Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Cosmological Argument

I fully expected my cousin Mat to respond to my last post [Apologia] with some thought provoking observations and questions, and I was not disappointed. To a duplicate post on Facebook, he responded:

Dawkins has gone above and beyond the call of duty in his writing. As the burden of proof lies on the claimant, the religious community is responsible to offer proof of God. It is not the secular community's job to disprove him/her/it. Even if Dawkins lacked any of the evidence cited in The Blind Watchmaker, et al, one would have to remain agnostic (and, further, atheistic) toward religion in order to call themselves intellectually honest, because the only proof that religion offers is faith.

Mat has used this argument elsewhere in other posts at Men of Reason and Down with Absolutes. It is an interesting argument, but I am afraid it does not hold water. With all due respect to Mat, it seems to me to be the atheist’s ultimate artful dodge. In effect, the argument goes like this: “You are the one who came up with this God business, so the burden of proof is on you. As for me, I don’t have to prove a negative; i.e., that God doesn’t exist.”

Perhaps so, but the atheists, especially those who appeal to the sciences as the ultimate and only authoritative source of knowledge, have an even greater burden of proof. They need to explain the origin of the universe, and this has left them in a precarious position. As my good friend, Gordon Leidner states at his website Created Cosmos:

Today's scientists go to extreme lengths and propose some of the most fantastic theories in order to keep God out of the equation. In many of these theories, they are trying to create SOMETHING out of NOTHING.

Before Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the subsequent scientific consensus that the universe exploded out of nothingness some 14 billion years ago, the atheist could simply state that all matter and energy existed eternally (which, by the way, defies logic; but we will save that theme for another post). Armed with Darwinism and the now generally discredited "steady state" theory of the universe, atheists needed only explain how life arose out of inorganic matter (i.e., abiogenesis or spontaneous generation, which is still another far fetched absurdity that I hope to discuss in a subsequent post.)

But the atheists had the rug pulled out from under them with the theory of general relativity, a consensus that twentieth century scientists came to most reluctantly. As stated by Geisler and Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist:
It was 1916, and Albert Einstein did not like where his calculations were leading him. If his theory of General Relativity was true, it meant that the universe was not eternal but had a beginning. Einstein’s calculations indeed were revealing a definite beginning to all time, all nature, and all space. This flew in the face of his belief that the universe was static and eternal. Einstein later called his discovery “irritating”. He wanted the universe to be self existent—not reliant on an outside cause—but the universe seemed to be one giant effect.

Thus Geisler and Turek introduce the basic cosmological argument which starts to shatter the foundation of atheism:

  1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause
  2. The universe had a beginning.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

Despite the efforts of others to dance around such unassailable logic, Einstein knew the implications. Once he got over the initial irritation of his findings and came to terms with their implications, Einstein had yet another source of irritation:

In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views.

Though best described as a deist as opposed to a theist, there is little doubt as to where Einstein stood on the God question:

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details.

Speaking of details, there were obviously many other questions and objections Mat raised to my previous post, but I will deal with them one at a time. Stay tuned.


Leo B. Vadalà said...

Mat was kind enough to respond to my post after it was imported onto Facebook. But given the space limitations and other impediments posed by FB, I will quote portions of his comments and respond here.

Mat: Further, assuming that there is a logical absolute that everything that exists must have a cause, you can answer that God is the universe's cause. But then what is God's cause? And if the universe (and, for that matter, its contents), are too complex to have arisen by the "absurd" (more on that later) phenomenon of abiogenesis, therefore necessitating an intelligent creator, then how does one account for that creator's complexity? Surely abiogenesis is even less likely to account for something intelligent enough to create a universe than it is for the universe itself. So, according to creationist logic, the Creator would need His own Creator. And the question repeats; so which is honestly more like to you? The infinitely dwindling probability of an infinite number of Creators (which lacks a beginning, I'll add), or abiogenesis, which has been replicated in laboratory settings?

Leo: This is the typical atheist response of resorting to the child’s amusing question, “Who created God, then?” You are asking me to explain the complexity of a Creator who by definition is unexplainable. You will accuse me of resorting to the faith argument, but it is more than just faith. Rather, it is humble and sober realism to conclude that if there is indeed a First Cause (which based on what we know of the Big Bang as well as sheer logic itself--is a given), then that First Cause must be infinitely complex and outside of time and space. Anyone who could explain the Creator would in effect be greater than the Creator, which in addition to being blasphemous is downright illogical.

