Is Cosmology a Religion for Atheists? Part 3

Is Cosmology a Religion for Atheists? Part 3

Dr. Craig delivered a lecture in the UK on a film about Stephen Hawking. Here, the audience begins asking questions


Transcript Is Cosmology a Religion for Atheists? Part 3

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are in a series on a lecture delivered by Dr. Craig in the U.K. We begin part three with questions from the audience.

PETER MAY: That was an engagement of mind and emotion at a very deep level. We have very profound questions. Let’s use this opportunity of having Bill here to tease him out further with your particular questions. Don’t be afraid that your question might be a silly question. Bill adapts readily to the variety of question he gets. He’ll be very happy to . . . if you’ve got a question to ask you can be fairly sure that somebody here will have an interest in the answer to your question. He’ll be thinking the question you are thinking. I wonder if you would like to join Timothy, who is guarding the microphone, and set us off with some questions to tease these issues out further for the next little while.

QUESTION: Would you please discuss the possibility that instead of a Big Bang it was a Big Bounce and that it is the result of the collapse of a previous universe and then into what we now see as a Big Bang? Were that to be true what would be the theological implications of it?

DR. CRAIG: Let me say that this evening’s lecture, because it was motivated by the film, is restricted to the discussion of just the standard model and the Hartle-Hawking model. But obviously there are many other proposed models of the universe. The so-called oscillating model (or models, as there are many) is one such that you’ve described. These models were floated in the early 1970s and late 60s, particularly by Russian cosmologists. They were an attempt to say that when the universe expanded to a certain point the gravitational effect of matter would overcome the force of the expansion and everything would suck back together again in a tremendous Big Crunch. If the matter did not coalesce directly to a point, the matter could slingshot past itself so that it would re-expand to a new expansion. The hypothesis was maybe this goes on eternally like an accordion. These models did not outlive the 1970s. In particular the Hartle-Hawking singularity theorems that we’ve just been discussing were really fatal for this kind of model because it showed that such a model, if it did re-collapse, would collapse back to a singularity, and it is impossible for space and time to be extended through a singularity to another expansion. So on a collapsing model the universe would simply expand, re-collapse, and end at a terminal singularity. In addition to that, scientists discovered that the density of the universe wasn’t sufficient to generate the gravitational traction sufficient to slow the expansion, halt it, and re-contract the universe. Instead all the evidence indicated the universe would expand forever. And in the most recent investigations, it turns out that the expansion (unexpectedly) is actually accelerating. There is a kind of dark energy that propels the expansion even more rapidly so that the prospect of re-contraction is effectively ruled out. So these oscillating models are not really widely discussed anymore.

QUESTION: I’d like to try and equate how you feel about the time taken for the universe to develop and the time period stated in Genesis. I just read a book by Professor Andrew Parker who wrote a book called Genesis Enigma. He tries to explain the difference between the two or equate the two. How do you explain it?

DR. CRAIG: It is striking when you read the first chapter of Genesis that the opening verse “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth” is a cosmic description or perspective. Ancient Hebrew did not have a word for “the universe.” When the ancient Hebrew wanted to say something about everything there is he would use the idiom “the heavens and the Earth.”[1] So the first verse says in effect “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” And then with verse 2 the focus dramatically narrows to this planet: “And the Earth was without form and void.” The remainder of the chapter describes how God transforms the Earth into a habitable place for humankind. So I would see the origin of the universe described by Big Bang cosmology as consonant with verse 1 of Genesis 1. Then what happens from verse 2 and following is not part of cosmology. That is part of Earth science or Earth history.

QUESTION: Surely if time is like a point with a moment before and a moment after then a Christian couldn’t believe in the model of the beginning of the universe because the beginning of the universe talks about the beginning of time. But if God made a decision at a point to create the universe then there must have been a moment before and a moment after this decision. So surely God must have existed within time so he cannot have created time after that.

DR. CRAIG: Why think that a decision has to be taken after a period of indecision? Since God is omniscient he knows the future. He knows everything he is going to do. So I think that God’s being in a state of indecision is ruled out by his omniscience, not just his timelessness. So I would take it the decision to create a universe is an eternal decision that God makes. He exists timelessly with the intention of creating a universe with a beginning. I see no reason to think that the idea of an eternal decision (that is to say, an eternal free intention of the mind) is incoherent and that you have to have a period of indecision existing before.

QUESTION: Why is there such a big kind of conflict between people who believe in God and people who don’t believe in God over the theories that Hawking and other cosmologists come up with? Because to me what we seem to be discussing is not the evolution of the universe in itself but “Why did it happen?”. The things they are finding out still fit quite happily if you interpret days to be millennia. Why is it that we have the big discussion of “Are they right or wrong?” as opposed to . . .

