Archive for March, 2012

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Fine- Tuning needs a Fine-Tuner?

March 9, 2012

Warning: A little long and a little dense. You might need to brew a warm cup of coffee and appoint a friend to slap you in the face every 10 minutes to keep you from nodding off. This is a fuller explanation of one of the arguments for God’s existence presented last sunday that considers some possible objections and responses.

The Conversation Continues…

Chris- Have you heard of the science of fine-tuning, or Astrobiology?

Brian- Yes, of course. You’re referring to the Goldilocks enigma. Our planet is just right for complex, carbon based creatures like ourselves. For example, our planet is 93 million miles away from the sun. Much closer and the earth’s surface would be too smoldering for life; much further away and it would be too frigid.

In addition, our earth spins on its axis at 23.5 due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. The earth’s tilt allows us to enjoy our seasons and keeps us from experiencing temperature that is too extreme for complex life to flourish.

Our atmosphere is made up of 21% oxygen. 15% oxygen and we would suffocate. 25% oxygen in our atmosphere and unstoppable fires would ignite continually .

There are other factors that allow life to thrive on planet earth including our place in the galaxy, Gas giants like Jupiter that protect us from Asteroids and the abundance of liquid water with all its unique properties found on planet earth .

Chris- Right. So clearly you are familiar with the finds of Astrobiology and the search for what makes planets habitable for complex life forms like Homo Sapiens.

Brian- Yes, I learned about this in my undergrad.

Chris- But the science of fine-tuning goes far beyond our distance from the sun or the abundance of liquid H20 on planet earth.

To quote Philosopher William Lane Craig:

“This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, such as the constant representing the force of gravity. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants….Second, in addition to these constants there are certain arbitrary quantities which are just put in as initial condition on which the laws of nature operate- for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and antimatter in the universe. These constants and quantities fall into an incomprehensibly narrow range of life-permitting values.”

Let me give you some more examples of both sorts of fine-tuning. Have you read, ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking?

Brian- Yes. That’s an old but famous book.

Chris- He writes, “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size” .

Basically, in the initial moments after the big bang if the universe had expanded any faster matter wouldn’t have coalesced and no life would be possible. If the universe had expanded a tiny degree slower the universe would have collapsed in on itself and no complex biological life would have been actualized in our cosmos.

In a latter work he wrote,

“If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been less than 1 part in 10(10) , the universe would have collapsed after a few million years. If it had been greater by one part in 10(10), the universe would be essentially empty after a few million years. In neither case would it have lasted long enough for life to develop”.

Brian- Wow.

Chris – Well, let me keep going. Consider the Strong Nuclear force that binds together Atomic Nuclei, without which life, as we know it could not have formed. If the Strong Nuclear force were altered from 0.007 to 0.008 or 0.006 no life would be possible .

If the electromagnetic force were adjusted in the slightest degree the stability of Atomic Nuclei would also be threatened and the building blocks of life would vanish .

If the strong coupling constant were slightly smaller, hydrogen would be the only element in the universe and because we are carbon based creatures that would end the beginning of us .

If the weak fine constant were a sliver of a degree smaller, no hydrogen would have formed during our universes infancy. The result would a starless universe . No sun means no sex. No sex means no people.

Or is it the other way around?

Or consider the gravitational force; if it was any stronger stars would burn up and implode far faster. Their life span would be dramatically shortened from around 10 billion years to less than 100 million years, which given current evolutionary theory (whether you accept it or not), is not long enough for complex life forms like us to emerge .

Brian- That’s amazing!

Chris- Now, imagine these cosmological constants as number keys on your cell phone. Imagine (hypothetically) that you’re dialing a 1-800 hundred number late one Friday night. How many number keys do you have to misdial to ruin your chance of connecting via phone to a friendly stranger?

Brian- Only one.

Chris- Right. One wrong key and the call doesn’t go to its intended recipient and you’re unable to have the desired conversation. When it comes to us being privileged to have this conversation only one of these various cosmological constants had to be misdialed for all complex life (as we know it) to be impossible. We would cease to exist.

1-800 numbers would be no more.

Brian- It’s unnerving to think about but fascinating at the same time.

Chris- So what is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the Universe considering that it could have easily been different?

Brian- I think I know where you are going with this.

Chris- Right. Well, the fine-tuning of the universe is either due to chance or design. The chance hypothesis is incredible improbable. The degree of precision involved renders the cosmic lottery option obsolete.

Brian- Why? People occasionally win the lottery.

Chris- We didn’t win just win one lottery. Every fine-tuned physical constant was like winning a lottery. We won at least 12. If someone won twelve lotteries in a row you wouldn’t say, ‘lucky them’, you would think it was rigged. The Christians says, ‘guess what, the universe looks rigged because it was rigged by a designer God’.

Brian- But look, I’m not sure you can adequately assess the probability of the universe being fine-tuned for life. Either way, improbabilities happen all the time. Think of all the improbabilities inherent in us having this conversation.

What are the chances that we would live in the same part of the world, meet one another, have similar interests and both be willing to engage in this type of debate. Given the 7 billion people in this world the odds are incredibly unlikely.

But here we are. Is this the part of some divine design?