I’ll deal with abiogenesis in a later post. Suffice it to say for now that when you first brought the topic up, I was unfamiliar with the term. Back when I went to school it was called “spontaneous generation”. Out of curiosity I Googled “abiogenesis” and found the typical Wikipedia compendium of what has been said and done on the topic. Reading through it, I couldn’t stop laughing. My first thought was, “Mary Shelley, please call your office.” My next thought was: “And these are the same people who mock the Virgin birth!” It would seem to me that, even without divine intervention, parthenogenesis stands an infinitely greater chance of happening than abiogenesis, because unlike the latter, the former at least has some living DNA to work with as raw material.

Mat: Einstein, for the record, was a brilliant man, but neither side should be quoting him (or anybody else) to support their arguments. Opinions have no bearing on objective truth.

Leo: True enough: not Einstein’s opinion, nor Dawkins’ nor Hitchens’, nor Vadalà’s or Marshall’s for that matter. Yet Einstein’s findings, which you call opinion, led him to the inescapable conclusion that the universe had a First Cause, which by definition would have to be infinite and outside of time and space.

Mat Marshall said...

It's not realism to ignore the question with the response that it "can't be answered". The only reason you've offered for the validity of your answer is that there is a question. Essentially, you're asking people to believe that for which there is no account or evidence. Moreover, you're asking them to believe it over that which is replicable, at least in concept.

Explaining the Creator does not make one greater than the Creator, unless there's a specific conflict between existence and verbalization. And if there is such an impasse preventing the collection of evidence, you're entitled to have faith in it, but to hand it off as objective truth, let alone to expect others to accept it without evidence, is mistaken at best and intellectually dishonest at worst (I, of course, am assuming that you're just mistaken).

Abiogenesis, for the record, accounts for the creation of organic compounds from inorganic molecules, and their collection into primordial life. In other words, abiogenesis is the cause of DNA, and DNA is the effect of abiogenesis, not the other way around.

Moreover, as unbelievable as you may find abiogenesis to be, I find it at least equally absurd to abandon some form of empirical evidence stating that particles we know exist behaved in a way we know they can behave, in order to become that which we know is here, in favor of the idea that a God we have to assume exists based off of the existence of a question and an answer from a 6,000 year old book, created the universe out of nothingness, not to mention the complete lack of evidence behind the proposition.

Further, I don't call Einstein's findings opinion, I call his conclusion on religion an opinion. His findings are fact, but his extrapolations on what they mean of God are meaningless, particularly if you present the theist argumentt that there IS no explaing God, anyway.

Leo B. Vadalà said...

"Explaining the Creator does not make one greater than the Creator, unless there's a specific conflict between existence and verbalization."

That is a cute juxtaposition of words (existence and verbalization) but it is otherwise a meaningless non-sequiter. My explaining the Creator would be equivalent to this older generation Dell Inspiron 5150 I am typing on explaining Bill Gates, or whomever.

Your problem, Mat, is that you have painted yourself into a corner. You have bought into what is appropriately called scientism, believing that the natural sciences have “authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences.” []. But as I've said before, true science knows its limitations and sticks to the scientific method, confining itself to that which can be observed, measured and replicated. Sure, you may postulate REASONABLE theories, but these theories must eventually be tested and proven.

For example by observing measurable phenomena, Einstein came up with the theory of relativity and, together with a host of other scientists in the same field, postulated the Big Bang theory, which has since been corroborated by all observations and measurements. So it is now generally accepted that the universe exploded out of nothingness 14 billion years ago. Before the big bang there was NOTHING -- no time, no space, no matter. EVERYTHING came out of NOTHING, and this inconvenient fact defies the very natural laws we depend on. We have no explanation--nor can we--as to why those natural laws even exist, why they are calibrated precisely the way they are, or why they should even behave consistently. On the other hand, the big bang seems to corroborate what theologians call creation ex-nihilo , as well as the timeless words of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” [Pre-emptive strike to your anticipated pot-shot, Genesis was never intended to be a science book that claimed that the earth was created in six literal days—though of course nothing is impossible with God. Church fathers and theologians centuries before Darwin have always acknowledged as much.]

If you want definitive scientific proof for God, you will never find it unless and until He shows up and says "here I am" (actually, I think He already has, but that is an argument for another day.). But while there is no definitive proof, the preponderance of the evidence points to Him.

