In the Beginning There Was a Great
from the book I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
"Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."
It was 1916 and Albert Einstein didn't like where his calculations were leading him. If his theory of General Relativity was true, it meant that the universe was not eternal but had a beginning. Einstein's calculations indeed were revealing a definite beginning to all time, all matter, and all space. This flew in the face of his belief that the universe was static and eternal.
Einstein later called his discovery "irritating." He wanted the universe to be self-existent—not reliant on any outside cause—but the universe appeared to be one giant effect. In fact, Einstein so disliked the implications of General Relativity—a theory that is now proven accurate to five decimal places—that he introduced a cosmological constant (which some have since called a "fudge factor") into his equations in order to show that the universe is static and to avoid an absolute beginning.
But Einstein's fudge factor didn't fudge for long. In 1919, British cosmologist Arthur Eddington conducted an experiment during a solar eclipse which confirmed that General Relativity was indeed true—the universe wasn't static but had a beginning. Like Einstein, Eddington wasn't happy with the implications. He later wrote, "Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of nature is repugnant to me. ... I should like to find a genuine loophole."1
By 1922, Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann had officially exposed Einstein's fudge factor as an algebraic error. (Incredibly, in his quest to avoid a beginning, the great Einstein had divided by zero—-something even schoolchildren know is a no-no!) Meanwhile, Dutch astronomer Willem de Sitter had found that General Relativity required the universe to be expanding. And in 1927, the expanding of the universe was actually observed by astronomer Edwin Hubble (namesake of the space telescope).
Looking through the 100-inch telescope at California's Mount Wilson Observatory, Hubble discovered a "red shift" in the light from every observable galaxy, which meant that those galaxies were moving away from us. In other words, General Relativity was again confirmed—the universe appears to be expanding from a single point in the distant past. 2
In 1929 Einstein made a pilgrimage to Mount Wilson to look through Hubble's telescope for himself. What he saw was irrefutable. The observational evidence showed that the universe was indeed expanding as General Relativity had predicted. With his cosmological constant now completely crushed by the weight of the evidence against it, Einstein could no longer support his wish for an eternal universe. He subsequendy described the cosmological constant as "the greatest blunder of my life," and he redirected his efforts to find the box top to the puzzle of life. Einstein said that he wanted "to know how God created the world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thought, the rest are details." 3
Although Einstein said that he believed in a pantheistic God (a god that is the universe), his comments admitting creation and divine thought better describe a theistic God. And as "irritating" as it may be, his theory of General Relativity stands today as one of the strongest lines of evidence for a theistic God. Indeed, General Relativity supports what is one of the oldest formal arguments for the existence of a theistic God—the Cosmological Argument.
The Cosmological Argument—The Beginning of the End for Atheism
Don't be put off by the technical-sounding name: "cosmological" comes from the Greek word cosmos, which means "world" or "universe." That is, the Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a cause.
In logical form, the argument goes like this:
Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
The universe had a beginning.
Therefore the universe had a cause.
As we showed in the last chapter, for an argument to be true it has to be logically valid, and its premises must be true. This is a valid argument, but are the premises true? Let's take a look at the premises.
Premise 1—Everything that had a beginning had a cause—is the Law of Causality, which is the fundamental principle of science. Without the Law of Causality, science is impossible. In fact, Francis Bacon (the father of modern science) said, "True knowledge is knowledge by causes." 4 In other words, science is a search for causes. That's what scientists do—they try to discover what caused what.
If there's one thing we've observed about the universe, it's that things don't happen without a cause. When a man is driving down the street, a car never appears in front of his car out of nowhere, with no driver or no cause. We know many a police officer has heard this, but it's just not true. There's always a driver or some other cause behind that car appearing. Even the great skeptic David Hume could not deny the Law of Causality. He wrote, "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause." 5
In fact, to deny the Law of Causality is to deny rationality. The very process of rational thinking requires us to put together thoughts (the causes) that result in conclusions (the effects). So if anyone ever tells you he doesn't believe in the Law of Causality, simply ask that person, "What caused you to come to that conclusion?"
Since the Law of Causality is well established and undeniable, premise 1 is true. What about premise 2? Did the universe have a beginning? If not, then no cause was needed. If so, then the universe must have had a cause.
Until about the time of Einstein, atheists could comfort themselves with the belief that the universe is eternal, and thus did not need a cause. But since then, five lines of scientific evidence have been discovered that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the universe did indeed have a beginning. And that beginning was what scientists now call "The Big Bang." This Big Bang evidence can be easily remembered by the acronym SURGE.
