Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cosmos Knows Nothing

Last month, many of the daily scripture readings were from the book of Daniel. One verse in particular caught my attention because, even today, we spend much of our energy in pursuit of things which have no intelligence.


“you have rebelled against the Lord of heaven…and you praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence. But the God in whose hand is your very breath and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.” (Daniel 5:23)
Some proudly go along living their lives with the premise that we come from nothing, are going back to nothing, all for the purpose of nothing. More simply put, we come from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose. Since intention implies intelligence, our being must be unplanned. It is curious that many of these same people are fascinated by science, and science fiction, that are full of speculations about making contact with intelligent cosmic dwellers – if only our instruments could be delicate enough or set in the right direction. We are reluctant to accept our loneliness in the universe.

Foolish humans!!!

Many atheists and agnostics can gladly agree that the known universe began some 13.7 billion years ago and they will also generally agree with the premise that every effect must have a cause, so if there was a big-bang there must also be a “big-banger”. They may even go so far as to agree that the big banger (whatever caused the big bang) must be something outside the known universe. Further still, they may consent to the metaphysical logic that demands the necessity of a “first cause”, sometimes called an uncaused cause, or prime mover, or unconditioned reality.

No matter how far causes are traced back, and no matter how much consensus there is, the consensus seems to crumble at the point of “intelligence”. For some, the universe needs to be “dumbly” there in order for it to suit their worldview. The cosmos is certainly intelligible, but there must be no intelligence behind it all. The first cause, whatever it is, can be mysterious, powerful, beautiful and mind-boggling, but it MUST also be completely mindless.
I find it superbly ironic that an intelligent discussion will diverge at the point of “intelligence”. C.S. Lewis said it intelligently (pun intended) in his book The Case for Christianity:
"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God."
Mindlessness does not beget mindfulness.The cosmos as cosmos knows nothing. There is a first intelligence, and it does not come from a mindless universe.


  1. "For they have said, reasoning with themselves, but not right: The time of our life is short and tedious, and in the end of a man there is no remedy, and no man hath been known to have returned from hell:

    "For we are born of nothing, and after this we shall be as if we had not been: for the breath in our nostrils is smoke: and speech a spark to move our heart,

    "Which being put out, our body shall be ashes, and our spirit shall be poured abroad as soft air, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, which is driven away by the beams of the sun, and overpowered with the heat thereof:

    "And our name in time shall be forgotten, and no man shall have any remembrance of our works."

    1. In case anyone is wondering, the above is from the book of Wisdom Chp 2; a most intelligent book. Non-Catholic Christians don’t know what they missing!!

  2. "Some proudly go along living their lives with the premise that we come from nothing, are going back to nothing, all for the purpose of nothing." It's less proudly going about our lives and more not needing an imposed purpose, rather we endeavour to lead our lives with purpose.

    " generally agree with the premise that every effect must have a cause" No, quantum mechanics demonstrates many uncaused random events.

    1. Hi R1,
      How goes the battle? Note I said “generally agree”, not “absolutely agree”.

      Many view God as a competitor “imposing” things. The ultimate purpose is what we are ALL after, lasting happiness. What we disagree on are the paths to get there, and the obstacles in the way.

    2. R1,

      I would contend that quantum physics demonstrates many unexplained causes of events. To speak of an effect without a cause is meaningless.

    3. Quantum mechanics shows events that occur randomly without external or internal causes determined only by probability. You can't ascribe a cause to a random event. Theology assumes all events have causes, which science has shown is not the case.

    4. R1,

      I am afraid that is not true. Not knowing a cause is not equal to an event not having a cause. Also, randomness sometimes expresses the lack of knowledge of the effect of a cause. Please note that this assumes the existence of a cause. Causelessness is not at all implied by seeming random behavior.

      The science of quantum mechanics cannot assert these events have no cause unless they exhaust empirically all possible causes. This is a huge task! It is possible that a non-empirical assertion may say logically that there cannot be a cause, but that is not the case here.

