exist. This is God. God Exists.

The essential flaw in this argument (which can be made much more convincing by being decorated and extended in various ways) is that it tacitly assumes that it is impossible to conceive of something that is not. As many a theoretical physicist will sorrowfully tell you, this is simply not true: hence Descartes' ingenuity was in this regard misplaced.

The argument from Design

This proposes that God must exist because the world (and in particular life) is simply too complicated to have come about of itself. Finding a watch on the beach is tantamount to knowing that somewhere and when there is or was a watchmaker. Before it became clear that Darwinian Natural Selection could effectively favour the growth of complexity and diversity over geological time, this argument was a powerful one. Nowadays it is generally out of favour; though in a more abstract form it is re-emerging as "The Anthropic Principle", which will be discussed below.

The Five Ways of Aquinas

St. Thomas proposed five arguments for the being of God. To modern ears they are all variations on the same argument, but no less forceful for that. This single argument can be named "The Cosmological Argument from Contingency". I believe this argument to be valid. Before spending some time on it, I wish to give a brief account of the relevant Catholic Dogma.

The teaching of the Oecumenical Council of the Vatican

In brief, it is defined Catholic Dogma that "the fact that God is" can be known with certainty as a result of the consideration of the nature of physical reality. Naturally, the use of the word certainty should not be taken to indicate that this knowledge is more certain than any other! As a Platonist, I can only aspire to ortho-doxa (right belief) in this life, and all belief is provisional and subject to unexpected variation. I take the Vatican Council to mean by its use of the word certainty that the kind of knowledge that one can reasonably have of God's being is every bit as good and respectable as the best of any other kind of knowledge. In other words, we are not talking about "religious faith" here; though faith of a sort enters into any knowledge, even that possessed by the most atheistical scientist. It should be immediately obvious that this conciliar definition implicitly questions whether any purely metaphysical argument (along the lines of Descartes' fancy) is possible; though, just as obviously, it does not exclude this as a possibility.

A physicist's view of contingency

It is a fundamental expectation of physics, based on unvarying experience of physical reality, that every thing and phenomenon that one encounters, experiences or interacts (exchanges energy and momentum) with is contingent. This means that it makes sense to ask of this thing or phenomenon: "Why is it what it is?", or "How does it come to be what it is?" or "What gave (or gives) rise to this?" In other words, the physicist presumes that everything that he experiences or observes requires explanation. It is never good enough to say that "It is what it is because it is so." Physics does not deal with "Just So" stories. Now, once one clearly understands this, it would seem to follow that the whole Cosmos must, on the same basis, be contingent: I shall return to this point. In which case, the Cosmos itself requires explanation. Note that the expectation of physics that all things are contingent only relates to that category of being called "things": with which an observer can exchange energy and momentum. Of being other than things (if indeed there is any being other than things) physics knows, still less expects, nothing!

So, the Cosmos requires explanation: or "cause", speaking metaphysically. Why is it the Cosmos that in fact it is? Why does it have the dynamics that it has? Why is it governed by the Laws of Physics that it is governed by and not by others? Why do the fundamental constants that feature in these Laws have the values that they do have? Why does space-time happen to have the dimensionality that in fact it has? Why is the Cosmos in the particular state now that we find it to be in?

Why is the Cosmos at all?

One can label the required explanation for all this "God: the UnCaused First Cause; the UnMoving First Mover; the UnGoverned Law Giver, etc. etc."

All things that are so, are equally removed from being nothing; and whatsoever hath any being is by that being a glass in which we see God, who is the root and the fountain of all being. The whole frame of nature is the theatre; the whole volume of creatures in the glass; and the light of nature, Reason, is our light. [John Donne]
What Causes God?
The immediate howl of derision from the less astute observer (excuse my humour) to the effect that: This is silly! All you have done is to replace the problem "Who made the World?" with the problem "What caused God?" is easily answered. The objector may be referred to the observation already made: that the expectation that all things are contingent does not relate in any way to "God". This is because there is no expectation that God is any kind of thing: that any observer within the Cosmos (such as you or I) could ever exchange energy and momentum with God. God is entirely outside space-time.

