Scientific Discovery and God: The Universe, Part 1

shutterstock_138195848

How did the universe come into being? The last century has revealed a stark contrast between what secular scientists expected to find regarding the big “origins” questions and what scientific research actually uncovered. In part 1 of this series, I’ll discuss how this contrast played out concerning the origin of the universe. In future installments I’ll consider, in turn, the origins of the solar system, Earth, and the human species.

Origin of the Universe

Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) speculated that the cosmos was eternal. In the eighteenth century, secular Enlightenment thinkers picked up Aristotle’s line of thought, often arguing that the physical universe was eternal in age and possibly infinite in extent. The universe was viewed as a brute reality without beginning and, therefore, without the need for a cause. Skeptic Bertrand Russell insisted, in his famous BBC debate on the existence of God with Catholic philosopher Frederick Copleston, that the universe is “just there.”

In the first half of the twentieth century, the view of cosmology known as the steady-state theory was popular among secular scientists. This view reflected the belief that the universe contained a continual energy source that allowed the cosmos to remain in a constant state of existence. Philosophically speaking, an eternal universe would seem more consistent with an atheistic, naturalistic view of reality. For if the universe is eternal, then it needs no causal explanation, thus no need to postulate God as a necessary causal agent. (Though, ironically, atheists often fail to appreciate that if God exists as an eternal and necessary being then he, too, would need no causal explanation.)

Big Bang Cosmology

Over the last twenty-five years, however, big bang cosmology has undergone extensive testing and has emerged as the prevailing scientific model for the origin of the universe. According to this well-established theory, the universe (including all matter, energy, time, and space) emerged about 14 billion years ago from a singular beginning. Thus, scientists conclude that the universe is not eternal. The basic big bang cosmological model has now replaced the steady-state theory as the prevailing origin of the universe. And while the big bang continues to be refined as a theory, most leading astrophysicists argue that it is here to stay. Multiverse theories may challenge the idea of our universe having had a singular beginning, but the multiverse remains speculative and lacks direct scientific confirmation.

A universe with a singular beginning from nothing was the last thing secular scientists thought would be discovered. The problem for the atheistic naturalist is how much big bang cosmology resembles the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo (God created the universe from or out of nothing [no preexisting materials]: Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 3:19; Romans 4:17; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11:3).

Herein lies the contrast between expectation and scientific advance. Secular scientists thought they would discover an eternal, self-sufficient universe, but what they actually discovered is a universe that had a singular beginning. And now they have a contingent reality—the cosmos—in need of a necessary causal explanation. While many scientists were no doubt surprised by this discovery, Christian theologians expected it. Thus, the cutting-edge scientific discovery concerning the universe’s origin (a singular beginning of all things) seems to comport best with theism.

Reflections: Your Turn

How does big bang cosmology affect the secular claim that science backs atheism?

Resources

  • For more on the big bang and other competing cosmological theories, see Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2018).
  • For more on the biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 156–64.

  One thought on “Scientific Discovery and God: The Universe, Part 1

  1. January 15, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. January 29, 2019 at 11:51 am

    Generously give every star in the universe 100 planets, and you have 10^24 of them. But take all the things a planets needs for life (older sun, plate tectonics, moon, etc, etc, and more etc) and it’s about 1 chance in 10^90. So you have 10^24 chances to beat 10^90 odds. Result – no way in hell. But One Way in Heaven. 🙂
    However –
    If it did happen by pure atheistic chance, then it never happened before or since. Which means the SETI people are wasting their time, our tax dollar, and cluttering up our planetary exploration probes with life-seeking experiments that could be replaced with real useful science.

    • January 29, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Gary.

      Ken Samples

  3. January 29, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Evidence that the universe began at a singularity point created from no previous material certainly suggests that an agent outside of time (Existentialism) created the universe. This agent is called God. So, science supports Theism. With farther investigation, we humans realized a relationship can exist between God and humans. I have chosen the relationship or faith of Christianity.

    • January 29, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Appreciate your comments, Will.

      Ken Samples

  4. Iosias
    January 30, 2019 at 6:59 am

    A beginning needs a beginner. The Created needs a Creator. Yahweh as an ontological necessity seems an inescapable conclusion to me; even a steady-state universe needs a reason for being as opposed to non-being.

    • January 30, 2019 at 11:10 am

      Appreciate your comments, Iosias.

      Thanks.

      Ken Samples

  5. February 1, 2019 at 11:51 am

    Time is not external to the universe, it is a part of it. The Big Bang is the origin of the universe, and hence also the origin of time. The Big Bang is not a “beginning” in the way that theists would like – the universe has always existed because there is no time to which you can point to at which the universe did not exist

    • February 1, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      Matthew:

      The standard Big Bang model still stands which asserts that the universe and time had a beginning.

