Everybody Believes in the Supernatural

2023 Sep 7

Our universe happens to exist. Most people subscribe to the Big Bang's explanation of its cosmological origin. In this, our universe began in the finite past, bursting into existence from a single point and expanding out to size.

All things naturally physical (including energy and matter), all physical laws of our universe, all space and even time itself did not exist without this singularity. Absent this singular event, nature itself did not exist. note Therefore since the event was not of nature, it was by definition super-natural. In the Big Bang model the origin of the universe was supernatural. note

Some have suggested that the universe came into existence out of a quantum fluctuation and therefore the universe came out of nothing. In this case, no explanation would actually be needed for the universe since it was a plausible random event.

This explanation however is equivocation with intent to confuse. It is playing with words to confuse the "things" made of matter as opposed to all other "things". A region of quantum fields that could fluctuate is not nothing! The fields themselves are something (even though they are not atoms of matter).

(See also Quantum Determinism.)

At best, this still does not answer the question of ultimate cause. If quantum fields were the source of the universe, where did they come from? Either something caused the quantum fields or they always existed. Since nature only exists within our universe, if our universe is absent, whatever caused the quantum fields is (again) by definition supernatural. Or if the quantum fields eternally existed that also is supernatural (this argument following).

Absent our universe and nature that exists as a part of it, science also does not exist. Usually the explanations of science are by means of natural causes. Absent the universe however, there are no natural causes, and therefore also, no natural scientific explanations exist. Only supernatural explanations remain available.

Others believe the universe had an infinite past, always existing with its characteristic features. note This view would seem to make the issue of origin disappear, but it does not.

A universe with an infinite past is also called the Steady State model.

If our present universe were infinitely old, it would have run down to what is called a heat death. In a heat death all the available energy (heat) is used up (by being spread evenly everywhere) and so we would not now be living. However, since we are living and there is a lot of available energy in this universe, an infinite age for the universe is a real problem.

Instead, one variation of this idea proposes that the infinite universe goes through cycles of renewal, expanding and contracting. In each of these eon cycles it only has a finite age.

However, a renewal requires resetting the state of the universe against the normal processes of nature:

  • Energy must be reset. (Entropy must be reduced and free energy must be increased.)
    • There is no mechanism by which such a renewing reset can be done because it is explicitly against natural law. Therefore, such a process would certainly be supernatural.
  • Possibly also, this renewal remakes the universe into a different variation of laws and constants to explain our life-friendly world. (More on this later.) This variation of the infinite cycle idea then would be a variation on the multiverse concept (also described later), but where all realized worlds appear serially, just not in parallel.
    • There is no natural mechanism for randomizing the laws and constants of nature. This is purely a speculation which would also be supernatural.

In our physical world real infinities are never actual because they are unable to exist. There cannot be an infinite quantity of things because there are a finite number of particles available in the universe. There cannot be an infinite number of events because then there would never be an event to start the event sequence. note Infinity is only a concept we play with in our minds because infinity itself is supernatural.

Just as an infinite quantity of events starting from now would have no end event, an infinite quantity of events leading to now would have no beginning event. Note however that in our physical universe all things necessarily are based in time, have sequences and are caused. Therefore, without some beginning event, it is unavoidable that our universe would never have had its existence. (That necessary first event instantiating our universe could never have existed in an infinite past.) Since we do exist and an infinite situation like this is actually impossible, the state of an infinite past then also would be supernatural.

All events which are caused are ultimately started by an uncaused first cause. Something that itself was not caused must start the causal chain. Certainly, all scientific evidence points to the necessity of prior causes for anything that happens within the universe. In contrast on the other side (obviously) the uncaused first cause is different than (it is not the same as) the caused things which follow.

For an eternal universe, there is no external first cause because it must be its own uncaused first cause. However, how can the universe cause itself and yet all things within it are not self caused? This is an unnatural and impossible conflict of characteristics, and so an eternal universe is again supernatural.

Looking at it another way:

In this world it is impossible to have a collection that is actually infinite in size. This impossibility is particularly true regarding physical objects (that is, material things that are all together). However, a collection of moments is identically impossible. That which is genuinely impossible of the natural world is supernatural.

Even though moments of time cannot be brought together into isolated collections, the moments exist together in the history of the things that have passed through them. For instance, the events of time that I have lived through are accumulated in my physical self; all of them are collected in my history.

