Monday, October 29, 2007

How Big Would God's Universe Be?

Nicholas Everitt gives an argument from scale (in The Nonexistence of God, and excerpted in The Improbability of God, eds, Martin and Monnier) where concludes that the sheer size of the universe and insignificance of humanity in it gives us strong evidence that theism is false. He offers this argument:

1) If the God of classical theism existed, with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him, then he would create a universe on a human scale, i.e., one that is not unimaginably large, unimaginably old, and in which human beings form an unimaginably tiny part of it, temporally and spatially.

2) The world does not display a human scale, So:

3) There is evidence against the hypothesis that the God of classical theism exists with the purposes traditionally ascribed to him.

He likens our situation to that of Robinson Crusoe, wondering whether or not there are other humans on our lonely island. Crusoe provisionally forms some expectations about what sort of evidence he would expect to find if there were someone else—they would leave evidence of their presence, make themselves manifest and not hide, send smoke signals, and so on. Then finding none of the things he would have expected to find, he draws the preliminary conclusion that he is alone.

There’s a substantial problem with this argument. Suppose, as Everitt indicates, we had found ourselves in a universe of a manifestly human scale. Instead of a hundred trillion galaxies, we found a few hundred. The Sun is a mere 10,000 miles from earth instead of 93 million (presumably cooled down to scale). We look beyond the Sun and the next star is a mere 100,000 miles away instead of 3 billion light years. And our natural history is discovered to be 5,000 or 10,000 years instead of 100,000. Would we look at that world and draw the implication that any God worthy of the name was responsible for it? Would that sort of world be indicative of an infinite supernatural force with all power, all knowledge, and all goodness?

Most certainly not. What would be much more obvious in that world is that whatever sort of force or being was responsible for it did not need to have a nature or power or knowledge much beyond our own. If the world displayed a human scale, then the humanness or near humanness of its author would be much more strongly indicated.

My point is not that the scale of the universe we find ourselves in does indicate the infinite power, knowledge, and goodness of God. It does not. (see several previous posts on the question.) But a universe of such staggering scale is at least more prima facie consistent with the claims about God’s profound transcendence that believers typically make. A small, comprehensible universe would make the inference to a being worthy of the title “God” even more difficult, not easier as Everitt suggests. It’s a bit like Groucho Marx’s dilemma when he remarked that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member. If the universe were scaled down to anthropomorphic proportions, then the inference to a merely human or near human creator would be obvious.

12 comments:

Central Content Publisher said...

You're right, it's not a very strong argument. To be used as evidence, one would have to prove that the Universe isn't on a human scale, which would entail proving that humans will never fill, or have use for that space. This isn't an easy thing to prove.

MattD Phil192a said...

The universe is not on a human scale, not even close. Just look at earth’s history, the only planet out of billions to have human life, and we have only inhabited the planet for an infinitesimal percentage of its history. It is clear to me that the earth and clearly the universe is not of human scale.

But as McCormick argues, correct me if I am wrong, imagine a universe that is on a human scale, that universe and its implication would not bring about a being worthy of the title of “GOD.” Although I don’t agree with McCormick’s argument that, “A small, comprehensible universe would make the inference to a being worthy of the title “God” even more difficult, not easier as Everitt suggests.” I agree that the universe isn’t of human scale and that you Central Content Publisher, misunderstood this post.

Central Content Publisher said...

"Just look at earth’s history, the only planet out of billions to have human life, and we have only inhabited the planet for an infinitesimal percentage of its history" - MattD Phil192a

Again, the argument of scale would have to include all time. Humans may have only existed for an "infinitesimal percentage" of the past, but the percentage of time humans will have occupied once time has finished (haha) is unknown (though I suspect it will also be an infinitesimal percentage).

Likewise, we can't describe what a spacial human scale is until humans have ended.

Also, it seems very likely that some form of life does exist outside of earth.

Also, it's arguable that all life came from a common ancestor which may have existed for longer than the earth was capable of supporting life. If human is defined as an revolutionary chain resulting in the humans of today, we would have to measure human time as the length of time humans have existed since that common ancestor of life, or at least, the ancestor that eventually created human. If life was planted on earth from space spores (yes, some scientists wonder if that might not be the case), human time may stretch very very far back into the history of the universe. How long, really, is unknown.

"I agree that the universe isn’t of human scale and that you Central Content Publisher, misunderstood this post." - MattD Phil192a

My point was not a repeating of what I thought your point was, but an additional problem with the thesis you were commenting on. I'm sorry that you, MattD, misunderstood that - I could have been clearer.

Central Content Publisher said...

"revolutionary chain" should be "evolutionary chain".

Anonymous said...

Dean (192)
A large scale universe is ideal for the creation of a god for those in need of one. the scale issue allows for the fictions of theists that are in need of the mysteries of god to be justified. there is too much out there to warrant us believing or even thinking that we are alone and that god had us in mind in creating the expansiveness.

Are we living in a human scale universe if in fact there are other humans out there? If we are on scale with god's creations, and there are others, are there other god too.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks, Publisher. The question on everyone's mind is: Who is this mysterious Central Content Publisher?

Mattd192a said...

Not sure if you know this, central content publisher, not being condescending, i am not the publisher of this blog.... although i share his name, i lack his brilliance. Just thought maybe there was a missed connection.

McCormick- Although i stated that i didn't agree with you in regards to your argument in my first post. I went to class.... Damn it, i now agree.

Central Content Publisher said...

Central Content Publisher is googlable. The being with the fingers is inconsequential.

Anonymous said...

If God is in the world, then I imagine that the universe would have to be large enough to contain God.

F.Fletcher 192

MattD192a said...

F.Fletcher~ If your if/then statement is true, doesn't the universe have to contain god? and if god is contained within the universe how in gods name did he create it? pun intended.

s d owen said...

The argument from scale makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.

Unknown said...

Matt,

I am very much enjoying your writings.

I have always found the limited view of the unverse by the ancients who described the creation as evidence of its falsehood. Is it not interesting that in Genesis God labored for days to create the seas, the animals,etc.. and yet in a single day, almost as an afterthought, created the stars and the heavens.