That Annoying Piece of Evidence Called the Universe

NGC_4414_(NASA-med)Recently I’ve been listening to The Universe (audio book) by John Brockman of Edge.org, a collection of essays from some incredibly smart scientists. The book is fascinating in its own right, but I was especially interested by how close cosmology gets to theology. In trying to peer into the origins of the universe, these brilliant scientists can’t help from getting a little philosophical, even theological.

One thing that stood out to me was that atheistic scientists have a very stubborn piece of thestic evidence to deal with. That piece of evidence is called the universe.

The toughest and most perplexing question they have to answer is: why is there something rather than nothing? Their most sophisticated scientific answers to this conundrum (string theory and multiverse, for example) suggest an even more complex order that preexisted or coexists with this one, thus only pushing back the question even further.

Atheistic cosmologists might accuse Christians of taking the easy way out by simply attributing to God the existence of the universe. But these scientists’ theories for how the universe began end up involving something that looks quite like God anyway—an order of reality that preexisted this one, possesses different dimensions, and is therefore unobservable, and that is significantly more complex.

The whole point of a scientific theory is to account for all the facts. When more facts are discovered, the theory must change to account for them. We cannot accept a scientific theory that tries to account for all the facts but denies the fact of facts.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Unlike some philosophical literature I have been slogging through lately, William Lane Craig’s writing style is particularly interesting and compelling. I just finished reading his essay on the kalam theological argument. The argument proceeds as follows:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

To put it differently, something must have caused the universe, since the universe had a beginning, and everything that has a beginning was caused by something. Craig spends most of his essay arguing for the truth of statement (2), invoking arguments from logic and science. Logically, the universe must have a beginning because, if there were an infinite number of moments prior to the present moment, we would never have arrived at this present moment. Scientifically, the fact that our universe is constantly expanding points to a time at which the entire universe was a point of “infinite density,” which essentially means nothingness. The point at which this expansion started (the Big Bang, or whatever) marks the beginning of the universe, which had to be in the finite past. A further scientific confirmation of the universe’s past finitude is the second law of thermodynamics. Scientists know that the steady movement toward thermodynamic equilibrium in the universe will eventually result in “heat death.” If the universe existed in the infinite past, why have we not already reached heat death? Clearly, the universe is a ticking timer. We can’t predict exactly when it will ring it out, but this we know: there was a point at which it was wound up.

I predict that any objection to Craig’s cosmological argument must be made on epistemic grounds. In other words, a person would have to object to his premises by saying something like, “Well, statement (1) isn’t metaphysically intuitive to me. I can conceive of something that exists, yet has no cause of its existence.” For such an objection to have any force, however, it seems that it would have to be instantiated. The burden would be on such a person to produce a genuine example of something that began, but had no cause.

Craig’s arguments for the fact of the universe’s beginning are very compelling. But Craig had more to prove than just statement (2). He was attempting to prove the rationality of belief in God’s existence. I think Craig’s essay could be even more powerful were he to spend more time demonstrating the truth of statement (1), as well as the move from eternal cause to personal agent. Perhaps he gives these ideas more attention in his other writings. Nevertheless, I’m thankful for William Lane Craig and men like him who compellingly articulate scientific and logical arguments for God’s existence. Thanks to their giftedness and scrupulous scholarship, what is undeniable to my inner consciousness–God’s existence–is further confirmed both logically and even empirically.

The Classic Ontological Argument

The classic ontological argument, as formulated by Saint Anselm in the early 11th century, comes in the form of a worshipful prayer. Anselm makes it clear from the outset that his belief in God’s existence is already established. The argument serves to expand and clarify that belief. Within this framework, it is best not to understand the ontological argument as an effective apologetic tool.

The wording of this argument can be rather difficult. I will try to explain this argument in a way that is readily understandable. Let’s begin with the assumption that God, if he exists, must be a being so great that no one could possibly imagine any being greater. Let’s say you are sitting in a chair one day, thinking about this being who is so great, you can’t think of anything greater. As you think about such a being, suddenly the thought pops into your mind, and you exclaim, “Hey, I can think of a being greater than the one I’m thinking of now! The one I’m thinking of now only exists in my mind. It would be even greater for such a being to actually exist!”

Now you have thought about two beings in your mind: one that exists and one that does not exist. Obviously the one that exists is greater than the one that does not exist. Which one, then, is God? Well, the one that does exist. Therefore, God exists.

People objected to this argument nearly as soon as it was known (famously, Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm). Hopefully, I’ll discuss some of these objections later. But for now I would like to probe a sentence with which Anselm closed in his discussion of how some people claim still that there is no God. Anselm wrote, “What I once believed through your [God’s] grace, I now understand through your illumination, so that even if I did not want to believe that you exist, I could not fail to understand that you exist.”

Here Anselm makes an important statement about what he believes to be a priori knowledge, specifically, that God exists. The human mind, according to Anselm, has innate understanding of God’s existence. Belief in that existence is not a matter of understanding, but of will.