Let’s first allow David Bentley Hart to reiterate the concept of nothingness. I keep coming back to this notion because it is vital to the discussion between modern Atheism and the traditional understanding of God. It is a vast misunderstanding of this point which traps most people, including myself, in the merry-go-round type debate on our origins.
Again, the “distance” between being and nonbeing is qualitatively infinite, and so it is immaterial here how small, simple, vacuous, or impalpably indeterminate a physical state or event is: it is still infinitely removed from nonbeing and infinitely incapable of having created itself out of nothing. (The Experience of God, pp. 96-97)
In the last post I presented the physics surrounding the current understanding of our cosmological origins. As it stands, the science currently suggests that the universe could not have stretched back in time eternally so the universe most likely had a beginning. I have also suggested that a beginning to the universe means that the Atheist must then answer the question, “What is on the other side of the birth of existence?” If there is no Prime Mover, the universe needs to be eternal. Now that science currently shows it cannot have been eternal, does this mean Atheism, and its allegiance to the “rationality” science brings, has been proven to be wrong? Not so fast.
I said at the end of the last post that “science and faith are not in opposition to each other.” Science cannot disprove faith; even the faith of an Atheist. This is because faith, and specifically Christianity, is not asking the same questions as science. It is tempting for me to take the research I presented and wave it in the air as a flag of victory over the faithless. “Look! Your science has brought you around full circle. You are no closer now to an answer about our origins then you have ever been.” There is no doubt this tactic would sway some into believing in God or at least solidify the faith of current believers. I would be wrong though. Worse, I would be kicking the “question” down the road for others to answer at a later date. Worse still, it would not even be the correct “question”.
First, what is the incorrect question? Well it is the one that Christians have been asking for the last one hundred and fifty years: “At what point in history did God create the universe?” I will ask the more gifted writer at Eclectic Orthodoxy to explain:
Perhaps our universe was preceded by a different universe that had collapsed into a black hole, thus providing the singularity from which our universe emerged. Perhaps it’s all explained by the theory of the multiverse. We do not know and perhaps can never know. But our ignorance does not authorize us to identify the Big Bang with the eternal event of God speaking the world into being (Gen 1). That would be to fall back into a God of the gaps. As (Diogenes) Allen warns, “Whenever we are at the boundaries of scientific knowledge, there is the danger of turning God into a creature by inserting the Deity into a scientific account (Christian Belief in a Post-Modern World p. 47).
“But,” some of you will say, “the science has shown that there was a beginning so we are not without knowledge.” Do not mistake me. The fact that science is currently at its limit of observation into the past provides for me support for the existence of a Creative force outside of the physical universe. Scientific observation has hit a boundary so the cult of science must acknowledge their belief is built on faith; especially if this boundary remains. But what if this boundary is surpassed by scientific observation someday? Will Atheism be able to again claim its support through reasonable observation with Christians at a loss to explain God in nature? Only if we build our understanding (faith) of God’s creative Being around our scientific observations of the creation. When we do that, we insert God into His creation and demote Him to just another process in the universe to be observed. Remember, we are not asking the same questions as science.
What then is the correct question Christians should be asking and have in fact asked since the beginning? The question of faith is, “Who is God and what is our relationship to Him?” Asking this question instead of trying to find the answer to when God created the universe frees our understanding of God from an event in the distant past and brings Him to the omni-present. If it turns out we are part of a multiverse, or our cosmology is eternal, the bridge that will never be crossed is between being and non-being. God speaking our existence into being in Genesis chapter 1 is an event that has never ended. In the Christian understanding of the deity, God is not a being who at some point formed the universe. God is Being. As I have said numerous times in this discussion, science cannot contemplate, let alone observe, the void. Neither can Christians. The mystery of our existence in opposition to non-existence is just that, a Mystery. Christians have always had a very specific understanding of what a Mystery of God is. It is where our mortal limitations will not allow us to access how God performs a certain action. Creation ex nihilo is unfathomable to us and science has absolutely nothing to do with it. More importantly, the questions genuine science asks, and the questions Christianity asks, are never in opposition to each other. They occupy wholly different dimensions.
So Atheists, even if the science currently points to the possibility of a Prime Mover, the Christian does not derive comfort from this. You may be delighted to hear that it still comes down to a matter of faith. Christians are asking, “Who is God, and what is our relationship to Him?” Stated in minimalist fashion, we are less concerned with the “how” and more focused on the “why”. Many modern Atheist have scoffed at the question of “why” and declared it irrelevant. Perhaps they see humanity’s contemplation of this question often renders them “cross-eyed.” It seems their response is the same as Basil’s to Austin Powers when Austin had trouble with his contemplation of time. Basil said, “I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing and just enjoy yourself.” They have failed to see that humanity’s fervor in searching for the Divine, much like their fervor for scientific exploration, cannot be quenched.
Go to my concluding thoughts on this series of posts.
I owe much of the content in this essay to the blog Eclectic Orthodoxy. Please follow this link if you are interested in a far more in depth look at this subject.