Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 8

Does the universe present a problem for atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return now to Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. We’re now entering into the more scientific aspects here. Now I’m someone who does not really get into scientific apologetics. I don’t speak the language of science and I think it’s too often a mistake to think that science is either the final or ultimate arbiter on questions of theism, miracles, etc.

The first chapter will be the response to Robert Kaita. I do not plan on arguing against much of the science in this and other chapters, but I do plan on dealing with philosophical and historical claims that rise up. I gather this time the question is about why the universe is comprehensible. Kaita says this is a question scientists have not been able to answer.

In reality, they shouldn’t be able to, at least not as scientists. John Polkinghorne has used this kind of example. Suppose my wife goes into the kitchen and notices a saucepan of water boiling on the stove and asks “Why is the water boiling?” I explain, “My Princess, when water gets heated, the molecules in it break apart and go from a liquid state to a gas state.” Would that be a true answer? Absolutely. It would not be the main answer and that is an answer science cannot get at because it points to intentions of the will. It would be “I am wanting to make a glass of tea.”

I consider the question about why the universe is comprehensible to be not a question of science but of philosophy. Science provides the data, but many times scientists like to go beyond the data and make pronouncements on what the data means. All worldviews do this. This is fair to an extent, but it should be recognized the person is not speaking from their field.

Another question raised is the sustaining of the universe. This is an important question, and yet, it’s a secondary one. The universe can be seen as part of something else. It can be seen as part of existence. The universe does not have to be. One day, it will not be. It will die in a cold death. Existence though has to be. Existence cannot not exist. I want to know why anything exists at all. What keeps existence itself going?

Kaita does speak about how we’re ungrateful for the gifts of God that we have. This is certainly true and we’re all guilty to an extent, but it doesn’t answer the scientific questions. Of course, it shouldn’t. It really surprised me how much meant to be scientific here was not scientific really.

Jelbert starts by saying this argument is fascinating for showing the state of mind of the intelligent Christian. I find this quite a fascinating statement in itself. You take one writing from an intelligent Christian and that shows the state of mind of the intelligent Christian? I consider myself an intelligent Christian and my state of mind is quite different here.

Jelbert also says that Kaita has divided the world into the good and the chaotic and focuses on the good. I could not help but think about this passage from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday describing the meeting of the man Sunday.

“Have you noticed an odd thing,” he said, “about all your descriptions? Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to — the universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing landscape. This is queer, but it is queerer still that I also have had my odd notion about the President, and I also find that I think of Sunday as I think of the whole world.”

“Get on a little faster, Syme,” said Bull; “never mind the balloon.”

“When I first saw Sunday,” said Syme slowly, “I only saw his back; and when I saw his back, I knew he was the worst man in the world. His neck and shoulders were brutal, like those of some apish god. His head had a stoop that was hardly human, like the stoop of an ox. In fact, I had at once the revolting fancy that this was not a man at all, but a beast dressed up in men’s clothes.”

“Get on,” said Dr. Bull.

“And then the queer thing happened. I had seen his back from the street, as he sat in the balcony. Then I entered the hotel, and coming round the other side of him, saw his face in the sunlight. His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary, it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so good.”

“Syme,” exclaimed the Secretary, “are you ill?”

“It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging justly after heroic wars. There was laughter in the eyes, and in the mouth honour and sorrow. There was the same white hair, the same great, grey-clad shoulders that I had seen from behind. But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him in front I knew he was a god.”

“Pan,” said the Professor dreamily, “was a god and an animal.”

“Then, and again and always,” went on Syme like a man talking to himself, “that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday for the cab, and was just behind him all the way.”

You see, everyone has to explain the same data and it depends on how we do see it. One can say this world is mostly good and evil is the exception, or mostly evil and good is the exception, or it is evenly divided. Now based on Jelbert’s writing on morality, I have no idea where he comes from, although as I have said goodness is a lot more than just morality. I do say that he has to explain the data that we have. Christianity I don’t think has any problem with it. In fact, evil is an essential part of our worldview. If there were no evil, there would be no point in the death of the Son of God, or a death of the Son of God for that matter!

Jelbert responds to the idea that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does a theist. Jelbert says it takes no faith to say you don’t know. Perhaps, but is that what an atheist is saying? Is atheism not a claim about the way the world really is? I know a lot of atheists say it is just describing a lack of God belief, but I frankly consider this silly. Atheism then becomes nothing more than a statement of personal psychology and nothing about the way the world is. If atheism makes no claims about objective reality, it should not be treated as a serious worldview.

Jelbert also says you can’t take the scientific data, put a few Bible verses in, and say your worldview alone explains it. I agree. However, in the book of Licona and Dembski, I am sure Kaita is well aware there are other people handling those questions and is just saying how this works for him as a Christian. It does not mean that I agree with his exegesis, but it does mean that I think leeway can be granted.

Jelbert says there is no reason the laws and constraints of physics would change with time. Perhaps. There is also no reason that they wouldn’t. I am eager to see if when we get to the question of miracles if he uses Hume’s objection since that assumes that everything works the same way always when Hume himself said that if you drop a rock 1,000 times, that will not prove it will fall when you drop it the 1,001st time. Past experience for Hume could be a good indicator, but not an iron-clad proof. The point is though that your average physicist will not do an experiment every day to see if lead still sinks when placed in water. They will take it for granted and they are justified provided they believe in a universe of order. On atheism, I have no reason to believe that is the case.

Jelbert concludes that this isn’t evidence for God since we have to split the universe, but I really don’t see this as a problem. I don’t think anyone who thinks this world is perfect. Those who think there is nothing worthwhile in this universe end up with suicide. Most of us are not like that. The question is which side are we on? Then, how do we explain that side.

It is also true that this cannot point to any one world religion, and I agree, but it can start to point away from atheism. The fact that there is order can lead one to think there is something beyond the order, and note that is not scientific. That is metaphysical. Why is there order and sustenance at all? I know as a Christian I have an answer, but I see none for atheism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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