Every several years or so, the major news magazines—Time, Newsweek, and the like—run a cover story about the origin and fate of the universe. "When did the universe begin?" and "When will it end?" are two of the questions investigated in such articles. The fact that the universe had a beginning and will ultimately die is not even up for debate in these reports. Why? Because modern scientists know that a beginning and an ending are demanded by one of the most validated laws in all of nature—the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
S—The Second Law of Thermodynamics
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the S in our SURGE acronym. Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy, and the Second Law states, among other things, that the universe is running out of usable energy. With each passing moment, the amount of usable energy in the universe grows smaller, leading scientists to the obvious conclusion that one day all the energy will be gone and the universe will die. Like a running car, the universe will ultimately run out of gas.
You say, "So what? How does that prove that the universe had a beginning?" Well, look at it this way: the First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. 6 In other words, the universe has only a finite amount of energy (much as your car has only a finite amount of gas). Now, if your car has only a finite amount of gas (the First Law), and whenever it's running it continually consumes gas (the Second Law), would your car be running right now if you had started it up an infinitely long time ago? No, of course not. It would be out of gas by now. In the same way, the universe would be out of energy by now if it had been running from all eternity. But here we are-—the lights are still on, so the universe must have begun sometime in the finite past. That is, the universe is not eternal—it had a beginning.
A flashlight is another way to think about the universe. If you leave a flashlight on overnight, what's the intensity of the light in the morning? It is dim, because the batteries have used up most of their energy.
"Well, the universe is like a dying flashlight. It has only so much energy left to consume. But since the universe still has some battery life left (it's not quite dead yet), it can't be eternal-—-it must have had a beginning'— for if it were eternal, the battery would have died by now.
The Second Law is also known as the Law of Entropy, which is a fancy way of saying that nature tends to bring things to disorder. That is, with time, things naturally fall apart. Your car falls apart; your house falls apart; your body falls apart. (In fact, the Second Law is the reason many of us get "dresser disease" when we get older—our chest falls into our drawers!) But if the universe is becoming less ordered, then where did the original order come from? Astronomer Robert Jastrow likens the universe to a wound-up clock.7 If a wind-up clock is running down, then someone must have wound it up.
This aspect of the Second Law also tells us that the universe had a beginning. Since we still have some order left—just like we still have some usable energy left—the universe cannot be eternal, because if it were, we would have reached complete disorder (entropy) by now.
A number of years ago, a student from a Christian ministry on an Ivy League campus invited me (Norm) to speak there on a related topic. During the lecture, I basically told the students what we've written here but in a lot more detail. After the lecture, the student who had invited me there asked me to have lunch with him and his physics professor.
As we sat down to eat, the professor made it clear that he was skeptical of my argument that the Second Law requires a beginning for the universe. In fact, he said he was a materialist who believed that only material exists and that it has existed from all eternity.
"If matter is eternal, what do you do with the Second Law?" I asked him.
He replied, "Every law has an exception. This is my exception."
I could have countered by asking him if it's really good science to assume that every law has an exception. That doesn't seem very scientific and may even be self-defeating. It may be self-defeating when you ask, "Does the law that 'every law has an exception' have an exception?" If it does, maybe the Second Law is the exception to the law that every law must have an exception.
I didn't go down that road, because I thought he would take exception. Instead, I backed off the Second Law for a moment and decided to question him about materialism.
"If everything is material," I asked, "then what is a scientific theory? After all, the theory about everything being material isn't material; it's not made out of molecules."
Without a moment's hesitation he quipped, "A theory is magic."
"Magic?" I repeated, not really believing what I was hearing. "What's your basis for saying that?"
"Faith," he quickly replied.
"Faith in magic?" I thought to myself. "I can't believe what I'm hearing! If faith in magic is the best the materialists have to offer, then I don't have enough faith to be a materialist!"
In retrospect, it seemed to me that this professor had a brief moment of complete candor. He knew he couldn't answer the overwhelming evidence in support of the Second Law, so he admitted that his position had no basis in evidence or good reason. In doing so, he provided another example of the will refusing to believe what the mind knows to be true, and how the atheists' view is based on sheer faith.
