Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anselm's Ontological Proof 2.0

Proving the existence of God is just not something anyone bothers with these days. It's an old, stale, and dated exercise, the kind of pointless pseudo-intellectual dithering formerly undertaken by medieval monks after they'd delved too deeply into their daily allotment of ale.

Sure, fundamentalists claim to be able to do it, but their efforts generally involve a combination of 1) quoting the Bible 2) quoting the Bible some more and 3) assuming bananas were designed for human hands. These things make us sad.

Moderates and progressives have pretty much entirely given up on such quixotic efforts. What's the point? We come into knowledge of God through faith, not through reason. God exists in mystery, and trying to "prove" the transcendent is like trying to "prove" that feeling of awe you get when your first child moves in your belly. Some things just ain't empirical.

Having said that, I am now compelled to offer up my carefully reasoned proof of the existence of God. We small church pastors have time on our hands for stuff like this.

To set the stage, let's discuss the possibility of a multiverse cosmology.

"Quoi?" you say, suddenly speaking French. You catch yourself, and say "What? What does that even mean?" Well, in order to grasp this rather painfully abstract concept, perhaps the best way to approach it is to think about how we understand the universe. The realm of existence in which we find ourselves is bounded by four dimensional spacetime. "You're not helping," you say.

Fair enough. Let's go through the dimensions for a moment. Zero-dimensional objects are singularities, infinitely small "points." A bit like the dot below...only infinitely bitty:

A one-dimensional object can be conceptualized either in terms of Ann Coulter, or more traditionally, a line. It's infinitely larger than a point, as an infinite number of points can exist across it's span:

A two-dimensional object is a plane, which contains an infinite number of lines within itself:

A three-dimensional object is a solid, which, again, contains an infinite number of planes:

Here's where I've always hung up conceptually. As we move into considering four dimensional "objects," most theoretical cosmologies describe something that expands spatially outward from a cube, taking up infinitely more "space." This has always struck me as...well...silly, particularly given that the fourth dimension is empirically staring us right in the face. Rather than noodling around in theoretical folderol, why not just call it the way it self-evidently is: the fourth dimension is time. "Tesseracts," as some theoreticians call 4D objects, are nothing more than three-dimensional objects put into motion:

Apply change to a 3D object, and at every instant, it is infinitely different from the moment before...while simultaneously remaining completely dependent on the 3D object that "came before." Philosophically, the seemingly infinite nature of change across space-time was perhaps earliest noted in Zeno's Paradox, which I always thought would make an excellent excuse for showing up late to work. "You know, according to Aristotle, I shouldn't even be here at all." This only works in academe, I fear.

As physics goes deeper into the nature and structure of spacetime, what they're finding is that that the structure and movement of spacetime itself integrates seeming randomness into itself. Predictive models just can't seem to quite capture exactly how change will occur, even in some apparently simple systems.

What some cosmologists think...although it is admittedly and by necessity entirely within the realm of that the universe we perceive is in fact just a single manifestation of an infinite array of spacetimes, within which all possibilities for being are manifested. To the spatial dimensions and to temporality we would then add potentiality as an aspect of the structure of the universe.

By that line of reasoning, there could be universes that vary from our own in impossibly minute ways, by a single twitch of a subatomic particle. There could be more significant variances, like the universe in which Sam Harris is a closeted lesbian who sings lead vocals for a megachurch praise team in Topeka, Kansas. Then there would be universes that had radically different structures from our own, in which the very physics that ordered them was different.

While that all exists within the realm of theoretical cosmology...we can no more truly grasp it's depth than we can truly grasp the nature of singularity...I think the possibility of such a "multiverse" or "omniverse" or "allverse" is likely. Shoot, if you believe in the omniscience and omnipotence of God, I'd argue that's it's even necessary theologically. That, however, is another argument for another time.

If you are open to a multiverse cosmology, in which all possibility of being is manifested, then you must also by necessity be open to the possibility of the existence of God. Why, you may ask?

Well, because an omniverse cosmology effectively eliminates the only valid objection to St. Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God. As just saying that probably doesn't clear things up for you, let me unpack that a tad.

St. Anselm, a philosopher/archbishop from the tenth century, was famous for arguing that God's existence was necessary because God was that than which nothing greater can be conceived. As Anselm conceptualized it, God must exist. His line of reasoning was as follows: That which exists is inherently greater than that which does not. If God only existed as a concept within the human intellect, then God would not be "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Therefore, God must exist. The obvious problem with that is that...well...we can think up many things. That doesn't mean that they by necessity exist. There is a difference between possibility and actuality.

Unless...unless... you think that the universe is a multiverse of infinite possibility. In a multiverse, suddenly Anselm's ontological argument has purchase, and the empiricist counterargument becomes essentially irrelevant.

Within this cosmological framework, an omniscient and omnipotent being...of God...becomes not just probable, but likely.