What Else Could It Be?: One reason why we don’t need God(s)

tide-tables-a-2I recently had an exchange with a co-worker who is a fundamentalist Christian. She believes in the literal word of the Bible. Believes that the Earth was created by the Genesis account. Believes in Adam and Eve and Noah. Believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and so on.

Being a non-believer (of any faith), I tried engaging her in a friendly debate of logic and reasoning and realized we both “connect the dots” of reality in different ways. Regarding the origins of the universe she smiled and said: “Well, what else could it be?”

It struck me that she would say that. If she can’t fathom how a universe could create itself than it must be her God that did it. I kept thinking about this idea and reached this conclusion:

Imagine we lived 2,500 years ago and were walking about. Above us, dark clouds started to form and soon a lighting and thunderstorm were upon us. A believer in God might say: “God is angry!” after seeing the strikes of lightning and the heavy claps of thunder. “What else could it be?” Now, 2,500 years ago, collective humanity had no knowledge of what happens in our atmosphere when warm air and cool air mix. They had no way in their heads to understand the concept of electro-static discharge in the atmosphere. If one were to travel back in time and explain that to them, they still would not be able to wrap their heads around such an idea.

And yet, we know now that that is where lighting comes from. We can predict it. We can navigate airplanes through it. We can create lightning arresters on the top of high-rise office towers to take a charge instead of damaging other property. Certainly, no one any longer thinks it’s Zeus or Thor creating this.

Let’s look at a more modern example. Let’s look at bacterial infections and how microbiology began in Europe in the 17th Century. At that time, people used to believe that God was plaguing societies and communities because he was angry. At that time, what other reason could it have been? Collective humanity once again, pointed to the question: “What else could it be?” if not God.

But, we invented microscopes. We got a closer look. In the last 100 years we invented antibiotics and penicillins to ward off these infections and keep us healthy. And yet, if one were to go back 400 years and try to explain the concept that we had cells that make up our body and that these cells can get infected by bacterial strains and spread on a microscopic level, common man would not have had any grasp of what you were talking about. They would not have been able to concieve of such a world, the world of micro-biology, existing.

So, let’s return to the present.

Want to argue your God by saying that He had to be the one that created the universe? After all, “What else could it be?” Let’s be honest with ourselves, as collective humanity, and realize there are plenty of examples in our history of things we didn’t understand and, quite frankly, couldn’t understand at the time. Let’s admit that we are at that point now with regards to the cosmos and origins of life and the universe. We simply don’t know and it’s quite possible we can’t fathom the reality of how it all began yet.

And perhaps, a few hundred years in the future, modern man will chuckle a bit when thinking about how those of us in the 21st century couldn’t understand a piece of knowledge commonly understood in our future. Just the same way we chuckle at the idea that people really believed in Thor.

“What else could it be?” you ask? I don’t know. But, let’s stop blaming it on God and actually try to figure it out.

Bill O’Reilly addressing scientific ignorance:

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s beautiful response:

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7 Responses to What Else Could It Be?: One reason why we don’t need God(s)

  1. Anton Schreiber says:

    Hi Brian,

    You’ve made some interesting points that I’d like to respond to.

    Your argument is certainly not a new one. Many sociologists, who in the 1970’s predicted with certainty that religion would disappear within the decade are praying (well, maybe just hoping 🙂 that no one goes back to read their material in a world where religion, especially Christianity, is still alive and strong.

    The Soviet experiment was built on the foundation that human reason and knowledge was sufficient for universal progress and therefore invalidates the necessity for religion as ‘opiate for the masses’. But an 8 decade long systematic suppression of religion could not stop the growth of the church once the communist wall fell.

    Going back further, the Enlightenment itself was spurred by this idea of the superiority of reason, technology and progress as the saviours of society – a far better replacement than the empty promises of an unscientific faith. What you’re suggesting in this post is thus in line with what many have predicted, for the last 300 years! Yet today there are more Christians, including Christian martyrs who are dying for this ‘fairy tale’, than ever before!

