googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: God is evident in what we DO know

Friday, November 4, 2016

God is evident in what we DO know

Answers in Genesis has a list of arguments they feel creationists should avoid using. I too have heard Christian apologists making very weak points and I just shake my head wishing they'd stop. I've thought about making a list similar to AiG's but many of the items would overlap and AiG has a much bigger audience than I so what would be the point? There is one particular argument, though, that I've heard used frequently and no one is telling them to stop. The argument goes something like this:

A Christian will hold up a piece of paper or draw a circle on a whiteboard. He asks an atheist to pretend the circle or the paper represents all the knowledge there is in the universe. He then asks the atheist to draw another circle inside the larger circle to represent all the knowledge we actually possess. I've never really seen an atheist actually draw a circle; usually an answer is provided by the apologist. The apologist might put a tiny circle or even a dot, meaning we only know a tiny, tiny bit of everything there is to know. In other words, of all the things there are to know in the universe, we probably know less than 1% of it. The Christian then delivers the “death blow” by saying, “If this paper represents everything there is to know, and we only know this little bit, how can you be sure there's no evidence for God among everything you don't know?!”

This video shows Glyn Barrett making this very argument, recounting a supposed debate he had with an atheist. I've seen other videos where Christians make the exact same argument and I don't want to embarrass them by calling them out. Here, however, Barrett sufficiently embarrasses himself by obviously inventing the entire debate so if he should object to my using it as an example, I say he's brought it on himself. But I digress.

I guess the teeth of this argument is that it illustrates the fallacy of claiming a universal negative. That is, I really can't say a certain thing doesn't exist anywhere in the universe unless I already know everything that exists in the universe. Note – many people claim it's impossible to prove a negative but that's not true. For example, I can prove I don't have $100 in my pocket by turning my pocket inside-out and showing you it's empty. I can prove I don't have $1,000,000 in my checking account by showing you my account balance on my smart phone. However, I can't prove life doesn't exist anywhere else in the universe because I can't show you everything else in the universe.

Most atheists understand the impossibility of proving a universal negative and so won't claim to know that God doesn't exist anywhere. Instead, they simply say that they've never seen evidence for God. In that case, what does the argument above accomplish? We're just basically telling the skeptic there could be evidence we haven't found yet and he'll probably say, “OK, I'll look at it when you find it.” You see? There's nothing compelling in just saying there could be evidence out there somewhere.

Besides not being convincing, this argument actually reinforces some of the criticisms of Christianity made by atheists. For example, critics often claim that Christians only have blind faith and not evidence. This illustration tacitly admits that the evidence for God still hasn't been discovered, we just believe it's out there. Critics also accuse Christians of believing in a god-of-the-gaps; this argument seems to do just that by saying the evidence for God exists in what we don't understand.

Instead of saying the evidence for God can be found in what we don't know, I assert that God is clearly evident in what do know! We know that everything that begins to exist has a cause. We know that life cannot rise spontaneously from non-living matter. We know that nature displays design and purpose which are characteristics of created things. From everything we know scientifically, there must be a transcendent, powerful, intelligent Designer who made it all.

Another claim made by skeptics is that our advances in understanding have continuously pushed back the need for God. Ha! If anything, we see more and more the need for God. Darwin, for example, believed a single cell was a “simple” blob of goo that could just fall together by a fortunate arrangement of amino acids. However, we now know that even a single cell is enormously complex. The more we learn about a cell, the more we realize such a thing requires a Creator.

The irony in all this is that it is the atheists who have put their faith in what we don't know. We know, for example, that matter/energy cannot be created naturally. How then can all the matter/energy in the universe have just appeared out of nothing? Even space and time had to appear out of nothing. So what must have happened flies in the face of what we already know can't happen yet atheists still cling blindly to the belief that an answer lies somewhere in what we haven't discovered. Neither have we observed a living cell form from non-living chemicals. Neither have we observed novel features appearing in a population. Many things necessary for secular theories of origins to be true have absolutely no evidence yet atheists sincerely believe the evidence for these things are going to be found someday.

I would say to all atheists that it's OK to ignore arguments that ask you to think evidence for God exists in what you don't know. Instead, I would ask you to think hard about what you do know and seriously question the evidence for what you believe. Do you have evidence that matter/energy/space/time can just appear out of nothing? Do you have evidence that life can rise from non-living matter? You know that you don't. Can you see that design and purpose are evidence for a creator? You know that it is. There's no need to wait around, wondering if clear evidence for God will someday be discovered. I'm saying that God is clearly seen in what you already know is true!


Steven J. said...

We know that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

Do we? How do we know it? We know that events that happen in the universe often have causes (though it is not clear that many quantum-level events, e.g. the decay of radioactive particles, have "causes" in the classical sense -- "this event gives rise directly and immediately to that event" sort of causes). But in our experience, everything that begins to exist arises from something else -- a house is made from raw materials, a new breed of dog is bred from pre-existing dogs, etc. If we apply our previous experience to, say, the universe as a whole, we should assume it arose not ex nihilo but from some pre-existing state, perhaps in the manner of cyclic big bang theories like Turok and Steinhardt's ekpyrotic universe model. If we don't assume that, then it is pure intuition, not something science taught us, to suppose that the universe began because something caused it (indeed, if time began with the universe -- which might indeed not be true -- and causes operate before effects, then no cause could have preceded the universe).

