Adjudicating on the origin of the universe: why the Christian God is the best option
How do we best adjudicate on the origin of the universe?
My last post on the Unbelievable debate between Matt Dillahunty and David Robertson stimulated a lot of discussion. I realise that there are some who are unconvinced that there are just three logical options to explain the origin of the universe. Yet no convincing extra alternatives have been presented. Until convincing extra options can be presented, I’ll go with my original three options (based on standard logical conventions) for the origin of the universe:
(1) The universe did not begin i.e. the universe is eternal
(2) The universe did began. i.e the universe had a beginning
Option two then presents two further options (I’ll rephrase this thanks to some helpful comments)
(2a) The universe was self-creating.
(2b) The universe was not self-creating. i.e. there was a creator
In option 2b we need to explain what best explains ‘creation’. Given the usual conventions of causation we would suggest that a creation implies a ‘creator’. If there is no creator, then the universe would be self-creating, hence we revert to option 2a.
So these are the three options: (1) An eternal universe (2) A self-creating universe and (3) A universe created by a creator.
So how do we adjudicate on these? Which of these options should we choose?
We could say, ‘I don’t know’ and remain genuinely agnostic, Yet I am unconvinced that this can be a completely satisfactory position to hold. The main reason for this is because there is evidence to help adjudicate this question (which I’ll outline below). Given the presence of this evidence, remaining completely agnostic has two difficulties:
1. Agnosticism in this case fails to let the evidence speak. There is evidence in this area which helps us make a decision hence we have to be careful that our presuppositions don’t prejudice our decision. Thus if the evidence points away from our philosophically held positions, we need to ask why we refuse to let the evidence speak to us.
2. Agnosticism in the face of evidence is not a position of epistemic humility, instead it is epistemic arrogance. It is arrogant to suggest that no convincing evidence exists, when in fact some convincing evidence does exist. Hence to remain agnostic in this case is not to remain humble but ignores the evidence and holds a position in spite of the evidence! (ironically this is the very thing that Dawkins accuses Christians i.e. to hold a position contrary to the evidence.)
So I accept that ‘I don’t know’ is a valid ‘choice’ of option. Yet given that there is evidence in this area, I think it is a very poor ‘choice’.
So what is the evidence?
How do we adjudicate on this question? What is the evidence.
Option 1 (the universe is eternal) is unlikely and contrary to recent scientific discoveries. Recent scientific evidence points to the universe having a ‘beginning’ (around 13.7 billion years ago). There are many points of evidence which can be raised here, but one of the most convincing in my mind is the existence of entropy, i.e. the energy in the universe is running down. If the energy in the universe is running down, then it’s hard to see how it could have been here for eternity.
The scientific evidence for a beginning to the universe about 13.7 billion years ago is fairly well established and most scientists tend to work with this conclusion. In fact I’ve never read a modern scientific text which proposes an eternal universe. Hence I think it is reasonable to rule out option (1), the eternal universe
So this leaves us with the remaining two options 2a or 2b.
So which is it?
Option 2a (the universe was self-creating) seems extremely unlikely and is contrary to logic and reason. It is very unclear how ‘stuff’ can spontaneously emerge from absolutely nothing. It’s important to distinguish between ‘nothing’ in the absolutely nothing sense and a ‘quantum vacuum’ which some recent thinkers propose. The obvious problem with proposing a ‘quantum vacuum’ is the prior question, ‘where did the quantum vacuum come from’?
Similarly the presence of the laws of gravity, which Hawking seems to propose, not create anything either. The laws of physics don’t create anything just as the laws of mathematics don’t put any extra money in my bank account!
Hence the option 2b (that the universe was created) seems the most plausible option. This then raises a further question, who or what created the universe?
At this point agnosticism is actually a viable option. We may legitimately say that I don’t know what caused the start of the universe I.e. a creator. Yet I would also suggest that ‘god’ is also an extremely viable option. ‘God’ as creator is a possible conclusion, but from natural theology alone, it is impossible to be certain.
I will now outline some reasons why I believe ‘god’ is the best explanation for the origin of the universe and also why this ‘god’ is the Christian God.
Why is god the best option to explain the origin of the universe?
To create something like a universe would require something or someone who is incredibly powerful. Moreover they would likely be something ‘eternal’ for we would then require an explanation of the origin of this creator and so on. Hence it seems likely that this ‘creator’ could indeed be a god.
This perspective gained from natural theology is confirmed by the Christian Scriptures. God is described as ‘eternal’ (e.g. Gen 21:33, Deut 33:27, Psalm 90:1-4) and incredibly powerful (e.g. Gen 1) who created the world. All of these themes are captured in Isaiah 40:28, ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom’.
So the god described in the Scriptures could be an explanation for the origin of the universe. Yet, the natural question arises at this point, Why should we trust the Scriptures?
A full answer is beyond the scope of this blog post, but essentially I propose we can trust the Scriptures because Jesus trusted them. The reason Jesus is worth trusting is because he was the God of the Scriptures incarnate as a man. This is no doubt a controversial claim, but the logic works, If Jesus was God then he can be trusted.
What I am effectively saying is that what natural theology points to – revelation completes.
So the key claim I need to demonstrate is ‘was Jesus God?’
There are good reasons to believe Jesus was god (I can justify these more fully and will do in future posts, but for the sake of brevity I’ll outline them briefly here).
