The Atheist/Agnostic Position
When it comes to evidence and counter evidence for the existence of God, a blog post is beyond inadequate to cover the many millennia of information written and debated. So I will limit myself to my story and only add details where explanation is necessary. If you see an argument missing, feel free to add it in the comment section, but know that I am most likely aware of the omission.
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When I was in my atheist mindset, I believed the following proposition:
- Something cannot come from nothing.
- Either the universe or God was eternal.
- We can observe the universe and verify that it exists. God… we can only infer his existence, at best.
- Therefore, it is far more probable that the universe is eternal (in some sense).
As I took up the challenge to be skeptical of my skepticism, I realized a fatal flaw in my argument. I had neglected to examine the nature of both the universe and God. So in this post, I will present to you the arguments that led me to believe in God’s existence again. But first, I want to point out some of the arguments that I thought failed or were irrelevant.
God of the Gaps Arguments
One of the most common objections to theological arguments for God’s existence is that of the “God of the Gaps” fallacy, which presumably belongs to the “appeal to ignorance” category of fallacies. However, one must be cautious of using this accusation because there is generally some confusion on what qualifies as a God of the Gaps fallacy. I will not go into the details of this here, but Robert Larmer has published a great article on this called, “Is There Anything Wrong with ‘God of the Gaps’ Reasoning?” For our purposes, we will define a God of the Gaps fallacy (GGF) as claiming evidence for God’s existence where ever individual or collective ignorance of the natural world occurs. We will define God of the Gaps arguments (GGA) as claiming evidence for God’s existence wherever collective knowledge of the natural world occurs and results in gap. GGFs are not as common among Christian apologists today since scientific knowledge is usually expected of those making arguments for God’s existence. GGAs do frequently occur and decrying the conclusion of these arguments is ineffective unless the premises are examined and shown incorrect.
The argument from design (usually cosmological or biological) is an example of a GGA. Most (if not all) intelligent design arguments involve the complexity of natural systems and the difficulty in their naturally arranging themselves. While interesting, these arguments do not seem to sway atheists. I always felt that as long as science could one day provide an answer, then GGAs were insufficient. Other examples of GGAs fall under the design argument, such as the argument from consciousness.
Some arguments for the existence of God fail from a non-theist point of view. Two of these are the moral argument and the argument from meaning.
William Lane Craig starts off his book, Reasonable Faith, by appealing to the meaning of life. Without God, says Craig, there is no meaning of life, so in an atheist world, there is no ultimate meaning for human existence. We are born, we die, the end.
Well, yes, that sucks. But does that mean God exists? No. Does it make us wish that God existed? For some, yes. For others, not necessarily. I cannot remember which atheist/agnostic said this (maybe Bart Ehrman?), but they genuinely missed having someone to be thank for beautiful days. I think that existential arguments for God are insufficient as evidence for God’s existence, thus they were irrelevant to my belief or disbelief in God.
The moral argument says that the innate moral compass of all (or most) humans points to a moral law giver. Without God, there is no morality. There is no good or evil. The Nazis were not evil. Mother Teresa was not good. People only act in what is fashionable. The theist believes that objective morality must be based on the nature of God.
Many atheists try to argue for the existence of objective morals by pointing to human flourishing as what is good and whatever prevents it, bad. But honestly, all actions have consequences. You kill someone in broad daylight in the middle of Times Square and people become fearful and hateful towards you. Society cannot exist in chaos and you have broken the rules of society. I may be a consequentialist, but it’s pragmatic and we see it working every day.
The moral argument also makes the assumption that all people (at least the cognitively capable) has an innate sense of right and wrong. How do theists know this? What I have found through interacting with people is what I could call a “fairness principle,” where no one wants to be worse off than another. But that’s different from any innate sense of right and wrong. I could continue on this for a while, but I need to further develop my position on this point and it’s not the focus of this post.
So the argument from design, the moral argument, and existential arguments did not change my mind.
What Changed My Mind About God
It was William Lane Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, that changed my mind about God. His treatment of the cosmological argument pointed out that it is not a GGA. This is what caught my attention. I won’t be addressing cosmological arguments in a systematic or historically arranged way. Instead, I will follow the train of thought that led from my atheistic position to my now theistic position.
Is the Universe Eternal?
