Yesterday I watched an exchange between William Lane Craig and Victor Stenger on You Tube that illustrates the great faith that it takes to be an atheist. After Dr. Craig presented his views on the first cause argument for the existence of God, Dr. Stenger asked a question that brought up Stephen Hawking’s attempt to avoid the necessity of the singularity at the beginning of the universe:
But let me point out that imaginary time is, as you say, a mathematical trick. But its a mathematical trick that is quite common in Physics. Let’s consider the phenomena of tunneling, which is a very well established phenomena in quantum mechanics where particles tunnel through a barrier. When those particles are inside a barrier, they have things like imaginary momentum. They are un-physical, we call that un-physical. But the equations allow for that possibility and you apply the equations and out comes calculations that agree with the data and this is one model of the universe that I don’t think you have really ruled out . . .
If you take that Hartle-Hawking wave function of the universe, for example, you start it off at minus infinity, you get a contracting universe and then you reach this region which you call a singularity, but really it is not a singularity. Hawking prides himself on this, on proving that there was a singularity and then again proving that there wasn’t at the beginning of the universe. But you go through this period where you have imaginary time and it is a barrier just like particles tunneling through a barrier. So you have the universe start off at minus infinity, tunnel through this barrier and then go into the expansion phase we are all familiar with today. It seems to me that that is still a viable model. At least it is published by reputable people and reputable journals and hasn’t been disproven in anyway.
Now this is a tremendously amusing example of atheist faith. Victor Stenger says that the tunneling idea “seems to be a viable model”, that “hasn’t been disproven” and that Dr. Craig hasn’t “ruled out” all the possible alternatives to a beginning of our universe. But does the fact that we can create a mathematical model that describes the beginning of the universe without a singularity mean that this is what happened?
One of my favorite computer games is the game Portal. In that game, the designers imagined the possibility of a “Portal Gun” that allows you to create two way doorways between any two points in space. With the magic of mathematics and computer graphics, they then visualized this possibility in a puzzle game that is an enormous amount of fun. But the ability of mathematics to model something does not at all mean that that something is real. The question we must ask is, is there any evidence that this is what really happened?
So on the other side of the barrier at the beginning of space/time as we know it, what was the universe like? Was it a fully expanded universe that was contracting under the influence of gravity? (This is called the oscillating universe model.) Not if that “universe” was the same as this one. The cosmological constant which is causing the expansion of our universe to accelerate would prevent that universe from contracting. Or maybe that universe had different constants of physics and this is why we see our universe as “fine-tuned” for the existence of life? What experimental evidence do we have for any of these suppositions?
As I said in a previous essay, if I am going to have faith I am going for the whole schmeer. I am going to believe in eternal life, in the primacy of love, in beauty and in the awesome power of the mind. I am not going to have faith that life is meaningless, that pain and suffering have no higher purpose, that beauty and love do not exist and that our experience of free will and rationality are delusional. This just doesn’t make any sense to me. The only way it makes sense is if Victor Stenger and those like him believe that a belief in God and the Bible is really terrible news that is to be avoided at all costs . . .
And this is the primary problem that I have with the bad theology that I have been talking about in my “Understanding the Old Testament/Throwing Moses Under the Bus” series of posts. When we interpret the Bible as though Moses was a good person who never did anything wrong, we make the existence of the God of the Bible terrible news. Consider the following verses:
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ (Exodus 32:27)
God’s ways our higher than our ways his thoughts are higher than our thoughts and yet he wants us to be the kind of people who are blindly obedient to a command to kill our brothers, neighbors and friends? If this were true, then atheists really are correct and “heaven” would be hellish and the conclusion that God exists is one to be avoided at all costs.
On the other hand, if we understand that God delegates authority to his Prophets to speak for him and that Moses was a brutal and vicious bronze age barbarian who did not know the will or character of God, then Jesus Christ reveals the true character of God and the truth of the Bible can be a “hope” that we are always ready to defend:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)
I have faith to believe that God is really good, that God is really loving and that our lives with him will be an eternal joy. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.