God, Unicorns, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Don’t make the mistake the King of Siam made, hundreds of years ago. Hearing from Dutch visitors about riding horses on top of rivers that became so cold that they became hard like stone, this ruler “knew that the men were liars.” Because the king lived in a tropical region, before the advent of mass communication and rapid transportation, his perceptual framework did not allow for the possibility of frozen rivers.
As Craig Keener notes in Miracles, the king’s inference was a logical one based on the reality with which he was familiar. But one must not confuse reality, on one hand, with the reality with which one is familiar, on the other hand. Rather, one must consider the limitations of one’s own perceptual framework (which are imposed by cultural, historical, and other considerations) when making a logical inference, such as whether or not God exists.
If the King of Siam had ridiculed the Dutch visitors as foolish for speaking of frozen rivers, he would have committed the same two logical fallacies which atheists repeatedly commit when they compare belief in God to belief in fairies, unicorns, or “the flying spaghetti monster” (etc):
Argument from Incredulity is the logical fallacy of doubting or rejecting a claim or argument out of hand simply because it seems “incredible,” “insane” or “crazy,” or because it goes against one’s own personal beliefs, prior experience, or ideology (as the post in the preceding hyperlink notes).
Appeal to Ridicule (reductio ad ridiculum) is the logical fallacy using ridicule as a convenient substitute for a logical argument in support of one’s stance. Logical arguments consist of logic, and not ridicule, period. The use of ridicule should be considered a red flag that one does not have an adequate logical basis in support one’s stance.
We have perceptual limitations, just like the King of Siam
The cultural and historical factors which make it difficult for many modern westerners to accept the existence of God are as discernible as the factors which made it difficult for the King of Siam to believe in frozen rivers. Modern western culture is deeply entrenched in a worldview known as materialism, which says that matter (or stuff) is the prime reality, or the something from which everything else comes, in more plain language. According to materialism, nothing exists except for various arrangements of matter or stuff, and therefore, there is no reason to believe in immaterial conscious entities such as God and human souls. Simply put, materialism does not allow for the immaterial. (Please note that materialism in the philosophical sense is entirely different from materialism in the sense of desiring expensive material objects like diamond jewelry, mansions, and exotic Italian sports cars).
One of history’s most influential atheist philosophers, Bertrand Russell, helped to articulate materialism into a philosophical worldview when he said, “All experience is likely to resemble the experience we know.” According to Russell, then, the existence of God can be dismissed as fairy tale because it doesn’t resemble “the experience we know,” much as the King of Siam dismissed the existence of frozen rivers because it didn’t resemble the experience he knew.
In modern times, the materialist worldview has become so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche, that we often unwittingly assume it to be true….similar to fish who don’t realize they are swimming in water. Prominent physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin explain how materialism to became so deeply entrenched in the perceptual framework of our culture, in The Matter Myth, in their chapter titled The Death of Materialism:
“…At the time of the publication of the Principia [Isaac Newton’s seminal work] the most sophisticated machines were clocks, and Newton’s image of the working of nature as an elaborate clockwork struck a deep chord.”
“…It is hard to overstate the impact that these physical images have had in shaping our world view. The doctrine that the physical universe consists of inert matter locked into a sort of gigantic deterministic clockwork has penetrated all branches of human inquiry. Materialism dominates biology, for example. Living organisms are regarded as nothing more than complicated collections of particles, each being blindly pulled and pushed by its neighbors.”
Indeed, the persistence of this deeply seated cultural belief is anchored by its roots in the concepts of reality passed down to modern man from the ancient Greek philosophical tradition known as “atomism” (founded by the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus). This point can be illustrated by an examination of the Greek word atom:
Atom is constructed from two different words: “a,” meaning “un,” and “tomos,” meaning “cuttable“…hence, “uncuttable.” The ancient Greek atomist stance that the atom is irreducible (uncuttable) betrays the atomists’ belief that the material realm is the most irreducible, and therefore fundamental plane of existence (the ground of all being).
Materialism (in which atheism is rooted) is impossible to rectify with modern science
But, unbeknownst to our culture, modern science (with the help of atom smashers) has shown the atom to be far from irreducible, and left materialism behind in the dust a long time ago. Regarding materialism, Werner Heisenberg, the physicist who won the Nobel Prize for creating quantum mechanics, wrote:
“[This] frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concept of mind, of the human soul or of life. Mind could be introduced into the general picture only as a kind of mirror of the material world.”
As Heisenberg alludes to above, many of the revelations of modern science are impossible to rectify with the materialist worldview. Quantum theory describes the motion of objects at the atomic and subatomic level. One of several quantum phenomena which confound materialism is the phenomenon known as nonlocality. According to nonlocality, it is impossible to isolate an unobserved quantum object, such as an electron, into a bounded region of space. Science writer George Musser discusses nonlocality in an article for Scientific American:
In everyday speech, “locality” is a slightly pretentious word for a neighborhood, town or other place. But its original meaning, dating to the 17th century, is about the very concept of “place.” It means that everything has a place. You can always point to an object and say, “Here it is.” If you can’t, that thing must not really exist. If your teacher asks where your homework is, and you say it isn’t anywhere, you have some explaining to do.
