Over the course of this series we will be writing a series of dialogues between two friends traveling through life as university students. One of them, Richard, is a philosophy undergraduate student with ambitions towards a career in jurisprudence. He likes banter and debating but can be impatient and at times unsympathetic to the questions of God. The other, Sundar, is a student in electrical engineering with hopes of working in the field of wireless communications. Both young men enjoy each other’s company and discussion even though one is an atheist and the other a committed follower of Jesus and the Christian way.
What’s All This Then?
Sundar [texting] - hey man, sup, you want to hit up the football game @ bw3?
Richard [texting] – I free up in an hour or so once i get out of this phil class.
Sundar [texting] – Which class?
Richard [texting] – medieval philosophy? yawn, 2 much god talk for me. u would luuv it
Sundar [texting] – I did – took it two years ago – lol. except none of the profs want 2 teach it so I had a grad student who just went thru the motions
Richard [texting] – well, I have the world famous prof that got hired last year – he’s on your team and is all jumpy for aquinas
Sundar [texting] - jealous
Richard [texting] – don’t be…cya at 9 for wings, beer and football – something we both agree on! Haha!
Sundar [texting] - I’ll head ovr now – that place gets mad busy for MNF
Richard: Sweet seats, thanks for hooking this up. Man, long day glad to chill a bit. How is your fantasy squad doing
Sundar: suuucks man, Chris Johnson is garbage so far this year…but he got his money no doubt though. How was class?
Richard: You couldn’t resist could you?
Sundar: Well, you were likely discussing something that IS of interest to me
Richard: We were talking about arguments for the existence of your God
Sundar: My god? Not just mine
Richard: Well sure as hell ain’t mine.
Sundar: Anything convincing?
Richard: Uhh, no.
Sundar: Not even going to listen with an open mind?
Richard: Easy killer, we didn’t get to the arguments yet, we were talking about the social historical setting in which these guys did their work. You know, the rediscovery of Aristotle through Islamic thinkers, the church-state cartel etc. I’ll listen once they start making cases for the unseen wizard in the sky. But you know there isn’t any evidence for any sort of God
Sundar: ello, what’s all this then!??!
Richard: Uhhhm…beer and wings? And what’s with the Monty Python bit? [both laugh]
Sundar: No, I mean everything, everything that is around us – not simply flat screen TVs, good food and drinks – but everything that is. It does require some sort of explanation. It’s one of the oldest questions we have as humans beings…every culture has stories to try and explain our existence, no?
Richard: Yeah, we are silly primates that ask dumb questions
Sundar: You do too Richard – you have an explanation story as well – it’s just a bit narrow, boring and doesn’t say anything. [Laughs]
Richard: Hey, what the? I just think the universe simply is a brute fact, it is the only reality and that “where everything is from” is a non-question.
Sundar: Yeah, I used to believe it. The universe sprang into existence, uncaused out of nothing and now I’m here – and I’m not supposed to ask any more questions!!! And then think that everyone throughout all history asks the question of origins and because you can’t give any sort of answer, you just say the question is dumb? That seems dumb.
Richard: Or smart, or wise or saves me a bunch of headaches and existential crises. [laughs] I just think we don’t know and so nobody knows.
Sundar: So because you are ignorant, everyone has to be!?!?
Richard: Ok, Ok, what I mean is there are no physical explanations for the physical world. How could there be? It IS reality.
Sundar: What about meta-phyiscal realties and metaphysical explanations for the universe? You will likely encounter some in your medieval class.
Richard: Don’t remind me. [Laughs] No, I don’t think we can accept any such answers because they are not verifiable by reason and science.
Sundar: Reason might weigh in a bit more than you think but science has zip to say here – and believe me, I’m studying engineering and I know the glories of science. But it also is quite limited.
Richard: Tell me one thing science cannot answer or will not someday answer? I think it does a pretty fantastic job
Sundar: Uh, doesn’t answer THIS question. And you saying the question is bad because it has a different kind of answer is really biased. Think of it this way Richard – science studies cause and effect relationships between aspects of THIS UNIVERSE. So of course the cause of this universe would not be a subject of scientific experiment. You could put the cause of all things in a lab made of things. So I think we can use reason and science but the scientific method could not be used on the cause of science. Where science is awesome is studying the effects and interactions of the universe and seeing some of the wonderful things that are here. Why all things exist are here is a question for reason and a question about God.
Richard: But why can’t things just exist and not have a cause at all – like Carl Sagan would say “the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was and all there ever will be”
Sundar: We can’t say that because it is simply not true…philosophically or scientifically. There are really good reasons to think there must be more than the universe.
