St. Thomas and Carl Sagan

Published July 27, 2020
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St. Thomas can only find two arguments against the existence of God in the whole history of human thought. The first and most common is

It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Or, as the kids these days say, “Shit happens. So there’s no God” (The argument from evil).

The second is this:

It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.

In common English, this comes down to “Everything works fine without God, so there’s no God” which is basically what undergirds much of the alleged disproof of theism that seems to so many Fundamentalists, both Christian and atheist, to be found in the idea of evolution.

Again and again, the changes get rung on some variation of “We used to not know where disease, or lightning, or the Panda’s thumb came from, now we do. And the place those things and a million others come from is ‘Nature’. So God is unnecessary.” In other words, natural phenomena can be reduced to one principle which is Nature.” Apple pies can be explained by their constituent ingredients+plus heat+a cook. Nothing supernatural is required to explain them.

The work of the sciences is to drill down further and further into questions that might arise from that answer. Why are there apples? How do trees make them? Where do the trees come from? How about all the other ingredients? How do ovens work? Where did the cook come from? Why is he a cook? Where did apple pies originate? What chemical make up the ingredients? Where did they come from? Where did the elements come from?

Eventually, if you ask enough of those questions, you wind up asking the question that Carl Sagan answers. And if you keep asking, you start getting close to an old joke that St. Thomas would have enjoyed, if he had a sense of humor (something I am a bit skeptical about). It’s the one about the guy who challenged God, saying, “We don’t need you anymore! We have figured out how to make life from the dust of the earth just as you did!” He reaches down to scoop up some soil and God says, “Whoa! Go get your own dirt!”

That’s the thing: the sciences are about measuring and manipulating the metric properties of time, space, matter, and energy. Once there is something, science is a fantastic tool for understanding that something and, among other things, making apple pies out of it.

But science is worthless for answering the question “Why is there anything?”

Don’t come at me with the multiverse or quantum foam. That’s not an answer. It just pushes the question back further. Tell me *this* universe is the result of some eruption from the quantum foam or a brane intersection or (as Hawking famously claimed) the “laws of gravity” only tells me you don’t really understand what “nothing” means. For all these things are *things*, not nothing. So you are still reducing some natural phenomenon to Nature but you have not come an inch closer to answering the question “Why is there anything?” Why are there laws of gravity or branes or quantum foam? Why is there a multiverse?

For all the resentment is causes, I still think Thomas’ answer is perfectly reasonable and (ironically) similar to the explanation given in the colloquial explanation the atheist Sagan gave: the universe was “invented”.

And inventions have Inventors, just as law have Lawgivers.

Take it away, Tommy!

Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause.

Praised be You Know Who for his glorious creature, the universe, without which we would not have natural causes to study and no science to study them with!

74 Responses

  1. Why is there anything? It may never be answered as to “why”.

    Why is there anything? It doesn’t matter why. There is. Otherwise, something is trying to convince nothing that it’s something. Which means that there is something, and not Nothing..

    Why is there anything? “There Must be a reason.” In short, the first cause. An assumption, not a proof. Our need, not a proof.

    Why is the anything? Doesn’t prove god, doesn’t prove the Jewish god, doesn’t prove the Christian god, doesn’t prove the three in one Christian god.

    Why is there anything? Why not?

    1. I’m reminded of a saying from Pinchas Shapiro, Hasidic rabbi and student of the Baal Shem Tov: “Prayer is not *to* God; prayer *is* God”.

      1. St. Paul agrees: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Ro 8:26–27).

    2. In the vast field of philosophy, in practical terms it really only boils down to two choices. Aristotle or Nietzsche. The question “why” points to teleology, to purpose. In practical terms then: how do we order our lives? What should our lives point to, ultimately? Aristotle would say “something”–there is a Eudamonia (Happy Spirit) that we are all seeking. Nietzsche would say “nothing” (nihilism).

      1. @ work beastie

        Actually, there is a third choice, the way I recommend going. It simply doesn’t matter whether there is the ultimate spirit or there is nothing. This is demonstrated by two simple facts: First, even the people who claim to follow a particular God may or may not be influenced by him, let alone follow his orders. In practical terms, his existence simply doesn’t matter. Second, even the people who claim that there is nothing don’t live their lives as if that were actually true. We live our lives according to our needs, desires, circumstances, what’s going on around us, and the people that are there.

        This is what atheism tells you. You get one life, and you get choices about how you’re going to live it. You can do it well, or you can do it badly. You could do it to bring joy to people and to yourself, or you can do it to bring misery to people and to yourself. Or you can do what most people do, which is boTh.

        Personally, I go with being the best person I can be, trying to bring as much as I can in the way of happiness and joy to others. I don’t do without any expectation of reward. I do it because it’s what works for me. As Mammy Yokum out it so profoundly and simply so many years ago…

        Good is better than evil because it’s nicer

  2. Why assume that “Nothing” is even possible to begin with?

    You certainly don’t believe it, because from your point of view, if everything were to be to be removed from existence you would still be left with God.

    And for us, “Nothing” only exists as an abstract concept. We’ve certainly never witnessed it, experienced it or even calculated it; its literally impossible for us to do so. So why assume that “nothingness” is the rule and existence is the exception, other than our own predisposition to seek and find agency in everything?

    So the question becomes whether or not existence itself is the primal force of nature from which everything else is derived or if existence is derived from something else, specifically “God”.

    The problem with the God hypothesis is that seeks to solve the problem by creating a new insurmountable one. Instead of saying that at the root of existence lies some as of yet undiscovered fundamental force, you’re saying that its something that has thoughts, feelings, a will of its own, occasional mood swings and has meticulous plan for every aspect of reality.

