Knowing God in the Sphere of Nature (Full)

Recently, I’ve finished a blog series in which I examined how the nature of our physical world demonstrates the existence of God. The goal of this mini-series was to answer two basic questions: (1) Why do you believe that God exists? (2) Why do you believe that God can be known by us? The central thesis of this series is that God has intentionally designed our world (and the universe in general) to declare His glory and to make Himself known. In other words, God clearly reveals His unsearchable wisdom, His inexhaustible knowledge, and His power through His works of creation and providence (cf. Romans 11:33-36; Romans 1:20). In this blog series, I addressed some of the implications of modern scientific theories in theoretical physics (such as big bang cosmology, the standard model of particle physics, and quantum theory) which serve to illustrate this thesis. This post breaks up that series into five basic parts:


Part I: Knowing God in the Sphere of Nature

Part II: The Evidence of God in the Origins of the Universe

Part III: Contingency, Complexity, and the Existence of God

Part IV: Providence and the Scientific Method

Part V: The Ultimate Fate of the Universe

The Ultimate Fate of the Universe

In the previous blog, I argued that God’s providence accounts for the orderliness and regularity of our universe. In essence, the reality of God’s providence allows one to have confidence in the use of the scientific method for the study of natural phenomena. If we believe that the natural world is simply a product of unguided physical laws, then the only way in which we can have confidence in the reliability of the scientific method is through induction of a large collection of observations, which is subject to interpretive errors. However, if we believe that the natural world is upheld and guided by God’s providence, then we can base our scientific knowledge claims on God’s revelation of the natural world.

These are two fundamentally different starting points for understanding our world and ultimately, this means that two people can come to radically different conclusions about the nature of the world based upon the same evidence. In the previous blog, I argued this principle by discussing some of the irrational interpretations from quantum theory, particularly the idea of effects without causes. It is my contention that the Christian worldview concerning the nature of the universe is most consistent with our evidence of the natural world. This means that the universe is not only understandable and consistent, but it is purposely designed to communicate a particular message concerning God’s invisible attributes. In previous blogs, I made arguments concerning the existence and knowability of God based on the creation and maintenance of the universe. To end this mini-series, I want to address a topic of growing interest: what is the ultimate fate of the universe? This is no longer a purely speculative, philosophical question, but it is now a scientific question. This topic is also important because our answer is fully based on deductive reasoning concerning the origin of the universe.

Heat Death or Cold Death

This semester, I have the privilege to teach my favorite physics course as an undergraduate: thermodynamics. The impetus for the development of thermodynamics was the industrial revolution and the efficiency of heat engines, but now we’ve come to understand that many of the fundamental phenomena in our world are implications of the laws of thermodynamics. The key to thermodynamics is to understand the role of entropy.  Entropy is the precursor of the definition of information as developed in information theory. Information is carried, stored and processed by all macroscopic physical systems and is ultimately governed by the laws of physics, so it’s not surprising that physics and information should be closely related to one another. The usefulness of the concept of entropy can hardly be overstated and it’s probably fair to say that the connection between physics and information is still not fully exploited.

There are many ways in which a person can qualitatively understand the concept of entropy. First, it can be said that entropy is a measure of energy concentration in that entropy increases as the energy of a system becomes more dispersed throughout time. This is related to the idea that entropy is a measure of disorder of a given system. Second, it can be said that entropy is the variable that determines irreversibility of physical processes; in particular, entropy controls the direction of heat transfer between systems as well as causal arrow of time in the universe. Finally, it can be said that entropy determines the amount of available energy that can be used to do useful work for a given system. Entropy is also a central concept in understanding the natural world because the 2nd law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe (as a closed, isolated system) will always increase over time. In terms of the above definitions, this means that energy is become more dispersed throughout time, that time is irreversible, and that the avaiable energy in the universe is gradually decreasing.

image: universe

There are numerous implications of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but one that is relevant concerns the fate of the universe. Even though it is difficult to define the entropy of the universe, there should be a theoretical point in time in the distant future in which the universe reaches a state of maximum entropy according to the 2nd Law. This happens when all the available energy of the universe has been completely exhausted. When this occurs, there will be no more heat flow, no more work done, and the universe will essentially become dead and inert.This can also be thought of in terms of chemical reactions. According to the 2nd law, a chemical reaction will only occur if it results in an increase of entropy. Any reaction that takes place will either result in the products becoming less ordered, or heat being given off. This means at some time far in the future, when all the possible reactions have taken place, all that will be left is heat and fundamental particles. No reactions will be possible, because the universe will have reached its maximum entropy. The only reactions that can take place will result in a decrease of entropy, which is not possible according to the second law, so in effect the universe will have died. Because of the emphasis on the lack of heat flow, this theory is sometimes called the heat death of the universe.

