“God” is a difficult word and an even more difficult concept. For many, the word and the concept are based upon a set of beliefs regarding The Deity – the Ultimate Creator of the Universe. Thus, their definition of God is built from theological ideas and religious doctrine. That approach is workable within a limited context but creates obvious problems when people with different theologies or doctrines wish to discuss God. It is especially problematic since the common approach to religious definition of God is wholly subjective and one person’s opinions are just as valid as another’s.
I propose a different approach – defining God by the evidence. While we lack the ability to grasp God or God’s reality (being that God is on the “other side” of the naked singularity we call the “Big Bang”), we have compelling evidence of God’s nature (based upon the presumptions below) within God’s Creation – the Universe. I think we can best define God through careful observation and sound reasoning and then we can better formulate a theology to explain God’s meaning and purpose.
The key presumption that I must start from is pretty basic, but not provable: that the very thing that we’re talking about is some type of entity, force, or thing that is the causative impetus to the emergence of the Universe. Some argue that there is no need for such a “cause”, that the Universe could have simply come into existence without a cause (?). They argue that the Universe is unfolding in some haphazard, purposeless, and unguided manner and use an interesting circular logic to explain its existence and nature. But that argument is for somewhere else. Here, I’m calling this a premise so you’ll simply have to accept it for the sake of argument – God is the Creator.
For those who already have formulated some clear definition for God, I must ask you to bear with me and insist that you put it aside for a few minutes. Our goal is to start from scratch and any preconceived ideas may interfere. We need a clean slate with only one starting premise: “God” is that which caused our Universe. In that concept (and conception), God has no human characteristics and we would be foolish to presume any since the evidence is pretty strong that humans are incapable of creating universes like ours. God must be something quite different from us.
We don’t know what it took to create our universe, but we do know plenty about its creation. Our Universe had a distinct beginning[i] in what is properly known as a “naked singularity”. This is important because we have clear evidence that the Universe is dynamic and unfolding. The idea of a “Big Bang” is grossly misleading; at its inception the Universe was incredibly small and sound was impossible. It wasn’t a chaotic explosion – it was a highly ordered expansion. Our science is totally unable to answer any questions about the instant before the emergence of the naked singularity since “time” didn’t exist until the singularity began. We certainly can’t say “where” it began because singularities (in our best theories) occur nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. But again, those are interesting discussions for another time and place. What we have to accept for our purpose here is that we have NO evidence regarding anything prior to the emergence of our Universe as a naked singularity. Our definition of God cannot include anything outside the Universe if we want it to be objective.
There’s no better place to begin than at the beginning, so let’s start there. In one instant (in what would become our frame of “time”) there was nothing and in the next there was something. It is absolutely astounding that we know so much about that “something” because it was not much like what we experience now as our Universe. It was tiny, hot, and full of potential. It was also complex, governed by very rigid “laws” and full of information. Yes, consider that carefully – the Universe, from its very inception, was full of information. Indeed, what modern science reveals above all else is that the very essence of the Universe is information. Its two primary material components, matter and energy, are best viewed as packets of information that tell a particular place in “space” what it should be or act like[ii].
There is much that we don’t yet understand about the workings of these quantum “particles”, but when we view them as packets of information, much is explained. And, what that view reveals about the “fabric” of the Universe is even more astounding.
Early in our scientific exploration of reality we wondered about the nature of “space”. Once we understood that the Universe started as a microscopic point and has been “growing” ever since, we had to wonder: “growing into what?” Was “space” there before and our Universe is spreading out across it or is “space” created as the Universe expands (into something else)? Now we know that there is no such thing as “empty space”. The “void of nothingness” we conceptualized is totally wrong. The emptiest part of space is teeming with “quantum stuff”. Now that’s weird, but it’s just a start.
We know that space has “dimensions” and we recently figured out (thanks to Einstein) that the dimensions of space and the dimension of time are really all just one thing – spacetime. We take this spacetime thing for granted since it’s so foundational to our Universe that it seems hardly worthy of thought (unless we’re seriously into cosmology). It’s easy for the unknowing to simply say “it was just there, it just is.” I’ve heard it seriously argued that spacetime is there because “it had to be there for the universe to exist – but that doesn’t prove anything.” Hmm, doesn’t it prove that it had to be there for the universe to exist? But let’s not get bogged down with subjects that are still open to debate. Spacetime is real, we don’t have a clue where it came from or why, and it certainly has some interesting properties.
