Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CCS SLEW -- "Is Saying That God Is 'Uncreated' A Cop-out?"

I received the following question from a SLEW student last night. It's not an easy one to answer but it's a great question to ponder. I offer the following response for consideration.

I have always been curious and bothered by the fact that whenever I ask where God came from I was given the answer, "He was just always there." That answer doesn't sit well with me. It seems like a cop-out. When atheists and scientists are confronted on the Big Bang theory, we ask the question, "How was there a 'Big Bang'?" and they'll answer that it came from chemicals. We then ask, "Well then where did the chemicals come from?" The scientists will respond with "Well they are just there." We then assume that we have won that argument. 
How can we say that the answer, "the chemicals were always there," isn't a suitable answer if we say the same thing about our God? It just doesn't make very much sense to me. Please offer any insight you might have on this subject. It has been bothering me for a long time.
I would start by saying there are two ways to think about the origin of "stuff" as it relates to God's eternality; scientifically or philosophically.

The Scientific Way

Science is the study of cause and effect. We see things happen in the world and we investigate what kind of cause could be responsible for what we see. Those of us who see this universe as God's creation should have no fear of science. Science is simply the way we discover and explore our Maker's work. With that said, remember the answer to the question, "Did the universe have a beginning?" The answer to that question is, "Yes, it did." The beginning of the universe is an effect we observe. So, what could be the cause of that effect?

Well, either "something" caused it, or "nothing" caused it.

If "something" caused it, we can do our best to try to identify what that something is. And, since that beginning included the instant emergence of all matter, energy, space, and time, it is perfectly logical to infer that whatever caused matter, energy, space, and time to pop into existence must be outside matter, energy, space, or time as we know it. The cause of a thing can't be the thing itself. So, the cause must be a timeless, spaceless, and immaterial "something."

Notice that description of the "Cause" is perfectly consistent with the definition of God as an eternal, self-existent spirit. Science cannot "prove" (or disprove) God. Science deals with our study of the natural world and God is not a part of the natural world. He is beyond the natural. He is supernatural. However, science can make implications about the reality of a supernatural cause for the world. That is exactly what it does in this case.

Atheistic/Naturalistic scientists have three ways to respond to this implication:
  1. They can claim that the "something" is just more of the same -- that in this case alone, and in complete defiance of the very law of cause and effect that makes science possible -- the universe caused itself to pop into existence. They will not accept self-causation in any other instance, but if it provides a way to deny even the possibility that God exists, they will take it. This sounds intellectually dishonest to me. Though the questioner referred to this as "the chemicals ... that were always just there," I have never heard of this as an explanation. Instead, I have heard it referred to as a "quantum field" or a "gravity field" (which have to be in place prior to the chemicals). But, no matter what they call the source, this explanation does nothing but push the question back another step. And we rightfully ask, "Where did the quantum field come from?" [The result is an infinite regress -- more on that later].
  2. They can claim that the "something" is a yet undiscovered combination of matter, energy, space and time -- that has occurred outside the boundaries of our universe but somehow created an effect inside those boundaries. Because it is outside the boundaries of our universe, we cannot ever know what it is. It is undetectable to us and therefore nothing but a speculative explanation which has been made up, once again, to avoid the implication of a Supernatural God. This is exactly what the "Many Worlds Hypothesis" is all about. [More on that elsewhere if anyone asks about it].
  3. They can claim that "nothing" was the cause. This is exactly what Lawrence Krauss has done in his book, A Universe From Nothing, and it reveals just how desperate the atheistic view is to deny even the possibility of the existence of God. When you are willing to say that nothing caused everything to exist you have stepped beyond the realm of respectability and into the realm of intellectual dishonesty. This is especially true when, like Krauss, you go on to define "nothing" as a different way of understanding what is actually "something." [Proof that only highly educated "smart" people could ever come up with something so dumb].
So, given these, the best explanations we are left with (outside the action of a supernatural Creator) are by definition undetectable and unknowable (number 2), or result in an "infinite regress" (number 1). An infinite regress amounts to asking the question, "Well, what caused that?" an infinite number of times. You cannot continue back to infinity. Infinity is a concept. There cannot be an actual infinite number of things or events. At some point the chain has to stop. At some point the physical laws and matter that allow for "the chemicals" have to end. This is a point we call the "First Cause" and that is one definition of God -- "The Uncaused First Cause."

The scientific argument is not that God has always been there, it is that He, or some cause that really closely resembles Him, has to be the originator of all causes. Chemicals or the laws of nature can't do that.

I think this is convincing -- that something has to be the first cause of things and that the "something" cannot be a part of the stuff we are asking about. But this is a scientific argument and, because science cannot ever fully point us to God (it can only imply Him), it is not the best kind of argument to use. 

The Philosophical Way

Philosophy, on the other hand, does provide us an argument that is irresistible. I am no philosopher but let me present the case as best I can:

When you and I talk about "motion," we think about physical things like baseballs transitioning from one point in physical space to another point in physical space. But, when philosophers talk of "motion," they mean something very different. Motion to a philosopher is more like change. Things are constantly changing so the world we observe is constantly "in motion" in that sense. Objects move through space. Leaves change color, fall off and reappear in the Spring. Bodies grow and then grow old and decay after we die. Everything is always in motion.

This ongoing process means that things are always "actually" in some state but have the "potential" to move to another state. Think of an ice cube. It is an "actual" block of frozen water but it has the "potential" to become a puddle, then steam, then a vapor, then a cloud, then a rain drop, then a river, then a lake, then something in my cup ... you get my drift. Actual things contain the potential to change. The chain of "potentiality" must begin with something that is purely actual.

Motion has to have started somewhere. Unless there was a first "Mover" there could never have been any motion at all. This is what we call an "entailment." It has to be true. The first "mover" not only must be unmoved, it must be unmovable. It is what we call "pure actuality."

"And this," Thomas Aquinas said, "is what we call God."*

I know this is a mind bender, and there are philosophers who will argue this point, but as an answer to the question posed, I think you can see that it is not a cop-out to say God must be the purely actual, unmoved Mover. It is a concept that is hard to refute.


* I owe this brief (and incomplete) explanation to my understanding of the case made by Edward Feser, in his book The Last Superstition -- an excellent book, even if it hurts your brain sometimes.

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