Evidence for a Creator
Evidence for a Creator with Dr. Peter Taylor
If you’re like me, then at some point you’ve looked to the night sky and asked, “Is anyone out there looking down on all this?”
This question, in one form or another, is as old as civilization itself. Humans have looked out over the hills and stars and postulated the existence of gods and demi-gods for millennia. To these divine beings were ascribed a broad gamut of activities that influenced the natural realm, from the creation of the celestial bodies to the provision of crops and everything in between. However, as our understanding of nature evolved, our view of the meddling deities seemed increasingly unnecessary as more and more phenomena were adequately described by newly discovered scientific laws. Extrapolating to its extreme results in what might be called the philosophy of scientism. This is the view that the universe and everything in it is nothing more than atoms dancing to the beat of the Laws of Nature, and that every aspect of existence will eventually be explained by science. Not just the burning of the sun but also the burning of self-sacrificial love; not just free electrons zooming through a superconductor but also free will; not just neurons firing in our brains but also consciousness itself, and not just supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies but also the black hole in the depths of those who suffer loss. All of this will eventually be explained by some yet-to-be-discovered natural processes.
This narrative has become particularly embedded since the Enlightenment and now forms a part of the psyche of Western society. To give an example from pop culture of just how pervasive this philosophy is, I recall watching comedian, John Bishop, interview the actor and late-night TV host, James Cordon, and I remember in particular Bishop asked him about his religious upbringing. Cordon replied “I have a vague hunch that there might be something out there, but at the end of the day, you can’t argue with Science”.
The question we wish to explore here is whether there really is a sharp dichotomy between Science and a belief in God (we mean theism in the broadest terms here, not specifically belief in the Christian God) as Cordon suggests. Before addressing this question, we must first make some more general remarks. Firstly, when discussing evidence for theism, we are not talking about proof. The domain of proof is mathematics and only mathematics. We often misuse the word “proof” in colloquial language. Even scientists often misuse the word. Scientists do not prove things (unless they are doing mathematics); they gather evidence in support of a hypothesis. So too, with our present development. We make no claim of proof; it is a matter of evidence.
Secondly, there is often a logical fallacy committed when faced with different explanations of the same phenomenon. The fallacy is that oftentimes a mechanistic explanation for a phenomenon is assumed to be competing with an agency explanation, but these are not mutually exclusive. An example might be useful here: Imagine I make a cup of tea for my wife. There are two very different explanations that one could offer for the fact that the cup of tea was made. One explanation would involve a thermodynamic description of water coming to the boil by an increase of kinetic energy in the water molecules. While this type of explanation is accurate, it does not describe why the tea was made. In fact, this question is not even in the provenance of science. The answer to why might be that I desired to show an act of kindness to my wife by making her a cup of tea. This is the agency explanation. Of course, both explanations adequately answer a relevant question, but the mechanism is concerned with the “how” and the agency with the “why”. The Bible, which is the written authority on which Christians base their faith, is concerned with agency. It is unfortunate that many have also attributed to Scripture a mechanistic explanation which the writers did not intend to offer.
The last general remark we wish to make before looking at some particular scientific evidence is that, as with any philosophy that purports to describe all of reality, we do not rely on evidence from only one subject area. The case for the Judeo-Christian God is a cumulative inference to the best hypothesis which draws upon evidence from many disciplines including Science, History, Philosophy and personal experience. However, here we simply wish to dispel the myth that there is a sharp and insurmountable dichotomy between science and faith in God.
The science of origins is the obvious domain for such an investigation since any study of origins will have theological and philosophical implications. We will consider just two compelling pieces of evidence from theoretical physics which will hopefully convince you that, not only does belief in God hold up under the weight of modern science, but that the evidence provides an affirmative case for belief in God.
- The Cosmological Big Bang
We turn first to cosmology, the branch of physics that deals with how the universe changes on the largest scales. Before the era of modern cosmology, the consensus view was that the universe existed eternally into the past. This paradigm for the universe was shared by both the scientific community and the adherents of most religions. The Judeo-Christian view maintained that the universe had a beginning, though there were some notable Christians who held that the universe was eternal, St. Augustine for one. However, there was little scientific evidence to support either case. This changed in 1929 when American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, observed that the galaxies in every part of the sky are receding away from each other. One can imagine the galaxies as dots on an inflating balloon; the distance between each dot increases as the balloon expands. At the very least, this suggests that our universe is expanding and not static.
