Why “I don’t know” is not an extra option to explain the beginning of the universe
Recently I listened to a radio debate between atheist Matt Dillahunty and Christian David Robertson on the UK radio show Unbelievable on the topic ‘why I am not an atheist’.
In the debate Robertson outlined a number of reasons for why he wasn’t an atheist to which Dillahunty responded. The dialogue was feisty and passionate and the debate was very well moderated by Unbelievable host Justin Brierley.
I was fascinated in something raised in their discussion about the origin of matter. Robertson shared that a key reason he wasn’t an atheist concerned the origin of the universe. He asked a very important question, “Where did stuff come from? Why is there anything at all?”
He then said that there were only three options to answer this question:
1. Matter was eternal
2. Matter was created
3. Matter self-generated out of nothing.
Robertson dismissed 1 as contrary to the evidence and 3 as being self-evidently flawed, which left just option 2. Then he pressed Dillahunty to outline which option he believed in.
Dillahunty evaded this challenge by proposing another option: “I don’t know”. Dillahunty went on to criticise the options Robertson offered. He said, “How have you limited it to three? What is your justification? How are these ‘necessarily the only three?’.”
Robertson’s response was ‘logic’ and I think Robertson is right. There can only be three options to explain the origin of all matter.
You may say ‘I don’t know’ if you can’t adjudicate between the options available. But ‘I don’t know’ cannot become an extra option. You can’t add in any more options, the origin of all matter must be one of these three options.
How do we get to just three options?
The way we determine there are just 3 options is by using the law of non-contradiction (excluded middle). This is basic Aristotelian logic. Where there are two contradictory propositions i.e. where one proposition is the negation of the other, one must be true, and the other false.
To explain how this is the case, I’ll rephrase the options for the origin of matter, which is an extension of my previous thinking on the cosmological argument.
The most fundamental question about the origin of matter (origin of the universe – I’ll use the two interchangeably) is is raised in these contradictory propositions:
(1) The universe did not begin i.e. the universe is eternal
(2) The universe did began. i.e the universe had a beginning
One of those options must be true based on the concept of non-contradiction and the excluded middle (the multiverse raises some more alternatives, yet fundamentally the same basic choices remain). So at this point we have two options, either the universe is eternal or it had a beginning.
If the universe is eternal, there are no further options – matter was eternal, uncreated.
Yet if the universe had a beginning, then we need to explain this origin. Hence two further options open up based on the principle that causation is often explained through the activity of an agent. Hence the options:
(2a) The universe began as the result of the work of a personal agent.
(2b) The universe did not begin as the result of the work of a personal agent.
One of those options must be true based on the concept of non-contradiction and the excluded middle.
At this point we are then faced with the two options of atheism or theism. The best description for a personal agent creating the universe in (2a), I would suggest would be ‘God’. So it seems that God creating the universe is a valid option to explain the origin of matter. Whether that is the best option is another question.
The other option to explain the origin of matter is atheism – i.e. option (2b) – that the universe began without the work of a personal agent. The most natural conclusion of this option is that the universe was self-creating. (This particular option does raise the curious question of how the universe could be created without an agent? I’m not dismissing this as impossible, but an atheist would need to describe a valid mechanism by which a universe can begin without agency.)
So based on logic and non-contradiction we have three basic options to explain the origin of the universe, which are incidentally the three options outlined by Robertson:
1. The universe is eternal
2. The universe was created by God.
3. The universe was self-creating.
There is no other space for ‘I don’t know’. Hence Dillahunty was wrong in his rejection of Robertson’s options and it seemed slightly confusing to propose that there might be other options. How could there be other options? Where in the logic trail can you add extra options?
Until Dillahunty can offer satisfactory further alternatives, logic dictates that we must all choose one of these three options to explain the origin of the universe.
So which option do you think is most reasonable? I’m very keen to hear thoughts.
In my next post I’ll outline why I think that option 2 is the most reasonable, but I’ll give a quick hint. The early church claimed that Jesus created everything and this might give us the name of the agent through whom all things were created. 😉
“Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”