I had conversations with a number of atheists this past week on a social media platform. This was during a BBC live session when Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, was being interviewed over his new book. As I listened to how he caricatured belief in the existence of God, I decided to throw in a line of comment. My comment, provoked replies which exposed:
- The ignorance many atheists have regarding why believers see “God” as the reasonable explanation for the existence of the universe.
- The intolerance atheists have about views they religiously hold to, while blaming believers to be arrogantly set in traditions. While it is true that there are indeed many intolerant religious people, the same is true for atheists. Even so, there are believers who engage in rational discourse, just as there are atheists, albeit very few, who have an ear ready to listen.
- The insincerity of not telling the real reason behind their unbelief in the creator.
This is the comment I posted:
Without God, explain how ‘something’ could have come from ‘nothing’ at the point of the Singularity?
One word I need to explain here before presenting the various replies atheists gave me – Singularity. By this, I meant the ‘point’ at which matter, time, and space began. Please note that at one time many scientists believed that the universe had no beginning. It had always existed with no beginning. However, ground breaking discoveries and theorems – for example the expansion of the universe, microwave background radiation, and the BGV theorem – showed that the universe actually had a beginning. This led to the troublesome question which many are still grappling with today – “What lay before the beginning of time, space, and matter?”
There were so many replies, some logical and others plainly stupid as is always common on social media.
The first sensible question that I felt worth responding to was this:
“Explain where God came from”
This is one question I always encounter. On one hand unbelievers think by asking it they have checkmated a person, leaving no room for any reasonable response. On the other hand are believers who think such a question is blasphemous and should never be entertained. It is these wrong perceptions that led me to write the small 87-page book titled: Answering the Question: Who Created the Creator? [A side note may interest you here. A social media advert for this book received a bizzare harsh reception in Zambia. Many who saw the advert seemed to have only read the words – ‘Who created the Creator?’ and concluded that the author is an atheist who was out to introduce Western ideas in a deeply religious country. Talk of a terrible reading culture? If people fail to read and understand a title would they be able to digest its contents? Thankfully, a few understood the title, and one strangely remarked, We don’t need that book in Zambia, take it to the West! What many Zambians may not realise is how atheism is quickly seeping through the corridors (not of compounds or villages or townships but) of universities. If only many would read the small and easy-to-understand book, they will realise how it would guard their minds against the logical bankruptiness of atheism].
The following was my response to the question. Please note that it was a very brief and condensed answer. If you would like, you can read my book. In Zambia it is now available in Grey Matter bookshop at East Park Mall and also in Planet Bookshop at Arcades in Lusaka. Elsewhere, buy it from Amazon. If you really cannot afford to buy, I can make efforts to buy and send you one.
Concise response to the question:
The overwhelming evidence of the Big Bang has established the fact that time, space, and matter had a beginning. It logically follows that whatever caused time must itself be timeless (unless you have another suggestion); whatever caused matter must itself be non-physical; whatever caused space must logically transcend space. It is this timeless, non-physical, and transcendent cause that should cause the beginning. God is what I call ‘it’.
Of course an attentive reader would know that my explanation above implied that although all things around us are chain-results of ‘cause and effect’, it is illogical for this sequence to run without end in the past. The fact that time begins at the singularity means that its cause must itself be timeless. This in turn implies that the initial cause was uncreated.
As was expected, another question followed.
“Where did this god come from? And if your argument is he just IS, then why can’t that same logic be applied to the universe?”
I dealt with such a question in Chapter 5 of my book, but I will still give a very summarised answer.
Note that the other way of putting the question above is: Why can’t we just say it’s the universe which has always been; it was never created and is just IS. This question brings back the belief in an eternal universe. But, as I earlier indicated, in the light of scientific evidence, this cannot be. But this is not to say that simply because we don’t know what lay beyond the beginning of the universe then the answer is “God did it!” We should not invoke God just simply because there is a gap in our knowledge of something.
Now, I have good reasons to believe why the First Cause can’t be the universe. Apart from what I have explained in the foregoing I should add that a number (such as 1, 2, or 3) stands as a better candidate for being the First Cause than Stephen Hawking’s idea that the universe could have created itself! Let me explain.
