In our previous post <Link>, we briefly noted the three ways of attaining knowledge: (a) personal observation and experience; (b) inferences drawn therefrom (inductive reasoning); and (c) the testimony of others. We then considered the first of these: what can be known about God (or anything else) from observing the world around us? The physical universe is something we can all see and examine, so how is it to be explained? Everything we know by observation and experience leads to the conclusion that the cosmos is real and had a beginning. As we examine the evidence further, what more can we learn?
Here’s what we know from inductive reasoning …
Everything that comes to be (an effect) must have an adequate cause outside itself and superior to itself. The physical world consists of matter (rocks, dirt, water, etc.) but also complex living organisms. Life is more than materials. Consciousness, thought, rationality, and purpose are not comprised of materials. Lifeless matter does not generate life, unconscious matter does not effect consciousness, nonintelligent matter does not yield intelligence, nonrational matter does not produce rationality, and amoral matter does not create morality.
Consistent, complex, functional design does not happen by accident. Where there is design, according to all that is known about how the world operates, there must be a designer. Specified complexity is inherent in all known living organisms. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the code of genetic information – the exact hereditary instructions in every life form.1 Even the “simplest” life form, the one-celled amoeba, has as much information in its DNA as 1,000 complete (33-volume) sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica.2 Specified complexity does not result from mindless randomness. Only intelligence produces information, logical arrangement, and deliberate order.
The universe demonstrates remarkably fine-tuned patterns of activity, including precise and interdependent environmental conditions (known as anthropic constants) essential for supporting life on earth. There are approximately 122 of these constants, including oxygen level, atmospheric transparency, moon-earth gravitational interaction, carbon dioxide level, gravity, water vapor levels, earth’s rotation and axis tilt, et al. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has calculated the probability that all of these constants would exist by chance (without purposeful design) for any planet in the universe, concluding that there is one chance in 10138 (1 followed by 138 zeros)!3 In other words, for all practical purposes, it is impossible.
The will to disbelieve …
While evidence is all around us, how the evidence is interpreted is not always determined by the mind but by the will. No one is neutral; we all have presuppositions. Although many just don’t care, there are many others who have the will either to disbelieve or to believe.
One morning Andy discovered Scrabble® letters on the kitchen table arranged to spell, “TAKE OUT TRASH – MOM.” He recalled learning in Biology class that life arose spontaneously from nature, so perhaps the cat knocked over the box, causing the letters to just randomly fall into place. He didn’t want to take out the trash, so he attributed the apparent “message” to a freak accident. Going to the beach to find Amanda (a girl he liked), he saw her in the distance walking with Tim. He noticed written in the sand, “Amanda + Tim xx.” He couldn’t imagine that she liked Tim, so he reasoned that maybe the tide or a sand crab was responsible for the unusual markings resembling words. He then noticed Amanda giving Tim a big hug after Tim had pointed to the sky, so Andy looked up and saw “I LUV U” written in white smoke. Just an unusual cloud formation?4
Could there be another explanation?
What is the alternative to a supernatural, intelligent, purposeful designer? Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking argues for the possibility of an infinite number of universes (the multiverse theory), and given enough time with so many chances at least one life-friendly universe is bound to appear.5 Well, while we’re at it, one could also reason that it’s within the realm of possibility that the apparent “messages” Andy saw resulted from a cat knocking over a box of letters, a crab’s random sand tracks, and a freak cloud formation. This is reminiscent of the scene in the 1994 movie Dumb & Dumber, where Lloyd asks Mary what the chances are of them getting together. She responds, “Not good,” and Lloyd asks, “You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?” Mary replies, “I’d say more like one out of a million.” Then Lloyd says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…” The sad reality is, the odds of Andy’s and Lloyd’s assumptions being true are substantially more favorable than Dr. Hawking’s.
An effect cannot be greater than its cause. The ultimate source of the universe has to be outside of time, space, matter, and finite energy, capable of creativity and design on a magnitude we mere mortals cannot fathom. Any attempt to comprehend (and to judge!) the supernatural within the restrictive confines of nature is pretentious, unreasonable, and misguided.
By observing the natural world with no anti-theistic presumptions, we can easily conclude the existence of an original cause/grand designer. Yet within such a limited scope we cannot know much about the original cause/grand designer. In our next post we will continue the investigative journey, introducing the third way of attaining knowledge – testimony.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 “The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences” (“What is DNA?” Genetics Home Reference [25 Oct. 2016], <Link>). Can there be information without intelligence?
2 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watch Maker (New York: Norton, 1996): 116. Each volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica is comprised of roughly 1,000 pages, and an entire set contains approximately 40 million words in nearly 65,700 articles, not counting the index volumes.
3 Hugh Ross, “Why I Believe in the Miracle of Divine Creation,” in Why I Am a Christian, ed. N. L. Geisler and P. K. Hoffman (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006): 138-41.
4 Adapted from N. L. Geisler and F. Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (2004): 113-14.
5 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
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.
*See also John R. Baumbardner and Jeremy D. Lyon, "A Linguistic Argument for God's Existence," JETS 58/4 (2015): 771-86.
Image credit: http://www.popsci.com/sites/popsci.com/files/styles/large_1x_/public/import/2013/images/2013/02/thinkingfyi.jpg?itok=5DXKOYXW