The professor was right about one thing: having faith. In fact, he needed a leap of faith to willingly ignore the most established law in all of nature. That's how Arthur Eddington characterized the Second Law more than eighty years ago:
The Law that entropy increases—the Second Law of Thermodynamics—-holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations—then so much for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation— well, these experiments do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
Since I could see that the professor was not really interested in accepting the truth, I didn't ask him any more potentially humiliating questions. But since we couldn't ignore the power of the Second Law on our own bodies, we both ordered dessert. Neither of us was willing to deny that we needed to replace the energy we had just used up!
U—The Universe Is Expanding
Good scientific theories are those that are able to predict phenomena that have not yet been observed. As we have seen, General Relativity predicted an expanding universe. But it wasn't until legendary astronomer Edwin Hubble looked through his telescope more than a decade later that scientists finally confirmed that the universe is expanding and that it's expanding from a single point. (Astronomer Vesto Melvin Slipher was hot on the trail of this expanding universe as early as 1913, but it was Hubble who put all the pieces together, in the late 20s.) This expanding universe is the second line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning.
How does the expanding universe prove a beginning? Think about it this way: if we could watch a video recording of the history of the universe in reverse, we would see all matter in the universe collapse back to a point, not the size of a basketball, not the size of a golf ball, not even the size of a pinhead, but mathematically and logically to a point that is actually nothing (i.e., no space, no time, and no matter). In other words, once there was nothing, and then, BANG, there was something—the entire universe exploded into being! This, of course, is what is commonly called "the Big Bang."
It's important to understand that the universe is not expanding into empty space, but space itself is expanding—there was no space before the Big Bang. It's also important to understand that the universe did not emerge from existing material but from nothing-—-there was no matter before the Big Bang. In fact, chronologically, there was no "before" the Big Bang because there are no "befores" without time, and there was no time until the Big Bang.9 Time, space, and matter came into existence at the Big Bang.
These facts give atheists a lot of trouble, as they did on a rainy night in Georgia in April of 1998. That night I (Frank) attended a debate in Atlanta on the question, "Does God exist?" William Lane Craig took the affirmative position, and Peter Atkins took the negative position. The debate was highly spirited and even humorous at times, partially due to the moderator, William F. Buckley, Jr. (Buckley did not hide his favoritism for Craig's pro-God position: after introducing Craig and his impressive credentials, Buckley began to introduce Atkins by cracking, "On the side of the Devil is Dr. Peter Atkins!")
One of Craig's five arguments for the existence of God was the Cosmological Argument as supported by the Big Bang evidence we've been discussing here. He pointed out that the universe—all time, all matter, and all space-—exploded out of nothing, a fact that Atkins had conceded in his book and reaffirmed later in the debate that night.
Since Craig spoke first, he informed the audience how Atkins attempts to explain the universe from an atheistic perspective:
"In his book The Creation Revisited, Dr. Atkins struggles mightily to explain how the universe could come into existence, uncaused out of nothing. But in the end he finds himself trapped in self-contradiction. He [writes], 'Now we go back in time beyond the moment of creation to when there was no time, and to where there was no space.' At this time before time, he imagines a swirling dust of mathematical points which recombine again and again and again and finally come by trial and error to form our space time universe."10
Craig went on to point out that Atkins's position is not a scientific theory but is actually self-contradictory pop-metaphysics. It is pop-metaphysics because it's a made-up explanation—there's absolutely no scientific evidence supporting it. And it's self-contradictory because it assumes time and space before there was time and space.
Since Craig did not get a chance to dialogue with Atkins directly on this point, Ravi Zacharias and I stood in the question line near the end of the debate to ask Atkins about his position. Unfortunately, time expired before either of us could ask a question, so we approached Atkins backstage afterwards.
"Dr. Atkins," Ravi started, "you admit that the universe exploded out of nothing, but your explanation for the beginning equivocates on what 'nothing' is. Swirling mathematical points are not nothing. Even they are something. How do you justify this?"
Instead of addressing the issue, Atkins verbally succumbed to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He said, "Look, gentlemen, I am very tired. I can't answer any more questions now." In other words, his decrease of energy proved the Second Law was at work. Atkins literally had nothing to say!
Well, according to the modern cosmological evidence, the universe literally had nothing from which to emerge. Yet when it came to giving an atheistic explanation for this, Atkins didn't really begin with nothing but with mathematical points and time. Of course, one can't imagine how mere mathematical points and time could actually cause the universe anyway. Nevertheless, we wanted to press the fact that atheists like Atkins must be able to explain how the universe began from absolutely nothing.
What is nothing? Aristotle had a good definition: he said that nothing is what rocks dream about! The nothing from which the universe emerged is not "mathematical points" as Atkins suggested or "positive and negative energy" as Isaac Asimov, who is also an atheist, once wrote.11 Nothing is literally no thing—what rocks dream about.
British author Anthony Kenny honestly described his own predicament as an atheist in light of evidence for the Big Bang. He wrote, "According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began to exist at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing."12
R—Radiation from the Big Bang
The third line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning was discovered by accident in 1965. That's when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson detected strange radiation on their antenna at Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey. No matter where they turned their antenna, this mysterious radiation remained. They initially thought it might be the result of bird droppings deposited on the antenna by nesting Jersey Shore pigeons, so they had the birds and the droppings removed. But when they got back inside, they found that the radiation was still there, and it was still coming from all directions. What Penzias and Wilson had detected turned out to be one of the most incredible discoveries of the last century-—one that would win them Nobel Prizes. These two Bell Lab scientists had discovered the afterglow from, the Big Bang fireball explosion!
Technically known as the cosmic background radiation, this afterglow is actually light and heat from the initial explosion. This fight is no longer visible because its wavelength has been stretched by the expanding universe to wavelengths slightly shorter than those produced by a microwave oven. But the heat can still be detected. As early as 1948, three scientists predicted that this radiation would be out there if the Big Bang did really occur. But for some reason no one attempted to detect it before Penzias and Wilson stumbled upon it by accident nearly twenty years later. When the discovery was confirmed, it laid to rest any lingering suggestion that the universe is in an eternal steady state. Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way:
No explanation other than the Big Bang has been found for the fireball radiation. The clincher, which has convinced almost the last Doubting Thomas, is that the radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson has exactly the pattern of wavelengths expected for the light and heat produced in a great explosion. Supporters of the steady state theory have tried desperately to find an alternative explanation, but they have failed. At the present time, the Big Bang theory has no competitors.13
In effect, the discovery of the fireball radiation burned up any hope in the Steady State. But that wasn't the end of the discoveries. More Big Bang evidence would follow. In fact, if cosmology were a football game, believers in the Big Bang would be called for "piling on" with this next discovery.
G—Great Galaxy Seeds
After finding the predicted expanding universe and radiation afterglow, scientists turned their attention to another prediction that would confirm the Big Bang. If the Big Bang actually occurred, scientists believed that we should see slight variations (or ripples) in the temperature of the cosmic background radiation that Penzias and Wilson had discovered. These temperature ripples enabled matter to congregate by gravitational attraction into galaxies. If found, they would comprise the fourth line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning.
In 1989 the search for these ripples was intensified when NASA launched the $200 million satellite aptly called COBE for Cosmic Background Explorer. Carrying extremely sensitive instruments, COBE was able to see whether or not these ripples actually existed in the background radiation and how precise they were.
When the project leader, astronomer George Smoot, announced COBE's findings in 1992, his shocking characterization was quoted in newspapers all over the world. He said, "If you're religious, it's like looking at God." University of Chicago astrophysicist Michael Turner was no less enthusiastic, claiming, "The significance of this [discovery] cannot be overstated. They have found the Holy Grail of Cosmology." Cambridge astronomer Stephen Hawking also agreed, calling the findings "the most important discovery of the century, if not of all time."14 What did COBE find to merit such momentous descriptions?
COBE not only found the ripples, but scientists were amazed at their precision. The ripples show that the explosion and expansion of the universe was precisely tweaked to cause just enough matter to congregate to allow galaxy formation, but not enough to cause the universe to collapse back on itself. Any slight variation one way or the other, and none of us would be here to tell about it. In fact, the ripples are so exact (down to one part in one hundred thousand) that Smoot called them the "machining marks from the creation of the universe" and the "fingerprints of the maker."15
But these temperature ripples are not just dots on a scientist's graph somewhere. COBE actually took infrared pictures of the ripples. Now keep in mind that space observations are actually observations of the past because of the long time it takes light from distant objects to reach us. So COBE's pictures are actually pictures of the past. That is, the infrared pictures taken by COBE point to the existence of matter from the very early universe that would ultimately form into galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Smoot called this matter "seeds" of the galaxies as they exist today (these pictures can be seen at COBE's website, http://Lambda.gsfc.nasa.gov). These "seeds" are the largest structures ever detected, with the biggest extending across one-third of the known universe. That's 10 billion light years or 60 billion trillion (60 followed by 21 zeros) miles.16
Now you can see why some scientists were so grandiose in their description of the discovery. Something predicted by the Big Bang was again found, and that something was so big and so precise that it made a big bang with scientists!