Numbers, like sets or other abstract entities, cannot be caused. They exist because of necessity. The number two, for example, has always been there. It did not begin to exist when man became aware of it. It did not begin to exist because there were “two birds“, “two books“, etc. Now, although such abstract entities have an important characteristic of being uncaused, they don’t make a very good candidate for what must have caused the universe. This is simply because abstract entities can never stand in a causal relation. Simply put, abstracts don’t cause things to happen. For example, you can have two trees but it’s not the number two which caused them to exist. We are thus left with one alternative – something that should exist by necessity but which should also be able to cause things. This being ought to be timeless, non-spatial, and intelligent! To say, it is just a force without intelligence would make it inferior to man because man is a creature with intelligence. But a creator has to be greater than creation, and just by looking at the complicated and precise laws of physics that govern the universe, the creator actually is super intelligent. “He is” not “It is“! It is for this reason that Sir Isaac Newton exclaimed saying, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Well, Newton is known as “the father of modern science.” Perhaps it is time for children of science to return to their scientific fathers’ faith!
It may surprise you to know that a whole lot of questions that followed my posting were actually already covered in my small book. Here was another interesting response I had (again take note that up to this point, no one answered my questions in the foregoing):
“If you really want to know Andrew may I suggest that you [read] the book ‘A Universe from Nothing’ by Lawrence M Krauss. Subtitled: ‘Why there is something rather than nothing'”
My response to the above suggestion:
Thank you W (name withheld) for the suggestion. I actually bought and read Lawrence’s book some months back. As has been noted by both atheists and theists, Krauss embarrassingly abuses the word “Nothing.” In this book the author states: “First, I want to be clear about what kind of ‘nothing’ I am discussing at the moment. This is the simplest version of nothing, namely empty space…” With all due respect to the physicist, how could he refer “Nothing” to “empty space” when he is actually aware that space is a sea of energy. Surprisingly he actually acknowledged this when he continued to state: “the energy stored in empty space gets turned into an energy of real particles and radiation, creating effectively the traceable beginning of our present Big Bang expansion.” This is quite self-contradictory. If he admits that the “nothing” he is talking about is one which contains “something” called “energy”, then what objective has the book achieved? To use “virtual particles” as an example of “something coming out of nothing” is being economical with truth and this is tantamount to intellectual dishonesty. To play around semantics by introducing ‘different kinds of nothing’ is simply exaggerating what should be a simple topic. When we are debating the question of whether the universe came from nothing, everyone should know that the ‘nothing’ we are talking about is not ‘empty space’ or ‘vacuum’ used in physics but ‘no thing’, that is, the absence of anything!…
After this post again, no counter reply was given. One observer chipped in to ask Mr W:
“Looks like he did read your book. I’d like to read a response if you are interested.”
Even so, this request also went unanswered. But, another interesting reply came through.
The person who wrote the following reply may not have read my previous responses to the other question. However, I still bring his question here because in replying to him I added a few more lines that may interest you:
“Argument From Ignorance Fallacy: A logical fallacy in which you attempt to reason that a lack of knowledge about something is justification to insert your own answer. ‘We don’t understand X yet, therefore I understand X.’ If you are not about to commit this fallacy, I don’t understand the question.”
Not so Y (name withheld). I agree that there is a fallacy of trying to establish ‘fact’ because of absence of information. In the God-debate that is well known as ‘God of the gaps’ – “we don’t know who do it therefore it had to be God!” My arguments for belief in the existence of a creator are not based on that. My arguments are based on inference to the best explanation. For example, we all know that “information” never pops up from nowhere. It has intelligent cause. If you landed on some distant planet and found characters distinctively engraved on a rock – “I was here in 1935”, although the planet having no sign of life, one wont be an idiot to infer that the strokes of letters are a result of someone writing them there. Such an assertion would be grounded in what we know normally happens.
One illustration by a leading theist philosopher goes like this: a man sees a translucent ball and asks: how did this ball come to be? For one to answer, “It just exists…” would be ridiculous because we all know in our daily life that things don’t just happen without cause. How about enlarging that ball so that it’s the size of a car, should the explanation change? Suppose that ball becomes so big as the size of the universe? Same problem. Its not about the size of the ball but the principle of cause and effect. I find it illogical to suggest that everything else has cause except the universe. To say the universe came from nothing, was caused by nothing and is for nothing sounds worse than magic. To borrow words of one neuroscientist, I just dont have enough faith to believe in such an improbability!