DR. CRAIG: Obviously, we are not having that discussion – are we? – here this evening. That is not the topic this evening. So I think the reason that some people feel exercised to discuss this is they want to know what is the correct interpretation of the opening chapter of the Bible. Is it to be construed literally as describing six 24-hour consecutive days, or are these days metaphors for long periods of time as you suggest? I personally think that the opening chapter of Genesis is open to a wide range of interpretations that are available for the biblically faithful Christian. So I am not all worked up about this issue, and that is why it is not on the table tonight.

FOLLOWUP: I guess my question really is: why has the media latched on to this as being something to almost prove the non-existence of God to make it easier for people who do not believe in God?

DR. CRAIG: So do you think that the media tries to ridicule Christians because of six-day creationism?

FOLLOWUP: No, I believe that they can use it as a way to make it easier to not believe.

DR. CRAIG: Maybe you’ve just answered your own question. There are forces of secular culture that are bent on doing anything they can to make the Christian faith look silly, to undermine it as much as they can, to make it look anti-intellectual, to make Christians look stupid. If they can do this by painting us all as young Earth creationists they certainly will do so. One shouldn’t have any illusion about the neutrality of certain media outlets or reports that one receives. I think there are forces arrayed against a Christian world and life view that are deeply secular or even atheistic and are bent on making Christians look bad.

QUESTION: I sort of wonder if we are taking the typical theistic picture of God’s timelessness – a [inaudible] image – if both the models you were describing are acting within time and we want to see God as timeless surely it doesn’t really matter which one we go for.[2] If God is outside of time he could have created the universe either way regardless of the model. Surely in that sense it doesn’t really matter which one we go for.

DR. CRAIG: What are the alternatives? It doesn’t matter which one we go for?

FOLLOWUP: If we are acting on the standard Big Bang model or the Hawking model, they are dependent upon time. If God is timeless surely he could create . . . it doesn’t really matter.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. That was what I was arguing this evening. These models are comparable in their theological implications because they both involve a finite past, an absolute beginning of the universe, and I think that is fully in accord (as you say) with the existence of a God who transcends time and space and brings space-time into existence by an act of his omnipotent power.

FOLLOWUP: Theologically, you would say it doesn’t really matter which one of the two pictures we go for?

DR. CRAIG: Right, theologically I don’t think it does matter. Both of them, I think, have the same theological implications so far as I can see.

QUESTION: Don’t you think that, for example, the atheist’s idea like naturalism and materialism, is a more reasonable idea than theology in the sense that with naturalism they deal with ultimate reality. So they think things are finite and they have to believe in things that are just in the universe. They can’t believe in something beyond it because they really have no evidence for it. If you are going to go with the idea that God made the universe then you might want to believe that but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true because you have to argue with what God and, “How do you know that that is the God that made the universe?”. Rather shouldn’t we go with things that you do know and wait for when there is more evidence to know that there is actually a God that caused the universe to exist?

DR. CRAIG: It has been rightly said that British and Americans are two people separated by a common language. Just as I speak with an American accent, I have difficulty understanding your accent. So I am going to ask Peter May to help me interpret what you just said so that I can answer, if I may.

PETER MAY: Can you try and express your question in a simple sentence?

DR. CRAIG: So you didn’t understand it either?

PETER MAY: [laughter] I’m sorry, I did have a great difficulty getting hold of that.

QUESTION: Basically my argument is based on the God-of-the-gaps argument. That is the generalization of my argument.

DR. CRAIG: It is very important to see that tonight I haven’t argued for a God-of-the-gaps in any way. There is nothing I’ve said in this evening’s lecture that says, “Here is a gap in scientific knowledge; therefore, let’s appeal to God to explain it.” Quite the contrary, what I’ve said is that the findings of physical cosmogony are consonant, or in accord with, the doctrine that theology has of creatio ex nihilo – creation out of nothing. I’ve said that the conclusions of theology fit with what contemporary science is telling us about the origin of the universe. Insofar as one might argue for the creator of the universe, the scientific evidence that one has adduced here is not evidence for God; it is evidence for the fact that the universe began to exist. You see, that is a religiously neutral statement that can be found in any textbook on astronomy and astrophysics – that the universe began to exist. It will only be in the context of a wider philosophical argument that theological conclusions I think then will follow. But there isn’t any use of science here in an illicit way to prove or show God. I think what science does is it helps to establish that religiously neutral statement “the universe began to exist.” Maybe you didn’t understand my answer [laughter] like I did your question.

QUESTION: This is a bit of a philosophical question I suppose. If something caused everything then that implies that something caused itself which is paradoxical. Therefore the opposite must be true: everything must come from nothing. If this argument is valid, do we need God the Creator?

