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“All the World’s a Stage”

William Shakespeare "As You Like It" Act II Scene 7

Regarding Karen Armstrong’s latest book “The Case for God”, I would
suggest that she herself makes a good case against God, or at least in
not believing in the need for a deity.

First, let it be said that I have nothing but respect and admiration for
her intelligence and scholarship. Indeed, to listen to her speak is a
delight in the pleasure of experiencing a wonderfully sharp and agile
mind at work.

However, that said, by using quotations from “The Case for God” which
frame her conclusions, I would suggest different, even opposite
conclusions. For example:

“Religion was never supposed to provide answers to


questions that lay within the reach of human reason …
Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us
live creatively and even joyfully with realities for which
there were no easy explanations.”

I suggest that religion developed precisely to provide answers to great


questions — the how and why of existence — and was itself early on a
product of human reason. Consider how and when religion was
created: in a time tens, perhaps hundreds of thousand years ago by
illiterate, ignorant beings grappling to make sense of their world and
their place in it. Their existence was barely more than day to day,
season to season, their life expectancy short.

Yet, the characteristic which separated that early humanity of the rest
of life was its capacity to think — to reason, to conceptualize — in
however a primitive fashion it may have been. With little or no abstract
knowledge, and with no continuity of knowledge other than habit and
oral tradition, humanity wrestled with the same philosophical concepts
we still wrestle with today: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and
politics, or the studies of being, knowing and acting, both as individuals
and as a group.

Religion was humanity’s first attempt “to provide answers to questions


that lay within the reach of human reason.” What would have been
apparent in the world around them was a sense of cause and effect,
what we call now the Law of Causality. It was the growing
comprehension of that process — similar events followed similar
actions — that allowed humanity to learn and plan with some sense of
certainty in outcomes. It was the process that led from chipping a
stone to fashion a blade to use as a knife, and then ultimately using
that blade to create a furrow and plant seeds. Each set of actions led
to reliable results.

Causality suggested to our ancestors that many of the phenomena


they saw about them, without apparent causes, must be the result of
beings like them, but vastly greater, wiser, more powerful but, for
whatever reason, unseen except for their effects. It was the only thing
that would have made sense, to their limited knowledge and
understanding.

Thus, the sun and the moon and the stars traveled across the sky
because great beings moved them (or were perhaps these beings), just
as the humans themselves push rocks, cut reeds and created huts to
get out of the rain these great beings showered upon them with
seeming regularity.

In this sense, religion was also the first science, an attempt to explain
what was apparent, by what was not. Causality was humanity’s first
guide to knowledge .

But when humans started wondering if these beings could be


themselves affected, with pleas and supplications, offerings and even
sacrifices, modern religion was born, and separated at birth from
science and reason. Because there were “no easy explanations”
religion was used to invent ever more complicated explanations,
creating super beings as the cause for every effect. This was a process
repeated over and over again as clusters of humanity eventually
created clusters of civilization.

Even up to the Romans in the West, and indigenous cultures in Asia


and America, there were whole pantheons of gods for love, war,
agriculture, the household, etc. In effect, religion became politics, as a
means for humans to organize themselves to better sway the will of
the greater beings they were sure must be there. Some, like the Maya
and Aztecs, did this to a greater degree. Others, like the Greeks, to a
lesser degree. Some, like the Egyptians, conflated their gods with their
rulers, granting the divinity of the first to justify the actions of the
second.

By the dawn of civilization in Sumer and Egypt, religion was master of


overall existence, and science, such as it was, was relegated to day-to-
day living, used to explain what could be seen and touched, while
religion remained to explain what could but not be seen, could not be
touched, the realm of no easy explanations, the realm of no proof, just
supposition, to be taken on faith (and later on absolute authority)
without evidence or proof, In the definition given by Hebrews 11 : 1,
faith became “… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of
things not seen ... ”

But to science and reason in the practical world, after the Greeks had
formalized them, a belief with neither sensory evidence or rational
proof, was considered a contradiction and meaningless, something to
be discarded as useless. I would suggest, as Socrates suggested, that
answers or hypotheses which are contradictory or lead to absurd
conclusions, are simply without validity, and should be dismissed as
unworthy.

This should have been a warning. But it was not heeded. For science
was no further along in explaining existence and the world than in the
early days of human civilization. It had no verifiable alternative for
causality. Faith and its beliefs remained as the only explanation for the
unexplained. By the Renaissance and the birth of modern scientific
principles, faith had ruled for two thousand years. And in all those
centuries, many vested interests, both sacred and secular, had formed
to keep it that way.

