The Crystal Cathedral’s “Creation” — Genesis on audio/visual steriods

The Crystal Cathedral is famous for its annual production of “the Glory of Easter,” featuring dangling angels, resounding music, and live animals. This year, they experiment with a new production along the same lines. The tagline is “Once upon all time,” and the show is called “Creation.”

Despite the name, the story is a sort of Paradise Lost, mostly retelling the fall of man through the eyes of a wizend old grandfather and his grandson. The style and format is innovative. “[Creation is] presented on a 200-foot wide screen with six projectors, [and] features vivid computer generated imagery (CGI), awe-inspiring aerial theatre, large scale 3-dimensional puppetry and a powerful musical score…” But the amateur writing of Carol S. Milner (writer/director/producer) leaves much to be desired, with poetry and philosophy that is spotty, vague, and only approximately Christian. Despite this, the production is visually interesting, at times, quite moving, and an overall enjoyable experience.

Let’s talk about God. Grandpa narrator starts the story by saying, “In the beginning was a dream.” Huh? Within two lines Milner eagerly rephrases with the only slightly better “In the beginning was the Presence, and its dream.” Throughout the show the creator of “all the stuff” is referred to as the Presence, and once or twice as “deity.” The scientifically informed grandson is a bit skeptical of this “Someone” who his grandpa is always talking about, but is eventually won over to his grandpa’s viewpoint — or, I should say, emotional state — by the power and presence of that someone he experiences through the story.

The narration of the creation of light is moving. With the help of the enormous movie screen, we zoom through space until we see “outside the universe”, where the Presence dwells and dreams. An old-fashioned Greek Chorus arrives to speak for the Presence, and tells us that “he is dreaming.” Soon the visuals and music culminate and the chorus members all together proclaim the famous words of Genesis 1: “let there be light.”

With falling stars in the background, and extremely strange archers with cross-shaped double-bows shooting streams of light into the audience, the chorus returns to pour out its mystical chant: “Elements! Matter! Mass!” (Why not use the words of Genesis as your script? I don’t know.)

Their pseudo-scientific sounding chant does introduce one of my favorite moments of the production.
To image the creation of the planets, Milner puts about half the planets up on the screen, forming before your eyes, and for the others, she brings out a group of aerobatic dancers. (Think Cirque du Soleil).

Saturn is imaged as three men, connected to the ceiling by cables, floating forty feet above the stage, whirling and spinning in unison. Pluto is a pair of performers, spinning and doing an a beautiful piece of air-ballet. Uranus is five men and women, all gripping a large, metal skeleton-globe which whirls as they dance and perform within and around it.

Perhaps because mankind longs to fly, perhaps because circular motion bespeaks something of eternity… I don’t know why. But the spinning and dancing and flying of the performers was extremely moving.

Here the story pauses, and we return to “gramps” and son (who we had effectively forgotten), for some expositional dialogue. I’m afraid I must assert that dialogues such as these are the biggest evidence of the writer’s weaknesses, both artistically and philosophically. Quicker than non-Christian audience members can say, “God is dead! ID is not science! Faith is irrational!” gramps steps in and assures little Michael: “Yup. It’s all about believing, and enjoying the beauty of something from nothing.”

My dear writer/director/producer, is that really what it’s all about? What if the beauty is false? Is a story worth believing if it is so utterly flawed and misguided that it would lead those who believe it to live the mere shadow of a life, deceived by their own fantasies, culturally irrelevant, never facing reality? I do not think Milner would answer in the affirmative to any of these rhetorical questions. What, then, was the point of quoted line? Unless the lines are revised for next year’s production, I can only conclude that fear of controversy (read: disagreement with an actual position) seduces Milner into created a script so watery and warm that many will spit it out of their mouths.

Which brings us to another character, anything but luke-warm: Lucifer, the “Lord of the Earth.” Lucifer (my night) was played quite competently by Carson Coulon, a professional actor out of New York. One of the successes, if not perhaps in the script, in an acting performance is Lucifer’s gradual change from love and admiration of creation to envy and covetous desire for creation. In beautiful song and choppy verse, this overwhelmingly interesting moment in the history of the universe — the first turn from good to bad– is worthily portrayed.

Things again get shaky when little Michael asks a really good question. “Gramps, why do you call the Presence a ‘He’?” “Uh, well little Mikey, I don’t know, duh…” Would have been a better answer. Instead lovable ol’ grandpa retreats to that easiest of philosophical “positions” and retorts: “Because it’s my story.”

