Regular Faculty

Response to "The Evidence of Creation and Supernatural Design in Contemporary Big Bang Cosmology and Space Time Geometry Proofs"

Fr. Anselm Ramelow, OP

Fr. Spitzer has dealt in his talk with various arguments for a beginning of a universe and the fine-tuning of many of its constants and parameters – arguments which would seem to imply that the universe originated with a spiritual and intelligent cause that would qualify as a creator God. He also argued against various ways in which scientists have attempted to explain away those things that would make the Big Bang dependent on such a first transcendent, omnipotent and intelligent efficient cause. What I now want to suggest is that, even if those arguments against Fr. Spitzer would succeed, he still might win the argument.

Fr. Spitzer's arguments might still largely qualify as arguments for a “God of the gaps” (in this case the gap in final and efficient causality for the universe as a whole.) And I do not mean that term pejoratively; I think such arguments are worth making. But they are typically vulnerable to empirical falsification. In other words: they could indeed be explained away by alternative scientific theories or new empirical discoveries.

As a backup, therefore, I suggest that we should look at what it means “to explain something away.” Any explanation appeals to something as an explanans. In this case, an atheist scientist might appeal to a yet unknown law of physics or a yet unobserved cause in the universe to provide the conditions in question. I would want to suggest that any such appeal itself presupposes what it wants to explain away: the need for a first cause of the universe. Unlike an argument from the gaps, such an argument is not postulating something in order to explain what is not yet explained by science. Rather, it shows that we need to explain what is already explained by science, in order to explain why science can explain. The point is that science cannot explain itself; because the highest order laws of science are what science needs to use for the sake of explanation. But science cannot in turn explain what it uses to explain. And yet these highest order laws of the universe are not self-explanatory; they are not logically necessary or self-evident like the first principles of metaphysics. They are contingent and therefore themselves in need of explanation.

These highest order laws of the universe might be whatever current science tells us they are; it does not ultimately matter. We might even abstract from the possibility to ground them in the nature and agency of the basic units and substances of the universe that an Aristotelian would want to consider. They will, in any case, constitute descriptive regularities as real features of the cosmos. They are what allows us to do science, develop laws of nature, be physicists. Without them, science would lose its subject matter as well as the ability to explain things, including explaining them away. It might be important to point out, that these are not the fine-tuned constants of the universe that might point to design; nor is this an appeal to regularity in the face of increasing deregulation by entropy. All of these presuppose more fundamental laws of the universe, if I understand that correctly. Likewise, it appears that we assume that the most basic and highest order laws hold across the various islands of universes in a multiverse. Regardless of how such hypotheses about multiverses are conceived, their explanatory power works with the assumption that they make one cosmos, one reality, in which they are connected. And this connection would imply one fundamental set of laws across all sub-universes, regardless of varying constants and the like. If it were otherwise, they would have nothing to do with each other, and would not explain anything.

And so my question is quite simple: whence do such basic regularities across the universe(s) arise? I do not think that we can just say this is a brute fact, and that's it. Even an atheist physicist would agree with that, otherwise they would not develop unlikely scenarios like “multiverses” to explain certain unlikely regularities. But it is not just certain fine-tuned regularities that are unlikely; rather, any regularity as such is unlikely. Chaos does not need an explanation, regularity does. Nor is an appeal to chance an explanation. For chance is not a thing or a cause; nor does even the concept of chance make any sense unless it is conceived on the background of regularity. Chance presupposes regularity, and not vice versa; therefore chance cannot explain regularity. Therefore, we still are in need of a cause of this regularity. We need an explanation for the fact that we can explain things by way of these regularities.

Furthermore, by the assumptions of physicists, this regularity applies across the whole of the physical reality, the entire cosmos. If that is so, then the cause of this regularity cannot again be in the cosmos. It cannot be just one cause among others, since such a cause orders all inner-worldly causes among one another. Only an ultimate cause outside the cosmos can account for the regularity among all the causes in the cosmos.

Perhaps someone might question the assumption that the laws of nature do in fact apply across the whole cosmos. I am not sure that this is plausible; it is likely that the ontological coherence of the universe does require this. Typically, scientists would not question that coherence at least on the level of the higher order laws of the universe. I would be interested to know whether there are positions that do in fact question this assumption. For my part, I would be inclined to think that this is something of an assumption, even if it were otherwise unquestioned. How do we know that the universe is subject to uniform laws? Perhaps we might want to say that we can trace everything else back to the Big Bang, in which everything was one, and therefore has a uniform origin. But how do we know that? After all, we know about the Big Bang only by already presupposing the uniformity of these laws, because only on that assumption can we trace contemporary evidence back to such an event. That kind of extrapolation is the only access we have, namely by assuming a regulated expansion of the universe, in an intelligible pattern.

But this kind of presupposed regularity, which allows us to explain the universe in these terms, is indeed just that: presupposed. It is a mere claim, for no laboratory experiment can prove it; no empirical observation can provide the necessary evidence, because by definition, experiment and observation can only give us samples of reality, never reality as a whole; there is no such thing as a complete induction. In other words, we have to make a leap from empirical observation to the universal laws of nature. This leap is a leap of faith, and it is a leap that is implied in the very procedures of science; without it, its ability to explain would be in peril.

There is one more way in which science typically presupposes a leap of faith in its explanatory procedures. Science typically favors the most simple and economic explanation of the universe. For example, Galileo's system was favored over that of Ptolemy, even though Ptolemy made reasonably accurate predictions for the observable data. It was merely that Galileo was the simpler and more elegant explanation. But why would we assume that this is the truer explanation? Maybe the universe just is a very messy and inelegant place? Except, that is, if we presuppose that the world was formed and ordered by a supremely knowing and wise cause outside of the universe. A cause that is not only supremely intelligent, but also benevolent, such that we can assume that he created this world in the best and most efficient manner possible. I do not know whether there could be another way of doing science. But this is in fact the way in which science accounts for its own explanatory power. If that is so, it needs to appeal to an intelligent and benevolent Creator, even where it attempts to explain Him away.[1]

[1] I have made this point somewhat more extensively in: Anselm Ramelow, “When Understanding Seeks Faith: Does Religion Offer Resources for the Renewal of Contemporary Rationality?” in: Nova et Vetera, English Edition (Vol. 8, Issue 1 - Winter 2010), 647-664.