An old school colleague of mine, biguglyjim on his blog over at www.meddlingkids.org has an ongoing tendency to write blogs arguing against religious faith and in favour of atheism.
Jim is perfectly entitled to hold whatever religious viewpoint (or, in the present case, lack of) he wants to hold. That’s what freedom is all about, and thankfully, the tenet of freedom is something both Jim and I agree on.
One of his latest missives, entitled “God, Evidence, and Other Silly Crap” explores the issue surrounding the search for evidence proving the existence of God. He argues that every ounce of evidence currently available currently disproves the existence of God, and that religious people, when confronted by this evidence, respond by shifting their story.
Of course, “shifting the story” is what developing a theory based on evidence is all about. Within the last ten years, theoretical physicists discovered that their model of he early universe couldn’t mathematically work the way their theory predicted it to work: the original Big Bang theory initially predicted that the universe would expand uniformly over time; however mathematically, the calculations didn’t show this to have been what happened: shortly after the inital Big Bang, the early universe seemed to “pause” and stop expanding for a short amount of time. (We’re talking in the quadrillionth of a second here.) So, physicists “shifted their story”. They created a new theory to fit the current state of affairs. This has happened a lot: when observations showed that the universe’s expansion was not, as initially expected, slowing down, but actually increasing, the theory had to be adjusted to fit the observations. Theoretical energy and matter has been created – called Dark Energy (or Dark Matter) – to fit the observations.
The point is this: as our knowledge of the world around us changes, we adjust our opinions and beliefs accordingly. So I don’t think that it’s a good argument to suggest people of faith “shift their story” when confronted with information which provides a clearer understanding of the universe.
Many atheists take a position of “either-or”. By this I mean, “either God created the universe approximately 6000 years ago, or the universe began naturally, by complete random chance, 13.7 billion years ago in a cataclysmic explosion known as the Big Bang. Everything that has evolved since that moment is a result of natural evolution deriving from that event; and there is no creator at all. Life evolved purely by chance, dating back to about 3.5 billion years ago, when, purely by accident of nature, a molecule formed in a pool of amino acids which was capable of duplicating itself, causing a chain of events which, over billions of years, eventually resulted in life as we currently know it on Earth.”
The problem with the either-or proposition is that it completely falls apart: the two simply aren’t mutually-exclusive. There is nothing to suggest that evolution, by definition, precludes some form of God designing and directing it.
The first point about this comes from taking the position that God is all-powerful and all-knowing – omniscient and omnipotent. An omnipotent God would certainly be capable of causing a Big Bang, and, by design, directing the process of creation of more complex atoms in starts, through to the development of a molecule capable of self-replication through to bipedal, carbon-based life forms with an affinity for digital watches and the amassing of large amounts of small green pieces of paper.
The second point is that God, by definition, must exist outside of the knowable universe, in some other, exterior dimension.
Let me explain that (and, giving credit where credit is due, I recently re-watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, which helped me develop this explanation.)
Imagine, that you lived in an environment where you and everything around you was absolutely and completely flat. In such a world, you could perceive left and right, and front and back. “Up” just doesn’t exist to you. As such, everything around you appears like a straight line. By moving around other objects, you can determine their shape, but you can’t possibly conceive of what they look like from above, simply because, to you, “above” doesn’t exist.
You and I, living in a three-dimensional world (left/right, front/back, up/down), can look “down” upon this “flat-land” and in some ways, interact with it. For example, I could place an apple on the flat-land plane. To an entity living in this flat land, suddenly, out of nowhere, a flat cross-section of the apple would suddenly, magically, appear, seemingly out of nowhere. If I were to pass the apple through the plane of this flat land, to the residents, the cross section of the apple would seemingly change shape spontaneously. The entities could develop all kinds of ideas and theories as to where from, and why, this weird shape spontaneously appeared. Perhaps, to a resident of this flat land, it could be perceived as this strange apple cross-section appeared completely by random chance.
Extending this analogy to our dimension, we have as much difficulty imagining an extra spacial dimension as a resident of the flat plane would in conceiving of “up”. For example, try to imagine the corner of a room with four lines coming out of it, each at right angles to the other three. In this four-dimension universe, someone existing outside of the three spacial dimensions within which we all live could interact with objects in our dimensions, and we would have no way of knowing how something happened, simply because the interaction came from a direction which is completely impossible for us to perceive.
General relativity predicts that gravity warps the space-time continuum in some “extra” direction which we can’t conceive of, but we perceive the effects of this warping effect, so the basis for this theory is sound.
If we treat time as a dimension just like the others, then, to an entity existing outside of even time, time becomes meaningless. Eternity is an instant, and every instant is eternity.
Being a huge geek for a moment, by my calculations, God must exist in at least the 7th dimension. Up/Down, Left/Right, Front/Back, Time, Gravitational space (the direction a massive object warps space in), Universe Expansional Space (the universe, as it is expanding, must be expanding into something), and, “Heaven” (the realm which encompasses all other dimensions). There may be more, but those are the ones I can think of at this moment.
Many atheists spend a large amount of time and energy trying to disprove God. The reality is, though, they simply can’t, because you can’t prove a negative! It really doesn’t matter how much evidence there is to prove evolution — because evidence supporting evolution can never disprove the existence of God.
I may not be able to prove God exists either, but I don’t need to. Belief in God is a choice – to believe in something that cannot be proven.
I understand where Jim is coming from; because, at one time, I too, was an atheist.
I got better.