The Evidence of Cosmology:
Beginning with a Bang.
S ET ASIDE THE MANY COMPETING EXPLANATIONS OF THE BIG BANG; SOMETHING MADE AN ENTIRE COSMOS OUT OF NOTHING. . It is this realization that something transcendent started it all — which has hard-science types. . . using terms like ‘miracle.’
Journalist Gregg Easterbrook
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P ERHAPS THE BEST ARGUMENT...., THAT THE BIG BANG SUPPORTS THEISM IS THE OBVIOUS UNEASE WITH WHICH IT IS GREETED BY SOME (MOST) ATHEIST PHYSICISTS.
At, times this has led to scientific ideas . . being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his or her theory.
Astrophysicist C. I . Isham
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MY EYES SCANNED THE MAGAZINES AT THE NEWSSTAND NEAR MY HOME. A beautiful woman graced Glamour. Sleek, high-perfor-mance cars streaked across the front of Motor Trend. And there on the cover of Discover magazine, sitting by itself, unadorned, floating in a sea of pure white background, was a simple red sphere. It was smaller than a tennis ball, tinier than a Titleist---- just three quarters of an inch in diameter, not too much bigger than a average marble.
As staggering as it seemed, it represented the actual size of the entire universe when it was just an infinitesimal fraction of one second old. Cried out the headline: Where Did Everything Come From? Thousands of years ago, the Hebrews believed they had the answer: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” opens the Bible. Everything began, they claimed, with the primordial fiat lux----the voice of God commanding light into existence. But is that a simplistic superstition or a divinely inspired insight? What do the cosmologists scientists who devote their lives to studying the origin of the universe-----have to say about the issue?
IT SEEMED TO ME THAT THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING------ WAS A GOOD PLACE TO START MY INVESTIGATION INTO WHETHER THE AFFIRMATIVE EVIDENCE OF SCIENCE POINTS TOWARD OR AWAY FROM A CREATOR
At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in internal Christian debates over whether the world is young or old. The “when” wasn’t as important to me as the “how” ----- how do scientific models and theories explain the origin of all?
“In the beginning there was an explosion,” explained Nobel Prize—winning physicist Steven Weinberg in his book The Firs t Three Minutes. “Not an explosion like those familiar on Earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle.” Within the tiniest split second, the temperature hit a hundred thousand million degrees Centigrade. “This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together,” he wrote.
The matter rushing apart, he explained, consisted of such elementary particles as negatively charged electrons, positively charged positrons, and neutrinos, which lack both electrical charge and mass. Interestingly, there were also photons: “The universe,” he said, “was filled with light.”
“In three minutes,” wrote Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, “ninety-eight percent of all the matter there is or wil l ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a good sandwich.”
The most intriguing question is what caused the universe to very suddenly just spring into existence. For Bryson and many others, its mere presence somehow seems to explain itself. In a chapter called “How to Build a Universe,” he vaguely speculates on exotic theories about a “false vacuum,” or “scalar field,” or “vacuum energy” some sort of “quality or thing” that may have “introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was” and thus sparked the Big Bang through which emerged the entire universe.
“It seems impossible that you could something from nothing,” he said, “but fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that it can.” Yet could there be another explanation that better accounts for the evidence. Might the mysterious causation be divine? Maybe Edward Mime was right when capped his mathematical treatise on relativity by saying: “As to the first cause of the Universe ..... . that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him.”
I knew this investigation would take me into the slippery world of theoretical physics, where it’s sometimes difficult to discern between what’s profoundly scholarly and what’s just plain silly. That was well-illustrated in late 2002 when a debate broke out over a highly speculative theory from two French mathematical physic (who happened to be twins) about what might have preceded the Big Bang.
As amazing and amusing as it seems, the scientific community couldn’t figure out whether the brothers “are really geniuses with a new view of the moment before the universe began or simply earnest scientists who are in over their heads and spouting nonsense,” said a New York Times article that featured the provocative headline: “Are They (a ) Geniuses or (b) Jokers?” While one professor found their work “intriguing,” another dismissed it as “nutty.” Yet another protested: “Scientifically, it’s clearly more or less complete nonsense, but these days that doesn’t very much distinguish it from a lot of the rest of the literature.” The journal that published a paper by the disputed scientists, who had both received their doctorates with the lowest passing grades, later repudiated it.’ Obviously, delving into the dawning of the universe way back to the first 1/10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second, which is the furthest back scientists believe they can peer is going to require a certain degree of speculation. Theories abound. Conceded one prominent cosmologist from Stanford University: “These are very close to religious questions.”’
