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An Atheistic Argument from the Big Bang

The Big Bang event may be one of the most important scientific discoveries about the origin of our universe. Observations by American astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929 and the final discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964 confirmed predictions by Friedmann and Lemaître and convinced scientists of the expansion of the universe from a denser, hotter, primordial state. It was a turning point in the history of science. No longer was the universe thought to be a static, timeless, unchanging entity. The Friedmann-Lemaitre model gives the universe a backstory and more than that: a beginning. Physicist P. C. W. Davies explains: “most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.”

The idea of an expanding universe has not only revolutionized the field of science and been a unifying theme in cosmology but has had profound implications beyond those disciplines. According to the British astronomer Stephen Hawking, “If the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be”. But he admits, “so long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator”. This has been too uncomfortable a conclusion for some. Robert Jastrow, physicist and founding director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, comments:

“There is a kind of religion in science. . .This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning. . .as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring the implications – in science this is known as ‘refusing to speculate’ – or trivializing the origin of the world by calling it the Big Bang, as if the universe were a firecracker.

Consider the enormity of the problem. Science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, what cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe? …And science cannot answer those questions…The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.” (God and the Astronomers, pps 113-15)

But while the fact that our universe both has a beginning and arose from nothing provides powerful evidence for a personal Creator (see Stuart’s post on the Kalam Cosmological Argument), Quentin Smith, philosophy professor at Western Michigan University has put forward the unique claim that the Big Bang is incompatible with God’s existence. In the book Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology, Smith sets out this argument:

1. If God exists and there is an earliest state of the universe, then God created that earliest state of the universe.

2. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent.

3. A universe with life is better than a universe that does not contain life.

4. Therefore, if God created the universe then the earliest state of the universe must either contain life or ensure that life will eventually emerge.

5. There is an earliest state of the universe and it is the Big Bang singularity.

6. The conditions of the earliest state of the universe (infinite temperature, infinite curvature, and infinite density) were hostile to life.

7. The Big Bang singularity is inherently unpredictable and lawless and consequently there is no guarantee that it will produce a universe where life can emerge.

8. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the earliest state of the universe will produce a universe where life can emerge.

9. Therefore, God could not have created the earliest state of the universe.

10, Therefore, God does not exist.

Does this argument succeed? There are several problems that are immediately apparent (for a full discussion read William Lane Craig’s response in that book), but two weaknesses are serious enough to undermine its conclusion:

Firstly, God is not obligated to create a universe that contains life. It does not follow from premise 2 and 3 that God must create a universe with life. God could indeed have a reason for creating a world with life. He may, in fact, freely choose to create a world because of the good He may want to bring about. But just because God possesses a reason for creating a universe, this does not impose a necessity on Him. Furthermore, the Christian theist will deny that in order for God’s goodness to be expressed, He must create a universe with life. Apart from creation, God is neither lonely nor in need of objects for his benevolence. Within the Trinity and the fellowship of three persons united in one nature, God’s benevolence is fully and perfectly expressed.

Secondly, God could guarantee life through His subsequent intervention. The assumption that God must pre-programme life-hospitable conditions into the initial stages of the universe is perhaps the most significant problem for this argument. Why must God embed this capacity for life into the universe from the very start? It is not at all illogical for God to causally direct the evolution of life through his subsequent providence and care. This is, in fact, quite consistent with the classical Christian view that God not only created the world but remains living and active within it (Matthew 6:26; Ps 147:8-9; Job 38:41, etc).  According to Smith, however, this would be “a sign of incompetent planing . . . The rational thing to do is to create some state that by its own lawful nature leads to a life-producing universe.” However, this is an arbitrary and anthropocentric constraint on God. Why think that God is incompetent because he does conform to our standards of efficiency? In his response to Quentin Smith, William Craig cites the American philosopher and professor at the University of Notre Dame, Thomas Morris:

“Efficiency is always relative to a goal or set of intentions. before you know where a person is efficient in what she is doing, you must know what it is she intends to be doing, what goals and values are governing the activity she is engaged in… In order to be able to derive the conclusion that if there is a God in charge of the world, he is grossly inefficient, one would have to know of all the relevant divine goals and values which would be operative in the creation and governance of a world such as ours.”

Not only is efficiency proportional to the ends desired, but efficiency is only a significant value to someone who has limited time or power.  For a God who lacks neither, Smith’s complaint against God’s intervention into the natural order of causes is unwarranted. Furthermore, there are many reasons why God might choose to be causally engaged in the activity of creation. Craig points out two: (i) God could delight in the work of creation and (ii) God might want to leave a general revelation of Himself in nature.

