Who Made God?

Here’s an excerpt from my book God and Soul: The Truth and the Proof, which presents the rational, scientific case for the existence of God and the human soul. This section addresses a question that is invariably posed by the New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer): “If God made the universe, who made God?” I think you’ll find that this is an answer you’ve never encountered before. The following excerpt from God and Soul is copyright 2012 by Jim Denney, and may not be reproduced without permission.

Excerpt:

There is a question that all of the New Atheists ask in their books, their speeches, and their public debates. It’s a question intended to stump the believers, end the debate, and expose the theistic fallacy once and for all. It’s the simple question, “If God made the universe, who made God?”

Michael Shermer, in his book The Believing Brain, frames the question this way: “Who created God? God is he who needs not be created. Why can’t the universe be ‘that which needs not be created’?”32 Daniel Dennett puts it this way in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: “If God created all these wonderful things, who created God? Supergod? And who created Supergod? Superdupergod? Or did God create himself?”33 Christopher Hitchens, in God is Not Great, wrote, “The postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator.”34 Likewise Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation: “The notion of a creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God?”35 Finally, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes it unanimous:

The whole argument turns on the familiar question, “Who made God?”, which most thinking people discover for themselves. A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.36

The question “Who made God?” is actually a question many children ask. Because it’s a childlike question, we should first make sure the question does not contain an underlying fallacy, such as a category mistake. A category mistake is a semantic or logical error in which objects of one kind or category are mistakenly presented as if they belong to another kind or category. For example, the question “What does red taste like?” is a category mistake because “red” belongs to the category of colors, not tastes. Something that is red may taste like raspberries or like blood, because “red” is not a taste.

The question “Who made God?” may be a similar category mistake because God may not belong to the category of created things, but to a separate category, such as “ground of reality” or “ground of being.” The anthropic principle [or “fine-tuned universe”] strongly suggests that the Cosmic Designer, being the Architect and Originator of the Big Bang, may not belong to the category of created things. If that is true, if God is the ground of reality, then Dawkins is mistaken and God does not present us with “an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape.”

The Abrahamic religions assert that God does not belong to the category of created things, and that is why most theistic writers answer the “Who made God?” question in a dogmatic way. Here’s a typical theistic answer to that question:

Who made God? No one did. He was not made. He has always existed. Only things that had a beginning — like the world — need a maker. God had no beginning, so God did not need to be made.37

Of course, this “answer” doesn’t answer anything. It’s simply a dogmatic statement that erects a mental firewall against further inquiry. If the question “Who made God?” makes our brains hurt, then let’s just say, “God had no beginning,” and stop thinking about such questions.

I prefer to keep thinking.

The question “Who made God?” is a useful and interesting way to prod further thought and discussion. Unfortunately, the New Atheists try to use this question to end the discussion.

In order to honestly grapple with the question “Who made God?,” we need to have our consciousness raised — twice. Richard Dawkins has called Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection “the ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser.” And it’s true — we do need to have our consciousness raised by the principle of natural selection. But we mustn’t stop there. We must also have our consciousness raised by the anthropic principle.

The problem with Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists is that they have only had their consciousness raised once. If they would raise their consciousness a second time by opening their minds to the anthropic principle, they might discover where the “Who made God?” question actually leads us.

If there is a Cosmic Designer who created a universe with the purpose of bringing forth intelligent life (as the anthropic evidence clearly, overwhelmingly suggests), then the Cosmic Designer would certainly welcome our intelligent inquiry. After all, we human beings are the “children” of the Cosmic Designer, and the raison d’être of the anthropic principle. The universe was called into being for the express purpose of bringing thinking beings into existence — so it seems to me that the Cosmic Designer would be pleased to know that the conscious, reasoning creatures of the universe have begun to look back and think deeply about such questions.

