We will now develop another form of the cosmological argument, a form which shifts attention from the very beginning of things to our present experience. Apart from belief in God, it is indeed hard to explain where the universe came from, but it is equally hard to explain the universe as we see it now. According to Paul, there are three great mysteries in our present existence that defy understanding unless we recognize the hand of God. The apostle said when he addressed the philosophers on Mars' Hill, "For in him [God] we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
The Source of Being
Let us imagine all the ebb and flow of the universe suddenly freezing at the present moment, bringing time to a standstill. Let us imagine further that we could detach ourselves from this huge cosmos suspended in time and study it like a specimen in the laboratory. We would then be aware that the mystery of our existence goes beyond our origin in the past. It centers chiefly on what we are now and what we will be in the future. All around us is a vast, intricate, imposing structure of matter and energy, perfectly organized at every scale from the subatomic to the cosmic. How do we account for its existence? Does it have power in itself to exist? If so, where does that power reside? Most of the universe is empty space. The power to exist cannot reside in the vast reaches that contain nothing, for nothing is the absence of being. Does it therefore reside in all the individual particles of matter and energy? But it is preposterous to suppose that a minute and mindless electron, for example, exists because it has intrinsic power to lift itself out of nothing and become something.
The absurdity of such thinking is made clearer by considering the highest form of being found in the universe—man. Man has will, intelligence, and a certain power to shape his world. But does an individual man exist in the present moment because he has made himself real? If he can make himself real, then surely he can make himself non-real. But try it. You need not worry that you might succeed. Try as you might to stop existing, you will still exist. If you are unconvinced that the power to make yourself real does not lie in you, try making anything real. Despite the utmost exertions of your mind and will, you cannot turn the thought of even a button into a real button. You have no power to create something out of nothing. Is it likely that non-living, non-thinking bits of substance have more power than you do? Certainly not. If you cannot create yourself, surely a mere electron cannot create itself.
So what power gives reality to the universe in the present moment? The necessary power is of the same magnitude as the power of an omnipotent God. Only by acknowledging the existence of God can we explain the present existence of everything else. However we view reality, it must be the work of a Being capable of turning mere possibility into reality.
The Source of Motion
Science is accustomed to seeing motion as simple cause and effect. For the sake of illustration, imagine a boulder rolling down a hill and smashing into a small tree, knocking it over. Here is a clear case of causation. The cause is the impact of the boulder on the tree; the effect is the collapse of the tree. But at the moment of collision, did the boulder have power in itself to level the tree? Our quick reply is, yes. Why do we say, yes? Because we know from experience that large moving objects maul anything lying in their path.
But, as the philosopher Hume showed long ago, we confuse predictability with power. In our actual observation of the world, we see no more than sequences of events—the boulder hits the tree, the tree falls down. But we are not content to treat these sequences as accidental. As a rule, they are highly predictable. Thus, we decide that they always happen because they must happen. Wherein lies the necessity? We suppose that the first event in any sequence is a cause triggering the other events. By "cause" we mean that it has power to produce the events that follow. But this judgment is a mere extrapolation from what we observe.
Reconsider the rolling boulder crashing into a tree. Does the impact really have power to knock the tree down? Let us take a close scientific view of the collision. Then we see innumerable electron clouds in the boulder suddenly drawing close to innumerable electron clouds in the tree. All these electron clouds are negatively charged, and like charges repel. The repulsive force is so violent that it slows down the boulder and pitches the tree forward.
Surely, by taking this view we have confirmed that power is intrinsic in natural causes, for we have observed an actual force at work, the force of repulsion between like charges. But what exactly is this force? How does one electron affect another electron so strongly without even touching it? Nothing visible passes between them. The force that arises when they come into each other's presence is ultimately a great mystery. We cannot see it. We can only see its effects on the electrons. Indeed, to call it a force betrays anthropomorphic thinking. We are treating the electrons as if they were little people, capable of exchanging influence.
To say that one electron has power over another is, however, neither justified nor reasonable. It is not justified, because it adds unnecessary baggage to the simple observation that when the first approaches the second, the second moves away. It is unreasonable, because it imagines that one little electron is directly sensible of and responsive to the comings and goings of another little electron.
Let us shift now from a microscopic to a macroscopic view of the world. The crucial problem we might consider is this: What in the totality of things existing in the present moment can we find that is capable of producing the universe at the next moment? (Even though time is really not a succession of moments, but a continuous onward flow, like a river, we can still think of a moment just beyond now.) The creation of the universe as it will be in the first unfolding of the future is a feat no less stupendous than the creation of the universe at the beginning. The result is no less breathtaking in magnitude and grandeur. The antecedents in nature are no less inadequate to explain what happens. Yet modern science supposes that the universe at the next moment is a simple product of the universe now. In other words, the universe now not only determines what the universe will be in the next moment, but actually gives birth to it. It reproduces itself in the universe that immediately succeeds it as reality.