Leo B. Vadalà said...

Mat, we have not even gotten past the cosmological argument (everything exploded out of nothing), which to me shoots atheism out of the water at the very starting gate. But there are so many other issues that science can do an excellent job of measuring and observing but can never explain, such as the design of the universe and the laws of nature (teleological argument), the perfect conditions for life (the anthropic principle), how is it that man developed a self awareness and a moral conscience, etc. etc. etc.

[Even the things science thinks it can explain are full of gaping holes. I am well aware of what abiogenesis is supposed to be, and it goes against the very laws of nature. One would have thought that Louis Pasteur put that issue to rest when he pointed out the inconvenient truth that amino acids could not form by themselves with the levels of oxygen that are in our atmosphere. Oh, no problem. . Let's just imagine that our atmosphere was composed of different gases however many billion years ago, gases that are more amenable to the spontaneous generation of amino acids, and let's have these conditions exist just long enough to form the amino acids, and then presto, let's imagine that there was another cataclysmic event that caused immediate oxygenation just in the (ta-dah!) nick of time so the newly formed amino acids could survive, grow, replicate themselves and somehow organize into DNA molecules with all their incredible complexity! Of course we don't have a shred of evidence that these crazy conditions ever existed and we certainly haven't been able to successfully recreate the conditions and the processes anyway. But that's our story, and we're sticking with it! Even your sacrosanct realm of Darwinism is full of holes. Science does a great job of observing and recording instances of micro-evolution, but then, as an article of faith, it jumps to the conclusion that macro-evolution must be a fact, despite there being ZERO evidence in the fossil record for evolution from one species to another. On the contrary, if anything the fossil record shows sudden appearances of species.]

And we haven't even started talking about the Bible and the historical evidences for Christianity. While I will never be able to offer the level of "proof" that you are demanding, all of the above points to a compelling and reasonable argument for the existence of God. What you dismissively call faith is in fact a reasonable conclusion. Meanwhile, the alternative view can only be adhered to by heaping improbability upon improbability.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes from one of the books I cited previously: In "The Reason for God," page 131, Timothy Keller paraphrases an illustration from Alvin Plantinga. “He imagines a man dealing himself twenty straight hands of four aces in the same game of poker. As his companions reach for their six-shooters, the poker player says, 'I know it looks suspicious! But what if there is an infinite succession of universes, so that for any possible distribution of poker hands, there is one universe for which this possibility is realized? We just happen to find ourselves in one where I always deal myself four aces without cheating!' This argument will have no effect on the other poker players. It is technically possible that the man just happened to deal himself twenty straight hands of four aces. Though you could not prove he had cheated, it would be unreasonable to conclude that he hadn't."

Mat Marshall said...

It's hardly a non-sequiter. Unless God is preventing you from explaining his existence, there is no logical reason to believe that you couldn't. We can explain math, evolution, history, and the universe, despite the fact that all of these things are in some sense "greater" than ourselves, and we accept the validity of all of these things.

I'm not asking you for any absurd amount of proof. I'm asking for proof, period. And you haven't given it to me. You've handed to me that atheism is utterly ridiculous in your eyes. I cannot stress enough, Leo, that that's not an argument for theism. Because something is not green does not prove that it's red. Do you understand what I'm saying? Assuming one of us is wrong, there are literally hundreds of other ideas besides the other's that could be right. The only way to prove that yours is correct is to either disprove all of those explanations, or to prove your own. You have yet to do either. Belief without evidence is faith, Leo, and I am not a man of faith.

I believe that reality and the truth have authority over all other interpretations of life, and I believe that the scientific method is the best tool available to us to find them. True science has no limitation, Leo. This is the problem with religion. It teaches us to be OK with not knowing the answer, that there are somehow some subjects that are simply outside of investigation. Copernicus could not possibly have imagined that science could one day explain to us neurological disorders, how the planets got where they were or developed the atmospheres they currently have, or even why we got sick. Yet people still endeavored to answer those questions, and because of them, we are all the more equipped to face life. If you are not willing to accept the scientific method and scientific endeavor, then I would suggest you think twice before you hit another key on your Dell, start your car, take medicine, or turn on a light, because the scientific method, not God, is what provided you with all of those. I am able to live without the comfort provided to me by religion, but neither of us would be likely to survive for long without the conveniences provided to us by science. You'll have to forgive me if I take your criticism of scientific consensus with a grain of salt (more like a salt flat).

