Orion Nebula: The Hubble View Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (STScI/ESA) and The Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.

I need some clarification. My understanding is fuzzy on a point of philosophy and science.

Apologist Ray Comfort asks “How do I know God exists?” His own answer stems from the argument from design: that anything that appears to have a purpose or orderly manner must have a beginning and a creator. Comfort  says:

Keep in mind that we can’t create anything from nothing. We don’t know how to begin. If you disagree, then make me a seed—-from nothing. Make it living, so that it grows into a plant that produces an edible fruit, and make it with the ability to create more seeds within the fruit, so that you can plant them and make more plants and more fruit. So if we can’t even make one seed, how intellectually deceitful is it for any rational human being to believe that nothing created everything?

I see that he most likely has a problem with the Inflation/Expansion of the universe (aka “Big Bang”) because it comes across like the universe popped into existence without a cause or source.

What I don’t understand, though, is why he and other creationists don’t have a problem with matter appearing instantaneously in the form of minerals, animals, humans, energy, and so forth when God says “Duuuude… Bear! Kneecap! Mitosis! Compact Discs! AIDS!”

I strongly doubt that speaking something into existence is very cohesive with the laws of this universe. How is that explanation the least bit satisfying? In what way is it less puzzling than a natural origin? Is this not the same as “something out of nothing”?

Am I missing something here?

Bonus: the known universe… in video!

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12 thoughts on “Something Out of Nothing?”

mcbender · February 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I don’t think they worry too much about the consistency of their logic from moment to moment. Their target audience is unlikely to think too carefully about what they’re hearing, thanks to our old friend confirmation bias…

I’m always amused by the people who make cosmological arguments and so on, saying things like “everything must have a cause, therefore god, because god doesn’t need to have a cause”… no matter how many times I hear those sorts of arguments, this is basically all they reduce to.

Most of these religious apologists are trying to do a bit of fast talking – I’m sure you’ve heard of the Gish Gallop, for instance – which often works in that it flusters their opponent into speechless disbelief. They’re not trying to argue rationally; that isn’t their schtick.

Stephen Moore · February 9, 2010 at 3:37 am

Am I missing something here?

No, you’re not: their argument from design is “something from nothing”, and that’s the point. A supernatural being is required to explain the “something from nothing” of the universe. The reason it is a favoured argument is because theists misunderstand what is called the Big Bang.

Under the Big Bang, the universe emerged (so to speak) from a singularity. Most people understand a singularity to be, essentially, nothing. The problem is that singularities are very difficult to explain, let alone comprehend: really, what does infinite density, infinite mass mean? We know the words, understand the sentence, but the concept of infinities is beyond our normal every-day experience. Infinity plus one?

Another difficulty is even talking about singularities, as within a singularity (even that phrase is problematic) there is no space-time. Even though everything in the universe ‘originated’ from the expansion, it’s strictly not correct to say that everything was in the singularity. For one thing, there is no “in” in a singularity. It’s not even a point: we understand that the center of a Black Hole is a singularity, and therefore think there is a point in space-time where the singularity exists (as all, the Black Hole exists), but there is no point. It’s a paradox, but there it is (or not?).

Our language has developed to communicate the space-time we exist in; it is woefully lacking in being able to accurately describe a singularity. We think there was a ‘before the Big Bang’, but there wasn’t.

I strongly doubt that speaking something into existence is very cohesive with the laws of this universe.

It’s not. But therein lies the evidence of the ancient nature of the belief. Words, in themselves, were believed to hold magical power. The word was equivalent to the thing (not a signifier of the thing). Hence magic spells being spoken to effect their power, knowing the secret name of a dragon meaning you had power of it, and what you think is what you create (a la The Secret). Jahweh speaks the word, and it (the thing) exists in the physical universe.

    GG · February 9, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Such a well-spoken comment. Thank you for contributing your thoughts!

    “We think there was a ‘before the Big Bang’, but there wasn’t.”
    I honestly doubt that I ever heard or thought this vital point before 2009. I haven’t been able to imagine what anything is without time; even the word “eternity” is visualized as a very, very long amount of time that goes on and on. It is still linear.

    Emperor of the Moon · April 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    This comment is on point. Very well said.

Stephen Moore · February 9, 2010 at 5:07 am

Also note, in Christian Scripture, John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
.-= Stephen Moore’s last blog ..Vaginal Corona =-.

GG · February 9, 2010 at 11:31 am

Of course the pat answer to that challenge is “god is outside of space and time; he’s eternal”

I once heard a brilliant rebuttal of this claim that, for the life of me, I can’t seem to find again!

albert · February 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I just happened to wrote the following hours ago.

The argument that “God is the precondition of human meaningful knowledge” is a first cause argument similar to “God is the origin of life” and “God is the creator of the universe”.

If god exists, god could have been the valid explanation for all the three observed facts: human’s ability of meaningful knowledge, origin of life and origin of universe. However, the reverse may not be true.

Are these three observed facts evidence for god’s existence? If yes, are they sufficient?

No scientific theory currently can deduce these three facts. However, there are ongoing research trying to find out the origins of these facts. If an objective, evidence-based explanation can be found for any or all of these facts, god’s existence is less likely. At this point in time, since there is no accepted explanation, it becomes a philosophical debate between one of these: (1) acknowledgement that we do not have complete knowledge and do not know the explanation to these questions; (2) god exists.

My position is the first one. I am humble enough to admit that we still do not have the knowledge to know the answer to these questions. But I believe in an evidence based approach. Let us just assume we now take position (2).