Now, I am sympathetic to Milner’s desire to retain the interest and good will of the wider American audience… What’s he going to say? “Well, Micheal, God has revealed himself to us as masculine and male, so it behooves us to take his word for it. And that’s not just true for me or true for you; that’s as true as the fact the Earth is a oblate spheroid. Calling God a “she” or an “it” is simply an error, amounting to blaspheme.”? The day ol’ gramps says that is the day the LA Times rips the Crystal Cathedral a new rear entrance. With that understood, the fact is this: Milner had a choice between some amount of immediate acceptance, and a production that people will want to see again and again, after the spirit of our age has died and been replaced. It’s a choice anyone with a controversial thesis has. She chose the former.

Who was she trying not to offend? Those who believe the universe started with nothing but mass and energy, which exploded (without the intervention of a personality). This is called Naturalism. Naturalists tell a story of creation as well. It runs something like this: “In the beginning was no intelligence or purpose; there were only particles and impersonal laws of physics. These two things plus chance did all the creating. Without them nothing was made that has been made. The particles combined to become complex living stuff through a process of evolution. Primitive humans, not having science to tell them what had happened, dreamed up a Creator they called God.”

Note that the atheistic (or agnostic) story is a) no more based on observation than my niece’s belief in the Tooth Fairy. And b) it does not explain where particles came from (nor assert that particles are self-existent. [Scientists mostly believe they are not]). The Genesis story, on the other hand, explains the existence of the world, saying that God spoke it into being. “But where did God come from?” Ah… God is the sort of thing that is self-existent being, as far as we can tell. That’s what he said, at least. The Hebrews therefore give us at the least this: a much more likely story for the origin of the universe. Dare I call the Genesis hypothesis more… scientific? Regardless, given the opportunity Creation had for propounding a philosophically viable alternative to the silly, two-dimensional Naturalistic story, I was disappointed.

After intermission, there are two other scenes worth mentioning. The idyllic pastoral scene in which Adam and Eve (the actors for the night I went were actually married) express their deep love for eachother and gratitude for the peaceful creation all around them is another powerful and moving scene. Adam and Eve sing of the comfort they have in one another, and the joy of the creatures, from ducks to wolves and cheetahs, that they take as companions.

This peace is inevitably arrested by the entrance of Satan, who has devised to deceive the happy couple by taking on the form of a serpent. He viciously tempts Eve and eventually convinces both her and Adam to eat the fruit. (There is no mention that it is forbidden… The plot-points of the Genesis narrative are apparently assumed.) In a rather awe-inspiring burst of smoke, costumes, and male choral singing, the effects of their fateful choice are dramatically imaged.

There are but a few minutes to soak in the horror of the newly transformed former-paradise, until the show quickly transitions to the closing number, “Angelic Promises,” wherein the actors and the audience members are promised that our “tears will turn to gold,” and “heaven will wrap itself ’round us, a chrysalis of care.”

Creation is a production of good intentions. The indecision about whether or not to draw from the actual in Genesis leaves the production feeling a bit aimless. The lack of mention of Christ, given John 1: 1 – 3, is inexplicable. The audio, however, is stunning, and the acrobatics moving. The combination of CGI, Lion-King-esque puppets, and good acting will surely become more popular; they definitely provide an experience worth having. You’ll have to wait till next year, though, unless you can make it out this weekend. If you do see it, just try not to think, you who try to love God with your mind, only remember that “it’s all about believing, and enjoying the beauty of something from nothing.”

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    “The Hebrews therefore give us at the least this: a much more likely story for the origin of the universe. Dare I call the Genesis hypothesis more… scientific?”

    Not without explaining why question-begging arguments like “God is self-existent because he said so” hold any water, scientifically or otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Of course it begs the question, Jim…

    To this we can agree, I think: Any argument about the origin of the universe must be a hypothesis inferred from premises; no man or woman can go back in time and observe the first few moments of time. Yes?

    OK, so Creation people and Big Bang people are on the same page. Both want to state what was the first sort of thing. Was it superdense matter? Was it Spirit? What?

    Whatever we put forth will have to be challenged with, “But where did THAT come from?”

    We both need a response to that question. Do you agree that we at least need a response, first of all?

    I’m just thinking this through…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Let’s assume that the question is coherent and demands a response. Now, explain why “God self-exists” as the answer is “more scientific” than “the universe self-exists” or “the vacuum whence time sprang self-exists.”

    Using your argument, wouldn’t you also grant that any creation myth involving a deity is “more scientific” than Naturalism’s “silly, two-dimensional” rendition? You’d have no reason, other than theological prejudice, to favor the Genesis account.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Jim,

    Let’s not assume it is coherent and demands a response unless we both really think it.

    I do.

    Do you, or no?

    If so, if we continue on this line of inquiry, we’re not going to come back to this point and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway where the first things came from…” (unless we truly change our opinion on the matter…) Agreed?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    I’m just looking for your best case for a theistic origins story as “more scientific.” It was a fairly straightforward claim, and since you granted it was based on fallacious reasoning, I was hoping you could salvage it with better arguments, not with all this hemming and hawing.