The rediscovered works of Hipparcus and Eratosthenes, via the Arabs,


led Copernicus and Galileo to begin providing science with the tools
and concepts to explore the nature of existence, to begin applying
causality in a non-divine way. It did not yet have a final answer, but it
was evolving the process by which such answers could be tested and
verified. Faith, on the other hand, had nothing but an entrenched
continuity of belief, and the comfortable feeling that comes with
thousands of years of believing.

But belief is not proof any more than a feeling is. The issue is really not
about the existence of a deity. It is simply and only about faith versus
reason and which can be trusted to lead us to truth, to the recognition
of reality, to what exists objectively, independent of our subjective
desires.

It doesn’t matter what the subject of the belief is. Belief alone is half
the process, not the conclusion, but the beginning, an empty vessel
waiting to be filled. Proof is what fulfills belief, completes it and turns it
into knowledge. And when that knowledge stands the test of time,
proves its worth, it becomes wisdom.

Belief alone, without proof, becomes myth, fable, the unexplained


which becomes the unexplainable. Then it becomes blind faith, devoid
of trust. Secularists believe what they do not just because they want
to, but because they must. That is where the evidence leads. That is
what the logic tells them. Their beliefs are hard fought by their trust in
reason, not uncritically accepted by blind faith.

So, how does this affect the problem of causality and in finding
unknown sources for supposed effects? Ms. Armstrong’s answer is:

“… it is time to return to a theology that asserts less and is


more open to silence and unknowing.”

This, however, seems to me an abrogation of the very scholarship


Armstrong brings to the subject. This seems like an admission that
there is really nothing to be said about the subject she spent some 300
pages on. Granted, even thinkers and writers like Steven Jay Gould
tried to find an accord between reason and faith by dividing them into
their own realms of applicability, what Gould called their “separate
magesteria.” But while reason and science have a framework and a
procedure for vetting ideas, faith and religion have none, only a blind
acceptance of continuity, with neither evidence nor proof.

Which of these two offers any hope of understanding anything? Of


being, of knowing, of acting?

I don’t think that one can use the argument that methods of religion
and science are separate and cannot be used on each other. Do not all
writings, discussion, arguments about the validity of religion employ
the reasoning process of science and its tool, logic? The only difference
is in the starting premises. Why should faith have a lower standard of
validation than science?

My suggestion for the paradox of causality (that there must be a first


cause — the Primum Mobile of Aquinas — or else one is faced with an
infinite backward path of causes — what mathematics and logic call an
infinite regression that becomes a reduction to absurdity) has a
simpler explanation, but one that seems outrageously complicated:
that causality itself has no cause.

It is not the philosophical axiom we commonly think it is. But existence


is, both necessary and sufficient unto itself, requiring nothing more.

In cosmology, the universe is the sum total of all that exists. But in
proclaiming that something caused existence — created the universe
— one is also admitting that the supposed entity must have existence
as well, and would have had to create itself. But claiming that it
somehow created existence from outside of existence is, by definition,
a contradiction in terms. Anything supposed to be outside of existence
is non-existent. One is asking for a nothing to cause a something. That
cannot be, not without denying and defying all reason and logic —
even in the arcane world of quantum physics.

The term supernatural, created to make sense of the senseless,


reflects the contradiction. To be above the natural world is to be
outside it, outside of existence. Always within the concept of a creator
as the first cause lies the hidden assumption of existence, the ultimate
sine qua non that even a creator is dependent upon. It is so obvious
that we miss it, this state of being, even though it is the fundamental
attribute of everything. Even supposed deities cannot avoid its
necessity.

There cannot be a plane or level of spirituality or anything else outside


of existence. That is a logical and physical absurdity. Only a blind faith
requiring no proof could believe a concept like that.

The attributes posited about a supreme deity can just as easily be


posited about existence — the eternal, the timeless, the unending —
the necessity and font of all else. So why not just say that existence is
axiomatic and thus its own cause, just as deities were once so taken by
primitive humans, but without all the emotional baggage, and without
the psychological crutch humanity has leaned on for thousands of
years? This avoids the argument of whether a deity exists or not, but
simply points out that a deity independent of an existence it created is
a logical absurdity. As one modern cosmologist pointed out, “God is
what you get when you don’t ask enough questions.”

Further, to posit a divinity responsible for all is to say nothing is our


fault but only its will. The concepts of determinism and predestination
crash up against causality. But with the axiom of existence a supreme
being becomes unnecessary, unrequired, a useless hypothesis — and
the source of an endless, absurd regression of logic if you try to prove
its existence, and the wellspring of unending debate over its purpose.
Being simply is. Accept existence as the primary, the irreducible
axiom, the concept without which there is nothing.