Another theory concerning the fate of the universe is based upon the expansion rate of the universe. Observations suggest that the expansion of the universe will continue forever and that the expansion rate of universe is increasing. If so, the universe will cool as it expands, eventually becoming too cold to sustain life. Moreover, the supply of gas needed for star formation will be exhausted, and as existing stars run out of fuel and ceases to shine, the universe will slowly and inexorably grow darker, one start at a time. Eventually, even the stellar remnants left behind by these stars will disappear, leaving behind only black holes, which themselves will eventually disappear as they emit radiation. In this scenario, the universe ends in a whimper, becoming dark and cold. Because the universe will approach absolute zero temperature in this scenario, this is known as the cold death of the universe

The Conclusion of the Matter

The heat death and cold death theories are just two of many theories produced by cosmologists that seek to explain the ultimate fate of the universe. Though these theories have numerous differences between them, what is common between them is the assumption that the universe will end through slow, gradual, unguided natural processes. Moreover, it is assumed that death of the universe comes from a source within itself and is based on the inherent futility of our universe. These theories are expected if it is believed that the universe has no inherent purpose for its existence and has purely naturalistic origins. The narrative produced by this worldview is that the universe was created without purpose, the earth has no preferred position in the universe, the life within the universe has no inherent purpose, the current cosmological epoch has no central place in time, and the end of the universe has no purpose. With this view of the universe, it’s no wonder why a growing number of people essentially agree with this famous quote from Richard Dawkins:

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

This conclusion is the result of attempting to understand our natural world without acknowledging God’s providence and eternal decree. As was argued previously, the origin of the universe and the meticulous fine tuning of the universe both point to the existence of God. Moreover, the constancy and regularity of the universe all point to the God’s active providence in the world. If the existence of the universe comes from a source outside of itself, then it stands to reason that the end of the universe will occur from a source outside of itself. In other words, if the origin of the universe has a purpose outside of itself, then the end of the universe has a purpose outside of itself as well.

The fundamental Christian argument is that God has intentionally designed our world (and the universe in general) to declare His glory and to make Himself known. Our physical world continues to march forward in time not in meaningless, random fashion, but its purpose is tied up in God’s purposes of redemption. This is best described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:19-23

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The message of the apostles is that the current age we live will end, not when entropy maximizes or when the universe approaches absolute zero, but when God completes His redemptive purposes. This means that we do live in a central place in time and that the end of the universe will also declare God’s glory. If the current universe was created solely from God’s Word (cf. Hebrews 11:3) and upheld by His providence, then it will end based on His decree. This is vividly expressed in 2 Peter 3 in which “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” and “the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” This is the picture of catastrophic un-creation, which will be replaced by the new heavens and the new earth in the age to come (cf. Revelation 21-22).

So let’s return to the original questions which started this blog series: (1) Why do you believe that God exists? (2) Why do you believe that God can be known by us? The evidence of God can be known based on the very origin of the universe and the active maintenance of the universe. We see God’s power and wisdom in the origin of the universe; we see God’s power and faithfulness in the maintenance of the universe (as observed through the fine tuning of the fundamental forces in the universe); and we see God’s intention and purpose through His active interaction with creation. Contrary to popular opinion, all things are not continuing as they were from the beginning of time. There have been numerous miraculous signs in which God has judged His creation (such as the global flood) and rescued His people (such as the exodus). However, His supreme interaction with His creation and revelation to us has come through the incarnation of His Son through which we have redemption. God’s acts of redemption, creation, and providence ultimately give us the evidence that God exists and can be known.

Providence and the Scientific Method

In the previous blog, I argued that the orderliness and consistency of our physical universe, as seen through the fine tuning of the four fundamental field interactions, provides clear evidence of God’s handiwork. This regularity is not simply the result of unguided, impersonal physical laws, but rather it is due to the faithfulness of God. In other words, the evidence of God in our physical world is seen by His acts of creation and providence. Chapter 5, Paragraph 1 of the 1689 LBCF states it in this way

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable.