One place to begin thinking about the question “Who made God?” is to remember that time began at the moment of the Big Bang. I know this is an impossible concept to fully grasp, but it’s true: There was no such thing as time “prior to” the Big Bang. In fact, the phrase “before the Big Bang” is about as meaningless an expression as can be ever be put into words. Time did not exist until the instant of the Big Bang, which physicists express as “t = 0.” The first moment of time, the first micro-tick of the cosmic clock, occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Adolf Grünbaum (b. 1923), the founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Philosophy of Science, explained it this way (all emphasis is in the original):

[The Big Bang instant t = 0] … had no temporal predecessor. In this case, t = 0 was a singular, temporally first event of the physical space-time to which all of the world-lines of the universe converge. This means that there simply did not exist any instants of time before t = 0! But it would be (potentially) misleading to describe this state of affairs by saying that “time began” at t = 0. This description makes it sound as if time began in the same sense in which, say, a musical concert began. And that is misleading precisely because the concert was actually preceded by actual instants of time, when it had not yet begun. But, in the Big Bang model … there were no such earlier instants before t = 0 and hence no instants when the Big Bang had not yet occurred. [Astronomer Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell] … is quite unaware of these facts when he speaks mistakenly of a “metaphysical scheme before the beginning of time and space.” Similarly, there is no basis for [cosmologist Jayant Vishnu Narlikar’s] … lament that “scientists are not in the habit of discussing … the situation prior to [the Big Bang].”38

There was nothing before the Big Bang. There was no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no gravity, no “before.” At t = 0, all of the life-giving, fine-tuned laws, constants, and forces of the universe were “baked in.” If there was no space and time “before” t = 0, then what “caused” the “effect” we know as the Big Bang? Who or what designed this amazing, delicately calibrated universe that gives us life?

Answer: A Mind — a conscious, purposeful, willful Designer.

Because we live within a reality that consists of three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, we assume that the ultimate ground of reality is space-time. But space-time can’t be the ultimate ground of reality because space-time is a mere 13.7 billion years old. Space-time did not exist until the Big Bang happened.

The universe is trying to tell us something: The universe is not primarily about space, time, matter, energy, and gravity. Those things are real, but they are not the most basic feature of the universe. At its most fundamental level, the universe is all about Mind.

(When I capitalize the word “Mind,” I’m not suggesting that “Mind” means “Supernatural Deity.” I’m trying to convey the fact that Mind is an entity distinct from the space-time universe of matter. The mind of God would be Mind, but the minds of human beings and other conscious observers also partake in this collective property I call “Mind” with a capital M.)

Before you dismiss these ideas as a lot of New Age tripe, like auras and spiritual vibrations, I want to state clearly that I don’t deal in mysticism. The integral role of the conscious mind in quantum physics has been an accepted scientific concept as far back as the 1920s, when Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were noodling around with wavefunction mathematics.

Great scientists have considered the role of Mind in the structure of the universe at least since the day of astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). When he began to understand the laws of planetary motion that bear his name, Kepler exclaimed, “O God! I think thy thoughts after Thee!”39 The universe, Kepler realized, was designed by conscious, rational, purposeful thought.

Three centuries later, Stephen Hawking made a similar statement at the end of his book A Brief History of Time. Hawking concluded that if we could discover a complete “theory of everything” and find the answer to why we and the universe exist, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Hawking, an agnostic, used the term “mind of God” in a metaphoric sense — but his statement may be more literally true than even he intended.

Countless physics experiments clearly show that the workings of the universe are entangled with the workings of Mind — the minds of conscious human observers at least, and perhaps the mind of God. One of the fathers of quantum theory, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), expressed this view when he wrote, “The overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call [mind] indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now.”40 In other words, Mind is an indivisible unity, it cannot be destroyed, and it is timeless. Only a mind of the kind Schrödinger describes would be capable of formulating, coordinating, and fine-tuning all of the life-giving laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the moment of t = 0.

Schrödinger goes on to speak of the conscious mind that each of us thinks of as “I” or “myself.” He writes: “We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.”41

Here, Schrödinger describes a picture of reality that is almost religious in nature — yet this picture of reality is derived from quantum physics, not some religious text or tradition. In Schrödinger’s description, Mind interacts with the material world but is not part of the material world. Mind is outside of the material world — a “spectator.” A mind housed in a human body tends to mistake the material body for the “I” or the “self” that is the mind. But while the body belongs to the world of matter, in Schrödinger’s view, the mind is separate from the material world.