Chris- Well, actually I reckon it is but that is beside the point. The improbability of the universe being fine-tuned for life is only the first part of the mystery. The second part involves the indisputable fact that in our experience fine-tuning is always the result of a fine-tuner, or a designer.

Not only is the fine tuning of the universe improbable given the fact that things could have so easily been different , but the fine tuning also corresponds to an independent pattern that we know in our experience is the result of intelligence, design and purpose .

Brian- Okay. Our planet is habitable. Most of the universe, however, is extremely hostile to life. How can you believe this is the result of an intelligent designer?

Chris- I think that type of response is an evasion.

Brian- Why?

Chris- Imagine you are shipwrecked on an isolated Island in the South Pacific that is extremely hostile to life. The water supply is low, dangerous animals run wild, and poisonous plants litter the underbrush. In your early explorations of the Island, however, you come across a clearing with a small hut nestled in its center. You exclaim in excitement, ‘an intelligent person, with a purpose must have created this hut’. What if your fellow traveler turned to you and said, ‘How can you say that this one pocket of order and creativity on the island is designed when the rest of it is so inhabitable’? Would you give up your belief that an intelligent agent designed the hut just because the rest of the Island is hazardous to life? Of course not!

In the same way the inhospitality of the rest of the universe does not refute the fact that our planet is fine-tuned for life’. In fact, I think your objection misunderstands the fine- tuning argument. It’s not just that the earth is fine-tuned for life in an otherwise inhospitable universe (which by the way we’re not sure of, as your friends at SETI would remind you) -rather, written into the universe from its very beginning are precisely dialed constants that make life possible.

Brian- But why can’t I just say, ‘Of course, the universe is fine-tuned for life. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here notice the fact’. In fact, that approach is called the Anthropic principle.

Chris- Here is the problem: Your comment mistakes a necessary condition for a sufficient explanation of that condition.

Brian- What?

Chris- Here is a common analogy that shows the inadequacy of your response to the fine-tuning argument that was originally developed by a Canadian philosopher named John Leslie .

Imagine you’re smuggling Bibles into North Korea. You get caught at the border, the Bibles are confiscated, and false drug charges are trumped up. You are sentenced to death by the firing squad .

You are forced up against the killing wall, one hundred shoulders take aim, there is a deafening roar, your bladder empties, and you wait for it all to end. Two long seconds pass, you open your eyes, you’re still alive. One hundred trained shoulders missed from twenty feet away. You’re shocked and relieved.

You are dragged back to your cell. Your fellow prisoners whisper excitedly to you, ‘I can’t believe you’re still alive. The soldiers must have had orders to miss you’.

You respond, ‘What are you talking about ‘ordered to miss me’? Of course, they missed me. If the soldiers hadn’t missed I wouldn’t be here to comment about it.

The above ‘lucky’ man has mistaken a necessary condition for his survival (the soldiers missing) for a sufficient explanation of that condition.

Brian- I think I’ve got it but can you give me another example?

Chris- Okay. Imagine you take off in a commercial airliner when four thousand feet off the ground you experience total engine failure. Your plane is hurtling towards the hard, unyielding earth at hundreds of miles per hour without the aid of landing gear. Statistically you know that given your current situation the chances of everyone on your plane surviving are astronomical.

Now, lets pretend that not only does everyone survive the crash but the plane barely has a scratch. One of your fellow passengers glances in your direction and with a pronounced look of relief queries, ‘Why did we survive this wreck with such minimal damage?’

Could you imagine responding, ‘Why is not important. What matters is we survived the wreck which is why we are here discussing it’.

Not only does your response lack a certain amount of curiosity and creativity it also mistakes a necessary condition for a sufficient explanation of the condition.

In order for you to have the aforementioned conversation with your fellow passenger you had to survive (necessary condition) but that doesn’t explain why you survived (sufficient explanation).

Do you see the point? Fine-tuning is necessary for us to be here but that fact doesn’t explain why the Universe is fine-tuned given the altogether more likely option given the odds- that it wouldn’t be.

Brian- Fine. But have you considered the multi-verse theory as a possible explanation of our finely tuned universe. Doesn’t a multi-verse rescue the chance option?

The Multi-verse theory contends that our universe is one of a possible infinite number of universes. Given an infinite amount of universes a life-permitting one is sure to arrive in the midst of all the cosmic clutter sooner or later. There is literally all the time in the universe for this ‘rare’ event to materialize.

The multi-verse makes the apparent improbability of a fine tuned universe not only probable but also necessary. According to some theorists one of the implications of the multi-verse theory is that any logically conceivable universe has been actualized at some point in cosmic history .

Imagine a wave with frothing bubbles riding its crest as it begins to break forcibly upon the uninterested, indifferent beach. Now, picture the cosmic landscape (engrossing and energizing all that is) as the wave. The bursting bubbles represent the continual emergence of new universes budging their way onto the cold, uncaring cosmic scene. Our universe just represents a single, local pocket of space in a far greater, mind expanding, and category imploding reality .

Some theorists have postulated that new universes are birthed when Black Holes collapse. It’s happening all the time in a universal evolutionary scheme .