E—Einstein's Theory of General Relativity
The E in SURGE is for Einstein. His theory of General Relativity is the fifth line of scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning, and its discovery was the beginning of the end for the idea that the universe is eternal. The theory itself, which has been verified to five decimal places, demands an absolute beginning for time, space, and matter. It shows that time, space, and matter are co-relative. That is, they are interdependent—you can't have one without the others.
From General Relativity, scientists predicted and then found the expanding universe, the radiation afterglow, and the great galaxy seeds that were precisely tweaked to allow the universe to form into its present state. Add these discoveries to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and we have five lines of powerful scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning—a beginning, we might say, that came in a great SURGE.
God and the Astronomers
So the universe had a beginning. "What does that mean for the question of God's existence? The man who now sits in Edwin Hubble's chair at the Mount Wilson observatory has a few things to say about that. His name is Robert Jastrow, an astronomer we've already quoted in this chapter. In addition to serving as the director of Mount Wilson, Jastrow is the founder of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Obviously his credentials as a scientist are impeccable. That's why his book God and the Astronomers made such an impression on those investigating the implications of the Big Bang, namely those asking the question, "Does the Big Bang point to God?"
Jastrow reveals in the opening line of chapter 1 that he has no religious axe to grind. He writes, "When an astronomer writes about God, his colleagues assume he is either over the hill or going bonkers. In my case it should be understood from the start that I am an agnostic in religious matters."17
In light of Jastrow's personal agnosticism, his theistic quotations are all the more provocative. After explaining some of the Big Bang evidence we've just reviewed, Jastrow writes, "Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy."18
The overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang and its consistency with the biblical account in Genesis led Jastrow to observe in an interview, "Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. . . . That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact. "19
By evoking the supernatural, Jastrow echoes the conclusion of Einstein contemporary Arthur Eddington. As we mentioned earlier, although he found it "repugnant," Eddington admitted, "The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural."20
Now why would Jastrow and Eddington admit that there are "supernatural" forces at work? "Why couldn't natural forces have produced the universe? Because these scientists know as well as anyone that natural forces—indeed all of nature—were created at the Big Bang. In other words, the Big Bang was the beginning point for the entire physical universe. Time, space, and matter came into existence at that point. There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang. Since a cause cannot come after its effect, natural forces cannot account for the Big Bang. Therefore, there must be something outside of nature to do the job. That's exactly what the word supernatural means.
The discoverers of the afterglow, Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, were not Bible-thumpers either. Both initially believed in the Steady State Theory. But due to the mounting evidence, they've since changed their views and acknowledged facts that are consistent with the Bible. Penzias admits, "The Steady State theory turned out to be so ugly that people dismissed it. The easiest way to fit the observations with the least number of parameters was one in which the universe was created out of nothing, in an instant, and continues to expand."21
Wilson, who once took a class from Fred Hoyle (the man who popularized the Steady State Theory in 1948), said, "I philosophically liked the Steady State. And clearly I've had to give that up."22 When science writer Fred Heeren asked him if the Big Bang evidence is indicative of a Creator, Wilson responded, "Certainly there was something that set it all off. Certainly, if you are religious, I can't think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match with Genesis."23 George Smoot echoed Wilson's assessment. He said, "There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing."24
The Empire Strikes Back (but Fizzles Out)
What do atheists have to say about this? We've already seen the shortcomings in the explanations of Atkins and Isaac Asimov—they start with something rather than literally nothing. Are there any other atheistic explanations out there that may be plausible? Not that we've seen. Atheists have come up with other theories, but all of them have their fatal flaws.25 Let's take a brief look at a few of them.
The Cosmic Rebound Theory—This is the theory that suggests the universe has been expanding and contracting forever. This helps its proponents avoid a definite beginning. But the problems with this theory are numerous, and for those reasons it has fallen out of favor.
First, and most obviously, there's no evidence for an infinite number of bangs (after all, it's not the Big Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang... Theory!). The universe appears to have exploded once from nothing, not repeatedly from existing material.