    As for “both really think it,” that sounds like an apologetic strategy, not a debate or dialectic position. If you were to write your thoughts as a dialogue, would it matter if you “really thought” that your hypothetical conversation partner’s points were valid? No–they would exist to sharpen your own.

    Your question is the fodder of centuries of academic and religious activity. That it hasn’t been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction (even within like-minded camps) ought to limit our enthusiasm at the outset. Nevertheless, we go forth in the spirit of academic honesty and open inquiry–because as intellectuals, that’s what we do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    I’d just like to point out that the lack of unanimity on the existence of God, and corollary issues, is actually expected by those who believe in the existence of God, especially the Christian’s conception of God. So, that’s not a reason to dampen our expectation that we can get at the truth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, that might be expected between “the church and the world,” or even among competing faiths, but one would hope that 2,000 years in, Christians could at least agree on, what shall we call it, “mere orthodoxy.” ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Well, there’s chaff in the visible Church too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    That’s to say that if there are people in the Church denying that God created the world then they aren’t really part of the Church. So, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Jim,

    Perhaps it is the limitation of written dialectic, but I find it very difficult to know how to proceed at the right pace.

    I am not hemming and hawing, or if I am, I do not mean to be. I do not see the worth in bantering back and forth if I am not willing to really give up my positions or assume yours. Do you really care about my best case unless you are willing to do the same?

    This question is in fact the fodder for much discussion — I think because it is so important. Have not many come to resolve it within their own minds? I am not one of them, but any one who argues for a position and says they believe it must have come to some resolve. As soon as it becomes apparent to me that a given discussion is futile, as an intellectual, I abandon it as immediately as possible, unless I discover that it really is not futile.

    I am not as good at writing as you, so if this conversation is a competition to sound better, I am losing. I think the only way to profitably proceed is if we are both committed to eachother’s well-being.

    So, the question again is: do we need a response to the question: “Where did the First Things come from?” I say we do, or else our worldview is lacking. For him who says “God is self-existent!” he must then go on to explain how it is possible to know that the Spirit that created is Jehovah of the Bible rather than Brahma, how the creator can be different than the creation, what presuppositions about the world make possible the positing of a god-creator. For him who says “the vacuum whence time sprang self-exists!” he must go on to explain the possibility of the origin of consciousness, the second-law of thermodynamics and the apparent lifespan of matter, etc.

    It seems, if I really (tentatively) believe the former (which I do) and if you really believe the latter, we have quite a bit of work to do. I think we can profitably continue figuring out whether a deistic creation myth is more scientific than a naturalistic one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    (“As for “both really think it,” that sounds like an apologetic strategy, not a debate or dialectic position. If you were to write your thoughts as a dialogue, would it matter if you “really thought” that your hypothetical conversation partner’s points were valid? No–they would exist to sharpen your own.”)

    Oh, I forget to say, in response your point about my apologetic strategy: you are not a character in my head! So I don’t want to sharpen points, I want to have a conversation with another human being, Matt’s brother Jim, and, thereby, hopefully, with God’s help, learn and/or bring about learning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Keith,

    It’s obvious that we approach this medium slightly differently. Blogs are far closer to bull sessions than formal debates. Though I bring to both the same intellectual attitude–”follow the argument wherever it leads”–the informal nature of the medium lends itself far more to limb-climbing.

    I don’t view this particular discussion as a contest of wits or style. So when I say “let’s grant, for the sake of argument…,” I really mean it, and want to follow the premises toward the conclusion.

    What I saw as “hemming and hawing,” you saw as a call for seriousness, which I understand better, and retract the claim.

    So carry on, by all means. You have a petitio principii in arrears.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Very well!

    How to proceed? Let me say this, and see if it settles my account. :)

    Every origins hypothesis begs the question. “God is the first thing!” “How do you know?”
    “Because the first thing is God!”

    Or

    “Matter is the first thing.”
    “Prove it!”
    “All that exists is matter! It must have been!”

    This could go on for ever. We must move to presuppositions.

    If it is possible that God exists, and if God is other than merely material, then it is necessary that matter came into being. If matter came into being, it is mostly likely that it was created by him.

    The parallel: If it is impossible that god or divinity exists, then it is necessary that matter did not come into being. If matter did not come into being, (assuming it exists, which it does) then it has somehow always existed.

    Aha, now we’re getting somewhere. With these (hopefully valid) syllogistic presuppositions on the digital table we are able to see two things:

    1) a knee-jerk rejection of divine creation as an account for the existence of the universe because it is UNSCIENTIFIC rests entirely on the presupposed truth of the antecedent of the second syllogism.

    2) the antecedent of the first syllogism (that it is possible for God to exist) is, likewise, very very important.