God is not part of the Cosmos. God does not interact with physical reality in the sense of exchanging energy and momentum. After all, this would contradict the law of energy and momentum conservation. Although God is the foundation of all that physically is, God is not physically at all! While God underwrites the Laws of Physics, God is not governed by them: God is no thing and they simply do not apply to God. It is improper to conflate God with the Cosmos as some larger whole (perhaps on the basis that God acts miraculously within the Cosmos) and then ask what is its cause?

We can have no expectations of  God: except, it would appear, that God is. Unlike all physical things, one can presume that God is noncontingent; that God is necessary being: God is what God is because God is unavoidably so. God who is no thing is so, just as nothing else is so!

Of God himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why: he may well be loved, but not thought. By love may he be gotten and holden, but by thought never. And therefore, though it be good sometime to think of  the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation, nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but listily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick   cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for (any)thing that befalleth.
[Anon "The Cloud of Unknowing"]

Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being... God would be the only necessary being - if God existed. [Peter Kreeft: "The First Cause Argument"]

Some logical alternatives
It seems to me that there are a number of logical alternatives to this conclusion, however all strike me as less congenial or more contrived than the simple conclusion that God is. The alternatives that I can think of are:

The Argument from Design revisited.

Given that I exist, I must of necessity do so in a Cosmos that is suitable for my existence: hence it inevitably follows that I must observe that the Cosmos is suitable for me. Moreover, it would seem possible that if the Laws of Physics were different, then although I would not exist, some other life form based on a different chemistry (or other non-linear complexity) might be asking questions like "why is the Cosmos just right for me?" in my place. However, I shall shortly argue that that if any of the Laws of Physics were to be changed, even slightly, then no life of any kind could have come into being. If this is true, it is quite remarkable, that the Cosmos is suitable for me is in such a baroque manner as seems to be the case. My friend, Dr. Paul Miller puts the case as follows:
Although the specifics of carbon chemistry ..... may not be necessary for life .... a living being must contain organized complexity, or information. The minimum requirements for information content can be determined by fundamental mathematical theory, and it is clear that it requires .... a local decrease in entropy. Entropy is .... the disorder in a system, and for a closed system .... entropy always increases ..... cups fall and shatter, they do not coalesce and jump back onto their saucers. More importantly, without sustenance and breath, bodies die and decay, while corpses do not come back to life. A living being with the ability to ask the question "why am I here?" must contain an incredible amount of order to be able to frame such a deep, information filled thought, whatever kind of chemistry or physics underlies the being. So the question is, "what kinds of universe could allow such order to arise?" If the answer is "just about any" then we should not be so surprised about our universe - the right, well suited type of order would arise to fit the environment in any universe. However, if the answer is "almost none," then we do need to question why the universe is so special.
Of course, if there are an infinite number of Universes, with different Laws of Physics: then there is nothing to explain. No matter how weird it is that a Universe is life friendly, those few that are so will give rise to life; and whenever that life achieves self-consciousness it will start writing articles like this one. This is the "MultiVerse" hypothesis. Of course, one avoids invoking an infinite and impassible "God" as an explanation for the World, at the cost of invoking an infinite set of Worlds. Arguably, these are "God" under another name. It is possible to make the argument somewhat more palatable, as Dr Miller describes:
Many cosmologists are attempting to find what explanation they can within science, in preference to invoking a Creator .... the ripples left on the cosmic background radiation .... provide strong evidence for a period of .....   exponential expansion .... in the first 10-33 seconds of the universe's existence. If such an era existed, there is no reason that the universe we observe is all that condensed .... There could be a plethora of .... sub-universes, that are completely unobservable to us ..... it is not so surprising that one of a multitude of sub-universes happens to have the right conditions for life.
As someone deeply suspicious of "probability", I cannot resist pointing out that this argument is all about how "unlikely" it is that the Cosmos should be how it is. Given that the Cosmos is what it is, we know the exact probability (in one sense of the word) that it is so. It is unity! Only if one legitimately conceives of a set of "equally likely" alternatives (as far as I am aware this necessarily invokes a symmetry property of some, in this case unfathomable, system) can one start to ask questions such as: "What proportion of all possible Universes are compatible with life?" If both the Laws of Physics and the values of the fundamental constants were to be the same in all condensation neighbourhoods (as seems most plausible to me), then the notion of sub-universes does not help to explain anything. Dr Miller continues:
It is well known that all life on Earth (barring the strange sulphurous life arising around deep-sea volcanic vents) is ultimately dependent on the inflowing energy from the sun. The sun is an average star, and, like all stars, can provide the power for life, by providing vast amounts of energy (as heat and light) at very low entropy (from a small region much hotter than the rest of the universe). Hot spots, such as stars, are necessary to allow any form of organized complexity to arise. Living things must all take in low entropy (hot or organized) energy and release it at high entropy (useless waste heat) in order to increase or at least maintain their internal information. The "hot spots" which allow any living being to survive, must also be there for it to evolve, so must remain stable over a large period of time, compared to typical physical processes in the life cycle of the being. Now, in our universe there is a specific resonance in the nuclear reaction process, which enables stars to burn at all, and endure for the billions of years that have been necessary for life to develop. In a universe almost the same as ours, but perhaps with a slightly different electron mass, the resonance would not occur, stars would not shine, and the universe would be dark, dead and dull.

