Month: February 2012

Who is playing make-believe? (Atheists or theists)

By Scott Youngren

Who is playing make-believe? (Atheists or theists)

It is common to observe atheists making comments such as the following on online forums: “I don’t believe in God, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, fairies, unicorns, hobgoblins, or any other such make-believe creatures!”

But the truth is very much opposite to the atheist rhetoric. It is actually disbelief in God that requires adults to play games of make-believe …games that rival those of those of children in their measure of naive credulity.

This point is perhaps best illustrated by the contorted mental gymnastics that those who are ideologically inclined towards disbelief in God will resort. In his book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, Norman Geisler notes:

It was 1916 and Albert Einstein didn’t 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 matter, 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 any outside cause—but the universe appeared to be one giant effect. In fact, Einstein so disliked the implications of General theory that is now proven accurate to five decimal places—that he introduced a cosmological constant (which some have since called a “fudge factor”) into his equations in order to show that the universe is static and to avoid an absolute beginning.

But Einstein’s fudge factor didn’t fudge for long. In 1919, British cosmologist Arthur Eddington conducted an experiment during a solar eclipse which confirmed that General Relativity was indeed true—the universe wasn’t static but had a beginning. Like Einstein, Eddington wasn’t happy with the implications. He later wrote, “Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me. . . . I should like to find a genuine loophole.” By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann had officially exposed Einstein’s fudge factor as an algebraic error. (Incredibly, in his quest to avoid a beginning, the great Einstein had divided by zero—something even schoolchildren know is a no-no!)

…He subsequently described the cosmological constant as “the greatest blunder of my life,” and he redirected his efforts to find the box top to the puzzle of life. Einstein said that he wanted “to know how God created the 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.”

Einstein, in a nutshell, was forced by the weight of the evidence to abandon his desire to disbelieve in God….a desire apparently so intense that he was willing to resort to such a desperate measure as dividing by zero! Fortunately, the weight of the evidence eventually overcame Einstein’s “irritation” at the concept of God, and, in a display of integrity, he revised his views. The law of causation (without which science would be impossible) dictates that everything with a beginning requires a cause. This is why those ideologically inclined towards disbelief in God have clung so tenaciously to the idea of a “static,” or eternally existing universe.

Fast forward to the current day. The most famous living physicist, Stephen Hawking, in his book The Grand Design, attempts to demonstrate that the universe requires no such Grand Designer. He writes, “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing…Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God…”

Oxford University mathematician John C. Lennox responds in his book God and Stephen Hawking:

…His [Hawking’s] notion that a law of nature (gravity) explains the existence of the universe is also self-contradictory, since a law of nature, by definition, surely depends for its own existence on the prior existence of the nature it purports to describe. …Thus, the main conclusion of the book turns out not simply to be a self-contradiction, which would be disaster enough, but to be a triple self-contradiction. Philosophers just might be tempted to comment: so that is what comes of saying philosophy is dead! [Hawking says this in The Grand Design] In the above, Hawking is echoing the language of Oxford chemist Peter Atkins (also a well-known atheist), who believes that “space-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly”. Atkins dubs this the “Cosmic Bootstrap” principle, referring to the self-contradictory idea of a person lifting himself by pulling on his own bootlaces. His Oxford colleague, philosopher of religion Keith Ward, is surely right to say that Atkins’ view of the universe is as blatantly self-contradictory as the name he gives to it, pointing out that it is “logically impossible for a cause to bring about some effect without already being in existence”. Ward concludes: “Between the hypothesis of God and the hypothesis of a cosmic bootstrap, there is no competition. We were always right to think that persons, or universes, who seek to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps are forever doomed to failure.” What this all goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists. What serves to obscure the illogicality of statements is the fact that they are made by scientists; and the general public, not surprisingly, assumes that they are statements of science and takes them on authority. That is why it is important to point out that they are not statements of science, and any statement, whether made by a scientist or not, should be open to logical analysis. Immense prestige and authority does not compensate for faulty logic.

…In the world in which most of us live, the simple law of arithmetic by itself, 1+1=2, never brought anything into being. It certainly has never put any money into my bank account. If I put £1,000 into the bank, and later another £1,000, the laws of arithmetic will rationally explain how it is that I now have £2,000 in the bank. But if I never put any money into the bank myself, and simply leave it to the laws of arithmetic to bring money into being in my bank account, I shall remain permanently bankrupt.

So this is what Einstein meant when he said that “the man of science is a poor philosopher!” Even if one were to grant that all of Hawking’s science is 100% correct (which is a very, very big “if”, as this video featuring Hawking’s former colleague, the Oxford University physicist Roger Penrose, explains), Hawking’s attempts to do away with God fall apart with even the most rudimentary philosophical inquiry, as Lennox demonstrates. Hawking clearly knows this (at least subconsciously), which is surely why he disparages philosophy in his book. He writes, “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead.”