Another way to test the hypothesis that god is the cause of all the three observed facts is by testing the “other predictions” of the hypothesis.

For a cosmic god, ie a god who created the universe (and everything within) and then left the universe to run its own course without interference, we cannot find any additional thing to test because all such testing would become a scientific test of the underlying working principles and nature of the universe. Such a god is also not a god of any religion.

For a personal god, such as the christian god, who cares about the nitty gitty details of human lives and answers prayer, we can test the god’s hypothesis basing on one or more of the predictions. Answering prayer is one of them. All known religious god fails miserably in a test of the effectiveness of prayers. So a personal god cannot exist.

Some scientists, including Einstein, take position of the existence of a cosmic god. That’s understandable. But any working rational scientists believing in a personal god would be in an untenable position to defend their scientific work ethnics against the irrational belief. Believing in a god who would interfere the normal working of the universe in answering someone’s prayer is just stupid! Believing in a god as the first cause lowers the incentive to find an evidence-based explanation for the above three observed facts.
.-= albert’s last blog ..Reflection 2 – Debate with Puritan Lad =-.

    GG · February 12, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you so much for that walkthrough, Albert!
    I also admit that we do not have all the information or understanding necessary to know whether a deistic god exists. At this time and due to the limitations of the universe we live in, could we ever know? In this way, I tend to lean towards being an agnostic atheist. I do not believe a deity exists, but I acknowledge that at this time, I cannot know for certain. I would require evidence to support the claim, and there is none.

CrazyCrazyXtian · February 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I think it must be acknowledged that science and philosophy are two very different ways of looking at the world. Trying to put them together into the same context is not only impossible but detrimental to the expansion of human thought. This is a statement that I’d make the both sides of the aisle, from creationists to athiests.

I am very much drawn to the ancient Greeks and their value for both science and thought. They had a great understanding of science, but they also observed and revered that “magic” that surrounds the laws of physics, biology, and the universe. The tremendous perfection of it all is truly awe-inspiring, hence the idea of God.

I have to disagree with the suggestion that belief in a personal god would be a difficult prospect for a rational scientist. For one, that depends on what type of scientist they are. There are certain disciplines that carry a higher number of god-believers than other disciplines. Second, not all theists (including myself) believe in the idea of a super-power God that flies through the air with a cape, rescuing the modern American from anything from lost keys to home forclosure. We find spirituality to be infinitely more complex, and the beauty of it all lies in scientific discovery.

Roof Woofer · February 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

There are three possibilities for general explanations of how the substance of the universe came to be (I’m cribbing here from Richard Purtill):

1. There was nothing, after which the universe popped into existence – sort of spontaneous generation, not caused or created.

2. The universe as we know it – let’s say all material objects, say, to keep it simple – has always existed though it may have changed in many ways.

3. The universe of material objects in space began at some time and was brought into being by something non-material and non-spatial.

It seems to me that Number 1 is not credible to anyone who gives it serious thought. If that’s not so, I would ask (in the spirit of rational inquiry) for other examples of spontaneous generation.

Number 2 is more compelling. Before the Big Bang, there was the stuff that big-banged, so to speak. From what did that “stuff” come? For something to consist of matter, the thing from which it derived must consist of matter. If everything regresses backwards, then there must have been something from which it was derived. If it’s an infinite series with no starting point, that presents problems.

In terms of logical proofs, you prove that A is true by proving that B (on which it depends) is also true. But the series can’t go on infinitely without originating in some assumptions or axioms which can be neither proved nor disproved. There comes a time when you encounter that’s a different kettle of fish. If there is no axiom at the beginning, then there is no basis for proving the rest of your statement.

This, of course, has no bearing on things like Creationism, etc. It demonstrates a case for the existence of an axiomatic “prime mover”. The difficulty in talking about issues like this if people keep veering into stuff like “I couldn’t believe any creator like that could take a personal interest in its/his creation” or “But the fundamentalists are so ridiculous” This particular question — though not every important question — concerns the scientific reasonableness of something coming from nothing. Whether or not it was literal words — or whether speaking is the metaphor used by writers to communicate the power of the creator — isn’t particularly important. What is important is, “Can it be logically inferred that all matter and energy that exist leapt into being without some Other generating it?”
.-= Roof Woofer’s last blog ..RoofWoofer: RT @PaulFidalgo: Thkg about rdg War and Peace on iPhone, mostly b/c of the cliché "You wouldn’t want to read *War and Peace* on it, but…" =-.

Lyvvie · February 17, 2010 at 12:56 am

LOL – I’d never think God would say “Duuuuuuude” Made laugh to think it. As to explain why it’s ok to poof the universe into existence with magic versus science, I’m guessing it’s better to have a big magic being on your side when you need them.
.-= Lyvvie’s last blog .."Whatcha readin’?" =-.

Greateighthsin · December 30, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I’m amazed no one has brought up the fallacy in this argument. If God created man from dirt, then where did the dirt come from? Yes, Christians will argue that the dirt came from God, but that’s not the point I am bringing. God would have had to create the dirt somehow. If God did not have the original building blocks for dirt in the universe before He was created Himself, then He would then have to create dirt from nothing.

Ergo, God would have to create everything from nothing, too. Now the big bang isn’t so hard to believe, now is it? I do have my own personal hypothesis on the creation of the big bang, but I want to run it by a physicist someday. The universe has a very interesting pattern to it, and that pattern may be the key to unlocking the big “how” question.

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