Which comes first—information or the medium for that information?
Nobody ever accidently mixes the appropriate ingredients together and then says, “Oh look, without even knowing it I made fajitas!” No, instead, we always precede any dish with some kind of recipe in mind. In similar fashion, an architectural blueprint always precedes a building and a DNA “blueprint” always precedes an organism, etc. So also every rock, every speck of dust—indeed, every single quantum in the cosmos—is preceded by rational information.
On the one hand, this is an objective, testable, falsifiable, massively confirmed fact.
On the other hand, this one simple fact, like all the other characteristics of information, completely eviscerates the presuppositions of materialism. Therefore, the scientific establishment has no other choice but to categorize this fact as a philosophical conclusion rather than a scientific one, and then to try to hide it under a dense fog of relentlessly esoteric philosophical “debate”. They will start pontificating about your basic epistemologies, ontologies, existentialities and Platonic realities, and you’re going to have to beat them back with a stick. As I said on the home page, imagine yourself trying to see the Andromeda galaxy and then being bombarded with a crowd of professors bringing flashlights and spotlights.
Instead of clarifying the facts or even exploring the facts, all their philosophizing just mixes the facts with a bunch of speculations about speculations about speculations. But if we just hone in on the observations and let the facts speak for themselves, the fog will dissipate and the truth will shine bright and clear.
So let’s leave all the speculating for some other time and for now just look at the facts. We’ll start with the mathematical facts and then move to physical laws.
The Nature of Infinity
Infinity can never be physically represented or imaged in any way. By contrast, for example, the number 5 can be physically imaged by 5 abacus beads, V knots in a rope, cinco apples, 五 electronic pulses, etc. (Ad infinitum!) But infinity is, by its very nature, 100% unimaginable. Yet we use infinity (via calculus) along with irrational numbers like π (via trigonometry) in the development of almost any piece of modern technology. Without these mathematical tools, we would have no smartphones, no jet airplanes, no slushy machines—nothing, at least, that requires a transistor. Furthermore, our architecture would all be relatively small and clumsy. Because as tools π and infinity are all just as essential and objective as our machine shops, our forges, and our cranes and tractors.
Now similar to infinity are the irrational numbers, including the constants of nature like π (3.14…), the natural logarithm (2.78…), and the golden ratio (1.61…). Although these numbers can be approximated, they can never be imaged. For example, you could have 3.1 pieces of apple pie or, perhaps with a laboratory scale you could have 3.14 pieces of apple pie, but you could never have π pieces of apple pie. Why? Because you cannot cut the pie with infinite precision.
Numbers like these are everywhere in nature, and they are as objective and as useful as a chunk of iron ore. Just as the cranes and tractors that we use are objective, so also is the math. We don’t create the metal in the tools that we use; instead, we discover the metal ore and then use it creatively. Likewise, we don’t create the math we use to design things; instead, we discover the math and then use it creatively.
But unlike our physical tools—cranes and tractors, etc.—numbers and equations have no tangible traits at all. As with any and all information, they are simply immaterial words and sentences, pure meaning. Hammers and tractors and protractors have lots of physical qualities; circles and triangles and integrals do not. We can feel a hammer as we use it to build, but we cannot feel a trigonometric function as we use it to create the plans for a building. We can measure the force of a tractor as we use it to dig the foundation of a house, but we cannot measure any physical qualities in the trigonometric equations that we use it to build that same house.
And at the heart of them all is this unimaginable concept we call infinity.
Now although they will seldom admit it, this observation about the abstractness of infinity is non-negotiably unacceptable to the materialist. It presents a number of impasses, but I will just point to one: it means that nonphysical information can exist without any physical medium. By contrast, much if not most of the information that we encounter in the world comes to us through various physical media such as light waves, sound waves, chemical reactions, touch, etc. But infinity cannot ever have any physical media at all even though, as we said, it is just as useful and necessary and objective for engineers as is your basic screwdriver. That is why naturalists must avoid this observation at all costs. For as German mathematician Georg Cantor, discoverer of set theory, put it, it terrifies them.
“The fear of infinity is a form of myopia that destroys the possibility of seeing the actual infinite, even though it in its highest form has created and sustains us, and in its secondary transfinite forms occurs all around us and even inhabits our minds.”[i]
Now if information can exist without a physical medium, is the reverse also possible? Could you ever have a physical phenomenon that did not convey information? No. Even black holes make themselves abundantly well known. We can remain certain that for everything in the universe, the only reason we know that any of it exists is because it conveys (immaterial) information.
That implies that information precedes its medium. And that is exactly what physicists have also concluded.
The Preeminence of the Laws of Physics
Scientists have often talked about the mystery of immaterial information and laws in the universe. As John Barrow, professor of mathematical sciences at The University of Cambridge, put it:
A mystery lurks beneath the magic carpet of science, something that scientists have not been telling, something too shocking to mention except in rather esoterically refined circles: that at the root of the success of 20th century science there lies a deeply “religious” belief—a belief in an unseen and perfect transcendental world that controls us in an unexplained way, yet upon which we seem to exert no influence whatsoever.[ii]
Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008), a member of the Manhattan Project and a professor of physics at Princeton University, famously coined the phrase “it from bit” in 1989 to explain how information precedes every quantum of the cosmos. Starting with the double-slit experiment back in 1801, scientists had discovered that the questions that they asked in the laboratory didn’t just lead to the discovery of answers, but also actually prompted the physical creation of answers. By contrast, what they had been used to was assuming that answers were simply waiting to be discovered in nature, like books sitting on a shelf. For example, if they asked, “How does a plant turn solar energy into chemical energy?” they could eventually discover the objective equation for photosynthesis. But with the advent of quantum mechanics, they learned that answers literally did not exist until after they asked the questions.