Chris- That is fascinating. I like to think there could be a multitude of universes. It certainly would not diminish or detract from my faith in the creator God. But what is the scientific evidence for your Multi-verse theory?

Brian- Well, there is no empirical, or observational, evidence for a Multi-verse. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how there ever could be using sciences legitimate tools of investigation.

Chris- That’s what I thought. Your multi-verse theory, while interesting, requires a metaphysical leap to rescue chance as a possible explanation for our life-permitting cosmos.

Also, doesn’t the multi-verse theory lead to absurdities like, ‘there is a universe where I become president, a universe where I die in infancy, and a universe were the Holocaust is considered the greatest possible good’? All of these universes are logically conceivable so given the multi-verse theory wouldn’t they have to be actual at some point in cosmic history?

Brian- I’m not sure.

Chris- Either way we are left with a couple options: The universe is fine-tuned because a superior intellect meddled with physics, or there is an infinite number of unobservable universes and we just happen to be in the life-permitting one (of course).

Also, I often wonder why proponents of the multi-verse are comfortable with any eternal, necessary, casual entity provided we don’t call it God? I mean, doesn’t the multi-verse have some of the traditional attributes ascribed to God?

Brian- Interesting question.

Chris- Both positions take some faith to believe. Science can’t settle the issue empirically but perhaps Occam’s razor can help. You’ve heard of Occam’s razor, haven’t you?

Brian- Yes. Don’t unnecessarily multiple your hypothesis. Or in layman’s terms, ‘keep it simple stupid’.

Chris- Right. So which is the simpler explanation, ‘the universe looks designed because there is a designer’, or ‘there are a infinite number of universes, undetectable by us, that account for the arrival of our life friendly world’.

Perhaps, an analogy will help. Imagine you sit down with your friends to play a friendly game of poker. For the sake of Vegas realism the dealer of the game is impartial and not playing. You’ve never met the dealer before but you know he is a friend of one of the other card players.

As the game progresses one of your friends is dealt a Royal Flush 3 hands in a row. The third time he lays down his Royal Flush you get up from the table in a huff. You accuse your friend of cheating; the same friend who brought the ‘impartial’ dealer to the game.

Both the dealer and your friend protest, ‘I know the odds are stacked against us but what if there is an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be in the universe where I am dealt three Royal Flushes in a row by chance’ .

How would you respond? You would probably punch your friend in the face. Why? Simply because intelligent design is a far more reasonable explanation for your friends astounding ‘luck’ than a multi-verse.

My argument for a designer is based on what we do know. Design comes from designers. Fine-tuning proceeds from fine-tuners. You’re argument for a multi-verse is based on what we don’t know. Knowledge or ignorance? God or gaps? That is the choice. It’s not difficult for me to decide which is the simpler explanation.

Brian- But hasn’t Darwinian evolution taught us to be extremely skeptical about inferring a designer from the appearance of design in nature?

Chris- If you accept the Neo-Darwinian account of Evolution hook, line and sinker than yes. But Darwinism is a biological theory and it has no bearing on the laws of physics that apply to the fine-tuning of the universe. Evolution presupposes the fine-tuning of our universe for sentient, carbon-based creatures like ourselves- it can’t be used to explain the fine-tuning.

Brian- Fair enough. Look Chris, you raise some interesting points. Both you and I know, however, that you’re not a Cosmologist. You’re not an Astrophysicist. You’re speaking way out of your field.

Why should I take seriously what you say about Cosmology?

Chris- Why not?

Brian- Isn’t it obvious? You’re not educated in that field. You barely took any science in high school! Yet, you presume to lecture me about modern Cosmology.

Aren’t you being intellectually promiscuous? You’re sleeping with the sciences but you’ve stubbornly refused to marry any of them. You call them up when you need them but you refuse to fully embrace some of their unbecoming features that threaten your case contending for the credibility of Christianity.

For example, you know I love Albert Einstein. Here is what he wrote about your religion,

“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

Einstein’s comments on psychology and the origin of religion have rhetorical force and flourish but reflect a woeful ignorance. I’m honest enough to admit that. He is speaking outside of his field of academic pursuit. Just because Einstein is an authority in the realm of Relativity does not make him an expert in other areas of academic study. It’s like reading Freud on Philosophy.

His first sentence provides a textbook case of the genetic fallacy. I’m not sure that his comment accurately reflects how religion originated but even if it is ‘the product of human weakness’ showing how a belief originated is not the same as refuting that belief. .

How does a brilliant man like Albert Einstein commit a logical crime that a second year philosophy student could have side stepped? Simple. He was speaking outside of his field.

You are doing the same.

Chris- You’re right. I’m not a Cosmologist. I’m also not a fan of promiscuity but I find it ironic (in the improper but often used sense of the word) that you mention logical fallacies.

Brian- Why?

Chris- I think you’re committing one of your own. Your current complaint about my Fine-Tuning argument seems to be guilty of Argumentum Ad Hominem. It seems as though you try to discredit my above argument by impugning my supposed lack of scientific education.

An Ad Hominem attack is a logical fallacy because my character, or education, doesn’t have the deciding factor regarding the truth of the statements I’ve made (though it should rightly give you pause). But it can be a diversion tactic that allows you to dismiss me without actually dealing sufficiently with the arguments I put forward.