    All you’re doing is anthropomorphizing the concept of existence. Just like we have Zeus, the god of lightning and Chronos, the god of time, you have Yahweh, the god of existence.

    And the concept is just as unfounded as its predecessors. And in a similar fashion, the only thing that keeps the idea afloat is the cultural dominance of its promoters.

    But just as lightning does not prove the existence of Zeus, or time the existence of Chronos, the fact that we may have to accept existence itself as a brute fact, does not prove the existence of God.

    1. “Nothing” shouldn’t be a problem for the Christian apologist. After all, that’s what they say God started with. So creating something from nothing is precisely what they say is no problem.

      1. But that is a problem in itself; they’re not actually starting with “Nothing”, they’re starting with “God”. So in reality, they’re just as incapable of conceiving pure nothingness or actually creating something from nothing.

        Just because they might say its no problem and resort to special pleading doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Its like that joke about the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object. What happens when a nothingness without even potential meets a God with infinite potential?

        The truth is that both terms cancel each other out. Nothing is no longer Nothing when you introduce God into the equation, and a reality where nothing is possible would have to exclude God by definition.

      2. You are, again, failing to distinguish between Being and derivative beings. Of *course*, theists insist that Being–that is, Existence–has existed from eternity. That is a different thing than the derivative and contingent Nature that Being–the I AM–has willed into entirely derivative existence. Such derivative being comes into and goes out of existence. It derives its existence. Being does not derive its existence. It is.

    2. To say that Existence exists is to say that God exists and, of course, the biblical tradition affirms that. God is non-contingent. But all that we seen and experience in this universe is contingent. Creatures depend on each other for their existence. That’s what the sciences measure and play with. Nature comes into being in the beginning. It unrolls potencies put into it in the beginning. This is why evolution is not a threat to Thomas but further evidence of creation.

      1. So everything requires a final cause, except the one thing you believe doesn’t require a final cause, because you believe it doesn’t and that you have found it.

        It’s a circular argument. It doesn’t prove that your particular final cause is the final cause, that a final cause is necessary, and that there isn’t some other final cause.

      2. @Mark

        So why can’t existence be non-contingent? Or if you insist on adding an unnecessary layer of causality to accommodate your deity, why does the primal non-contingent force that shapes what we perceive as reality have to be a conscious entity?

        You wouldn’t accept that as an explanation for any other single natural phenomena. But for THE foundation of nature itself?

        Nah, that’s actually caused by some guy who you know by name and who also knows you personally. He’s also significantly invested in human affairs, going as far as favoring specific human tribes and personally being the originator of your specific religion. And lets not forget about sex: he, because he is actually a man, reeealy cares about the ways and reasons for which people have sex.

        But sarcasm aside, all you’re doing is taking the biggest and most encompassing thing you can think of, which in this case is existence, reality or as you call it “Being itself”, and just putting God on top of that. But an non-contingent reality can just as easily produce Big Bangs and universes and whatnot.

        I’m thinking that our biggest divide lies in the fact that you see nature as intentional, full of agency and purpose, whereas I do not. Far from being intelligent or designed, evolution is a rather brutal and inefficient process. For every “success” in the evolutionary chain of life, there are millions of failures that don’t make the cut.

        But I guess if you try everything, you’re bound to get some things right once in a while. However, that’s hardly the thing you’d want to hang your hat on as proof of creation.

      3. “But all that we seen and experience in this universe is contingent.”

        One interpretation of quantum physics is that quantum events don’t necessarily have causes. The positron that comes out of a nucleus, then, potentially had no cause. But perhaps you accept that and say that it was contingent on the laws of physics or the matter in the nucleus.

      4. ““The positron that comes out of a nucleus…” Say that again, but slower.”

        Sorry–whatever point you’re trying to make didn’t work with me. You’re saying that there was no positron in the nucleus before? You’re saying that there was a cause? I’m missing it.

      5. Actually, a positron is like an electron, but the opposite. It has a positive charge, A pair of them can simultaneously come into existence from absolutely nothing and totally at random, and then speed off in the opposite direction.

        One of those non contingent things.

        Unfortunately, I have had so little use for my three years of college physics and my degree in math in the last 47 years that I can’t give you more information than that.

      6. “One interpretation of quantum physics is that quantum events don’t necessarily have causes.”

        I would say that they don’t have causes in a deterministic Newtonian sense, but that they do have causes in the sense in which a modern Thomist would speak. A given nucleus has a certain probability of emitting a positron in a certain period of time. Conservation of mass / energy applies. The positron doesn’t come out of nowhere. Where was it before? Was it “in” the nucleus somehow? I suspect that that’s a question that simply doesn’t have meaning. Perhaps there is some hidden mechanism for throwing off positrons, as string theory / M-theory suggests. Perhaps not. If there is one, perhaps it’s too abstract for our species ever to uncover it. (I say this as someone who wrote a doctoral dissertation about an application to string theory.) But none of that really affects the *philosophical* question at hand.

        After spending a long time studying math, particle physics, and medieval philosophy, admittedly with limited success, my take-away is that the crucial thing in trying to understand Thomist causality is that it’s not temporal, e.g., this billiard ball was hit by that billiard ball which was hit by that other billiard ball, etc., but existential. The chains of causality are usually not very long. Thomas somewhere says that there is no philosophical necessity for a beginning of the universe in time, but that there remains a philosophical necessity of a creator.

        I’m not speaking very precisely because it’s been a long time since I tried to put this into words. My main point is that there are people with more than a passing acquaintance with both modern physics and medieval philosophy who don’t see *irreconcilable* conflicts between the two (although the latter often uses examples drawn from outdated scientific theories), and that a lot of modern confusion comes from the different meaning given to words like “cause” in their respective jargons.