If our universe was to have had an infinite past, then that infinity of moments would have been accumulated in our natural universe. That is, the universe would have collected all of them in its history. Since such a collection is impossible in this natural universe, it would be supernatural.

However, we exist. Since an infinite past in our natural world is impossible, an infinitely old universe would be supernatural.

Therefore, the existence of the universe through either the Big Bang or an infinite past is supernatural. Of these two ideas most scientific lines of evidence point to the first, making it the preferred view. So then because of our universe, everyone believes in at least one great miracle.

Mechanistic Causes

Since everything that begins to exist has a cause, the next great question is what was the cause of the Big Bang? We already know it was not natural (of our universe), however, it might still be a mechanistic cause. A huge issue that this cause must also explain is why our universe is constructed with hyper precision to support life. note

The numerical constants of the nature are such that they are life-friendly. These values enable matter to exist in stars and planets, and they enable chemistry. Some of these parameters must be very precise to enable this state. The more critical the precision, the more improbable it is that they are that way.

In addition, there are a great many of these finely tuned parameters. The improbabilities of this collection all multiply so that their collective improbablilty goes well beyond what is considered to be standard levels of mathematical impossibility.

These constants had to have been established while the universe was not yet in existence, before there was any nature. (Once the universe was in existence they would not be able to change.) Therefore, there can be no natural explanation for their values.

There is a concept for the cause for the universe which is often suggested. It is a multiverse which has a universe-generating engine. Assuming a hypothetical inflaton field, the engine might make many universes all from the same generating mechanism. And assuming speculative string theory, it might make all of the worlds different in their physical laws and fixed constants. note This engine with these assumptions might explain the origin of our world with its precisely tuned laws and constants that are life-friendly. That is, it would seem to explain how our world is able to support living conscious beings such as ourselves who are able to observe and reflect on our own existence. note

The thinking was this:

Since all the generated universes would have different physical laws and constants of nature, it was expected that inevitably some of these worlds would be life-friendly.

Assuming that life can spontaneously arise from unliving chemistry, it was expected that living beings like ourselves would have come into existence in some of these worlds. We ourselves then would have been the product of a sequence like this and so now are able to consciously reflect on our existence.

The inflaton field and string theory are both speculative ideas.

To account for certain very smooth aspects of space, it would have been necessary for the universe to expand out (inflate) extremely quickly at the very beginning of the Big Bang. A so-called inflaton field is proposed to have forced this effect and then finished, disappearing from our universe.

However, inside the multiverse's universe-generating engine the inflaton field would continuously remain. By this field’s chaotic quantum characteristics, it would always be making random expanding bubbles, some of which would convert into newly generated universes.

String theory proposes that our world is actually made of vibrating one-dimensional objects called strings. Although the space of our world has four dimensions (including the dimension of time), these strings exist in a context with many more dimensions. (One version of this theory has 11 dimensions.) What we experience in our world may be thought of as a projection from this context to our reduced dimensions. A physical analogy is a 3D shape that makes a 2D shadow. The shadow of a 3D object is different depending on the angle of projection, and the shadow hides one dimension.

So by string theory, each world is made of these high-dimension strings as they are projected (or "compactified") into a reduced count of dimensions. In the multiverse's universe-generating engine, each generated world would randomly get its own "shadow angle", and so that custom "projection" would make each world entirely unique.

However, the multiverse does not mechanistically solve the origin problem. All it does is move the issue back one step, and the fundamental problem remains: What then mechanistically caused the multiverse engine? If the multiverse always infinitely existed, that would be supernatural. note If there was something that generated the multiverse engine, what generated that which preceded it? That is, was this sequence of causal things an infinite regression? That would be supernatural. Or, did this causal sequence start with an uncaused first cause? That also would be supernatural.

In the context of an infinitely old multiverse, there would be no real explanation for the finite age of our universe. If the multiverse is infinitely old, then all universes it has ever created were also created an infinitely long "time" ago. (Actual infinities create absurdities like this.)

Since our universe has a finite age, the idea of an infinitely old multiverse cannot be correct.

Stephen Hawking had an idea that was a bit different. He suggested that because of the existence of physical laws the universe had to come into existence, and the universe was a necessary thing because of those laws. However, this idea is a serious mistake: natural laws have no existence absent our universe.

Hawking’s idea is also a category error because natural laws have no causal power. They only describe what happens if there are no external influences on nature. This is because external causes easily violate the prediction of natural laws. Nature never builds houses, but people regularly do. Natural law says water falls under the influence of gravity, but I violate that prediction every time I choose to lift a cup of water to drink it. So we know that unlike laws, agents have causal power, and actions from their intentions regularly cause non-natural events.

In all causal chains then, there must be an ultimate cause, the uncaused first cause. And one way or another this ultimate cause simply is supernatural. In the end we all necessarily accept the supernatural even if we don’t usually think of it that way.

A personal cause

Finally, there is another possibility not yet considered: Is this cause personal?

Physical causes have the characteristic that if the cause is in force, it immediately forces the effect. If water is put into a freezing context, it immediately starts freezing. Mechanistic things cannot do otherwise because they have no choice. So, if our universe came by a mechanistic cause the world should already be infinitely old. However, an ultimate cause that is a personal agent is different.

A personal agent has free will and the ability to choose their actions. They choose when and what they do. Let us assume this agent has intelligence and the ability to do the actions of their choosing. If this agent exists absent our universe, they exist outside of time. Having these characteristics and abilities, the agent would be able to commence the first event of our universe at the moment of their choosing. This accounts for the finite age of our universe. The agent would be able to design the universe for life. This accounts for the universe’s ensemble of characteristics extensively integrated for the support of life. note

What reasons would there be to reject the idea of the first cause being personal? I could see there being metaphysical reasons. I acknowledge this agent would be a god-like entity. And so, I can understand rejecting this idea if a person does not want there to be a god.

I also acknowledge that a person might not see there being sufficient evidence for a first cause being a personal being. This would seem to be similar to the perspective of atheists.

Science certainly is unable to explain any god or god-like entity. However of course as already pointed out, science is also unable to explain every uncaused first cause for our universe. Since every such cause is supernatural, science is not a reason or an excuse for rejecting the possibility of the first cause being personal. A personal supernatural entity is no "worse" or less plausible than a materialistic supernatural entity. Likewise, a materialistic supernatural entity is no better or more plausible than a personal supernatural entity.

Note that rejecting an idea simply because you do not like it or want it to be true can be intellectual cowardice. There are good reasons to understand that the agent explanation is the only one that makes the most sense of the evidence.

Although ultimate first causes are unobservable, our existence is evidence that there was a first cause. Therefore, it is justified to believe in some first cause even though all first causes are supernatural. If the best explanatory inference is to a personal first cause, then it is justified to take that view. (And if this entity is indistinguishable from a god, then it is justified to believe in such a god.)

Rejecting the personal agent possibility just on principle would also be rejecting a whole category of explanatory options that would simply leave you with a poorer range of explanatory tools. Do not by your metaphysics limit yourself away from good (or especially the best) explanatory options.

By accepting the possibility of an agent first cause, you would simply be adding to your explanatory toolboxes without compromising your explanatory options. Arguably, accepting the possibility of the first cause being a personal agent is warranted, useful and is the most plausible. Having this extra explanatory toolbox is no loss to you, but is all to your benefit.

Some will ask, what caused this agent? Since I proposed the agent as an ultimate cause, the question is a mistake of understanding. This is an uncaused agent. note In this, an agent cause is not different from a mechanistic cause because all ultimate explanations of our universe must initiate from an uncaused first cause. This agent would also be supernatural, but of course all proposed explanations for the origin of the universe are supernatural. note

Interestingly, just as everybody believes in the supernatural, everybody also appeals to the infinite:

  • The multiverse appeals to infinite universes to explain our own universe.
  • The always-existing universe appeals to an infinite past.
  • The personal agent explanation appeals to an infinite creative being.

Actual infinities are impossible as part of this universe, but we all depend on one for the existence of our universe.

No one infinity is larger than other infinities because infinities cannot be sized. (There is no such practical thing as a "small" infinity.) In the same way there isn't greater and lesser types of supernatural. (There is no such thing which if it is supernatural is only a "tiny bit" supernatural.) That which is supernatural is thoroughly supernatural.

If a supernatural personal entity is proposed, some might then think a logical question should be "Who made this entity?".

Again, they make a mistake of understanding because an uncaused agent is being proposed. (Nothing made this entity.)

They seem to think the posing of this question makes the personal entity look like a foolish idea. However, the same question can be asked about materialistic causes for the universe.

  • Does asking what made the multiverse generator then make this mechanistic cause look foolish? Is asking that question a proof the multiverse cannot exist? (No)
  • Does asking a question of "what created an infinitely old universe" prove our universe cannot exist? (No)

Note that this question is implicitly assuming that the first entity is a created entity, but that makes no sense. All created entities come after the ultimate first cause regardless of what the first cause was. And there must be an ultimate first cause to initiate our environment and existence.

The question itself is foolish, it is not useful, and it does not illuminate truth.

Explanatory power

Which ultimate cause then has the best explanatory power? All of these ideas (eternal universe, multiverse, and agent) give an accounting for the existence of the universe and the fine tuning of the universe to support life. However, what about life? A key characteristic of all of life is that it is information-based.

Life itself functions from a basis of complex specified information, and the only origin of this type of information that is known to humans is from intelligent sources. Natural law has no ability to make information codes that conform to specifications. Things that result from the processes of natural law are either highly regularized patterns (like repetitious crystal structures) or highly irregular disorder (like messy dirt on a forest floor). Natural law processes could never make codes (like English words in a book) that comply with the specifications of human language. Natural law processes could never construct arrangements of parts that function together as a machine (such as a bicycle) to perform a purpose.

Life, however, is completely dependent on both these things. DNA stores the genetic code instructions from which functionally rare and complex proteins are assembled. And these protein machines drive the processes of life contrary to the natural directions of chemistry (e.g. the ATP synthase turbine). Mechanistic origin explanations are completely impotent to account for life because mechanistic causes (aka chemical evolution) are completely unable to make these aspects of life.

The agent explanation, however, plausibly explains these characteristics of life. By our experience, intelligent agents create codes that conform to independent specifications (like books), and they design and create things made of purposeful arrangements of parts (like bicycles). Life is based on genetic codes and molecular machines for every part of its existence. By all uniform and repeated experience (which is the basis of science), intelligent agents are the only observed (and therefore valid) explanation for these sorts of things. note

As we we have learned to accept from science, it is normal to posit the existence of unobserved entities to explain things we do observe. However, by the principle of Occam‘s razor, the invented things which we do not observe must be as parsimonious as possible. (parsimonious: stingy, having a minimum of parts or costs) That is, whatever things we invent to explain that which we observe must be the most simple ones still able to provide the necessary level of explanation.

So, some have posited the multiverse. If it were to exist, I admit it might explain the existence of our material universe. It is not parsimonious though because it posits infinite other-verses to explain our one universe. The bigger problem is crediting the multiverse as sufficient to explain the existence of life. Failing this, it is an insufficient explanation and is to be rejected.

The uncaused personal agent explanation credibly explains both these parts (the fine-tuned universe and life). By example regarding life: we always explain the existence of books and bicycles as being caused by personal agents (humans). We know that nature cannot create them (even though they are simple compared to life). And we have evidence that (only) humans are capable to produce them.

So when we look at what types of entities could be capable to produce life, we use exactly the same reasoning. We can show that there are no mechanistic processes able to produce the information and machines of living organisms from dead chemicals. An intelligent personal agent, however, is a cause known to be capable of producing effects like this.

The agent then is the best explanation (and it is parsimonious - only one integrated agent). This is sound, logical and scientific reasoning.

So our life on this earth is best explained by a personal intelligent agent as first cause. This agent explains how our universe came into existence in the finite past, explains the universe’s incredibly unlikely fitness to support life, and an agent uniquely explains the existence of the information and machines that make life work.

And so…

Everyone believes in the supernatural. That our universe has existence is at least a miracle. That it is so finely tuned to support life makes this miracle much larger. That life exists is a second miracle, and one that we consistently discover is a bigger miracle the more we find out how life works.

When materialistic science proposes an eternal universe or a mechanistic multiverse, it continues to invoke the supernatural in its explanations. Note therefore that science is unable to eliminate the supernatural because in the end science itself depends on it.

To account for our living existence in this universe, the explanatory power of mechanistic explanations fail us. However, an an agent explanation for the universe can account for all this (and even more).

Ultimately we all believe in the supernatural and ultimately we all believe in at least one great miracle. So then among all the ultimate origin explanations, select the one that is best.