There is a multitude of similarly finely tuned properties of our universe .... The delicate balance between the original expansion of the universe and the gravitational attraction, which tends to pull everything back together, ensures that the explosive debris from one star can arrive in the vicinity of another star which forms separately. All life on Earth is made from atoms of debris from the first star, and relies on heat and light from the second star, namely our sun. In a gravitationally stronger universe, the first star would swallow the second, while in a .... more spread out universe, the debris would never reach another star.

This is quite telling. Darwinianism can't help here. Even if the Laws of the Universe could change, it is difficult to see how the idea of "survival of the fittest" could apply here. Of course, it may just be that the Cosmos is a self-consistent solution. This idea I call "The Vorlon Hypothesis" (apologies to Babylon V.)  The idea is that the Cosmos was created (or the Laws of Physics at least massaged) by gods that evolve within the Cosmos and then "time travel" back to the beginning of time to ensure that the Cosmos starts off just right. Dr Miller expresses a related idea, more prosaically:
A similarly untestable possibility put forth by scientific sceptics is that the universe is really infinite in time, and just bounces in and out of big crunches and big bangs. There is supposedly a new set of laws of physics each time round (though, this is rather implausible in my view, as the new mashed up fundamental laws must always lead to another bouncing universe, without being specifically tuned!).
This is a sequential version of the "MultiVerse" hypothesis.

In contradiction with any form of the MultiVerse hypothesis, it is the hope of many physicists that only one consistent set of Laws of Physics is possible. Finding this unique set together with the principle that gives rise to it would complete Einstein's programme of reducing dynamics and gravity to generalized geometry or the principle of continuity: "No Action at a Distance", known to the Ancient Greeks. It would require extending the treatment somehow to all the forces of Physics  withn the aim of   unifying General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

If, in addition, these Laws featured no arbitrary parameters, then everything would be explained (except for the fundamental question: "why is anything?") It would be astounding (though not "improbable"), if  the only possible set of laws and fundamental constants is exactly the one that gives rise to life in such a delicately balanced and baroque manner! This would mean that logic itself indirectly and obscurely necessitates life! Of course, the prologues of Genesis and John's Gospel could be taken as suggesting exactly this doctrine.