The world we experience possesses all the qualities of locality. We have a strong sense of place and of the relations among places. We feel the pain of separation from those we love and the impotence of being too far away from something we want to affect. And yet multiple branches of physics now suggest that, at a deeper level, there may be no such thing as place and no such thing as distance. Physics experiments can bind the fate of two particles together so that they behave like a pair of magic coins. If you flip them, each will land on heads or tails—but always on the same side as its partner. They act in a coordinated way even though no force passes through the space between them. Those particles might zip off to opposite sides of the universe, and still they act in unison. The particles violate locality—they transcend space.
The impossibility of rectifying the materialist worldview with nonlocality is easy to recognize: How can one suggest that nothing exists except for material things when the entire concept of location or place is an illusion? As Musser notes above, if you cannot point to an object and say “here it is,” then in what sense can that object be said to exist as a material thing? But subatomic particles do not really have a location, as nonlocality illustrates.
God is the ground of all being, not matter
Atheists argue in favor of what physicist Amit Goswami terms the upward causation model, in which elementary particles make atoms, which make molecules, which make living cells, which make the brain, which produces consciousness. According to the upward causation model, then, everything begins with elementary particles, and winds up with consciousness (in human brains), as the result of mindless and random processes working over millions of years. This is the matter-first view known as materialism which declares matter to be the prime reality, or the something-from-which-everything-else-comes. But, as Goswami points out in Creative Evolution, downward causation (in which a conscious mind comes first) is the actual state of affairs, despite being an utterly alien concept to modern western culture. Yale University biophysicist Harold J. Morowitz reflects Goswami’s inverted concept of reality (downward causation) in his article Rediscovering the Mind:
“Something peculiar has been going on in science for the past 100 years or so. Many researchers are unaware of it, and others won’t admit it even to their own colleagues. What has happened is that biologists, who once postulated a privileged role for the human mind in nature’s hierarchy, have been moving relentlessly toward the hard-core materialism that characterized nineteenth-century physics. At the same time, physicists, faced with compelling experimental evidence, have been moving away from strictly mechanical models of the universe to a view that sees the mind as playing an integral role in all physical events. It is as if the two disciplines were on fast-moving trains, going in opposite directions and not noticing what is happening across the tracks.”
As difficult as it may be for our materialist culture to comprehend, an immaterial consciousness or mind (read: God) is a much better candidate for the ground of all being (prime reality, or the “something from which everything else comes”) than matter or stuff. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Anthony Hewish comments in the foreword to Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief :
“The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is non-intuitive for those unacquainted with physics. Religious belief in God, and Christian belief that God became Man around two thousand years ago, may seem strange to common-sense thinking. But when the most elementary physical things behave in this way, we should be prepared to accept that the deepest aspects of our existence go beyond our common-sense intuitions.”
Similarly, the knighted mathematician, physicist and astronomer Sir James Jeans comments in his book The Mysterious Universe:
“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” (italics are mine)
So what (or rather who) is responsible for this downward causation? Goswami responds that the only answer can be God, in part because an immaterial conscious mind is required to explain the famous “observer effect” in physics. The “observer effect” refers to the conclusion of modern physics that, prior to observation by a conscious observer, particles exist only in an immaterial form known as a possibility wave (or probability wave). It is only after an observation is made by a conscious observer that these possibilities “collapse into actuality,” thereby taking on material form. Readers who find this bizarre or difficult to understand are in good company. Even the world’s most elite physicists (who are often as entrenched in modern western culture as the average layperson) are amazed and puzzled by the observer effect. However, it has been repeatedly scientifically verified. [Please click here to watch a video explaining the observer effect.]
Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University agrees with Goswami that downward causation by God (theism) is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from modern physics:
“Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.” [“Solipsism” is defined as “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.”]
Perhaps atheist philosophers such as Bertrand Russell (as well as the King of Siam) would be well advised to heed the warning which Hamlet gave to his friend Horatio, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Additional citations from extremely important contributors to modern physics (indeed, the majority of the most important physicists) relevant to this subject matter appear below…as well as other prominent figures, such as philosophers. (Please also view the post entitled, Quotes about God to consider…If you think science leads to atheism.):
“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
–Max Planck, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who founded quantum physics.
“Materialist philosophers argue that consciousness is a construct of matter. But Plato and almost all the great classical philosophers, East and West, suggest the opposite. Matter, at least as it appears to us, is a construct of consciousness.”
“…Consciousness is real and creative. It is not just a by-product of the world we perceive. Without consciousness, that world, the world we perceive, would not even exist. Another quantum physicist, John von Neumann, said, ‘All real things are contents of consciousness.’ This is about as far from materialism as you can get – and it is an interpretation of modern physics, not some weird religiously inspired theory.”