Smith has failed to show that the Big Bang is logically incompatible with God. Instead, the theistic explanation of the initial cosmological singularity remains superior to its atheistic  rival. To believe that our universe simply came into being out of nothing without a cause, furnished with a set of complex initial conditions so bizarrely improbable as to to ridicule comprehension, then accidentally evolved to fall into delicate balance with life-permitting conditions must be taken as wildly implausible at best, and plainly absurd at worst. The Big Bang, rather than taking us away from God, brings us closer to the Creator of Christian theism.

Notes:

Reason and Religious Belief by Michael Peterson,  William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach and David Basinger, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Oxford University Press, 1995.

William Lane Craig on his recent Intelligent Design debate

I guess we all know by now that Richard Dawkins refused to debate Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and recently also refused to debate Dr. Stephen Meyer, even though their paths crossed in the USA.

Ayala

But Dawkins may just well be feeling relieved, however, given the outcome of Craig’s latest debate at Indiana University. By all accounts, Craig appears to have soundly beaten his opponent and advocate for evolution, Francisco Ayala. Ayala is no dummy either, and in debating the topic Intelligent Design: Is it Viable? he should, at least on paper, have been a serious contender with Craig. Professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Ayala is described by the New York Times as the “Renaissance man of evolutionary biology”, authoring or editing over 980 articles and 34 books. In 2001 he was awarded the National Medal Of Science and throughout his carer has been recognized by numerous other Institutes and Academic organizations (Craig isn’t kidding when he says Ayala “has as many medals as an Argentine general!”) But Ayala was outperformed. Even the moderator of the debate was less than impressed with the evolutionary biologist and viewed it in Craig’s favour (“Ayala didn’t really engage with Craig, but instead presented his own information, ignoring the arguments that Craig was giving.”). Luke Muehlhauser, the blogger at Common Sense Atheism was even more blunt, suggesting Ayala was getting ‘womped’ by Craig:

Ayala’s presentations were meandering musings on evolutionary theory, the history of science, and anecdotes about Darwin. Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent. In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design. Craig, as usual, cut very clearly to the heart of the disagreement between Ayala and Intelligent Design theory. He then showed how Ayala’s objections to intelligent design were invalid.

Download the audio from the debate and judge for yourself. But, lastly, here are William Lane Craig’s own thoughts from his November Newsletter:CRAIG

As I write this letter, I’m on my way home from my debate last night at Indiana University on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” My opponent was Francisco Ayala, an eminent and highly decorated evolutionary biologist who, judging by his lengthy resumé, has as many medals as an Argentine general! I had heard Ayala lecture on Intelligent Design last year in China and was dismayed by the caricatures and misrepresentations he gave to the Chinese students. So even though I had never debated intelligent design in biology before, I decided to take on this debate to try at least to set the record straight. The last few months I prepared diligently for this debate, reading Ayala’s work, familiarizing myself with relevant new developments in biology, studying the recent works of ID proponents, conferring with colleagues who work in this field, and formulating the best strategy for the debate. The key to my approach was a distinction helpfully drawn by Ayala himself. Ayala distinguishes three aspects of the contemporary evolutionary paradigm:

  1. Evolution: the process of change and diversification of living things over time.
  2. Evolutionary history: the reconstruction of the universal tree of life (common ancestry).
  3. “Darwinism”: the mechanism behind evolutionary change is natural selection operating on random variations in living things.

