An Atheist’s god
Presented to the Philosophical Club of Cleveland December 5, 2017
Abstract: While this topic has the potential to be something like John Cage’s 4’ 33”, I promise to respond with more than silence. I will explain why God, as envisioned by most major religions, does not measure up to my expectations as a modern engineer and scientist.
I was raised in a small town and attended a small elementary school. I read ahead of my grade and never bothered looking at the spelling list. In a third grade spelling bee I was asked to spell God. Amazed at the easy option, I blurted out g – o – d …
and was sat down. It seems that in southern Indiana in the 1940s God was spelled with a capital G. I think that was the first step in the making of an atheist.
So here is my faith statement: I do not believe in God. In particular, I do not believe in YOUR God. And I mean that even if you do not believe in God.
I concede that it cannot be proved that God does not exist, nor can it be proved that God exists. Yet God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Nameless one, etc. continues to be used by believers and non-believers alike as the answer to the great mysteries – how and why the universe and life came to exist, and what happens after life.
Even scientists have stories that include God.
point I told two jokes:
1. “Only God can make an HP printer work with an IBM computer”
2. Supercomputer asked if there is a God and replies “There is now”.)
So I will not shy away from using the word god, but I will lay out a few reasons traditional God does not meet this atheist’s requirements.
We are probably familiar with the basic ARGUMENTS FOR GOD.
Argument of First Cause. Even children tear this argument apart. If everything has a cause, what caused God?
Argument of Design, or the watchmaker argument. This stood for centuries because there was not alternative theory of how anything so complex as life could exist without a design. Now we have the theory of evolution.
Argument of Anthropic Principle. Since conditions are just right for us to exist, they must have been made or tuned for us to exist. This argument is tautological and no more valid than arguing that we are tuned for the conditions.
The Ontological Argument. God is the perfect being, and therefore must exist outside ourselves. But God being both all-knowing and all powerful is self-contradictory, as is the idea of a benevolent God allowing war and other forms of human misery.
John Paulos’ book, irreligion, does an excellent job of examining these and other arguments about God.
This is by no means a new discussion: Scientific knowledge has been slow to overcome the power and control of organized religion. I want to thank Dr. Rickards for his concise history of the emergence of science into the religious debate in his paper “The Late Almighty God” Revised March 21, 2017
Even the venerable Time Magazine has entered the fray.
April 8, 1966 April 3, 2017
God vs. Science Nov 13, 2006 Time Magazine
Why don’t I believe in God? Simply because every description of god and religion I’ve heard belittles, misunderstands, underestimates or denies what I find in Nature, as revealed by science. The natural universe is our mystery to explore and science is the tool and language we use to understand. Neal DeGrasse Tyson calls this the “cosmic perspective and describes it as humble and spiritual, but not religious.
The old man in robes? That is adequate for Solomon or David perhaps, but it certainly is not adequate for capital G o d.
Traditional religions put the earth’s age at about 6000 years, 5778 by the Jewish calendar. Now I for one am pleased that I can express the date in only 4 digits instead of having to write out 4.54 billion. That’s a lot of digits, but 5778 or 2017, either is okay with me. But there is a host of evidence that even mankind is older than 6000 years. Either that or a very clever God hid fossils, coal and petroleum underground just to confuse us.
More than one rabbi has used rationalizations like One Divine day = 1000 solar years, or a “day” really meant an era, to come up with estimates of the earth’s age that coincide with scientific evidence.
So you remember your checks from the 1990s? They were imprinted with 19__. Why aren’t checks now printed with 20__? Is my bank really afraid I am going to have checks left over in 2100 that I cannot use?
First, your God is not powerful enough. Back to the beginning. Traditional God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days. My god created the universe in a fraction of a second.
I began writing a description of The Big Bang, or creation as scientists understand it, and I came across such a perfect description that I am going to quote it heavily with occasional comments:
The Timeline of the Big Bang and Everything We Know, Jolene Creighton, January 7, 2014 Futurism.com
Modern scientific thought owes itself to the contributions of many great men and women. Without these individuals, our universe would (literally) look quite different. However, there are two scientists in the field of cosmology who stand out among all the rest: Edwin Hubble and Georges Lemaître.
By 1930, other cosmologists had concluded that the static (non-evolving) model of the universe was unsatisfactory. EINSTEIN had to introduce the Lambda constant to make his equations stable.
This discovery is largely due to the efforts of Edwin Hubble. Using the world’s largest telescope, which at the time was located at Mt. Wilson in California, he showed that the distant galaxies all appeared to be receding from us.