Everything I’ve said about fine-tuning, or cosmological constants comes directly from the writings of prominent, well respected Cosmologists and Astrophysicists, most of whom are not Christians. I’m not speaking based on my own credentials but theirs.

It’s getting late so let me end by summarizing the key premises in the above argument:

(1) The Universe is fine-tuned for life.

(2) The Fine-tuning isn’t plausibly due to chance or physical necessity. The odds are too overwhelming to be reasonably faced and the universe could have easily been different than it is.

(3) In our uniform experience when we see fine-tuning we assume there is a fine-tuner.

(4) The most plausible explanation of the Universes’ fine-tuning is that it was fine-tuned by an intelligent mind. This is in part what ‘theists’ mean by the word ‘God’.

Brian- If find this argument to be more compelling that the Cosmological argument you outlined in our previous discussion. I’ll have to think more about this.

Chris- Last time we talked I quoted Blaise Pascal. He once wrote that God gives ‘enough evidence to convince those whose hearts are open but not enough to convince those who hearts are closed’.

I believe there is enough evidence to justify believing in God. In fact, I think I’ve adequately displayed to you that Christianity is more reasonable than atheism given our experience of the world. There are many more arguments I could bring to bear, including the reality of God’s presence in my life and in the lives of believers that you dismissed at the beginning of our conversation.

I realize we can’t see God but there are many scientific entities that you firmly believe in which are in principle unobservable. We can’t see black holes or quarks but we infer their existence based on their observable influence on other entities that are within the realm of our sense experience.

It is the same with God. All of the above arguments are inferences to the best explanation based on what we do see and know. In the end faith, like marriage, is taking a leap but it is a leap based on knowledge and reason.

Are you ready to jump?

Brandon- Not yet.

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You can’t get Something from Nothing…

March 6, 2012

WARNING: This blog post is an elaboration of ideas expressed in the Sunday sermon. However, in this post I go into for more detail and interact with possible objections to the arguments I presented. This post may not be for everyone so don’t feel bad if you give up half way through. Also, word press will not let me include footnotes but rest assured my original is heavily footnoted and documented.

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Chris- Hey Brian, how are you doing?

Brian- Great. I really enjoyed our conversation yesterday and I’m excited to dig into this supposed ‘evidence’ for the existence of God.

Chris- I thought I’d start by outlining a well-known argument for the existence of God called the ‘Kalaam Cosmological Argument’.

Brian- Oh, I think I might have heard of that before.

Chris- Okay. Well let me remind you. The Kalaam Cosmological argument is a deductive argument where the conclusion follows logically and necessarily from the premises. In order to refute the conclusion you need to show which of the premises is false.

The argument, as outlined by its most able defenders, proceeds in this manner:

(1) Everything that comes into existence must have a cause.

(2) The universe came into existence.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause .

The first premise that ‘everything that comes into existence has a cause’ appears to be self-evident and irrefutable. Can you think of something that comes into existence and doesn’t have a cause outside of itself?

Out of nothing, nothing comes. To deny this is to lapse into irrationality. Even the notorious skeptic David Hume wrote in a personal correspondence, ‘I never asserted as absurd a proposition as that anything could arise without a cause’ .

Brian- So far so good; premise 1 seems secure to me.

Chris- The second premise is that, ‘The universe came into existence’.

Brian- I’m not sure about that. How do you know the Universe hasn’t always existed?

Chris- Good question! There are convincing philosophical arguments that can be brought to bear against the idea of an eternal Universe. An eternal universe would imply an infinite number of moments preceding this one, which would result in us never arriving at the current moment.

Let me give you an example. You like football don’t you?

Brian- You bet.

Chris- Okay well NFL football is usually on channel 23 right?

Brian- Yes, where we live it is.

Chris- Let’s say you are on channel 3. For the sake of this analogy let’s pretend in order for you to arrive at channel 23 you have to flip through 20 channels and you can’t just punch in the correct station number on your remote.

It wouldn’t take that long to flip from 3 to 23. Perhaps, 30 seconds. Now, if football was on channel 123 and you had to flip through all the channels it would take longer still. Are you with me?

Brian- Yes.

Chris- Now pretend there is an infinite number of stations preceding channel 23. It doesn’t matter how long you clicked you would never arrive at channel 23. Monday night football would never appear on the screen. Why? because it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite in our experience.

That is the problem with an infinite number of moments preceding the present. We would never arrive. But we have arrived at the present moment, therefore the past is not infinite, it is finite. Time had a beginning.

The idea of infinity is something that exists in our minds, or in the realm of mathematics but not in the real world. An infinite regress is impossible once we step out of the world of ideas into the sharp edges of reality that occasionally shred to pieces our speculations .

Brian- Okay. Well, philosophy is interesting for some. I’m far more interested in Science.

Chris- Good. There is strong scientific evidence that the Universe came into existence 13.7ish Billion years ago through what is commonly referred to as the Big Bang. In light of the rapidly accumulating body of data other theories of our universe’s origins are rapidly being abandoned. The general acceptance of Big Cosmology has grown to the point where it could be described as the orthodox position of Astrophysicists across the board.