Second, there's not enough matter in the universe to pull everything back together. The universe seems poised to continue expanding indefinitely.26 This was confirmed in 2003 by Charles Bennett of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. After looking at readings from NASA's latest space probe, he said, "The universe will expand forever. It will not turn back on itself and collapse in a great crunch. "27 In fact, astronomers are now finding that the universe's expansion speed is actually accelerating, making a collapse even more improbable.28
Third, even if there were enough matter to cause the universe to contract and "bang" again, the Cosmic Rebound Theory contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics because the theory falsely assumes that no energy would be lost in each contraction and explosion. A universe "banging" repeatedly would eventually fizzle out just as a dropped ball eventually fizzles out. So if the universe has been expanding and contracting forever, it would have fizzled out already.
Finally, there's no way that today would have gotten here if the universe had been expanding and contracting forever. An infinite number of big bangs is an actual impossibility (we'll elaborate on this in a couple of pages). And even if there were a finite number of bangs, the theory cannot explain what caused the first one. There was nothing to "bang" before the first bang!
Imaginary Time—Other atheistic attempts at explaining how the universe exploded into being out of nothing are just as flawed. For example, in an effort to avoid an absolute beginning of the universe, Stephen Hawking made up a theory that utilizes "imaginary time." We could just as well call it an "imaginary theory" because Hawking himself admits that his theory is "just a [metaphysical] proposal" that cannot explain what happened in real time. "In real time," he concedes, "the universe has a beginning. . . ."29 In fact, according to Hawking, "Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang."30 So by his own admission Hawking's imaginary theory fizzles when applied to the real world. Imaginary time is just that—purely imaginary.
Uncertainty—With the evidence for the beginning of the universe so strong, some atheists question the first premise of the Cosmological Argument—the Law of Causality. This is dangerous ground for atheists, who typically pride themselves on being champions of reason and science. As we have pointed out before, the Law of Causality is the foundation of all science. Science is a search for causes. If you destroy the Law of Causality, then you destroy science itself.
Atheists attempt to cast doubt on the Law of Causality by citing quantum physics, specifically Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. This principle describes our inability to simultaneously predict the location and speed of subatomic particles (i.e., electrons). The atheist's contention here is this: if causality at the subatomic realm isn't necessary, then maybe causality of the entire universe isn't necessary either.
Fortunately for science, this atheistic attempt to cast doubt on the Law of Causality fails. Why? Because it confuses causality and predictability. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle does not prove that the movement of electrons is uncaused; it only describes our inability to predict their location and speed at any given time. The mere fact that we can't predict something doesn't mean that something has no cause. In fact, quantum theorists acknowledge that we might not be able to predict the simultaneous speed and location of electrons because our very attempts at observing them are the cause of their unpredictable movements! Like a beekeeper putting his head in a beehive, we must stir them up in order to observe them. Hence, the disturbance may be a case of the scientist looking at his own eyelashes in the microscope.
In the end, no atheistic theory adequately refutes either premise of the Cosmological Argument. The universe had a beginning and therefore it needs a cause.
The Religion of Science
So why don't all scientists just accept this conclusion instead of attempting to avoid the facts and their implications with wild and implausible explanations? Jastrow's comments are again insightful (remember, Jastrow is an agnostic). Jastrow observes:
Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the Universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind-—supposedly a very objective mind-—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in our profession. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. We become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases.31
The phrases we have seen used by Atkins and Asimov to explain the beginning of the universe—"mathematical points" and "positive and negative energy" respectively-—certainly seem meaningless to us. Indeed, they explain nothing.
Regarding Einstein's "irritating" feelings about General Relativity and the expanding universe, Jastrow writes: "This is curiously emotional language for a discussion of some mathematical formulas. I suppose that the idea of a beginning in time annoyed Einstein because of its theological implications."32
Everyone knows that theists have theological beliefs. But what's often overlooked is that atheistic and pantheistic scientists also have theological beliefs. As noted above, Jastrow calls some of these beliefs "the articles of faith in our profession," and he asserts that some of these beliefs comprise the "religion in science." He writes:
There is a kind of religion in science . . . every effect must have its cause; there is no First Cause This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring the implications-—-in science this is known as "refusing to speculate"—or trivializing the origin of the world by calling it the Big Bang, as if the Universe were a firecracker.33
Traumatized or not, scientists must come to grips with the implications of the Big Bang evidence. They may not like the evidence or its implications, but that won't change the facts. Since the evidence shows that time, space, and matter were created at the Big Bang, the most probable scientific conclusion is that the universe was caused by something outside of time, space, and matter (i.e., an Eternal Cause). When scientists stop short of that conclusion by papering it over with "meaningless phrases" or by "refusing to speculate," it seems that they are simply refusing to accept the facts and the most reasonable conclusions that come from them. This is a matter of the will, not the mind. The evidence is objective; it's the disbelieving scientists who are not.