We know that universe at the quantum level is random, ruled by


statistics and probability, not deterministic the way Newton thought
and Einstein hoped. In every quantum event, a deity — Einstein’s “Old
One” — would have to play dice to make it work, with outcomes still
uncertain, only probable. Which contradicts an omniscient, omnipotent
divinity. Eliminate the proposition of a divine creator and one still has
existence and a universe that works by natural rules and relationships
we can know and discover and calculate.
Religion claims that the creator is beyond time and space. But that is
the province — again by definition — of non-existence. One theory
holds that the Big Bang is the first cause. But that just pushes back the
issue, for one is forced to ask what caused the Big Bang. Theism
doesn’t solve the problem of priority, but merely postpones it.

But imagine a cyclical universe, one that goes from Big Bang to Big
Crunch and then back again — and again and again and again…

The universe, existence, the sum total of space-time and mass-energy,


is all. There is not an instant when existence begins, because it never
really ends. Time is part of existence, as are space and mass and
energy. Time goes as the universe goes, uniquely so if it is viewed as
cyclical or oscillatory, the Big Bounce as the theory is known. Time
seems to end with each Big Crunch, and starts anew with each Big
Bang as all that mass-energy explodes again, releasing another cycle
of energy, mass, space and time.

A cyclical universe is the ultimate in recycling, as required by the most


fundamental principle of physics, the law of conservation of mass-
energy. As a cycle ends all mass, energy, space and time coalesce
down to the quantum foam, then to a single, dimensionless point,
reuniting under the rapidly increasing gravitational pull (which
increases with the inverse square of the diminishing diameter of the
universe) until there is only gravity and the primordial essence that
were once mass-energy-time-space. At the point, at the instant, gravity
too ceases, and all explodes outward in a new cycle with a very big
bang.

With only one assumption — sufficient mass-energy in the universe to


cause gravitational collapse — the fundamental forces of nature all
emerge again with each bang, and converge again under an
overwhelming gravity down to the singularity with each crunch in a
cycle that takes tens of billions of years. And in the instant that
primordial singularity arises, it dissolves, because gravity dissolves,
releasing everything in a new cycle. All from the previous cycle is re-
cycled. This how one can have a dimensionless point containing all
mass, space and energy (which actually disappear in the convergence
of the last Big Crunch to re-emerge in the instance of the next Big
Bang).

As for that one assumption of sufficient mass-energy to cause collapse,


in just my lifetime I have seen the discovery of the necessary amount
go from 10% of what’s needed to 90% today. This has occurred in
some 50 years. (Now we talk of dark matter and dark energy. But
these are merely modern guesses to explain existing fact.) But again,
this is only a physical parameter. These is nothing mystical about it.
Existence, given sufficient mass-energy, doesn’t end and begin again,
but rather simply goes through phase changes. It requires nothing but
enough of itself to run the process from Bang to Crunch to Bounce and
Bang, and supply a physical basis for Causality.

This, of course, is a theory, not proved fact. In fact, given the current
theories of dark energy and an inflating universe, it is not a particularly
popular theory. But it is consistent with what we know now. And what
we need to know, to learn, is knowable and learnable, just enough stuff
of whatever the universe is truly made of and how it works. If science
has taught us anything, it is that there is still a great deal yet to be
learned. But the one thing this theory does not require is an
unprovable belief. Nor does it require a purpose. Existence exists. The
rest follows.

Where faith errs is in accepting paradox and contradiction rather than


dismissing them. That we don’t have a conclusive answer to the nature
of the universe and existence now does not mean we will never have
one.

I do not think there is “an enlightened call” to follow a middle path.


That is an admission that faith has no questions that science cannot
better answer. The crucial difference is that science first establishes
that a question is valid before it attempts to answer it. Faith merely
allows what reason prohibits.

In the end, the words were said best by Pierre Simon Laplace, the great
French mathematician and early cosmologist. When ask by Napoleon
after he had read the mathematician’s great work on celestial
mechanics, the emperor opined that he saw no reference in it to the
creator. LaPlace replied simply: ‘Sire, I have no need of that
hypothesis.’

Finally, I would agree with Ms. Armstrong in her assertion that “…like
all religious fundamentalists, the new atheists believe they alone are in
possession of the truth.” Without supplying verifiable answers to life’s
great questions, I think their atheism is less rigid than it is envious. It is
not enough to naysay. They must demonstrate viable alternatives.

Tom Cammarata

“Nature does not exist for us, had no idea we were coming, and
doesn't give a damn about us.”
Stephen Jay Gould