This classic statement on the providence of God explains why being a scientist is an honorable vocation and why the scientific method (when used properly within its constrained limits) does correspond to our reality. When we affirm these basic truths concerning God’s providence with the regularity of our physical world, we will develop a more robust, holistic view of the physical world. Unfortunately, many Christians have inherited a worldview in which the governing physical principles of the natural world are divorced from God’s works of providence. This worldview is not only unbiblical, but it’s also contrary to the worldview of the men who pioneered the modern scientific age. When Isaac Newton published his treatise of classical mechanics, entitled The Principia, he discusses the motivations for his study. He writes:

I had an eye upon such principles as might work, with considering men, for the belief of a deity… this most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these being formed by the like wise counsels, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all … All that diversity of natural things which we find suited to different times and places could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing.

From the depths of his own soul, Newton came to know God through the Word, but through his study of the design of the physical universe, his belief was reaffirmed. Thus, the diligent student of science and the earnest seeker of truth will learn, as Newton did, that all science and all truth are one which has its beginning and its end in the knowledge of Him whose glory the heavens declare and whose handiwork the firmament shows forth (cf. Psalm 19). Of course, this blog series is being written because many no longer hold on to this worldview. Apart from evolutionary biology, it is my belief that quantum theory militates most strongly against this worldview. In this blog, I want to discuss what happens when we divorce God’s providence from the study of the natural world.

The Leap of Quantum Theory

It is well-known that the two irreconcilable fields in theoretical physics are quantum theory and general relativity. Theorists hope these fields can be reconciled so that a unified field theory can be developed. Undergraduate students tend to ask me whether I believe these fields will be reconciled and my answer has always been in the negative because the interpretations and implications of quantum theory appear to be irrational.

Quantum theory traces its origin to the work of Max Planck, who presented in 1900, the hypothesis that energy comes in discrete units called “quanta”. The watershed moment for quantum theory came in 1927 with the uncertainty principle by German physicist Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg found that one can learn either the exact position of a given particle or its exact trajectory, but not both simultaneously. This is contrary to the classical physics which states that the location and trajectory of any particle can be determined, in principle, at some point in the future.  This means that classical physics is philosophically built on determinism.

Heisenberg’s experiments showed that this assumption was false – that we can never know everything about the behavior of even one particle and, therefore, can never make predictions about the future that will be completely accurate in every detail. This marked a fundamental change in the worldview of physics and lead to famous debates in the early half of the 20th century. Those who held to classical physics (such as Einstein) believed that the observed randomness is a reflection of our ignorance of some fundamental property of reality, whereas proponents of quantum theory believed that the physical world is fundamentally built on uncertainty and probability.

The interpretation of the mathematical postulates of quantum theory led to a number of implications. The most fundamental interpretation of quantum mechanics asserts that the natural change of any quantum system is by way of indeterministic physically discontinuous transitions between stationary states. For a classical example of this postulate, consider the description of the subatomic world as described by Timothy Ferris in his book Coming of Age in the Milky Way

The more closely physicists examined the subatomic world, the larger indeterminacy loomed. When a photon strikes an atom, boosting an electron into a higher orbit, the electron moves from the lower to the upper orbit instantaneously without having traversed the intervening space. The orbital radii themselves are quantized, and the electron simply ceases to exist at one point, simultaneously appearing at another. This is the famously confounding “quantum leap” and it is no mere philosophical poser; unless it is taken seriously, the behavior of atoms cannot be predicted accurately.

Thus, if this explanation is an accurate description of the subatomic world, then quantum mechanics has revived the concept of change and self-creation as a tool to explain the physical world. If the “quantum leap” is literally simultaneous, then we have a clear violation of the law of non-contradiction since the electron is in an orbit and not in an orbit at the same exact time and in the same relationship. However, a more serious problem with the explanation is that it introduces the tacit assertion that effects can exist without causes. The popular interpretation of quantum theory suggests that quantum leaps occur by “chance” (since probability distributions are the irreducible physical concept) and this justifies the hypothesis that nothing causes the behavior of subatomic particles. To be free of casuality is to be free of logic, and license is given for making nonsense statements with impunity.

Ultimately, we must come to the conclusion that quantum theory and general relativity cannot both be correct. While general relativity allows for (and predicts) a perfect point-like singularity at the beginning of time, quantum mechanics does not, for it prohibits defining at the same time the precise location, velocity, and size of any single particle or singularity. Furthermore, quantum mechanics seems to suggest that the sub-atomic world – and even the world beyond the atom – has no independent structure until it is defined by the human intellect. We can say that quantum theory has great explanative power for many phenomena, but for the reasons given above, it cannot be a full and accurate description of reality.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So what are the conclusions that we should draw from this? First, we should recognize that the behavior of the natural world cannot be fully explained within itself. When we attempt to explain the nature of this world without a consistent natural theology, we end up with inconsistencies and absurdities. No one disputes the appearance of quantum behavior on the subatomic scale, but the interpretation of this behavior leads to absurdities. Second, we are meant to use general and special revelation to understand this world. Human knowledge is limited not only by our sin and our intellect, but it’s also limited by our finitude. Thus, we need special revelation to inform our observations of the natural world.