The Weak Anthropic Principle

This states the obvious fact that because we are here, conditions must be right for our existence. Those aspects of Cosmic Order that appear tuned to allow for our specific kind of life provide no reason to go beyond this proposition. Perhaps if these were different, then another kind of life would arise: values of the fundamental constants incompatible with the formation of carbon based macro-molecules would only rule out our form of life, not all life in general.

The Strong Anthropic Principle

This is the proposal that because the Cosmos is special, in that almost any alternative would not give rise to stable "hot spots" (stars) that are absolutely necessary to provide the flux of energy on which life can feed and in which its order can persist, it requires further explanation. The suggestion is that the universe was carefully engineered to produce life. As Dr Miller says:
While scientific sceptics deny the strong anthropic principle, many theologians and religious scientists embrace it, as it points to a Creator who stimulates life and enables us to flourish. The uncovering of such a fertile universe, which is so clearly conducive to beauty, encourages process theologians, as it appears that the universe follows a very thin line between rigid order and incoherent chaos. Other religious thinkers remain wary of the whole argument, and following the "contrast" viewpoint, are loathe to incorporate any scientific evidence, which may be later reinterpreted, in their vision of God. As the "many universe" theories are not completely outside the realms of falsifiable evidence, it is perhaps right to be patient before hailing the fine-tuning as proof of God. Nevertheless, I for one do not cease to be amazed by the transcendent beauty inherent within the laws of nature. These will always speak to me of the Nature of God.

God is Beauty, Praise Him!

Personally, I am on the side of the "other religious thinkers" referred to by Dr Miller. I am suspicious of any version of the argument from Design, and find the Thomistic argument from Contingency much more satisfactory and less problematic.

Appendix: A critique of the Cosmological Argument

The metaphysical Cosmological Argument (or argument from contingency) starts with the premises that:
  1. There are particular things and events.
  2. Any event in the history of a thing happens at a certain time.
  3. All events are in need of explanation.
The first attempt at such an explanation for some event is to refer it to previous events. Unfortunately, this kind of explanation cannot be satisfactory, for two reasons.
  1. Such explanations always involve a reference to general laws as well as to particular things, persons, and events. Now the general laws are themselves facts, with no trace of self evidence or necessity about them.
  2. Earlier events require explanation, just as much as the event which they supposedly explain. No extension of this kind of explanation to remoter and remoter epochs can remove this defect.
The Cosmological Argument seeks to establish, from the above considerations, that:
  1. There is a Cause which is neither a part of nature nor the Cosmos as a collective whole,
  2. The existence of this extra cosmic Cause must be necessary. It is an uncaused cause.
  3. This Cause brings all Cosmic events into being via a metaphysical dependence different from the physical dependence of a later state of affairs on an earlier.
While it is true that:
  1. No explanation in terms of ordinary causation is capable of giving the kind of intellectual satisfaction about natural things and persons and events which is obtainable about purely mathematical facts.
  2. If the universe is such that this kind of understanding is theoretically obtainable about nature, then its structure must be very much as philosophic Theism says that it is.
The Cosmological Argument can be criticized as follows. This counter argument can be developed as follows [C. D. Broad: "Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research" (Routledge & Keagan Paul, 1953)]. What kind of explanations completely satisfy the human intellect? Only those when the proposition is seen to follow by necessary steps from premises which are all seen to be necessary. This kind of intellectual satisfaction is only reached in pure mathematics. Whereas the laws of Physics can be used to accurately project from immediate experience to what is remote in time, distance or scale length: they do not and can not explain things in the way that a proof in pure mathematics does. Complete intellectual satisfaction could be obtained about the causes of events if and only if the following conditions were fulfilled:
  • There is at least one necessary existential proposition: the "Uncaused Cause".
  • All other true existential propositions then follow necessarily: "Absolute Determinism".
  • The Cosmological Argument can be portrayed as claiming to establish that the universe has this structure. In order to do so it must add a categorical premise to the undisputed fact that the laws of Physics can not serve this purpose. This categorical premise is:
  • The Cosmos is such that mathematical intellectual satisfaction concerning events is possible.
  • Is there any reason to accept this suppressed premise? Plainly, it is not the kind of premise for which there could be any empirical evidence. Nor is it self-evident. Rather, it would seem that absolute certainty only arises in the context of the formal relations between abstract entities, such as numbers or propositions. It is altogether foreign to the context of either the existence or non-formal properties of particulars.

