Questionpalooza

Question from Tim:
I am an honest questioner/agnostic looking for answers. I was born into a Christian denomination, but no longer go to church.

Anyway, here are my questions for you:

1. Assuming evolution is true (and I believe it is), then shouldn’t you allow for the fact that since the Bible was written by human beings, and human beings evolve, so did God in the Bible? In the Old Testament, he was an angry God, but by the New Testament he was a loving God. Why do atheists continue to pick on the Old Testament God who is no longer relavent to our modern day society?

2. A follow-up to #1. The New Testament makes it clear that “God is Love”. Surely, atheists believe in love. Yet, you do not believe in God. Isn’t that a contradiction?

3. Why is it perfectly acceptable for scientists to make and believe in ‘theories’, yet it is not okay to believe in the theory of God, if we may call it that?

4. If atheists believe in ‘nothing’, then isn’t that much the same as believing in God? By that I mean, you cannot prove that ‘nothing’ exists, can you? Show me where ‘nothing’ exists in this world. Isn’t everything made up of something?

5. Why do atheists seem so hostile to even the possibility of God existing? Why can’t God be treated as a possible scientific explanation for the creation of the universe? It seems to me that it is just as hard to believe (if not harder) that there are multiple universes or that this universe was a random mistake that just somehow occured? Until we know the true reasons for the origin of the universe, why not keep God on the table as one possible answer just like any other, since none of the others have been proven yet either?

I may have some more questions for you later, but these are the main ones for now. I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts and opinions on these matters, and I will consider them seriously.
Thank you for your time.

Answer by SmartLX:
Hi Tim.

1. Whether God is angry or loving only matters if you think God exists, so it’s of far more importance to theists than atheists, but we do tend to use it to challenge the basis of religious morality.

Whether God is more loving in the New Testament is debatable, because the Old Testament has no concept of Hell as currently understood by Christians. God doesn’t start condemning people to eternal punishment until the Gospels, so for those on His bad side, love doesn’t count for much. The whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice is morally questionable, as no other scapegoat has ever truly absolved anyone of responsibility for their own actions.

The idea of God evolving undermines the idea of divine morality even further. if God’s ideas of right and wrong can change, humans must live in constant fear that God will change His mind again, and a lifetime of good works will be invalidated or a sinful life suddenly vindicated.

2. Love is a function of the brain. It’s not an ethereal presence which floats around us, it’s an abstract description of an integral part of the human experience. When we talk about love, we’re describing what people do for and feel about each other. What Christian would accept that God is nothing more than bio-electrical activity and an abstract human concept?

No, God as envisioned by Christians (and of course the New Testament) is more than love. He’s an intelligent agent with His own will and powers independent of human beings. When Christians say “God is love” they are giving credit to God for all love, but they’re not limiting him to the scope of love. Love doesn’t literally bring people back from the dead, but a god apparently can. That’s why atheists can quite happily accept the existence of love, but still question the existence of God.

3. The existence of God is a hypothesis, not a theory as understood by scientists. A scientific theory, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” God is a possible explanation for various things, yes, but God has not been confirmed to any extent through observation of and experiments on the natural world. When people deride evolution as “only a theory”, they don’t realise that their alternatives of creationism and “intelligent design” are not even that.

That said, the existence of God could be said to be a scientific hypothesis because it’s either true or it isn’t, and it could in principle be supported or contradicted by physical evidence. That’s no reason to think it’s at all likely, but it’s something.

4. Firstly, atheists don’t believe in “nothing” because there is at least something. We exist, and we live in some kind of a world, even if our senses are completely misguided. That’s something. Atheists also variously believe all kinds of things unrelated to gods, such as that everyone deserves an education, or that hard work pays off, or that ghosts are real, or that 9/11 was an inside job. It depends on the person.

I think what you mean is that atheists believe that there are no gods. Some do, and that’s called “strong atheism”, but most atheists simply lack a belief in any god. A god is a huge thing to believe in, and if there isn’t any apparent evidence for one, why would you? If no god has sufficient evidence to inspire belief in you, what you’re left with is atheism.

5. As I said, God is a possible explanation for the universe. Being an atheist doesn’t mean completely ruling out that possibility, it just means not thinking it’s really the case. There are plenty of agnostic atheists around, including me.