  3. I’m not sure if my comment got deleted, delayed or went into moderation. so I’m just going to wait a while before reposting, in case it pops up all of the sudden.

    1. All created being is contingent. If you say “Why does not matter” then you have just cancelled all of science since tracing the causal links between contingent creatures is all science does. All metaphysics does is make the obvious observation that that contingent causes can’t go on forever. Sooner or later contingent cause (that is, causes which, by their nature, require something to cause them) point to something that is not contingent. There is nothing that demands that *all* causes be contingent. But by the same token, there is no sense in asking *why* a non-contingent Cause exists, since “why” presupposes that a non-contingent cause is contingent. All you are doing with that question is ignoring the distinction between contingent causes and their non-contingent Cause. Nothing “causes” God. He is. Because he is not a Being. He *is* Being. He is Existence itself. All *things* derive their contingent being from him.

      1. @ Martk

        “All created being is contingent. If you say “Why does not matter” then you have just cancelled all of science since tracing the causal links between contingent creatures is all science does.”

        “All created being is contingent.” An assumption– actually two, created and contingent– not a proof.

        “If you say “Why does not matter” then you have just cancelled all of science since tracing the causal links between contingent creatures is all science does.” No, science describes reality as best as it can, subject to revision when more knowledge becomes available, thus making revision of what we know necessary. Again, you are assuming your answer.

      2. “Nothing “causes” God. He is.”

        Nothing causes the universe. It is the non-contingent cause.

        Hey, my assumption doesn’t require nearly as big of a leap as yours. At least we can all see the universe.

    1. All created being is contingent. If you say “Why does not matter” then you have just cancelled all of science since tracing the causal links between contingent creatures is all science does. All metaphysics does is make the obvious observation that that contingent causes can’t go on forever. Sooner or later contingent cause (that is, causes which, by their nature, require something to cause them) point to something that is not contingent. There is nothing that demands that *all* causes be contingent. But by the same token, there is no sense in asking *why* a non-contingent Cause exists, since “why” presupposes that a non-contingent cause is contingent. All you are doing with that question is ignoring the distinction between contingent causes and their non-contingent Cause. Nothing “causes” God. He is. Because he is not a Being. He *is* Being. He is Existence itself. All *things* derive their contingent being from him.

  4. Hahahaha–you poked a sacred cow!

    But that sacred cow doesn’t exist because this is *my* dream, and I invented all of you (and cows).

    And if I invented all of you in my wonderfully fertile imagination–you know what THAT means, so don’t piss me off.

  5. Without the actual experience of God’s love (or with the experience of hate from those who claim God exists), I understand the skepticism.

    A Trappist monk once challenged me to consider who Jesus was forming when he handed Peter (us) the ‘keys to the Kingdom’. “Who would you exclude from God’s presence?” Those of us who claim God exists are meant to become places of encounter with the living God. When we wonder why others don’t believe, we have only to look within.

    1. That said, I always encourage the skeptical to imagine that God does exist, and what the God of their imaginings looks like and why.

      1. I certainly tried to imagine, returned to the Church, committed to learning what I could. Then the thing occurs that shocks you into admitting the truth about yourself. You can call God the ground of all being or being itself or what have you, but Christianity? It’s fascinating, but true? I’m incapable of believing it’s true.

        Still it has a lot of beauty in it so I hang around like a ghost.

      2. @Neko – You said “You can call God the ground of all being or being itself or what have you…”

        Yes, absolutely. In that minimal sense, everyone ‘believes’ in … well, whatever is ultimate, if they think about ‘being’ at all. The real questions are whether It is personal, and whether It is good. The materialist denies the first, and thinks the second irrelevant; the dualist denies the second. I think the word ‘God’ is a stumbling block for many who have been exposed to one of the many religions around.

    2. Oooooooooh. Burn. Mea culpa.

      I have often reflected upon all the bad art, bad singing, bad hair, and bad tempers, thinking that this must account for the vast bulk of the problem. I repent, while straining to hope that I am not overly guilty. Which reminds me to mention stubborn pride while defending faith–whatever that faith might be in. 🙂

      1. @ Mark

        “ The only really powerful argument I have ever met against the Faith is Christians.”

        Why is it that when I say that sort of thing, I get accused of hating the church And gloating over its peccadilloes.?

  6. Just want to say I love how you conclude a Dominican essay with a reference to a Franciscan prayer. Beautiful.

  7. @Ben,
    Because where there are humans, and organizations, “stuff” happens. Some organizations are corrupt all the way to the DNA. The Church is not. No, it is *not*– but does indeed gather in criminals of all stripes and flavors.

    So when you rail against the Catholic Church, you rail against me, and the ones I love. If you took aside even the most cynical Catholic that I love, they would tell you that the Church is riddled with corruption, but Jesus, his sacraments and the ones who fight/fought the good fight are *not*.

    1. @ taco

      I think you meant this for the other thread, not this one.

      I am not really failing against the church. If the church were Unitarians, The dental association, or the local chess club, I would be making exactly the same complaint. It’s not a specifically catholic complaint. I am railing against one specific incident that indicated a particular attitude from the church— Not just the church, but the bridal couple, Their families, the priest, the church leadership, the archbishop, the diocesan workers, the diocese’s lawyer.

      The intention was to deceive. The intention was that the rules don’t apply to us. The intention was simply not caring if innocent people were harmed, or assuming that the virus would be generous, and in this instance, not do what it exists to do— replicate.. None of what I said is news. Some people will die most likely from a Covid infection. I might die from Covid infection. My husband my die from Covid infection. I’m not holding large in person gatherings, ignoring social distancing guidelines, or anything that might spread this disease if I can avoid it. They didn’t.