This reply was from someone who was somewhat proud, prejudiced and overzealous as can be seen in his language:
Okay so, here’s a concept called ‘The Boltzmann brain’. Pay attention because it’ll blow your indoctrinated mind. So, imagine a room, the room is filled with air. The air contains almost all the elements that you are made up of. Now, this air is in a constant entropic motion, going on about in a random pattern. Question, do you understand mathematics? Even if you don’t, you might have stumbled upon the principle of probability. So, probability dictates, given enough trials, the outcomes are likely to be repeated. When you toss a coin, there is a fifty-fifty percent chance of either a heads or a tails happening. No matter how many times you might toss the coin, the outcomes will remain the same and hence repeat themselves after a point. Now, you are made up of basic elements that are floating in the air in this room we talked about earlier. And you sir, have an exact combination of matter. This combination contains your exact genetic make-up, your environmental factors, your memories and all the time that you have ever lived or will ever live. Now tell me, this air in the room, which is in constant random motion BTW, can it some-day randomly arrange itself into a pattern that is the exact replica of you? It’s a probability, and a probability will repeat itself after some time, and because the outcomes of this happening, of you happening are vast, you might say it is impossible. But it isn’t impossible because it is a matter of time. And we have time. Infinite amount of it. So, because the time in which this random outcomes will take is infinite, then there are infinite chances that the air inside the room will take your form. No need for any design or planning, just random interaction of atoms and molecules. That’s the concept of the Boltzmann brain. It does not require a God to make this universe or anything. If you look at the quantum physics, you will understand that quantum particles can and will randomly appear out of nowhere and then vanish into oblivion as well. This whole universe can be a quantum event, springing into existence because of causality and random probability. It’s not finely tuned, it’s just here because it happened. You don’t need a God for that.
The following was my response. I have used X for his name:
X I hope I won’t sound disrespectful, but I would ask, Are you serious about using ‘The Boltzmann brain’ to justify your strong belief that “this whole universe can be a quantum event, springing into existence because of causality and random probability”? I wish we had enough time and space to engage in this discourse. Excuse this long post.
Two things caught my attention in your post – the issue of probability, and the Boltzman’s brain. Please note that both you and I are venturing into past-time whose phenomena we cannot ascertain with empirical proof. We can only use logical arguments, and one has to believe where the EVIDENCE leads.
Now probability is a game of chance. And it is true that being IMPROBABLE should not be confused with being IMPOSSIBLE. If you were sick of a familiar ailment for which every time you took an antibiotic the fever would disappear and you got up well, you will be REASONABLE to use that medicine the next time the same problem occurred. It would be UNREASONABLE to suddenly presume that “this time I will simply take a hot cup of coffee and I know the problem will disappear!” Although that is not impossible to happen, it may be so improbable that it would be UNREASONABLE to do it. Simply put, there are extremes to probabilities that would make certain events only theoretically plausible but yet impractical.
Thankfully Roger Penrose (an atheist) gives us some numbers to work around with. In his book, “The Road to Reality” he explains that the chance of the initial low-entropy conditions of the universe happening by chance are 1: 10^10(123) (that’s an extremely huge number!) On the converse the odds of the formation of the solar system by random collisions of particles is 1: 10^10(60). This implies that it is more probable for us to have a universe the size of our solar system. A fine-tuned universe on a grandeur scale as we have would be incomprehensibly improbable [i.e. that the fine-tuning just happened by random chance is so improbable!] And coming back to Boltzmann’s brain – going extreme with theories, actually illusions! – it’d be more probable to have a universe with one brain which gets formed by the random fluctuations you alluded to. So, X, if we go by maths and probabilities, and if your beliefs are true, you could be the only ‘brain’ in the world, and everything you are seeing right now, including this text you are reading are illusions!
In all this X, I hope you have a place in your mind to realise that not all believers in God believe what they believe simply because they were “indoctrinated” as you strongly assert in your post. I believe what I believe because I see a designed finely-tuned universe to be more probable than a multiverse. If you believe otherwise, I don’t have to insult you. I need to give you space to justify your reasons. Thanks for your time.
Mr X was the one person who made a follow-up reply to my response. The following reply he wrote was long but please read it through and tell me if you see ONE STRANGE THING IN IT:
That is a fairly good argument. But you’re missing a huge point. No matter how huge the probability of this universe springing out randomly might be, it does not mean that it didn’t happen. You see, all the variations where it did not occur, do not matter. You have to exist to realize that you exist. While you’re right, you can choose to believe in God because there simply isn’t any evidence that God doesn’t exist. Hell, if the multiverse exists, God or Gods certainly do exist in many of those universes. All Gods of every religion exist somewhere in the entropic universe. But why I think this universe of ours is not one of those universes is because our universe is not exactly finely tuned. I’ll divide my argument in two parts.
