An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Chapter 3: In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
- In this chapter, Geisler and Turek present the Cosmological Argument. Before we get into the chapter, I want to confess that of all the common theist/creationist arguments — the ones apologists seemingly never tire of presenting — the Cosmological Argument is the one I find the most compelling.
- This doesn’t mean I find it compelling relative to the naturalistic explanation — I don’t. But compared to the other arguments for God which we will hear about later in this book — the argument from design, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument — I find the Cosmological Argument to be the strongest. Though my saying that is a bit like a Red Sox fan naming his favorite Yankee.
- And really, the main reason I find the Cosmological Argument so compelling is because, unlike those other arguments I mentioned, it seeks to answer a very big question that has not yet been resolved. We have good explanations for why the universe appears to be designed, why it appears to be fine-tuned for life as we know it, where morality comes from. But the question of where everything comes from, of why there is something instead of nothing, that is perhaps the biggest question a person of this universe can ask, and we don’t have a definitive answer to that one yet. And even though I don’t consider the answer proposed by the Cosmological Argument to be a very likely candidate, even though I do not find the argument persuasive, I do not feel moved from my atheism by it, I nonetheless have to confess that I find it a much stronger argument for the existence of a First Cause, which might be defined as God, than those other arguments.
- But enough chatter from me. Let’s get to the chapter. And also to lots more chatter from me.
The Cosmological Argument – The Beginning of the End for Atheism
- Geisler and Turek tell the story of Einstein’s reluctance to accept the implications of his theory of general relativity, namely that the universe is not eternal, but had a beginning at some point in the past. To force his equations to describe the universe as static, Einstein introduced the cosmological constant, which he later called the greatest blunder of his life. Einstein abandoned his cosmological constant when the observations of Edwin Hubble convinced him that the universe was indeed expanding and not static and stationary.
- “Einstein said that he wanted ‘to know how God created the world. . . . I want to know His thought, the rest are details.’ Although Einstein said he believed in a pantheistic God (a god that is the universe), his comments admitting creation and divine thought better describe a theistic God.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 74)
- The references Einstein made to God, and his own personal beliefs about God, pantheistic or not, seem to have been metaphorical. Einstein spoke about God in the same way Stephen Hawking does, as a way of establishing the significance of the subjects being discussed. To say that Einstein is “admitting creation and divine thought” is to seriously abuse that quotation.
- Also, Geisler and Turek seem to have missed the moral of their own story. Einstein preferred what was then the dominant model of the static universe and was reluctant to admit that his own equations described a universe that was not static but expanding. But when the evidence for the expanding universe became too compelling for him to deny, Einstein changed his mind. He abandoned belief in what he wanted to be true in favor of what he now had to admit was true. Geisler and Turek, and their fellow apologists the world over, seem to lack either the intellect or the courage to follow Einstein’s example.
- Geisler and Turek state the Cosmological Argument in its logical form:
- Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
- The universe had a beginning.
- Therefore the universe had a cause. (p. 75)
- They examine the premises, to see if they are true. First, premise 1: does everything that begins to exist have a cause?
- “Even the great skeptic David Hume could not deny the Law of Causality. He wrote, ‘I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause.’” (p. 75)
- It doesn’t sound like Hume had much interest in trying to deny the Law of Causality. That’s hardly a point for Geisler and Turek. Again, they call Hume a skeptic, seemingly under the impression that “skeptic” means “person who denies things.”
- “In fact, to deny the Law of Causality is to deny rationality. . . . So if anyone ever tells you he doesn’t believe in the Law of Causality, simply ask that person, ‘What caused you to come to that conclusion?’” (p. 75)
- And then turn to your co-author and go “Did you hear what I said? I said ‘What caused you to come to that conclusion?’” And then you can try unsuccessfully to exchange a high-five.
- You can deny the Law of Causality with totally denying the existence of causality. If I say to you, “I don’t believe that everything has a cause,” you can’t prove me wrong by pointing out stuff that has a cause, because I’m not denying that there are things have causes. Do you see why this Road Runner tactic is useless and obnoxious?
