Once upon a time, an atheist was someone who simply didn’t believe in God. And while those still exist, they’ve become increasingly drowned out by the “new atheists” and “anti-theists”–a breed that proselytizes as aggressively as any member of the Watchtower. Except where your average JW is nice and polite and easy to like, the new atheists like to engage in proselytization by mockery. If you believe in God, they assume that you must be an idiot, like someone who still believes in Santa Claus after the age of ten.
Avoiding the God-of-the-Gaps
Unfortunately, many theists aren’t very well equipped to handle them. They frequently make arguments that amount to a God-of-the-gaps approach. This means that they point out gaps in our knowledge about the universe, particularly its origins, or how life developed and say, “therefore God.” However, that’s a dangerous approach, because the gaps in our knowledge shrink a little every year–which means the God who fits into those gaps gets smaller every year.
To give an obvious example, until a couple of centuries ago, we had no idea why lightning happened. Lightning was thought of as evidence for a number of storm gods–Baal, Zeus, Thor, etc. Now we know that lightning is caused by a build-up of static electricity. (Yes, that’s a bit simplistic.) As a result, there’s no more need for Thor’s hammer as an explanation except when aliens are attacking New York city and the thunder god is forced to team up with Captain America and Iron Man.
A Positive, Scientific Case For God
So instead of trying to hold onto a belief in God based on a lack of information, let’s do the opposite: Let’s follow the evidence of what we do know and build our case from reasoned inferences:
The universe had a beginning, and therefore needs a cause.
We can prove this with a simple syllogism:
Anything that begins to exist requires a cause.
The universe began to exist at the Big Bang.
The universe therefore requires a cause.
Atheists today try to pretend that the universe having a start is no big deal and doesn’t mean anything. They don’t know and don’t care that when Einstein’s equations and the discovery of the red shift pointed to the universe having a beginning, physicists fought against that conclusion for decades before reluctantly accepting the results. Even the term we use to describe cosmic creation, the Big Bang, was originally meant to make fun of the idea. As Robert Jastrow wrote in his classic work, God and the Astronomers:
“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
The entity which caused the universe must be transcendent.
The cause cannot be the universe itself (nothing creates itself), and therefore cannot be space-time or energy-matter since these are all properties of the universe. This rules out the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It also means that by definition our universe has a supernatural (literally, “beyond nature”) origin. To again quote Jastrow:
“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, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the 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.”
What this means is that while science done within our universe still relies on methodological materialism–that is, the assumption that no supernatural entities are acting on the experiment–science has ruled out philosophical materialism. We now know without a doubt that everything we can see was created by something that we can never see (Heb. 11:3).
While there may be intermediate causes, there cannot logically be an infinite regression of causes, so ultimately there must be a First Cause for everything.
In other words, we can admit that there might be several steps or entities between the First Cause and the universe, but there has to be an ultimate level, an unmoved mover to use Aristotle’s term.
Since everything that begins to exist must have a cause, the First Cause cannot have begun to exist–that is, it must be eternal.
Again, we can express this as a syllogism:
Anything that begins to exist requires a cause.
God did not “begin” to exist, but simply is.
Therefore God does not require a cause.
The cause must be at least as great as the effect. Given the scope of the universe, the cause would be effectively omnipotent from our perspective.
The universe operates according to consistent laws. Therefore the cause must be singular (there are not multiple, competing First Causes) and unchanging. Being unchanging would also go with being eternal.
In other words, the consistency of the universe’s laws from the very beginning argues against multiple, competing gods shaping it. This argues against pretty much every polytheistic religion, where the births, deaths, marriages, and wars of the gods regularly change the rules of creation.
Now note so far that we’ve simply argued for a creating entity. Nothing in the arguments above indicate whether or not this entity is intelligent and personal (a god) or something impersonal, like a force. Determining this requires us to go beyond the First Cause Argument.
The universe requires fine-tuning at every level in order to produce life.
Hugh Ross’s ministry, Reasons to Believe, has compiled several lists of physical laws, starting conditions, and so forth that demonstrate that the universe is finely tuned–and for that matter that our galaxy, our solar system, and even our planet must all be finely tuned in order to produce life. I would also recommend Hugh Ross’s Why the Universe Is the Way It Is for further reading.
Fine-tuning of that degree implies immense intelligence, and the end result (life) tells us what motivated this intelligent First Cause.
This fact is widely known, and even has a name: the Anthropic Principle. To quote Freeman Dyson, “As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.”
There is continued debate about what it means in terms of theology–does it, as I would argue, demand an intelligent Creator doing the fine-tuning, or is it just coincidence? The atheist would argue for the latter, or perhaps that we live in a multiverse and it just so happens that this universe has the right conditions for life. (Here’s one of several Reasons to Believe articles dealing with this subject.)
The “coincidence” argument, the so-called Weak Anthropic Principle, basically just dodges the issue: If it wasn’t this way, we are told, we wouldn’t be here, so why worry about it? That attitude is amazingly anti-scientific, to my mind: Why wouldn’t we want to pursue the evidence of the record of nature as far as we can, especially if it points to design and meaning to our existence? But for the hardened anti-theist, that’s not an acceptable outcome.
On the possibility of a multiverse, we do actually have some tantalizing hints that such a thing exists. However, the data is far from conclusive, and we have no way to actually probe these other universes–and based on our current understanding of physics, probably will never have that means. For all we know, every single universe is fine-tuned for life. The atheist merely assumes that if there are other universes that they won’t have fine-tuned physics and conditions. Trying to base one’s anti-theology on multiverse theory is basically an atheism-of-the-gaps argument: We don’t know, therefore not-God.
So let’s pull together our conclusions, all of which are positive arguments based on the best data available to us today:
All of these qualities–being eternal, unchanging, transcendent, omnipotent or at least so powerful that he might as well be, vastly intelligent, and deeply interested in creating advanced life–all fit with the Biblical concept of God.
And doesn’t fit with pagan myths (several gods contending over the physical laws of creation), Hinduism and other pantheism (the universe is not the same as God), Mormonism (God is an alien from another planet, and therefore not the First Cause) . . . or atheism.
We are extraordinarily blessed to live in this time, when the universe indeed proclaims the glory and the righteousness of its Eternal Creator.