This makes it clear just where ID theorists and Ayala part company. It is not on evolution or even common ancestry but on “Darwinism.” Indeed, prominent ID theorists like geneticist Michael Denton and biochemist Michael Behe espouse the same view of evolutionary history as Ayala. What they deny is that the mechanisms of random variation and natural selection are adequate to explain the evolution of biological complexity. Significantly, Ayala states in his published work “The evolution of organisms is universally accepted by biological scientists, while the mechanisms of evolution are still actively investigated and are the subject of debate among scientists.” He says, “To reconstruct evolutionary history, we have to know how the mechanisms operate in detail, and we have only the vaguest idea of how they operate at the genetic level, how genetic change relates to development and to function.” So I decided to just ignore both “evolution” and common ancestry and to go for the jugular, “Darwinism,” since that is the pivotal point on which the disagreement of ID theorists with the contemporary evolutionary paradigm turns. By taking this approach, I could also keep the debate sharply focused. Since the question we were debating was not whether intelligent design is true but merely whether it is viable, it was up to Ayala to disqualify ID as a live option. In his published work, he tries to disqualify ID both scientifically and theologically, so my opening response fell neatly into two parts. First, I argued that Ayala fails to disqualify ID scientifically because he cannot show that the Darwinian mechanisms are capable of producing the sort of biological complexity we see on earth. Then I argued that the theological arguments he presents against the designer’s being all-powerful and all-good are simply irrelevant to drawing a design inference (however interesting and important they may be for theology) because the design argument doesn’t aspire to show that the designer is all-powerful or all-good. The debate turned out to be virtually one-sided! Ayala utterly failed to engage with my arguments. It was almost as if I wasn’t even there. It was pretty obvious to everyone that he was just presenting canned arguments which had already been refuted in my opening statement. I responded to all his points and even went beyond them to tackle the theological problem of natural evil as well. I was also able to call him to account for his misrepresentation of Michael Behe’s work. Ayala likes to indict Behe for saying that the human eye is irreducibly complex, even though it isn’t. Holding up Behe’s book and reading aloud the relevant passage, I responded that this allegation was surprising in light of the fact that Behe says on pages 37-38 that the eye is NOT irreducibly complex and therefore he does not use it as one of his examples of irreducible complexity! Another interesting feature of this debate was the moderator, a young philosopher from the University of Colorado, Boulder, named Bradley Monton. Though a self-confessed atheist, Monton is convinced that the typical refutations of ID that pass muster today are in fact fallacious, and so he has written a book defending not only the scientific status of ID but even its being taught as an option in public schools! Having read his remarkable book in preparation for the debate, I was able to quote “our esteemed moderator” to good effect during the debate itself to counter Ayala’s assertion that ID was not science. I learned so much during those months of preparation for this debate: about features of human anatomy like the appendix, which is not a vestigial organ at all, or the coccyx, which anchors the muscles that keep the anus from just draining freely, about genetics and the incredible molecular machinery of the cell, about malaria and its war of attrition with humanity, about the molecular basis of drug resistance in bacteria and viruses, about the origin of pathogenic parasites, which were once free-living organisms that “devolved” to become parasitic, about Archaeopteryx and feathered dinosaurs, which to my surprise, are now recognized by evolutionary biologists not to be transitional forms to modern birds even though they have both reptilian and avian features, about biomimetics, how engineers repeatedly find that nature has anticipated (and usually exceeds) the best designs of human engineering, about Pod Mrcaru lizards off the Croatian coast which have unexpectedly developed new anatomical structures, about the hierarchy of pain awareness in animals and man’s unique status of having a second order awareness that one is oneself in pain, an awareness that God, in His mercy, has apparently spared the animals (see this week’s Question of the Week for more on this absolutely fascinating subject). One of the things I love about the ministry which God has given us, wholly apart from the practical application in speaking and debates, is the incredible stimulus and personal growth that such study brings.

Craig’s next debate is at the University of North Carolina on the existence of God with Dr. Herb Silverman, in March. And Stephen Meyer is soon to debate Michael Shermer in a superstars of wrestling style “Origins-of-Life tag-team debate at the end of this month. But the question is, where is Professor Dawkins?

UPDATE: Wintery Knight has posted the video to Craig’s opening speech from the debate.

New and recently released apologetic books

With Christmas fast approaching, I thought I could corral some apologetic-themed gift ideas here for those that might want to encourage friends and family members with Christian truth. Why get the latest Twilight Saga CD or Joel Osteen’s latest Fifteen Steps to Self-actualize your Dream Yacht when you can get something with real intellectual and spiritual fiber?

Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors

Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig

B&H Publishing Academic
304 pages (paperback)

This book is a comprehensive rejoinder to the new wave of skeptical arguments against Christianity. It is book two in a series on modern Christian apologetics that began with the popular ‘Passionate Conviction’. Confronting skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Bart Ehrman, the book includes essays by eighteen different evangelical thinkers that were delivered at the annual apologetics conferences of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Google books preview here.

Paul Copan is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is author of many books including  “True for You, But Not for Me” (Bethany House)  and Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (Chalice Press).

William Lane Craig is one of the most prominent philosophers of religion in the world today and also the research professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

contending_with

Table of Contents

I. The Existence of God
1. William Craig, “Dawkins’ Delusion”
2. James Sinclair, “At Home in the Multiverse? Critiquing the Atheist Many-Worlds Scenario”
3. Victor Reppert, “The Argument from Reason”
4. Michael Murray, “Is Belief in God Hard-Wired?”
5. Mark Linville, “The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism”
6. Greg Ganssle, “Dawkins’ Best Argument Against God’s Existence”

II. The Jesus of History
7. Robert Stein, “Criteria for the Gospels’ Authenticity”
8. Ben Witherington, “Jesus the Seer”
9. Gary Habermas, “The Resurrection of Jesus Timeline”
10. Craig Evans, “How Scholars Fabricate Jesus”
11. Dan Wallace “Misquoting Jesus? Bart Ehrman and the New Testament’s Reliability”
12. Michael J. Wilkins, “Who Did Jesus Think He Was?”