    Please keep in mind also that historical adherents to the Judeo-Christian philosophy have never believed in Thor or similar pagan superstitions. While it’s true that the ancient Hebraic certainly did not possess the Scientific prowess of modern man, there nevertheless was a philosophical framework, a monotheistic worldview that runs like a thread throughout Jewish History and is shared today by evangelical Christians. It’s simply not fair therefore to say that “we today” know so much more than “them back then” with regards to the meaning of life. To claim so is, with all respect, somewhat arrogant.

    Could it be that 200 years from now, scientific progress (which I believe is not in opposition to faith) will validate what humanity has always confessed – that we live in a Uni-Verse (the single spoken sentence of Genesis 1:3) and chuckle at the idea of macro evolution? Have you considered that option? (Have a look at “Darwin’s Doubt” by Stephen Meyer)

    An honest agnostic will research all claims, including the Biblical claims in their totality. I’ve found that folks are often surprised at the scientific rationality behind the Christian Worldview. I would highly recommend, if you live in Korea, that you subscribe to “Mars Hill in Korea” on Facebook which has regular, civilized debates on issues of Christian Faith from an apologetic perspective.

    Peace!

  2. brianvanhise says:

    Anton, thanks for your comment.
    I’m not suggesting my argument is anything new in the realm of collective human theory, only that I personally realized that the gaps in our knowledge throughout our collective history have been slowly filled with true, honest knowledge that requires no superstitious belief (be it in Thor or your Yahweh God).
    I agree its a shame that Christian martyrs or Muslim martyrs or anyone for that matter are dying for their fairy tales. We agree on this point I think.
    200 years in the future, should humanity chuckle at evolution or validate that we do indeed live in a “uni-verse” as you suggest, it is my hope that they will do so because the evidence leads them there, not because of scripture.
    Tell me your argument against the above video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson claiming that God is becoming an “ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance”.

    • Anton Schreiber says:

      Hi Brian,

      Bearing in mind that Dr. Tyson has many more letters behind his name than me, I would nevertheless suggest that he is not taking the full picture into account. At present, between one-third and one-quarter of naturalist philosophers are theists, that don’t buy into the God-is-receding theory. According to Quentin Smith an atheist professor, which I quote as he reviews the state of American academia over the past 4 decades “naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.” (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nx63c7t)

      Now it’s true that other disciplines of science, especially biological ones, are permeated with agnostic scholars, but recent research (by Elaine Ecklund) has shown that the large majority of these self-select into scientific professions. In other words, it’s not that these objective scholars became convinced of atheism once science “had opened their eyes”, but rather, that they approached the discipline with an atheist pre-supposition and are now using their scholastics to prove what they’ve believed all along. This is of course a simplification and might not be true in Dr. Tyson’s case, but is nevertheless something to keep in mind.

      All the best,
      Anton

      • brianvanhise says:

        Anton,
        You’re inclusion of “pre-supposition” on the part of non-believers doesn’t jive with me. Those who follow evidence do just that. Follow evidence. If that evidence one day points to a god, then so be it. “Creation scientists” (such a silly term) are those who pre-suppose that the Christian God exists and slant their findings towards his creation.

        Think of it like this: We have a puzzle (the natural world) and all the pieces scattered about (the evidence/findings). Real scientists, naturalists, don’t have the box cover of what the final puzzle looks like; but rather just connect the pieces as they best fit and try to see the larger picture or where those pieces are leading to. The “creation scientists” insist they have the final picture and force the pieces to fit that pattern, no matter how awkward.

        The argument Dr. Tyson is making is simply that humanity has created gods in the past to explain the phenomena we couldn’t make sense of in the past.

        My point is, let’s use history as a guide, and be humble and admit that there could very likely be mysteries of our universe that we can’t even imagine today, yet will make perfect sense to future humans. No need to sign it all off to God.