      Here’s Hawking & Penrose:

      “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.”

      Stephen W. Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.

      Logically, an origin is a beginning.

      Gottfried Leibniz’s ultimate metaphysical question must be answered:

      “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

      • February 1, 2019 at 12:53 pm

        “beginning” in the sense used by Hawking and Penrose (and indeed other popular writers on the subject) is colloquial. The universe has a beginning only in the sense that it has a finite age. The universe “began” in the sense that there is a point in time which you can point to at which you can’t go any further back in time.

        This is different to anything else in the universe. Our logic for “a beginning needs a beginner” comes from the fact that everything we observe day to day has a beginner if it has a beginning. But the same logic can’t be applied to the universe. Day to day if something began then there was a time before it began. This is not true of the universe because there was no time “before” it.

        I really don’t find Leibniz’s question very powerful (as much as I respect Leibniz in many other areas). The question presumes that nothing is more probable than something. But in all our experience nobody has never come across “nothing”. Everywhere you look there is something, so why do we think that the existence of nothing is more probable than the existence of something? It baffles me that this assumption is made so easily.

      • February 1, 2019 at 1:19 pm

        Matthew:

        You can’t legitimately define away the need for a cause to the universe. Just because time isn’t infinite in the past doesn’t negate a need for an explanation. Whether the cosmos originated or began it needs an adequate metaphysical explanation. That’s Leibniz’s point.

        If anything exists, then something must be eternal or something non-eternal emerged from nothing. The cosmos emerged, originated, began therefore it is not eternal and thus needs a cause. There is no observable evidence for a multiverse which itself would need a cause.

        I encourage you to go on the Reasons to Believe website (reasons.org) where my colleagues astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross and astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Zweerink have written many articles defending Big Bang cosmology and illustrating the need for a metaphysical cause to the universe.

        All the best.

        Ken Samples

      • February 1, 2019 at 1:59 pm

        My point is that our intuitions behind causes and explanations come from experience of a very non-extreme physical environment. We have no reason to expect that the kind of metaphysical reasoning which holds in the everyday will be valid when applied to extreme scenarios like the Big Bang.

        “If anything exists, then something must be eternal or something non-eternal emerged from nothing.” – you say “emerged” but emerging is a process, it occurs in time. The universe can’t be said to emerge because there is no moment in time at which the universe wasn’t already there.

        I’m not really trying to claim that the universe doesn’t need an explanation. My argument is more that the kind of simplistic arguments that are put forward like “the cosmos emerged, originated, began therefore it is not eternal and thus needs a cause.” are just using logic that cannot solidly be applied to the Big Bang.

        I have had a look at the website suggested, but cannot seem to find anything that I would not have to pay for.

      • February 1, 2019 at 2:43 pm

        Matthew:

        I need to end our thread of dialogue here. I’ve got a lot of other work to get to.

        1. The logical principle of causal explanations is not affected by extreme physical environments. If something began, originated, emerged, came into being (whatever verbiage you use), it logically needs a causal explanation.

        2. Logical explanations are applied to all possible worlds and are therefore not simplistic or somehow not applicable to the early stages of the universe.

        Here’s a direct link to astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross’s blog: https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe

        Here’s a direct link to astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Zweerink’s blog: https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/impact-events

        Ken Samples

  6. February 7, 2019 at 6:18 am

    Questions for Matthew: Is the possibility of God’s existence distasteful to you? The need for a Creator is just one of many realities, such as information, objective morality, irreducible complexity of living organisms, conscious minds that make choices and think abstractly, etc, that point to God’s existence. There is no one knockdown proof, but the cumulative case is quite strong. What is your worldview and what convinces you that it is correct–that it accurately reflects reality?

  7. Chris Morris
    February 7, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    lenedjohnjr, if I may, I would like to offer some answers to your questions as I’ve made some similar objections as Matthew to Ken’s views in part 2 of this article.

    “Is the possibility of God’s existence distasteful to you?” No, personally I can’t imagine it would make any difference to my life whether God exists or not and, on the whole, I regard religion as somewhat more beneficial than harmful to humankind.

    “What is your worldview and what convinces you that it… accurately reflects reality?” Of course, attempting to articulate an entire worldview in a such a brief post is not possible but briefly I’ve not yet found the arguments presented by Christian apologists, philosophers and scientists such as Plantinga, Craig or Ken and his colleagues at RTB to be conclusively persuasive while there is still a possibility that cosmology based on scientific evidence may eventually provide an explanation as irrefutable as Avogadro’s Law.

    • February 7, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      Chris:

      Greetings.

      I have a question for you and it is sincere and intended with respect.

      You seem to express the sentiment that you are basically indifferent regarding God’s existence. But knowing who Plantinga, Craig, and RTB are shows some investment in the issue. Is there a tension there?

