Many atheists seem content with naturalistic explanations for real world events. They believe that if they’ve determined the cause of an action, then they need look no further. For instance, I recall watching an interview Bill O’Reilly conducted with atheist David Silverman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BCipg71LbI), in which O’Reilly argued that nature is complex and needs an explanation that atheists cannot provide. Unfortunately, O’Reilly used as an example the action of the tides: they come in, they go out, and they never mis-communicate, was the way he put it.
O’Reilly’s statement was criticized as simplistic. Of course we “know” how the tides do this. It’s very simple: the gravitational influence of the moon is the “cause.” It’s not really a mystery, so invoking a diety to explain it sounds silly to modern, secular ears. It’s sounds little different than attributing the tides to Thor on Mt. Olympus, as Silverman suggested.
The problem with O’Reilly’s comment is that he did not take the time to explain it in more detail. He was actually using the argument (for the existence of God) from causation. That argument begins with the universal recognition that for every event, there must be a preceding cause. The tides are caused by the moon, true, but this is still the beginning of the analysis. Moving backward in time, there must be a preceding cause for all things, including the water that is being pulled, the moon that is exerting the force, and everything else in the solar system that is functioning in unison for this purpose. Moving backward along the timeline, there must exist a first event – a First Cause – before which there was nothing. What caused this first event must itself be uncaused; it must be infinite and eternal. Otherwise, it too would require an earlier cause.
The only alternative to this conclusion is that there was no beginning, that this universe is itself infinite. This may have had more appeal in the past, before scientists confirmed the beginning event known as the Big Bang. This universe is simply not infinite in age. But even without scientific evidence, it’s apparent with a little thought that had the universe really been infinite, today would never have arrived. To arrive at today from an infinite past would require the passage of infinite time, but the presence of every “tomorrow” that we experience confirms that an infinity of time has not yet been reached.
So, we live in a universe that had a cause that set it all in motion. This Cause is another label for God. What his attributes are, we cannot know from this argument. But He is there. It’s worth noting that this is not an appeal to ignorance. We are not saying that because we don’t know how something occurred, we need to invoke a deity to explain it. Instead, it is a rational conclusion flowing from stated premises.
A more concrete example might help make the case. Take for instance the internal combustion engine. To paraphrase O’Reilly: the pistons go up, the pistons go down, never a miscommunication. Like the tides, this motion is easily explained. The explosion of fuel causes expansion in the cylinder, driving the piston up, and then the piston travels back to its starting point, before the next explosion moves it up again. Mystery solved. The only problem is that this answers the wrong question. The question posed by atheism is not how “it” works, but whether someone created it and set it in motion, or whether there is instead no creator. Looking at a motor, the question is whether there is cause to believe that a mind created the intricate mechanism in which chemistry and physics combine to produce motion, or whether it just happened. The universe, and all that is it in, is like the engine. Knowing how it works doesn’t change the answer to the real question at play: how was it built? Did a mind design and construct it, or did it just happen?
Concluding that there must be a God is of course merely the first step in the journey. But for many atheists, it is a step they mistakenly refuse to take. Many stubbornly insist that this form of argument is an appeal to ignorance – a resort to a “god of the gaps.” But it is no such thing. We conclude that an Uncaused Cause must exist because reason supports it.
You don’t even need to be running on all cylinders to see where this logic must lead you.
Posted by Al Serrato