We know that life cannot rise spontaneously from non-living matter.

We know that we do not know how it could happen, and we know that there are a number of problems that must be overcome for abiogenesis to occur (and can guess that we aren't aware of all the problems). Nonetheless, we know from experiments that more complex molecular systems can arise spontaneously from simpler ones. We know that the components of RNA can form spontaneously from common, simple compounds through repeated cycles of wetting and drying, and that some RNA sequences can replicate themselves without the assistance of other large molecules. Abiogenesis does not look, currently, like an intrinsically impossible process.

We know that nature displays design and purpose which are characteristics of created things.

We live in a universe supposedly created for life, in which the overwhelmingly vast majority of that universe is utterly hostile to life as we know it. Most of the universe is unsuitable to the purpose for which it was supposedly made. We know that living things are replete with adaptions to attack or defend themselves against other living things. Was the lion designed to devour the gazelle, or the gazelle designed to make it hard for the lion to catch a dinner? Shall we, as one skeptic put it, thank the Designer for the marvelous immune system He gave us to protect us from the deadly diseases He also created to plague us?. Is the edible mushroom or the poisonous one better evidence of design?

From everything we know scientifically, there must be a transcendent, powerful, intelligent Designer who made it all.

That is a rather large conclusion to draw from your premises. As unobserved as things that begin to exist without causes are causes that transcend the universe, or omnipotent causes, or non-material intelligent causes. Even on the assumption that you're right, to conclude that the Intelligent Designer must care for our physical, spiritual, or moral welfare more than we care for that of bacteria in a petri dish or characters in a video game is to go far beyond even what you claim that we know.

Steven J. said...

We know, for example, that matter/energy cannot be created naturally. How then can all the matter/energy in the universe have just appeared out of nothing?

According to inflationary Big Bang theory, it's basically an accounting trick. The rapid expansion of space creates a vast negative energy (as in, less than zero energy), and, as a result of conservation of energy, an equal amount of positive energy appears. Apparently the math works. Of course, under cyclic Big Bang theories, the energy has always been there; the accumulated entropy is just "squeezed out" of the universe during the Big Crunch preceding each Big Bang.

Even space and time had to appear out of nothing.

"Nothing" is a slippery word. The hungry teenager who complains that there's nothing in the fridge doesn't mean that the shelves, or even various things that don't appear edible, have vanished. The person who asks for a box with nothing in it doesn't mean one containing a vacuum rather than air. Even the physicist who speaks of a "universe from nothing" doesn't really mean an utter ontological nullity, without properties. We don't know that there was ever a true "nothing" from something to appear from.

Neither have we observed novel features appearing in a population.

"Novel features" is one of those terms, like "kind," that constitute goal-post moving from the moment one types them. What differentiates a "novel feature" from, e.g. a bacterium that has a mutation that enables it to digest nylon (as none of its ancestors could do), or provides an Italian wall lizard with the cecal valves in its gut that are absent in its conspecifics? Given that all our organs and systems are modifications of those present in other mammals, would human evolution from a tree-shrew-like early placental mammal even require "novel features?"

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I'm sorry I haven't responded to your comments more promptly. I barely have time to write posts so I've been letting comments slide. I have a moment so I'll hit some highlights.

Yes, we do know that everything that happens has a cause. Yes we do know that life doesn't rise spontaneously from non-living matter. We know these things as much as we know anything in science because it is what we've observed. Do you have any evidence to the contrary? In other words, you believe that since some of the building blocks of life can form naturally, then life could form naturally. You cannot cite any scientific evidence for such a thing. It has never been observed. Ir's sort of like believing that since rocks exists naturally, they could have spontaneously formed the Great Pyramids. You exhibit the very thing I accuse evolutionists of doing in my post; you assume a natural explanation exists and is waiting to be discovered.

I've heard of Hawkings “accounting trick” about energy being offset by negative energy. It's like saying I can't build a hill anywhere without making a hole somewhere else – there's no net change at the level. Of course, the analogy fails because it still doesn't explain where the dirt came from in the first place nor does it explain how the dirt could move naturally from the hole to the hill without additional input. It's an exotic sounding hypothesis but it's more of the same – believing an answer must exist in what we don't know even though it seems to contradict what we think we do know.

I'm thinking about writing a post about scientists' use of the word, “nothing.” You're right that they don't really mean, “nothing” when they say the universe appeared out of nothing. They use the term rather dishonestly because when they say, “nothing,” they really mean, “something.”

Finally, I don't think my conclusion is unsupported by my premises. A thing cannot create itself so the cause of the universe must transcend the universe. Likewise, the cause of time must transcend time. The cause must be greater than the effect so the cause of the universe must be greater than the universe. So there must be a timeless, transcendent, first cause that's greater than the universe. A good candidate for that is God.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!