On Quantum Universes and Blasphemy, or, again musing on the concept of inerrant Godly Good and the wrinkle of many possible universes

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Summary: A general tenet of modern religion (absent from antiquity) is that God [whichever variation worshipped] must do Good by the Nature of His [almost always a His] Being. Let me ramble on this topic for a moment...

BLOT: (26 Jan 2012 - 02:39:38 PM)

On Quantum Universes and Blasphemy, or, again musing on the concept of inerrant Godly Good and the wrinkle of many possible universes

When I was younger, and general non-heathened, I still managed to be a bit inquisitive—though hopefully never came across as querulous in my querying—as far as Christians go, which I am sure is a thing perhaps stereotypical for intelligent youth. For me, the number one question was not, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"—for various reasons, the answer, "Because they do," always sufficed—and tended to be a more complex one: Why is God always Good? This is a complicated question, one so complicated it has no effective answer in the framework of religion itself. In my proto-philosophical days, I think I took the answer as something unanswerable, though if I had to squeeze something out I might have said that God is always Good because He prefers to be. Which I think is the answer assumed, I may be wrong, by the majority of people with a Loving God as a concept. In my post-philosophy, days, I tended to lean more towards a concept that what God does Is Good, by definition, even if those things don't really FEEL good [lower-case "g"]. I still like this one. Omnipotent creator behind all matter in all space for all time? You don't push His buttons, you know?

When I said it has no framework, I do not meant that it has not been attempted to be answered, merely that it is axiomatic to the religion of a Fair, Just, and/or Loving God: For Religion to be a livable Truth, God must be Good. Else-wise you got a bunch of people practising obeisance to a deity that is just as likely to smite them for showing up to Church as for not showing up. That's straight up cold-hearted Zeus-on-a-bad-day crap. Different people tried different frameworks to set this up. Spinoza took what is now considered a proto-atheist standpoint, and wrote out a series of rules and arguments about God in Chapter One of Ethics. You might notice he avoids using words like "good" overall, except in a parts like this where he says,

But,it will be said, there is in things no perfection nor imperfection; that which is in them, and which causes them to be called perfect or imperfect, good or bad, depends solely on the will of God. If God had so willed, he might have brought it about that what is now perfection should be extreme imperfection, and vice versa. What is such an assertion, but an open declaration that God, who necessarily understands that which he wishes, might bring it about by his will, that he should understand things differently from the way in which he does understand them? This...is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, I may turn the argument against its employers, as follows: All things depend on the power of God. In order that things should be different from what they are, God's will would necessarily have to be different. But God's will cannot be different (as we have just most clearly demonstrated) from God's perfection. Therefore neither can things be different.1

Spinoza then immediately goes over into what I would consider the meat of the argument to which I am about to get...

I confess, that the theory which subjects all things to the will of an indifferent deity, and asserts that they are all dependent on his fiat, is less far from the truth than the theory of those, who maintain that God acts in all things with a view of promoting what is good. For these latter persons seem to set up something beyond God, which does not depend on God, but which God in acting looks to as an exemplar, or which he aims at as a definite goal. This is only another name for subjecting God to the dominion of destiny, an utter absurdity in respect to God, whom we have shown to be the first and only free cause of the essence of all things and also of their existence. I need, therefore, spend no time in refuting such wild theories.2

Let's go on from that last bit a little. See footnote #2 if you skipped it, read it and went "Wha?" or simply would like to see my take on it. Spinoza held that God can do no good in the way we take it—he goes on later in the appendix to the first chapter to suggest that mankind calls "good" merely what seems to benefit their own interests, with no concern for the Universe as a whole, and therefore most any discussion about good and evil is mostly just an attempt at self-justification and an application of [religiously backed] prejudice—and this answers the question. But it is not the only answer, not by a long shot. The second part I quoted is in response to people who held that GOOD [all-caps] was a quality of being that effectively binds God to do Good. In other words, what God does isn't Good because does it, God does it because it is GOOD.3

The danger of this latter, though it might be the prevalent background of many modern religionists' thoughts, is that it presupposes that something binds God. By His Nature, He has no Will except to do GOOD. If there are many, many GOOD things, then God might be Free to choose amongst them, but if there is only One True Path, then God must follow it, no matter what His Will. And since God's Will is the Engine of the Universe, this means that somewhere out there, nine billion light-years away there is a frozen rock of a planet circling some dying Red Giant star, and there is a stream of liquid nitrogen flowing across its surface, and that stream flows the way it does because to flow any-other-way would be not-Good and not-GOOD in the way that it must be inimical to God's inerrant Will to be Always-GOOD that generates the Universe-at-Whole only in a way that is truly Good/GOOD. You can probably see why Spinoza scoffed.3.5