Third, it’s important to note that no scientific theory develops in a vacuum. Our worldview affects how we interpret the natural world. It is not an accident that many Christian scientists gravitate towards general relativity since this theory is the culmination of classical physics, which is built off of ultimate causation. Conversely, it’s not an accident that quantum theory is appealing to those who gravitate toward Eastern religion and philosophy since its predictions has many similarities to Eastern mysticism. Ultimately, this means that a discussion on the existence of God and science boils down to a question of worldviews. The fundamental Christian claim states that the universe, being made by the all-wise, all-knowing God, is internally self-consistent because it reflects His wisdom and knowledge. Thus, we do not have a universe in which contradictions abound, but one in which Christ upholds all things by the Word of His power. In the next blog, I will conclude this mini-series by discussing two of the strongest unifying concepts in physics, energy and entropy.


Contingency, Complexity, and the Existence of God

In the previous blog, I argued that there is significant evidence that points to the fact that the universe is finite and has an origin (which points to the existence of God). This evidence rules out the possibility of a static, eternal universe, but it also must rule out any notion of self-creation and spontaneous generation.

First, it’s important to note that self-creation and spontaneous generation is a logical and rational impossibility. For something to create itself, it must have the ability to exist and not to exist at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, for something to create itself, it must exist before it exists. A being can be self-existent and eternal without violating the law of non-contradiction, but a self-generating, self-creating being is a rational impossibility. Second, it’s important to note that if there was a point in which the physical universe did not exist, then this also means that there is no purely naturalistic reason for the why the universe does exist. In other words, there is no cause for the existence of the universe in and of itself – the cause of the universe must come from outside of itself. This means that the universe could not have been created by “chance”. Because chance is not an entity (i.e it has no being), it does not have any instrumental power to cause anything. Therefore, any appeal to “chance” for the existence of the universe is in effect an appeal for self-creation, which has been shown to be a rational contradiction.

Now, we must ask the next question: Why does the universe exist and what is the purpose of its existence? The fundamental Christian argument is that God has intentionally designed our world (and the universe in general) to declare His glory and to make Himself known (cf. Psalm 19:1-6). Here, I’m going to argue for evidence of purposeful design from the vantage point of the physical sciences, rather than the biological sciences.

A basic question that is usually asked is whether or not the scientific method can actually determine whether or not an event can be the result of a purposeful and designed cause. The emphatic answer is yes. Because of what we know about undirected natural causes and their limitations, the scientific method can be used to rigorously test whether or not there are significant design processes in the universe. First, we may ask whether a particular occurrence was naturally necessary or contingent. An occurrence is naturally necessary if the natural laws governing the physical objects involved are sufficient to explain the occurrence, whereas an occurrence is naturally contingent if it’s dependent upon a non-natural explanation. Second, we may ask whether a particular occurrence is simple or complex. Third, we may ask whether the inherent pattern in the complex occurrence is ad hoc or specific. An ad hoc pattern is one that has no true meaning or significance outside the single occurrence in which it is found. The argument of design easily explains the origin of the universe, but I want to apply this to the regularity and orderliness of universe.

Overview of the Standard Model of Particle Physics

Currently, the standard model of particle physics states that there are four fundamental forces throughout the universe which are constant everywhere and affect all physical objects everywhere. These four fundamental forces (or interactions) are the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force. The standard model seeks to illustrate that matter and energy are best understood in terms of the interactions of elementary particles with their underlying physical field. Thus, the standard model attempts to unify the four fundamental forces into a unified field theory. Although there are problems with the Standard Model, the standard model demonstrates (and anticipates) that there is an inherent self-consistency within our universe. However, the Standard Model also shows that the relative strengths of the fundamental forces are so finely tuned to the extent that life as we know it would be virtually impossible without them.