But does anything now have the power to create anything in the future? For starters, we might assume that the whole universe now is the creator of the next universe in time. Yet, as we said earlier, this present universe is mostly empty space. Surely, emptiness cannot create anything. Modern science agrees. It supposes that creative power lies in all the bits of mass-energy within the universe. These are what persist to the next moment with slight changes in position and motion, in a manner suggesting that they recreate themselves.
But consider how foolish it is to think that a material particle, for instance, could make itself real again when time changes. Its reappearance in the next moment is a complex achievement.
- Its substance, whatever that may be (and science hardly knows), must be newly created. Someone might object that we are misconstruing persistence as recreation. But persistence is hardly necessary. It seems necessary because in our experience the things that exist have always continued to exist from moment to moment. But there is no reason they must continue simply because they exist now. So long as we restrict our view to the things that can be seen, we cannot rule out the possibility that at the next moment, the universe will blink off like a stoplight—that everything will reduce to nothing. Thus, if we define creation as putting something real in place of nothing, persistence is recreation.
- We will return to the amazing material particle that manages to reappear in the next moment. Another of its feats is to replot its location, taking into account all the forces impinging on it in the present moment. Gravitational and electromagnetic forces are unlimited in range. Thus, the true sum of forces acting on a particle depends on virtually every other particle in the universe.
- A proper determination of its next place must take into account not only the present moment, but also the previous moment, so as to detect its present direction and speed, and the moment before that, so as to detect its present acceleration.
It is obvious that if the only power that creates the universe at the next moment is the power of individual bits of mass-energy to reproduce themselves, then these bits are endowed with an ability we can only describe as prodigious. They must not only maintain their own existence, but in order to place themselves properly in the whole scheme of things, they must do a calculation far too difficult for any human mind. Indeed, the calculation could only be done by an infinite mind, the mind of God. As we seek to identify the power capable of perpetuating the universe, we would therefore be wise to credit the hand of God rather than cling to the superstition that the power resides in blind bits of mass-energy.
Does God perpetuate the universe by recreating it moment by moment? No, His work of creation was completed in six days. When He made material things, He gave them the power to persist in time. Therefore, they do have power to reproduce themselves, but it is a derived power. As we said, the power of a cause to generate effects may be intrinsic or derived. All causes in the natural world have power derived from God.
Thus, the power that carries the universe through time, allowing all its parts to move in their courses, is ultimately divine power. The motions we see in a changing universe are the work of God.
The Source of Life
We will return to our thought experiment, allowing us to survey at our leisure the universe frozen in time. Besides inanimate matter and energy, the universe contains life, and the highest form of life is man. Man's existence is the greatest of all mysteries defying natural explanation. One riddle wrapped in the larger mystery of his existence is that a thinking mind can possess and control a material body.
Materialists imagine that the mind is merely the workings of the brain. But what is a brain? It is just a mass of interconnected neurons, and each neuron is no more than a tiny signal transmitter. In their aggregate billions, wired together in intricate networks, the neurons of a brain are capable of receiving and processing a myriad signals simultaneously. Like a computer, the brain is a labyrinth of pathways for flashing electronic impulses.
The parallel between a brain and a computer is very instructive. In a computer, neither the microchips nor the flowing electrical energy has any knowledge of itself. A computer has no resident mind. Its mind is the collective mind of all those people who participate in its design and use. Its mind is therefore external. The computer is useful only because this collective mind interprets its operations according to various codes. The ultimate meaning of what the computer does depends on codes in three families.
First are the codes for translating states of tiny electrical circuits into bits of information. The data entered into a computer are stored at discrete addresses, each associated with a series of electrical loops that are turned off or on. For convenience, the state of being on is treated as the number 1, and the opposite state is treated as the number 0. Reversing the numbers would work just as well. Thus, at each address there is at any given moment a string of 0's and 1's. Their significance depends on the data they represent. They might be notation for a binary number, or a numeric code for a letter of text, or an encoded unit of visual or sonic information. Such modes of symbolic representation can only be conceived and implemented by a mind. Mere circuitry could never be aware of any connection between its traffic of signals and external realities. The meaning of each string of 0's and 1's is imposed on the computer from outside.
The next family includes the codes that a programmer uses to tell the computer what to do with data entered into it—codes that enable a computing objective to be accomplished through a series of switching operations. It is self-evident that no computer could program itself, since a program fulfills a purpose that could only be conceived by a mind.
In the last family are the codes for interpreting computer output. The computer can generate binary numbers, sequences of letters, arrays of sonic frequencies, and patterns of light, but it cannot supply the output with meaning. The codes that make sense of this output are nowhere formally laid out. They exist unconsciously in the mind of the human designer or user, who depends upon them not only to understand what he sees on the screen or hears from the microphone, but also to interpret any other sensory input to his own brain. It requires a mind to recognize a number as a measure of quantity, to see words in letters, to hear music in sound, and to find pictures in light.
As between a man and a computer, there is much the same relationship between a man's mind and his brain. In the brain, neither the complex proteins within neurons nor the electrochemical signals racing through neurons have any awareness of themselves. They are ignorant of the higher significance that the mind finds in their properties. This higher significance again depends on codes for translating one kind of fact into another.
Whether the fundamental bridge from the brain to the realm of ideas is states corresponding to 1's and 0's, we cannot say. We suspect that the brain employs a more efficient design, producing analog rather than digital recordings of sensory impressions and internal speech. In other words, upon examining the brain minutely, we would find data stored not in binary numbers, but in ways more resembling photographic film or audio tape. Yet whatever the exact design of the brain may be, several families of codes are indispensable.
First, there must be codes for translating information into physical states of the brain. Second, there must be codes for directing the brain in processing data, in ways analogous to a written program for a computer. Codes in both families presume an understanding of what certain physical states of the brain mean in relation to the information they seek to represent. Meaning is something perceived by a mind. Therefore, only a mind could have built and programmed the brain.
In the third family are codes for drawing meaning out of an organized array of sonic or visual data. Whereas the brain records a pattern of light and shadow, the mind perceives a tree. Whereas the brain registers light at a certain frequency, the mind recognizes blue. Whereas the brain detects the important features of a certain spoken sound, the mind understands a word.
Thus, it is clear that there is more to man's seat of thought and feeling than merely a physical brain. He has a mind as well. But where is it? What is it made of? How does it operate? These mysteries concerning a man's mind lead us to the larger mystery of a man's spirit. If the operations of the mind do not take place in the body, and if man is body and spirit (the soul arising from their union, according to Gen. 2:7), then the spirit must be the locus of the mind—the place where the mind exists and operates. Although the brain's incapacity to think proves that man has a spirit, we know very little about it, and mostly what we know is what the spirit is not. It is not matter, because it is totally undetectable by our physical senses. Also, it is not energy, because its departure at death leaves no energy loss. If it has substance, we have no idea what that substance is like.
Yet the certainty of its existence yields profound implications. First, the materialistic assumption that the visible world exhausts reality is manifestly false. There must be an unseen world as well. Therefore, rejection of God on the grounds that we cannot see Him is unreasonable. Indeed, it is irrational, if we comprehend that our essential self resides in our spirit. In other words, what is most important about us and what we view as dearest about ourselves—the core of our identity as a thinking, loving person—is unseen also.
Another profound implication is that the question of origins is far broader than we normally see it, as a question merely of where the visible material world came from. We must also ask where man's spirit came from. It did not exist forever, for neither man nor any other life form has existed forever. It did not arise by chance from nothing, for nothing is powerless to create even something trivial, much less something as exalted and complex as man's spirit. Therefore, man's spirit must have been created by God.
The certain existence of man's spirit has a third profound implication. It points to a very instructive paradox. The brain affects the mind and the mind controls the brain, or, from a larger perspective, the body affects the spirit and the spirit controls the body. Yet everything we know about the body and spirit suggests that they should not be capable of interaction. We find no actual connection between them. Moreover, since the spirit eludes every physical probe, it seems immune to physical forces. Thus, how can the body affect the spirit? Likewise, since the spirit contains neither matter nor energy, it seems impotent to alter the state of anything physical. Thus, how can the spirit control the body? Yet, according to the Bible, human life issues from the union of body and spirit (Gen. 2:7), and death is the departure of the spirit from the body (Luke 8:51-55). It is evident not only that the body and spirit interact, but that their interaction sustains life. The interaction must therefore be close, constant, and efficient.
Here then is the mystery that Paul seeks to resolve when he says that in God we live. It is God who keeps us alive by forging the otherwise impossible union of body and spirit, of brain and mind. He ties them together and opens channels of mutual influence so that one can change the other.
Our discussion of Paul's simple statement, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28), has carried us far afield to a wide range of questions fundamental to understanding the universe. In seeking to answer these, we have come to a form of the cosmological argument that shows with compelling force, beyond rebuttal, that the universe is the work of a mighty Creator.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.