III. The Coherence of Christian Doctrine
13. Charles Taliaferro and Elsa Marty, “The Coherence of Theism”
14. Paul Copan, “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One”
15. Paul Copan, “Did God Become a Jew? The Coherence of the Incarnation”
16. Steve Porter, “Dostoyevsky, Woody Allen, and the Doctrine of Penal Substitution”
17. Stewart Goetz, “Hell: Getting What’s Good My Own Way”
18. David Hunt, “What Does God Know? The Problems of Open Theism”

God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible

Edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister

Intervarsity Press
265 pages

The ambition of this book largely overlaps with Contending with Christianity’s Critics, setting out to address some of direct objections put forward by the New Atheists. Craig and Meister have assembled some of the finest evangelical scholars from across different academic disciplines, including an interview by Gary Habermas with new convert to theism, Antony Flew.

Chad Meister is professor of philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana and is the author of numerous books, including The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Introducing Philosophy of Religion, Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith and The Philosophy of Religion Reader.

godisgood_isgreat

Table of Contents

Part One: God Is

1. William Lane Craig, “Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God”
2. J. P. Moreland, “The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism”
3. Paul K. Moser, “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God”

Part Two: God Is Great
4. John Polkinghorne, “God and Physics”
5. Michael J. Behe,  “God and Evolution”
6. Michael J. Murray, “Evolutionary Explanations of Religion?”

Part Three: God Is Good
7. Chad Meister “God, Evil and Morality”
8. Alister McGrath, “Is Religion Evil?”
9. Paul Copan, “Are Old Testament Laws Evil?”
10. Jerry L. Walls, “How Could God Create Hell?”

Part Four: Why It Matters
11. Charles Taliaferro, “Recognizing Divine Revelation”
12. Scot McKnight, “The Messiah You Never Expected”
13. Gary R. Habermas, “Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts”
14. Mark Mittelberg, “Why Faith in Jesus Matters”

Postscript: My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism
Antony Flew (with Gary Habermas)

Appendix A: The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism “Ad Absurdum”:
Review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion by Alvin Plantinga

A Faith And Culture Devotional: Daily Readings On Art, Science, And Life

Edited by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington

Zondervan
304 Pages

Unlike the previous two books, this one isn’t offering an apologetic for the Christian faith but instead a way to integrate the pursuit of truth and the wonder of faith.  The daily reader is intended for Christians who care about literature, philosophy and science by offering the thoughts of some of the most astute theological and philosophical Christian minds of the day. The book is divided into five sections: Bible and Theology, Science, Literature, Arts and Contemporary Culture, and each section features 15 succinct readings. Some of the contributors:

faith&culture

-Dallas Willard
-John Eldredge
-Michael Behe
-Frederica Matthews-Green
-Darrell Bock
-William Lane Craig
-R. C. Sproul
-Randy Alcorn
-J. P. Moreland

Read a sample here. It will be released next month.

Kelly Monroe Kullberg is the founder and director of The Veritas Forum, the author of Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Quest for Veritas, and an associate with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Lael Arrington has a master’s degree in the history of ideas and aesthetics from the University of Texas, has authored three books and cohosts the radio talk show, The Things That Matter Most.

Debate: Intelligent Design: Is it Viable?

Dawkins won’t debate Craig (or Stephen Meyer apparently), so it seems someone much braver has stepped up to the plate.

A debate between Dr. Francisco J. Ayala and Dr. William Lane Craig.  Moderated by Dr. Bradley Monton. The debate will occur on Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 7 p.m. EST at Indiana University Auditorium. This debate is sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ at Indiana University.

The official debate website is here.

William Lane Craig in Israel

I went to Israel about 10 years ago, and so it brings back many memories as I look through some of the photos the Craig’s have provided from their recent trip.

Enjoy a few of their photos in this photo slideshow. Israel indeed has many stunning and very beautiful things to see.

You can read more about Bill and Jan Craig’s adventures in his latest newsletter here including various lectures given and the oneness that Jesus Christ brings between Arab and Israeli Christians.

7 Reasons God Exists and 3 Reasons It Makes A Difference

Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, presents the case for the existence of God as well as what makes the existence of God significant to all of life.

[vimeo 21523776]

This talk was given at Florida State University in 2009.

Coming debates

What’s so great about God?

Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza, University of Colorado, 26th January, 2009.

Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig, Biola University, 4th April, 2009.