Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Origin of Life and the Universe

I am halfway through watching this debate between Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist, and John Lennox, a christian mathematician. Inevitably, Dawkins was led to explain how anything as complex as a god would need something at least as complex to explain it (an entirely possible hypothesis which I'll get into elsewhere).

Lennox then said something like, "So, you're asking 'If God created the Universe, then what created God?' ... Well, then I can ask you, 'If the universe created us, the what created the universe?'"

Now, to some, this might seem like a respectable point. "Yeah, Dawkins! That's your own logic right there. What created the universe?" but Lennox's problem here is, like a typical believer, he is assuming that for something to exist, it must necessarily have been conceived of and created, and so, to escape his own logical trap, he describes the "Ultimate Origin" as an infinitely complex and ineffable creator god (while at the same claiming to have a personal relationship with it!) that has always existed.

Then he goes ahead and puts Dawkins "ultimate origin" (the extremely simple universe at the first picosecond of its existence) in the same category (an outside factor capable of creating, even though it itself is the 'creation' being talked about).

I've been trying to think of an analogy to show the ludicrousness of this and it has been difficult but suddenly fractals came to mind. If you google fractals, you will see imagery of astounding beauty and complexity. And even the simplest can look like they were human-designed artwork (of course, I'm not talking about fractal art, which is obviously designed) and yet are generated from what are relatively very simple formulae. Now imagine the complexity of all the different fractals possible as all the possible states of complexity of matter in the universe (one example of which is us humans).

And imagine the formulae behind them as the principles and forces of physics and chemistry. The formulae themselves are composed of mathematical concepts such as variables, constant, exponents, etc... Things that simply are, independent of whether human minds have thought of them or not.

So Lennox asking "If the universe created us, who created the universe?" is like asking "If formulae create fractals, what creates formulae?"

Now before you say "Aha! Human minds create formulae!" and somehow equate the human mind with a god mind, read the question again. "formulae create fractals..." Do formulae create fractals? No, of course not. "Formulae" are not creating anything. They just are. Whether human minds conceive of them is not relevant. A fractal and the formulae that generate it exists abstractly, with the need to be conceived of by human minds, just as we humans and the universe we've been generated from exist without the need to be conceived of by some other higher order, complex being/mind.

So the answer to his question:
The universe did not create us. We came about naturally through a process we've dubbed 'evolution', which we do not yet fully understand (less and less the further back in time we go). The fact that we understand as much as we do about it is already very impressive, considering the timescale.

And what "created the universe?" ... Nothing. We understand very little of the origins of the universe (the Big Bang Theory is still in its infancy) but this desire of ours to have a creator is something caused by our, though marvelous, ultimately limited still-evolving brains because of
our very own nature as creators.