Friday, February 10, 2017

Does God exist?

How do I know if God exists?  Can anyone know if God exists?  An agnostic (a, not + gnosis, knowledge) believes that God may exist, but humans are incapable of knowing whether there is a god.  Even if there is a God, humans are not able to know anything of that God for certain.  An atheist (a, without + theos, god), on the other hand, outright denies there is a God.  Since no one alive today has seen God - setting aside for the moment those who think they are God - it is necessary to indirectly determine His existence.  A few of the best known arguments for God’s existence are the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, and the moral argument.  One lesser known, the argument from desire, is rather elegant and is also discussed here.  There are others which will be covered on other pages.  It is unlikely that any one argument will be completely convincing; however, the cumulative case becomes very compelling. 

I. The Teleological Argument (or the Argument from Design)

Someone walking through a field who sees a bird may believe it evolved through natural processes.  But, if that same person finds a wristwatch lying in the grass, he would immediately know an intelligent being purposely made the watch, even though the watch is vastly less complex than the bird.  The teleological (from telos, end or result) argument, also known as the argument from design, states that because the universe displays design, there must be a designer.  When we look at a painting, even a simple one, we know someone created that painting.  The watch example was made famous by William Paley (1743-1805), who expounded upon this example in his book Natural Theology.  Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) also used the teleological argument as one of five ways he demonstrated God’s existence. 

Scientific advances in very recent history indicate that even simple, single-cellular organisms are incredibly complex, raising serious challenges to undirected origins of life and naturalistic, Darwinian evolution.  Darwin’s ideas were very ingenious, but at the time he wrote, microscopes were not advanced enough to see the inner workings of a living cell.  Ernst Haeckel, a great admirer of Darwin and popularizer of his theory, believed that a cell was a “simple little lump of albuminous combination of carbon”.[i]  He couldn’t have been more wrong.  The probability of even one protein forming by chance is astronomical, to say nothing of all the other necessary components of a single cell.  In fact, this one aspect of cellular development has been addressed by chemists Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen.[ii]  They determined that, in the absence of any chemical competition with non-amino acids and nonbiologically relevant amino acids – in other words, an ideal situation – the probability of aligning the correct amino acid in a specific position in a protein molecule is 1.25%.  Calculating from there the probability of correctly aligning at least one hundred amino acids necessary to form even one simple protein, is roughly one chance in 10191.  This does not even address the numerous other requirements for the formation of even one single cell, such as:  nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), homochirality of amino acids, cellular membrane, transport mechanisms, lipids, and so on.  Scientific evidence is solidly in the court of intelligent design, leaving the burden of proof in the court of those who advocate undirected, naturalistic origins.   

The teleological argument is not only greatly bolstered by technological developments on the microscopic level, but also on the astronomic scale.  Carl Sagan believed that Earth is an ordinary planet circling an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy.  He proposed the idea that if there is life on Earth, then many other planets probably also have life.  Is that true?  People have for years worked under the auspices of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Program to find signs of life on other planets.  However, when we begin to examine the narrow parameters necessary for life to exist, suddenly it is evident that this planet is anything but an ordinary pale blue dot in the vast universe.  Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, has listed 154 parameters necessary for life as we know it to exist on a planet.[iii]  The list is obviously much too lengthy to quote here, but suffice to say, Earth is significantly more unique that previously thought.  To give one example, too few gamma-ray burst events in the galaxy would lead to insufficient production of copper, scandium, titanium, and zinc for complex life to exist.  Too many gamma-ray bursts would result in too many mass extinction events on earth. 

Astronomical parameters, combined with microscopic biological observations, present very strong arguments for intentional design and hence an intelligent designer.  As tourists recognize the purposeful design in the painting of the Sistine Chapel, study of the universe, and the exponentially higher level of design, leads one to agree with Paul:  “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).