As for myself, I wasn’t interested in unsupported conjecture or armchair musings by pipe-puffing theorists. I wanted the hard facts of mathematics, the cold data of cosmology, and only the most reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. And that’s what sent me to Georgia to visit the home of a widely published expert who has studied and debated these issues for decades.
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William Lane Craig, PhD, ThD
A S A COLLEGE STUDENT WHO GRADUATED IN 1971, BILL CRAIG had been taught that various arguments for the existence of God were weak, outdated, and ultimately ineffective. And that’s what he believed until he happened upon philosopher Stuart C. Hackett’s 1957 book, The Resurrection of Theism.
This dense tome never burned up the best-seller list anywhere! In fact, the self-effacing Hackett commented years later that “the book fell stillborn from the press because of its heavy style and technical context.” Still, it absolutely stunned Craig. Hackett is a brilliant thinker who took these theistic arguments seriously, rigorously defending them from every objection he could find or imagine . One argument in the book was that the universe must have had a beginning and, therefore, a Creator. Craig was so intrigued that he decided to use his doctoral studies under British theologian John Hick to come to a resolution in his own mind concerning the soundness of this argument. Would it really withstand scrutiny? Craig ended up writing his dissertation on the topic ---— an exercise that launched him into a lifetime of exploring cosmology.
Craig’s books include a landmark debate with atheist Quentin Smith called Theism,Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology , published by Oxford University Press; The Kalam Cosmological Argument; The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe; The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz; and Reasonable Faith, as well as contributions on this and related topics to the books Does God Exist?; Faith and Reason; A Companion to Philosophy of Religion; Questions of Time and Tense; Mere Creation; The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition; Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal ; and God and Time.
His articles on cosmological issues also have appeared in a wide range of scientific and philosophical journals, including Astrophysics and Space Science, Nature, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, The Journal of Philosophy, and International Studies in the Philosophy of Science.
A member of nine professional societies, including the American Philosophical Association, the Science and Religion Forum, the American Scientific Affiliation, and the Philosophy of Time Society, Craig currently is a research professor at the Talbot School of Theology.
I hardly needed directions to Craig’s suburban Atlanta home. In previous visits, I had interviewed him for The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, both times walking away thoroughly impressed by his scholarly depth and disarming sincerity. He has an uncanny ability to communicate complex concepts in accessible and yet technically accurate language a rare skill that I would certainly put to the test again with this challenging subject.
Craig answered the front door wearing a short-sleeved shirt, dark blue shorts, and brown moccasins. We descended a short flight of stairs to his office, where a soft, humid breeze wafted through a half-opened window. He sat behind his desk and leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. I pulled up a chair and set up my tape recorder.
We were ready to investigate what Craig himself believes to be “one of the most plausible arguments for God’s existence” -----an argument based on evidence that the universe is not eternal, but that it had a beginning in the Big Bang.
The “Kalam “ Cosmological Argument
“You’re a famous proponent of an argument for God’s existence that’s formally called th e ‘kalam cosmological argument,’ I said in opening our conversation. “Before you define what that is, though, give me some background. What does kalam really mean?”
“Let me describe the origins of the argument,” he said. “In ancient Greece, Aristotle believed that God isn’t the Creator of the universe but that he simply imbues order into it. In his view, both God and the universe are eternal. Of course, that contradicted the Hebrew notion that God created the world out of nothing. So Christians later sought to refute Aristotle. One prominent Christian philosopher on the topic was John Philoponus of Alexandria, Egypt, who lived in the fourth century. He argued that the universe had a beginning.
“When Islam took over North Africa, Muslim theologians picked up these arguments, because they also believed in creation. So while this tradition was lost to the Christian West, it began to be highly developed within Islamic medieval theology. One of the most famous Muslim proponents was al-Ghazali, who lived from 1058 to 1111.
“These arguments eventually got passed back into Latin-speaking Christendom through the mediation of Jewish thinkers, who lived side-by-side with Muslim theologians, particularly in Spain, which at that time had been conquered by the Muslims. They became hotly debated.
“Bonaventure, the Italian philosopher, supported the arguments in the thirteenth century; John Locke, the British philosopher, used them in the seventeenth century, though I don’t know if he knew of their Islamic origins; and eventually they found their way to Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, in the eighteenth century.
“Now, back to your question about the word kalam---- it reflects the argument’s Islamic origin. It’s an Arabic word that means ‘speech’ or ‘doctrine,’ but it came to characterize the whole medieval movement of Islamic theology. That was called kalam —this highly academic theology of the Middle Ages, which later just. evaporated.”
I spoke up . “Obviously, none of these early philosophers knew about any of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe,” I said. “How did they argue that the universe had a beginning?”
“They relied on philosophical and mathematical reasoning,” he said. “However, when scientists in the last century began to discover hard data about the Big Bang, this provided a more empirical foundation.”
“How do you frame the kalam argument?”
“As formulated by al-Ghazali, the argument has three simple steps: ‘Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause.’ Then you can do a conceptual analysis of what it means to be a cause of the universe, and a striking number of divine attributes can be identified.”
I decided to work my way through all three steps of al-Ghazali ‘s nearly millennium-old argument, starting with a point that surprisingly has become more and more disputed in recent years.
Step #1: Whatever Begins to Exist Has a Cause
“When I first began to defend the kalarn argument,” Craig said, “I anticipated that
its first premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause would be accepted by virtually everyone... I thought the second. premise that the universe began to exist- --would be much more controversial. But, the scientific evidence has accumulated to the extent that atheists are finding it difficult to deny that the universe had a begining. So they’ve been forced to attack the first premise instead.”
Craig shook his head. “To me, this is absolutely bewildering!” he declared, his voice rising in dismay. “It seems metaphysical1y necessary that anything which begins to exis t has to have a cause that brings it new being. Things don’t just pop into existence uncaused, out of nothing. Yet the atheist Quentin Smith concluded our book on the topic by claiming that ‘the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.’ That sounded like a good conclusion to the Gettysburg Address of Atheism! It simply amazes me that anyone can think this is the most rational view.
“Generally, people who take this possibility don’t try to prove the premise is false, because they can’t do that. Instead, they fold their arms and play the skeptic by sayings: ‘You can’t prove that’s true.’ They dial their degree of skepticism so high that nothinig could possibly convince them.”
“On the other hand,” I interjected, “they have every right to play the skeptic. After all, the burden of proof should be on you to present affirmative evidence to establish this first premise.”
Craig conceded my point with a nod. “Yes, but you shouldn’t demand unreasonable standards of proof,” he cautioned.
I asked, “What positive proof can you offer?”
“In the first place,” he replied, “this first premise is intuitively obvious once you clearly grasp the concept of absolute nothingness. You see, the idea that things can come into being uncaused out of nothing is worse than magic. At least when a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, there’s the magician and the hat!
“But in atheism, the universe just pops into being out of nothing, with absolutely no explanation at all . I think once people understand the concept of absolute nothingness, it’s simply obvious to them that if something has a beginning, that it could not have popped into being out of nothing but must have a cause that brings it into existence.”
Admittedly, that was difficult to dispute, but I needed something more substantial. “Can you offer anything harder than just intuition? What scientific evidence is there?”
“Well, we certainly have empirical evidence for the truth of this premise. This is a principle that is constantly confirmed and never falsified. We never see things coming into being uncaused out of nothing . Nobody worries that while he’s away at work, say, a horse might pop into being, uncaused, out of nothing, in his living room, and be there defiling the carpet. We don’t worry about those kinds of things, because they just never happen.
“So this is a principle that is constantly verified by science. At least, Lee, you have to admit that we have better reason to think it’s true than it’s false. If you’re presented with the principle and its denial, which way does the evidence point? Obviously, the premise is more plausible than its denial.”
Still, my research had yielded at least one substantive objection to kalam’s first premise . It emanates from the wacky world of quantum physics, where all kinds of strange, unexpected things happen at the subatomic level a level, by the way, at which the entire universe existed in its very earliest stages, when electrons, protons, and neutrinos were bursting forth in the Big Bang. Maybe our commonplace understanding of cause-and-effect doesn’t apply in this circus-mirror environment of “quantum weirdness,” a place where, as science writer Timothy Ferris writes, “the logical foundations of classical science are violated.”
IS THE UNIVERSE A FREE LUNCH?
I pulled out the copy of the Discover magazine that I had been prompted to purchase after I had seen the marble-sized universe on its cover. I flipped it open and read the following to Craig:
Quantum theory .. ... . holds that a vacuum...... is subject
to quantum uncertaintics. This means that things can
materialize out of the vacuum, although they tend to
vanish back into it quickly. . . . Theoretically, anything
a dog, a house, a planet can pop into existence by means
of this quantum quirk, which physicists call a vacuum
fluctuation. Probability, however, dictates that pairs of
subatomic particles. . . are by far the most likely creations
and that they will last extremely briefly. . . . The spon-
taneous, persistent creation of something even as large as
a molecule is profoundly unlikely. Nevertheless, in 1973
an assistant professor at Columbia University named
Edward Tryon suggested that the entire universe might
have come into existence this way...... The whole universe
may be, to use [MIT physicist Alan] Guth’s phrase, “a
free lunch “
I closed the magazine and tossed it on Craig’s desk. “Maybe Tryon was right when he said, ‘I offer the modest proposal that our universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.’ “
Craig was listening intently. “Okay, that’s a good question,” he replied. “These sub-atomic particles the article talks about are called ‘virtual particles.’ They arc theoretical entities, and it’s not even clear that they actually exist as opposed to being merely theoretical constructs.
