Argument Analysis – Does the Big Bang Require a Divine Creator?

Introduction

Last week I was an adult leader for the First Baptist Alexandria youth choir serving in Chicago. The choir sang, danced and acted at Uptown Baptist Church (UBC), Golf Road Baptist Church, the Pacific Garden Mission (PGM), and other places. When not performing, the group led sports camps and backyard Bible clubs. At UBC we also prepared and served the Monday evening meal for the homeless, refinished tables and pews, remodeled a bath room, taped and mudded drywall, painted, and did a host of other construction projects. At PGM we made beds, cleaned showers, served meals, stuffed envelopes, and typed scripts for their “Unshackled” radio drama series. Every evening the group did devotions, and sometimes we went sightseeing. It was a tremendous time of fun and ministry.

Occasionally we had a little downtime and one of my favorite things to do was talk to the kids. Sometimes we chatted about their future, their relationships, and their faith, but other times it was about intellectual and moral issues such as evolution and freedom. The later discussions became our Socratic Club meetings.

The Socratic Club Discussion

While reading Fox News I happened across the following article and it became the topic of that evening’s Socratic Club. We read the article and then analyzed it, searching for truth and falsehood contained therein.

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/06/25/big-bang-didnt-need-god-to-start-universe-researchers-say/

FoxNews article

Our universe could have popped into existence 13.7 billion years ago without any divine help whatsoever, researchers say.

Socratic Club commentary

This line set the stage for the remainder of the article, with the word “popped” suggesting an unpredictable, random event.

FoxNews article

That may run counter to our instincts, which recoil at the thought of something coming from nothing. But we shouldn’t necessarily trust our instincts, for they were honed to help us survive on the African savannah 150,000 years ago, not understand the inner workings of the universe.

Socratic Club commentary

The first concept in this portion of the article is “something coming from nothing.” According to Webster’s dictionary, “nothing” means “nonexistence, a thing that does not exist.” In terms of the universe, nothing would mean no mass, no energy, and nothing else (including no laws of any kind, physics or otherwise). As such it is true that our instincts, defined by Merriam Webster online as “a natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity”, recoil at the thought of something coming from nothing. It is also true that none of us have ever experienced something coming from nothing. It is not only our instincts but our logic and our experience that make humans believe that something cannot come from nothing.

The second concept in this portion of the article is that our instincts developed (evolved?) to survive in our environment, much as the instincts of a lion or gazelle developed to survive in a similar environment, but that these same instincts are unreliable when it comes to understanding the universe. The underlying assumptions here are legion. Did we really evolve on the African savannah 150,000 years ago? Is our development really little different than other animals? Are “instincts” even the right part of man to be talking about here? What about man’s intellect or intuition?

FoxNews article

Instead, scientists say, we should trust the laws of physics.

“The Big Bang could’ve occurred as a result of just the laws of physics being there,” said astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley. “With the laws of physics, you can get universes.”

Socratic Club commentary

These sentences break the back of this writer’s argument. A law is something, which is by definition “not nothing”. The laws of physics exist, and therefore the thesis that the something came from nothing, that existence came from nonexistence, is proved false. The astrophysicist who was quoted may not have been wrong about his science, but that quote wasn’t about science. He may or may not have credentials in philosophy to match his credentials in science.

FoxNews article

“I don’t think you can use science to either prove or disprove the existence of God.” Filippenko said.

Socratic Club commentary

This next statement is another matter of personal opinion, not science. The legal standard of proof in criminal cases is “beyond reasonable doubt” and that in civil cases is “preponderance of evidence.” However, for the prosecutor or plaintiff to get a favorable verdict, these standards must be met in the minds of the judge or jury who is hearing the case. Similarly, science may be insufficient to prove or disprove the existence of God in Filippenko’s mind but not in the minds of others. There is tremendous evidence in science that God (sometimes called “the Divine”) exists. Some may be convinced by that alone, others may not. Mr. Filippenko is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but the savvy reader is obliged to understand it as his opinion, not scientific truth.

FoxNews article

Filippenko spoke here Saturday (June 23) at the SETICon 2 conference, during a panel discussion called “Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?”

Quantum fluctuations

In the very weird world of quantum mechanics, which describes action on a subatomic scale, random fluctuations can produce matter and energy out of nothingness. And this can lead to very big things indeed, researchers say.

Socratic Club commentary

What is randomly fluctuating? Can “nothing” produce random fluctuations? Are the researchers quoted suggesting that subatomic particles such as quarks, leptons and bosons are fluctuating? If so, how can these particles be said to be “nothing”. One suspects that “nothing” is a philosophical, not a scientific, concept. Since science can only observe that which exists and since it cannot operate outside the laws of physics (which also exist), science has never experienced “nothing” and probably never can. Hence science can say nothing about “nothing”. One can argue equally well that infinity and eternity have never been experienced by science, and are also philosophical, not scientific, concepts.

FoxNews article

“Quantum mechanical fluctuations can produce the cosmos,” said panelist Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the non-profit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. “If you would just, in this room, just twist time and space the right way, you might create an entirely new universe. It’s not clear you could get into that universe, but you would create it.”