It’s hard to imagine a reality without dimensions. In short, dimensions are structure and the evidence is that the structure of our Universe is more complex than can emerge within three spatial and one temporal dimension. Thus, at inception, our Universe had a more complex structure that changed (“coalesced”) into what we experience now. The emergent spacetime structure is such a wonderful, marvelous, and beautiful thing that once we grasp it, it becomes nearly impossible to think that it “just is”. And, unlike the complex beauty of nature that is the result of evolutionary magic, spacetime had to exist before evolution could start. Of course, we’ll have to come back to evolution a little later.
I won’t take the time to dwell on the nature of spacetime and the wonder of relativity. Nor will I expound upon the amazing set of physical laws that came as part of the “start-up” package for our Universe. I will take a moment and reflect upon the incredible set of physical constants that are also INHERENT in our Universe (while shamelessly passing over the mathematical constants that are equally compelling).
A physical constant[iii] is a universal quantity or quantifiable relationship assignable to a measurable property. There are many physical constants: the speed of light in a “vacuum”, the gravitational constant, Planck's constant, and the elementary charge are just a few. Physical constants can either be structural (have dimensional ties like the speed of light being length divided by time) or be dimensionless such as the fine-structure constant (which specifies the strength of the electromagnetic interaction). Some appear predictable through mathematical theory while others “simply are” and cannot be predicted through any known method. All are critical to the formation of our Universe as even slight changes in most of the values of the physical constants would be enough to eliminate the formation of atoms or stars. Thus, the evidence is compelling that our Universe is “fine tuned”. That leaves the questions of how and why.
The debate regarding “anthropic principles” (WAPs, SAPs, and FAPs) has been going on for some time and we won’t settle it soon. Of course, one explanation is that the physical constants are strong evidence of reasoned design underlying our Universe. Other explanations involve a full range of conceptions from “that’s just the way it is” (absurd) to there must be an infinite number of universes where every possibility is tried (a good test for the infinite and our patience). I use the example of someone winning the lottery every day for ten years as equaling the likelihood of all the physical constants being just what they are by “luck”. No rational person would believe that such a lottery “lucky streak” didn’t have something else behind it.
But the existence of great inexplicable ordered complexity at the inception of the Universe is just a start. From that astounding beginning some 15 billion years ago, a lot has happened. Our universe didn’t just come into being, it has evolved.
“Evolution” is not just a “theory”, it is the most pervasive and revealing objectifiable aspect of our Universe[iv]. While there may remain some small room for debate regarding the “evolution of species” and there are gaps in our understanding of the evolutionary process, the process of evolution is undeniable. That is because “evolution” describes the inherent unfolding process that is as fundamental to our Universe as spacetime, matter, energy, and chaos. The Universe has been changing since its first moment and the most significant and profound change has been consistently in the same direction: towards “ordered complexity”.
We will come back to look at “ordered complexity”, but for now all we need to understand is that the “natural” process of change[v] is the opposite of evolution: it’s much easier and simpler for change to move towards chaos (the less ordered lower energy state). That we observe occasional but consistent circumstances where orderliness emerges from otherwise devolving systems is the greatest and most amazing thing. It is the cause of our existence and we should give this process its due regard. We simply cannot define God without having a firm understanding of the most important creative process of the Creator.
Just like the physical laws, physical constants, and other inception conditions, evolution is built into the Universe. Unlike the forces and interactions that directly control physical processes, this intrinsic evolutionary process works through non-physical effects that show up as physical changes – often without a physical explanation or basis. Most remarkably, the emergent effects of this evolutionary process have a consistent direction – they always yield a higher state of ordered complexity. The most significant result of the evolutionary process is emergent “will” (as in “will to cooperate”, “will to survive”, and “will to create”). Since I have written about this extensively elsewhere, I will not elaborate more here other than to say that the surprising emergence of “will” at every major evolutionary transformation[vi] defies scientific analysis or explanation and is the most amazing “mystical” aspect of our Universe.
So, we exist in a Universe that began with cogent and rational physical laws, has “finely tuned” physical constants, and exhibits complex structure “behind the scenes”. Those could all be “convenient coincidences”. The existence of non-physical processes that consistently lead to inexplicable leaps in ordered complexity is shrugged off as “mysticism” or ancillary side-effects. But I have yet to hear a rational explanation for the most glaring evidence for sentient purposeful creation: mathematics.
Because our general focus in mathematics is the manipulation of numbers to facilitate everyday tasks such as counting, measuring, and computing, we tend to view it as a basic skill (“arithmetic”). For many, it also seems to involve exceedingly complex processes that are needed for engineering, launching rockets, and modeling complex systems. For sure, I can feel many readers cringing at my mention of the word “mathematics” since it was their least favorite subject in school. Thus, very few of us see mathematics as the key to understanding the true nature of the Universe.
