The New Atheism: The Nature of Nature

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a blog dedicated to diving into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re going through Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight, we look at chapter 7, “The Nature of Nature.”

We begin with a quote Stenger gives of Thomas Edison saying “Nature made us–nature did it all–not the gods of the religions. Religion is all bunk and all Bibles are man-made.”

This was a quote that struck me as odd thinking that something about it doesn’t seem like something Edison would say and indeed, no record can be found that he did say it. Of course, if someone can find the quote, I will be glad to retract it. I will want to see it in an original source from Edison’s own writings.

Stenger goes on to speak of the nature of the universe and says “According to our best current knowledge, the substance of the universe is matter and nothing else.”

I wouldn’t have a problem really with this statement. The universe is material and thus, it’s material cause will be matter. The question is, “Is the universe all that there is?” That is a question science cannot answer as science can only be authoritative on matter. Now inferences can be drawn, yes, but as soon as inferences are drawn, one is entering the areas of philosophy and theology. It is fine for scientists to make such statements, provided they realize they are stepping outside of the authority of science and are speaking as lay-philosophers, as it were.

Now much of what Stenger goes on to say in this chapter is in his area of expertise, physics. If some physicists wish to comment on that, that is fine. I will not attempt to refute the claims of physics for I am not a physicist. However, when they step outside of their bounds into my area of philosophy, that is where I will deal with them.

Stenger takes part of this time to go against miracles seeing them as violations of the laws of nature with the statement of “No reliably documented miracles have ever been reported in history or science.”

One wonders what is meant exactly by reliably documented. There are several cases were miracles have been documented. It does not mean they are true. One cannot doubt however that they have been documented. To check whether the miracle happened or not is not the area of science. It is the area of philosophy and theology.

When Stenger speaks against miracles, he is not speaking as a physicist, but as a philosopher, and let us remember that C.S. Lewis said that he believed good philosophy needs to exist if for no other reason, than that bad philosophy needs to be answered. Philosophy is unavoidable as is theology and science and history. We will all participate in these fields in some way. The question is, are we going to do bad at them or good at them? Stenger is repeatedly showing, he is a bad philosopher. (As well as bad at theology and history to buy Dawkins’s argument on the nature of God and to buy into the Christ-myth hypothesis)

Were I to speak to Stenger, I would point to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, documented in numerous sources. Now we could dispute those sources and if they happened, but it would be the one I would point to to see if he could give a naturalistic explanation for why Christ rose from the dead.

Stenger is correct when he says matter does not perform miracles but spirit does and if we ever saw a miracle, that would confirm a spiritual being exists. However, the lack of a miracle does not prove the non-existence of a spiritual being. Now I do believe in miracles of course, but I just wish for readers to know that a lack of miracles does not mean a lack of God.

In explaining the origin of the universe, Stenger says there is no need to violate any physical law to account for the universe. Again, I really don’t have much problem. I believe God could use a mechanism that would work by entirely natural means to create the universe. Of course, I also believe he set in place those laws of the universe by which the universe runs, but I have no problem with the early origin of the universe not having to have miracles. (Although I would say the coming into existence of the universe would be a miracle)

Stenger claims to give an account on where the laws of physics come from, but he never does. He simply says they’re not handed down by God but are human inventions. Now it could be I’m being too nit-picky, but the laws themselves aren’t human inventions. The descriptions of them are. The laws themselves are not. Stenger’s poor wording here however I find revealing. He does not understand the way his greatest critics will think about what he has to say.

Stenger’s position is still that the universe came from nothing and it is a point I cannot help but wonder why people think it. Nothing can mean something different to a physicist I’ll grant. However, nothing properly understood is simply non-existence. non-existence is incapable of causing existence. Non-existence cannot be acted on nor can it act on anything else. To say something just popped into existence is not a claim we’d accept for anything else, but we’re to accept it for the universe?

I am amazed that this is supposed to be the rational position. Nothing does not have any properties as has been said so how can science begin to say anything about it. We are always asked how God created the universe, but I would like to know how nothing brought about the universe. At least when understood God has a mind and power. Nothing has, well, nothing.

His final conclusion then on the laws of physics? “They can very well have come from nothing.” Now if you go to our study on the Summa Theologica and the existence/essence distinction, I will argue why God does not need a cause seeing as He is His own being. I bring this up because to many atheists, to say God is the first cause is nonsense, but why on Earth should I posit nothing as the first cause?

I find it amazing that the idea of taking a stand for science and reason means believing in the power of nothing.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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