And Spinoza is not the only one who scoffed, even stick-in-the-mud-but-at-least-I'm-not-Kant Leibniz worked very hard philosophically to say:"Nobody puts God in a corner". In Theodicy, paragraph 168, [text taken below from Project Gutenberg's online text of Theodicy] he shows that he knows he is near the shores of paradox by holding that God is Good and God chooses The Best of All Possible Worlds but gosh-darn it, he's working on it unlike all the doubting Thomases [no pun intended, a joke that will only make sense in about 2 more paragraphs]:

These metaphysical considerations [about evil being existent in the world] concern the nature of the possible and of the necessary; they go against my fundamental assumption that God has chosen the best of all possible worlds. There are philosophers who have maintained that there is nothing possible except that which actually happens. These are those same people who thought or could have thought that all is necessary unconditionally. Some were of this opinion because they admitted a brute and blind necessity in the cause of the existence of things: and it is these I have most reason for opposing. But there are others who are mistaken only because they misuse terms. They confuse moral necessity with metaphysical necessity: they imagine that since God cannot help acting for the best he is thus deprived of freedom, and things are endued with that necessity which philosophers and theologians endeavour to avoid. With these writers my dispute is only one of words, provided they admit in very deed that God chooses and does the best. But there are others who go further, they think that God could have done better. This is an opinion which must be rejected: for although it does not altogether deprive God of wisdom and goodness, as do the advocates of blind necessity, it sets bounds thereto, thus derogating from God's supreme perfection.4

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an excellent little essay called, "Leibniz on the Problem of Evil" which looks into the many spots Leibniz may or may not have painted himself into while discoursing on Gods. Monads not available for a quote...

At least Thomas Aquinas was a little less bothered by the idea that God had to do this or shoulda-woulda-coulda'd the Universe. He gives what might be the Standard Answer to this, in that his answer in no way would make everyone go, "Oh, ok. Cool," but at least they make a kind of sense if you squint your eyes and roll with it. Both bits taken from the Project Gutenberg version of Summa Theologica, Part I:

[from 1.19.8] Now God wills no good more than He wills His own goodness; yet He wills one good more than another. Hence He in no way wills the evil of sin, which is the privation of right order towards the divine good. The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, He does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached. Thus in willing justice He wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things to be naturally corrupted...5
[from 1.19.10] Since then God necessarily wills His own goodness, but other things not necessarily, as shown above (A. 3), He has free will with respect to what He does not necessarily will.6

I found those bits while reading "Aquinas and the Best of All Possible Worlds" on Aquinas Online. I would be remiss not to point that out. Aquinas is almost always kind of awesome to read, even when he seems to be talking out his rear.

For that small handful that has stuck with me, let's take a moment to look in a slightly different direction for a moment. And I warn you, the whole bit that might make you the most upset is, like a hard rain, a-gonna fall.

Most of the debate about God and Good and GOOD and necessity and Necessity stems from the idea that there is a God, a Universe, and a Mankind at the connection point between the two. This morning, though, I made a joke about alternate universe, quantum possibilities if you will, and the "millionbillion Dougs" out there. While I remain appropriately skeptical about the populist notion of a quantum multiverse, I realize that it makes for a rather interesting wrinkle for this whole series of questions above. In Spinoza's case, if there are multiple variations on any given Universe, then God's Will is no longer necessary. In Leibniz, he is no longer backed into a tight spot because while it is true that there seems to be many possible Universes that God could have considered equally Good, well...maybe God chose ALL of them. Aquinas is not really helped since his God can walk around and Will evil as long as it is for a Good cause and only Necessarily Wills Himself so all the rest is existent but not Necessary.

Generally, though, those that hold that God must do Good are given something like a reprieve, since in all the possible Universes that God did not do Good, maybe those Universes can not stay tenable. Maybe they cease to exist immediately or, having less Godness in them, have less reality. It does not make it less complex of an equation, but in general you could say that GOD [all-caps] can choose the realities only where God chooses Good and that GOD does not rely on GOOD but merely prefers it because GOD shuns the realities where God does not choose it [if your head hurts, then you are doing that sentence correctly]. The upshot being that it doesn't matter, at least in this Universe, God is a Froody Dude [sucks to be you, people of Universe #247265-42-3].