DR. CRAIG: You should have been in Birmingham this week to hear my Cadbury lectures! My topic was how God is the sole ultimate reality, the creator of everything other than himself.[3] That is the faulty premise in your argument – that there is something that is the creator of everything. No. The correct statement would be that God is the creator of everything other than himself. But God himself is uncreated. He is what theologians call a self-existent being. This is the property called aseity – the property of being independent of everything else, of being self-existent. So the argument is based upon a false premise. When it is properly stated then there is no incoherence.

QUESTION: My question follows on from that one actually. Philosophy of religion textbooks – in this country anyway – suggest that Bertrand Russell when asked about the origins of the universe saw it as a brute given – it was necessary, it just was. What the textbooks often then say is why is the universe not any more necessary than a necessary being called God. Would you like to comment on that?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, this is a wonderful question. I don’t think those textbooks accurately represent Russell’s view. When he says the universe is just there and that’s all, he didn’t mean that the universe exists necessarily. What he meant is that the universe is just a brute fact. It is just an unexplained given. There is no explanation for why the universe exists rather than nothing. He didn’t think that the universe was necessary in its existence. And I think with good reason. To mention just one point – what we’ve been talking about this evening – a necessary being is a being which cannot fail to exist. Its non-existence is impossible. So, as my doctoral mentor John Hick showed, a necessary being must have the essential properties of being eternal, uncaused, indestructible, and incorruptible. Now if the universe began to exist, it follows that the universe does not have the property of being eternal. Therefore it cannot be a necessary being. It is contingent and indeed contingent in a radical way – it came into existence. That surely cries out for an explanation. I can give Russell a run for his money when he says that the existence of an eternal universe is just a brute unexplained fact. I don’t believe that, but I can understand that attitude. But if the universe came into existence about 14 billion years ago, that sort of reply, I think, is just inept because it shows that the universe is contingent in a very radical way that points to a transcendent cause that brought it into existence. If you are interested in following up on this issue, in my book On Guard there is a nice discussion of this argument in the chapter about Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his argument for God’s existence which was a sort of argument from contingency to God as a necessary being.

QUESTION: Regarding the necessary being, there is also this argument that a necessary being should be unique. There can only be one necessary being because in a sense if there are two necessary beings then there is a condition that sets them apart. So we can only have one. How would you place the Trinity into that context?

DR. CRAIG: I would agree with you that there is nothing about the attribute of necessity that implies uniqueness. In fact, many mathematicians think that numbers are necessary beings. So there are an infinite number of them. All the natural numbers, for example, plus all the other mathematical objects. I, myself, don’t believe that, but I don’t think that you can simply deduce from the concept of something’s being necessary that there is only one of it. I think you’d need some sort of independent reason for that.

FOLLOWUP: In the sense that it is the First Cause – the Cause of Causes. So it should be one cause. So the necessary being needs to be unique in that sense. Being uniqueness – if we have the Trinity – two or three necessary beings at the same time . . .

DR. CRAIG: Did you say the Trinity? Those aren’t three beings. God is three persons but it is one being, one substance. So there is only one God. Christianity is monotheism, not polytheism. But let me address your question.[4] If I were offering an argument for an uncaused First Cause, I would appeal to Occam's Razor to justify uniqueness. Occam’s Razor is an explanatory principle that says you are only justified in positing those causes that are necessary to explain the effect. Do not postulate causes beyond necessity. And one first Uncaused Cause is sufficient to explain the effect, so the postulation of further causes would be unjustified and would get shaved away by Occam’s Razor.

QUESTION: I have read an article that suggested that if you look at all the measurements of the speed of light that it appears to be decreasing through time. Would you like to comment on that?

DR. CRAIG: This is an attempt by certain young earth creationists to try to justify the view that the world is actually much, much younger than it appears to be. When you look at the stars, you see objects – galaxies – that are billions of light years away. So if the light came to us from those stars it would imply the universe is billions of years old, right? So what they say is the speed of light is slowing down – it was faster in the past and so the light could get here very quickly. From what I’ve read, however, this is based upon cherry-picking the scientific evidence to make it look like the speed of light is slowing down. In fact, when you look at the various measurements of the speed of light over the decades they pretty much average out to the same constant velocity. If you are interested in this subject take a look at the website of Hugh Ross and his ministry Reasons To Believe. Hugh Ross is an ex-astrophysicist who is now engaged in a sort of religion and science ministry – Reasons To Believe. He is very much in conversation with young earth creationists and their various arguments. He has literature that addresses the question of the slowing down of the speed of light.

KEVIN HARRIS: Thank you so much for joining us. We have one more in this series which we’ll begin next week. A continuation of the very probing questions from the audience during this lecture. That’s next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.[5]



[1] 5:00

[2] 10:05

[3] 15:03

[4] 20:00

[5] Total Running Time: 22:58 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)