What Could Possibly Be
'Before' Or 'Beyond'
The Universe?

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Matt"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: December 29, 2003 12:31 AM

This is an attempt to refute the notion of a transcendent Creator, one who exists apart from or independent of what many would consider "creation." The deities claimed by Hinduism are not like this, or so said the Hare Krsna devotees I knew as a teenager. (We'd ride our bikes to the Park and grab a free bite to eat at the dinners held in their temple. Later the temple moved to the beach where we could pick up a free dinner literally for a song -- even though it was always the same song!) Instead, their Godhead, an expression they used to avoid the error of monotheism when referring to The Trinity, is the Universe itself. This same idea carries over to all forms of pantheism, including the "Spinoza's god" pantheism of Einstein, Hawking, and my great-grandfather, wherein God is a synonym for The Universe. And speaking of Hawking, what you wrote is loosely reminiscent of the model of the Big Bang that he espouses in his book, A Brief History of Time.

Any criticism of your argument would probably need to involve physics, and I am not adept enough at physics to do much more than to explain in simpler terms what real physicists have told me (or what I have read in popular books).

Your idea, however, does smack of circular reasoning, and this may account for your dissatisfaction with it: you define the Universe or Nature as being everything and thus eliminate the supernatural by your very definition of "the natural."

I cannot say whether your definition is realistic. Particle physicist Victor Stenger hypothesized a "super-universe" or "multiverse" when I asked him to describe conditions "'before' or 'beyond' the 'edge' of our Universe."

We cannot prove that such a situation exists, he said, but there is nothing in our present knowledge base that would prevent us from thinking that this might be the case. This is crucial to understanding how to think about these things: Some ideas can be dismissed out of hand because they blatantly contradict what we know to be true. Other ideas, while not necessarily provable, do not contradict any known laws of physics and thus are within the realm of possibility -- even though we cannot go so far as to say that they are, in fact, true.

This very cautious use of language to draw limits around what we can and cannot assert to be true or false mark the careful student of scientific method. I can tell I'm reading a letter from a quack when I see the term "scientific proof." Hah! Science is anything but dogmatic when discussing the nature of reality!

It's one thing to dogmatically assert that "Science does not teach that this or that claim is true." But it's another thing altogether to say that this or that idea about physics or biology has been proven scientifically. Even when discussing evolution, if properly stated, we hear about how scientific investigation continues to fulfill most if not all the predictions made by the theory.

Another thing we might hear is that there is a closer connection between the theory of evolution and the observations made by biologists than there is between smoking and cancer. A "stronger connection" is the language of a careful scientist; "scientific proof" is more often the language of a quack with a political or social agenda.

Unfortunately, the language of science cannot fit onto your average T-shirt or bumper sticker. It's too complex to be conveyed in television sound-bites. Even Carl Sagan, the most lucid spokesman of science in the past generation, had to produce programs that were several hours long just to make a few important points about science! The rest was laying groundwork, setting the context, dispelling myth, and the like. And how many books did Isaac Asimov write?

Although science always looks for the simplest explanation for any phenomenon, we still rarely find such explanations reduced to a few paragraphs.

One of the best little books I've found to describe the basics of Liberal Scientific Method is not about science at all, but about political correctness run amok. The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought by Jonathan Rauch single-handedly changed much of my perspective on the role science plays in human social interaction. As a result, I became convinced that science is as much a moral value as it is a method for discovering truth and deciding between two or more conflicting views! (I just looked it up and I guess it's out in paperback now for between nine and eleven dollars! The hardcover wasn't that expensive either: I think I paid about seventeen bucks for mine!)

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Eight years of service to people
               with no reason to believe

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