This series, which owes its existence to philosopher Kenneth Samples and his wonderful book called The Word of Difference (2017), both analyzes and contrasts the explanatory scope of atheistic-naturalism & Christian theism.
1. On the Origin of the Physical Universe.
Atheistic Naturalism: “The physical universe emerged from nothing, by no one, and without a specific plan or purpose.”
Christian Theism: “The universe was created ex nihilo by an infinite, eternal, and tripersonal God for his own glory.”
Personal Commentary: It’s not only true that atheists believe that the physical universe arose out of literally nothing but many atheists go against scientific evidence in order to hold to an eternally existing universe. For example, the American Humanist Association writes that “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created” (1). Likewise the naturalist Carl Sagan once wrote that “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” (2). Both these views could be argued to be unscientific given that modern science, especially the field of cosmology, does not support these hypotheses hoping to escape creation from nothing. Modern science, moreover, cannot tell us that the physical universe is all that there is given that such a statement is philosophical. But what we can know with great confidence is that modern cosmology insists that universe had a finite beginning in the Big Bang singularity.
On the other hand many atheists try to explain away an initial origin of the physical universe by appealing to an unfalsifiable, speculative hypothesis known as the multiverse. This is problematic for a number of reasons. One, being that the multiverse level 2 concept is, at this moment, sheer speculation and unfalsifiable. The scientific method cannot test the claims made by proponents of such a view. The other problem is that atheist-naturalists, even those who propose the view, cannot escape an initial creation of the universe ex nihilo (from nothing). A multiverse is itself finite, and must have a beginning. In other words, the atheist-naturalist pushes the origin of the physical universe one step back, and has not solved this riddle facing naturalism.
Christian theists have met big bang cosmology with open arms. Some of them point to the first sentence of their Bible (“in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1)), and argue Big Bang cosmology is consistent with their views. For example, astrophysicist Hugh Ross to says that “The Bible was the first to predict big bang cosmology” (3). Or as the physicist Victor Weisskopf once said that “The Judeo-Christian tradition describes the beginning of the world in a way that is surprisingly similar to the scientific model” (4). Moreover, for Christians, that the universe had a finite beginning is taken to be supportive of their God concept, namely, a creator God who is transcendent above his creation and sustains the universe.
The atheistic worldview claims that universe is either eternally existing or somehow brought itself into existence. Both views are hugely problematic. The former runs contrary to both scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning whereas the latter holds to the logically incoherent view that absolute nothing (no space, time, matter, or energy) could somehow bring a universe into existence. However, absolute nothing has no causal power to bring about an change or effect. Other atheists concede the problem and refuse to explain it.
2. Design in the Universe.
Atheistic Naturalism: “Order, regularity, and fine-tuning in the universe emerged coincidentally (possibly with other worlds).”
Christian Theism: “Order, regularity, and fine-tuning in the universe came from God’s creative plan and purpose.”
Personal Commentary: A number of theists have argued that atheists stretch credulity in affirming their naturalism in the face of the fine-tuning of the physical universe. Many atheist-naturalists believe that such fine-tuning is explainable by chance, and that no intelligent designer was responsible. The unlikely nature of our univesr evolving on the cosmic level without some guiding force is hard to emphasize.
For instance, the discoveries within the fields of cosmology, quantum mechanics, biochemistry, astrophysics, and physics have revealed the incredibly delicate balance of physical and cosmological quantities that are required to make a life permitting universe. However, it is clear that if any one of these quantities were slightly altered to a tiny degree then the universe would be hostile to life, and life therefor would be impossible. Thus, discoveries in modern physics have been argued to produce the appearance of fine-tuning necessary for the existence of intelligent life. These include fundamental constants such as electromagnetic interaction, proton to electron mass ratio, gravitation, and the weak and strong nuclear force. When one assigns values to these constants he discovers that the chances of the universe being able to support intelligent life is incredibly small. The numbers involved are incredible, for example, if the mass and energy of the early universe were not evenly distributed to one part in 10^10^123 the universe would be hostile to all forms of life. Similarly, if the force of the Big Bang expansion had differed by one part in 10^60 then life would be impossible. To give some perspective of the enormity of these numbers, consider that the number of electron particles in the known universe stands in at 10^87, or that the number of observable stars is 10^24! Rather, the universe would have expanded to quickly for stars to form or have collapsed on itself meaning there would be no stars, planets, and no life. Then there is the density of the universe. If the density was any different then the non-uniformities would condense prematurely into black holes before the stars could form, hence making the universe life-prohibiting. Modern cosmology lays out dozens of these constants.
Even the New Atheist Christopher Hitchens, though not particularly remembered for his intellectual punch as opposed to his clever use of rhetoric, once remarked that “I think everyone of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing… you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not a trivial [argument]” (3).
The implications are obvious. On atheistic-naturalism one needs to hold, despite enormously fantastical improbabilities, that all these life-permitting constants simply evolved without any intelligence to guide them. On this view it whittles down to pure chance. Alternatively, the theist argues that the fine-tuning of the universe as to make it hospitable for organic lifeforms is best described as a deliberate act on behalf of a creator God, and that such fine-tuning ought not be a surprise.
3. First Life.
Atheistic Naturalism: “Life somehow emerged accidentally from nonliving matter through purely natural processes.”
Christian Theism: “God, who possesses life in himself (as an eternal and everlasting being), created the various life-forms. “
Personal Commentary: I don’t have much to say on this point but at some point, argues the atheist-naturalist, on our Earth, inorganic physical material somehow gave rise to organic life. The atheist-naturalist is required to posit an unknown natural cause for organic life. The Christian theist, however, believes that the miracle of life is possible because God exists, a being that possesses the fullness of life, and because such a God responsible for creating life in the first place.
See Part 2.
1. American Humanist Association. Humanist Manifesto 1. Available. Quote: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”
2. Sagan, C. 1980. Cosmos. p. 4
3. Christopher Hitchens Makes a Startling Admission. 2012. Available.
4. Victor Weisskopf quoted in: The World of Physics (1987). p. 300, 317.
5. Ross quoted by Tim O’Niel, T (2014) in Big Bang ‘Gravity Wave’ Discovery Supports Biblical Creation, Say Old Earth Creationists. Available.