Now, philosophy 101 students, what is wrong with the statement, “Philosophy is dead”? This statement is itself philosophical! (as Lennox points out). Therefore, it is no less ridiculous and self-contradictory than the statement, “I cannot speak a single word of English,” spoken with a perfect British accent. Hawking’s philosophy is that “philosophy is dead.” One should wonder who taught him philosophy!

Back to Santa Claus…it’s time to administer a little thought experiment so as to establish a measure of make-believe reasoning: Two kids sit under the Christmas tree waiting to open their presents. The first kid says, “Santa put the presents there.” To this, the second kid replies, “No he didn’t. There is no Santa Claus. The law of gravity caused the presents to create themselves from nothing.” Although the second child is using adult language to express his views, they involve a far greater degree of make-believe reasoning.

The law of causation (without which science would be impossible) dictates that everything with a beginning requires a cause. Forget for a moment the fact that, as Lennox above explains, physical laws are not creative, but rather merely descriptive and predictive. At least the first kid in the above example understands the law of causation. He may have gotten the cause wrong (it was actually his parents who put the presents under the tree), but at least he understands that a cause cannot bring about an effect unless that cause is already in existence.

Put another way, the second kid’s “nothing” is actually a version of something. The law of gravity is something, not nothing. Either the universe emerged from nothing or it emerged from the law of gravity. One cannot have it both ways.

And even if the universe emerged “spontaneously” from the law of gravity, the question immediately becomes, “Where did the law of gravity come from?” Further, how can it be that matter follows natural laws so consistently if the the universe is fundamentally material?

Readers will recall from my essay titled What It All Boils Down To that, historically, there have been two basic meta-scientific worldviews underlying science. One worldview (called naturalism or materialism) says that matter comes first (or is fundamental) and that minds such as our own are an eventual product of unintelligent, natural processes. The opposite worldview (which includes theism) says that mind (read: God’s mind) comes first and that matter is the product of this fundamentally existing mind.

In the theistic worldview, it is immediately clear why these natural laws (such as the laws of physics, thermodynamics, chemistry, etc.) exist and why matter so consistently follows them: The same mind which produces matter also directs it.

But the naturalist/materialist worldview severely struggles with these two questions: Where did the natural laws come from in the first place, and why is it that matter so consistently follows such laws? The only answers that naturalism/materialism can provide are “they just are” and “it just does,” respectively. How much explanatory power exists in either explanation? Absolutely none whatsoever. This is why the naturalist/materialist worldview, upon which atheism depends, is rooted in make-believe, just-so storytelling.

In my essay titled Is There A God? (What is the chance that our world is the result of chance?), I mention the topic of the extremely exquisite fine tuning of our universe that was necessary for life forms such as ourselves to exist. In order to get around this, atheists (including Hawking and many others) have proposed the existence of multiple universes. So many universes exist, so the theory goes, that it is not surprising that one of these universes happened to randomly have the fine tuning necessary for the existence of life. A copy and paste of two citations from that essay:

Distinguished former Cambridge University quantum physicist John Polkinghorne notes in Questions of Truth:

“Answering an argument by a suggestion is hardly conclusive. One problem is that we don’t just need a hundred other universes, or even a billion, but an utterly immense number—some string theorists suggest that there are up to 10 to the 500th power other universes. If you are allowed to posit 10 to the 500th power other universes to explain away otherwise inconvenient observations, you can “explain away” anything, and science becomes impossible.”

Further, as Oxford University Professor of Philosophy Antony Flew facetiously observes in There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind:

“If the existence of one universe requires an explanation, multiple universes require a much bigger explanation: the problem is increased by the factor of whatever the total number of universes is. It seems a little like that case of a schoolboy whose teacher doesn’t believe his dog ate his homework, so he replaces the first version with the story that a pack of dogs—too many to count—ate his homework.”

None of this is to suggest that there cannot be multiple universes. Rather, it is to suggest that, philosophically speaking, it is absurd to suggest that the existence of multiple universes can be used to explain away the exquisite fine tuning of our universe necessary for the formation of life. Even, if there are 10 to the 500th power universes, what was the mechanism that caused our universe to be so very, very extremely fine tuned? Further, what is the reason that ANY of these universes exist in the first place? How is it that we can assume that these universes are at all different from one another, so that one universe is fine tuned and the others (or most of them) are not?

Adult make-believe may be different from child make-believe, but it is make-believe nonetheless.

For more examples of adults playing make-believe in order to try to do away with God, please read my essay titled Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God. In this essay, I describe how atheists (including Richard Dawkins) have resorted to such explanations for the origin of life as intervention from space aliens, and piggyback rides on crystals. These are not typos.