      If you read the article in yesterday’s Chronicle, you can see exactly what happened. There were intentional lies, subterfuges, and the ignoring of a pandemic. I don’t care about the church or, accurately, that it was the Catholic Church in this particular instance. My news feeds show me every day that there a Protestant churches that do exactly the same thing.

      My only two specifically Catholic points were that they handled this pretty much like they handled the abuse crisis: looking the other way. And that this right-to-life rhetoric Is simply that: rhetoric, not commitment.

      None of this was intended as an attack on you or anyone else who lives a kind, caring life.

      1. Hi Ben,

        I share your frustration and take no offense. Friends and I were discussing this drive to return to ‘normal’ despite the facts. Church is one venue and, yes, the usual suspects, including the AB Cordeleone, are on the wrong side of the common good. Today we learned that 12 members of the Marlins baseball team are COVID+ – 4 tested positive before the game with the Phillies, but chose not to disclose this fact and played any way, and will continue to play. In my town, a local flea market is packed every week, buying and selling junk during a pandemic. This weekend, my nephew is hosting a wedding reception in his backyard – for 100 people. Massive collective denial.

        The desire to go back to the way things were is powerful. Magical thinking infects the religious and non religious alike, though I wish that were different. A more resilient, communal and tempered culture might yield less petulant behavior. But we are who we are, unable to bear the least burden or make the smallest sacrifice if it interrupts our whims or pleasure seeking. Stay safe.

      2. @Ben,
        I hear you. Catholics can be dreadful to say the least and selfish.

        Sorry for being redundant for recounting this story to make a point–and I keep mentioning the Divine Mercy image fluttering on front doors by catholics that think everything can be reduced to voodoo– for a very apinful reason.

        We have been back to our casita down south for a bit. The Divine Mercy image is still tacked to the front door, albeit sunbleached. It is still fluttering in the wind, and has seen better days than its best day as a bad quality, color photocopy.

        Back in March when we came to shelter in place here, my brother wouldn’t stop harassing me for being at our (separate!) little place on the family property. He succeeded in driving us away. His adult daughter, my niece and goddaughter told me “you just want to go to the beach and don’t want to watch your children.” But the cherry on the top was when she accused me of trying to “kill” my mother! Her narcissist father led the charge on a group chat of nine people–all while we were living separately in our casita. (We live in closer in proximity to our neighbors in Marin –a doctor and a nice couple in their 80’s! )My oldest niece ranted and raved, stoking the fire. Lo and behold, in the midst of the hellfire, *someone* tacked an image of Jesus, with rays of blood and water emanating from his heart to the front door. The image of “Divine Mercy”!–I always thought it was tacked to the front gate door by my mother’s intensely conservative catholic friends, but when I returned to our home here, almost four months later, my mother, chuckling and smirking, (ten feet apart from me in the garden) informed me that it was my *brother* who did it. You can’t possibly understand how utterly out of character such an act was. What slays me is that he put it up *simultaneously* while he was terrorizing us! The guy is obsessed with money and material prestige. The homage to Jesus was totally out of character. Truth be told–I think he is also behaving out of character because his cosmetic brand is Covid-tanking. So my kids and I were a convenient receptacle of HIS terror. While it seems that the whole thing has blown over, and I am thinking…”Hmmmmm, perhaps good can come of this. …maybe “Voodoo Jesus” is a start?” I’m also realizing that if my mother ever contracts the disease, I will without a doubt be blamed.

        When I left in March, my mother told me she wouldn’t speak to them until they apologized. Guess how many of them have apologized?

        Fast forward a few months, and all the “Kill the beast!” torch-wielders have come to visit. Every single one of them. But the cherry on the Sunday is the fact that my oldest niece, who lives in San Diego and led the charge with her uncle– spends weekends in my mother’s house, doesn’t wear a mask, and gets taken out to dinner in my Mom’s car. And as if that’s not enough…. –wait for it! –She turns her nose up at staying in *her* mother’s FIVE bedroom house which is also on the property, because she doesn’t want to share a room with her youngest sister.

        I continue to maintain social distance from my Mother. We don’t share a square inch of space. All the while Covid-19 continues to blow up with hundreds and now thousands of new cases in this county.

        We are relieved to be able to go to mass on the soccer field of Mount Carmel in Montecito and people are being hyper attentive to keeping more than ten feet apart, not singing (except the nice gay man–kissed by God with talent– that has sung there for 20 years). Nobody chats after mass. It is sad, but a model of discretion. Fr. Lawrence couldn’t be doing a better job. He’s an upstanding guy. He looks so sad.

        Downtown? Nah. People aren’t careful. I like how they blocked off State St. and made it all cafe seating, but the people are sitting much, much closer than at outdoor mass.

        Anyway, are we off-topic? I guess I’d be on-topic if I said that sh**ty Catholics tempt me to be an atheist, but it doesn’t work that way for me. Thank god, I don’t know what I’d do. I understand why it could work that way for others though. People can only take so much.

      3. @linda

        Thank you. We will remain safe. You, too.

        I think you nailed the problem exactly. Petulant, magically thinking, ungenerous, selfish, unthinking, denial. Ignorant, stupid, immature, unconscious, and self absorbed are words I would add to the list.

        I think it is no coincidence that this is the president we have right now, and a demonstration of what so much conservative religion really seems to be about. It’s funny how you never hear about Unitarians or united church of Christ going out of their way to make sure that people are infected. Quite the opposite.

