In the Beginning

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Reasonable (though admittedly biased) Assumptions About a ‘Beginner’

I think it’s safe to assert there is wide-spread acceptance in the scientific community our universe had a beginning.

What has far less acceptance however, is the belief that beginning had a ‘Beginner’ — Someone or Something — that caused that beginning to occur.

For some, the question is not a relevant one. Stephen Hawking said before the Big Bang, time didn’t exist. And if time didn’t exist, he reasons, then there was no time in which a Beginner could exist, much less create. Richard Dawkins has speculated our own universe could be the result of some science experiment from a more advanced race from a galaxy far, far away. It’s an inventive idea but it doesn’t get us any closer to resolving the dilemma of who or what began the beginning; it just kicks the can further down the road (i.e. who or what began the advanced race that began us?).

Despite their confidence that god “is not”, it strikes me they leave themselves an out — of sorts. The rules of logic dictate you can’t prove a negative. In other words, no one can say with 100 percent certainty “there is no creator.” Nearly ten years ago, Dawkins was part of a small group that helped fund a series of advertisements on London buses with the following message: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Dawkins stated he preferred the wording “There is almost certainly no God”. But comedian Ariane Sherine (who penned the slogan), convinced Dawkins by allowing for the possibility that God could exist, he is not compromising his own convictions but is, in fact, upholding the highest ideals of science and critical thinking.

Dawson conceded. But he must have felt like he got the last word when he countered that if logically you can’t disprove god’s existence, then the same can be said about “the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas.”

[BTW, the same rules of logic apply to the believer as well. Just as the athiest can not disprove beyond a shadow of doubt that “god is not”, neither can anyone prove conclusively that “he is.”]

Since even the leading voices in a movement built around God’s non-existence are willing to concede the possibility (however remote) they could be wrong, it might be interesting to explore that train of thought a bit further.

Purely as a thought experiment, let’s imagine this extremely remote possibility is true: there is (or was) a Beginner. But before anyone, myself included, veers off into any one religious camp, let’s see if we can test out this hypothesis with the following constraint: if all we knew about this Beginner is the Big Bang, then what, if any, reasonable inferences can we make about this entity that would withstand the scrutiny of the fiercest skeptic?

Here are just a handful I think worth considering:

Powerful. There are no words in the English language to adequately describe the power it would take to create a universe.

Mysterious. In many ways, this exercise raises more questions than conclusions: Why did this Beginner begin? Was there a purpose behind its beginning? Was the Beginner created? And if so, who created him, or her (or whatever)? Or if not created, did the Beginner always exist? And if the Beginner has always existed, how is that even possible?

The Beginner likely exists (or existed) outside of what we know to be observable nature. Just as we would not look for or expect to find the artist inside his or her own painting, it is reasonable then we shouldn’t necessarily expect to find this Beginner inside its own creation. So the idea that unless a Beginner is “proven” or “discovered” (a condition commonly put forth by atheists before they will believe) — much like the discovery of a new chemical compound or a previously unchartered island in the Pacific — may not be the definitive slam dunk they believe it to be.

Precise. The universe gives every appearance there is a design, a blueprint, a purpose behind creation. There is a preciseness and order that, should we stop and consider, is pretty awe inspiring. “We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.” — Stephen Hawking

Smart. Really smart. There is great intelligence evident throughout the “design” of creation. When we dissect any of man’s most impressive technological and scientific achievements, we rightly stand in awe of the innovator/scientist/etc. The discovery of the double helix and the twisted structure of DNA is considered one of the greatest milestones in the history of science. Its co-discovers, James Watson and Francis Crick, are celebrated to this day as the founders of microbiology. We can do no less [and certainly a great deal more] with the designer and creator, of not only DNA, but also of Watson and Crick.

Earth is … unique. This Beginner, as far as we can tell, appears to view earth differently than the other planets. Granted, when you consider the vastness of the universe, our sampling size is a small one. But still, until we discover otherwise, you gotta go with what you got. And what “we got” is a planet that is unlike anything else in our solar system. When you consider the unique confluence of chemicals, the shape of our planet, the uniqueness of our orbit and proximity to the sun (to name but a few) — all necessary to create and sustain life, it is difficult to come up with a plausible argument that earth and our sustained presence is anything less than a miracle of the highest order. Whether we credit chance as the author of this miracle or an actual creator, “something” had to thread a pretty small needle to pull it off.