“However, there’s a much more important point to be made about this. You see, these particles, if they are real, do not come out of nothing. The quantum vacuum is not what most people envision when they think of a vacuum --- that is, absolutely nothing. On the contrary, it’s a sea of fluctuating energy, an arena of violent activity that has a rich physical structure and can be described by physical laws. These particles are thought to originate by fluctuations of the energy in the vacuum. “So it’s not an example of something coming into being out of nothing, or something coming into being without a cause. The quantum vacuum and the energy locked up in the vacuum are the cause of these particles. And then we have to ask, well, what is the origin of the whole quantum vacuum itself? Where does it come from?”
He let that question linger before continuing. “You’ve simply pushed back the issue of creation. Now you’ve got to account for how this very active ocean of fluctuating energy came into being . Do you see what I’m saying? If quantum physical laws operate within the domain described by quantum physics, you can’t legitimately use quantum physics to explain the origin of that domain itself. You need something transcendent that’s beyond that domain in order to explain how the entire domain came into being. Suddenly, we’re back to the origins question.”
Craig’s answer satisfied mc. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any rational objection that could seriously jeopardize the initial assertion of the kalam argument. And it has been that way since the early philosophers began to use it centuries ago.
“Even the famous skeptic David Hume didn’t deny the first premise,” Craig noted. “Hume wrote in 1754, ‘I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that any -thing might arise without a cause.’ It wasn’t until the discovery of scientific confirmation for the beginning of the universe in the twentieth century that people began to say, well, maybe the universe just came from nothing.
“Nobody has defended such an absurd position historically,” said Craig, “which, again, makes me inclined to think this is just a corner they’re being backed into by the evidence for the beginning of the universe.”
STEP #2: THE UNIVERSE HAD A BEGINNING
Turning to the second premise of the kalam argument, I said to Craig, “If we were sitting here a hundred years ago, the idea that the universe began to exist at a specific point in the past would have been very controversial, wouldn’t it?”
“No question about it,” replied Craig. “The assumption ever since the ancient Greeks has been that the material world is eternal. Christians have denied this on the basis o f biblical revelation, but secular science always assumed the universe’s eternality. Christians just had to say, well, even though the universe appears static, nevertheless it did have a beginning when God created it. So the discovery in the twentieth century that the universe is not an unchanging, eternal entity was a complete shock to secular minds. It was utterly unanticipated.”
Still, I needed evidence . “How do we really know that the universe started at some point in the past? ” I asked. “What proof is there?”
“Essentially,” said Craig, “there are two pathways toward establishing it. One could be called either mathematical or philosophical, while the other is scientific. Let’s begin with the mathematical argument, which, incidentally, picks up on the thinking of Philoponus and the medieval Islamic theologians I mentioned earlier.”
The Pathway of Mathematics
The early Christian and Muslim scholars, Craig explained, used mathematical reasoning to demonstrate that it was impossible to have an infinite past. Their conclusion, therefore, was that the universe’s age must be finite that is, it must have had a beginning.
“They pointed out that absurdities would result if you were to have an actually infinite number of things,” he said. “Since an infinite past would involve an actually infinite number of events, then the past simply can’t be infinite.”
It took a moment for that statement to sink in. I have always been a reluctant student of mathematics, especially such esoteric permutations as transfinite arithmetic. Before we could venture into any mathematical complexities, I reached over and pushed the “pause” button on my tape recorder.
“Hold on a minute, Bill,” I said. “If I’m going to track with you on this, you’re going to have to give me some illustrations to clarify things.”
Craig already had some in mind. “Okay, no problem,” he replied. When I turned the recorder back on, he continued. “Let’s use an example involving marbles,” he said. “Imagine I had an infinite number of marbles in my possession, and that I wanted to give you some. In fact, suppose I wanted to give you an infinite number of marbles. One way I could do that would be to give you the entire pile of marbles . In that case I would have zero marbles left for myself.
