Fundamental Reality XIV: Conclusion

Putting everything together, I have argued—using plausibility arguments, not strictly deductive proofs—that it is reasonable to believe in a metaphysically ultimate being, and that given the reality of Ethics or Consciousness, it is probable that it is more like a mind than like a set of equations.  More specifically, my arguments pointed to just one eternal God, existing necessarily, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and good, who is the source of all other things, yet is distinct from them, and who appreciates mathematical beauty, conscious life, and ethical behavior.

Of course there are a lot of mysteries left in this view.  Even though God is supposed to be the explanation of all other things, we cannot predict, from this information alone, exactly which laws of physics God would select, nor whether he would intervene in the Universe thus created in other ways.  Not sharing the divine knowledge about what is best, we have to make additional stipulations about the world he has created, adding to the complexity of any specific Theistic worldview.

But then again, Naturalism by itself cannot tell us either (apart from experiment) which specific laws of nature to expect.  All views contain a certain amount of irreducible mystery.  The difference is that Naturalism hides or denies the mysteries, and pretends to solve problems that it cannot possibly really solve, while Theism puts them up-front and center and does the best it can to fit them into a consistent picture of the world.

It does not matter so much whether you are convinced that my conclusions have to be right.  Maybe there were several places in the argument where I selected one of two paths, but you think it was a toss-up, or that the other way was somewhat more plausible.  That's part of the hazards of armchair reasoning.  Personally I am primarily concerned with the arguments for Theism as a prelude to Christianity, which is founded on the Resurrection of Christ and the testimony of God's Spirit, not philosophical discourse.  But plausibility arguments still have their place.  If you are thirsting after goodness and beauty and meaning, and if you learn that there could well be a fountain capable of slaking that thirst, shouldn't this increase your incentive to search for it?

A purely intellectual philosophy can only get you so far.  Actual religion involves opening yourself up to the divine being, over a continued period of time, allowing God to get hold of you.  Any approach must be by his initiative rather than yours, but your attitude can determine whether or not you are receptive to his advances.  Without this, philosophy is sterile.  If it advances only to savoir, conceptual knowledge, it might as well have remained atheistic.  All of these philosophical arguments are only there to help you make further steps, to connaître or knowledge by acquaintance.  Arguing for the existence of the Good is one thing; tasting the reality of the Holy is another.

When that happens, the purely intellectual arguments—and the doubts which are a necessary corollary of any honest attempt to evaluate them—can be kicked aside like a ladder that has served its purpose, and replaced with something far better.

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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4 Responses to Fundamental Reality XIV: Conclusion

  1. TY says:

    Dr Wall,

    I think if I were an atheist or a naturalist, these 14 well-reasoned Posts on Fundamental Reality would. at least, give me pause to question my belief or its premises. If I were an agnostic, I might be persuaded that my agnosticism was baseless.

    I like the deductive proofs because even if one does not accept the conclusion, one might still accept the rules of logic, and if the argument is good (the premises are plausible, the argument is valid or strong, and the premises are more plausible than the conclusion), so much the better. Deductive proofs are by nature economical in the use of words, but they assume the person one is trying to convince is familiar with the premises. Usually, that doesn’t happen and the exchange becomes fruitless.

    The great advantage of your approach is that it recognises there are many premises for the argument that God exists. The you work out each premise using all knowledge from science, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy, etc. And from this collection of arguments, a plausible conclusion emerges or grows out; not forced or contrived.

    I think I am better equipped to defend theism this “bottom-up” way, as St Polkinghorne would say, and if and when I do use a deductive argument (still a useful form of argument) I know what I’m saying.

    Thanks again for this series.

  2. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks TY. That's pretty much what I was aiming for. I also hope that people who don't believe in God (for whom I took great care not to overstate my case) will be shaken by my arguments. But I can't help but notice that most of the people commenting have been theists.

    If any atheists or agnostics have read through the entire series, I would be curious to know to which of my arguments they found plausible.

  3. John Michael Salinas says:

    I'm sorry for going a little off topic but Dr. Wall will you ever be participating in a Veritas forum or formal debate? It would be a great experience to hear you explain your views with a moderator.

  4. Parag Dixit says:

    Dear Aron,
    Finally found what I think is an appropriate place for this question (consciousness, fundamental reality being some of the keystones of this series) but feel free to relocate the comment to a better (or newer) section. I had emailed you with this but looking back that was a real embarrassing word-soup, hopefully this is a tad better.

    One of the biggest conceptual leaps with QM is the one of giving up realism (in the sense that things have objective properties prior to measurement). Now, if these objects are but appearances, they have to appear to something that is not an appearance and that is where consciousness - (not necessarily a soul, mind - I want to avoid those terms because even if true they veer the discussion off) - as a "truly" real entity that "truly" perceives comes in - one that registers a definite value rather than a superposition. And with that there is a suite of well-discussed issues (Schrodinger's cat, Wigner's friend, inter-subjective agreement etc.)

    My question is on the last of these (inter-subjective agreement) : More specifically Herve Zwirn's thesis on how this might work. It is a dualistic theory in that it makes a distinction between the observer's physical state (i.e. his brain) and the perceiving part.
    Page 35 is the meat of his thesis and his application of this model to EPR correlations on Pg 42 is interesting.

    Two salient points of the thesis:
    A) The physical state of the universe (including the observer's brain) evolves unitarily through the Schrödinger equation and remains in a superposed state. However the consciousness of each observer can be aware of only one branch of the superposed state and cannot perceive the superposition

    B) Any state vector is relative to a given observer and cannot be considered as absolute. Each observer gets her own state vector for all she is able to observe. This state vector evolves deterministically through the Schrödinger equation and remains always a superposition of states of entangled systems. The physical brain of each observer is part of this universal but relative superposed state and the consciousness of the observer is hung-up to one branch so that the perceptions of the observer are confined to this branch and her daughters when a new measurement is done.

    The interesting part - as described in the mathematical development of the theory - is how it guarantees inter-subjective agreement - even if there isn't any (i.e. it won't disagree with the predictions from QM formalism).

    Obviously the last part is disconcerting. So is how the theory does not seem parsimonious (while there is no many world splitting, this does have each observer split off with his branch". I was wondering if you've read this and if so what your thoughts are (or that of any of the guests on here)

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