—Keith Ward, retired Professor of Philosophy at Kings College, London, and a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, as quoted in his book Is Religion Irrational?
“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence. Believe me, everything that we call chance today won’t make sense anymore. To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.”
–Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and string theory pioneer.
“…This sense of wonder leads most scientists to a Superior Being – der Alte, the Old One, as Einstein affectionately called the Deity – a Superior Intelligence, the Lord of all Creation and Natural Law.”
–Abdus Salam, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in electroweak theory. He is here quoted in his article entitled Science and Religion.
“I have looked into most philosophical systems and I have seen that none will work without God.”
“Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limit of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created.”
–Physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who is credited with formulating classical electromagnetic theory and whose contributions to science are considered to be of the same magnitude as those of Einstein and Newton.
“For myself, faith begins with a realization that a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man. It is not difficult for me to have this faith, for it is incontrovertible that where there is a plan there is intelligence—an orderly, unfolding universe testifies to the truth of the most majestic statement ever uttered—-’In the beginning God.’”
–Nobel Prize winning physicist Arthur Compton, discoverer of the Compton Effect.
“Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly.”
“Something which is against natural laws seems to me rather out of the question because it would be a depressive idea about God. It would make God smaller than he must be assumed. When he stated that these laws hold, then they hold, and he wouldn’t make exceptions. This is too human an idea. Humans do such things, but not God.”
–Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Born, who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics.
“I believe that the more thoroughly science is studied, the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism.”
–Lord William Kelvin, who was noted for his theoretical work on thermodynamics, the concept of absolute zero and the Kelvin temperature scale based upon it.
“Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.”
“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.”
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
–Max Planck, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who founded quantum physics, and is therefore one of the most important physicists of all time.
Religion and Natural Science (Lecture Given 1937) Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers,trans. F. Gaynor (New York, 1949), pp. 184
“God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”
–Nobel Prize winning physicist Paul A. M. Dirac, who made crucial early contributions to both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics.
“In the history of science, ever since the famous trial of Galileo, it has repeatedly been claimed that scientific truth cannot be reconciled with the religious interpretation of the world. Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we shall have to give up from now on. Thus in the course of my life I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.”
—Werner Heisenberg, who was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for the creation of quantum mechanics (which is absolutely crucial to modern science).
“We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammeled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds fulfillment of something implanted in its nature. The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born with our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours. Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed. Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds.”
–The great physicist Sir Arthur Eddington, as quoted in his classic work The Nature of the Physical World
“Science is a game – but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives. If a man cuts a picture carefully into 1000 pieces, you solve the puzzle when you reassemble the pieces into a picture; in the success or failure, both your intelligences compete. In the presentation of a scientific problem, the other player is the good Lord. He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game – but they are not completely known, half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce. The uncertainty is how many of the rules God himself has permanently ordained, and how many apparently are caused by your own mental inertia, while the solution generally becomes possible only through freedom from its limitations. This is perhaps the most exciting thing in the game.”
“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
–Erwin Schroedinger, winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory.”
“It has occurred to me lately—I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilities—that both questions [the origin of mind and the origin of life from nonliving matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality—the stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life and so eventually evolves creatures that know and create: science-, art-, and technology-making animals.”
–Nobel Prize winning Harvard University biologist George Wald, as quoted in his address to the Quantum Biology Symposium titled Life and Mind in the Universe. Wald is a noted exception to the widespread tendency of biologists to embrace materialism for ideological reasons (despite the fact that materialism has been completely discredited by modern physics).
“…Discussing the creation of the universe in terms of time and space is like trying to discover the artist and the action of painting by going to the edge of the canvas. This brings us very near to those philosophical systems which regard the universe as a thought in the mind of its Creator, thereby reducing all discussion of material creation to futility.”
—The knighted physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Sir James Jeans.
“The more I study science the more I believe in God.”
“I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.”
“It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”
–James Joule, propounder of the first law of thermodynamics (on the conservation of energy). Joule also made important contributions to the kinetic theory of gases. The unit of heat known as the “Joule” is named after him.
“An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.”
–Srinivasa Ramanujam, who is widely regarded to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time (on a similar plane with such greats as Archimedes and Newton).
“Is intelligent mind an ultimate and irreducible feature of reality? Indeed, is it the ultimate nature of reality? Or is mind and consciousness an unforeseen and unintended product of basically material processes of evolution?”
“If you look at the history of philosophy, it soon becomes clear that almost all the great classical philosophers took the first of these views. Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel—they all argued that the ultimate reality, often hidden under the appearances of the material world or time and space, is mind or spirit.”
–Keith Ward, retired Professor of Philosophy at Kings College, London, and a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy (mentioned above), as quoted in his book Doubting Dawkins, Why There Almost Certainly is A God.
“It is as impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter.”
–Philosopher John Locke, who was one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers.
“Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being, necessarily existing.”
—Sir Isaac Newton, who is widely regarded to have been the greatest scientist of all time, as cited in Principia, which is perhaps the most important scientific work of all time.