- So, what about premise 2? Did the universe have a beginning? The answer, according to virtually everyone with any expertise on the subject, is “yes.” The answer, according to virtually every religion, is also “yes,” by the way. So what do Turek and Geisler do with the next eight pages of this chapter? They argue in favor of the universe having a beginning — specifically, the big bang, which is currently one of the most firmly established and universally accepted theories in all of science. But don’t worry — here come Norman Geisler (who single-handedly refuted empiricism with two sentences in college) and Frank Turek (who co-authored this book) to really put the big bang over the top!
- Geisler and Turek present their case for the big bang in the form of an acronym, because apologists think that’s the only way anyone can learn anything. Their acronym is S-U-R-G-E.
- S is for the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy increases in closed systems over time. In other words, the older the universe (which is a closed system, so far as we can tell) gets, the less usable energy it has. This implies a beginning of the universe, since if the universe will be more entropic tomorrow than it is today, it must have been less entropic yesterday than it is today. If entropy was lower in the past and will be higher in the future, then the universe cannot have existed forever, because the increase of entropy over time means that the universe isn’t able to work forever. The clock is winding down, so to speak.
- Again, the claim that the universe had a beginning is not controversial. Nevertheless, Geisler feels compelled to share with us an anecdote of an exchange he had with someone who denied that the Second Law of Thermodynamics implied a beginning of the universe. Any guesses what the occupation of this person was? . . . That’s right — he was a college professor.
- Geisler describes how this nameless physics professor at an unidentified Ivy League school claimed to be a materialist who held that matter was eternal and that this was an exception to the Second Law.
- “I could have countered by asking him if it’s really good science to assume that every law has an exception. That doesn’t seem very scientific and may even be self-defeating. It may be self-defeating when you ask, ‘Does the law that “every law has an exception” have an exception?’ If it does, maybe the Second Law is the exception to the law that every law must have an exception.” (p. 77)
- Maybe. Or, maybe the law that every law must have an exception is the exception to the law that every law must have an exception.
- How can you possibly expect serious scientists and philosophers to take your ideas seriously when you talk this way?
- Geisler continues his story. He asks the professor, if everything is material, how does he explain scientific theories? The theory that everything is material isn’t material, for instance. It isn’t made out of molecules, so what is it made out of? The professor, according to Geisler, answered, “A theory is magic.” And what was the professor’s basis for saying that a theory is magic? “Faith.”
- Geisler responds, “If faith in magic is the best the materialists have to offer, then I don’t have enough faith to be a materialist!”
- What’s the name of this personification of the best materialists have to offer, this leading physics professor at a prestigious Ivy League university, I wonder.
- “In retrospect, it seemed to me that this professor had a brief moment of complete candor. He knew he couldn’t answer the overwhelming evidence in support of the Second Law, so he admitted that his position had no basis in evidence or good reason. In doing so, he provided another example of the will refusing to believe what the mind knows to be true, and how the atheists’ view is based on sheer faith.” (p. 78)
- A Christian apologist arguing in favor of a fundamental principle of science, against a physics professor who denies it. I leave it to you, gentle viewer, to judge whether this is a plausible scenario.
God and the Astronomers
- U is for the Universe expanding. Again, not a controversial claim, something established time and time again by empirical observation. The universe is expanding, this expansion began with what is commonly called the big bang, when literally everything that makes up our universe — matter, energy, time and space — emerged from a singularity. Nearly everyone capable of having an informed opinion on the subject accepts this. And yet:
- “These facts give atheists a lot of trouble.” (p. 79)
- No. They don’t. These facts are staggering, these facts are difficult to account for, these facts are difficult to understand, these facts raise questions that have not been fully answered — but these facts do not give atheists a lot of trouble. I am an atheist. I do not find my atheism shaken the slightest bit by the mysteries of the big bang, by the unanswered questions surrounding the origin of the universe, for the simple reason that the sentences “I don’t know what did it” and “God did it” do not mean the same thing.
- Geisler and Turek claim that the big bang troubles atheists because the big bang holds that the universe emerged from nothing, and atheists are unable to explain how something can arise from nothing. But Geisler and Turek misunderstand what “nothing” means in a scientific context. They cite Peter Atkins, a scientist and author and outspoken atheist, who described the “nothing” prior to the big bang as a swirl of mathematical points.
