How material existence, life, and consciousness point to the existence, life, and consciousness of God

As a follow-up to the entry, “A Muslim apostate rejects Darwinism,” I wrote to the former Muslim, and now former atheist, Evariste:

You wrote:

“Natural selection is about subtraction; it is the universe itself, which tends relentlessly toward greater entropy, increasing its entropy by deleting a living being. Life, on the other hand, is about addition. Increasing in size, increasing in numbers, increasing in forms and varieties and niches of existence.”

What about the coming into being of stars, galaxies, solar systems? That involves the creation of very large, complex entities of great power. Could that be the product of a merely material, random process? Could stars, these giant hydrogen fusion furnaces, the largest and most powerful objects in the universe, have been formed simply by atoms of hydrogen collecting together in an ever-larger cloud, with greater and greater mass and heat? Or do star also betoken creation from “somewhere else,” as you said about life and consciousness?

I don’t have a definite opinion on this myself, but it’s something I’ve thought about. It seems to me that your description of biological entities as “increasing in size, increasing in numbers, increasing in forms and varieties and niches of existence” could also be seen as a description of stars, galaxies, and planets, not just of living things.

Evariste replies:

What a great question! I mean, initially it seemed very easy to answer, but it’s turned out to be far more thought-provoking than I expected. The quick answer is that stars, galaxies, and solar systems are all behaving perfectly naturally according to this universe’s rules, on a purely material basis. A star is a way for a lot of matter to get together and reach higher entropy by means of nuclear fusion. It fits the materialistic narrative of a universe traveling from its initial low-entropy state, all of it packed up into an incredibly tiny space at unimaginable temperatures and pressure, to an eventual high-entropy death.

These are all very impressive phenomena, but aside from their mind-boggling scale and the sheer fact of their existence, they’re not doing anything that gives me pause. They’re just behaving according to the rules of the system they’re a part of, and do not strike me as out of place. The fact of suns and galaxies is only quantitatively different to the fact of anything. That is, the much huger question for me is, “Why is there something, instead of nothing?” If we take the “something” for granted, then the question is, “Why is there life, instead of just matter?” If we take life for granted, then the next big question is, “Why is there consciousness, instead of just unconscious living things?”

I just had an insight that may or may not be of substance. It seems to me as if each of these questions is itself a strong hint about God, and as if their logical progression leads us to greater knowledge of God.

Why is there something instead of nothing? Because God Is. There is a God, instead of nothing, and he decided to create the physical universe to teach us that. In its awesome, incomprehensible scale, which only started being fully understood in modern times, it is further teaching us something about the incomprehensibility of God himself. If we can’t intuitively grasp interstellar distances, if we have a difficult time comprehending the fact of a Sun so large that a million Earths could fit into it, if we have an even more difficult time when we are told that our Sun would itself fit in Betelgeuse a million times. If this is his handiwork, then he himself must be completely beyond even the possibility of comprehension.

Next, why is there life, instead of just matter and energy? Why does this defiant, foreign phenomenon exist at all in this universe? It’s as if we were being taught that matter is not all there is, that a transcendent reality exists. The contrast is itself the teaching. Furthermore, the contrast between life’s nature and the universe’s nature seems to be teaching us that God is separate from his creation, that we were not created by the universe, or by purely material forces. Also, it may be teaching us to understand that God is alive like us. If we had been created in my alternate universe [discussed here], the one with ever-decreasing entropy, we might never have concluded that God existed, because our universe would have made us feel like an inevitable development, not like the astonishing exception that we are in this one. Also, it seems to teach us that God wants us to know him, because if he didn’t, he would not have put us in such a provocatively different universe that it should arouse such questions.

Finally, why is there conscious life, instead of just mindless life? First, to teach us that there is an escape from this universe’s laws. Just as life is different than lifeless matter and energy, in that it has a purpose, an agenda that contradicts that of the rest of the universe, so too is consciousness different from life. Life is ultimately futile because the living die, and the matter and energy that once constituted a living being return to the state of the rest of the universe, no longer a machine intent on making of itself an exception, no longer matter with a purpose, but just matter. Consciousness is not subject to these laws, except insofar as it seems to end with the end of the living being in whom it was invested; consciousness gives us a hint about God’s immortality, and consciousness is the gift that makes us capable of self-reflection, capable of thinking about great questions, and capable of eventually attempting to get to know God. If, like the other question-provoking gifts (material existence and the fact of being alive), consciousness is intended to teach us that God has a consciousness. Also, a living being is a person, an agent, an actor, an individual. A rock is not a person, a star is not a person, but amoebae and insects and plants and fungi all have their own distinct agendas. This may teach us that God is a person, too. And—I think that just answered another question of mine about God. Once I’d decided that God must exist, I still didn’t know if God was a person or not. But the personhood of every living being, the range in levels of personhood from microscopic life and even viruses, which are as close as life gets to being matter, to cats and dogs and simians, to the very pinnacle of individual personality, men, this must be intended to teach us that God is the ultimate Person, that God has a real personhood and an individuality. I’m not sure if this proves monotheism or not, but I’m sure that God is a person, and not just a force, or a phenomenon, or a thing. God has a self-aware self, a consciousness like ours, and wishes us to know this about him.