Socratic Club commentary

It seems that this paragraph suggests that twisting time and space in one universe can produce another universe. That may be true, but where did the first universe come from? And the one before that? And the one before that? Claiming that one universe caused the next necessarily leads to an infinite regress of causes. There are only two ways out of this conundrum: either some universe has existed forever or there was a first cause which has existed forever, or more accurately has eternal existence outside of spacetime, since spacetime is rightly regarded as part of the universe.

FoxNews article

“So it could be that this universe is merely the science fair project of a kid in another universe,” Shostak added. “I don’t know how that affects your theological leanings, but it is something to consider.”

Filippenko stressed that such statements are not attacks on the existence of God. Saying the Big Bang — a massive expansion 13.7 billion years ago that blew space up like a gigantic balloon — could have occurred without God is a far cry from saying that God doesn’t exist, he said.

“I don’t think you can use science to either prove or disprove the existence of God,” Filippenko said.

Socratic Club commentary

Each individual weighs the available evidence and our pertinent experience to decide on everything he or she believes and does. Imagine a man who walks into a room and looks for a place to sit down. Seeing a chair, he rarely stops to carefully analyze the chair, using objective criteria to judge its strengths, comfort, location, and other characteristics to decide to whether sit down in it or not. Usually he just sits down. In so doing he exhibits a willingness to be easily convinced that the chair is a good one and that he should act on that information by sitting down.

Now imagine a man who is deciding what house to buy. He looks at dozens of houses, carefully and objectively (one hopes) evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each home, including the location and price. He considers how the house will serve his needs and those of his wife and children. Eventually he will make a decision and buy a house, acting on his decision.

In each case the man uses a standard of evidence, conscious, unconscious, or mostly likely both, to make his decision and act. Larger decisions often require more information. Emotions play a big role; someone who has an especially bad experience with a type of chair will probably avoid that type of chair regardless of subsequent information. The same can be said for houses.

The decision to believe in the existence or non-existence of God is similar. Sometimes bad experiences with religion or religious adherents discourage people from objectively evaluating the evidence for God. Depending upon how important we think the decision is we may decide based on little objective information or not. Nonetheless, science provides sufficient evidence to convince some that God exists and insufficient evidence to prove that to others.

FoxNews article

The origin of the laws of physics

If we’re after the ultimate origin of everything, however, invoking the laws of physics doesn’t quite do the trick. It may get us one step closer, but it doesn’t take us all the way, Filippenko said.

“The question, then, is, ‘Why are there laws of physics?'” he said. “And you could say, ‘Well, that required a divine creator, who created these laws of physics and the spark that led from the laws of physics to these universes, maybe more than one.'”
But that answer just continues to kick the can down the road, because you still need to explain where the divine creator came from. The process leads to a never-ending chain that always leaves you short of the ultimate answer, Filippenko said.

Socratic Club commentary

We commend the author for noting that the laws of physics themselves need to be explained. However, it is not true that saying that a divine creator caused them requires a cause for the divine creator. The Christian God, Himself existing eternally and outside of space and time, is a sufficient (and Christians would say necessary) first cause for the laws of physics and the universe.

FoxNews article

The origin of the laws of physics remains a mystery for now, he added, one that we may never be able to solve.

“The ‘divine spark’ was whatever produced the laws of physics,” Filippenko said. “And I don’t know what produced that divine spark. So let’s just leave it at the laws of physics.”

Conclusion

The youth and I had a lively discussion on this article, considering the ideas above and comparing and contrasting them with things they had been told in school. As we talked, more and more kids joined the group, their minds eager for exercise. One of our adult leaders interrupted and said that just at that moment there was a beautiful sunset behind the building. We got up to enjoy it. That led to the next question, is the beauty and grandeur that we enjoyed due to “random fluctuations of nothingness” or it is due to the providence and power of a loving, eternal God? We will continue our Socratic Club even beyond the mission trip, learning to think more deeply and more often about the important questions in our world.

One thought on “Argument Analysis – Does the Big Bang Require a Divine Creator?

  1. Dr. Harris,

    There are a couple of interesting points here. None more poignant than the definition of “nothing”. It is something the current scientific community is currently studying and is a subject that has even made it as an episode in the Science Channel’s popular series called “Through the Worm Hole”.

    The fact that nothing new is being created is also incontrovertible (see the law of the conservation of mass and energy) which is perfectly in line with the Genesis account (six days of creation and on the seventh day He rested, or ceased to create)

    When it comes to the Big Bang, I recall a prominent Astrophysist pointing out that when people ask “when” the Big Bang happened or “where” the Big Bang occurred, they are asking a question without answer, because before the Big Bang, there was no “when” and there was no “where”.

    It was pointed out by John MacArthur that a prominent evolutionist, Herbert Spencer, who coined the concept of “survival of the fittest”, unwittingly stated that “Everything in the universe can be deposited in one of these categories…time, force, action, space and matter.” Those five things which he defined in that order are all in Genesis 1, “In the beginning…that’s time…God…that’s force…created…that’s action…the heavens…that’s space…and the earth…that’s matter.” – Tony R.

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