A little digression about telescopes: The 100 inch or 2.54 meter Hooker telescope used by Dr. Hubble was built in 1917. Since then about 50 larger optical telescopes have been built. The Gran Telescopio Canarias or GTC with its 10.4-meter telescope located in Spain's Canary Islands is the largest currently. Interestingly, the Space Telescope named for Dr. Hubble, at 2.4 meters, measures about the same as the telescope he used to make history.
What’s more, these far flung galaxies were traveling away from us at speeds proportional to their distances … Lemaître used these findings to draw attention to his earlier paper, in which he explained the relationship between the distance of a galaxy and the recession velocity of that same galaxy. By putting together Hubble’s observations with Lemaître’s paper, a majority of astronomers became convinced that the universe was indeed expanding. This revolutionized the study of cosmology.
Why was this find so notable? Shortly after this discovery, Lemaître reasoned that traveling back in time should lead to an epoch in which all the matter in the universe was packed together in an extremely dense state – a primeval atom. And this was the birth of Big Bang cosmology.
Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was a Belgian Catholic Priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. He called his idea the “hypothesis of the primeval atom" and it was nicknamed the "Cosmic Egg”.
Another important confirmation of The Big Bang was an accidental discovery of background radiation from the beginning of time.
So, let us take a moment to delve into the Big Bang–into the timeline of everything that has ever existed…
Cosmologists have come up with several possible speculations as to what existed before the Big Bang (if anything). If these seem rather presumptuous, it’s because they are.
Of course, it is entirely possible that there was no previous era. Assuming that this is true, it means that matter, energy, space, and time began abruptly. Another theory is that of Quantum emergence. According to this view, space and time developed out of a primeval state described by a quantum theory of gravity. Next we have the landscape multiverse of string theory, which deals with differences of quantum tunneling and quantum fluctuations between different energy states. And finally we have the cyclic universe. In this theory, the Big Bang is just the latest “Big Bang” in an endless stream of big bands–in the continual expansion, collapse and renewed expansion of space and time.
But as I said, there is no ultimate contender, so let’s leave that for a moment and take a look at what we *do* know.
I should note that the multiverse theory is the only one of the above theories that explains the presence of dark energy. Dark energy, never seen or detected, apparently makes up 63% of the mass of the universe and is responsible for its continuing expansion.
Timeline of the Universe:
10^ -43 seconds into the inception of the universe: this is the Planck era, the earliest known meaningful time.
Plank era, Unified, no fields. No particles, no theory to explain
10 ^-35 seconds into the birth of our universe – cosmic inflation creates what is known as quark–gluon plasma. Protons and neutrons cannot exist yet, only leptons and quarks (with their force carriers, gluons, W and Z bosons and photons). We know the quark soup exists because we have created similar conditions inside particle accelerators. It appears that it is this early quark soup that gave rise to dark matter. Additionally, the quark soup is likely the phase in which matter gained superiority over antimatter (lucky us). Ultimately, cosmologists speculate that the universe had equal amounts of each, but at some point it developed one extra quark for every billion antiquarks. This imbalance ensured that enough matter survived annihilation as the universe expanded and cooled. (at 10 ^ -11 seconds this battle is starting to give favor to the rise of matter over antimatter).
At 10 ^-5 seconds protons and neutrons are formed from quarks. Within the first 300 seconds of the existence of the universe, the elements helium, lithium, and heavy hydrogen (deuterium and Helium 3) form from the protons and neutrons by a process called nucleosynthesis.
Nucleosynthesis is the theory that accurately predicts the abundances of elements and isotopes measured in the primeval samples of the universe (i.e., in the oldest stars and high-red shifted gas clouds). The abundance of deuterium plays a special role in this process: its measured value implies that ordinary matter amounts to 4.9% of the total energy density in the universe (the remainder is dark energy and matter). This agrees with the data collected by Planck from the CMBR. This is an amazing triumph as two completely different measurements, one built on nuclear physics when the universe was a second old and the other based on atomic physics when the universe was 380 000 years old) agree with one another. This verification is a strong indication that our model of the universe is accurate.
So let’s take a look at our universe from this era. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, in this case, the pictures is worth roughly 900 million dollars. I am talking about ESO’s Planck Satellite and its “baby snapshot” of the universe i.e., the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). This image reveals the age, density, geometry, and overall composition of the entire early universe. On top of this, the image provides evidence supporting inflationary cosmology via the information that we can extract from it. In essence, quantum fluctuations causing temperature differences in this inflation field (on the subatomic scale) get exponentially blown up to astrophysical sizes. The most remarkable thing about this is that observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation (from WMAP and ESO’s Planck observatory) agree with the prediction of inflation, providing the strongest evidence for this theory yet.