This view parallels that of Australian neurophysiologist Sir John Carew Eccles (1903-1997), who won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on brain synapses and neurotransmitters. Eccles came to the conclusion that consciousness and thought occur when the non-material mind acts upon the quantum “microsites” within the synapses of the cerebral cortex of the brain. He suggested that the non-material mind interacts with the material brain by means of quantum mental units called “psychons.” These psychons control the quantum jumps within synapses, causing them to emit neurotransmitters which account for such brain activity as thought, decision-making, and body movement. In Eccles’ view, the brain doesn’t give rise to the mind; rather, the mind is separate from the brain, and it activates the brain in order to control the body.

Eccles authored or co-authored several books with the intent to “challenge and negate materialism and to reinstate the spiritual self as the controller of the brain.”42 In How the Self Controls Its Brain, Eccles even went so far as to say, “In some mysterious way, God is the Creator of all the living forms in the evolutionary process, and particularly in hominid evolution of human persons, each with the conscious selfhood of an immortal soul. … Biological evolution transcends itself in providing the material basis, the human brain, for self-conscious beings whose very nature is to seek for hope and to enquire for meaning in the quest for love, truth, and beauty.”43

American physicist Nick Herbert, the author of Quantum Reality, has worked as a senior physicist in industry (Memorex, Smith-Corona Marchant) and in pure research (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Xerox PARC). Herbert is a strong proponent of the view that Mind is a more pervasive aspect of reality than matter and energy. While the standard view of reality is that the universe evolved consciousness (in the form of conscious beings like us), Herbert says that consciousness comes first, and that consciousness creates reality. He writes:

The first person to suggest that quantum theory implies that reality is created by human consciousness was not some crank on the fringes of physics but the eminent mathematician John von Neumann. In his quantum bible [Mathematische Grundlagen der Quantenmechanik or The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics] …, the most influential book on quantum theory ever written, von Neumann concludes that, from a strictly logical point of view, only the presence of consciousness can solve the measurement problem. As a professional mathematician, von Neumann was accustomed to boldly following a logical argument wherever it might lead. … His logic leads to a particularly unpalatable conclusion: that the world is not objectively real but depends on the mind of the observer.44

(Personal note: I lean toward a view which holds that the world is objectively real, but that Mind interacts with and shapes objective reality in more powerful ways than we normally suppose.)

Nick Herbert goes on to compare von Neumann’s view, rooted in mathematics and experimental physics, to the intuitive insights of George Berkeley (1685-1753), Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. Describing Berkeley’s views, Herbert wrote:

Berkeley argued that mind is not a form of matter but quite the opposite: matter does not even exist except as the perception of some mind. Absolute existence belongs to minds alone — the mind of God, the minds of humans and other spiritual beings. All other forms of being, including matter, light, the Earth, and stars, exist only by virtue of some mind’s being aware of them. … Esse est percipi (To be is to be perceived) was the Irish bishop’s motto concerning matter: “All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have no subsistence without a mind.”45

So let’s bring this discussion back to the original question: “Who made God?” At this point, you may see where I’m heading. Nick Herbert’s suggestion (derived from von Neumann) that “reality is created by human consciousness” is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t account for all the facts. The universe has existed for 13.7 billion years. Conscious human beings (in the form of genus Homo) have existed for the tiniest fraction of that span of time, roughly 2.4 million years. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has existed for less than 200,000 years — a mere twinkle in the eye of the cosmos.

For the better part of 13.7 billion years, there were no conscious human minds in existence to observe reality and make reality real — but does that mean there was no conscious Mind at all in the universe? No. Mind was immanent throughout the universe from the instant of t = 0. As physicist Freeman J. Dyson has said, “God is what Mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”46

So what sort of conscious Mind existed during all those billions of years before human beings evolved? What sort of Mind directed the life-giving purpose of the universe at the moment the Big Bang? What sort of Mind selected, balanced, and fine-tuned the laws, constants, and forces of the universe at the instant of t = 0?

Everything that exists within the space-time universe is subject to the principle of causality. A cause always precedes its effect, and causes and effects always take place within the framework of space and time. But if Mind exists outside of the space-time universe, Mind is not subject to the principle of causality. If Mind is not an effect produced by some other cause, then Mind itself is the cause — and the universe is the effect.