    So in order to discern the which question we want to beg :) we must discuss whether or not god or divinity even exists.

    Shall we proceed then, if you agree so far, to discuss the relative merits of each position?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    There is a shorter route, too, and that is to deny the consequent of the second syllogism (that matter necessarily did not come into being). If this premise was successfully denied, I believe we would be forced to deny the antecedent (that it is necessary that matter did not come into being) and that leaves us with the possibility of anything nonmaterial, whether god or a spirit turtle or anything else. I could be making a logical error there, though. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on that whole part.

    I am tempted to take this route and say, “Scientists tell us that matter is finite and has a lifespan. If it has a lifespan, if it will eventually not be, then it must have come into being,” but I have not thought that through thoroughly. Am I missing something that makes that route unteneble?

    Some might say, “Well, perhaps this big bang was different from the last, and the next will be different than this… still, the material universe is all there is, was, or will be.” To them I ask, “So you are admitting ignorance of what the universe was like before the big bang, and what it will be like after cold death?” They would say, “Well, yes.” I would then say, “And you’re saying that the way it was (and will be) is so different from our current universe that the rules of physics, gravity, and the movement of atoms will all be different?” Again, “Well, yes.”

    I would say, “Well then, there is no hypothesis for what the universe was like before OUR universe blew up that is outside scientific hypothesizing.”

    I do not think they would like being in a position where any hypothesis is teneble, but I don’t see a way around it. Again, help would be appreciated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Unpacking the syllogism is a requisite first step.

    “If it is possible that God exists, and if God is other than merely material, then it is necessary that matter came into being.”

    The underlying assumptions:

    1. Self-existence is possible.
    2. God is (by definition) self-existent.
    3. God and matter are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories of being.

    Ally these with the unstated premise:

    4. Matter is not self-existent.

    Then we have:

    5. God is the only self-existent being.

    But #4 seems to be the very item up for debate; hence the charge of circularity. On what grounds do we presume that matter is not self-existent?

    Note that scientists, talking about any “lifespan” of matter, also recognize two fundamental facts: it is exchangeable with energy, and any exchange conserves both. I won’t even go into the controversies surrounding the plausibility of the Big Bang, multiverses, and Hawking’s musing about the universe’s shape and timelessness. The point is that we’re using “matter” in a very nontechnical way, just to fill out our dualistic categorization.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    I’d like to quickly butt in again, but if you guys want to keep this more one-on-one let me know. Hopefully this adds something to the discussion…

    Jim-I think that Keith may have had another premise in mind in place of 4:

    There can only be one self-existent category of being.

    While this still needs to be argued for, it doesn’t devolve the syllogism into circularity, at least on the face of things.

    (I’d like to preface this second reply with the fact that I am no scientist so I can only speak from the perspective a layman would pick up)

    Keith-first, I’m not sure that any naturalistic scientist would say that the physical laws, etc. could be *anything* before a big bang or after a big implosion. They’d at least have to assume an infinite regression of ‘material’ causation, or do something tricky with the whole time-space relativism thing, both of which seem to fit in the ‘what the universe was like’ category. So, at least on my hugely uninformed part, I’m not seeing success down that route.

    Second, even if *anything* goes, they could still hypothesize “matter first”, which, if untestable, would probably have to resort to metaphysical speculation to determine whether ‘matter’ trumps ‘God’.

    So, at this point the argument seems to center around 2 things: whether there can only be 1 self existent being, and, consequently, whether ‘matter’ trumps ‘God’.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    I meant:

    ‘wether there can only be 1 self existent category of being’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Thanks for your guys’ comments. Sorry for the delay in responding… I will get to it before the end of the week, if possible!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, I see how that premise would fit into the syllogism, but I’d be curious to know what would be the intuitive force or argument justifying its inclusion. Unless that occurred, a charge of circularity would still hold.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Just that it is meant to be a syllogism and not a tautology, so the onus is to interpret it as such if possible. That being said, I haven’t got an argument for the premise yet.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Here’s an argument I find pretty compelling, although I also find the ontological argument compelling, which some do not:

    If God exists, then matter cannot be self existent, otherwise it would infringe upon God’s omnipotence. God must be omnipotent, otherwise He wouldn’t be God, since something would be conceivably better than Him, etc. Therefore, God and matter are mutually exclusive in terms of self existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, how or why would self-existence infringe upon God’s omnipotence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    At this point I think all I have are thought experiments that demonstrate the claim’s intuitiveness to me: For example, I have more power over a robot that I have created (which of course I could relinquish), than over another human being with free will.

    In the same way, God would not be able to do whatever He wanted with self existent matter (i.e. make it not exist), so His power over matter is less than if He had created it and its existence was dependent upon Him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, perhaps, but God can’t also square a circle, at least if a common theodician’s retort is to be believed. Why wouldn’t the argument be the same here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, your previous thought experiment about the robot also saws off another plank of theodicy: if God is omnipotent, you imply, we can’t have free will, because that would somehow lessen God’s power.

    Whatever became of Keith?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    In response to your first point, I think the distinction between my argument and the ‘square-circle’ variety is that the latter is analytic while mine is not. I’d say that if He exists, God has power over the truth value of all non-analytic propositions. I say this because I don’t see how such a claim could ever be disproven. So, unless God says otherwise, it would be better to suppose that God has such power than not, etc. I don’t know if you could even trust that such a claim came from God.

    For your second point, I think it is coherent to say God allows us to have free-will, which He can revoke whenever He wants.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, I have read and re-read your previous statement, and either I’m dense, or it’s incoherent, or some awful contraction of the two. Why would the statement, “God can create / destroy a self-existent being” be any less logically impossible than “God can square / triangulate a circle,” if self-existent beings are by definition self-existent? It would be akin to saying “God can / cannot destroy Himself.” Analytic or synthetic? (I completely grant that my own confusion is likely to blame here.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Er, more likely than your confusion, I think it would be mine. At this point in an argument I tend to get muddled. Anyhow, I’ll think about it and see if I can salvage what I wrote. I think I had a coherent thought behind the post, but maybe not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Ah, what I meant was that it is not analytically true that matter is self existent. So, while it is analytically true that God cannot create / destroy a self-existent being, this does not devolve the argument into circularity because the question is actually whether God would have more power if He could create / destroy matter. Since the object of the question is not analytic, then the answer to the question is meaningful and would be answered with a yes.

    Hopefully that makes sense and you can see what I’m getting at. At these more rarified levels of reasoning (at least for me) it gets quite alot harder for me to focus on both the expression of my thought and the thought itself, so I tend to trip up my wording much more.

    Now, to back up to the original question, I have to say that the most convincing counter-naturalistic arguments for me right now are Pascal’s wager and the aesthetic argument. I’m pretty sure you’re aware of the former. What I mean by the latter is that aesthetic experiences seem to necessitate that I believe there really are aesthetic facts. If I’m a naturalist I can’t believe this, so naturalism does not account for aesthetic experience, at least from the first person perspective.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, a quick question might help me. “Matter self-exists,” you argue, is synthetic. Is “God self-exists” analytic? Isn’t that rather arbitrary, and the origin of the charge of circularity in the first place? Perhaps the analytic-synthetic distinction isn’t helping us here. It presupposes agreed-upon definitions–and we’re trying to hash those definitions out in the first place.

    (The aesthetic argument interests me, and I’d love to see you post something about that on your own blog.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    According to the ontological argument, God’s self-existence is analytically true. However, I don’t think it is necessary to argue that point right now.

    Anyways, I agree, it seems like the discussion is getting too buried in the details. So, I’m done for now. Maybe I’ll post again once Keith gets a chance to continue with his train of thought.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    I’ll second that. Mr. Buhler?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    I’m back! My regrets for the delay.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Jim, you unpacked the syllogism well. I’ll start there.

    The presuppositions you noted were:
    “1. Self-existence is possible.
    2. God is (by definition) self-existent.
    3. God and matter are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories of being.
    4. Matter is not self-existent.
    Then we have:
    5. God is the only self-existent being.”

    Underlying assumption #1 I grant. I think we both must, yes?

    #2, That God is self-existent, I believe for a few reasons… more on that below.

    #3, “God and matter are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories of being” I do not claim to know either way, but either way I do not mind at all. I actually go back and forth between thinking that God himself is material (which, I’m pretty sure is a heresy of some sort) or immaterial. I only consider the terribly strange possibility because of the overwhelming force of this question: how could the creator be entirely different and separate from creation? Even hypothetically?
    That’s beside the point. Even if God and matter are not mutually exclusive and we start talking about how that works — how much God is different/the same as the universe, and so on — we are granting that God is there, upholding things. Once we grant that he is there, being his happy self-existent Self, upholding things, we are a short trip away from affirming the authority of the ten commandments, the word of the Isreali prophets, and the virgin birth. (A short trip I’m not opposed to… but I’m just looking out for you :-)

    #4 is an interesting one, about which, perhaps, we both have some research to do. My brief exposure has lead me to believe that matter/energy, though not “disappearing”, does dissolve and disintegrate and spread out… eventually, it will be so widely distributed across the universe that there will be no universe as we know it.

    That’s to say nothing about parallel universes, quantum physics, or timelessness.