      There are many situations in the history of science where the cause of an effect was incorrectly identified, but a cause of every effect is always assumed. It is reasonable to assume in quantum physics also that the cause has simply not yet been identified.


    5. Curious that you presume your 2000 year old philosophy must trump the 20th century's most successful scientific theory responsible for computers, cell phones. fibre optics, etc. Scientists, including Einstein. spent decades trying ascertain a cause behind the random occurrence of quantum events but with no success, Quantum events occur with a fixed probability in unit time. This is the calculation behind the decay of excited atoms (in a laser) to half life (in radioactive decay) to creation of virtual particles (in Quantum Electrodynamics - accurate to 10 decimal places with observation). You need to ask your self is clinging to Aristotelian metaphysics in the face of moderen scientific theory the modern equivalent of maintaining the Ptolemaic geocentric system after modern astronomy? Not all events have causes,some events occur randomly.

    6. R1,

      Unfortunately, that is exactly how true science works. One does not throw out 2000+ years of learning when a new, poorly-understood phenomenon appears.

      I cast no aspersions upon quantum physics, but simply upon the metaphysical assertion that some effects have no causes. This is an axiom upon which rests just about EVERYTHING we do (in science but in real life too).

      Why did you assume that I wrote my reply in response to your post? What if I were to assert that it just happened without a cause? With your assertion that effects have no cause, you have no reasonable basis to do so. None. Nobody lives like this. In fact no one has ever been right in assuming the opposite!

      You also bring up a good point. Philosophy is separate from science and unfortunately can indeed trump it. Philosophy is foundational to science. It provides the axioms upon which science can build without first proving that science is POSSIBLE. For example, science cannot make a self-contradictory statement and assert that both are true in the same way and at the same time. This is true axiomatically in all possible universes (real or not). To produce a self-contradictory statement, either it is false or some other condition (or conditions) is not known. Cause and effect is another axiom.

      This prompts Ben's statement about "unconditioned" reality.

      The calculations you speak of are very accurate indeed, but an uncaused effect is not required for it to be correct. In fact, to create the calculations one must ASSUME that effects have causes.

      Let's not confuse determinism with predictability. We may not know (or be ABLE to know ala the uncertainty principle) the future of a quantum state, but that is not identical with its determinism. Again, just because humans cannot know enough to determine a future state, does not mean that identical conditions would not produce identical results. It's simply unverifiable, even theoretically. Science often frowns upon unverifiable theories.

      Lastly, if there is even ONE non-eternal, uncaused cause in existence, then all that there is would not exist. That is easy to see and subsequently refute, and I suppose one would have to be a physicist to miss it.

    7. Quantum mechanics is not poorly understood. It's understood enough to generate, by one estimate 25% of the GDP of developed countries including the computer you're typing one. And science does throw out established theories. That's what quantum mechanics did 90 years ago. Classical mechanics exists now, only as an incomplete approximation to quantum mechanics. It's only some branches of philosophy that are unwilling to make progress.

      "Lastly, if there is even ONE non-eternal, uncaused cause in existence, then all that there is would not exist. " Then why do things exist because quantum events occur through probabilities of occurring, not through explicit causation.

    8. Impressive GDPs notwithstanding, causation in Quantum mechanics is poorly understood. This is why one does not know the cause of a quantum event. To discard causality due to lack of understanding is crazy. Especially when the equations say that all conditions cannot be known with sufficient precision.

      Not knowing is not the same as proof of not existing. I am very much surprised that you subscribe to this.

      This becomes confusing when the linearity of time is violated but the understanding of cause being prior-in-time to effect is not restated. For example, if a quanta moves faster than light and, as an effect, arrives "prior to" its cause. In these cases, the effect is still truly caused, but the term "before" does not apply objectively, only within its frame. An external observer's frame cannot apply.

      Please recall that, throughout the history of science, causation for many things was not initially known correctly. Only after time and study were the true causes found. NEVER yet has NO cause been found for any event. Science must always assume a cause whether known or unknown.