If Mind is the ground of existence, and therefore not subject to the law of cause and effect, then the question “Who created God?” (in effect, “Who created Mind?”) can be seen as a nonsense question. It’s like asking “How big is blue?” or “What does seven taste like?”

To say that Mind is the ground of reality is not to say that space and time, matter and energy, are not real. They are definitely real. But it is Mind — the mind of the Cosmic Designer, the mind of conscious beings like ourselves — that makes reality real. To quote Freeman Dyson once more, “I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.”47

As the English mathematician-astronomer Sir James Jeans (1877-1946) concluded, “The universe appears less and less like a great machine and more and more like a great thought.”

End of excerpt.

For more information on the anthropic (fine-tuned universe) evidence for God (the Cosmic Designer), see my previous blog post, “Is Our Universe ‘the Ultimate Artifact’?”

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Is Our Universe “the Ultimate Artifact”?

April 1987 ANALOG

I first encountered the scientific case for the existence of God in the April 1987 issue of Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact. Sandwiched among the science fiction stories was a fact article by Richard D. Meisner with the intriguing title “Universe—the Ultimate Artifact?” I began reading—and what I read was startling. Meisner gave a guided tour of a number of startling cosmic coincidences.

Meisner’s conclusion: The universe appears to be an artifact—an object designed by an intelligent entity for a specific purpose. Meisner went on to quote cosmologist Paul Davies: “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out.” Then Meisner offered his own impression:

One may feel inclined to apply the word “God” in this context. This is justifiable, although I tend to avoid the word simply because I’ve found almost without exception that it triggers an immediate positive or negative emotional response in the listener—most inconducive to good scientific thinking. Naturally, the artifact hypothesis is most attractive when stripped of its unfortunate historical trappings of superstition and dogma. . . . Personally, if the artifact inference proved true, I would be most interested not in how the universe was fabricated, but why.

A year after I encountered Meisner’s article in Analog, I discovered a book by Dr. George Greenstein with the intriguing title The Symbiotic Universe. It’s a book-length treatment of the cosmological case for God. It explores the body of evidence Meisner wrote about, but in much greater depth and detail.

Dr. Greenstein is a Yale-educated astrophysicist who currently teaches at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In the early 1980s, Greenstein became fascinated by the scientific case for God, and he began examining the list of “cosmic coincidences” purely as a matter of personal amusement. As the list of “coincidences” kept growing, Greenstein found the results disturbing.

“The more I read,” Greenstein wrote, “the more I became convinced that such ‘coincidences’ could hardly have happened by chance.” Why did he find the “cosmic coincidences” disturbing? Because they appeared to be evidence for a Cosmic Designer—that is, evidence for God—and Greenstein was a confirmed atheist.

The possibility that God or a Godlike super-intelligence might have actually designed the universe made Greenstein almost physically sick. He recalls experiencing “an intense revulsion, and at times it was almost physical in nature. I would positively squirm with discomfort. … I found it difficult to entertain the notion without grimacing in disgust, and well-nigh impossible to mention it to friends without apology.”

What is the scientific evidence that caused Dr. Greenstein to “squirm with discomfort”? It is often referred to as the evidence for a “fine-tuned universe.” The universe, we now know, is incredibly precision-balanced (or “fine-tuned”) to produce life. Take, for example, the Big Bang.

At the moment the Big Bang began, everything that exists—matter, energy, the three dimensions of space, and the fourth dimension of time—emerged from a single geometric point, expanding at the speed of light. The Big Bang actually created space and time.

Scientists are amazed that the explosive violence of the creation event was as delicately balanced as it was. Cosmologist Paul Davies observes:

Had the Big Bang been weaker, the cosmos would have soon fallen back on itself in a big crunch. On the other hand, had it been stronger, the cosmic material would have dispersed so rapidly that galaxies would not have formed. … Had the explosion differed in strength at the outset by only one part in 1060, the universe we now perceive would not exist. To give some meaning to these numbers, suppose you wanted to fire a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light-years away. Your aim would have to be accurate to that same part in 1060…. Channeling the explosive violence into such a regular and organized pattern of motion seems like a miracle.

