The Great Debate

Is God the only possible explanation for our existence?

Second Rebuttal: Existence and Information

[go back to Tacelli’s previous argument]

Greg Raven

I started my first rebuttal to your proof of the existence and nature of C* with a definition of “exist” because you started your original statement with:

Begin with Fido. Fido exists. At one time he did not exist. At another time he will not exist. But right now Fido does exist; he is.

Given your position, I thought it important to attempt to establish some kind of agreement about what we can say we know and what we cannot say we know.

Existence explored

In the trivial example of “Fido” (sorry about that, Fido), you seem to be saying that there is some objective method whereby we may say that Fido either exists or does not exist. That is, when Fido is what most persons call “alive,” we say Fido exists. When Fido is what most persons would call “dead,” we say that Fido does not exist.

There are implications to these statements.

The first and most obvious is the implication that we as human beings have a valid point of view. That is, if we have some objective evidence to state something as fact (Fido existing or not existing), then our stating this is not to be lightly dismissed, or discarded either on a whim or when doing so becomes convenient for philosophical or ideological reasons.

Another implication is that for a living organism such as Fido, there are two components: the material component, which exists both before and after “Fido,” but also some other component, the absence of which from the material Fido is grounds for us to say “Fido does not exist.” Note that the statement of non-existence is not phrased as “Fido’s non-material essence has left his body and gone to a different place,” it is phrased in terms of going out of existence everywhere. It is just plain gone.

One deduction we can make from this second point is that after Fido ceases to exist, it doesn't matter if he “lives on” in the heart of the little girl who loved him, or if Fido was “immortalized” in photographs, moving pictures, media accounts of his exploits, etc. We're not being hard-hearted here, we are just making the point that when Fido ceases to exist, that’s it.

Therefore, if you really were using the word “exist” in “the widest possible way,” you would not be able to say that Fido ceased to exist as long as someone still had thoughts about Fido. This position is simply not available to debate, because you have just created a universe wherein things pop into and out of existence with each firing of a synapse. What happens when the little girl discovers boys and all thoughts of Fido are banished from her thoughts for years, until much later when she has children of her own, and they want a puppy, and suddenly the little girl — now grown — again thinks of Fido, which she hasn't done for many years. Did Fido not exist for those intervening years, and then now, suddenly, re-exist?

I see three approaches to this situation:

  • If you continue to claim “Fido exists” and “Fido does not exist” as you have, you are arguing for a frame of reference that for lack of a better term I will call objective.
  • If you now change your statement to say that Fido exists independent of our objective observations, then you have discarded a point that seemed to be foundation of your entire position. (You also have moved the discussion beyond that which can be debated.)
  • If you continue to make claims about the existence of Fido, but also claim that Fido sometimes winks in and out of existence with the thoughts of those who knew him, you have established a contradiction that must be carefully explored. (One interesting situation that arises from this position is that Fido could never die of “natural causes,” although he might die from stepping in front of a car or throwing himself on a grenade, yet we know that others similar to Fido have died of natural causes.)

The logical equation

My argument with your logical equation lies not in the fact that after the fact you can determine what has gone into something, but rather that this post facto determination does not mean that you can go forward or backward in time and, given the same formula, come out with the same result. Consider the formula:

2x = y

If you know that y equals 4, then you know that x must equal 2. However, the next time you are confronted with this formula, you cannot automatically say that y equals 4, because x might have a different value.

In the formula you are attempting to put forward, the x factor is time, because time always changes (and not just for the factors most immediately involved in the formula, but for an almost infinite number of other factors that directly or indirectly impinge on the “primary” factors).

Presumably, you are the product of the union between your mother and father. If they had met 20 years later, would you still be the same you you are now? If they had met in the 1750s, would you have developed as you have, having been born in the 1950s? Now, of course, one could look at your life and say, “Ah, I see how he got to be this way.” But forty years ago, how could anyone have predicted that you would be the person you are today? The fact that, as you acknowledge, you cannot name all the conditions that make your formula work leaves open the door for the possibility that your formula is flawed or incomplete; until you can demonstrate that your formula works at least once for some future event, until you can show that you can know and manipulate all the conditions required by your formula, how can you presume to state that your formula works?