“However, another way to do it would be to give you all of the odd numbered marbles. Then I would still have an infinity left over for myself, and you would have an infinity too. You’d have just as many as I would and, in fact, each of us would have just as many as I originally had before we divided into odd and even! Or another approach would be for me to give you all of the marbles numbered four and higher. That way, you would have an infinity of marbles, but I would have only three marbles left. “What these illustrations demonstrate is that the notion of an actual infinite number of things leads to contradictory results. In the first case in which I gave you all the marbles, infinity minus infinity is zero; in the second case in which I gave you all the odd-numbered marbks, infinity minus infinity is infinity; and in the third case in which I gave you all the marbles numbered four and greater, infinity minus infinity is three. In each case, we have subtracted the identical number from the identical number, but we have come up with nonidentical results.
“For that reason, mathematicians are forbidden from doing subtraction and division in transfinite arithmetic, because this would lead to contradictions. You see, the idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds. Working within certain rules, mathematicians can deal with infinite quantities and infinite numbers in the conceptual realm . However and here’s the point —it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world.”
I was following Craig so far. “You’re saying, then, that you couldn’t have an infinite number of events in the past.”
“Exactly, because you would run into similar paradoxes,” he said. “Substitute ‘past events’ for ‘marbles,’ and you can see the absurdities that would result. So the universe can’t have an infinite number of events in its past; it must have had a beginning.
“In fact, we can go further. Even if you could have an aciual infinite number of things, you couldn’t form such a collection by adding one member after another. That’s because no matter how many you add, you can always add one more before you get to infinity. This is sometimes called the Impossibility of Traversing the Infinite.
“But if the past really were infinite, then that would mean we have managed to traverse an infinite past to arrive at today. It would be as if someone had managed to count down all of the negative numbers and to arrive at zero at the present moment. Such a task is intuitively nonsense. For that reason as well, we can conclude there must have been a beginning to the universe.. Still, I spotted an inconsistency that threatened to unravel Craig’s argument. “If the idea of the universe being infinitely old leads to absurd conclusions, then what about the idea of God being infinitely old?” I asked. “Doesn’t your reasoning also automatically rule out the idea of an eternal deity?”
“That depends,” he said. “It rules out the concept of a God who has endured through an infinite past time. But that’s not the classic idea of God. Time and space are creations of God that began at the Big Bang. If you go back beyond the beginning of time itself, there is simply eternity. By that, I mean eternity in the sense of timelessness. God, the eternal, is timeless in his being. God did not endure through an infinite amount of time up to the moment of creation; that would be absurd. God transcends time. He’s beyond time. Once God creates the universe, he could enter time, but that’s a different topic altogether.” I quickly reviewed in my mind what Craig had said so far, concluding that it was logically coherent. “How convincing do you think the mathematical pathway is?” I asked.
“Well, I’m convinced of it!” he replied with a chuckle. “In fact, this is such a good argument that even if I were living in the nineteenth century, when there was little scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe, I would still believe that the universe is finite in the past on the basis of these arguments. For me, the scientific evidence is merely confirmation of a conclusion already arrived at on the basis of philosophical reasoning.”
The Pathway of Science
At this point, we turned the corner to begin discussing the scientific evidence for the universe being created in the Big Bang billions of years ago. “What discoveries began pointing scientists toward this model?” I asked.
“When Albert Einstein developed his; general theory of relativity in 1915 and then started applying it to the universe as a whole, he was shocked to discover it didn’t allow for a static universe. According to his equations, the universe should either be exploding or imploding. In order to make the universe static, he had to fudge his equations by putting in a factor that would hold the universe steady
“In the 1 920s, the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgium astronomer George Lemaitre were able to develop models based on Einstein’s theory. They predicted the universe was expanding. Of course, this meant that if you went backward in time, the universe would go back to a single origin before which it didn’t exist. Astronomer Fred Hoylc derisively called this the “Big Bang” and the name stuck!
“Starting in the 1920s, scientists began to find empirical evidence that supported these purely mathematical models. For instance, in 1929, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the light coming to us from distant galaxies appears to be redder than it should be, and that this is a universal feature of galaxies in all parts of the sky. Hubble explained this red shift as being due to the fact that the gaaxies are moving away from us. He concluded that the universe is literally flying apart at enormous velocities. Hubble’s astronomical observations were the first empirical confirmation of the predictions by Friedman and Lemaitre.
“Then in the 1940s, George Gamow predicted that if the Big Bang really happen then the background temperature of universe should be just a few degrees above absolute zero. He said this would be a relic from a very early stage of the universe. Sure enough, in 1965, two scientists accidentally discovered the universe’s background radiation and it was only about 3.7 degrees above absolute zero. There’s no explanation for this apart from the fact that it is a vestige of a very early and a very dense state of the universe, which was predicted by the Bang model.
“The third main piece o f evidence for the Big Bang is the origin of light elements . Heavy elements, like carbon and iron, synthesized in the interior of stars and then exploded through supernovae into space. But the very, very light elements , like deuterium and helium, cannot have been synthesized in the interior of stars, because you would need an even more powerful furnace to create them. These elements must have been forged in the furnace of the Big Bang itself at huge temperatures that were billions degrees. There’s no other explanation.
“So predictions about the Big Bang have been consistently verified by scientific data. Moreover, they have been corroborated by the failure of every attempt to falsify them by alternative models . Unquestionably, the Big Bang model has impressive scientific credentials.”
“And that,” I observed, “has surprised a lot of people.”
“It was an absolute shock!” he declared. “Up to this time; it was taken for granted that the universe as a whole was a static, eternally existing object.
I knew, however, that there have been more recent refinements of the standard Big Bang model. “Most scientists would add inflation theory to the description of how the universe got started,” I said. “How has that changed the way we look at the Big Bang?”
“Yes, inflation is a wrinkle that most theorists would add,” he acknowledged. He paused for a moment, then added: “Personally, though, I think the reasons for it are a bit suspect.”
That took me aback. “Why is that?”
“You see, the Big Bang was not a chaotic, disorderly event . Instead, it appears to have been fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a complexity and precision that literally defies human comprehension. In other words, the universe we see today and our very existence depends upon a set of highly special initial conditions. This phenomenon is strong evidence that the Big Bang was not an accident, but that it was designed. Theorists who are uncomfortable about this want to avoid the problem by trying to explain how you can get a universe like ours without these special initial conditions. Inflation is one attempt to do this.”
I had read about inflation theory in several books and articles, but I asked Craig to describe it so that we were working from a common definition.
“Inflation says that in the very, very early history of the universe, the universe underwent a period of super-rapid, or ‘inflationary,’ expansion. Then it settled down to the more leisurely expansion we, observe today. This inflationary expansion supposedly avoids the problem of the initial conditions of the universe by blowing them out beyond the range of what we can observe. So in a sense, inflation isn’t something that is motivated by the scientific evidence; it’s motivated by a desire to avoid these special initial conditions that are present in the standard model.
“And inflation itself has been plagued with problems. There are probably fifty different inflationary models. Nobody knows which, if any, is correct. There isn’t any empirical test that proves inflation has occurred. So even though most theorists accept inflation today, I’m rather suspicious of the whole thing, because it appears to be motivated by a philosophical bias.”
I stopped to analyze Craig’s comments. As I thought about inflationary theory, I didn’t understand how it would erode anyone’s confidence in the overall Big Bang model. “Since this inflationary period supposedly happened a microsecond after the Big Bang occurred,” I said, “then it really doesn’t affect the question of the origin of the universe.
“That’s right,” Craig replied. “Prior to inflation, the universe still shrinks back to a singularity.”
I put up my hand to stop him. “A what?”
“A singularity,” he repeated. “That’s the state at which the space-time curvature, along with temperature, density, and pressure, becomes infinite. It’s the beginning point. It’s the point at which the Big Bang occurred.”
I nodded to acknowledge the clarification. ‘Okay,” I said. “Then how would you assess the health of the Big Bang model today?”
“It’s the standard paradigm of contemporary cosmology,” he answered. “I would say that its broad framework is very securely established as a scientific fact. Stephen Hawking has said, ‘Almost everyone now believe that the universe, and time itself, had a ginning at the Big Bang.’ “
By this point in our discussion, Craig had provided compelling facts to support the two premises of the kalam argument. A that remained was its conclusion and the absolutely staggering implications that logically flow from it.
Step #3: Therefore, the Universe Has a Cause
In arguing for the existence of God thirteenth-century Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas always presupposed Aristotle’s view that the universe is eternal. On the basis of that difficult assumption, he then sought to prove that God exists. Why did he take thi s approach? Because, Aquinas said, if he were to start with the premise that the universe had a beginning, then his task would be too easy! Obviously, if there was a beginning, something had to bring the universe into existence.
But now, modern astrophysics and astronomy have dropped into the lap of Christians precisely the premise that, according to Aquinas, makes God’s existence virtually undeniable.
Craig offered that story to punch his next point. “Given that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe began to exist, there must be some sort of transcendent cause for the origin of the universe,” Craig told me.
“Even atheist Kai Nielsen said, ‘Suppose you suddenly hear a loud bang....., and you ask me, ‘What made that bang?’ and I reply, ‘Nothing, it just happened.’ You would not accept that.’ He’s right, of course. And if a cause is needed for a small bang like that, then it’s needed for the Big Bang as well. This is an inescapable conclusion and it’s a stunning confirmation of the millennia-old Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation out of nothing.”
At the time an agnostic, American astronomer Robert Jastrow was forced to concede that although details may differ, “the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same; the chain of events leading to man and commenced suddenly and sharply, at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”
But although logic dictates that a cause sparked the Big Bang, I wondered how nuch logic can also tell us about its identity. ‘What specifically can you deduce about this cause?” I asked Craig.
“There are several qualities we can identify,” he replied. “A cause of space and time must be an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being endowed with freedom of will and enornous power,” he said. “And that is a core concept of God.”
“Hold on, hold on!” I insisted. “Many atheists see a fatal inconsistency. They don’t see how you can say the Creator could be uncaused. ’ For instance, atheist George Smith says, ‘If everything must have a cause, how did god become exempt?’ In The Necessity of Atheism, David Brooks says: ‘If cverything must have a cause, then the First Cause must be caused and therefore: Who made God? To say that this First Cause always existed is to deny the basic assumption of this theory.’ What would you say to them?”
Craig’s eyebrows shot up. “Well, that just misses the point!” he exclaimed. “Obviously, they’re not dealing with the first premise of the kalam argument, which is not that everything has a cause, but that whatever begins to exist has a cause. I don’t know of any reputable philosopher who would say everything has a cause. So they’re simply not dealing with a correct formulation of the kalam argument.
“And this is not special pleading in the case of God. After all, atheists have long maintained that the universe doesn’t need a cause, because it’s eternal. How can they possibly maintain that the universe can be eternal and uncauscd, yet God cannot be timeless and uncaused?”
At that point, another objection popped into my mind. “Why does it have to be one Creator?” I asked. “Why couldn’t multiple Creators have been involved?”
“My opinion,” Craig answered, “is that Ockham ‘s razor would shave away any additional creators.”
“What’s Ockham’s razor?”
“It’s a scientific principle that says we should not multiply causes beyond what’s necessary to explain the effect. Since one Creator is sufficient to explain the effect, you would be unwarranted in going beyond the evidence to posit a plurality.”
“That seems a little soft to me,” I said.
“Well, it’s a universally accepted principle of scientific methodology,” he replied. “ And besides, the kalam argument can’t prove everything about the Creator. Nothing restricts us from looking at wider considerations. For instance, Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the truth of monotheism, and he was vindicated by his resurrection from the dead, for which we have convincing historical evidence. Consequently, we have good grounds for believing that what he said was true
I conceded the point, but at the same time my mind began to fill with many other objections concerning the identity of the universe’s cause. Among the most troubling was whether the kalam argument can tell us if the Creator is personal, as Christians believe, or merely an impersonal force, as many New Age adherents maintain.
The Personal Creator
“You said earlier that there’s evidence that the cause of the universe was personal,” I said. “I don’t see how this can be logically deduced. In fact, Smith has complained that arguments like yours cannot establish whether the first cause was, or is, alive or
conscious---- ‘and,’ he says, ‘an inanimate, unconscious god is of little use to theism.’ He has a point there, doesn’t he?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Craig. “One of the most remarkable features of the kalam argument is that it gives us more than just a transcendent cause of the universe. It also implies a personal Creator.”
Craig leaned back into his chair. “There ‘re two types of explanations ----- scientific and personal,” he began, adopting a more professional tone. “Scientific explanations explain a phenomenon in terms of certain initial conditions and natural laws, which exp1ain how those initial conditions evolved to produce the unusual phenomenon under consideration. By contrast, personal explanations explain things by means of an agent and that agent’s volition or will.”
I interrupted to ask Craig for an illustration. He obliged me by saying: “Imagine you walked into the kitchen and saw the kettle boiling on the stove. You ask, ‘Why is the kettle boiling?’ Your wife might say, “Well, because the kinetic energy of the flame is conducted by the metal bottom of the kettle to the water, causing the water molecules to vibrate faster and faster until they’re thrown off in the form of steam.’ That would be a scientific explanation. Or she might say, ‘I put it on to make a cup of tea.” That would be a personal explanation. Both are legitimate, but they explain the phenomenon in different ways.”
So far, so good. “But how does this relate to cosmology?’’
“You see, there cannot be a scientific explanation of the first state of the universe. Since it’s the first state, it simply cannot be explained in terms of earlier initial conditions and natural laws leading up to it . So if there is an explanation of the first state of the universe, it has to be a personal explanation that is, an agent who has volition to create it. That would be the first reason that the cause of the universe must be personal.
“A second reason is that because the cause of the universe transcends time and space, it cannot be a physical reality. In-stead, it must be nonphysical or immaterial. Well, there are only two types of things that can be timeless and immaterial. One would be abstract objects, like numbers or mathematical entities. However, abstract objects can’t cause anything to happen. The second kind of immaterial reality would be a mind. A mind can be a cause, and so it makes sense that the universe is the product of an unembodied mind that brought it into existence.
“Finally, let mc give you an analogy that will help explain a third reason for why the first cause is personal. Water freezes at zero degrees Centigrade . If the temperature were below zero degrees from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity past . It would be impossible for the water to just begin to freeze a finite time ago . In other words, once the sufficient conditions were met that is, the temperature was low enough then the consequence would be that water would automatically freeze.
“So if the universe were just a mechanical consequence that would occur whenever sufficient conditions were met, and the sufficient conditions were met eternally, then it would exist from eternity past. The effect would be co-eternal with the cause.
“How do you explain, then, the origin of a finite universe from a timeless cause? I can only think of one explanation: that the cause of the universe is a personal agent who has freedom of will. He can create a new effect without any antecedent determining conditions. He could decide to say, ‘Let there be light,’ and the universe would spring into existence . I’ve never seen a good response to this argument on the part of any atheist.” Putting the issue a bit simpler, British physicist Edmund Whittaker made a similar observation in his book The Beginning and End of the World. He said, “There is no ground for supposing that matter and energy existed before and was suddenly galvanized into action. For what could distinguish that moment from all other moments in eternity? It is simpler to postulate creation exnihilo— Divine will constituting Nature from nothingness. “
Craig had made a good case for the cause of the universe being personal, and yet he offered no evidence concerning whether the Creator is still living today. Perhaps the Creator put the universe into motion and then ceased to exist. Smith also makes this challenge, saying that an argument like Craig’s is “capable only of demonstrating the existence of a mysterious first cause in the distant past . It does not establish the present existence of the first cause.”
This objection, though, didn’t faze Craig. “It’s certainly plausible that this being would still exist,” he said, “because he transcends the universe and is therefore above the laws of nature, which he created. It therefore seems unlikely that anything in the laws of nature could extinguish him. And, of course, Christians believe this Creator has not remained silent but has revealed himself decisively in the person, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which shows that he’s still around and still working in history.
“Again, the kalam argument can’t prove everything, and that’s fine. We’re free to look around for other evidence that the Creator still exists. Let’s see if he answers prayers, if he raised Jesus from the dead, if he revealed himself in the fulfillment of prophecy, and so forth. It seems that the burden of proof should be on the person claiming he did once exist, but he no longer does.”
Even though that seemed to make sense, something inside of me was saying, “Not so fast!” The kalam argument was a little too cut-and-dried; Craig’s evidence seemed a bit too airtight. Was his conclusion that a personal Creator was behind the Big Bang really warranted, or might there be a way to get around it?
There was too much at stake not to probe every reasonable possibility, including whether there’s an explanation that would negate the need for an absolute beginning of the universe and thus eliminate the Creator that the Big Bang implies.
THE CASE FOR A CREATOR
During his academic years, Lee Strobel became convinced that God was outmoded, a belief that colored his ensuing career as an award- winning journalist at the Chicago Tribune. Science had made the idea of a Creator irrelevant or so Strobel thought.
But today science is pointing in a different direction.
In recent years, a diverse and impressive body of research has shown increasing support for the conclusion that the universe was intelligently designed. At the same time, Darwinism has faltered in the face of concrete facts and hard reason. Has science discovered God? At the very least, it’s giving faith an immense boost as new findings emerge about the incredible complexity of our universe.
* * * * * * *
L EE STROBEL, WHO HOLDS A MASTER OF STUDIES IN
LAW DEGREE FROM YALE LAW SCHOOL, as well as a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, is the former legal affairs editor of the Chicago Tribune.
His awards include Illinois’s highest honors for both investigative
reporting and public service journalism from United Press International.
His journey from atheism to faith has been documented in the Gold Medallion—winning books The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. His other best-sellers include Inside the Mind of Unchurch-ed Harry and Mary, which also won a Gold Medallion; Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage, which he coauthored with his wife, Leslie; God’s Outrageous Claims; and What Jesus Would Say, all published by Zondervan. His book Reckless Homicide has been used as a supplementary text at several law schools.
Lee has been a teaching pastor at two of America’s largest churches: Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago and Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California. He is also a contributing editor and columnist for Outreach magazine and formerly taught First Amendment Law at Roosevelt University.
Lee and Leslie, who have been married for more than thirty years, reside in Southern California. Their daughter, Alison, is a teacher and known novelist; their son, Kyle, received his master’s degree in philosophy of religion and is pursuing a second master’s degree in New Testament studies.
Church of the Science of God
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© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993