    Supposing this were true, we would be reasonable in assuming that the current arrangement of matter — into (relatively) dense clusters like atoms, which are arranged in bodies and planets etc., which are tightly packed into galaxies and so on, that all this – is very temporary. If it is temporary, it must have begun at some point. If it began at some point, the “HOW?!” is such an overwhelming and demanding question that Genesis becomes very, very interesting.

    Supposing this is not true that matter is slowly running out, or that it’s too fuzzy, I do not know what is reasonable in this case. Can someone who has perhaps researched (both sides of!) the “how long will the composition of the universe last?” issue enlighten us?

    OK, back to whether or not God is self-existent. I think he is for several reasons. 1. One, he said so. Have you read Exodus ~32ff? Regardless, you will probably respond: “OK, but that begs the question on a different issue… how do we know the Bible is the word of god?” Let’s say we don’t. At least I have a national religious/philosophical tradition that ascribes to some God’s affirmation that “he is who he is.” We have nothing of similar value from Matter itself. Matter has not, to my knowledge, affirmed its own existence. Someone fill me in if it (he?) has.

    2. Take Buddhists for example, or quazi-Buddhists like Ken Wilbur. They meditate 9-5. They transcend. Tibetans have been sold on this project for thousands of years. So why do they do this? What do they discover? There is a fascinating consistency of experience. I have not researched this much, but Wilbur reports that there is a common understanding that is reached by T.M.ers, that, when articulated, runs something like this: “divinity and the ground of being are one.” This is interesting, is it not? And they identify divinity with spirit, not matter. And in spirit “everything is arising, moment to moment.” I say all that at the risk of sounding Eastern and a little loony to point out that there is a firm experiential connection for these thousands of people between divinity and existence… The most modest thing to say about that is that it is a bit of data that needs to be made sense of.

    3. Socrates, Plato (“the good is beyond being”), Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Dante, and, in my own little Buhler-sized way, myself, have reasoned to the conclusion that the source of being is being itself. Is “being itself” personal? Well, that’s a good question. Ask him.

    Where does that leave us?
    Thoughts/response?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3143546 Matthew Anderson

    “I actually go back and forth between thinking that God himself is material (which, I’m pretty sure is a heresy of some sort) or immaterial. I only consider the terribly strange possibility because of the overwhelming force of this question: how could the creator be entirely different and separate from creation? Even hypothetically?”

    Mere-O becomes Mere-H(eterodoxy). Too bad the ‘hetero’ doesn’t roll of the tongue the same way…

    Seriously, why is the question of the distinction between creator and creation so forceful? Via analogy, it seems fairly intuitive that any creator (say of art) doesn’t mix himself with his creation (even though he puts his ideas into it). Help me out here.
    (Yes, I know this is tangential, but I’m interested in this question!)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    So, resuscitating the syllogism:

    1. Self-existence is possible.
    Mutually agreed upon.

    2. God is self-existent.
    If we’re consistent in our definition of “God,” we can take this one as a given.

    3. God and matter are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive categories of being.
    You’re not certain if this one flies, even though it’s necessary to the syllogism. You say, “That’s beside the point. Even if God and matter are not mutually exclusive and we start talking about how that works — how much God is different/the same as the universe, and so on — we are granting that God is there, upholding things.” But that’s a complete non-sequitur. The upholding is what’s under examination!

    4. Matter is not self-existent.
    Above, I said that we’ve been using “matter” as a catch-all for “matter and energy” or “the universe,” in a very nontechnical sense, so we’re speculating here. Suffice it to say that this claim is, at best, only weakly justified in the preceding discussion, by an appeal to mysticism that I find interesting, but difficult, because Buddhists ascribe to a notion of “being” and “God” that deflate any appeals to Christianity.

    5. God is the only self-existent being.
    No longer warranted. The syllogism is asphyxiated.

    I’ll address some of your other points soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Geez. Make that Buddhists subscribe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    “Subscribe/Ascribe…” I do that all the time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Now for the tangents.

    “Once we grant that he is there, being his happy self-existent Self, upholding things, we are a short trip away from affirming the authority of the ten commandments, the word of the Israeli prophets, and the virgin birth.”

    It may be short as the crow flies, but there are some pretty steep mountains in the middle, and the path forks off in several directions. Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, some dead creed, some yet-invented faith…. The presumption isn’t Christianity unless you’re a Christian.

    “OK, back to whether or not God is self-existent. I think he is for several reasons. 1. One, he said so. Have you read Exodus ~32ff? Regardless, you will probably respond: ‘OK, but that begs the question on a different issue… how do we know the Bible is the word of god?’ Let’s say we don’t. At least I have a national religious/philosophical tradition that ascribes to some God’s affirmation that ‘he is who he is.’”

    Maybe you’re thinking of Exodus 3. In Exodus 32, God burns with anger at the Israelites, but relents when outsmarted by a sharp-witted Moses, who has to remind God (!) of His promise to the Israelites.