But, really, I am most curious now about the concept of alternate universes and how different the whole shebang might be. Did every Garden of Eden end with Eve taking the Fruit and giving it to Adam [in Eve's defense, Adam was right there, but that assumes that Eve did not have the mother of all sexy bottoms and that Adam was able to concentrate when she was around]? Did every world have a Flood? Did every world a Tower of Babel? Was every Egypt beset by Ten Plagues, did some hold out longer or did some abdicate sooner? Did bears sometimes not eat children for mocking a bald man, or were sometimes more children eaten by something else like wolves or lions? Are shellfish and eels abominations in all Universes or just this one? Was there ever a David that did not seduce a post-bath Bathsheba [that's right, the Bible is full of puns!]? Was there ever not a Solomon? What about the temptations of Jesus? Were there ever more? Fewer? Did Jesus feel more or less temptation in alternate worlds? Did Judas not sell out Jesus at any point? Did Pilates refuse to condemn Jesus to die? Was it ever not Saul struck down to become Paul, but sometimes other men? Does Revelations future have many outcomes? In each world, is it different for each future? Have you spent this entire paragraph going "YOU BLASPHEMOUS HERETIC!"? And does the idea of God's Plan ever play nicely with the Multiverse? Is there only one begotten reality? One favored reality? Do the various realities have no difference where the Plan is concerned? Does this mean that nothing like alternate universe can exist if God exist [the two ideas are mutually heretical]? Or, that if it they both exist, one or the other is necessarily different from current conceptualizations?

And that's how things get really complicated...I have no answers, of course. Like I said, I'm skeptical about alternate universes; take Spinoza's view about good versus evil [the Universe turns how it turns, and while it is billions of everything wide and billions of everything deep, and beautiful beyond compare, it is not so much indifferent as incapable of being anything but what we, as petty little humankind on our petty little rock, might call indifferent because ultimately we want it to want us]; do not consider the Bible or any other holy book as The Word; and assume Jesus-that-was to have been a generally sweet Jewish man with remnants of a carpenter's build turned thin due to fasts, who suffered lots of sunburns and sores from his nomadic lifestyle, and was likely about 5' at the tallest. But one of those millionbillion Dougs is still devout, still curious about physics and cosmology, and is right now really concerned about this whole mess. I feel bad for him, in a way.

I will return to this topic later...

GENERAL NOTE: I use a series of texts exactly for the reason that they are well known, on topic, freely available online, and have bits that get more or less right to the point without posting whole chapters. Outside of the general respect for Spinoza, Leibniz, and Aquinas, feel free to assume they are wrong, stupidheaded, and the absolutely worst people to quote on this topic. With the exception of bits of Spinoza, I don't really agree with them either, I just consider them turning points in human understanding and important parts of The Dialogue. If you want to read the texts in a different translation, the original language [Latin for Spinoza and Aquinas, German I think for Leibniz] then I recommend you hit up your nearest academic library. As for the choice of quotes, I am sure if I had more time and more space, I could have gone for better ones. I really do implore you to look further into their writings if you want to know more. Well, maybe not Leibniz. I like the dude, but he could sometimes drone on and on without a whole lot of a leg to stand on.

1: Translation: People say that whether or not something is good depends on God. God obviously doesn't make such distinctions, because this would imply that God changes the values of things as opposed to God merely making things as they are. For something to have potentially different meanings, God would have to be able to potentially different, and this is absurdity [to Spinoza].

2: Translation: While it seems to suck to say that God is indifferent instead of All Loving, the alternative is to say that God has Rules He has to follow. Q.E.D., crazy talk [to Spinoza].

3: Sandra LaFave discusses this some in philosophical way in a bit called "Ethics and Religion". LaFave differentiates between "DCT 1" and "DCT 2", with Divine Command Theory being there defined as "the commandments of God are Good" and the first version being that God makes things Good commanding them while the second version being that God can only command GOOD things.

3.5: I would like to point out that the concept that God simply prefers to do Good things is a possible answer, for sure. It is just a tricky one because if you hold that God is able to have freedom, even the best and most perfect thing [the only perfect thing] will find Godself, presumably, on paths that might not always reflect Good to the fullest. Either God is unable, personally [whatever that means] to choose anything else, and it collapses to God must do GOOD, or is unwilling forever and ever Amen [again collapses to God following a certain GOOD], or it means that God at least could be fickle, and you end up with some of the same issues.

4: Translation: There are those who say that the world must exist and therefore God is a jerk for making things not-cool some of the time (or God is a weakling for not sticking up for keeping evil things out of the necessary and only existence). Instead, God paints an awesome picture with the paints He has, and sometimes these paints aren't as cool as the audience hopes, but that's cool. God is a Froody Dude.

5: Translation: Hot damn.

6: Translation: God wants to be Good and therefore is. He doesn't necessarily will everything else to fall into place though, Omnipotence be damned on the back of logical necessity about the lack of Necessity. Also, God is a Froody Dude.

Musings on Life and Deeper Meaning


Written by Doug Bolden

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