In The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis writes about a desperate king of Narnia who still believes in Aslan, the great lion and Christ figure of the story. When a group of dwarves asks him to reveal Aslan to them, he responds, “Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?”
This illustrates two fantastic points about God: one is that we can’t really provide immediate evidence to satisfy everyone of His existence; and the other is that it’s ridiculous to think we should. I have no trouble accepting both of these premises, given the depth and complexity of the issue. Changing someone’s mind on this age-old debate would likely take more than five minutes; and we should probably allow them more time than that to think it over.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a case. There are a lot of reasons to believe in God, a lot of arguments put forward with fancy names like ontological and teleological. Right now, I only want to focus on one – probably the most famous (and yet somehow still most underestimated). It’s well-known argument, for those interested in the subject, but it’s so profoundly simple that it deserves repeating. Maybe I can clear up some misunderstanding as well.
We’ve all heard some version of this: the universe couldn’t have gotten here on its own, so there must have been a Creator. And depending on what we already believe, most of us probably think it’s a very strong or a very weak argument. I agree with both sides to some extent. To a believer, it sounds reasonable enough; but it also seems too simplistic: surely there would be fewer atheists if the universe were such obvious proof of God.
One classic version of the argument is that of the watchmaker. If you find a pocketwatch in the middle of a field, you wouldn’t assume it got there on its own. You would recognize all of its intricacies and conclude (correctly) that it must have been created by someone. I like this analogy; after all, if we can’t expect a pocketwatch out of nowhere, how can we expect entire universes to crop up on their own? But ultimately, the question isn’t “How could something so complex get here on its own?” There are actually a number of replies one might have for that, even if I find them weak; I’m not going to recycle them here. No, the question to be asked is “How did anything get here at all?”
Science tells us that all matter in the universe comes from pre-existing matter. This is why we’re incapable of making anything without using the ingredients already available to us. I’m no more capable of conjuring up a grain of sand than an entire universe. To use the common phrase, “you can’t get something from nothing.” And while I’m sure most people are familiar with that thought, it’s worth digging deeper so that we don’t miss the real significance.
No matter what kind of natural explanation we give for the origin of the universe, we’re still left with the nagging question of where it all came from. Scientists say that everything began as a “singularity” that expanded into the universe we know and love. (Okay, “know and love” might be an exaggeration. We only know a tiny speck of the universe; to paraphrase Luke Skywalker, “if there’s a bright center to the universe, we might be on the planet it’s farthest from.” But I can certainly still appreciate the universe because, as someone told Rocket Raccoon, “I’m one of the idiots who lives in it.”) However it started, what got the ball rolling in the first place?
Years ago, I saw stories about scientists who were trying to replicate the Big Bang. I don’t remember how close they came, but it’s completely irrelevant to the question of God. Even if they actually managed to recreate the conditions of that very first moment in creation (or whatever you choose to call it), it would only prove that the Big Bang could’ve happened just the way we’ve been told – so long as someone was there to start the process like they did.
The Big Bang simply means that everything beganto existat some point in the very distant past. The question remains: what caused it? If it was the explosion or expansion of some “singularity” that turned into the entire universe… where did the singularity come from? Tracing the universe back to the beginning doesn’t solve that riddle. I once heard someone “refute” the Christian claim from nothingness by asserting that the universe came from pre-existing energy. But even if we accept this massive assumption as true, how do we explain the energy? Where did it come from? Energy needs a source; it doesn’t just exist on its own.
Many people today think of the Big Bang as an alternative to God, but this is neither necessary nor consistent with previous views. The scientific community once believed – or at least hypothesized, in their efforts to debunk religion – that the universe simply always existed. Personally, I find that suggestion very silly, but my opinion wouldn’t have mattered. Nevertheless, modern science has long since determined that the universe had a beginning – which the “experts” were reluctant to accept. The Big Bang theory, despite popular opinion, actually served as a massive boost for theological scholarship, not a major obstacle.
In fact, a physicist named Robert Jastrow once said, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (And for the record, I was made aware of this quote by someone else. I’m not the sort of person who reads about physicists in his spare time.)