Mathematics is a language that has been woven into the fabric of our Universe. Do languages simply come into existence through random process involving physical interactions? Do language concepts such as symbolism, representation, equation, and syntax appear in any non-sentient context? They unquestionably exist within mathematics and mathematics clearly exists beyond us and without us. We don’t create mathematics – we discover it as a pre-existing realm of rationality that is inherent in the reality that we experience as our Universe. Anyone who proposes that such a realm can be explained by chemical interactions and “natural evolution” is plainly unwilling to face the facts or is wholly unable or unwilling to perceive reality.
It is a strange paradox that the scientific community that relies upon the language of mathematics and is its primary user, generally fails to view it as revealing something much deeper and more profound than the remarkable and astounding equivalencies[vii] that permeate our Universe. We use mathematics to “model” the Universe without asking how the Universe could have such underlying orderliness. We use mathematics to see beyond our instrumentation to predict the existence of structures, interactions, and properties of real things that we can’t measure. We use mathematics to control vast and complex systems which enable us to create in ways that we found previously unimaginable. And then we say that creativity is the ability to predict and control without realizing that mathematics is the most creative thing that we know and it is built into the Universe. It is time that we acknowledge the compelling PROOF (a mathematical concept) that such creativity requires a Creator.
I have proposed that our definition of God begins with the premise that some entity, force, or thing was the causative impetus behind the emergence of the Universe. We can also know that one of God’s languages is mathematics (God may or may not be “multi-lingual” - an unfortunate anthropomorphism). Because the physical laws and physical constants are written in the language of mathematics, we can know that they are purposeful parts of the Creation. Yes, purposeful – as in full of purpose.
One defining quality of “intelligence” is the recognition and fulfillment of purpose – to create intention and cause its implementation. Indeed, the more intelligent a being, the more we should expect it to create intention and cause its implementation. That is purposefulness and when we observe purposefulness, we are invariably assured that there is intelligence behind it. There is a logical link between purposefulness and creativity that we find unavoidable. In human intelligence, our creativity is directly proportionate to our purposefulness. In other words, our process of creation directly depends upon our ability to intend and cause. Intending and causing are so closely linked that we sometimes equate them.
In defining God as a purposeful Creator of our Universe, we are inherently saying that God is intelligent and (as much as I hate the way the phrase has become misused) our Universe is the result of intelligent design. For reasons that are unclear (other than our obvious lack of needed intelligence) we find little evidence of purpose within mathematics. While descriptive and predictive, mathematics has no apparent or discerned purposefulness. That is why we turn to the evolutionary process for this insight.
If the Universe is the result of purposeful creation we should expect to have overwhelming proof of its intent. We do. There is undoubtedly evidence of intent that we have not yet perceived, but there is enough that we have perceived to demonstrate conclusively that the intent behind the Creation was to produce systems with greater and greater complexity. “Complexity” itself is interesting – and complex. While originating with “entwined” and relating to the number of objects and how they are interrelated, “complexity” also has subjective elements. Attempts to create formalized or mathematical descriptions of complexity tend to produce the odd result of making randomness highly complex. It is somewhat difficult for us to separate complexity from an outcome. That is to say we don’t know if something is complex until it performs a desired result or function.
We also know that complexity involves certain special qualities: harmony, beauty, and synergy being examples. There are even transformational aspects of complexity (such as when new and unexpected properties emerge when certain levels of complexity are attained). The human “mind” is best viewed as a transformational effect of the brain’s organic complexity, but there are other examples of transformational effects from thresholds of complexity such as interference patterns and molecular cooperation.
Because there is a relationship between complexity and function, we can view the Universe in both the objective framework of simple complexity (objects * connections)[viii] or the subjective framework of ordered complexity (functionality towards purpose). While we can readily observe and measure the increasing simple complexity within certain parts of the universe, we know that the total simple complexity of the universe is declining (2nd law of thermodynamics). What is poorly understood is how subjective complexity enters the picture. What is apparent is the design of the Universe incorporates the sacrifice of simple complexity on the whole for the infrequent opportunity of greater ordered complexity. What is ultimately happening in the evolutionary process is that the Universe converts large amounts of wide-spread simple complexity into small amounts of close compound complexity (with a by-product of chaos). That process in itself is fascinating and revealing, but the real “trick” is that the compound complexity often transforms into ordered complexity; that is to say that it changes into a form that better serves an observable purpose.