II. The Cosmological Argument

Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.  The universe has a beginning; therefore, the universe must have been caused by something (or someone).  Something cannot cause itself to come into existence.  For example, I could not have caused my own birth (time traveling in science fiction films notwithstanding).  The law of causality states that every finite thing was caused by something else.  Working backwards in time from each effect to its cause, we eventually arrive at a first effect.  What was the first cause?  Most would probably agree to call that first effect the Big Bang.  The logical question then is what caused the first event?  Because the universe adheres to certain physical laws, such as cause and effect, something outside of the natural, physical universe must have been the cause.  Because matter and time began at some point in the past, something different from physical matter and time must have been the cause, such as an eternal, non-physical creator. 

Red Shift
A note must be made here that, for those of us in the 21st century, the big bang theory appears to be very reasonable and well established.  However, this theory has only become generally accepted in recent history.  Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) believed the universe was eternal and, even as recently as the 1920s, most astronomers also believed the universe had always existed.  Two discoveries made in the early part of the 20th century provide scientific evidence for a beginning to the universe, contradicting the notion of an eternal universe.  When Albert Einstein published his equations of general relativity, it was realized that they predicted an expanding universe.  Einstein, by his own account was “irritated” by the notion of an expanding universe and devised a number called the “cosmological constant”, a fudge factor, in an attempt to disprove the idea of an exploding universe.  Later Einstein admitted this was a mistake and called his cosmological constant the biggest mistake of his life.[iv]  A Belgian mathematician Georges Lemaitre proposed the idea that the universe was expanding like a burst of fireworks in a 1927 journal article.  Credit should also be given to Alexander Friedman who, in 1922, proposed the notion of an expanding universe.  Edwin Hubble published a paper in 1929 explaining that distant galaxies are receding from us.  He determined this by noticing a consistent red shift in the light spectra.  This phenomenon is like the Doppler effect with sound, in which a train moving quickly toward you has a higher pitch (shorter wavelengths) than a train traveling quickly away from you (longer wavelengths).  The same thing happens with light and fast-moving objects, with the light spectra from those moving away from the observer shifting toward the red end of the spectrum.  Galactic redshift does suggest expanding space-time, indicating that matter in the universe is moving apart very quickly, as if there was a gigantic explosion long ago.  This was the first solid evidence indicating the universe may have not always existed, but had a beginning at some finite point in the past.

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
A second key piece of evidence for a beginning to the universe appeared in a brief paper by Soviet astrophysicists in 1964.  It was proposed that, if the universe had a beginning with a massive explosion, there should be detectable cosmic background radiation still evident even this many millennia later.  Working at Bell Labs in 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were experimenting with communication satellites. To measure these faint radio waves, they had to eliminate all recognizable interference from their receiver.  When Penzias and Wilson reduced their data they found a low, steady, mysterious noise that persisted in the receiver. This residual noise was much more intense than they had expected, evenly spread over the sky, and present day and night.  After thoroughly checking their equipment, removing some pigeons nesting in the antenna and cleaning out the accumulated droppings, the noise remained. Both concluded that this noise was coming from outside our own galaxy.  At that same time, astrophysicists at Princeton University were preparing to search for microwave radiation in this region of the spectrum.  They reasoned that the Big Bang must have scattered not only the matter that condensed into galaxies but also must have released a tremendous blast of radiation that should still be detectable.  Penzias and Wilson at Bell Labs began to realize the significance of their discovery. The characteristics of the radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson fit exactly the radiation predicted by researchers at Princeton University.  They met and interpreted this radiation as a signature of the Big Bang.  In 1978, Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their joint discovery.

So what?  Everyone knows the universe began with a big bang, right?  The point is that many scientists and philosophers for thousands of years believed that the universe was eternal.  Only recently has evidence – such as the red shift and the cosmic background radiation – shown that the universe had a beginning.  This fact significantly supports what the Bible has stated for 3,400 years:  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Scientific evidence and philosophy support the cosmological argument for God’s existence. 

[i] Farley, J., The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin, (Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 73.
[ii] Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin:  Reassessing Current Theories (Dallas, TX:  Lewis and Stanley), 113-166.
[iii] Hugh Ross, Fine Tuning for Life on Earth, at:, 2004.
[iv] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing, 2007), 117.

No comments: