8
Jan

Why Recognizing God’s Existence Makes Sense

180px-TaskForce_OneChristians assert that God created the universe. His power and intelligence account for the exquisite fine-tuning that the universe evidences. Recognizing the existence of such a being, we contend, makes the most sense of what we perceive around us. After all, things don’t spontaneously come into being out of nothing, and highly organized and complex things require an adequate explanation. Whenever systems are created to work in unison to achieve some purpose – such as, for example, an aircraft carrier projecting power on distant oceans – we rightly conclude that intelligent beings, with access to great knowledge and construction skills, produced them.

The universe is infinitely more complex than an aircraft carrier. Scientists tell us that dozens of the laws governing its operation are so finely tuned that even an infinitesimally small change would prevent life from ever coming into being. And here on Earth, life arose in conformity with the specific instructions of the DNA molecule, which instructs proteins to assemble in such a fashion as to create systems that allow for a nearly infinite variety of life. The balance is set in such as way that life appears incredibly resilient and capable of surviving even in what appear to be harsh environments.

Atheists look at such complexity and attribute it to some form of mindless, purposeless “self assembly.” They reject recognition of a “creator being” as a throwback to superstition and primitive thinking. One skeptic put it this way:

“You are rejecting the obvious: if the order in the Universe is hard to explain, then what about the order in a Being capable of creating a Universe? You haven’t gained any explanatory power with God; you’ve simple created an even greater, perhaps infinitely greater, and unevidenced, Order.”

This rejoinder is a standard response to the theist’s belief in God. But it does not bear scrutiny. Consider the unspoken premise: the being that created must possess more “complexity” than the thing created. But why must this be so? Why is complexity a measure of ability, or capability? The human brain is a single organ made up of countless cells working in unison. It is a physical thing. The mind, by contrast, operates in the world of ideas – not as a physical entity – combining known things in novel ways to create hitherto unknown things. An aircraft carrier, for all its complexity, is the product of minds. The issue, then, is not whether the brain has more systems or subsystems than the carrier, but whether the mind is an explanation adequate to account for the effect. Are minds the kind of things that can produce complex physical things?

When we posit the existence of a transcendent, infinite being, we are moving backward in time (at least time as we perceive it) and recognizing that some intelligent power source is necessary to explain the Big Bang event. Whatever that being is, and whatever “complexity” it possesses, is completely foreign to this created order. That much we can conclude from reason and logic. Recognizing our inability to make sense of such a being is not a problem; there are some things that we, as limited beings, simply cannot know….unless that greater source chooses to tell us.

Let’s move for a moment to a more unusual example. Imagine that explorers examining the Arctic discover as the ice recedes a spaceship of unknown origin. Gaining entry, they begin to examine its constituent elements. They find metals and alloys previously unseen on earth. Eventually, they find the “on” switch and encounter a form of power generation never before seen. Written materials eventually yield their secrets when a decoder based on the universal language of math is found. From every possible angle, it is apparent that this spaceship is not of Earthly origin. It came from somewhere “out there.”

Now, let’s try applying the atheist’s response: as a committed naturalist, must he account for all that he sees on Earth from a purely naturalistic perspective? Must he, therefore, reject the most reasonable conclusion from the evidence – that the source of the ship is not from earth? Regardless of how lacking in common sense this approach may be? Or should he follow the evidence to where it leads? Some things may not be of earthly origin.

The skeptic’s challenge can be seen in a similar light: when he says that we have simply created an even greater, and unevidenced, source, to make sense of the thing we are trying to explain, he is missing the point. If in fact such a ship did exist, concluding that something extraterrestrial made it would make sense. It might motivate us to emulate the builders’ achievements, or perhaps to find a way to make contact. Or should we, like the skeptic, insist that pursuing knowledge about the builders of the ship is simply creating a “greater mystery.” After all, would not such beings be orders of magnitude more complex, and mysterious, than the ship they built?

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. But foreclosing conclusions because of such thinking is not a rational approach to problem solving. Let the evidence lead where it will. And getting to know more about the source – the shipbuilder in the example above, or the Creator/God – might yield important knowledge.

“You haven’t gained any explanatory power with God,” the skeptic concludes. But we have. Recognizing that God is there is the first step to opening ourselves to his self-revelation. Knowledge from God about why he created us, why we are here, and where we are destined – these are the most important questions anyone can seek to answer.

Posted by Al Serrato

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8 Comments

  1. zilch says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful and clearly written reply. As well reasoned as it is, I must disappoint you: I’m still an atheist. If I answer your first paragraph in detail, that should present my position pretty well. If you have questions afterwards, please ask away.

    You say: “Christians assert that God created the universe.”

    Yes. But they don’t tell us who created God, or explain how it is that God exists.

    “His power and intelligence account for the exquisite fine-tuning that the universe evidences.”

    Depends on what you mean by “account”. My criteria for an account are probably more stringent than yours. They would include being able to show why fine tuning exists in the form it does (if it does at all- still a moot point), and ideally, to enable me to make predictions. There is no prediction in the Bible of fine-tuning.

    “Recognizing the existence of such a being, we contend, makes the most sense of what we perceive around us.”

    Again, it depends on what you mean by “to make sense of something”. I don’t see how God makes sense of anything better than, or even as well as, science, for the reasons I stated above. Simply accepting the existence of energy/matter and the laws that govern it makes sense of the world we perceive around us- of course, very imperfectly, but serviceably.

    “After all, things don’t spontaneously come into being out of nothing, and highly organized and complex things require an adequate explanation.”

    Quantum physicists will tell you that things indeed do spontaneously come into existence, because of the nature of the Universe we live in. Why the Universe is that way is still a mystery, but it’s a smaller mystery than a highly organized and complex God just being here eternally. You don’t have an adequate explanation for God either.

    “Whenever systems are created to work in unison to achieve some purpose – such as, for example, an aircraft carrier projecting power on distant oceans – we rightly conclude that intelligent beings, with access to great knowledge and construction skills, produced them.”

    Yes, that’s one way high order is made. The other way is in living things. Would you consider, say, bacteria to be intelligent beings with access to great knowledge and construction skills? They have systems that work in unison to achieve a purpose: the reproduction of the bacterium, which is far more complex and far less well understood than an aircraft carrier. Of course, you could make a good case for evolution over deep time being an intelligent being of sorts, but then you would probably not be a Christian.

    As far as we can observe, highly ordered systems such as bacteria and aircraft carriers come into existence by one of two paths, or some combination thereof: either they slowly evolved from simpler precursors, utilizing energy to create more order, or they are the products of such evolved creatures. God is neither of those, and thus seems a pretty unlikely Being to exist, based on our experience. I’ll still go with admitting I don’t know why there’s anything at all rather than nothing, and not have to have recourse to magic.

    cheers from snowy vienna, zilch

    • Kevin says:

      “But they don’t tell us who created God, or explain how it is that God exists.” and “Quantum physicists will tell you that things indeed do spontaneously come into existence”……..
      Why do we have to explain how it is that God exists? If you saw footprints in the sand do you have to explain what kind of shoes they were that made the prints, or who it is that was wearing the shoes in order to be justified in believing that the footprints are there? Of course not. Christians believe in a transcendent God – that is, He is free of, or not bounded by, time, space, matter, energy, etc. The argument is that everything in the universe began to exist at one point, and anything that begins to exist has a cause, and that cause is God. God did not begin to exist, he exists eternally, or in other words, he exists causally prior to the universe (as opposed to a temporally prior existence).
      So, God created the universe out of nothing. Physics does not tell us that things come into existence out of nothing. Physics tells us things come into existence out of space. When we say that God created out of nothing, we mean literally nothing – no space, air, etc. The “nothing” physics refers to in the sense you are speaking of is actually something – it’s air, or space. So the ultimate question is will you choose to believe that God made something from nothing, or that nothing made something from nothing?

      “My criteria for an account are probably more stringent than yours. They would include being able to show why fine tuning exists in the form it does”
      I am confused why you would require knowing why something is fine-tuned. It is either by chance, design, or physical necessity. Clearly, the universe doesn’t necessarily have to be fine-tuned for life to exist on Earth. It could just as easily not be…actually extremely more likely that it wouldn’t be if God doesn’t exist. So that leaves us with either chance or design. Those are the two choices left, the only options we have. I’m guessing you think it’s by chance. Well, you must I guess. But if you think God doesn’t exist then you believe that the universe is fine-tuned for life by chance. If God exists then it is quite obvious why the universe is fine-tuned. Do you agree?

      I wrote this relatively quickly, so feel free to correct any misconceptions I have or if I put any words in your mouth. Enjoy the day!

      • zilch says:

        Kevin- you ask: “Why do we have to explain how it is that God exists?”

        Fine, you don’t have to explain how it is that God exists. Then I don’t have to explain how it is that the Universe exists. What I don’t explain is infinitely simpler that what you don’t explain, and covers the facts better.

        “So the ultimate question is will you choose to believe that God made something from nothing, or that nothing made something from nothing?”

        Those are a couple of possible ultimate questions, but they aren’t exhaustive. You can also choose to believe that the Universe existed forever. There are probably other possibilities we can’t conceive of.

        As far as fine tuning goes- my astrophysicist friend John thinks fine tuning might be a consequence of rules we don’t yet understand. In any case, accepting that we are just incredibly lucky the Universe is fine tuned, or that perhaps there are many Universes and we’re (not surprisingly) in the one that’s fine tuned, is still simpler and thus preferable to believing in a God complex and powerful enough to create a Universe.

        And as far as God’s footprints go- don’t see any. Sure, there’s lots of order in the world, but a God creating that order must be many times more orderly, if anything we have learned about the world is true, and thus any explanation invoking God better have some pretty good evidence for it. I don’t see any- just a lot of evidence that people make up gods and god stories all the time, and that these god stories are strongly ordered along geographical lines, almost as though they were culturally transmitted myths and not truths. But that’s just my atheistic perspective.

        As I’ve said, I don’t really care what people believe, as long as they behave nicely. Go ahead and believe in God if that helps you- more power to you.

        Drop me a line if you’re ever in Vienna, or in the SF Bay Area most summers, and lunch is on me.

        cheers from wintry Austria, zilch

  2. al says:

    Zilch,

    I agree that people should behave nicely, but what we’re getting at here is whether certain things are true, not simply helpful. When you say you don’t see any “footprints,” I hope you are simply misspeaking. Clearly, there is evidence of a creator-being, evidence which you – it seems – have chosen to view as inconclusive, or pointing in another direction. The Christian view is that the alternative inferences – an infinite universe, creation from nothing – are essentially irrational; they require that we ignore all the rules of nature as we understand them. Holding to them in the face of a better alternative is also irrational.
    The other “problem” you raise also strikes me as irrational: that God must be still more ordered than creation. I have no reason to believe that this is true, unless God is himself part of nature and subject to its rules. Where reason leads, then, is that the creator being must be transcendent to this created order, for his existence as an infinite/eternal being to make sense. Insisting that God must be subject to the rules of a universe he created is an assertion which you have yet to support. What God must be is incredibility powerful and intelligent.

  3. zilch says:

    al, you say: “I agree that people should behave nicely, but what we’re getting at here is whether certain things are true, not simply helpful.”

    Agreed. There are two common definitions of truth, and they are often confused: a true picture of the world, and what’s right and wrong. Theists typically draw the line between is and ought the same as the line between the world and God: the natural world is only “is” and can supply no “oughts”- only a supernatural power could do that. Atheists typically draw the line somewhere between the real world and reason: the natural world supplies many “oughts”, in combination with experience about what works, such as “we ought to relieve hunger because we feel it ourselves, and we want society to work, and it can’t work well if there’s hunger”.