I have already mentioned the example of the human mind and since we are all individually familiar with it, I will again use it (both as a model and to examine the model). Because the human mind is the most complex thing we know of and because it is capable of self understanding, it provides unique insight into the evolution of ordered complexity. We have a good understanding of its physical evolution and nature. We haven’t a clue about why it exists or works. We know that it is related and linked to the brain, but we have no instrumentation to measure or observe it[ix]. However, nothing in the Universe is more apparent or significant to us than our own mind. Because the human mind is the most evolved structure in the Universe we can study, it forms the tip of evolution’s arrow. Because it is capable of understanding evolution, the human mind can reason that the purpose of evolution was to produce mind supporting structures and minds themselves.
While it is not always true that the result reveals the purpose, in our case, we have every reason to believe that it does. The existence of a structure that is capable of grasping its own origin and purpose is too logical an outcome not to view it as purposeful. Mind you, if we ever encounter beings who are clearly smarter than us (showing greater ordered complexity) and that don’t grasp their own origin as purposeful creation, then we will either have to explain why they don’t “get it” or why we do on other grounds.
So the complexity of the inception of the Universe reveals design and the progression of evolution towards ordered complexity since the inception reveals purpose. I contend that these complexities allow us to objectively define God with useful detail. But first, I must offer a reminder: we can only define God in human terms and those terms are far too restrictive. It is clear from the evidence that God is not human or human-like. God is so different than anything in the Universe, so far beyond our imagination, and so complex in nature as to be indefinable by us. Our efforts to ascribe human ideals to God (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent) fail to either define or give definition to God. We can only hope to define God in ways that are accurate at our level of understanding and to accept that our level of understanding is probably at least as far removed from God’s as it is from an amoeba’s.
God is The Creator and therefore God is also a creator – specifically, a creator of Universes. God exists in whole or in part outside our Universe and is therefore not entirely subject to the limitations imposed within our Universe. However, it is clear that God has limitations. Since we can imagine a more efficient means of creation were there no limitations upon God, we should reasonably think that God created our Universe under the specific constraints we witness within the physical laws. That is to say that God created our Universe along with its physical laws within a pre-existing framework that imposed limitations. (We are restricted in examination of that framework because of our limitations). I think the allegory of a painting upon a canvas applies – we see the painting knowing that it was painted upon a canvas, but the painting is what matters and it obscures the canvas. (We might continue this by saying that we can study the paints and the artist’s technique as well as the painting itself, without knowing the painter).
God is not “perfect”. (Indeed, there is no such thing as perfection). The Universe does not appear to be perfect and it is clearly dynamic or changing. Absolute perfection implies that any change would either be unnecessary or undesirable. The Creation is imperfect and therefore, the Creator is imperfect.
God is “intelligent”. Intelligence is hard to define and we’re certainly incapable of defining God’s intelligence. I would say that God has superior creativity and that creativity is a function of intellectual functioning times moral awareness. If God has a “mind” then it certainly does not work like ours, but does have logic, reasoning, purposefulness, will, and perception. Our windows into the mind of God are limited to the design and purpose of our Universe and are shaded by our own mental limitations. Fortunately, and probably by design, we are capable of grasping one language of God – mathematics.
We don’t know whether God created mathematics or not, but we know that God relied upon mathematics in designing the Creation and that those mathematics are continuously revealed in our Universe. Mathematics reveals at least some small part of the logic of God. The manner in which mathematics are incorporated into the structure of our Universe reveals plenty about the Creator’s methods and limitations. A certain coherency was required and God was able to fix the values of the physical constants and set the properties of the physical components so that evolution could work its “magic”.
As with mathematics, we don’t know whether God created evolution or not, but we know that God utilized evolution in designing Creation. Evolution is a slow process (by our time standards) so we have reason to think that God is not in any hurry. Perhaps, God is “immortal” in reference to our system of time, but that really has no meaning outside the context of our Universe. Another informative aspect of the evolutionary process is the indeterminate outcome. While the basic physical structure of the Universe is one of fixed laws that yield consistent results, the evolutionary process is far from fixed. Although it always pushes (or attracts) in the same direction (ordered complexity), the exact outcome is open to many variables that are inherently indeterminate. That points to a seemingly “experimental” nature of the Creation.
The precise balance between determinate and indeterminate aspects of our Universe is one of the most interesting revelations of modern science. If everything was indeterminate, we would not be here and the Universe would have no structure. If everything was determinate (as was thought for most of human history), the Universe would have a pre-destined future and our self-perception of “free will” would be a delusion. Instead, what we witness is a very well balanced system where determinate factors interact with indeterminate factors to allow for both predictability and free will. It is too easy for us to take this balance for granted or to (again) shrug it off as “that’s just the way things are.” But there are no environmental adjustments for this balance – it was built in from the onset. Where an intelligent being would want there to be determinism, it’s there; and where we want there to be indeterminism, it’s there. Without some intelligent purpose causing this balance, scientists have no explanation for how or why it occurs. I suggest that one rational conclusion from this awareness is that God is no longer “involved” in the unfolding processes.
