The atheist declares, “There is no God!” With just as much passion, the theist affirms, “God is!” The agnostic says, “I don’t know if God is real, but probably not.” Two of these would consider the atheist overly confident, two would claim the theist is delusional, and two would say the agnostic is noncommittal. Either God is, or he is not. There is no middle ground.
The problem is, we cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or touch God. Sensory perception is limited to the physical world, and God, who is outside the material realm, is beyond the reach of our physical senses. How, then, can we know anything about God and whether or not he even exists?
How do we know anything about anything?
There are basically three ways of attaining knowledge: (a) personal observation and experience; (b) inferences drawn from observation and experience (inductive reasoning); and (c) the testimony of others. For example, how do I know it’s raining? (a) I observe or experience the rain with sensory perception; (b) I infer it’s raining when a soaking wet person enters my office building from outside; and/or (c) someone tells me it’s raining.
Now it’s possible that (a) I’m dreaming, and the rain isn’t real; or (b) I misinterpret how the person outside my office building got drenched; or (c) someone lies to me about the rain. Nevertheless, under normal circumstances, most of us are sensible enough to (a) distinguish between dreams and reality; (b) figure out how a person outside an office building gets wet, especially when multiple persons consistently enter the building in the same condition; and (c) discern whether or not someone is telling the truth, particularly when he/she proves to be a reliable source and numerous others give the same report.
It’s not faith versus science …
The physical universe is something we can all observe, so how is it to be explained? There are four possibilities: (1) it is just an illusion and doesn’t really exist; (2) it spontaneously arose out of nothing; (3) it has always existed; or (4) it was created by a force beyond and superior to itself.
Atheistic naturalism, as opposed to theistic supernaturalism, begins with impersonal, mindless matter that either came into existence from nothing or is eternal. Life is believed to be a freak accident of nature, governed by nothing and going nowhere. The adamant claim is that outside the natural world, nothing exists. When astronomer Carl Sagan boldly announced, “the Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be,”1 did anyone notice he was making a faith claim? All of these assertions are based on unprovable presuppositions. None can be verified by scientific experimentation or observation. Each must be taken on faith. If the issue were merely faith versus science, there should be no scientists who believe in God (yet there are!), and there should be no atheists who stake their claims on faith (yet they do!). Atheistic naturalism (or materialism) requires a great deal of faith, beginning with the faith claim that nature is all there is.
Here’s what we know from observation and experience …
Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy. The First Law of Thermodynamics affirms that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. While usable energy is regularly converted into unusable energy, the sum total of all energy remains the same. The Second Law affirms that the universe is running out of usable energy and is heading toward disorder. This implies that the universe has not always existed; it had a beginning. Like a mechanical clock running down, there must have been a time in the distant past when everything was new, when all energy was available for use, when the clock was fully wound up.
In the late 1920s modern cosmology was born at Mount Wilson Observatory when astronomer Edwin Hubble, using the newly constructed 2.5 meter (100-inch) Hooker Telescope, confirmed Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and proved the universe is expanding as distant galaxies are moving outward. If the universe is expanding, it can be traced in reverse to a single point in time when the expansion began. Atheists call it “the Big Bang,” while theists call it “Creation.”Within the natural world as we know it, something does not come from nothing. The physical universe is something. It exists. It’s real. Physical matter does not create itself or simply appear out of nothingness. If we start with impersonal, mindless matter, perhaps a cloud of interstellar gas, or a subatomic particle, or a sea of primordial slime – wait a minute – where did that come from? Rather than offering a reasonable explanation, our anti-theistic friends usually retort, “Okay, so where did God come from?”2
Excursus: Who or what caused God? If one argues that God is the ultimate cause of the universe, where did God come from? The bottom line is, the evidence points to a source of the natural world beyond nature itself. It was at the beginning of the cosmos that time, space, matter, and finite energy all came into being. The ultimate cause of the physical world is thus outside of time (eternal), outside of space (omnipresent), outside of matter (immaterial), and outside of finite energy (omnipotent). The God of the Bible is beyond time, space, matter, and finite energy, without beginning or end (Eccl. 3:11; Psa. 93:2; Prov. 8:23; Rev. 1:8). The God of the Bible is the infinite, independent, supernatural primal cause of the finite, dependent, natural world (Gen. 1:1).
We all have access to the same evidence, yet we are reaching different conclusions. How should the evidence be interpreted? Both theists and atheists make faith claims, so which is more reasonable? Science is limited to what can be seen, observed, and tested, and a one-time event that occurred in the distant past is beyond the reach of observational and experimental scientific investigation. In our next post, we will take the next step in our investigative journey and consider what we can know through inductive reasoning as we try to make sense of what we observe.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980): 4. In the opening pages of the book, the Associated Press describes the author as “the most brilliant scientist of our times.” Sagan, who co-wrote the PBS television series “Cosmos” with his wife Ann Duryan in 1981, stated: “I am not an atheist. An atheist is someone who has compelling evidence that there is no Judeo-Christian-Islamic God.” Sagan died 20th December 1996 at the age of 62.
2 Carl Sagan compared the question of the universe’s origin to the question of God’s origin, reasoning that if God is said to be eternal, why couldn’t the cosmos be eternal? <Link>. For an excellent response to this question, see Dr. Kent Hovind’s reply to Reinhold Schlieter, <Link>.
Geisler, Norman L. and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004.
Parr, Richard. “Big Questions of Life: Is there a God?,” HubPages (23 Oct. 2015), <Link>.
---. “Big Questions of Life: Relating with God,” HubPages (8 April 2014), <Link>.Stokes, Mitch. How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.
Image credit: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2146764/thumbs/o-OLD-MAN-CONFUSED-570.jpg?6