    Truths come in a variety of flavors: the hardedged sharpcutting truths of mathematics, the apparently crystalline but imperfectly mapped and understood truths of physics, the dauntingly complex but still useable and educational truths of biology, the navigating with three captains, sea serpents on the map, and a broken rudder truths of human societies.

    These societal truths, whether in the form of religion, mores, secular laws, or whatever, are not truths in the sense of being accurate descriptions of the world: they are “simply helpful” truths, and they are always irrational in some sense: either by way of believing in a supernatural being behind them, or in holding them as fuzzy ideals not reducible to first principles. But if we want to live in societies, whether we’re religious or not, we need these simply helpful truths.

    “When you say you don’t see any “footprints,” I hope you are simply misspeaking. Clearly, there is evidence of a creator-being, evidence which you – it seems – have chosen to view as inconclusive, or pointing in another direction. The Christian view is that the alternative inferences – an infinite universe, creation from nothing – are essentially irrational; they require that we ignore all the rules of nature as we understand them. Holding to them in the face of a better alternative is also irrational.”

    Any account of the beginning of the Universe, if “beginning” is even applicable, is essentially irrational in a sense, because we must admit at some point we don’t understand how it could be. The existence of a supernatural infinitely powerful and intelligent Being from nothing, or eternally, also requires us to ignore all the rules of nature as we understand them. You do this again here:

    “The other “problem” you raise also strikes me as irrational: that God must be still more ordered than creation. I have no reason to believe that this is true, unless God is himself part of nature and subject to its rules.”

    This renders your appeal to not ignore all the rules of nature as we understand them. In our experience, reason leads us to believe that any Being capable of creating great order must possess even more order. You might as well admit that the rules of nature need not apply to what we don’t understand. Again, I admit I don’t know the source of the order we perceive in our Universe: the laws of nature, but I don’t see how believing in a God explains anything the laws of nature don’t (not that we understand everything by a long shot, of course), and it’s infinitely simpler.

    “Where reason leads, then, is that the creator being must be transcendent to this created order, for his existence as an infinite/eternal being to make sense. Insisting that God must be subject to the rules of a universe he created is an assertion which you have yet to support. What God must be is incredibility powerful and intelligent.”

    I’d put it a bit differently: where reason leads is to accepting that the order in the Universe is not explained- perhaps not explainable- but that the order, while very complex, is not infinitely complex, although probably way beyond our capacity to understand it, and that the Universe, while incomprehensively vast and old, is not infinitely vast or old (maybe…). Again, this explains the world, and doesn’t explain the world, as well or better, and infinitely more simply, than the God hypothesis.

    cheers from sunny vienna, zilch

  4. al says:

    I think we are at an impasse again, probably because we are not defining what we mean by “order.” “Order” does not create anything. It is not because human beings possess “great order” that they can produce things of lesser order. It is because humans beings possess intelligence and power that they can arrange things in such a fashion that they operate together as a system to achieve some end. That is what I mean by “order.” In the natural world, we may observe that complexity is hierarchical, as you suggest. But this does not make it causative. Moreover, God is not part of nature. To make sense of order here in this nature, Christians conclude that the source of this order need not be either part of this creation (which would be illogical, as he could not create himself) nor complex, in the way that physical things are complex. Instead, we conclude he must be intelligent and powerful, because these are the things that produce ordered results.

  5. Brad says:

    Interesting article, and I completely agree. Nevertheless, the same old stubborn arguments. Sounds like an discussion I read about recently pertaining to Lawerence Krauss, “When nothing is not nothing”. Materialists are bound and determined to make the universe appear from a nothing that is not really nothing. As soon as you attempt posit that has this or that quality which could then explode into the big bang, you are talking about *something*. And where did that something come from?
    Well, since most scientists believe in a big bang, there has to be a logical beginning, and we cannot just infinitely regress to previous causes – there must be an initial cause, and that cause can not be material; the only explanation is that the initial cause is spirit.
    /Brad
    http://www.evidencetoconsider.com

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