But all I’ve done is pose the question; this doesn’t prove God. But the question is the real starting point. If we’re looking for an answer to the question of the universe, we have to look outside of it. The universe couldn’t cause itself, and that means nothing within it can lead us to the truth. When people demand scientific evidence for God, they’re basically chasing their own tail. Science is the study of the physical universe. Whatever created or started it has to be something outside of it – something different and distinct, above and beyond. Otherwise, how could it have created the thing to begin with? You don’t find a watchmaker by looking in the watch.
Some will point to a number of real-world examples to try and explain this away: children come from their parents, so why couldn’t the universe have been spawned by something else like it? And the answer, philosophically speaking, is that it could… but then you have to explain where that comes from, and the problem goes on forever without really explaining anything. We just end up adding rungs to the ladder so that we never reach the top. Or, to put it another way, “it’s turtles all the way down.” (And not the teenage mutant kind.)
Naturally, this leads to the hilariously misguided follow-up question: if God created the universe, what created God? But this completely misses the point. The idea of a Prime Mover (as Aristotle called it) to begin the process might sound like a religious excuse – a God of the gaps – but it’s not about religion. It’s about recognizing that the original cause of something must be distinct from the thing it causes. Whatever created space and time and matter must be something other than space and time and matter.
We have to accept that something else – something that transcends the universe and exists on a different plane of reality – must have brought everything into being and is therefore impossible to find according to the rules of science. Even if science allows us to discover the beginning of the physical universe, there’s nothing else it can do. It can’t go back further than the beginning; science is only good for studying natural things, and whatever crated the natural universe could not have been natural. It must have been something other than natural, greater than natural – one might say supernatural.
What does all of this mean? It means we can’t dismiss the idea of a Prime Mover just because it can’t be scientifically understood. “What created God?” is a nonsense question because it assumes that the power behind the natural universe is bound by the same laws and logic of the very thing He created. This entire argument – that you can’t get something from nothing – is based on what we know of the physical universe; we would be lucky to understand God at all unless He chose to be understood.
Of course, atheists (and even agnostics) will fight this tooth and nail. They give lectures and speeches far more sophisticated than mine – and none of that matters, because it’s all bunk. Everything they say avoids the childishly obvious question: where did the universe come from? The obvious answer makes them uncomfortable, so they shroud their arguments in gobbledygook to hide the fact. They abandon their professed belief in science to entertain theories of infinite universes, self-creating matter, or cosmic merry-go-grounds – imaginary, unscientific nonsense for which we have less than zero evidence – to avoid a conclusion they don’t like.
The concept of God, on the other hand, is neither imaginary nor unscientific. It’s deductive reasoning. But it requires intellectual honesty to admit the idea as the most reasonable explanation for the origins of the universe. The fact that so many atheists are unwilling to at least consider the possibility indicates something other than a search for truth.
Notice, none of this necessarily supports one religion over another. All it affirms is the existence of a higher power. But there’s plenty more to be said – based on nothing more than the universe around us – about this Prime Mover. It would have to be intelligent and powerful beyond our wildest dreams if it were responsible for creating the universe; and it would have to be the arbiter of truth and justice in the universe, for how else could its creatures have any concept of such on their own? At this point, the idea of a Creator starts to sound an awful lot like God. You can call it whatever you want, but if your “Flying Spaghetti Monster” possesses all the attributes of a deity, it’s just another name for God.
In the book of Romans (1:19-20), the Apostle Paul addresses the sins of humanity by acknowledging this very same argument for God’s existence: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” If even the ancients could arrive at this conclusion – in agreement with most of mankind throughout history – what excuse is there now, with all we know of the universe? Just because we can’t all satisfy ourselves with evidence for God doesn’t mean He isn’t real. News flash, folks: the Creator of the universe is probably out of our league.
In the 14th (and 53rd) Psalm, David wrote that “the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” Let’s not make their mistake, even if we choose to celebrate them once a year.
Happy April Fool’s Day!