As comforting as it may seem to the naïve to have an “involved God”, I’m quite thankful to have free will and the hope of choosing my own morality. If God was involved – that is to say that God is both interested in and involved in human affairs – then we would have no choice but to defer to a higher form of intelligence and morality. Of course, every major religion proposes that God is involved, but disassociated in general – God may or may not choose to be involved depending upon things such as prayer, religious devotion, or the country of our birth. In those systems, our freedom to choose remains but we have to figure on some type of eventual judgment regarding the morality of our choices. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence to support any part of God’s involvement and those religions who profess such involvement have weak answers for questions like “why would a moral and involved God allow innocent children to suffer needlessly?” The rational conclusion is that God is not involved in any direct or immediate manner in the current unfolding of the Universe. Either that was God’s choice or God had no choice in the matter.
One could think that an uninvolved God must be an uncaring God. Since it is inconsistent with morality to allow suffering when it can be prevented without possibly creating even greater suffering or hindering some higher purpose, we are left with only one logical choice – God doesn’t “care” because God has no opportunity to be involved in a manner that wouldn’t undermine some higher purpose. The “higher purpose” of God is the final and most important defining characteristic of God.
Here we must acknowledge the possibility that God has a purpose far beyond our grasp. But that doesn’t really matter. If we simply stay within the boundaries of what we can grasp and affirm though study and observation, then we come to a startlingly simple conclusion: the most creative thing that we know God has done is the creation of our Universe and the most obvious function of our Universe is to create the highest forms of ordered complexity – beings capable of creativity. When the Universe yields beings (or a being) with the potential and will to create another universe similar to (hopefully “better” than) ours, then it will have fulfilled its purpose.
Indeed, there’s some “circular logic” in this realization, but then circles have a certain beauty, symmetry, and mystique that makes that appropriate. Because we lack the ability to create new worlds, our highest aspiration (most moral choice) is to make this world better. If we succeed at that, then there will come a time when our ancestors will create other worlds. And if they succeed at that, then perhaps the beings in those worlds will eventually get to the point where creating a universe is the moral thing for them to do. God reached that point about 15 billion of our years ago.
 It is a supposition I will not support here that God has created other universes.
[i] For those who think that there was no beginning because the Universe is in some kind of perpetual loop of creation and collapse, I would simply say that Our Universe only came into existence as the current loop reformed the spacetime dimensionality of THIS universe. That would mean that THIS creation required no separate causation or Creator – but then the loop itself may have had a Creator. Both views suffer circular logic.
[ii] We would call that information a “property” and the qualities of quantum particles (that make up all matter and energy) are really just the information about the particle’s properties – mostly, how it should interact with other particles. At the most fundamental level, what we experience as “things” are really just interacting packets of information (just like us).
[iii] Recent evidence suggests that one or more of the basic “constants” may not be constant in all dimensions. Very slight variations have been detected in analysis of far away quasars and there is no explanation for the variations.
[iv] Unfortunately, the term “evolution” has been misused and maligned. Darwin’s theory on the origin of species has been equated to “evolution” whereas it may or may not be a result of the evolutionary process that is inherent in the Universe. “Natural selection” is a natural evolutionary process that yields one specific outcome: the fit survive and the unfit don’t. Over time this produces apparent refinements and adaptations that appear to be “designed” and life seems to evolve towards some more purposeful state. But, again, this is not the same “evolution” that I refer to as intrinsic to the Universe.
[v] This “natural” preference is the basis for the “Second Law of Thermodynamics”: that the entropy or chaos of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will generally (almost always) increase over time until equilibrium is reached. Equilibrium is the state of maximum chaos or disorder/randomness.
[vi] Because of the underlying necessity for measurement in the scientific process, it is not surprising that it simply passes over these profound transformational effects. What I find inexplicable is how easily we take our own will for granted and ignore the manner in which it transforms us.
[vii] The mathematical system that we call “algebra” is essentially a means of defining equivalencies – thus the equal sign in “equations”.
[viii] There is also the possibility of compound complexity which compounds the number of objects and their connections by their complexity. Thus, a complex object might have complex relationships and thereby compound complexity.
[ix] An EEG or electroencephalogram shows brain activity (electrical patterns from the firing of neurons) that corresponds to activity of the mind (showing they are related), but is not in any way measuring the mind itself.
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