        All of the ugliness that was deep beneath the surface of our society, emerging only to attack gay people, women, and racial minorities, is now coming out and appearing everywhere. The only good that could come out of it is that the decent people will rise up, vote this incompetent and corrupt administration and political party out, and begin to remake the society in the way that it should be, the way it claims to be, But the way it’s so clearly is not.

      4. @ taco

        I don’t think that being a dreadful person has a great deal to do with being Catholic. I think dreadful people find their justification for being dreadful and toxic in their faith. As I’ve often said, no one reads the Bible and decides they’re going to be a terrible person, a racial bigot, a homophobe, or misogynist, an antisemite. They are already that person, and look to their faith and their God, created in their own image, to justify it.

        Your family sounds incredibly toxic. My family is, too. It’s why I’ve had so little to do with them for nearly 20 years. When I was a child, I realized that my family was absolutely crazy. At about the same time I realized that, I met my friend John and his wonderful parents. It changed my life, and gave me a good life to live rather than the life my brothers had, for example. John’s family was a little bit crazy as well, especially his dad, but they weren’t toxic.

        Right now, my brother is my sole surviving relative. I have numerous cousins, all but two of them I couldn’t possibly put a name to, because I haven’t seen any of them for over 50 years. I recently reached out to my brother on the death of our sister, knowing that it was probably a waste of time, and actually glad that he chose not to respond. I didn’t make the offer for him, but for myself. Now, I can live the rest of my life without his toxic presence in it.

        I think family is very important, which is why I value my husband’s family so much. But my family? I don’t really want anything to do with them. i’m not suggesting the same course of action for you, but based upon your description, I would make a very large effort to spend as little time with them as possible. I’m going to be 70 in a few days – how on earth did I get to be my grandfather? It’s funny, because my toxic angry brother, who has a reputation in his southern California beach town as being the town It’s funny, because my toxic angry brother, who has a reputation in his southern California beach town as being the townas shole, He once said to me that as he’s gotten older, he realized the most important thing in his life was peace. He is so toxic that he didn’t know that what he has chosen is completely the opposite.

  8. There have been theories that the Universe may be infinite. But science has by now disproved it. There is a final fate of the universe and it is one of three possibilities:
    1. Heat death. Eventually, there ceases to exist fuel to sustain nuclear fusion. All hydrogen will be used up and fusion will consume Helium, then Lithium and so on up until Iron, which is not consumed because fusion of all lighter atoms emits energy, while fusion of Iron would require external energy. Eons later, all Iron in the Universe is brought together by gravity to form one huge chunk of Iron.
    2. Universe continues to expand and eventually, gravitational and electroweak forces stop being strong enough to keep hadrons together, and eventually all matter degenerates into energy.
    3. Universe continues to evolve and eventually all that is left are black holes which slowly evaporate Hawking radiation and eventually explode, emitting all their remaining matter as energy.
    The third theory is the currently prevalent one.

    So the question arises, why does this Universe have an end? What happens after? And this moves you back to what happened before the Big Bang? What was there at T-1 to Big Bang? Was there another Universe that coalesced into a singularity and exploded, or was it something different? If that Universe contained all the matter that exists in our Universe, why did that Universe not suffer the same fate as ours? If what we theorize happened at T-0 and then T+1 when all matter that existed was fundamentally different from what we experience now, how would that previous Universe even coalesce into a single point? Would its matter not undergo such changes, but in reverse, as it collapsed, and what allowed it to collapse instead of ceasing to collapse before matter became exotic?

      1. @Ben, thanks for the advice. Yes, I am learning to steer clear of the toxic ones. Not all of them are like that, but the ones that enjoy being gleefully cruel have a way of influencing the fence sitters–if not just for entertainment quality. The toxic ones are addicted to gossip. Their warfare is always masked with jokes. But the jokes just prime them for brutality.

        At one point in time, I literally apologized to all of my own adult children for all of my own quiet, fence-sitting in the name of peace at all costs–and our own survival. How dearly we paid. How naive I was.

        The toxic ones in the family at large (both sides!) wouldn’t listen to me anyway even if I made the biggest stink in the world. It would play into their sarcastic, ridiculing, superiority complex. Xenophobia, homophobia and the worship of money (the power it buys) was casually accepted by many in the family for years, thanks to the right wing media machine, and fallen nature. I’m thankful my kids aren’t accepting of it. for the most part, anyway. A couple of them are confused about issues like poverty, (and the violence that almost always goes with it), but I’m working on them. They mean well. I was confused about that too. Statistics without context (or a heart!) are damning.

    1. There is no “before the Big Bang”. In the words of Augustine, anticipating Einstein and LeMaitre: “With the movement of creatures, time began.”

      1. Exactly. Time, as a concept, cannot exist if there’s no matter and energy. This is something that even ancient philosophers understood. As such, time necessarily *needs* to have a beginning.
        If the Universe was infinite (as was thought in the 19th century), there’s the dark sky paradox which precludes that possiblity. Namely, every line of sight must necessarily terminate on a star and with a Universe that is infinite, time needs also be infinite and have no beginning (and no end), since there would be infinite matter and infinite energy in the Universe.

        It’s impossible for anything to exist “just before” Big Bang. All matter and all energy that’s present (and already spent!) in this Universe was present at the time of Big Bang. If Big Bang was a random occurrence, we would observe any number of Big Bangs since our Universe began. If we don’t observe it, it means that there needs to be a set of preconditions for it to occur.

        Sure, it means that those conditions may occur after our Universe is long gone. But that would mean that anything is possible to occur purely by chance. Which means that even God could occur purely by chance and bring order to such chaos.

      2. @toughluck “Time, as a concept, cannot exist if there’s no matter and energy. This is something that even ancient philosophers understood.”

        This is obvious? It’s not obvious to me. Can you explain?

        “All matter and all energy that’s present (and already spent!) in this Universe was present at the time of Big Bang.”

        Unless the sum of all matter and energy at the time of the Big Bang was zero. More here:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_universe

  9. From what I’ve read, atheism is a fairly recent (couple hundred years) phenomenon. History and anthropology demonstrate a universal experience of longing for a relationship with a Creator or creators, in all ancient people. There’s also a strong desire to know linage hence ancestor worship and religious genealogy. Paul to Romans speaks of that phenomenon.

    Rom 2 14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness

    The experience of ‘who cares’ or ‘why does it matter’ who made us, seems to me be denying something intrinsic to our nature.

    1. Longing for a relationship with a creator or creators is certainly one interpretation of it. Another is that religion happened when the first fool met the first priest. Another is that because people could see that beings caused things to happen. it was only natural That they went on to think that all things that happened, like lightning, happened because beings caused things to happen. And then the first fool….

      Your last paragraph is just another Restatement that life has no meaning without god. That’s a matter of opinion as well. It’s also a non sequitur. “If there is no god, then life is meaningless.” The second clause does not follow from the first. It’s also not True. Plenty of people have meaning in their lives without a god, because they assign that meaning to their lives. Plenty of people have meaning with god because they give their live meaning THROUGH their belief in god, exactly as you are doing, proving my point. Your life, your choice. My life, my choice.

      But underneath it all is this assumption: THAT LIFE MUST HAVE MEANING. Why? Who says? On what basis? What does the statement mean, so to speak? In any case, however, one can say very easily “life has no meaning” just as easily as one can say That it does or it must. But to say it has no meaning is not the same thing as saying that it has no value. People frequently confuse the two.

      You might want to read Winwood Reade’s “Martyrdom of Man”. It was highly recommended by no less a person than Sherlock Holmes. You can download it for free.

      1. In addition to thinking there is something breathtaking about declaring nearly the entire human race fools for disagreeing with you about the thinking God exists, I am a bit puzzled about the project of spending huge amounts of time raging against assaults on human dignity and striving to make closely reasoned arguments that life has no meaning.

      2. @ Mark

        You wrote this. “In addition to thinking there is something breathtaking about declaring nearly the entire human race fools for disagreeing with you about the thinking God exists, I am a bit puzzled about the project of spending huge amounts of time raging against assaults on human dignity and striving to make closely reasoned arguments that life has no meaning.”

        I absolutely take exception to this blatant mischaracterization of me or any other atheist. In the two years (I think) I have been posting on your blogs, I have said, on very rare occasions, that I think religion is generally silly. I can own that, because it’s a true statement about ME. It might even be true out there in the universe. But nowhere have I said that “nearly the entire human race fools for disagreeing with you about the thinking God exists.” Nor would I. In fact, this is what I have said– something I wrote to Arteveide a few months ago. I said much the same to Happy Jack, and a number of others. So, I’ll say it again now.

        “I have said repeatedly on these very pages that I have no issues with anyone’s religion. I don’t share those beliefs, and don’t wish to any more. My issues are with what people do with their religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs affect the lives of people who do not share them, and usually to their detriment.

        I have said repeatedly that I have no issues with anyone’s religion, because if it makes YOUR life better and YOU a better person, I am all for it. We all need our metaphors. But when those purely theological concerns are used as a club, then I very much care. It doesn’t matter to me if you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or anyone else. I have the same issues with jihadist Islam that I have with hyper conservative Christianity that I have with Hasidic Jews that I have with Modi’s Hindu Nationalists that I have with the Sunnis killing Shia killing sunni.

        As for mocking, though I could be wrong about this, the closest I get to mocking anyone’s faith is occasionally referring to all religion as nonsense. I’ll own that with no problem at all, and with no apologies. It’s the truth as I see it…”

        Back to me right now: it’s the truth as I see it. But this is also true. I’m pretty sure I have NEVER said “you’re a fool if you believe such patent tripe.” I’m a nice guy. It’s not what I do.

        But you have also mischaracterized me in THIS way, while giving yourself a pass for doing exactly the same thing. Continuing directly from my ellipsis above:

        …and you just believe in one more religion that I do. As far as I can tell, I am only mocking only one more religion than you are when you proclaim that your version of Catholicism is the one true faith. I am also doing it a lot more directly and obviously, but that’s another issue. What is the difference between you or Mark criticizing the rad trads, or Catholics criticizing Protestants criticizing Catholics, and me criticizing all of you?

        Now, I will admit to frequently mocking religious people who use their faith as a club against other people, and I positively enjoy pointing out the inconsistencies, contradictions, hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, malice, ill will, illogic, and so forth that people employ who use their faith as a club to control the lives of other people. But I also make actual arguments, find citations, and cite facts, logic, experience, and compassion. And you know what’s really funny? You will almost never, as in almost never ever, find me mocking or criticizing Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, PC-USA, Reformed or Conservative Jews, Unitarians, United Church of Christ, Quakers, Buddhists, Unitarians. Daoists, animists, Sikhs, Satanists, and a host of others. Why? Because they don’t seem to believe that they should have the right to control the lives of others through the use of the civil law that governs all of us.

        So my real issue is theocracy, and the minute your purely theological concerns enter into the civil law, that is what the subject is: theocracy.”

        Back to me in the present. A very wise man I know said that ACCUSATION IS CONFESSION. You think nearly the entire human race are fools for disagreeing with you about your particular version of god. From the Apocryphal Acts of St. John: “Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing.”

        Seems applicable here. But wait! There’s more!