- “The nothing from which the universe emerged is not ‘mathematical points’ as Atkins suggested or ‘positive or negative energy’ as Isaac Asimov, who is also an atheist, once wrote. Nothing is literally no thing — what rocks dream about!” (p. 81)
- Forgive me if I consider the opinions of scientists like Peter Atkins — and Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and oh, I could go on — to be more credible than those of Norman Geisler and Frank Turek on the subject of the early universe. Something tells me Geisler and Turek have no firmer a handle on physics and cosmology than they do on philosophy.
- As I alluded to a moment ago, scientifically speaking, there really is no such thing as “nothing.” Even empty space is something. And while the universe prior to the big bang may be impossible for us to describe, may have existed in a state of total absence of matter, space and time, it was not nothing as Geisler and Turek define the word. In fact, we have no actual experience with that kind of absolute nothing. One of the most exciting realizations of modern physics is that even what appears to be nothing is something.
- It isn’t the atheist who accepts the big bang who must account for how something came from absolutely nothing — it’s the theist, who holds that everything was created ex nihilo not by some yet-to-be-understood natural process, but by an eternal and omnipotent being for whom there is no evidence and whose existence would violate every law of physics. Why aren’t more Christians troubled by that?
- R is for Radiation from the big bang. The cosmic microwave background radiation, the remnant of the universe’s first light and one of the coolest discoveries ever, for my money. More evidence for the big bang, which isn’t evidence for the existence of God, even though Geisler and Turek continue to talk like every bit of evidence for the big bang is a knife into atheism’s black heart.
- G is for Great galaxy seeds, the ripples detected in the CMB that indicated areas of various temperatures that allowed matter to congregate together and form galaxies. Again, widely accepted and even celebrated evidence. Again, no threat whatsoever to atheism and no help whatsoever to theism.
- E is for Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, which was the revolutionary theory that led to the discovery of the other four lines of evidence. Hey, guess what? The big bang has been established! Take that, atheists!
- It’s difficult to describe to you what a waste of time this section of the chapter is. I accused Geisler and Turek last time of pushing against an open door when they went to great lengths to established that the opposite of “true” is “false”. Now, they aren’t merely pushing against an open door — they have felled a tall cedar and summoned twelve stout men to take up its trunk and batter down a door that is already wide-the-fuck-open.
- Geisler and Turek quote astronomer Robert Jastrow, who writes in his book God and the Astronomers that the astronomical evidence for the big bang matches — in a very general way — the Genesis narrative.
- “The overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang and its consistency with the biblical account in Genesis led Jastrow to observe in an interview, ‘Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover . . . That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.’” (pp. 84-85)
- That Jastrow quote comes from an interview he gave to Christianity Today that was printed in August, 1982. Notice how Geisler and Turek claim an “overwhelming consistency” between the big bang and the Genesis narrative, when Jastrow is only actually describing some very broad similarities — that both claim a sudden creation, that both refer to forces that seem to be beyond human understanding, etc. But there are plenty of significant disagreements between the big bang model and the Genesis creation myth. For instance, Genesis has Earth being created first, before the Sun, before the rest of the stars. That’s not the way it happened. The first stars probably didn’t form until around 400 million years after the big bang, and the Sun is certainly not a first generation star. Sure, the big bang theory and the Genesis creation myth are consistent, provided you subtract enough of the details.
- Also, as Geisler and Turek themselves point out, Jastrow seems to be using the term “supernatural” to mean literally “that which is outside of nature,” which is appropriate, given that nature itself emerged from the big bang. But, as Geisler and Turek most definitely do not point out, and perhaps hope we don’t notice on our own, “supernatural” is not “divine”.
The Empire Strikes Back (But Fizzles Out)
- Geisler and Turek examine three alternatives to ex nihilo creation in the big bang (which, again, isn’t precisely what the big bang says, but whatever): the Cosmic Rebound theory, which states that the universe exists in a cycle of expansion and contraction; Imaginary Time, which was a mathematical concept created by Stephen Hawking to attempt to describe the big bang as something other than a singularity (this is an incredibly complex bit of physics, by the way, which Geisler and Turek dismiss in a single paragraph, for whatever that’s worth); and Uncertainty, which uses the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to question the Law of Causality.