Mat Marshall said...

The irony that you react so flippantly when asked for one piece of evidence supporting God, yet practically burn “The Origin of Species” when the entirety of the fossil record does not show you every transitionary form between species, is nothing short of overwhelming. The fossil record shows us a clear structural evolution from ancient species to the modern day (look up Pakicetus when you have a minute and read up on all the clear mid-species between the terrestrial mammal and the modern whale). Not only that, those species are always found in the same strata (e.g., layers of sediment coordinating with a time period). You will never find the skeleton of a Tyrannosaur next to the skeleton of an Apatosaurus, because they lived in different periods of time. That alone is contrary to the account given to us by Genesis – if God created all of the world's life in a seven day period, or at the very least on the same “day” (meaning between the creation of light and the creation of man), then such a massive discrepancy should never exist. But nevermind that. I'll move forward.

Regarding the “sudden appearance”, nothing is really “sudden” in a fossil record. You're working with geological time with a fossil record. “Sudden” in geological time could be 200,000 years. All one needs is for a temporary, but extreme condition, to enter the environment (anything from a drought to an ice age) to force more specific natural selection, and you will see a “sudden appearance” of apparently new species. Dawkins also makes the great point that you could very well be seeing migration here, not evolution.

Assuming that the fossil record is just beyond hope for you, how about vestigial and homologous structures between species, geni, etc.? Developmental similarities? Molecular/genetic similarities? The fact that these all coincide with one another across species? Even if science is wrong on macroevolution (in which case it will reform its consensus upon the presentation of contrary evidence), the concept of common descent is consistent with the empirical data available (which, by the way, we absolutely CAN observe, measure and replicate).

I have to take a break from writing for a bit, but I'll be back later to address your misconceptions regarding the Big Bang and abiogenesis. In the meantime, try to come up with some evidence. The teensiest little drop will do. Just something supporting your claim.

Gordon Leidner said...

I would like to respond to your cousin Matt's statement that:

"Dawkins has gone above and beyond the call of duty in his writing. As the burden of proof lies on the claimant, the religious community is responsible to offer proof of God. It is not the secular community's job to disprove him/her/it."

It would be easy to respond with "I claim God exists. You claim God doesn't exist. Prove that."

But instead consider what Dawkins does in his book The God Delusion. Dawkins puts a lot of "faith" in physical naturalism, yet he believes that faith has no rational component, and that reason isn't based to a great degree on faith. His "beliefs" have been extensively criticized by atheists (Thomas Nagel, Stephen J. Gould, Terry Eagleton) and theists (Timothy Keller) alike as naive and indefensible, even for [Dawkins'] own purposes.

Strong rationalism, with its "verification principle," (no one should believe a proposition unless it can be proved rationally by logic or empirically by sense of experience) is considered by most philosophers (atheists and non-atheists alike) as something nearly impossible to defend. As Keller says in his book Reason for God, "how can you empirically prove that no one should believe something without empirical proof?" It boils down to atheism requires as much faith as Christianity. Proof or disproof of God is a philosophical, not scientific, argument.

What is "proof," anyway? If it is "an argument so strong that no person whose logical faculties are operating properly would have any reason for disbelieving it," then you will never prove ANYTHING--including either the existence or non-existence of God. "Properly operating" logical faculties are a relative term. You cannot provide a proof (for instance, that God DOES NOT EXIST) that everyone will accept. It gets down to personal proofs.

To me personally, the ultimate proof of God's existence is that we exist. Science can explain "how," [The Big Bang] but cannot explain "why?" Why is the universe full of matter and energy instead of a simple vacuum? Science tells us that everything was at one point a "singularity," an infinitesimally small point of extreme mass that exploded, initially expanding at one rate but then changing to a different rate of expansion, and has been continuing at that rate ever since. So, why did this happen? Where did the matter come from? Something came out of nothing. Science cannot explain why. (I have a website, with more info on this).

To me, the "why" is God. Atheists that counter with "but who created God?" miss the point entirely. God is, by definition, above His own laws of physics, and does not require a cause. That's part of HIs job description. That's why He is God, and we are simply the ones that, like Einstein and Hawkins, seek to "know the mind of God."

Evolution is of no consequence to me. We are here because God caused us, whether he took billions of years to evolve life or he did it by simply forming Adam from the dust. God is The Prime Mover, The First Cause.

There's my two cents....