        “I am a bit puzzled about the project of spending huge amounts of time raging against assaults on human dignity…” Why is that a puzzle? I don’t need faith to inform me that harming others through bigotry is wrong. In fact, as we both know, the bigotry that hides behind religious belief is STILL bigotry. You are a white, heterosexual, Christian, American male. I sincerely doubt that you have EVER experienced bigotry the way I, as a GAY, JEWISH MAN, have experienced it. As a child in the 50s, I was beat up an attacked for being Jewish and for being the obvious fag kid. It was consistent, until I grew big enough and angry enough to not care if I was hurt by fighting back. I have been attacked twice on the street for Breathing While Gay; both parties regretted attacking a guy who was bench pressing 250 lbs. When I last had a job, twice people tried to get me fired because I had the audacity to Work While Gay in law enforcement, and not be an effeminate Tinkerbelle, whioch was OK with them. I have been listening to baseless, factless, logicless attacks on my right to exist, and my participation in society, all justified as “sincere religious belief”. Gay kids still kill themselves because of the toxicity spewed by bigots who hide their desire to bully and harm behind The God Who Is Love.

        Damn right I am angry about that. so, if you want to know why I rage against assaults on human dignity, you need look no further than your own church. It’s an easy target. Father Ted preaching against Dem Horrid Geyz in the 90’s is a feature, not a bug.

        But wait! There’s more!

        “and striving to make closely reasoned arguments that life has no meaning.” Again, nothing I have ever said, and didn’t say so here. Nor would I. What I have said is that I don’t need god to give my life meaning. No “closely reasoned argument” is necessary, just observations about how people tick. What I said is WE ALL ASSIGN MEANING TO LIFE IN THE WAY THE MOST APPEALS TO US, very much like people worship a god that most appeals to them. I assign meaning to life through art, music, nature, my friends, and trying to be the best person I can be. You, Taco, Linda, Marthe– all do it through your belief. Good for you. I don’t disparage it.

        And I can see that you are good, thoughtful caring people. I don’t disparage that, or your reasons for doing it. I also don’t think that your faith is the reason you’re that way. You are already that way, and you have chosen your interpretation of your faith because of THAT.

        There’s not really much more I can say about this. The quoted paragraph was simply wrong on a lot of levels.

      3. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you, but saying “religion happened when the first fool met the first priest” does sound uncommonly like you are declaring the overwhelming majority of the human race, including me, to be fools.

        As to “I’m only mocking one more religion than you” (a now threadbare schtick) it has two problems. First, it confirms that you are indeed mocking all theists.

        Second, it erroneously assumes I mock all non-Catholics or non-Christians. I don’t. I agree with CS. Lewis who remarked that when he was an atheist his creed obliged him to say that nearly the entire human race was absolutely wrong about the thing that mattered to them most. Once he became a Christian he was free to believe that everybody who has ever prayed, trembled, adored, rejoiced or given thanks to whatever they conceived to be beyond this world was at least partly right. I feel no obligation to mock the religion of others. I don’t feel an obligation to mock you either. What I am saying is that I genuinely puzzled that somebody as sensitive as you are to the preciousness and dignity of human beings can fail to see that your whole being (judging from your fruits) rejects the proposition that life has no meaning, that murder of Breonna Taylor or your love for you those you care for is nothing but a random concatenation of atoms and energy of nor more significance than a breeze or some gravel scattered on a driveway. So far from thinking atheists immoral or amoral, I have met few more passionate moralists than atheists. That’s why I don’t understand them when they shift from arguing against Christians on moral grounds and suddenly make appeals like “Why should we believe life has meaning?” I can make no sense of it.

      4. I’m actually perfectly fine with the idea that life has no meaning; there’s no “why” to life, it just is. That’s not to say that life has no value. Life, especially human life, has value because its valuable to us. And you could say that my perspective does not confer some kind of objective value to life, but at least its not contingent on the whims of a deity that might decide to exterminate us at a moment’s notice, not care about us at all or not even exist in the first place.

      5. @ mark.

        I’m sorry it’s taking a day to get back to you on this. I’ve had a lot to do.

        First, I offered the idea that “religion happened when the first fool met the first priest” as one option among three. I am sure there are more. The world is full of religious Con Men. One evangelical ConMan, Kenneth Copeland, has vanished the Covid virus twice already, and people keep sending you money. As I spent a great deal of time explaining to you, I try to be respectful of people‘s religious beliefs, even when I don’t share them. I guess I didn’t make that clear enough. I don’t find it a contradiction in terms that I can be respectful of people’s religious beliefs, and yet think the beliefs are silly. As I always say, I don’t care what people believe. I care what they do with it.

        But tell me, what do you actually think here? A man or a tribe worships a rock, a tree, a mountain, or lightning. Or, they are worshipping a graven image of a clearly impossible being. Are they being foolish? A few years ago, I visited the biggest Hindu temple in Fiji, and in fact, I think in the southern hemisphere. There were many murals and images telling the story Of (I think) padmavati, who is an avatar of Kali, the birth of Agni, how 9 babies were rolled into one who became Agni, and all of the heavenly hoopla that went along with it. (I don’t really remember many of the details. It was 2 1/2 years ago and quite elaborate). From your perspective as a Catholic, do you think they’re being foolish for believing such an obviously, impossibly elaborate story? If someone asked you, would you make some sort of reference to “according to Hindu mythology…“, when it is not mythology to them, but history and Capital T truth?

        Christianity has been around for 2000 years. 2/3 of the world has not accepted its message, despite wars, missionaries, crusades, good words, arguments, and government. Half of the Christians that are left don’t think the other half have the one, the only, and the true message. Yet the truth of Christianity is very apparent to you, especially the truth of Catholic Christianity. What do you think of all those people, who after all of the missionaries and arguments and books still are not going to accept what is obvious to you. Don’t you think those people are foolish for not seeing the truth that is so clear to you? If you don’t think they’re foolish, what do you think? And what about those Christians who disagree with you about Christianity, especially the ones that think the Catholic Church is the red whore Of Babylon. (That’s a babtist/la haye thing).