This is why I say that different sets of conditions do not provide certain outcomes, but rather the possibilities of a somewhat restricted range of different outcomes. That is, forty years ago your parents could state with some certainty that you would not have three heads, rows of razor-sharp teeth, and an outer skin studded with chunks of enriched plutonium. Your existence in your current form might be said to demand that some conditions existed beforehand, but the existence of those conditions do NOT demand Father Ronald Tacelli.

The skyscraper

This argument is easily extended to deal with my example of the skyscraper. The man in Brazil mining iron ore does not create a pre-condition that the skyscraper must exist. Once the skyscraper is built, that man is only a precondition to the extent that he is unique. That is, if there are other men mining iron ore somewhere, and that iron ore can be made into the girders needed for the skyscraper, then the original miner cannot be said to have a substantively causal influence on the existence of the skyscraper, either before or after it is built. The miner helps create the possibility of the skyscraper, nothing more.

The limited universe argument

You propose a universe of five items, a number picked because with a universe this manageable, we can hope to glimpse the first cause. Some would argue that this universe is not available to us, even abstractly, while others would argue that the very act of observing this universe alters its conditions.

However, you yourself have introduced a seemingly insolvable flaw into this scenario by first stating that these five objects exist and “nothing but,” and then going on to say that you later add a sixth object. How?

Let’s take your universe of five objects, which I will call “elementons.” They are so called because each elementon is indivisible, no matter what its size. The elementon is the smallest an object can be, as it is not in turn made up of some smaller particles. (For the sake of this example, we have to ascribe to at least one of the elementons sentience, so we have a mutually agreed-upon observer.)

From where does the sixth object come? Before the creation of the sixth object, there are only five elementary objects, and “nothing but.” The only way to create a sixth object is through some combination of the five existing elementons. Note that the existence of the elementons does not demand that they combine to form other objects, but it does make them possible. And, the more elementons you start with, the more possibilities you have for combinations of elementons.

Defining 'information'

I apologize for not adequately defining “information.” If entropy is chaos, the information is order. With order comes predictability. For example, if I say, “A, B, C, D, E, F ...” you would naturally expect me to continue with “G, H, I ...” etc. This is why there is a paradox, as perfect order (absolute predictability) contains no new information, while perfect entropy (maximum chaos) creates the condition wherein each new bit of data adds a tremendous amount of new information.

I don't know about Aristotle, but when I use the word “information” I mean that there is something to be known,whether or not we know it. Imagine a particle of dust in the farthest reaches of space. As humans, far removed from this particle of dust, and with no way of observing it it any way, shape, or form, it is unknown to us. However, there is a tremendous about of information about this particle of dust, from the first moment of its existence to the present, including its interaction with the billions of other objects in the universe. If this particle of dust were to go out of existence, then information about it would stop at that time. Of course, if that particle of dust was made up of smaller particles that continued to exist in some other form (such as, if the particle of dust fell into a star), then there would continue to be information about the elementary particles of that particle of dust. In the case of Fido, or any complex object or organism, the total amount of information involve includes all the information about all the elementary particles, a staggering amount of information.

When Fido barks at the moon (or does anything else), it (theoretically) could be described completely by producing all the information on the movements and reactions of all of the elementary particles of Fido. However, this would be an overwhelming and probably impossible task. For the sake of simplicity, we automatically discard vast quantities of information from our consideration, and say, “Fido barks at the moon.” While effectively ignoring millions of years of information about the materials that make up Fido, as well as how the combination of those materials create a being that is even capable of sensing and reacting to the moon, it is almost always sufficient for the mundane task of getting through life without philosophy.

'Information' or 'God'

I think we may be farther apart than you recognize. If God exists and has a determinative effect on our universe, this must be the polar opposite of a universe in which there exist billions of possibilities, with objects and organisms coming into existence only by chance.

In closing, let me apologize in advance for any shortcuts I have taken in this response ... you know how tight I am for time.

read further remarks along these lines by Greg Raven

read Tacelli’s response