380, 000 years when the nearly uniform soup cooled to about 3000 Kelvin, atoms formed nuclei and electrons. Photons ceased to scatter and streamed through space unhindered, turning the prior opaque universe into one with visible light.
380,000 years to about 1 million years we enter a period called the Dark ages; existing between it is known as the final frontier of cosmology. We know little about this period except that the first stars and galaxies should have formed at about 100 million years. The limit of current observations, that is, the highest red-shifted objects detectable (the oldest objects that we can see) are at a time of when the universe was 600 million years old. Two future projects that have already begun construction, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Square Kilometer Array, are specifically designed to shed some light on this era and (hopefully) bring the dark ages to an end.
9 billion years, our solar system forms (yay us!).
10 billion years is when dark energy, a mysterious force that cosmologists have yet to wholly pin down, starts to accelerate. At 20 billion years the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda galaxy (our solar system, or at least the inner planets, will be gone by that time, due to the sun’s rapid expansion that will come once it exhausts its supply of fuel for nuclear fusion.)
Looking to the Future:
The ultimate fate of our universe hinges on dark energy. If the universe continues to grow at about the same pace, this will result in all the last stars burning out in about 100 trillion years (so we’ve got some time left, anyways). If this is true, at 30 billion years all other galaxies are pulled from our view and all evidence of the Big Bang is lost forever (it may be possible that future astronomers could deduce its existence using a few methods…but hopefully we keep good records).
Dark energy could also intensify, resulting in a “Big Rip” scenario. From superclusters to atoms, dark energy effectively tears everything apart. This would happen at approximately 50 billion years.
Alternatively dark energy could slow down. This deceleration would give gravity the upper hand and lead to a collapse. And at 30 billion years, we could have what is known as a “Big crunch”. This could result in a new Big Bang from the cyclic universe scenario.
The nature of universe is anything but simple, but cosmology has made leaps and bounds in such a short period of time because of technology and the rigors of the scientific method. If we can take anything from this invaluable knowledge, is that the march of scientific must continue…because the universe sure isn’t going to slow down and wait for us to catch up.
END OF CREIGHTON
That does it for the grand scale or astrophysics view of God and creation. I now want to explore the exact opposite – my god is smaller and more ubiquitous than your God. If nature is natural, where are the miracles hidden?
Recent attention had been given to the confirmation of the so-called God particle. The Standard Model of particle physics does not explain why some particles have mass. The Higgs Field was proposed in the 1960s and by the 1980s the existence of the resultant Higgs Boson was considered the most important question of particle physics. In 2012 a Higgs Boson candidate was discovered using the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. I took another year of experiments to confirm it. Scientists in general dislike the nickname God particle, but the fact that it explains mass makes it very important.
Time magazines response to the Higgs Boson was the article Why Science Does Not Disprove God by Amir D. Aczel, Time Magazine, April 27, 2014
My own quest for a God particle took me to a different place.
Key to our perception of the universe is the existence of life. How did life form? Are we the only intelligent life in the universe? For this we turn to a field called Astrobiology. Compared to Astrobiology, Astrophysics and theology are a snap. Two small volumes mentioned above told me all I wanted to know about the latter two, but for Astrobiology I had to turn to a college course. Life in the Universe is taught at the undergraduate level at CWRU if you have that access, but I found an accessible version online from the U of Maryland. This I one of those survey courses for non-science majors and is taught by a different GA every semester. To my surprise each one prepares his or her own material so there is a wealth of material online. If I may give a brief summary:
One of the instructors introduces the course this way – “Biological evolution has been the driver of life on Earth, and it is simple and general enough to do so anywhere. The fact of evolution has been established. If you do not believe that you should not be in this course. (Coleman Miller, UMD)”
We only know of one type of life – earth-bound, organic or carbon based life. Life as we know it could not form until late in the history of the universe. First, it requires heavier elements. Hydrogen and Helium were abundant in the early universe, but heavier elements were not formed until matter condensed locally to form stars, and the heat and pressure allowed fusion. Second, it required a place, and our sun and planets are only about 4.5 billion years old. Finally we have to have that “Goldilocks” balance of the right temperature to have liquid water and the right gravity to hold an atmosphere.