We can start with the nuclear forces. The strong nuclear force ensures the stability of ordinary matter by binding subatomic particles together within the nuclei of atoms. This force is enormously strong because it must overcome the electromagnetic repulsive force between protons in the nucleus. If the strong force did not exist (or was weaker than it is), all atomic nuclei in the universe would undergo spontaneous fission and the universe would be almost entirely composed hydrogen and neutrons (and thus uninhabitable for human life). With the same reasoning, if the strong force was stronger, then hydrogen would not exist at all in the universe, leading to the same conclusion of an uninhabitable universe (see this article for a more detailed explanation). The weak nuclear force is the interaction which is responsible for radioactive decay of subatomic particles and nuclear fission. If the weak nuclear force increased, too much hydrogen would convert to helium and thus stars would produce an overabundance of heavy elements, making life chemistry impossible. Conversely, if the weak nuclear force decreased, too much helium would be produced and thus stars would not produce enough heavy elements, making life chemistry impossible.

The electromagnetic force binds electrons to the nuclei of atoms. If this force were slightly weaker, the electrons would be repelled by the nuclear forces and thus chemical bonding would be disrupted to the extent that molecules would not form. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger, the atoms could not share electrons (since they would strongly bind to the atomic nuclei) and again no molecules would form. Moreover, heavier elements (like boron) would be unstable to fission and thus would not exist. The gravitational force is the weakest of all of the fundamental forces, but it is responsible for the large-scale structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and planets. If the gravitational force were somewhat stronger, the stars would be so hot that they would burn out too quickly and unevenly for life to form. If gravity were somewhat weaker, the stars would not become hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion. Such stars would burn quietly for a long time but make no heavy elements needed for planets.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So what are the conclusions that we should draw from this? First, we should note that the universe is balanced on a knife-edge and is clearly contingent upon external sources. It is not necessary that the gravitational force and the strong force are as strong as they are. Nor is it necessary that the physical constants and other phenomena of the universe have happened together, making the universe hospitable and observable for us. There are numerous other examples of the fine tuning in the universe that demonstrates that the universe truly is contingent and yet internally consistent. We don’t live in a universe in which instabilities and contradictions abound. These are undeniable realities and these realities become clearer when one takes the time to study the discoveries within these fields. Consider the words of Fred Hoyle, a renowed 20th century English astronomer:

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Second, we should note that the universe is deeply complex and harmonious. Undergraduate physics students around the country who study theoretical physics feel an overwhelming sense of complexity, but also begin to sense a deep sense of internal consistency and harmony within the universe. This sense is magnified by the fact these fundamental interactions that we are describing are also described by deep mathematical symmetries. Again, it’s important to note that there is no necessary reason for why the physical processes of our universe are accurately described by mathematics. Here’s a quote from physicist Eugene Wigner regarding this point

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.

The last question to ask is whether the complexity and harmony in nature is ad-hoc or specific. First, the mere fact that our universe is coherent, understandable, and predictable indicates that the complexity is specific and purposeful. However, here I want to note that the complexity, regularity, and harmony observed in our natural world today is absolutely consistent with God’s covenantal dealings with man as revealed in scripture. In the Noahic covenant (cf. Genesis 9:8-17), God promised consistency and regularity in the cosmos, which means that the orderliness of our physical universe is because of the faithfulness of God. In other words, we don’t have a “natural” world in which supernatural events occasionally happen; rather our universe is held together by the Word of His power (cf. Hebrews 1:3), which includes ordinary events that occur daily and extraordinary events of redemptive history (such as the resurrection, the global flood, and the future return of Christ). The constancy of the physical world is not an a priori assumption, but rather it is the result of God’s covenant faithfulness to man and God’s providence throughout this physical world.

In the next blog, I will address how the harmony of the physical sciences with our human experience serves as evidence of God’s existence and knowability.

The Evidence of God in the Origins of the Universe

As mentioned in the previous blog, the fundamental Christian argument is that God has intentionally designed our world (and the universe in general) to declare His glory and to make Himself known. This statement includes two other presuppositions: truth and reality exists and can be known.

In most matters, most people speak and act as if reality matters, but not when it comes to God. In matters of religion and faith, there seems to be a pervasive idea that all religious beliefs are equally valid, as long as those beliefs do not harm people, and all religious beliefs have different perspectives that should be celebrated and preserved, rather than challenged and critiqued. In other words, many people are troubled by claims that a particular religious belief is objectively true and does correspond to reality. Frankly, if this popular notion is true, then all defenses for the faith are exercises in futility since Christianity (and any other religious belief) would be nothing more than escapism and speculation.  C.S. Lewis addresses this mentality:

Christianity is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of facts— to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.