    To your argument from tradition, I give you Hinduism, which for thousands of years has offered a polytheistic (and yet in some ways monotheistic) view of the cosmos. It beats Christianity in an age bout, whatever that proves.

    “We have nothing of similar value from Matter itself. Matter has not, to my knowledge, affirmed its own existence. Someone fill me in if it (he?) has.”

    Perhaps you mean “affirmed its own self-existence.” But why should we expect it to? And, as you’ve already anticipated, why should we take God’s (second-, third-, or fourth-hand) “claim” at face value?

    I already addressed your Buddhist example.

    As for Socrates, etc., “The source of being is being itself.” Probably defensible. But in another breath, “The good is beyond being.” I take it those are consistent statements, but I don’t immediately see how, especially if we’re supposed to take a short trip to Christianity where God is also Good.

    “…Is “being itself” personal? Well, that’s a good question. Ask him.”

    Which makes me wonder if intellectual honesty is possible here, since you’re convinced of the answer at the outset. I’ve shown where your claims are warrant-light or warrantless. Originally you called the Genesis account “more scientific,” and deemed naturalism “silly.” Yet when pressed, you haven’t offered much in the way of evidence except arguments from authority, which aren’t terribly convincing. (Your dabblings in heresy are heartening, though, I will say.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3143546 Matthew Anderson

    “Which makes me wonder if intellectual honesty is possible here, since you’re convinced of the answer at the outset.”

    Why is skepticism about the answer a pre-requisite for intellectual honesty?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    It is if one has set out to “follow the argument wherever it leads,” rather than to get the argument from point A to Predetermined Point B. Otherwise, one risks confirmation bias.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    That went kind of a different route than I thought Keith was going. Anyways, interesting stuff, and I’m happy to see the discussion resurrected once again, although I am now confused as to exactly where you guys are. Are you discussing whether God exists, whether He created the world, or something else I’m missing, or just not restricting the discussion to a specific topic?

    PS Jim, I’ve posted the aesthetic argument on my blog, and I’m interested to see what you make of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    As for Keith’s claim:

    “…Is “being itself” personal? Well, that’s a good question. Ask him.”

    It makes sense, because if there is a personal God, the best way of finding out is to try talking to Him. It doesn’t necessarily entail a theistic bias.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    “Ask him.”

    Or her.

    Or —.

    The theistic bias (the Christian bias) is evident in the choice of language.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric, which blog is yours?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    I like how you use the word “bias.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Jim,

    It seems where I have lost the thread is in my response to your point #3.

    I said: “We are granting that God is there, upholding things.”

    You said: “But that’s a complete non-sequitur. The upholding is what’s under examination!”

    Here is my clarification:

    By “upholding” I mean the power to sustain in existence, which, in this case, includes and assumes the more general power to DO anything.

    I guess it is more intuitive to me to say that some personality has power than it is to say that some rock or protein or star system has power…

    If “God” and the universe are identical, my first inference would be, not that God is impersonal, but that the universe, like Timeaus’ cosmos-in-words, is personal.

    Even if we forget the trinitarian Christian God this (world-soul) model seems more plausible than a “hunk-o-energy” model.

    Does that correct the alleged non-sequiter? If not, can you clarify what you meant?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Responding to Matt’s tangent:

    (Why is the question of the distinction between creator and creation so forceful? Via analogy, it seems fairly intuitive that any creator [say of art] doesn’t mix himself with his creation [even though he puts his ideas into it].)

    That makes sense in the case of people, because there is an artist (pre-existing) and a tube of paint (also pre-existing).

    It’s like if someone asked me:
    How can a God who is all is create? Did he using something that already existed?
    No, nothing existed.
    Did he get something from nowhere?
    No that’s impossible.
    Did he get something from himself, the stuff he’s made of?
    That must be it…But.. Dr. Sanders said that’s wrong, and the second option, creation out of nothing, is right. I’m open to that, but I don’t yet see why.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    In regards to 4., you said: “we’re speculating here.”

    I agree, so here is perhaps a good place to pause the argument and do some mutual looking-into of the nature of the cosmos, as the human race, especially the scientists, philosophers, and thinkers of the 21st century, currently believe it to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    You said: “Buddhists ascribe to a notion of “being” and “God” that deflate any appeals to Christianity.”

    I agree… why do you bring up Christianity here, again?

    I ask you only to observe with me the bit of data described, so we can make sense of it as best we can.

    My first guess of how to make sense of it I already gave, sort of… more like implied… and that is that this bit of data fits with a creation story in which divinity and being are just as closely linked.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    This post has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    I said: “Once we grant that he is there, being his happy self-existent Self, upholding things, we are a short trip away from affirming the authority of the ten commandments, the word of the Israeli prophets, and the virgin birth.”