    9. It's not that the cause of quantum events is not know, it's that it's been shown that no hidden variable theory can reproduce all the results of quantum mechanics (Bell's Theorem). It's not a matter of not knowing, it's been shown than quantum events like the decay of an atom are purely probabilistic.

      Lots of macroscopic events have unknown causes but not this one. It's been shown and accepted by almost all the scientific community to be causeless,

      Physics does not have to assume a cause, only metaphysics does. The former having the restriction of being tested by nature, the latter having no such limitation.

    10. There is, in fact, there is not universal consensus in the physics community regarding QM. Einstein did not like the idea and Bohmian theory is still working along those lines. Again, the validity of the equations describing the behavior are pretty well proved out, however there is NO consensus as to what it all means. The black box is still pretty black. My point in disputing it is to say that it's premature to draw metaphysical consequences at this time.

      However that is not the issue at hand.

      In the interest of clarity, I'd like to pursue your assertion that events in QM are causeless. (This is the central point at issue here.)

      I have heard Quantum physicists assert that, understood properly, there is no causelessness inherent in QM. Can you clarify why you say it is necessarily so?

    11. Einstein did spend 30 years of his life arguing with Bohr that there were hidden variables in quantum mechanical systems( as he could not accept the indeterminacy in QM. Einstein never found a convincing argument in his favour. Similarily Bohm argued against it but post Einstein he, and a few others, are in a minority and have never offered any evidence that quantum events are products of other causes.

      Do you have a reference to a a quantum physicist that has evidence that the random nature of quantum events is not governed by only probability (it has a certain probability of occurring within a certain time but no internal factor causes it.).

      The thing to appreciate about quantum mechanics is the atomic realm is quite different from the macroscopic realm we have evolved in and formulated our worldview around. One only has to look at the double slit experiment ( to see that a particle can pass through two slits at a time, akin to a person exiting a house from the front door and the back door simultaneously. Macroscopic notions of macroscopic logic are strained or broken ( in the microscopic realm.

      Finally you say "it's premature to draw metaphysical consequences at this time," yet you do. Can you answer what evidence would be neccessary, if any, to change your metaphysical conclusions?

    12. Thank you for agreeing with my point that consensus has not been reached.

      I am not attempting to disprove Bell's Theorem. The nature of QM insofar as it can be tested has been borne out by those tests.

      I am still asking for you to back up your assertion that QM removes the metaphysical axiom that all effects have a cause. That is the point at issue.


    13. I'm not arguing for or against a metaphysical axiom as metaphysics arguments, in my opinion, hold no weight. One can posit the any metaphysical claim and if it is not backed up by testing against the real world then it's just armchair metaphysics. Scientific measurements have not just failed to find a cause but have shown there cannot be a cause.

      As to consensus in science, one can always find detractors on any issue but with QM an overwhelming majority backed up by experimental evidence are in a agreement.

    14. I am looking for someone who has said this, or someplace where this is stated, or perhaps a summary of the findings that would lead someone to believe that there is an effect with no cause based upon QM. I am unable to find anything.

      That would be much appreciated.

      Ben says Happy New Year!

  3. I'm beginning to see why some prefer the term “unconditioned” as opposed to “uncaused”. If you think about it, “randomness” is not the cause of anything.

    If I roll a pair 6’s with some a dice, many conditions must exist first. The dice must come from somewhere, I must be physically able to roll the dice and the forces on the dice must work in such a way that the 6’s face up when they stop. If I win the lottery, the entire lottery system must exist first, I must be able to get to a lotto machine, I must pick the numbers, I need money to pay for a ticket, and who knows how many factors in my life might influence my number selections.

    The same must be true in quantum mechanics. Certain conditions must exist first in order to see certain effects.

    1. Of course certain conditions must exist to see certain events. One must have a particle detector to record the decay of an atom, one must have a CCD to record the emission of a photon from an electron in an excited state and one must have a magnetic field to measure the spin on an electron. But that doesn't affect the underlying science.