        I don’t think this is any kind of a gotcha question at all. I’m asking you seriously: what do you think? Are they merely sincere, but misguided? Are they not convicted by the Holy Spirit? Are they just stubborn, like the Jews in the gospel of John? Are they trying to mess with your head? Are they lying?

        As for the “schtick” that I accept the validity of one less religion than you, well, it’s not a schtick. it’s a fact, as far as I can tell. You use the word mocking and pretty much said that that’s what I’m doing to all theists. I barely used the word myself in that context. hmmmmm. Nor is it much of a true statement about me. Disagreement isn’t mockery, and I didn’t accuse you of mocking other faiths. What I said was that You think that Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity is the one true faith, and that all of the others are false. If that’s not true, correct me.

        You said this: “ that murder of Breonna Taylor or your love for you those you care for is nothing but a random concatenation of atoms and energy of nor more significance than a breeze or some gravel scattered on a driveway.“ funny, but CS Lewis made exactly the same argument when he said that “if I believed that my thought processes were only the result of the random motion of molecules, then I have no reason to believe that my thought processes have any truth value to them, especially that they are the result of random movement of molecules. (Not his exact words, but i haven’t read lewis in at least 40 years, apart from the space trilogy). It was one of the things that clued me in to Lewis not being the great thinker so many Christians think he is. Nobody said that, and nobody really believes that. I certainly don’t believe it. I care about these things because I am a thoughtful, empathetic, human being, who has absorbed the positive values of my society, soMe of which are christian, as they have been passed down for a couple of thousand years. It has nothing to do with faith or lack of faith As far as i am concerned. It’s what happens when you’re raised properly. It’s the reason you personally get so angry about the injustices done. You explain that anger in terms of what your faith teaches you. I don’t. It’s not any more complicated than that. It’s why I say consistently, if your faith makes your life better, and you a better person, I’m all for it.

        This may sound contradictory or confused to you, but it doesn’t sound that way to me. It’s the nuance and how I think.

        Likewise, I never said that life has no meaning, though I can see where you might have construed that from what I did say, which is that while life may or may not have meaning, that is not the same thing as saying that it has no value. But in point of fact, I said that life has the meaning that we assign to it. You assign meaning through God— your god. Not everybody does that.

        I am about to turn 70. When I die, I suspect that the only people that will remember me are the children of a few of my friends, and our nieces and nephews. So is my life meaningless? So is my life meaningless? When they die, it is extremely unlikely that anybody will remember me, just as the only two people that really remember my parents are my brother and myself. I’m not famous, and while I have done some good things, I have not done the great things. Is my life meaningless? The great English composer, Ralph vaughan Williams, once wrote that “music means itself“. I have much the same attitude towards life.

        My photography will probably live on in the wedding albums of some of my clients, and maybe even some of my artwork. But eventually, that won’t be much either. Right now, the things that I do give me meaning in my life, but that meaning disappears with me. I have no problem with that. I was able to live, I’ve lived a good life, hopefully I’ve got another 20 years or so, and then that will be the end of it. I’m not sure where any other meaning fits in. According to your beliefs, I’ll find out after I die what meaning there is. I have no objection to your believing that, not if you don’t try to use it as a weapon against others, which you don’t, because that gives YOU meaning.

        I hope I’ve been able to explain this clearly to you. It was not my intention to offend you, and I am sorry that I did.

    2. Anthropologists say that religion is a “panhuman characteristic”, by which they mean that every culture and people group, in every part of the world, at all times in history, had some form of religion. There is clearly a basic human need met by religion, and equally clearly it doesn’t matter what specific religion it is.
      I’m pretty sure that if every religion in the world were to suddenly vanish and be forgotten, it would not be very long before a whole plethora of new religions was founded. And these religions would change over time, following the familiar religious evolution from nature spirits to pantheon gods to monotheism.
      And the followers of those new religions would insist that obviously – obviously! – theirs is the correct one.

      1. @ Linda

        I’ll make a small quibble with you when you say that Seeking meaning is essential to the human spirit. Finding meaning is, because as I said elsewhere, we assign meaning to this or that in our lives.

    3. “atheism is a fairly recent (couple hundred years) phenomenon”.

      If by “atheism”, you mean “cosmological materialism” (the idea that matter/energy, as measured by modern science, is the fundamental element of reality), then atheism goes back to the ancient Indic and Greek peoples, 1000 to 500 BCE.

  10. “But underneath it all is this assumption: THAT LIFE MUST HAVE MEANING. Why?”

    Well no that isn’t my assumption. We already know from the experiments in ‘godless’ society ie USSR, Communist China, North Korea etc, that a very consistent meaning and purpose arises. When godlessness increases, a figure or group that simulates a divine right over ordinary people, always emerges. Even people who have denied God give themselves over to a human being or group with a similar ‘religious’ devotion. That seems to me to be the consistent pattern in godless societies. People inherently give themselves to ruler who presents or claims a ‘divine’ right over them. A human god.

      1. @ Stella

        “ Just to add, that proves an inherent desire for bowing down to something powerful above themselves.” or, more likely, it proves that older traditions don’t die, but through the process of socialization, get passed down to younger generations. Eventually, They might attenuate and disappear. But in the societies that you mentioned, the God of our fathers was replaced by the God known as the state. as one of my first graduate professors in sociology noted, the resemblance to religion is no accident.

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