JewelE19 asked about the arguments for God. John Allen Paulos, in irreligion, deals with twelve. He divides them into “Four Classical Arguments,” “Four Subjective Arguments,” and “Four Psycho-Mathematical Arguments.” The classical arguments include the idea that the universe had to start somewhere, the argument that the universe is so cool that it must have been intentionally designed, the argument that the universe is so absolutely perfect for us humans that it must have been planned for us, and the ontological argument, which holds that we wouldn’t have the idea of God if He didn’t exist.
I’ve never been impressed by the ontological argument, though I guess it was pretty big in the 17th century. The Goldilocks argument, that the universe is so perfect for us that it must be intentional, has a logical flaw: it’s like hitting billiard balls at random and getting something in a pocket, and then saying, “I meant to do that.” You just can’t argue from what has happened that there was no other way it could have happened.
As it happens, I am going to be reading about the beginning of the universe with my Sunday School class this morning. Paulos and I are in agreement on a point here: something seriously unusual took place at the formation of the universe. Paulos says something unusual took place, and it needn’t have been God. If God is presumed to have been around in the beginning without any prior cause, says Paulos, then the world could also be supposed to have been in existence all by itself without any prior cause in the beginning, and that is true. Some versions of quantum cosmology, he points out, “explicitly rule out a first cause [or] imply that the Big Bang and the birth of universes are recurring phenomena.”
Sure thing. There is no more evidence for those cosmologies than for the one that starts, “In the beginning. God created the heavens and the earth.” Believing that there is no first cause, or that new infant universes begin as bubbles from the surface of old universes (Paulos doesn’t mention that one, but I like it) requires faith, just as believing that God created the world requires faith. Paulos, being a mathematician, can’t even claim that he has recently discovered proof of the Trousers of Time in his laboratory; in fact, he remains agnostic. His point is simply that, while the beginning of the universe may be a bit surprising, that doesn’t mean that God did it.
I am not arguing with anybody’s faith. I would like the evangelical atheists who present this argument to recognize that it isn’t an argument against the existence of God. Anyone who is looking for the beginning has to accept that something different from what we can observe is or was going on. There is not, at the moment, sufficient evidence on the subject for anyone to choose one Big Idea over another on the basis of evidence. You can pick God, or multiple universes, or you can conclude that there isn’t enough evidence to answer that question.
You really can’t claim that people who accept the Big Idea of recurring universes are rational and people who accept the Big Idea of God are superstitious yahoos. Especially if you don’t know any more about quantum physics than Paulos and I do.
I do find the argument that the universe is super cool fairly convincing. Paulos actually dismisses this one by including it int he claim that the universe is so complex that it couldn’t have come about without planning — the famed “blind watchmaker” argument. Paulos points to the existence of economic systems, which he imagines creationists would agree had come into being all by themselves. “These people accept the natural complexity of the market without a qualm,” he says, yet find the complexity of living things evidence of a Creator. He’s wrong there, by the way. Those people believe that God created economic markets, too. “Creator God, still creating…” you know.
I don’t think it is the case that eyes prove God’s existence by their compexity. If you are willing to ignore the first causes question, then it is entirely possible for evolution to explain eyes. However, evolution — and I actually understand the theory of evolution, unlike a lot of people who talk about it [rolls eyes] — does not sufficiently explain music. Some music, maybe, but not Handel. It also doesn’t sufficiently explain the human conscience. I’ve written about these points in some detail before, so I won’t do it again. I’ll just give you a statement of faith here. To me, the surprising fact that people are creative and try to be good is explained better by the theory that God is creative and good, and gave us the desire to be these things, than by any of the other theories available.
I am not a mystical kind of person, as you probably know. I don’t believe in soy’s magical health benefits or government conspiracies or extraterrestrials, or indeed in anything for which I don’t have strong evidence. In the case of the first cause of the universe, we do not have the option of choosing the Big Idea with the strongest evidence, because we don’t have any evidence for one over another. We all have to go on faith, or be agnostics and refuse to choose any Big Idea. If a better explanation of Handel and altruism presents itself, I will be glad to hear about it. Until then, I’m going to go with Creator God as my Big Idea.
We are singing in church today the old song that goes, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.” I may be the only person singing it who finds it a cogent argument.