1. Jesus self understanding: Jesus claimed the place of God. Jesus understood himself to be God. He made indirect, but clear claims to be God. For example consider the ‘Son of Man’ sayings in Mark’s Gospel, especially Mark 2:1-12. Here he claims the authority to forgive sins – something which only God has authority – he was assuming God’s place. CS Lewis recognised the significance of this:
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic… In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Jesus was claiming to be God. He exercised the functions of God with the authority of God.
Now it’s true that there are others who have claimed to be god, but this claim is less frequent than might be supposed. For example other major religious leaders like Buddha and Muhammad never claimed to be god incarnate. So Jesus’ view is somewhat unusual.
2. Jesus’ actions were consistent with his self understanding. Even if someone does claim to be god, how do they demonstrate it? Their actions must be consistent with their claim.
The things Jesus says and does in the accounts of him are things consistent with a powerful god. Consider Mark 2:1-12: he performs miracles (healing a paralytic), and he knows the thoughts of those standing nearby. Yet he does so many other amazing things. People were constantly amazed at what he did. He was the wisest of teachers, he was good and even death posed no barrier to Jesus.
Other modern day ‘God’ characters fail to live this life consistent with a good god e.g. curing paralytics, profound teaching and raising the dead. Most of these other ‘god’ characters lead selfish, indulgent lives. Yet Jesus’ life was consistent with his claims to divinity.
3. Jesus claimed to be God in the tradition of the Jewish Old Testament (to monotheistic Jews). This is a most astonishing fact and is often overlooked in assessing the divine claims of Jesus. Other characters in the Ancient world who claimed to be divine (most notably Roman Emperors) did so in the context of polytheism. Whereas Jesus claimed to be God in the tradition of strict Jewish monotheism. This strict monotheism precludes the possibility of Jesus’ followers ‘inventing’ Jesus to be God, Jews were not in the habit of ‘inventing’ gods.
Jesus’ claims are more significant when seen in the context of a ‘divine identity’ Christology. Richard Bauckham suggests these divine functions are intrinsic to who God is – the ‘divine identity’ – consonant with Jewish categories of thought. New Testament Christology includes Jesus in the unique divine identity by attributing these same functions to Jesus, hence ‘the highest Christology was present from the beginning’ and ‘the NT writers did not see their Jewish monotheistic heritage as an obstacle to the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity.’ Thus monotheism was redefined as ‘christological monotheism’.
4. Through his divine nature Jesus makes the correct prediction about the origin of the universe hence revealing the identity of the ‘creator’. If Jesus were god we would expect him to know something of what happened ‘in the beginning’. Jesus makes the correct prediction (confirmed by modern science) i.e. that there was a beginning, in spite of strong contrary prevailing scientific opinion. Jesus affirms a creation e.g. Matthew 19:4, ‘from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female”. Furthermore Jesus was also assumed to be the creator e.g. Col 1:15, ‘By him all things were created’ (more evidence of divine identity Christology)
Jesus’ prediction of a creation came against the prevailing philosophy of the time i.e. Aristotle’s view. Aristotle asserted an eternal universe and he demonstrated it via several methods, including matter and motion. For example, “If, then, time is the number of motion or itself a kind of motion, it follows that, if there is always time, motion must also be eternal.” (Aristotle, Physics VIII, 1)
Furthermore Jesus’ claim of a creation was not simply what all religions believed. For example Hinduism along with Aristotileanism also proposed that matter was eternal. Hindu thought asserted that material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature, ‘both material nature and the living entity are eternal.’ Bhagavad Gita 13.20
Jesus reveals the truth about the origin of the universe because he is God himself. Hence this revelation from and by Jesus concerning the origin of the universe help us adjudicate the question on the origin of the universe. The evidence from Jesus confirms Option 2b, that the universe was created by a creator, and that creator is the Christian God.
This also answers the question raised by a commenter who asked “I agree with AM, but even if I agreed with the article and conceded the universe must have been created by a god, the theist still has to show why their 5 headed elephant god, resurrecting carpenter etc are the correct god”
This is answered by Jesus. Jesus being God incarnate reveals this god to us and through his testimony and witness we can know the identity of the god who created the universe.
This then makes ‘I don’t know’ a less viable option because we have been told the answer. It all comes down to then whether we can trust Jesus. If he is trustworthy and reliable, then we can accept the Christian God as the explanation for the origin of the universe.
Note I have now shifted the locus of the argument away from natural theology and philosophical speculation about the cause of the universe. Instead I have plugged the ‘uncertain’ gap about the identity of the creator with reference to Jesus by virtue of his revelation to us.
This argument is illustrated by a walk in the country. I walk through the countryside and discover a silver globe on the ground, I instinctively ask, where did it come from? I ask a series of philosophical questions, was it always there, was it self creating or was it made by someone? We can reasonably conclude from science, philosophy and reasoning that it was created, but by whom or what? Natural theology can’t tell us, we have to conclude ‘I don’t know’. Yet if the creator of the globe comes and tells us i.e. reveals the answer to us, then we can know. What was unclear by philosophy is made clear through revelation. The key question remaining is, will you trust the one claiming to reveal the correct answer?
Jesus helps us adjudicate the origin of the universe and he proposes that it was created by God.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net