Finally, judging at least by my own example, God must be very generous and a very patient teacher. I think I not only believe God exists, but I love him, too.

Thanks, Larry. That was a really great question that, once again, increased my understanding from the sheer attempt to answer it.

- end of initial entry -

A. Zarkov writes:

“Natural selection is about subtraction; it is the universe itself, which tends relentlessly toward greater entropy, increasing its entropy by deleting a living being.”

The idea of increasing entropy comes from the second law of thermodynamics. However, this law applies only to closed systems. The universe is not necessarily a closed system. So we really cannot talk about “the entropy of the universe.” The earth itself is not a closed system since it get energy from the sun, the stars, cosmic rays, etc. I also don’t see how deleting a human being in any kind of closed system increases the entropy of the system.

LA writes:

If a new mutation is a new form of organized information in the universe, and if the individual organism bearing that mutation dies and fails to reproduce, isn’t that a loss of information in the universe, and thus an increase in entropy? It seems to me that Evariste’s point is that Darwinian natural selection operates by eliminating things, not creating things, and how can a process that works solely by eliminating things, create something?

An example is the famous tree moths in Britain that changed color with the onset of industrial pollution that darkened the trees the moths stayed on (assuming for the moment that the story is true at all): it wasn’t that Darwinian processes produced a new, darker moth; it was that natural selection eliminated the lighter colored moths, thus turning a previously tiny minority of dark moths into the majority.

Also, frankly (though I probably shouldn’t admit my lack of comprehension of such a well-known idea), I’ve never understood how, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the universe could exist at all. If the nature of the universe is that organized information—i.e., organized, functional, or living form—is always breaking down, how is organized information created in the first place? Mr. Zarkov says the universe is not a closed system, implying that something outside the system is creating new information and keeping things going. But according to the materialist scientistical view (that’s a new word I just made up, rhyming with sophistical), the universe is most certainly a closed system, is it not, since there is nothing beyond matter.

Gintas writes:

I studied that years ago, and the gist is:

For any process in which energy is transformed (also called “work”), you can calculate the entropy of the process. The entropy signifies the irreversibility of the transformation. This irreversibility means that some energy was dissipated in the work, and you cannot recover that energy and do useful work with it. Often it is heat in the air, which basically has gone “poof!” as far as we are concerned.

For example, in an ideal world, a ball sitting at the top of a hill has a certain potential energy. You give it the gentlest nudge, and it starts rolling. At the very bottom of the hill it has a kinetic (motion) energy the same as the potential it had at the top. Then it continues rolling up a hill on the opposite side, and ends up at the exact same height it was before, with the same potential energy. In this ideal world, that was a perfect reversible process, and can go back and forth as long as you want. The entropy is zero each time.

But that would be a perpetual motion machine, which we know is impossible. We know that, even if everything else were perfect, that we would deal with air resistance, which is friction. We know that ball would not in fact go back to the same height—it would be a little lower. Energy was not lost, but dissipated. There was air resistance to overcome, and that gets dissipated into the air as heat. There really is no way to recover that energy and put it back into the ball by pushing it back up to the starting height.

(Technically, there are ways to recover that heat, but those processes (such as a heat pump) itself dissipate energy. And on and on it goes.)

With all this dissipation going on in the universe, we know that we are going forward, and only forward in time—entropy is going up—and the available useful energy is slowly being dissipated. That is why 1) scientists say that the universe will at some point in the future reach a constant temperature, where there is no more work that can be done, having reached a state of full entropy, and 2) we know the universe had a beginning, because you cannot increase entropy forever but never reach full entropy.

It is indeed true that the entropy of a closed system can go down. But the overall entropy of the total system enclosing that closed system went up to make it happen. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is a LAW, not a theory, so it’s always true in our physical world, that the total entropy is going up.

LA replies:

“It is indeed true that the entropy of a closed system can go down. But the overall entropy of the total system enclosing that closed system went up to make it happen.”

But then it’s not a closed system, if it’s being fed with new energy from a larger system that encloses it.

Ben W. writes

LA wrote: “It was that natural selection eliminated the lighter colored moths, thus turning a previously tiny minority of dark moths into the majority.”

Consider the irony of this Darwinian development/statement with respect to America (immigration and\or race) … Light colored … like moths to a flame?

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes from Canada:

Evariste’s very interesting insight about the Darwinian theory of evolution being a form of subtraction—in order for something new to exist, something “old” has to be destroyed—describes liberalism very well.

I don’t know how to explain it cogently yet, but it seems that liberals are always trying to take away something—femininity, race, even individualism—in order to make their new body. Their destruction, which they think is a form of creation, is actually a destruction, pure and simple. Without the old, there is no form to continue with, and eventually they would end up with nothing.

Whereas the alternate, as I see in in art, (real) science, and any other way of life, always builds upon the old to create more and more new things.

Darwinism as the ultimate Liberalism?

LA replies:

Yes, liberalism is always working to break down some existing thing, because it’s not equal, because it is exclusive or discriminatory, and the ultimate end of liberalism is nothingness. Similarly, the Darwinian process of random mutations and natural selection—if it were true—could not produce the vast kingdom of living things we see, but could only produce nothingness.

Kidist replies:

I’m tackling this awful phenomenon in art/design these days. I actually saw the problem right away, but it took me a long time to articulate it to myself. It is a long story, but I think it started when artists began looking inward, instead of outward, to do their work. In the cliche of cliches, they thought they became the creators, but their source—themselves—ended up being empty.

Kristor writes (July 8):

Evariste’s journey to theism is a beautiful thing to see. It is thrilling to watch as he surveys being, life, consciousness, and sees that these must all have an ultimate source that is even more intensely existent, alive and conscious than we are. For, as I pointed out a few days ago, the positive values realized in actualities cannot have come from nowhere. Matter, life, consciousness cannot have come from a vacuity thereof. Ditto for personality. And neither likewise can any increase in these properties come from nowhere. They must all originally derive from an actual source that is more real, more alive, more conscious, more personal than any other actuality that yet exists in this world, or that could exist in any conceivable world.

Furthermore, and by the same token, neither can any development in the history of the world, any novel occurrence or increase in its temporal extension, come from nowhere. These, too, must all derive from a source outside of all actual worlds, which makes all such worlds possible. Thus worlds cannot really be construed as closed systems. In our world, new things keep happening, and the mere fact of their happening constitutes an increase in its overall orderliness as a spatio-temporal system, considered in its entirety from the Big Bang forward. The mere fact that things keep happening in accord with the Second Law of Thermodynamics is itself an instance of orderliness; each such happening constitutes an increase in the ordered complexity of the history of the world.

Increases in the entropy of the universe may also be understood as increases in the specificity, orderliness, and beauty of the universe. A quantum of work accomplished is a quantum of decrease in the work that can ever be done in this world; but it is also a quantum of value achieved forever. An increase of entropy is an increase of artifact. When a sculptor carves a chip from his block, he eliminates forever the possibilities that could have been embodied in other, different chips he might have carved instead, but he also takes a step closer to the completion of his opus, and he decreases the entropy of his work of art. The same goes for the world as a whole. Take the whole realm of possible world histories that could logically have eventuated from the Big Bang: that’s the uncarved block of this world. Everything that happens, carves that block, and increases the specificity and orderliness of the whole construct. Work increases realized beauty by an ever more specific and particular application of a limit to an otherwise contradictory array of possibilities. Work informed by a limit—or, in other words, by a valuable goal, by a telos—is the secret engine of all art, all beauty. In the final analysis, it is the mechanism of all becoming, and thus the source of all being.

The heat death of the universe will be sad, to be sure, in the same way that a human death is sad: each marks the end of a creative process, that had added permanent value to history, and to our lives. But to think that these ends are utterly final is to make the same error about the ends of things, that materialists and Darwinists make about their beginnings. It is to think that there is nothing more than this world. If that were true, then the whole shebang would be a rather pathetic show, an absurd insult to us its patients, beginning in sound and fury signifying nothing, and ending as it must in a meaningless whimper. That it is not true, that there is more than this or any world, means not only that this world can be meaningful and consequential in an absolute sense, but that its final whimper will be only as it were the final whisper at the end of a singer’s beautifully sung phrase, which must of course end before he proceeds to the next evolution of his theme.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 05, 2008 12:30 PM | Send

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