Brian- Let’s hear the evidence.

Chris- One piece of data was discovered in 1929 by astronomer Edwin Hubble through his famous telescope. He noticed the red shift in the light spectrum of distant galaxies indicating the rapid rate at which other solar systems are speeding away from us in every observable direction .

The implications of this discovery were stunning. Rewind the clock of the universe given its current aggressive rate of expansion and you end up with infinitely dense beginning of the Universe from a single point.

Another piece of evidence came from the scientists A.A. Penzias and R.W Wilson. They detected background radiation diffused evenly throughout the Universe indicative of the initial explosion, or after glow, of the big bang.

Brian- Anything else?

Chris- I’ll give you one more thought. An eternal Universe seems incredibly unlikely in light of the Second Law of Thermodynamics which states that energy in a closed system always moves towards entropy and heat death. Because the universe represents all of material existence it is, by definition, a closed system.

If the Universe were eternal we would already be at a state of heat death and entropy but we are not. The 2nd law implies that the universe is winding down which in turn implies a finite past.

For example, the hot chocolate you’re drinking will inevitably cool as its heat energy disperses throughout the room. If you went to the washroom and returned to the table to discover that your hot chocolate was still piping hot you could be certain an infinite amount of time hadn’t lapsed while you were in the can.

It’s the same with the universe.

Brian- I think I see some serious problems with your current line of argumentation but I’ll let you finish.

Chris- Thanks. The third premise follows logically and necessarily from the first two premises; the universe had a cause. This naturally begs the question, ‘who, or what, caused the universe’?

Clearly, the answer nobody or nothing is unacceptable. If a letter came to you in the mail without an address and you asked, ‘who sent this’? You won’t be satisfied with the explanation, ‘no one’.

If we heard a crashing sound in the attic and you asked, ‘what caused that noise’? and I replied, ‘nothing’ your curiosity would not be sated and your intelligence would not be satisfied.

Brian- I agree with that at least.

Chris- So what caused the universe? We have to keep in mind that the Big Bang represents the beginning of matter, time and space; it represents a infinitely dense singularity where the known laws of physics absolutely break down.

The cause, therefore, would have to be timeless, spaceless and immaterial. Also, no effect is greater than its cause so whatever caused the universe would have to be immensely powerful.

What type of entity fits that description?

Philosopher William Lane Craig outlines two possibilities: Abstract objects like numbers or a timeless, immaterial, intelligent mind-what has been commonly been referred to as God.

Abstract objects don’t cause anything; therefore, to posit a timeless, immaterial, intelligent mind is the logical conclusion of the argument.

This cause would also have to be personal because the universe didn’t have to be created. That means that non-existence was a live option and the ‘first cause’ had to choose between being or non-being for our material reality. That type of choice requires personhood and a will.

I concede the Cosmological argument does not get you all the way to Christian theism but it can be used as a defeater of naturalism. Naturalism is the belief that nature is a closed system and contains all that exists. This argument would entail a supra-natural entity; God, or something outside of nature with casual properties startlingly similar to an intelligent mind.

Honestly, what would you call this necessary entity that is timeless, spaceless, immaterial and powerful? Why not God? Either way the argument seems to be a defeater of naturalism (atheism) as classically defined.

The Debate Begins…

Brian- Okay. I’ve held my tongue long enough. I perceive a series of fatal flaws in your line of reasoning. Here is my first objection: You say that everything needs a cause, so who caused God? Or to put it another way, ‘who created the creator’? Who designed the designer?

Chris- Your statement ‘If everything that exists must have a cause then what is the cause of God’ represents a very common but pernicious misunderstanding of the Cosmological argument. The argument as outlined above does not contend that ‘everything that exists must have a cause’, rather, it claims that ‘everything that comes into existence must have a cause’.

Therefore, to ask ‘who caused God’ is a nonsensical question. What you are asking is, ‘How did the being who never came into existence come into existence? , or ‘ what caused the uncaused being’?

Brian- But..

Chris- Wait a minute. The atheist doesn’t believe in God by definition. The Christian by God means ‘an eternal, necessary being’ by definition.

When the atheist asks the Christian ‘who caused God’ they are assuming a ‘being’ that neither the atheist nor the Christian believes in. To avoid erecting a straw man in your response you have to attack the definition of God that Christians believe in.

Brian- I still see problems with your response. Haven’t you assumed that God is an eternal, necessary being? Your argument doesn’t prove that. You’ve conjured up an unwarranted, unproven, highly speculative terminator for the infinite regress of causes.

Chris- Well, there are philosophical arguments made by Greek philosophers and Christian philosophers that lead logically to the conclusion that God is ‘an eternal, necessary being’.

The impossibility of an infinite number of causes, or contingent beings, has led, and continues to lead, many thinkers to posit a first cause, or something that exists by necessity. A non-contingent being whose existence does not rely on any external cause.

To put it in other words,

(1) In order for something to exist something has to always have existed.

(2) Something does exist and something cannot come out of nothing. Out of nothing, nothing comes.

(3) Either the Universe has always existed or something outside of the Universe has always existed.

(4) The Universe came into existence (Big Bang Cosmology)

(5) Therefore, something outside of the universe has always existed as a necessary, eternal, casual entity’.

The eternal, casual, necessary entity is God. I haven’t simply assumed that God is an eternal, necessary being it is the result of the above argument and the logical necessity of a non-contingent entity to explain the existence of every other contingent thing.

Brian- Sorry to interrupt but how do you define the word contingent? It has a wide range of meanings.

Chris- Contingent, in the sense I’m using it, means that your existence depends on something outside of yourself. We are contingent beings. God, given our definition, would be a non-contingent being.

Brian- Okay, I see. Here is another problem with your argument. Now that I think about I believe it is possible to contest your first premise. Recent forays into the sub-atomic realm have displayed a large amount of indeterminacy that has wrecked havoc on our categories of causation. Sub-atomic particles are known to pop into existence with no discernible cause at all.

In addition, your second premise rests on very shaky foundations. For example, Stephen Hawking’s Quantum gravitational model of the early universe denies a singularity. His mathematical formula uses imaginary time to avoid a universe without boundaries and an initial beginning. This is one form of Quantum cosmology that is gaining ground in certain circles.

Chris- I won’t pretend to understand Quantum Mechanics or complex mathematical equations. I do know, however, that many experts have pointed out that imaginary time is a well-defined mathematical concept but has no correspondence to the real world .

When you reconvert his imaginary numbers back into real numbers the singularity emerges again .

Also, this type of Quantum cosmology doesn’t represent something coming out of nothing, or even a complete lack of causality. Quantum events transpire within a quantum vacuum pulsating with energy hardly resembling a nothingness void .

Also, I would be curious to know which theory of Quantum Mechanics are you ascribing to? I’m no expert but I believe there are many different competing interpretive schools of thought.

Brian- I don’t see why a Quantum fluctuation couldn’t have been responsible for the popping into existence of our universe.

Chris- Well, isn’t that taking something from within the rich tapestry of the already existing universe to explain the abrupt beginning of said universe? You are assuming a line of casual agency that is not available to you because the big bang singularity represents the beginning of everything in the material universe, including the subatomic realm.

Your proposed solution is like a man falling into a deep hole and thinking to himself, ‘no problem, all l have to do is sprint home, grab a ladder, and scamper up out of this hole’. The man, like you, is assuming a solution to the problem that is not available to him given the very nature of the predicament.

Brian- Your answer reminded me of something. Your second premise obviously relies heavily on big bang cosmology. If you don’t like Quantum Cosmology have you heard of the Oscillating model of the universe? This theory contends that the universe is kind of like an elastic band that expands and contracts eternally.

Chris- Yes, I’ve heard of that. I don’t think Cosmologists regard that model as a serious option any more.

Brian- Why is that?

Chris- One observational difficulty would be the even distribution of matter throughout the universe. This empirical fact would be odd if the Universe collapses back in on itself because as it contracts black holes would begin to suck up all the matter. The end result is matter becomes unevenly distributed and dispersed throughout the cosmos .

In addition, it seems the speed in which Galaxies are moving away from us is increasing. This makes difficult the notion that we live in an Oscillating Universe.

Another significant difficulty is that some cosmologists believe the Oscillating model would require rewriting and revising the known laws of physic. There are no known laws of physics that could explain the universe expanding again once it has contracted. Even to the layperson that seems like a significant hurdle.

Lastly, physicists have shown that an Oscillating model would still require a finite past and an absolute beginning of the universe. Ya. B Zeldovich and I.D Novikov have written: “The multicycle model has an infinite future, but only a finite past”. Astronomer Joseph Silk agrees when he estimates that on the basis of current levels of entropy that the universe could not have gone through more than one hundred previous oscillations.

Brian- Okay, I see the problems. But still the conclusion of your argument doesn’t seem warranted. How does saying God did it explain anything? You still have to explain the explainer.

Chris- Wait a minute, says who? I’m not sure of any philosopher of science who would ascribe to the belief that ‘for an explanation to be valid’ you need to explain the explanation’. Isn’t that obviously absurd? To require an explanation for every explanation in order for the first explanation to be valid leads to an infinite regress. We already decided those were impossible in the real world. I don’t have to explain God for God to be a valid explanation for the universe.

Brian- Why not?

Chris- Well, you don’t require that type of thing from other explanations. For example, if you found shell jewelry and primitive stone tools at an archaeological dig site in Eastern Africa you would be justified in deducing that these artifacts were the product of an extinct human culture.

You wouldn’t have to understand or explain the existence of the people group for their presence and creative activity to be an adequate explanation for the discovered artifacts .

Brian- I see what you’re saying. I can’t think of a way to refute that at the moment. But isn’t it fair to say that inserting God as an explanation for the various complexities in our world would require an incredibly complex God. Therefore, saying God did it doesn’t help us. Let me quote Richard Dawkins:

“A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same type of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us escape”.

Chris- Theologians have mostly believed that God is incredibly simple. Your Dawkin’s quote shows his ignorance about theology. For example, philosopher William Lane Craig writes:

“Dawkin’s fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is just as complex as the universe. That is plainly false. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable constants and quantities, a divine mind, being an immaterial entity not composed of parts, is startlingly simple….Dawkins’ has evidently confused a minds ideas and effects, which may indeed be complex, with a mind itself, which- having no parts- is an incredibly simple entity.”