    You responded:
    “It may be short as the crow flies, but there are some pretty steep mountains in the middle, and the path forks off in several directions. Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, some dead creed, some yet-invented faith…. The presumption isn’t Christianity unless you’re a Christian.”

    ————————————–

    Sorry, this was sort of a joke, since I know you are sensitive about being “converted.” I was teasing you with a nightmarish slippery slope. :) It is bad taste, probably, to mix in such horsing around in a serious conversation.

    Slippery slopes are funny, though, or maybe just the people who use them. “We can’t prevent private citizens from having guns! Next thing you know, people aren’t allowed to have sex without signing a government waiver! GUN CONTROL IS THE DEBIL!”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Tangential responses to tangents:

    I stand corrected on the Exodus reference, which I bring up and lord over the failure of Matter Itself to provide a similar example only because it seems something is better than nothing. That is, believing a proposition for a (plausible) reason is better than believing another for no (plausible) reason.

    Since I’ve never thought it impossible that a god exists, then the competing accounts line up like this:

    1. God could be self-existent.
    2. Matter could be self-existent.

    1a. God, it has come down to us, has spoken to lots of people in history, who have written their first- or second-hand experiences down, and he has claimed that he is self-existent (not in so many words.)

    2a.Matter Itself has done nothing of the sort. (It is quiet and does what its told, except in the case of black holes.)

    Therefore, which is the most probable? “God” wins.

    I know the reason you won’t buy that: “God doesn’t exist,” or “Why do you assume the biblical documents are accurate and/or not made up by the Isrealis?” OK, OK, but I just wanted to be clear.

    The real meat of the argument is what I already suggested, whether or not proposition 2 (Matter could be self-existent) is even true. If matter could not possibly be self-existent, if it is deteriorating, then that is all I care about. And since neither of us seems to have sufficient knowledge to comment there, and no one has posted comments enlightening us, I’m going to duck out and do some research. This will incidentally help with avoiding tangents, which spring up like weeds in even the best of conversations.

    So where do things stand?

    a1. If there is something rather than nothing, then something must have always existed (be “self-existent”) or have been created.
    a2. There is something, the universe.
    a3. Something, the universe, is either self-existent or it was created.

    b1. If the universe is not self-existent, it must have been created.

    c1. If the universe could not possibly be self-existent, then it is not self-existent.

    Could the universe be self-existent?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    I agree that the problem here is a lack of relevant information. (Lack of time also comes into play.)

    On intuition.

    Science often confounds our intuitions. Intuitively, the moon must become larger as it approaches the horizon. Scientifically, it’s an optical illusion. Intuitively, heavy things fall faster than light things. Scientifically, gravity pulls them down at the same rate.

    A non-serious hypothetical:

    Jones claims he is a CIA agent.
    Smith keeps mum.

    Which is the more likely CIA agent? Jones or Smith?

    If your plausible claims criterion holds, Jones; after all, he’s the only one making a plausible claim. But if you think about it, CIA agents don’t go around blabbing about their identities. So it’s Smith. Unless Jones is playing a mind game… so it’s Jones. Or both. Or neither.

    I still have my sense of humor intact.

    (By the way, you are getting sleep, I hope; those are some late post times.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Gregg Easterbrook’s article from a few years back is a decent intro to some recent ideas in cosmology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    My blog’s the ‘blog on the corner’.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Wow, quite an article. How many ways can you say ‘self creating reality’? So, that gives you guys a second option, what if there wasn’t an eternal first mover, but instead there was a discrete self creater?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    On the tangential question of whether God is material, don’t non-heretical Christians believe God has a body? At that point doesn’t God become partially material? And isn’t God eternally the same because of His timelessness?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Re: Eric’s thought on God’s materiality

    Eric, since this is family business and boring for some, I’ve sent my thoughts via email.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Re: the article

    Thanks for the lead… looks interesting already.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3147777 Keith E. Buhler

    Re: the CIA agents

    I like the hypothetical, and the point is well-taken that a silent operative is more likely to be an agent than a loud-and-proud one.

    They are both, however, people. If the Old Testament God is an overzealous private citizen and the universe is a secret agent, stealthily concealing its identity, well, then we can both agree the right question is not “What is the universe?” but rather “Who is the universe?”

    And maybe the best place to start would be to look for a badge #.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/6935791 Eric

    Hmm, I think I’ve stolen Jim…or maybe his life consists of more than our blogs…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3227194 Jim

    Eric,

    Yes to both. But I’m waiting more for Keith to digest some of the points raised in the article I linked to. I’ve been reading NewScientist lately, articles about the energy in vacuums (also known as zero-point energy), and have also been working on my classroom blogs, preparing for the debate season, and enjoying life at home.