As I mentioned earlier, my atheistic position maintained that something could not come from nothing. I tried to jump on board with Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, but I could not. I even confronted Krauss on Facebook when the book released about how he redefined “nothing” as a “something.” It wasn’t appreciated by Krauss or his loyal followers. This redefinition of terms does not help in discovering the origin of the universe. Instead, it seems to assume the eternality of the universe. I will argue that the universe is not eternal.
Let’s define “universe” to mean the totality of all space-time. The universe had to come from something or the universe must be eternal. Before the Big Bang Theory, an eternal view of the universe could be accepted in some form or other because scientists believed that we lived in a steady-state universe. We all feel satisfied that science can answer questions regarding the physical universe, and so we are satisfied that space-time began with the existence of the universe. Does the universe have a date? Scientists have dated the universe to approximately 13.8 billion years ago, according to Space.com, because of the data gleaned form the cosmic microwave background radiation of the universe. We also observe the expansion of the universe which can be contracted back to a single point, which points to this physical universe not being eternal.
Beyond empirical evidence, there are also some philosophical arguments:
1. There cannot be an actual infinite number of things, including events.
2. Adding a series of events in a collection of time cannot result in infinite time.
I refer the reader to William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith for a full exposition of these arguments, including the differences between actual infinites and indefinites. I agree with this point and have no issues with it. The rest of what I will include here revolves around Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument as formulated here:
One of the major problems for this formulation is that it is dependent on a tensed theory of time, or A-theory of time. James Fodor, in his rebuttal of Craig, Unreasonable Faith, dedicates a large portion of his time attacking Craig’s tensed theory of time. I do not think Fodor has won the debate with Craig, but his book is well written, respectable and erudite. However, I think even Craig is wrong to stick this argument solely with presentism. The tenseless theory of time still reduces back to an edge, which corresponds with the first motion of spacetime, which still lends itself to needing a cause.
I paused the writing of this post to make sure that Craig’s argument didn’t fall apart. That would certainly change my mind on the existence of God. However, after a few weeks of study, I still think that Craig has the strongest position and I would love to study time even more in the future. So look out for a blog post then!
The Origin of the Universe
Regarding the origin of the universe, there are only a few options:
- The universe spontaneously appeared/created itself.
- The universe was reborn into a new cycle of birth and death.
- The universe was created by something greater than the universe.
While there are philosophical arguments against a universe that constantly dies and reborn anew, I find the scientific evidence against this more fulfilling. First of all, the big bang establishes an initial starting point for the universe. And there is no known mechanism by which the universe can collapse in on itself and be reborn. The mathematics do not add up to have gravity overpower all of the accelerating mass in existence. Second, thermodynamics point to a cold end of the universe with the full lose of all energy. Thermodynamics are states that a contained system cannot continuously maintain its energy, that’s why your coffee gets cold. The energy moves to a more stable state. I’m sure I did not word that the best that I could, but if you need a better resource on thermodynamics, just search for it online. I’ve only studied it in The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction, which you may find useful as well.
I will address #1 and #3 below:
Did the Universe Create Itself?
Anything that exists has a cause. Nothing spontaneously appears on its own accord. How do we know this is true? Sure, common sense and observation are against the spontaneous appearance of money in our hand or the answers to the test in our head when we need them, to use some examples we wish were true. But there are better reasons that I will go over using William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, as presented above.
As I already said, the universe cannot have come from nothing in the true sense of that idea. Redefining “nothing” as an actual something doesn’t move the conversation forward. The first premise holds because we do not see anything randomly popping into existence.
But don’t quantum particles pop into existence all the time, i.e. “create” themselves? No, these sub-atomic particles emerge from fluctuating energy inside a vacuum. And the vacuum in which these events occur requires an explanation of its own. This is exactly where Krauss fails to present a materialistic theory of why there is something instead of nothing.
The biggest issue here is that nothing can create itself. Not even God. It violates a central principle of causation: an effect cannot be simultaneous with its cause.
Something Greater Than the Universe
What does it mean for something to be greater than the universe?
To be greater than the universe, an entity would need to be powerful enough to create the universe from nothing or itself. The entity would need to be timeless to exist outside of time. It would also need to be immaterial or a material not included in our universe.
If the entity is material or inside of time, then we end up with the same problem as before. Like I said above, Craig has addressed the issue of an infinite regression in his works. Again, I refer the reader to those works. The index make it easy enough to find the topic.
Because of this, I find it reasonable to attribute this entity with the title of “God”, whatever that may be. I’ll explore this in my next post.