Richard: Ok, I’m all ears my guru friend [sighs, laughs and grabs a chicken wing]
Sundar: A simple idea – anything that “begins” to exist has a cause. If there were to be a new bottle of Yeungling show up at the table while you were in the bathroom you would not say “this bottle is all there is, all there ever was, all there ever will be” or “this must have been here forever and eternally” – no, you would ask “who brought the beer” – if something comes into existence, and we know this – it is the reasonable question, not a dumb question to ask, what caused this?
Richard: But that’s easy to say with beer bottles. We are talking about EVERYTHING here.
Sundar: But the principles we know from easy things many times help us with hard things – that’s why we learn arithmetic before differential calculus bro. If there are good reasons to think the universe “began to exist” then we should ask what caused this.
Richard: Fair enough, but this is precisely what we don’t know – that anything like the totality of the universe “began to exist” – none of us were around at t=0 of the big bang.
Sundar: But the fact that there WAS at t=0, a time when time began if you will, that we know that it began. Look, today is Sept 19th 2011, this date is in reference to some other date no?
Richard: Are you going to tell me about how the western calendar is based upon Jesus again? [both laugh]
Sundar: No, not talking “common eras” – I’m just saying that today, and time today, is in reference to the beginning of time. Time, in other words is finite in the past. There is not an actual infinite amount of time between today and the first movements of matter-energy. So I think there is a good scientific reason to believe in a beginning of things – so the question of why it began is not dumb after all.
Richard: But if we can’t prove a beginning then you are sort of screwed, no? And I’m sure there are lots of folks denying the beginning or at least wanting to. I know I would want to.
Sundar: Even if we could not scientifically prove a beginning beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is still reason and medieval philosophy.
Richard: I know, I have it again on Wednesday.
Sundar: The guy your prof is really into, Thomas Aquinas, considered the eternality of the world or whether there was a beginning hard to prove. But he didn’t need to demonstrate the universe has a cause. Following other thinkers from your medieval class he realized that certain things are “contingent” – they don’t have to exist. In fact, they come in and out of existence. Contingency simply means that the existence of something is dependent upon something else. Our lives are dependent upon our parents, which his contingent upon theirs, ad infinitum…which is all contingent upon the universe. Everything in our world is contingent.
Richard: So something is necessary, I know, remember I’m studying philosophy– I probably know this stuff better than you do bro. My point here would be that which is necessary is only the universe itself. Something must explain everything else…the universe is all that we need. It is simpler than suggesting something else. You remember, Ockham’s Razor right?
Sundar: Yes, I’m sure you guys will hit up William of Ockham in class – we did when I took it.
Richard: It is a principle that teaches us not to multiply answers and entities beyond their necessity. We should save a step of explanation if a simpler one will work. We don’t need to posit any other necessary entity when the universe itself will do. I think this is where Sagan was right – why conjure up a god if the universe is all there is?
Sundar: I would agree Richard, except the universe itself is not necessary; it is fully contingent as everything in the universe IS contingent.
Richard: Well, just because some things make up a bigger thing does not mean that the bigger thing has the same property as the smaller things. This is a logical fallacy Sundar – you can take 100% triangular shingles and make a roof. It doesn’t mean that the entire roof is a triangle. Fallacy of composition.
Sundar: OK, I did forget you were a philosophy major [laughs and grabs a chicken wing]. But contingency and triangleness is a bit different?
Richard: Maybe, haha, yeah a little different
Sundar: I don’t think you can manufacture necessity out of a bag of contingency, let’s get back to watching the game
Richard: No, no, by all means finish
Sundar: All talk about this world needing a cause aside…we study the univerese all the time. I’m in electrical engineering where we use complex mathematical expressions to describe the way physical reality works. I have always been blown away that there is this electromagnetic spectrum that was just waiting for us to discover. It was always there, part of the fabric of our world, that makes it possible for us to watch these flat panel TVs, for us to check our scores on our phones, to make it possible for us to even see each other. The world had a built in communications network ready for us to use. We didn’t make it, we didn’t invent it, we learned and knew how to use it. The fact that this, and other marvels of reality, are just “there” always amaze me. Fills me with a sense of awe – even gratitude. I don’t think it’s all “just here” without explanation, without cause, without reason. All the intelligence we see in the world does not seem to be in any way accidental. This world was made for us, and us for this world – and I think we know it. But saying the word “God” can make people uncomfortable…because this is much more personal than talking science and philosophy. I know when Jesus actually changed my life it was the most comfortable and uncomfortable thing for me.
Richard: I do know that…I do think there could be something to it all – I just don’t know…and when you start talking that God schmack I get a little nervous. That would require much more of me to believe that sort of thing.
Sundar: Well, people are very religious you know.
Richard: Oh, believe me, that I do know…