What If the Big Bang Theory Is Wrong?
So far we've given solid scientific evidence (SURGE) for the fact that the universe had a beginning. But suppose scientists wake up one day and find out that all of their calculations have been wrong—-there was no Big Bang. Given the wide scope of the evidence and the ability of the theory to correctly predict so much observable phenomena, a total abandonment of the Big Bang would be extremely unlikely.
This is admitted even by atheists. Victor Stenger, a physicist who taught at the University of Hawaii, once wrote that "the universe exploded out of nothingness.''34 Stenger recently acknowledged that the Big Bang is looking more probable all the time. "We have to leave open the possibility that [the Big Bang] could be wrong," he said, "but. . .every year that goes by, and more astronomical data comes in, it's more and more consistent with at least the general Big Bang picture."35
Indeed, in 2003 more evidence came forth that the Big Bang is correct. NASA's WMAP satellite (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) confirmed the findings of its predecessor COBE and returned pictures thirty-five times sharper than COBE's of the background radiation ripples.36 In fact, space observations are becoming so supportive of the theistic worldview that George Will muses, "Soon the American Civil Liberties Union, or People for the American Way, or some similar faction of litigious secularism will file suit against NASA, charging that the Hubble Space Telescope unconstitutionally gives comfort to the religiously inclined."37
Nevertheless, let's play skeptic's advocate for a second. Let's suppose that at some point in the future the Big Bang Theory is deemed wrong. Would that mean that the universe is eternal? No, for a number of reasons. First, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the S in SURGE) supports the Big Bang but is not dependent on it. The fact that the universe is running out of usable energy and heading toward disorder is not even up for debate. In Eddington's words, the Second Law "holds the supreme position among the laws of nature." It is true even if the Big Bang is not. Second, the same can be said for Einstein's theory of General Relativity (the E in SURGE). This theory, well verified by observation, requires a beginning to space, matter, and time whether or not it all began with a bang. Third, there's also scientific evidence from geology that the universe had a beginning. As many of us learned in high school chemistry, radioactive elements decay over time into other elements. For example, radioactive uranium eventually turns into lead. This means that if all uranium atoms were infinitely old, they would all be lead by now, but they're not. So the earth cannot be infinitely old. Finally, there's a philosophical line of evidence for the beginning of the universe. This line of evidence is so rationally inescapable that some consider it the strongest argument of all. It's called the Kalam (from the Arabic word for "eternal") Cosmological Argument, and it goes like this:
1. An infinite number of days has no end.
2. But today is the end day of history (history being a collection of all days).
3. Therefore, there were not an infinite number of days before today (i.e., time had a beginning).
To grasp this argument, see the timeline below, marked in segments of days (fig. 3.1). The further left you go, the further back in history you go. Now, assume for a moment that this line extends to the left indefinitely, so that you can't see if or where it begins. But as you look to the right you can see the end of the line because the last segment of the line represents today. Tomorrow isn't here yet, but when it gets here we'll add one more segment (i.e., a day) to the right end of the line.
Distant History // Previous Days 111111 Yesterday Today --
Now, here's how this proves that time had a beginning: since the line certainly ends on the right, the timeline cannot be infinite because something that is infinite has no end. Moreover, you can't add anything to something that is infinite, but tomorrow we will add another day to our timeline. So our timeline is undeniably finite.
Let's consider this argument from a different angle. If there were an infinite number of days before today, then today would never have arrived. But here we are! So there must have been only a finite number of days before today. In other words, even though we may not be able to see, as we look to the left, where the line begins, we know it had to begin at some point because only a finite amount of time could be passed for today to arrive. You can't traverse an infinite number of days. Thus time must have had a beginning.
Some may say that infinite numbers can exist, so why can't infinite days? Because there's a difference between an abstract infinite series and a concrete one. The one is purely theoretical, the other is actual. Mathematically, we can conceive of an infinite number of days, but actually we could never count or live an infinite number of days. You can conceive of an infinite number of mathematical points between two bookends on a shelf, but you could not fit an infinite number of books between them. That's the difference between an abstract and a concrete.
Numbers are abstract. Days are concrete. (By the way, this amplifies our answer above as to why there could not have been an infinite number of bangs in the cosmological history of the universe. An infinite number of actual events is impossible.)