- None of the three theories mentioned are actually alternatives to the big bang. And Geisler and Turek reject all three theories anyway, because they fail to account for how the universe sprang into existence from nothing. Like the ideas of Peter Atkins and Isaac Asimov mentioned earlier, Geisler and Turek fail these theories because they “start with something rather than literally nothing.” But it’s only Geisler and Turek who are imposing the requirement that a theory must account for creation from literally nothing in order to be acceptable. They keep missing the points that a) the big bang theory doesn’t describe the universe emerging from literally nothing, and b)there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as literally nothing. Since that kind of literal, absolute nothing is completely outside of human experience, why assume that the universe must have emerged from that state — er, non-state? And why insist that a theory of the origin of the universe account for the emergence of something — indeed, of everything — from absolutely nothing?
- “In the end, no atheistic theory adequately refutes either premise of the Cosmological Argument. The universe had a beginning and therefore it needs a cause.” (p. 88)
- Does it, though? Let’s take a look back at some of what Geisler and Turek have said in this chapter and see if, according to their own arguments, the universe really does need to have a cause.
- The first premise of the Cosmological Argument is, as Geisler and Turek point out, the Law of Causality. Everything that had a beginning had a cause. This is a natural law, is it not? It’s a principle that describes something fundamental about how our universe operates. But that is precisely why we can’t depend on the law of causality when it comes to the cause of the universe.
- Prior to the big bang, our universe did not exist. There was no space, no time, no matter. Nor were there any of the forces that direct how things in our universe behave. Everything that would be our universe existed in a state that is literally indescribable by the normal laws of physics. Prior to the big bang, those laws did not apply. And it’s not just me saying that. Geisler and Turek agree with me. From page 85, in this very chapter:
- “In other words, the Big Bang was the beginning point for the entire physical universe. Time, space, and matter came into existence at that point. There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang.” (p. 85)
- Since the Law of Causality describes how our universe operates, since our concept of the Law of Causality is based only on observations of events that take place in our universe, on what basis can we conclude that this law implies a cause for the universe? That cause, whatever it was, would have to have preceded the big bang. But before the big bang the universe didn’t exist, which means, as far as we know, the Law of Causality didn’t exist.
- There’s another problem: as Geisler and Turek note, prior to the big bang there was no such thing as time. Every event we have ever witnessed — every event that has ever occurred in our universe — has been caused by a previous event. But before the existence of time, there were no events. How can the concept of a cause — that is, an event that gives rise to a subsequent event — have any meaning outside the context of time? No time, no before and after. No before and after, no cause and effect.
- I propose that the Cosmological Argument fails because it fails to demonstrate the truth of its first premise. Did the universe have a beginning? The answer appears to be yes. But can we assume that there was a cause of that beginning when prior to that beginning the conditions in which we observe cause and effect did not exist? No. Therefore we cannot conclude that the universe, which did begin to exist, had a cause.
- But we’re not done yet.
The Religion of Science
- Geisler and Turek wonder why scientists don’t just accept the Cosmological Argument instead of trying to weasel out of it like scientists always do.
- “The phrases we have seen used by Atkins and Asimov to explain the beginning of the universe — ‘mathematical points’ and ‘positive and negative energy’ respectively — certainly seem meaningless to us. Indeed, they explain nothing.” (p. 88)
- I could say — and have said — much the same thing about God.
- Geisler and Turek quote Jastrow again, this time referring to the notion that every effect must have its cause — the very principle which Geisler and Turek rely upon to establish the first premise of the Cosmological Argument — as an article of faith in the religion of science.
- “They may or may not like the evidence or its implications, but that won’t change the facts.” (p. 89)
- Once again, Geisler and Turek are oblivious to the fact that they just perfectly described their own position.
- “Since the evidence shows that time, space, and matter were created at the Big Bang, the most probable scientific conclusion is that the universe was caused by something outside of time, space and matter (i.e. an Eternal Cause). When scientists stop short of that conclusion by papering it over with ‘meaningless phrases’ or by ‘refusing to speculate,’ it seems that they are simply refusing to accept the facts and the most reasonable conclusions that come from them. This is a matter of the will, not the mind. The evidence is objective; it’s the disbelieving scientists who are not.” (p. 89)
- Again, why should we assume the Law of Causality applied prior to the existence of the universe? And how can a cause occur outside of time? And if this cause merely occurs outside of our time, but within some other, pre-existing time, how can it be said to be eternal? However you look at it, the concept of an Eternal Cause doesn’t seem coherent.