What has an expanding universe to do with whether or not the universe is eternal? If the universe is currently expanding, then if we were to run the clock backwards, the universe would be contracting into the past potentially ending when the volume of the universe is zero. This would be the beginning of our universe; time zero if you like.
To add weight to this interpretation, Einstein had published his theory of General Relativity over a decade before Hubble’s observations, and Einstein’s theory predicted an expanding universe that began at a finite time in the past. However, even in the face of both theoretical and observational support for a universe with a beginning, most scientists remained committed to an eternal universe with no beginning. In fact, Einstein introduced a new term into his equations in order to recover the eternal universe, a decision he later recanted as his greatest blunder. It was nearly four decades after Hubble’s observations that the paradigm shifted from an eternal universe to one with a beginning. The revolution was precipitated by an accidental discovery by two American scientists, Penzias and Wilson, who in 1965 detected a very low-temperature radiation left over from the rapid expansion at the beginning of the universe. This beginning, the event where time and space itself came into existence is what cosmologists call the Big Bang. This discovery by Penzias and Wilson is arguably the most important in modern cosmology, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Big Bang models, which assume the universe had a beginning, proved to be very successful in explaining and predicting the large-scale features of our universe and they remain the standard paradigm for cosmologists today.
The philosophical implications of the Big Bang paradigm can hardly be understated. If the universe is not eternal into the past, if it did not always exist, then what caused it to exist? Why did it begin to exist in the first place? Let’s look at the following argument, written out in a form logicians call propositional form:
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist must have a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is an example of a logically valid argument, i.e., if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true. We are accepting the validity of Premise 2 on the strength of the agreement of observations with the Big Bang model. So let us briefly convince ourselves of the validity of Premise 1. It is essentially an axiom of metaphysics that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. In fact, if this axiom were false, if things could begin to exist without a cause, then it would undermine our ability to do science in the first place. We would have no way to account for uncaused effects popping in and out of existence from nothing. To deny this axiom is to believe in the possibility that an elephant could appear, uncaused and unwilled, in the room right now where you are – a preposterous belief! This belief would be more mysterious, more ethereal, more superstitious and more anti-scientific than any claim levelled at adherents of theism. So if we accept this axiom, and we really ought to, and we accept that the universe had a beginning – which is certainly a reasonable interpretation of the evidence – then it logically follows that the beginning of the universe had a cause.
Can we infer anything about the cause? Indeed, it would seem that we can. Since the “beginning” in this context means the event where time and space began to exist, the cause must be timeless and spaceless. Since the universe is immense, it follows that the cause is extraordinarily powerful. Since the universe is full of intelligible information that can be understood by rational beings, the cause is a conscious mind. Putting these claims together implies that our universe was caused by the willful decision of a timeless, spaceless and powerful conscious mind. These are easily recognizable as classical descriptions of the Judeo-Christian God. Note also that this description is at odds with the nature of the gods of pantheism or the pagan gods of the Greeks and Romans. As Nobel laureate, Penzias, himself noted, “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.”
“The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms and the Bible as a whole.”
Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate in Physics
But I hear you object: “Then who caused God?”. It is of paramount importance that we grasp that our Premise 1 claims that anything that begins to exist must have a cause. Eternal entities did not begin to exist and have no need for a causal explanation. This is precisely why the eternal universe is necessary for those of an atheistic worldview since, if the universe is eternal, it requires no causal explanation either.
Another criticism directed at this cosmological argument for God’s existence is that the Big Bang model is not reliable at the very earliest times. Indeed it is true that right at the moment we have called the “beginning”, the energy density and temperature of the universe become infinite and hence the Big Bang model can no longer be a reliable physical model as we approach this moment. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, it is still reasonable to believe that the prediction that the universe began at a finite time in the past still holds up. For example, the philosophical criticism at play here is that the Big Bang model predicts an infinity and no physical model can contain what Aristotle called actual infinities. However, eternal models also necessarily contain actual infinities of a different nature, the infinite time into the past. If the universe has no beginning, space itself has to traverse an infinite time interval to get to the present and this seems logically impossible. Another problem faced by eternal models is the issue of entropy. Entropy can be colloquially understood as a measure of disorder. Now the second Law of Thermodynamics asserts that the entropy of a closed system increases, that is, things become more disordered or disorganised with time. If the universe has existed for eternity then disorder is increasing for infinitely long and hence at the present time there could be no order, no structure, no stars and no life.
