The Invisible Things

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Science and Faith, Part 2 (Are they Incompatible?)

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I have often encountered opinions of skeptics along the lines of 'one cannot be a Christian and maintain intellectual integrity.' Such an attitude seems to revel in intellectual 'class distinctions' and support the animosity that some skeptics have for believers. Fortunately, this idea is obviously false. One need only acknowledge the many scientists who confess belief in God to show that faith and science are not mutually exclusive.

But there is clearly more to the issue than this. I would argue that skeptics who hold the opinion that science makes faith irrational are not necessarily speaking on behalf of what is, but what should be. They are likely to argue that a proper understanding of science should lead to skepticism towards faith, though it does not for many, or that one should not believe anything that is not empirically proven (note that in my last post I discussed how science is founded upon ideas that themselves cannot be empirically proven). I suppose a logical deduction from this might be the implication that the faithful must not really understand science. Try telling that to the many distinguished PhD's in church on Sunday! In fact, surveys generally show that a person holding the degree of PhD is just as likely to believe in a personal God as the general population.

Perhaps the skeptic has allowed the conclusions of science to extend beyond their true capabilities. There is certainly no scientific conclusion that has proven in the affirmative that God does not nor cannot exist. To the contrary, our current scientific theories are quite limited in their metaphysical reach. For instance, the Big Bang theory lays out a possible sequence and timeline for the beginning of the universe, yet it does not provide an empirically verifiable conclusion regarding the catalyst of the ‘bang’ itself. Prior to this theory, many postulated that the universe has eternally existed. Though many philosophical objections were provided to refute the idea, the discovery of red shift by Edwin Hubble provided the empirical basis for understanding the universe as having begun at a point in the past. But the question remains, what do we make of the point prior to the Big Bang? Does it even make sense to call it a point in time (this is another article in and of itself!)? Clearly, the unknown elements here are vast enough to allow for many philosophical possibilities- God, not the least of which, included!

The theory of evolution is often cited as an empirically proven scientific basis for rejecting belief in God. However, I would argue that this theory has not even begun to approach warrant for such a conclusion. Rather than examining the much refuted holes in the theory, I simply want to point out that the naturalistic conclusion that some evolutionists make is not warranted by the facts themselves. To date, and assuming the theory is accurate (and I am not convinced that it is), we still have yet to discern the mechanism by which the process of evolution occurs. We have made a conclusion based upon observations around us, but we cannot adequately test those observations as they are contingent upon an almost inconceivably large timescale. Without the affirmation of testing, there is no reason to begin applying evolutionary conclusions. Let me make one point clear however: I am not advocating that a gap in knowledge should lead us to give up our search or capriciously insert God to account for the unknown. Where the real problem lies, I believe, is in that many have allowed the philosophical presupposition of naturalism to guide their interpretation of observations and prematurely close the case. Thus the conclusion is that evolution is a non-teleological (without purpose) process. This way, discovering the mechanism of evolution is no longer so crucial, because the purpose is already prescribed. But we have no basis upon which to build such an idea! It is a conclusion which has been imported philosophically, not factually.

For the many scientists who believe that faith should not even approach scientific thinking, I would make a simple challenge: If such a pronouncement is going to be made, it cannot be a street on which the skeptic has right of way. In other words, if scientists should not make conclusions which correlate with their theistic worldview, neither should scientists make conclusions based upon observations that correlate with their non-theistic worldview. This would certainly be a difficult rule to impose upon science in general, since the practice is meant to be used to answer questions that are not necessarily scientific.

Written by Christopher Butler

February 23, 2006 at 11:10 am

Infinite Cause, Finite Effect

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In previous articles, I have referred to a relatively standard (at least in this setting) logical proof regarding the creation of the universe. The cosmological argument is:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The reason this proof is useful is that it logically shows the necessity of cause for our existence. However, this is where things get more difficult for the argument, and dry for the reader. Please bear with me, as a brief discussion of infinity is necessary before I examine one of the typical objections to this proof (Webster, incidentally, defines infinite as ‘extending indefinitely; immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive,’ and infinity as ‘unlimited extent of time, space, or quantity’). An infinite regress of causes cannot be possible in this scenario, as we are in effort to explain the cause of space, matter, and time, all of which, from our vantage point of reality, are finite. Therefore the cause of such must transcend time by being eternal, space and matter by being immaterial. When the concept of infinity enters the discussion, we must differentiate between the quality and the quantity. The quality of infinity relates to the potential of infinity, or in a numeric sense, the potential of beginning at 0 and counting incrementally, never reaching a limit. Thus infinity is not a value, per se, but a means of describing a quality. The quantity of infinity is, therefore, an impossibility, as to be able to identify (or count) it would assume a closed set, which is contradictory to the concept itself.

Now, to apply this concept to our observational understanding of the universe is simple. The reason our universe must be finite in its origin, rather than ‘infinite’ in the scenarios of expanding and contracting universes or universes which give ‘birth’ or cause other universe, is because even these alternatives presuppose a catalyst. While they imply a potential infinite in the incremental sense (like beginning at 0 and counting upwards), they cannot account for the origin of the process- they are still mired in cause and effect. Infinite in a regressive and progressive sense would render the concept of cause and effect meaningless. Atheist Kai Neilson sums this up nicely: “Suppose you suddenly hear a loud bang…and you ask me, ‘What made that bang?’ and I reply, ‘Nothing, it just happened.’ You would not accept that. In fact, you would find my reply quite unintelligible (Kai Neilson, Reason and Practice).”

As I mentioned at the start, I would like to address one objection to the proof which I encounter most frequently. This is often stated, ‘Well, if the universe requires a cause, then what was the cause of God?’ The question itself misunderstands the first premise of the proof, which is ‘Whatever begins to exist must have a cause.’ As inferred by the necessary qualities of the cause, God did not begin to exist. Before objectors raise another concern, this is not a conveniently introduced ‘loophole’ for God. The claim that God is eternal and uncaused is no less valid than the same claim on behalf of the universe, yet this is not the only means of proving validity. The cause of time, space, and matter must transcend its creation, and must be personal. Otherwise, for the cause to be non-personal would require a prompt of some sort to which the effect responds. An illustration of a personal cause would be a scenario in which we answer our door after it has been knocked. The person who knocks freely chooses to do so. Both cause and effect cannot be eternally existent, otherwise the door would be infinitely knocked on at the same time as eternally being answered. The contradiction is clear. An impersonal cause of the universe would require a property of the as of yet uncreated universe to precede its existence, to which it would respond in its coming into existence. Thus, the cause of our universe must be personal and uncaused, otherwise, the willing of creation could not occur.

Reading C.S. Lewis tends to put things in perspective for me, as his wit not only aids him in explaining complex ideas, but also points out the extent to which we thinkers can overcomplicate things for the sake of our own debate. His take on this argument does just that as he writes, ‘An egg which came from no bird is no more natural than a bird which had existed from all eternity (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock).’

Written by Christopher Butler

November 2, 2005 at 5:18 am