1. The observable universe: I’m pretty sure you have heard about the rare earth hypothesis. That life arose in earth and nowhere else because Earth is finely tuned. But it isn’t, it’s not in the most optimal position to support life, in both in its place in this solar system, and even the location of this solar system in this galaxy. Our Earth’s probability of evolving life is 83% not a 100%. Now, you can say that this ‘God’ created it in such a way that we will never conclude that we are specially created rather than a random occurrence. But that’s not how far this randomness extends. It extends everywhere, in every direction. The evolution in Earth that takes place at both the micro level and the macro level is a proof of that. It evolves species by putting environmental pressures upon them, creating more branches and twists and turns and wrongs and rights. When the prokaryots first began photosynthesis, the oxygen that the enriched our atmosphere as a result killed 70% of all life forms. But evolution filled the empty niches like it always has. Life adapted and started living off oxygen itself. Oxygen doesn’t exist because we breathe it. We breathe it because it’s here, and we had to breathe it.
2. This God that you’re talking about, I hope it’s not the God of any Earth religions, because all of them can easily be disprovan. Also, the universe is much too big and much too old to give priority to us, being such small creatures on a fickle of a planet amongst the billions and billions that are out there. But if you’re talking about a God, as an a creative force, like the Universe itself or something from higher dimensions or something else entirely. Then yeah, sure, God can or cannot be. In fact, I’ll say, we are God ourselves, we are the living, experiencing part of this universe that we are a part of. So, by chance or by design, it was sorta created for us to explore and to enhance our understanding. The truth is, I don’t think God exists because I truly would not like to have an entity ruling over me and telling me what my purpose is. I enjoy my freedom far too much and would be much happier if this is all just a random occurance and it gives me infinite chances of doing what I want with a true free will. If there’s a God, or creative force, or just you know, gravity, it doesn’t actually matter. Maybe you’re sort of scared of your mortality and want to find some way to deal with the existential crisis that we all so inheritantly face. But yeah, I would appreciate if you didn’t let that dogma stop you from looking at reality of things than, peace man. Never have I met a theist who actually thinks. Wanna bet if there’s a God or not? Maybe someday somewhere along space time we’ll find if something actually did create this universe or not? And until then God is in a quantum state of both being and not being, kapishe? Also have you read about the Simulation hypothesis? And what do you think about this ‘God’ being a teenager with a science project?
This man admitted one important thing in the post above. This was my response:
No need to continue the discourse. Your words tells it all; they have expressed “the truth” – “The truth is, I don’t think God exists because I truly would not like to have an entity ruling over me and telling me what my purpose is.” Whenever ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ take precedence in a discourse, no amount of logical arguments would be accepted, as the mind gets biased towards what is emotionally satisfying for the person.
That’s all I responded to X. However, may I here take the opportunity to point out some issues he raised in the above post.
- Mr X stated: “I’m pretty sure you have heard about the rare earth hypothesis.That life arose in earth and nowhere else because Earth is finely tuned. But it isn’t, it’s not in the most optimal position to support life, in both in its place in this solar system, and even the location of this solar system in this galaxy. Our Earth’s probability of evolving life is 83% not a 100%.”
This was quite a ridiculous assertion. X clearly doesn’t understand the subject of fine-tuning. The fine-tuning argument is not about “the Earth’s probability of evolving life” at 100%. Its about how the fundamental constants of the universe are so finely tuned for which any slight adjustment would have made the universe not work as we know it today, a situation which would have hindered the development of life on planet Earth (I cover this subject in detail in my book: Why I Believe God Exists). Even so, if he thinks that the Earth is “not in the most optimal position to support life” why is this person breathing and able to type messages he is typing? Would he be able to do that on Mars? Surely man has done so much harm to this planet that it cannot optimally support life. Remember the Great Deluge of the antediluvian period? Clearly, it led to so many geographical changes to the planet that makes it work differently from the way it ought to be. With 70% of the planet covered in water, the planet is tilted and revolves around the sun at a slower speed. This, and many other factors, contribute to making the Earth not 100% able as a conducive environment for life. Before the Flood, man could live up to a thousand years. Today he only lives about one tenth of that age.
- “…the universe is much too big and much too old to give priority to us, being such small creatures on a fickle of a planet amongst the billions and billions that are out there.”
So this man interprets the importance of something based on how big or small it is. The universe can’t give priority to Earth because it is too small? I wonder if this man’s body gives priority to his big “leg” over his small “heart” because the leg is clearly bigger in size. Believe me that if we chop off his leg, he will still be able to continue writing his responses, but remove his heart and he immediately will be a corpse. What of the DNA, the blueprint of everything you are, how big is it compared to other parts of your system?
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