What we are saying here is that the universe, Big Bang or not, had a beginning. That is, the Cosmological Argument is true because both premises of the argument are true: everything that comes to be has a cause, and the universe came to be. Since the universe had a beginning, it must have had a Beginner.
Who Made God?
In light of all the evidence for a beginning of the space-time universe, the Beginner must be outside the space-time universe. When God is suggested as the Beginner, atheists are quick to ask the age-old question, "Then who made God? If everything needs a cause, then God needs a cause too!"
As we have seen, the Law of Causality is the very foundation of science. Science is a search for causes, and that search is based on our consistent observation that everything that has a beginning has a cause. In fact, the question "Who made God?" points out how seriously we take the Law of Causality. It's taken for granted that virtually everything needs a cause.
So why then doesn't God need a cause? Because the atheist's contention misunderstands the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality does not say that everything needs a cause. It says that everything that comes to be needs a cause. God did not come to be. No one made God. He is unmade. As an eternal being, God did not have a beginning, so he didn't need a cause.
"But wait," the atheist will protest, "if you can have an eternal God, then I can have an eternal universe! After all, if the universe is eternal, then it did not have a cause." Yes, it is logically possible that the universe is eternal and therefore didn't have a cause. In fact, it is one of only two possibilities: either the universe, or something outside the universe, is eternal. (Since something undeniably exists today, then something must have always existed; we have only two choices: the universe, or something that caused the universe.) The problem for the atheist is that while it is logically possible that the universe is eternal, it does not seem to be actually possible. For all the scientific and philosophical evidence (SURGE, radioactive decay, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument) tells us the universe cannot be eternal. So by ruling out one of the two options, we are left with the only other option-—something outside the universe is eternal.
"When you get right down to it, there are only two possibilities for anything that exists: either 1) it has always existed and is therefore uncaused, or 2) it had a beginning and was caused by something else (it can't be self-caused, because it would have had to exist already in order to cause anything). According to the overwhelming evidence, the universe had a beginning, so it must be caused by something else—by something outside itself. Notice that this conclusion is consistent with theistic religions, but it is not based on those religions—it is based on good reason and evidence.
So what is this First Cause like? One might think you need to rely on a Bible or some other so-called religious revelation to answer that question, but, again, we don't need anyone's scripture to figure that out. Einstein was right when he said, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."38 Religion can be informed and confirmed by science, as it is by the Cosmological Argument. Namely, we can discover some characteristics of the First Cause just from the evidence we've discussed in this chapter. From that evidence alone, we know the First Cause must be:
self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial (since the First Cause created time, space, and matter, the First Cause must be outside of time, space, and matter). In other words, he is without limits, or infinite; unimaginably powerful, to create the entire universe out of nothing; supremely intelligent, to design the universe with such incredible precision (we'll see more of this in the next chapter); personal, in order to choose to convert a state of nothingness into the time-space-material universe (an impersonal force has no ability to make choices).
These characteristics of the First Cause are exactly the characteristics theists ascribe to God. Again, these characteristics are not based on someone's religion or subjective experience. They are drawn from the scientific evidence we have just reviewed, and they help us see a critically important section of the box top to this puzzle we call life.
If There Is No God, Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?
Years ago, I (Norm) debated an atheist at the University of Miami on the question "Does God exist?" After I presented much of the evidence we have reviewed here, I had the opportunity to ask my opponent some questions. Here's what I asked him:
"Sir, I have some questions for you: First, 'If there is no God, why is there something rather than nothing at all?'" I then proceeded to ask a few more questions, thinking he would answer them in sequence.
Now, usually when you debate someone, you're trying to persuade the audience. You don't expect to get your opponent to admit he's wrong. He's got too much invested in his position, and most debaters have too much ego to admit an error. But this guy was different. He surprised me when he said, "Regarding the first question, that's a good question. That's a really good question." And without any other comment, he went on to answer my second question.
After hearing the evidence for the existence of God, this debater was left questioning his own beliefs. He even attended a follow-up meeting and expressed that he had doubts about atheism. His faith in atheism was waning. Indeed.
"If there is no God, why is there something rather than nothing?" is a question that we all have to answer. And in light of the evidence, we are left with only two options: either no one created something out of nothing, or else someone created something out of nothing. Which view is more reasonable? Nothing created something? No. Even Julie Andrews knew the answer when she sang, "Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could!" And if you can't believe that nothing caused something, then you don't have enough faith to be an atheist!
The most reasonable view is God. Robert Jastrow suggested this when he ended his book God and the Astronomers with this classic line: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."35