        I appreciate your comments on this thread.

        Regards,
        Brian

  3. Anton Schreiber says:

    Brian,

    We agree that many creationists force the puzzle pieces, but it is absolutely true in the case of natural scientists as well. Instead of admitting the possibility of Intelligent Design, any piece of evidence that even remotely seems to point to a Creator is discarder as unscientific and anything deemed unscientific is untrue. Thus we have painted ourselves into a nice circular argument that seems to confirm our pre-suppositions (which it absolutely is) due to the inherent anti-supernatural bias of our scientific method.

    Intelligent Design is not simply based on ignorance of causes but rather on positive evidence of design. In other words, it’s not just another God-of-the-gaps escape cliché, but a logical conclusion that many serious scientists arrive at when it answers the many questions that Darwinian evolution cannot (http://tinyurl.com/7cp36qz).

    Here’s an example I got from a friend: “Suppose there are two astronauts – Bill and Stan – exploring a distant planet. Suddenly they come across a very unusual but sophisticated looking spaceship. Bill asks Stan, “Where did this come from?” Stan replies, “Aliens must have created this!” Bill then looks at Stan and says, “Oh please, that’s just an aliens-of-the-gaps argument!” Would Bill’s comments be justified? Not at all. If Bill wants to insist that natural forces somehow created the spaceship, the burden of proof would be on him and not on Stan. Stan’s conclusion that the spaceship was created by intelligent beings is based, not simply on ignorance, but on the positive evidence of design in the spaceship. What’s true in the case of the spaceship is also true in the case of biological life.”

    Dr. Tyson is right that this is often used as an excuse to invalidate scientific progress, and I think that’s a lazy cop-out. If Dr. Tyson is wrong though, it has serious moral and ethical consequences for all of us living under the stars and gaze of the Creator.

    I’ve enjoyed our dialogue, but will rest here. If you enjoy this kind of interaction I again recommend “Mars Hill in Korea” on Facebook.

    All the best,
    Anton Schreiber

  4. brianvanhise says:

    Anton,
    I’ve seen that example before. Still waiting for someone to explain how a spaceship is anything like biological self-replicating cells. Prove that and we can continue with that analogy. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to compare. I will check out Mars Hill in Korea and I’ll recommend a YouTube video channel which I enjoy. It’s a Christian radio show called The Place : http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBMmmxcjmqA4hfpEsdugsTg

  5. Michael says:

    Just have to get a word in edgewise…
    Anton, let’s assume that you’re right. The universe was made by design. If you truly believed that, how could you be so presumptuous to declare that it was designed and only designed by the Judeo-Christian god? There are thousands of other religions, if not more. Have you seriously studied all of them in search of the one “true” design story? It smacks a bit of racism to say that everyone else is wrong and only you are right. Is your “proof” scripture? Or the chance fact that your parents or loved ones are Christian? Many highly devout non-Christians believe in scripture just as little as science does. It is not only Christian theology against evidence-based science, it’s you against science and every single religion past and present that is different from yours.

    That is, by the way, the reason that science does not take Christian theology into account when searching for answers. The outcome of every experiment would have to be viewed in the context of every religion, not just yours, including voodooism, Greek mythology, astrology and a thousand others. Do you seriously think that would quicken progress in any field?

    And, by the way, to make your spaceship analogy accurate, the first astronaut would have to look around, notice that the conditions were not at hand to create the spaceship and say, “this ship is clearly less than 15 minutes old and created by the same aliens that made us.”

    Lots of devout Christians don’t believe in the “Creation”, just as there was a time that most Christians knew that the world was round, even though the church said it wasn’t. That doesn’t make them less religious, now or then. Why not be satisfied with your “gaps”? Which is a more wondrous and powerful god, one that makes the universe as it is with a wave of his hand, or one that knows how to tweak the initial conditions of the big bang just so, to allow sentient beings to arise 13 and a half billion years later. Man, now that’s a god worth praying to!

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