    Moreover, it seems there can be no necessary existential proposition of the kind envisaged in the first premise. Such propositions always concern the connexion (or disconnection) of other propositions. They are always conditional, taking the form: 'If P is true, then Q is true'.  It follows that the conclusion of the Cosmological Argument is not only unproven but also false.

    Even if this objection be waived, an equally formidable one remains. The difficulty is as follows. Anything whose existence was a necessary consequence of its nature would be a timeless existent. Now nature is composed of things and persons and processes which begin at certain dates, last for so long, and then cease. How could a temporal fact, such as the fact that there began to be a person having the characteristics of Julius Caesar at a certain date, follow logically from facts all of which are non-temporal? The necessary consequences of facts which are necessary are themselves necessary, and the necessary consequences of facts which have no reference to any particular time can themselves have no reference to any particular time.

    An Answer to this Critique.

    This critique fails for a number of reasons.
    1. It falsely portrays the Cosmological Argument as concerning mathematical certainty.
    2. It thereby treats the Cosmological Argument as a disguised form of the Ontological Argument.
    3. It misunderstands the role of Physical Law.
    4. It confuses a cause with a proposition.
    5. It confuses determinism and causality.
    There is no need to pursue the chimera of absolute certainty. The issue is rather the mystery of contingency. The question "Why" always arises: just as much in regards to the existence and form of Physical Law as to the occurrence of particular events. Whether or not the Laws of Physics are eventually demonstrated to be necessary, in the sense that if there are any such then they must be the very ones that they are: the question "Why are they at all?" will still arise. In the last analysis, this is a question about being and not-being, not about any particular being.

    Nevertheless, the Cosmological Argument is more an abstraction from Physics and Epistemology, rather than a deduction within Ontology. It reflects on human experience of what it is to know, rather than working from supposed a priori truths concerning being in itself. To treat it in terms of a formal axiomatic structure is to mistake its import.

    The Cosmological Argument is not about positively "completely satisfying the intellect", but rather concerns itself with highlighting the defect in all contingent being. It asserts that this deficit must be supplied: or else one admits that in once case "Why?" is not a legitimate question. It continues that this can only be done by hypothesizing some non-contingent being: Being unlike any being to be encountered within the Cosmos: being that is entirely beyond our experience and is almost entirely beyond our comprehension.

    The Theist should not contend that the Act of Creation was necessary, in the sense that Dr. Broad implies that he must. Though the uncaused-cause be necessary, the Cosmos is not created of necessity. It is not necessary for the truth of the Cosmological Argument that it be so! Neither should it be maintained that every detail of the Cosmos is pre-determined by the Divine Act of creation, as Dr. Broad insinuates it must be. The prime deficit in contingent being is the contingency of the Laws of Physics, rather than that of events in themselves. It is this contingency that the hypothesis of the uncaused-cause primarily addresses.

    On the one hand, it may prove possible to package-up the contingency of events altogether in the initial- and
    boundary-conditions of the Big-Bang, which may in turn transpire to be inevitable: if anything is to be at all. On the other hand, it may turn out that a radical contingency characterizes all epochs of the Cosmos. Although all events are caused: in the sense that they obey the Laws of Physics and that "one thing leads to another", it may be that some, and perhaps many, event sequences converge backwards to singularities in space-time. In which case, the reason why one such sequence arises rather than another must be looked for either in its future rather than its past: and it be admitted that causality runs backwards as well as forwards in time, or outside time altogether: that is either to God or some Conscious Agent.

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