I, like other searchers, attempt formulation after formulation of the central issues and here present a wider overview, taking for working hypothesis the most effective one that has survived this winnowing: It from Bit. Otherwise put, every it — every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself — derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes or no questions, binary choices, bits.
It from Bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.[iii]
From at least the early 20th century, physicists realized that their experiments contradicted the presuppositions of materialism. Not only that, they realized that it directly indicated the presence of free will in the scientists themselves. As physicist Henry Stapp put it:
The core message of quantum mechanics, in the words of Niels Bohr, is: “In the drama of existence we are ourselves both actors and spectators.” It is our influence on our acts of acquiring knowledge that allows us actors to transform a quantum world of potentialities into actualities that are expressions of our values. It is these consequences of our probing actions that give meaning to our lives.[iv]
So from beginning to end, this discovery has led to endless speculations about the divine Author of quantum mechanics in particular and of nature in general. To be sure, some scientists try to turn it around and use it as an argument against the existence of God, as does physicist Lawrence Krauss, a world-renowned atheist professor of physics and cosmology at Arizona State University:
In quantum gravity, universes can, and indeed always will, spontaneously appear from nothing. Such universes need not be empty, but can have matter and radiation in them, as long as the total energy, including the negative energy associated with gravity [balancing the positive energy of matter], is zero…The lesson is clear: quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing—meaning, in this case, I emphasize, the absence of space and time—it may require them. ‘Nothing’—in this case no space, no time, no anything!—is unstable.[v]
Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) said very much the same thing:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.[vi]
I do not question the brilliance of these scientists, but I do want to point out just how very much they are taking for granted—namely, these laws of quantum gravity. It takes decades of study before an intelligent mind can comprehend these laws—and that only after dozens of generations of mathematicians and scientists have dedicated their lives to deciphering them. (And I might point out that we have never known such laws except through intelligent minds, so we actually have no context for presupposing that they have no intelligent author.) Furthermore, the laws are only coherent in the context of an exceedingly complex system of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. So to say that they are all we need to make a universe from scratch is a bit like saying that one can make an apple tree from scratch if one just starts with the right materials: “I’ll just need a lot of dirt and sunshine and water. Oh, and I’ll need the blueprint for an apple tree. And you might as well encode that blueprint in nucleic acid on a DNA molecule. In fact, just give me some apple seeds.”
Dr. Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and former columnist for Scientific American, says this just begs the question of who or what created the creator.
Theists retort that God is that which does not need to be created. But why can’t the universe be in the same ontological and epistemological category as God, wherein we could simply say that the universe is that which does not need to be created? Theists counter that the universe had a Big Bang beginning and everything that begins to exist has a cause. But not everything in the universe is strictly causal, such as some quantum effects, and even though our universe in its current state can be traced back to a Big Bang beginning that doesn’t mean there was not a previous universe that gave birth to our universe through the Big Bang. Theists also note that that the universe is a thing, whereas God is an agent or being. But don’t things and beings all need a causal explanation? Why should God be exempt from such causal reasoning? Because, rejoins the theist, God is supernatural—outside of space, time, and matter—whereas everything in the universe, and the universe itself, is natural—made up of space, time, and matter, so God and the universe are ontologically different.[vii]
No doubt “Where did the Creator come from?” and “Who created the Creator?” are interesting and inevitable questions. Regardless, here is what we know: rational, coherent, immaterial information saturates the cosmos. Shermer is a zealous materialist, so he, like all the others, simply wants to take this intelligent, creative (literally!) information for granted.
Perhaps that is something we have simply gotten used to. Consider a truck driving down the road. If you study it you will find some information written on it. It has a 7.3-liter V-8 gas engine, named Godzilla, on a four-wheel-drive chassis with a suspension system named Tremor. If you look inside the car, you’ll find a book that gives more detailed information about it—the precise amount of fuel, oil, and other fluids that it holds, the specifications for tuning it, etc. If you go to an auto-parts store, you can get a much larger book with even more detailed information about the vehicle. And if you go to the factory, you can find the actual blueprints for every cubic millimeter of the truck. But you don’t need to comprehend any of that information in order to grasp its authorship: “[Made by] Ford”.
In like manner, we might or might not find “Made by God” written in nature. But what language would we expect him to write it in—ancient Hebrew, modern simplified Chinese, or Java, etc.?
[i] Georg Cantor, Gesammelte Abhandlungen [Collected Essays], eds. A. Fraenkel and E. Zermelo (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1932), 374. As quoted in Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker.
[ii] John D. Barrow, Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) 3.
[iii] John Archibald Wheeler, “Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links” in the Japanese journal Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology, 1989 (309-336). https://philpapers.org/archive/WHEIPQ.pdf
[iv] Henry Stapp, Quantum Theory and Free Will: How Mental Intentions Translate into Bodily Actions (New York: Springer International Publishing, 2017) Kindle Locations 771-773.
[v] Lawrence M. Krauss. A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. (New York: Free Press, 2012) 169-170.
[vi] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), p. 180.
[vii] Michael Shermer, “Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”, Skeptic Magazine, Vol 23 No 4, 2018. https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing/#note02