On the aggregate of the evidence, I agree with the evaluation of the great British physicist Edmund Whittaker who said:
“There is no ground for supposing that matter and energy existed before and was suddenly galvanised into action. For what could distinguish that moment from all other moments in eternity? It is simpler to postulate creation ex nihilo — Divine will constituting Nature from nothingness.”
- Fine-Tuning of the Initial Conditions
We now turn to another different but related body of evidence that offers a strong affirmative case for a creator. In recent decades, theoretical physicists and cosmologists have discovered that the initial conditions at the beginning of the universe required for life to exist were exquisitely balanced on an incomprehensibly thin razor edge. This is called the Fine-Tuning problem. The fine-tuning of several physical parameters that appear in our laws of nature is the most perfect tight-rope walk imaginable, indeed, it is so perfect and the numbers involved so outrageous, it practically defies imagination. While there are many examples of these parameters conspiring for life to exist, from the strengths of the gravitational, electromagnetic and nuclear forces to the matter content of the universe, let us focus on just two such parameters.
As explained above, entropy in this non-technical setting can be understood as a measure of disorder and, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, has been increasing since the Big Bang. So according to our best estimate for when the Big Bang occurred, our universe has been undergoing a degradation of order and organisation for about 13.8 billion years. And yet the universe is so ordered. The implication is that the universe must have started in a very special, low-entropy state. That is, the very early universe needed to be, and fortunately was, extremely smooth, unimaginably smooth, in order to kick things off. It’s almost pointless to give the numbers involved here since we have no intuition or experience with numbers this large but here goes: the probability of this initial configuration being due to chance is 1 part in 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 123; that is, one part in ten billion multiplied by itself 123 times! It’s physically impossible even to write down this number in ordinary decimal form since the number of zeros involved is vastly greater than the number of atoms in the entire universe. This level of fine-tuning is beyond comprehension.
The Cosmological Constant:
The cosmological constant is what is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe; it’s like an outward pressure everywhere in the universe. This parameter is so very close to zero, it is zero to one part in 10 to the power of 122, that means the first 122 decimals are zero while the 123rd is non-zero. Moreover, if the number were exactly zero, then gravity would have caused the universe to collapse long ago, and yet if this number were even the slightest bit larger, then the matter in the universe would have been diluted too quickly for galaxies, stars and planets to form. Another example of an incredible fine-tuning.
To try to get an intuitive sense for how small these probabilities are, consider the chances of me winning the Euro millions lottery by purchasing one ticket. That’s approximately a one in a hundred million chance. Still considerably more likely than the cosmological constant having its value by chance. Now, if I were to do the lotto on two consecutive weeks and win the jackpot on both occasions, you would think I was extraordinarily lucky. In fact, there would be an investigation launched by the Lottery to ascertain how I had cheated. Almost no-one would believe that this was the result of chance. Now, this is still considerably more likely than the cosmological constant having the value it has by chance. To get comparable probabilities, I would have to win the Euro millions with a single ticket for approximately 15 consecutive weeks! The probability of the entropy being in its special low-entropy state is much smaller again. Winning the Euro millions every week for the rest of my life is still many, many times more likely than the initial entropy having its absurdly low value by chance. When we combine the values of all the constants of nature being what they are by chance, then the probability is vanishingly small.
One proposed explanation for this fine-tuning is that we live in a multiverse with many, many billions of universes each one taking on a range of physical parameters and so it is inevitable that one such universe will arrive at the right conditions for life. Such claims have no scientific credibility at this point. In the face of overwhelmingly suspicious numbers, surely the simplest explanation is the most obvious one; that the universe looks designed for life because it was designed for life. As physicist and atheist, Sir Fred Hoyle, concedes:
“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect monkeyed with physics…The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming to put this conclusion almost beyond question”.
Rather than find a sharp dichotomy between science and the Christian faith, we have found that the ancient Christian teachings, that God created and sustains the universe, anticipated what scientists would discover several millennia later. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae two thousand years ago:
“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
For the more scientifically literate reader, we are not speaking of things that pop in and out of existence from the quantum vacuum as a result of vacuum fluctuations, for such effects have a cause related to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in the underlying quantum mechanics. We are speaking of things popping into existence out of nothing, and the quantum vacuum is not nothing; it is a physical entity, the ground state of a physical system.