The nice thing about the idea of multiple universes is that there could be any number of them, up to and including an infinite number. If there are anything like that many, with a decent amount of variance between them, then the development of at least one universe with intelligent life in it becomes not just likely but a statistical certainty. That aside, without other universes to compare to this one, we don’t know how likely it is that a universe will have properties that allow life to form somewhere, whether there’s one universe or many. Rather than a random mistake, life-friendly properties might be common or even inevitable, such that life is an expected by-product of universes. Life as a whole does seem like the kind of bloody-minded (so to speak) organism that you’d pick up in your travels and struggle to shake off.

If you have related questions, feel free to comment here and carry on the discussion, otherwise go ahead and post unrelated questions as a new entry.

God’s Plan for the Multiverse?

Question from Devilush:
I am a devout Atheist. I enjoy documentaries, I recently watched one on PBS Nova and they were talking about a subject I know a little about, alternate universes. This made me think about the theist argument I always hear…god’s divine plan. To me it makes a strong argument that every choice is possible, therefore it is god’s plan because he does not make mistakes. So whatever we think is choice is in reality his plan because every choice is possible…personally I need measured evidence of [I think Devilush was possibly cut off there]

Answer by SmartLX:
If every choice is possible, and has happened in some universe or other, then every possible wrong choice has been made. Yes, there would be at least one universe where everything has always gone perfectly according to God’s supposed plan (maybe more, if nothing stops universes from being identical) but the larger multiverse would be littered with universes that had fallen by the wayside.

Crediting God for the one universe He got right would be like calling someone a good marksman for peppering the area around the target with stray bullets until one happened to hit the bullseye (close to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, but really just simple confirmation bias). It would also be completely undeserved, because in a multiverse where everything happens somewhere, it’s a mathematical certainty that any given plan will be matched perfectly and God doesn’t actually need to do anything. So much for all-powerful. If He created the whole system in the first place, good for Him, but that makes him a deistic god, not the kind of interventionist theistic god the theists you’ve heard this from actually worship.

Of course this is all assuming there’s a god at all, which brings it into the area of theology and out of the area of consideration which is useful to atheists, except when they’re conversing with believers.

Eternal inflation? No. Eternal universe? Maybe, nevertheless. And what’s it to ya?

“These three scientists in particular, by virtue of their joint paper, are name-checked more often than any others by apologists not just arguing for an absolute beginning to the universe but claiming that this has been established beyond doubt.”

Question:
Scientists Arvin Borde, Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin, in their 2003 paper “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions”, ruled out past-eternal inflationary models of the universe. Does this prove that
1. the universe had an absolute beginning,
2. that it must have had a cause and
3. that the cause was God?

Answer:
No, no and no.

These three scientists in particular, by virtue of their joint paper, are name-checked more often than any others by apologists not just arguing for an absolute beginning to the universe but claiming that this has been established beyond doubt. Apologists up to and including William Lane Craig do this to support the cosmological argument for God, which requires such a beginning to be indisputable.

So what does the paper actually say? Feel free to read it via the link above (it’s dense but short), but the thrust is in the title: spacetime can’t have been inflating infinitely into the past.

That seems obvious since you’d think you’d eventually reach a singularity if you worked backwards, but models have been proposed wherein the farther back you go the slower the expansion is. Some reasoned that perhaps the universe has spent eternity inflating extremely slowly from a size barely larger than a singularity, speeding up as it went along.

Borde, Guth and Vilenkin examined this idea and found, essentially, that it wouldn’t work in the real world. In doing so they pretty much dismissed every model of an expanding universe (or multiverse) that doesn’t involve a proper singularity and Big Bang. Therefore, according to apologists, the universe definitely had an absolute beginning, which must have had a cause, and that cause was God.

That’s going way too far because, for a start, the paper doesn’t take a position on whether the now-confirmed Big Bang was an absolute beginning. There are many more universe/multiverse models wherein the Big Bang was merely an event in an ongoing sequence – where the matter in the singularity came from somewhere, not nowhere. Borde et al only intended to rule out a family of models that clearly don’t work.

Get that? Borde, Guth and Vilenkin did NOT rule out an eternal universe, even if the result of their paper is correct. They merely ruled out one kind of eternal universe, the kind where the Big Bang never happened. The fact that there was a Big Bang does not mean there was nothing before the Big Bang.

The Big Bang as absolute zero, or an absolute beginning in general, is a poor platform for apologetics in any case. The idea that whatever begins to exist has a cause is not based on anything which physically began to exist in the same way the universe supposedly did, completely ex nihilo (literally “from nothing”). We’ve never seen anything like that happen, so:
1. it’s curious that so many people assume the universe came about in this way,
2. there’s no basis for assigning a cause if it did and
3. even if it had a cause, it’s a huge leap to declare it any kind of god, let alone someone’s specific personal deity.

SmartLX