If the explosive force of the Big Bang not been perfectly balanced and incredibly fine-tuned, life would be impossible and you and I could not exist.

At first, the laws and constants of the universe were simply accepted as a matter of fact—no one wondered why this or that force or constant of physics was not slightly stronger or weaker than it is. Eventually, physicists began to realize (as George Greenstein observes in The Symbiotic Universe) that the “laws of nature could have been laid down only in the very instant of the creation of the universe, if not before.”

Paul Davies recalls that when he was a student, the question of where the laws of physics come from was off-limits. A scientist was supposed to simply apply those laws, not inquire into their origin. They would say, “There’s no reason the laws of physics are what they are—they just are.” Davies concluded, “The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. … It makes a mockery of science.”

As it became clear that the laws of nature might have been different than they are—that they appeared to have been deliberately selected to produce life—scientists began to look at these forces, laws, and constants with new sense of awe. The entire universe seemed to be constructed out of an incredibly unlikely series of cosmic coincidences. Some examples:

There are four forces governing the structure and behavior of subatomic particles—the electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. These forces determine everything from how an electron orbits the nucleus of an atom to how stars and galaxies are formed. Each force has a specific mathematical value called a constant (because its value never varies).

The gravitational force constant is finely tuned to permit life. Slightly greater, and stars would burn too hot, too quickly, and too unevenly to produce life-giving elements. Slightly smaller, and stars would be too cool, so that nuclear fusion could not take place and there would be no life-giving heavier elements.

The electromagnetic force is also fine-tuned. If its constant were slightly larger or smaller, the chemical bonding required for making living things could not take place.

There is a fine-tuned balance between the gravitational and electromagnetic forces. If the constant of the ratio between these two forces were larger, there would be no stars smaller than 1.4 solar masses, and the lifetime of stars would be too short to generate life-giving elements. If the constant were smaller, there would be no stars larger than 0.8 solar masses—and again, no production of life-giving heavier elements.

If the strong nuclear force constant were slightly larger, there would be no hydrogen in the universe and no stars. If this constant were smaller, the universe would consist of nothing but hydrogen.

If the weak force constant were larger, most of the hydrogen in the universe would have converted to helium during the Big Bang. If it were smaller, there’d be too little hydrogen converted to helium—a roadblock to the production of life-giving heavier elements such as carbon and oxygen.

The proton-to-electron mass ratio: A proton is 1,836 times more massive than an electron; if this ratio varied slightly in either direction, molecules could not form and life could not exist. The ratio of the number of protons to the number of electrons is also finely balanced to permit the electromagnetic force to dominate the gravitational force, allowing the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

The unusual properties of water are also a fine-tuned condition for life. Water plays an essential role in almost every biological function. It is necessary to photosynthesis, the foundation of the food chain. In photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar, giving off oxygen as a “waste product.”

Water is one of the few liquids that expands when it freezes. Most substances contract and become more dense when they freeze, but frozen water is actually 9 percent less dense than liquid water. This is because, at freezing temperatures, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules make an adjustment to keep negatively charged oxygen atoms apart. This adjustment creates the crystal lattice that enables ice to float in liquid water.

If water didn’t have this extraordinary property, ice would sink, which would cause lakes and rivers to freeze solid. If ice did not float, observes George Greenstein, life on Earth “would be confined to a narrow strip lying close to the equator.”

And the list goes on: the proton decay rate, the neutron-proton mass difference, the matter-antimatter ratio, and on and on—it’s as if dozens of completely unrelated laws of nature plotted together in a vast cosmic conspiracy to produce life. As Paul Davies observes:

It is tempting to believe, therefore, that a complex universe will emerge only if the laws of physics are very close to what they are. … The laws, which enable the universe to come into being spontaneously, seem themselves to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design. If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us.

And physicist Fred Hoyle adds, “I do not believe that any scientist who examines the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”

Is our life-giving universe the result of an inconceivably improbable series of cosmic accidents? Or is it the product of calculated, deliberate design?

Is the universe evidence—even proof—of the existence of God? Is our universe “the Ultimate Artifact” of the mind and hand of an intelligent Creator?