What If the Big Bang Theory Is Wrong?
- The big bang theory almost certainly is not wrong and is extremely unlikely to be abandoned. But even if it is somehow, someday disproven, an eternal universe (that mythical ideal atheistic reality) is still impossible, given the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the evidence of the universe’s expansion, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which states that time must have had a beginning, since there could not have been an infinite number of days.
- “By the way, this amplifies our answer above as to why there could not have been an infinite number of bangs in the cosmological history of the universe. An infinite number of actual events is impossible.” (p. 92)
- That would also seem to exclude an eternal God and the eternal afterlife Christians have been promised. Good thing for special pleading, eh, fellas?
Who Made God?
- Speaking of special pleading.
- Geisler and Turek address the question of, if God made the universe, who made God? Doesn’t proposing God as the cause of the universe merely lead to an infinite regression, since once you’ve proposed that the universe came from God, you have to then explain where God came from?
- “So why doesn’t God need a cause? Because the atheist’s contention misunderstands the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality does not say that everything needs a cause. It says that everything that comes to be needs a cause. God did not come to be. No one made God. He is unmade. As an eternal being, God did not have a beginning, so he didn’t need a cause.” (p. 92)
- I find quite a bit wrong with this argument. For starters, it’s a cheat to get out of having to explain where God came from. God has simply been defined in such a way that the Law of Causality doesn’t apply to him. But that definition isn’t evidence that God actually exists. And even if you say God never began to exist, you still have to account for God. You can’t just define God into existence. What is God? How did God create the universe? How is the existence of such an omnipotent, eternal being even possible?
- Second, if we’re willing to assume an eternal, uncreated God, we can just as easily assume an eternal, uncreated universe. Geisler and Turek anticipate this objection and try to get around it by returning to the Kalam argument, claiming that an actual infinity of time is impossible. And they’re right, of course — the evidence points not to an eternal universe, but to an expanding universe of finite age. But there’s nothing stopping us, either logically or scientifically, from assuming that the singularity that existed prior to the big bang that created our universe and all its matter and space and time was eternal. Perhaps instead of God, it was the singularity from which our universe emerged that was uncreated. What’s to stop us from assuming that? It makes more sense than assuming an eternal creator God — we actually have evidence that the singularity existed.
- Finally, a point that apologists often miss, if we’re willing to assume an eternal, uncreated God to avoid an infinite regress of causes, there’s nothing that requires us to assume this eternal, uncreated God was the immediate cause of the big bang. Perhaps the big bang was caused by a created God, which was in turn caused by a previously created God, which was in turn caused by another God created previous to that, which was created by an eternal, uncreated God. Perhaps there was a chain of creation going back ten thousand, or ten million steps, before finally ending with the original creation by an eternal, uncreated God. Practically speaking, what would be the difference? As long as you put your eternal, uncaused God at the beginning, you can suppose a chain of causes of any length imaginable, leading eventually to the creation of our universe in the big bang. An apologist wishing to avoid this and argue for a universe created directly by a single, eternal, uncreated God might invoke Occam’s razor, which tells us to favor the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions. But Occam’s razor not only cuts out all my intermediate Gods, but the eternal, uncaused God proposed by Geisler and Turek as well. There’s just no reason, logically or scientifically, to assume that any God, eternal or otherwise, was necessary for the universe to come into existence.
- To close the chapter, Geisler and Turek plagiarize William Lane Craig in order to argue that the First Cause of the universe must have been timeless, spaceless, and immaterial (since it created time, space and matter); unimaginably powerful; intelligent, since the universe is apparently precisely designed; and personal, since it had to choose to create something from nothing.
- Nothing requires that the cause of our space-time and matter must have been absolutely timeless, nonspatial or immaterial. It need only have preceded the existence of our universe with its space-time and matter.
- Doesn’t assuming the existence of God contradict the idea that the universe emerged from nothing? As Geisler and Turek have insisted in this chapter, in order for a state of nothingness to have preceded the universe, there must have literally been nothing — which means no God. If God’s there, then there’s something, not nothing. Unless, of course, Geisler and Turek are defining God to mean “nothing.” Which would mean there’s something we agree on from this chapter, afterall.
Next: Chapter 4: Divine Design