      Blaise Pascal, mathematician-physicist-logician, thought that the issue of God was a matter of the “heart,” meaning that our most basic beliefs are at the level of the non-rational (assumptions, intuitions, pre-commitments).

      I’ll freely admit that God’s existence makes a fundamental difference to me both rationally and non-rationally.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

      • Chris Morris
        February 8, 2019 at 4:56 am

        Ken, that’s a really interesting question. To give a little context here, I grew up without any real contact with religion in the 1950s when materialism (in both senses of the word) seemed to have left behind any problems that religion may have presented. Consequently, I never encountered any reason for having strong feelings either for or against religion and when, along with most of my generation during the 1960s, I started looking for some deeper meaning than materialism seemed to offer, I naturally thought of this in a philosophical context rather than a specifically spiritual or religious context.

        Given this background, Pascal is a very appropriate ‘person of interest’ here. He clearly was aware of that tension, especially after his meeting with Descartes around the same time that Jansenism began to have a powerful influence on his views. However, his solution, that intuition provides the foundation for our beliefs prior to any rational thought, is itself problematical in that our individual identity is a product of both embodied cognition and our cultural background and, therefore, our intuition, our ‘heart’, is often inclined to confirm beliefs we already hold or, at least, influence the direction in which those beliefs change if we find them becoming too dissonant.

        I’m not sure that I’m necessarily “indifferent” to the existence or otherwise of the Ultimate Creator that Christianity recognises but, rather, I simply don’t know the answer. My intuition tells me that there is no such thing but, then, it would because it’s based on a non-theist culture. My “investment in the issue” is the product of a life-long fascination with other people’s ideas and beliefs which retirement and the internet now reveal to me to be even more varied and interesting than I was previously aware.

      • February 8, 2019 at 10:33 am

        Thanks for your reply, Chris.

        The non-rational isn’t irrational but rather generally viewed as immediate and intuitive in nature. I think the non-rational plays a greater role in the development of our beliefs than you do, but that topic is too big and complicated to address here.

        Got to get back to other work now.

        Best regards.

        Ken Samples

    • March 21, 2019 at 7:34 am

      The purpose of my remark was to turn the table, so to speak. We all have a worldview. The question we should each ask ourselves is: Is my worldview–my basic beliefs about reality and life–correct. Are my presuppositions based on an “open mind” examination of the evidence? Skeptics re God’s existence demand hard evidence. Do those skeptics demand hard evidence for say, Darwinism, which has never been observed and is now re by many honest scientists as incorrect? Of course, there is no evidence for an atheist’s belief for God’s non-existence–you can’t prove a negative. Most of us, I suspect, believe what we want to believe, or worse, what our friends believe, or whatever justifies our lifestyles. I am merely asking why you believe what you do? Unbelief in another worldview is a poor reason.

      • Chris Morris
        March 23, 2019 at 6:00 am

        lenedjohnjr, I agree with you that we all have some sort of worldview and, presumably, it’s useful to invest some time and effort in analysing it. As you say, we tend to believe what we want to believe so changing our opinion about things that are foundational to our identity is hard work. I can’t speak for other sceptics, but rather than demanding ‘hard evidence’ I’m generally content to accept ‘reasonable evidence’ of something, whether it be concerning God’s existence or evolution, in order for it to take its place in the framework of my worldview.

        As a sceptical person, of course, I cannot demand that anyone else believes the same things that I believe (or even seriously considers them) because there is a always the possibility that I’m wrong. However, as you ask why I believe what I do, I would say that over the course of many years my worldview has developed in accord with my experience of the world and whatever evidence (scientific or otherwise) has prompted me to re-examine my views. For example, in response to your view that “Darwinism, which has never been observed and is now re by many honest scientists as incorrect?”, I would say that the evidence I’ve looked at seems to me to be reasonably convincing that evolution works and that there is a spectrum of views in the scientific community (including the scientists who write for Reasons to Believe here) about why it works.

  8. Gary Simmons
    February 11, 2019 at 6:33 am

    Kenneth, I think many of the confusions between scientific thinkers and philosophical thinkers is explained by Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Matthew’s confusion about physical states affecting logic is a typical scientific confusion. As a philosopher, you are well versed in Formal Operational (purely abstract) thought. Scientists frequently link the abstract (logic in Matthew’s case) with a concrete object (early physical conditions of the universe) and believe that is the only possible world. In order for him to appreciate what you are telling him he must make the developmental movement from Concrete Operational thinking to Formal Operational thinking. Otherwise his confusion will continue.

    This is one of the reasons I thought it was Divine inspiration that Hugh decided to include a philosopher among the staff at Reasons to Believe. You have added another dimension of thinking and understanding to the scholarship team.

    • February 11, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Appreciate your comments very much, Gary.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: