The Great Debate

Is God the only possible explanation for our existence?

First Response

[go back to Raven’s previous argument]

Father Ronald Tacelli

I'm not sure why you begin with the definitions of “exist” in the OED — expecially since the definitions are circular. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the OED or even with what’s said about “exist"; but you'll notice that “exist” is defined in terms of “being"; but “being” is defined in terms of “existence"! Oh, well; it makes no difference to the argument. I was just a little confused when you wrote that the definitions apply to thoughts “as long as they are not subjective.” But in a sense subjective experiences “exist", no? We do make the distinction between a fantasy or imagination, on the one hand, and something that “really exists” on the other. But that’s a special sense of “exists"; and in my paper I'm speaking in the widest possible way.

I agree with most of what you say about my logical equation. But I think you're wrong to say that “it will be nearly useless in practice.” I'd say it makes “practice” possible; it’s just a concrete way of expressing the principle of sufficient reason — that if something exists and has conditions then those conditions have been met. You may not be able to name all the conditions (certainly I cannot), but you know darn well that they ALL obtain. Otherwise this thing would not exist. But it DOES exist (as you say, “[the formula] “works for us only after we know that [x] exists"). Therefore ALL of the conditions that × depends upon right now for its existence must ALSO exist or obtain. The point of the argument is that some of the things upon which × depends we know to be themselves dependent right now for their existence. But then the question naturally arises: Are all things like this? And the answer must be No. Because then the totality of being would stand in need of being; but since nothing exists outside the totality of being, there would exist nothing to supply the need. But the universe exists. So the universe exists and is dependent. But there is nothing on which it depends. But if it exists and there is nothing on which it depends, it is not dependent. If it is not dependent it is independent. So the universe would be both dependent and independent. Which is absurd. That’s why every reasonable person (I believe) is driven to affirm the existence of Necessary Being. I say this is God; but at this stage a reasonable person could say that the Necessary Being is matter; or information; or the Force; or whatever.

You agree with this, I'm pretty sure; but at the risk of beating a dead horse (and worse: the wrong dead horse!) let me restate this thing just one more time. Imagine that the entire universe consisted of you and five other things. You know that you are right now dependent; if these other things did not exist then neither would you. But if these five other things are also dependent for their being, then you have a theoretical problem IF you wish to hold that there exists NOTHING BUT you and those five other things. Now if you add to the pile a sixth dependent thing, you have not eased the theoretical problem; you've increased it. Now you have something else whose existence needs to be accounted for. Granted: this is an intellectual problem; you could live your life and never raise the question: How come I and these other things exist rather than not? But once you raise the question, I maintain (and so do you, I think), you can never answer it by pointing to some other dependent being. That’s why the GENERAL formula is important: it applies to all possible solutions to the mystery of our existence.

I've blathered on like this because of your skyscraper example. It doesn't follow from anything I said that it would be “highly improbable--if not impossible--to build a skyscraper.” In fact, it would be impossible for a skyscraper or anything else to exist unless the conditions for existence have been met. This is not a matter of probabilities; it’s a necessary truth; it cannot be otherwise. Of course I agree: we can't name all the finite conditions that contribute to the being off the skyscraper; but we know that all of them exist. And we also know that there must exist more than these finite dependent conditions.

But enough about that. I think we're pretty much agreed on most of these matters. The heart of your letter concerns what you call “information.” And in all honesty, Greg, I'm not sure what you mean by that word. What you write reminds me of something I once read in an Objectivist textbook. (Are you familiar with Rand and Objectivism?) Anyway, I found what you wrote in your letter as difficult as what I found in that textbook.

I'm not sure what you mean by “information.” You define it negatively by way of its opposite: entropy. Well, but that doesn't help me much. You don't mean that it’s a PROCESS ON THE WAY TO order and intelligibility. So what is it? (This reminds me of those reporters who ask the president: “Mr. President, you've told us what your relation with Monica L. was not; would you please tell the American people what it was?” Sorry!) From what you write you seem to mean by “information” more or less what Aristotle means by FORM: the intelligibility of a concrete being. Is this what you mean? I ask because some of what you write is incompatible with that meaning.

You say that there is “no limitation to the amount of information we can have about a thing....” And: “Information exists in everything, in infinite quantities". Greg, do you mean this? It would follow that the definition of anything would be infinite--i.e. that there could not be separate THINGS at all (for one thing must be limited by other things; so the information in each could not be unlimited). Now there are people who've held this (e.g., Spinoza, Hegel); but I'm not sure that you really want to. Anyway, I'd prefer to have you clarify what you mean.

I'm also not sure what you mean when you say that information “is, absolutely.” Since this makes reference to what I wrote about C*, you must mean that its essence involves existence: hence that information by its very nature cannot go out of existence, and cannot be in any way dependent for such being as it has.

But this does not seem compatible with what you (and Aristotle) say about how the specific intelligibility of things is bound up with their concrete existence. For the “information” about things can cease to be: certain things can come to be true of something and then cease to be true. It is no longer true that the stuff in this tub is cream; it’s now butter. So what was true is no longer true. And though it’s the nature of this cream to turn to butter when something is done to it, that means (in Aristotle’s system, anyway) that

this matter acquires a different form--or maybe (in your language) brand new information. But then this process requires a cause, does it not; because, as you say, “information does not act as a cause....” In any case, I'm confused (maybe because I'm trying to think of what you're writing in terms of Aristotle).

You make a concrete suggestion about the “cause” of Fido. You say: The cause of Fido “was combinations of various pieces of matter, completely described within a framework of information …” But you say later that matter is “a representation of the organization of … information.” So the cause of Fido is: combinations of various pieces of a representation-of-the-organization-of-information, completely described within a framework of information. Am I being thick, or have you just collapsed matter into information? And if you have, then, since information does not act as a cause, and matter is a representation-of-the-organization-of-information, then NOTHING acts as a cause. So what you call the “cause” of Fido is not — cannot be — a cause at all.

You also say: “This matter was … completely described before and after Fido, with the same quality and quantity of information as 'during' Fido, even though the relationships among the different pieces of information did change.” This I find so baffling, that I'm convinced I'm misunderstanding you. Only if the quantity and quality of information for Fido is infinite can I undrstand this. I've already given reasons why I can't agree that the information is infinite. But, Greg, “Barks at Pluto” and “Sniffs at Minnie” are information about this matter now which were not the case sixty years ago — because there was no such being as Fido. It seems to me dead wrong to say that the quantity and quality of information remains the same. Furthermore: What is this about “the relationships among the different pieces of information"? You're referring to information as if it were a kind of thing which can enter into relations. I don't want to pick at a metaphor, but I do need some clarification about what you mean by “information."

Well, Greg, if I've misunderstood you, I'm sorry. I have the impression from your letter that we're not really very far apart philosophically; that as soon as we get clear on some of this terminology, we may actually agree. You call the absolute “information"; I call it “God.” I don't care about words, so long as the reality affirmed is the same. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading this. (I went against my principles and typed it directly into the computer — otherwise there'd be no sunrise tomorrow!) So long! Talk to you soon!

Ron sj

read Raven’s response