Escapism in philosophy and religion boils down to a matter of folly and self-deception. It’s simply foolish to try to avoid the truth about who we are, what we are, and why we are here in this world. If there is a God who made us and has placed demands over us as His creation, we need to know. Conversely, if God is nothing more than a clever mythological device from the ancient world, we need to know that, too. Even if one believes that the reality that we live in is a mere illusion (as some do believe), the very concept of an illusion presupposes a reality. Ultimately, reality exists and ultimately, we cannot escape it.

Our common experience also tells that we can know objective truth. For instance, many accept mathematical statements (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4) and scientific statements (i.e. humans require air to breath) as absolute truth. In making these statements, we are not imposing fictional models on reality; rather, we are recognizing truths that would be true even if we did not recognize them. In other words, human beings do not create knowledge, but we recognize the reality of our world. This leads to the ultimate question: if human beings do not create knowledge or reality, then what is its ultimate origin? In this, our ability to know truth (which exists outside of us) is a kind of evidence for the existence of God. If there is a God, then it must be true that some ideas about God will be true and others false.

My first evidence pointing to God’s existence and knowability comes from the very basic fact that the universe has an origin. The topic of the eternality of the universe was originally a matter of philosophy in which Western philosophers generally assumed that the universe had a beginning until the late 18th century. Immanuel Kant originally argued for the infinitude of the universe and over time, this theory became widely accepted among scientists. By the turn of the early 20th century, the common worldview held that the universe is static – more or less the same throughout eternity. However, the discovery of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and astronomical observations contradicted this view.

A Brief Historical Survey of 20th Century Physics

In 1913, astronomers noticed that several galaxies were moving away from our planet at high speeds. Shortly thereafter, Einstein published a series of papers which described the theory of general relativity and derived the Einstein field equations, which was a mathematical tool used to describe the general configuration of matter and space taking the universe as a whole. Einstein’s work was endorsed by numerous famous experiments, and by the early 1920s, most leading scientists agreed that the Einstein field equations could serve as a foundation for cosmology.

Shortly after Einstein published his theory, Dutch astronomer Willem de Sitter produced a cosmological model from the Einstein field equations which pointed to an expanding universe (for those who are interested in the debate between Einstein and de Sitter, see this historical page). Later, Edwin Hubble used his telescope to verify de Sitter’s mathematical prediction that “the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it moves” – implying that the universe was expanding from a central point. The implication of these findings was obvious: the universe is finite and had a beginning. Even though there were (and still are) scientific concerns about the big bang theory, numerous scientists, from Einstein to Eddington, opposed the big bang theory because it contradicted the prevailing worldview of a static, eternal universe. For example, in an exchange of letters with de Sitter, Einstein quipped “this circumstance irritates me,” and “to admit such possibilities seems senseless.”

There were numerous theories that attempted to revive the eternal universe model (for a historical survey, see this historical page), but all of these alternative models, which utilize a static universe, received a fatal flaw through the discovery of the cosmic microwave background (which is the background radiation that the big bang hypothesis had predicted would be left behind by the initial creation of the universe). In early 1990s, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) demonstrated that the cosmic background radiation was homogeneous enough so that the universe must have begun from a singularity point and yet the background radiation had just enough irregularities (of an extremely minute amount) to account for the formation of the universe’s galaxies.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Now what conclusions can we draw from this historical survey? First, even if one argues with the methodology of the big bang hypothesis, what should be plain and obvious is that the universe is finite and has a beginning. This means that there once was a time when matter did not exist. Therefore, any worldview that requires spontaneous generation or self-creation to explain itself must be inherently self-refuting (since something has to already exist in order to create itself). Second, the existence of the universe is not the result of “chance”. If there was a point when matter did not exist, this also means that there is no naturalistic reason for why it is necessary for the universe to exist. This means that questions regarding the purpose of the universe must be asked if we care about matters of truth and reality.

Now this is a point that is not that difficult to understand. All of us have asked questions about the origin of the world as children and I can bet that none of us concluded that the world was eternal. This basically means that this knowledge is self-evident to us and to deny it means that we are suppressing this truth (cf. Romans 1:18-23). This leads to the last point: the fact that the universe has a beginning and is separate from its Creator is only explained in theism. In theism, God is understood as the distinct, eternal being who brought the universe into existence by an act of His will. However, it is only in Christianity in which the purpose of creation is linked with redemption. Consider the apostle Paul’s words concerning Christ in Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Christ is not only the agent of creation, but He is the agent of the new creation for those who put trust in Him. In the next blog, I will address the contingent complexity of our universe as an evidence of God’s existence and knowability.