The first billion years on Earth, the Hadean Eon, or Hell on Earth were too hot to support life, but fossilized bacteria have been dated to ~3.5 billion years ago. A question that remains is whether life formed here of came from somewhere else. There is of course the possibility of life elsewhere, but all stars and their planets are about the same age. The biggest argument against exogenous is there has not been enough time for space travel from another source. A good argument for endogenous is the Miller-Urey experiment which proved that amino acids and other complex molecules could be formed in a primordial soup.
Is there life elsewhere in the universe? We are beginning to verify that habitual planets exist around almost every star. There are over 100 billion stars is a galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies. Even with very low probabilities of life forming in any one place, futurists like Carl Sagan believe the chances of it forming somewhere seem pretty good. That is why we sent out the two Voyager probes in 1977.
So the elements needed for life are: Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon, plus trace minerals in smaller quantities. Which is most important; our God element? Where is the secret of life hidden at the lowest level?
Hydrogen is most abundant element, but does not seem to have any special properties, save for its ability to mutate into Helium. Carbon would seem to be a candidate, but scientists believe a life form could be based on Silicon instead on Carbon under the right conditions.
Let’s think about water for a bit. It has some unique properties.
1. Water at the heart of life. We are 70% water.
2. Water is the only molecule that exists is all three phases in our environment.
3. Water as a liquid is a universal solvent, allowing it to carry other molecules.
4. Water as a gas allows transport from our oceans back over the lands.
5. Water as ice floats. If ice did not float our planet would be a frozen ball of ice.
When we were aware of only four elements – Air, Fire, Earth and Water – Water was accorded religious properties. A good instinct, I believe.
Why does water have these properties? Primarily because water is a polar molecule. A polar molecule has a neutral charge but acts a bit like an ion because its charges are not evenly distributed.
Polarity allows water to dissolve other polar molecules, as well as break acids, bases and salts into ions, dissolving them. Polarity determines the crystal shape of ice, making it lighter than liquid water.
So for many water would be the magic or God molecule, but I argue that all these properties exist at a lower level, they come from the Oxygen atom. Oxygen is at the heart of water. Chemists will insist that Oxygen is not a polar molecule because it always exists as O2 which is symmetric and all the polarities are balanced out. I argue that mono-atomic Oxygen is SO polarized that it immediately bonds to something, including itself.
Of course we cannot see electron distribution, but in every case Oxygen forms hydrogen or other covalent bonds at an angle, indicating its polarity.
BTW, this is the only opinion in this paper that is entirely mine. No matter how I phrases the question, I did not find any support for my idea that it is the Oxygen molecule that is responsible for water’s miraculous properties.
In addition, Oxygen is essential for every fuel to energy reaction, from the fast explosions in our cars to the slower release of heat in fire to the slow biochemical reactions in living organisms.
I nominate mono-atomic Oxygen as the guiding particle for Life in our Universe, the God atom.
This leaves the question of where the atheist and the agnostic can go for dialog, community, service and the other aspects of organized religion. I find my religious home at Unitarian churches both here and in our winter home in Tucson. Sometimes the members and the minister are more spiritual than I prefer, but largely they are secular Humanists and very accepting me and my fellow skeptics.
I suspect Nancy’s Church of Reason is also an accepting place.
In researching this paper I came across, in the last chapter of “irreligious”, an organization called The Brights. Pretentious as that name is, the Brights seek to find more acceptance for those of us with a more naturalistic and scientific world view, free from any supernatural beings. (Those are the Supers.) I invite you to visit their website the-brights.net. One of their main activities is distributing evolution charts to any science teacher who requests one.
I will close with a quote from John Allen Paulos:
“I think the world would benefit if more people of diverse background were to admit to being irreligious. Perhaps a more realistic hope is for more to acknowledge at least their own private doubts about God. While not a panacea, candidly recognizing the absence of any good argument for God’s existence, giving up on divine allies and advocates as well as taskmasters and tormentors, and prizing a humane, reasonable, and brave outlook just might help move this world a bit closer to a heaven on earth.”
The Late Almighty God, Rick Rickards, PCC March 21, 2017
of the Big Bang and Everything We Know, Jolene Creighton, January 7, 2014
Irreligion: a mathematician explains why the arguments for God just don't add up, John Allen Paulos - Hill and Wang - 2009
Astrophysics for people in a hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson – Norton – 2017
Life in the
Universe, UMD, Astronomy 380
Text: Life in the Universe (4th Edition) by Jeffrey O Bennett, Pearson, 2016
Life in the Universe, CWRU, ASTR 260