Eminent Philosopher Alvin Plantinga also tasks Dawkin’s to task on the simplicity of God. He points out rather ironically that:

“According to Dawkins’s own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (Set out in the Blind Watch Maker), something is complex if it has parts that are arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone. But of course God is spirit, not a material object at all, and hence no parts…Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex” .

Brian- You are heading me off at every turn. My head is spinning from this conversation.

Chris- I know. Mine too. Perhaps, it would be helpful if I just outlined the argument for you again:

(1) Everything that comes into existence has a cause .

(2) The universe came into existence.

(3) Time, space and matter came into existence at the Big bang.

(4) Therefore, the cause would have to be timeless, immaterial, powerful and personal.

Now if the premises are sound, which you haven’t refuted, then the question becomes, ‘what type of cause fits that description’? A divine mind with properties startlingly similar to the traditional notion of God. So in the end a big bang appears to need a big banger. We should ask the same question of the Big bang that we ask of any other bang . Who did it? It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Brian- Yes, but even if the argument is logically sound it doesn’t prove the Christian God.

Chris- I’ve conceded from the beginning that the Cosmological argument can’t get you to Christian theism . It is a big leap. But there are other philosophical, scientific and historical arguments that can be used as stepping-stones to get you there without being ‘intellectually promiscuous’.

Let’s discuss some tomorrow.

**A critic could assert that when we observe casualty in our experience of the world it is always ‘something material’ causing ‘something else material’. For example, a fist causes a hole in the wall. When it comes to the beginning of the universe, however, we are discussing a non-physical cause producing the material world. It is, therefore, a different type of causation and the argument is guilty of equivocating and is, therefore, logically invalid. Of course, a response to that critique could easily be made by pointing out that by cause we mean ‘something which brings about, or produces it’s effects’. As a result the argument is not guilty of equivocation.**

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God as the Dad I never had…

March 3, 2012

Brian- Hey Chris, wait up a second. I want to ask you about something?

Chris- Sure. What’s up?

Brian- Well, I don’t want to offend you but when Professor Johnson asked the class if any of us were Christians’ I was shocked to see you raise your hand.

Chris- Really, why?

Brian- Well, please don’t take this the wrong way but you seem like I bright guy who cares about things like evidence and reason.

Chris- I do care about evidence and reason.

Brian- Right and that’s why I’m confused. What evidence is there for the existence of God? I realize that it is notoriously difficult to disprove, with any kind of certainty, the existence of God. That type of proof would likely require and exhaustive knowledge of the universe.

But I can’t disprove the existence of a flying spaghetti monster showering blessings on faithful Italian Chef’s either but I don’t have any positive evidence for its existence. Isn’t it the same with God? Isn’t believing in God like belief in the Spaghetti monster or Santa Claus?

I’ve never heard any good reasons to believe in God other than the faithful talking about their personal experience of God and the resulting life transformation. I don’t find that type of ‘evidence’ compelling for a number of reasons.

Chris- Don’t worry. I’m not offended. Why don’t we grab a quick cup of coffee and chat about the rationality of God’s existence.

Brian- Sure. I’ve got a bit of time.

The Coffee Shop

Chris- To be honest, I have a lot of problems with associating belief in God with faith in a ‘flying spaghetti monster’.

Brian- Why?

Chris- Because it is clearly a false comparison. How many educated adults do you know of, who after serious study and reflection, come to believe in the existence of Santa Claus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Brian- None.

Chris- Exactly. Yet, many serious thinkers upon investigation and reflection come to believe in the existence of God. A fascinating recent example would be the renowned atheistic philosopher Antony Flew. Flew claims to have followed the ‘evidence‘ where it leads and has publicly professed belief in some type of God .

That is the difference between God and the Spaghetti monster. There is no positive evidence that the Spaghetti monster exists but there are plenty of compelling reasons to believe in the existence of God.

I’ve often heard atheist’s quip that Christians are atheistic when confronted with Zeus and the entire Greek Pantheon. The real atheist, therefore, is only slightly different than the Christian; the atheist simply believes in one less God.

Brian- Right.

Chris- Well again, this type of comment is clever, but it has the same deficiency that is inherent in contrasting God with Santa Claus, or the tooth fairy. The reason the Christian withholds belief in Zeus is because there is no positive evidence for Zeus’ existence and plenty of evidence leading to the conclusion that Zeus is a human projection.

Christians believe, however, that there is a compelling case that can be made for the God of Christianity.

Brian- Well, I have to admit I’m skeptical that there is such evidence. Why haven’t I heard it before? It seems to me that our belief in God is simply the product of human wish fulfillment. We create a ‘god’ in our own image to satisfy our psychological needs for a benevolent father figure or something. The universe doesn’t care so lets create a God who does .

God is a crutch. God is creaturely comfort that should be relegated to humanities infancy. We’ve grown up as a species. God is the equivalent of training wheels for life. We need to emancipate ourselves from a self-imposed limp that results from embracing a mythical creator God.