There’s “something” about us humans. This Beginner also appears to have a special regard for US (i.e. you and me). This planet is not only dominated by humans, but there is no another species that comes close to man in challenging his supremacy. Only humans have the physical and mental wherewithal to reason and to build an infrastructure on this planet that organizes and creates systems so our species may flourish above all others.

“Above all others” is an important distinction because we see in nature the ability to organize and create is clearly not limited to us humans. From the vast complexity and organization of an ant colony to the sheer inventiveness and sound engineering of a beaver dam — we see this ability to invent and create throughout nature.

Perhaps a better example of what makes humans unique might be our love for the aesthetics, where we seek to capture that which is wondrous and lovely in nature or in our imaginations and recreate it in our own worlds. Whether it’s an artist capturing a seascape in oils, or a homemaker arranging freshly-cut flowers in a vase, our desire and drive to create, simply for the pleasure of it, appears to be uniquely human.  And if the drive to create and love for beauty is inherently human, can we not trace those same qualities back to our Maker? If there is a Beginner, then it’s certainly reasonable to infer that given the rich and diverse tapestry of life here on this planet and the wonders of the observable universe, this Beginner has a broad, colorful and inventive palette.

Provider. This planet we occupy strongly suggests this Beginner wants to provide for its creation. There are countless examples where the “blueprint’ (for lack of a better word) for planet earth includes not only the beginning of life, but its sustainability as well (sun, water, oxygen, the body’s ability to heal, reproduction, fruit and vegetables from the earth; etc).

Personal. Beyond giving humans the capacity to reason, the Beginner also apparently gave us the capacity to feel, to form attachments and to act compassionately. It’s reasonable then this entity would possess these same qualities. How so? Well if the Beginner is cold and impersonal, it doesn’t really follow it would create man to know and experience emotions [particularly those we consider the most desirable] with which it is completely unfamiliar. Again, my aim here is to only make inferences that are “reasonable.” I’m trying — as best I know how — to steer clear from making definitive statements.

This Beginner has standards for human behavior. On this point, I would certainly understand if the skeptic would cry “foul.” Clearly my assumptions have abandoned what is reasonable and are now squarely in the realm of ideological bias. Perhaps, but first hear me out.

I’ve already suggested the Beginner appears to favor human flourishing. If that is the case, if you look at how humans form attachments to one another, build friendships, families, communities, societies, etc., it’s also reasonable to assume this creator hard wired into our design a sense of oughtness, a morality, and that morality would reflect its own. How so? Taken strictly from a pragmatic viewpoint, kindness, charity, forgiveness, honesty, fidelity, compassion, are a great deal more conducive to human fluorishing than selfishness, cruelity, hate, murder, lying, cheating and exploitation.

Of course, despite their harmful impact, these negative aspects of human character are in abundant supply.  What reasonable inferences, then, can we make about a Beginner whose creation — while often magnificent — is so deeply flawed? The first and most readily available answer is if the creation is flawed, then so must be its creator. But these are human beings we are talking about, not smart phones. And unlike the smart phone whose flaws can be fixed via a system upgrade or replaced with the next model, human flaws have proven throughout history to be remarkably resilient (anyone who requires evidence of this statement could use a refresher in human history and in current events). Talk about your slow downloads: if there is an evolutionary fix to our bad behavior, it’s certainly taking its sweet time getting here.

This dilemma of whether the blame for our character flaws can be laid at the feet of our designer, or whether we humans are responsible for our own moral short-comings is as old as recorded history and won’t be resolved here. That said, in another posting I do take a stab at it, as well as trying to address the larger question of how an all-loving, all-powerful God could allow evil and suffering (“If God, Then Why?”).

All I’ve tried to do here is tease out an idea of a Beginner by using some of the same logical constructs a scientist might make in testing a hypothesis. Though truth be told, I’m no scientist. So maybe it’s more accurate to say my assumptions are more reflective of those of an (amateur) philosopher.

I should also acknowledge what the reader likely surmised before they finished reading the very first sentence: my teasing out has a bias and so the assumptions I laid out were intended to confirm that bias. That said, my bias [that the most credible explanation for the existence of life is that of a creator] has no bearing, one way or the other, on the truth.

My intent here is to hopefully jump start a conversation and perhaps challenge the skeptic to take a second look at their own biases, test out their own assumptions and determine for themselves just how reasonable they may, or may not be.

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