Chris- I’ve heard all of this before. It is a weak argument. God is a crutch? So what? Does it follow that God doesn’t exist? Of course not. Plus, God has been more than a crutch at certain points in my life – God’s been a stretcher. He’s carried me. But the whole crutch comment is silly.

Brian- Right. That was a throwaway comment. My argument was that God is a product of wish fulfillment.

Chris- That argument doesn’t prove that there is no God of course. Its burden is to simply show the inner consistency of atheism. The argument doesn’t prove atheism it presupposes atheism and given that a priori (or faith) position seeks to explain why many fellow ‘primates’ still believe in God.

I assume the reasoning goes like this, ‘There is no God yet many people believe in God. Why do so many people believe in a God that doesn’t exist? People desire to believe in a God who provides hope, meaning, comfort and life after death. Therefore, we create God in the familiar shape of our wants and needs; the image of a dad we never had.

Brian- Exactly.

Chris- That argument is a double edge sword that cuts both ways. It implies that world views are birthed out of our desires and that would include atheism. How do you know a person’s belief that there is no God isn’t fueled by their desire to be an autonomous individual; to live their life free from the entanglements of a meddlesome deity that presumes to interfere with their sexual proclivities?

Atheists are still people, right? Are there no psychological factors motivating atheism? To respond in the negative would betray your lack of experience with atheists.

By the way, how’s your relationship with your dad?

Brandon- Don’t be cheeky.

Chris- Sorry. Look, there are many elements to my faith that I wouldn’t wish for. For example, I don’t relish the thought of hell for enemies or friends . Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount certainly makes life a little more difficult; ‘learning to love your enemies’ is not on my bucket list.

If I were going to create a religion my picture of God would involve a deity who required us to watch hockey, hate the Calgary Flames and eat copious amounts of Hot Wings. In addition, I would change some of the Ten Commandments and do away with uncomfortable choirs like fasting.

Wouldn’t you ?

Plus, your wish fulfillment argument commits the ‘genetic fallacy’, which seeks to disprove a belief by showing how it originated. Even if belief in God fulfills human desires and needs it doesn’t, necessarily, follow that God doesn’t exist. Lastly, just because we wish for something doesn’t mean the object of our desires doesn’t exist. In fact, in our experience the opposite is often true. C.S Lewis wrote long ago,

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If i find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, pg. 137,137).

Brian- Okay. I see your points.

Chris- The real issue appears to be that you want to know if there are any good reasons to believe in God.

Brian- Right. Give me some evidence or arguments.

Chris- Let’s meet tomorrow and discuss some arguments for the existence of God.

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A Weekend Away

March 1, 2012

This weekend I’m preaching on Psalm 19. In the message I will be unpacking some arguments for the existence of God. After the weekend I just had, however, I don’t need any sophisticated syllogisms to convince me that God is real. I encountered His presence and the weight of His Glory – more real than any abstract argument.

Over the weekend I was in Canmore, Alberta at the 2020 Summit. The 2020 Summit is a conference for young Baptist General Conference leaders. We had 75 representatives from all over Canada and I had the privilege of being one of the speakers.

The conference was filled with amazing worship times, testimonies, stories, good teaching and laughter. Even better the conference was filled with the presence of God. Whether it was during certain worship times, or in the midst of various conversations, I was so aware of God’s palpable presence. It was clear to me that God was orchestrating our time together.

For example, I would speak every evening and throughout the day I would have at least one conversation that was directly related to what I was talking about that evening. One time the guy I was talking to was actually relaying to me phrases from my manuscript. To be honest it was a bit awkward. I almost felt like saying to the person, ‘look what you’re saying is what I’m talking about tonight – just so you know in advance I’m not singling you out in my message and I’m not speaking in response to what you just said – I wrote this weeks ago.’

On the first night I spoke about authentic community and spent a lot of time talking about our identity in Christ and the danger of finding our identity any where else. The next morning a young man shared his pre-rehearsed testimony and it was all about identity in Christ and not finding our identity in other things (for him it was skate boarding and music). The testimony couldn’t have reinforced the the previous evenings message any better.

It got a bit eery. But clearly God was working.

I came home and found an article in my church mail box about youth leaving the church. There is always fear about the future of the church. I’ve heard it said ominously, ‘The church is one generation away from extinction’. I guess that would be true if God were dead and the body of Jesus had rotted away in his tomb 2000 years ago. But God is alive, the tomb is empty and Jesus is raising up a new generation of young leaders in Canada that are passionate about His kingdom and reaching their generation. I met many of them this past weekend and, as a result, I have great confidence about the future of the church in Canada. Not because they’re so good but because God is so good and He has not abandoned this generation – He has put His fire into their hearts.

What a weekend!

The challenge is transitioning back into normal life. At the conference it was hard to miss God’s presence. During the daily grind (even working at a church) it is sometimes hard to find God’s presence. Monotony can dull our spiritual wits and deaden our sensitivity to the spirit.

That is the challenge. To take what I learned over the weekend, apply it to my life and keep pressing into God – to take what God gave me on the mountain top and apply it in the valley.

Wherever I find myself – mountain top or valley – Our God is good.

Amen.