Friday, 20 May 2016

Why Counting To An Infinite God Is An Unreasonable Quest

Note: I am amazed. A month after writing it, this post now has more views than any other on my blog. In many ways it's a rant! Why this post? I'd recommend other posts far more than this one. There is a vast amount of positivity in what I've posted this year and my camera skills are improving, even though I'm just using the camera on a reasonably cheap mobile phone. Take a look at those posts instead. Or if you want something with guaranteed smiles in the pictures, try for something lighter than me moaning about someone's poor apologetics skills.

It's Pretty. And it's taken from this site.
This afternoon hasn't gone to plan.  I had decided to edit some photos and get ready a couple of blog posts with lots of pictures of some of the places I've been visiting recently thanks to the freedom a bus pass brings.

Instead, I've been looking at a website:  Counting To God.

Okay, so this site is meant to convert atheists by saying the universe and life developed so there must be God - intelligent design and all that jazz because watchmakers can't be blind. It's the teleological argument for the existence of God, an argument that's been stated in different ways since Plato wrote it down 2400 years ago, through Aquinas and others, and down to today.  Others have argued against the argument and even as a strongly conservative Christian I was on the side of those who argued against all the classical arguments for the existence of God.  Because, in my humble opinion, none of them prove anything!  I might have hated writing that essay on David Hume and miracles at college but even I had to admit he said sensible things about the teleological argument.

The site asks us seven science questions.  We are given two options for each.  After working through the questions and finding the right answers we are led to a conclusion:  There must be a creating God behind the universe.  We have been counting our way to God, from one to seven, and now we must believe.  That's the idea.

Why was I looking at the site at all? A fair question that I have been asking myself. No, I don't believe that it's all in the plan of an omnipotent creator who is calling me back to His side through evangelical websites.

A church of which I used to be a member posted a link to an article. Sometimes they post some really interesting things, often about some of the radicals in church history who sought uncompromising ways to develop communities and/or serve and help disadvantaged people and the groups that other churches sometimes don't help.  So I quite often click and look at the things they post.

Even though the article is one from Premier Christianity I read it.  I was sad, but not surprised to see that the current most popular article on the site is this one:  Why your church shouldn't sign Steve Chalke's charter for gay marriage.  Chalke is a strong evangelical Christian who has been moving more and more to the idea of an inclusive church - yes, including gay people.  Married gay people.  Who can get married.  To each other.  Steve Chalke is not alone in this but in evangelical circles in the UK he's a big name so for him to say these things - and organise conferences where people like Ruth Hunt, the head of Stonewall UK, can come and speak and be accepted - is no small matter for churches here.

The article was about a scientist who used science to turn from atheism to Christianity. It's not a unique story, just as stories about Christians who use science to turn to atheism are not unique.  His personal story is interesting and I'm glad he has found extra peace in his faith.  It's not a cause for anyone to convert to Christianity though.  He's written a book about it and the website is about his book.  He's a clever man, that's certain.  And it was the Head of Physics at MIT who encouraged him to write the book.

This is a man who has more science qualifications than I do.  I just about passed my A levels, that's the extent of my scientific academic prowess.  I apologise for errors I make - please feel free to correct me so I can eradicate them from this post.  On the other hand I have more theology qualifications than he does - I have two degrees to his zero and the site is called Counting to God, not Counting to Physics.  I don't think that's crucially relevant though - this post is more about keeping one's brain switched on rather than anything else.

I got as far as question one before beginning to find problems with the questioning. It asks:
According to the Big Bang Theory:
  • Our universe was created; all matter/energy that ever has existed and ever will exist was created in a single instant.
  • Matter and energy are eternal and have always existed, but life has evolved over time.
Which of two options is correct. Isn't the answer neither?

Look at the second option.  This is the wrong choice.  The quiz says.

Of course matter hasn't always existed according to the theory.  People know that.  The theory doesn't state that elementary particles existed before the big bang - if there was any "before" but that's another question.  If you've read the novel Tau Zero, which is an experience I recommend, you might go along with the ideas there and say that there was a before and subsequent to the end of the 
universe there will be an after.  Spoilers!

Then there is that word "but."  Why?  The Big Bang Theory says nothing about the evolution of life - life could have suddenly appeared with a diversity of species on 100 billion planets and that would not negate a big bang.  I don't believe it did appear that way, but the theory doesn't rule it out.  Evolution of life just isn't relevant to the question.

I wonder about the word "evolved" being in that option too - it places the concept of evolution into the context of an answer that we know to be false.  Thus if we don't think about it, by choosing the other answer as correct - which you have to do to progress through the site as you'll be told why your answer is wrong if you choose incorrectly - we have subconsciously already biased ourselves against believing in evolution.

Yes, option two is wrong.  At least in part.  So let's look at option one.

Our universe was created.  Hmm.  Created.  So if two was wrong and one option is the right one we already have to answer with this word "created" that implies that there is some kind of creator.  No, the big bang theory does not say the universe was created.  But we've said the other option is wrong - and the website has told us about it being wrong if we clicked on it.  So we have to click and say it was created and that the theory believed by most cosmologists says that it was.

All matter/energy that ever has existed and ever will exist was created in a single instant.  Is that right?  No.  It's not.  The theory does not say this.  What is matter?  This article gives the answer in simple terms. Given that an "instant" is zero time, take a look at this timeline of the big bang.  So no, all matter in the universe was not "created" in an instant.  It took time - even if the time period was so short that we cannot imagine it with our minds without the aid of simulations to show us a little of what was probably happening.  Even then we can't really imagine it because the imagining takes trillions times trillions times trillions as long as the actual event.  Just as we may believe there are billions of stars in our galaxy but we can't begin to imagine them all or form a picture of the planets round them in our minds.

That's question one.  Two options.  Both false.  But it has already become a game in which we are forced towards a conclusion that favours strong theism by virtue of the conclusion being right there in the questions.

Head on to question six and scream at the options - and at which one is the 'right' one too. It asks if the Earth is special and whether there might be other planets suitable for humans to live on. The site producer obviously follows the Rare Earth Theory rather than the estimates from the Carnegie Institution of Science or NASA.

I really dislike the question. The options are that our planet is special and maybe unique or that it isn't special. I would argue that there are probably lots of Earth like planets in the galaxy but that doesn't mean our planet isn't special. It is special. Life is special wherever it's found. And we are special, each one of us, every single human being - special even though there are billions like us on this planet.

The Earth is special.  How can anything that contains this kind of thing not be special.  These photos are from a random walk I went on a couple of days ago - they'll appear again with others in a future post if I ever manage to catch up with posting about walks and the pleasing places not too far from our home.

How could we ever think that this world is not special?  And that's just one tiny part of it, a short bus ride away.  In a straight line, that water is less than three miles away from home.

The site gives two options to each of questions. One option is clearly wrong. The other is closer to the current majority scientific view but is phrased in such a way to imply that God must have done it.

As teleological arguments go, this website is very shoddy. When theism is written into the fabric of the premises it's not really an argument at all.  When the correct answers are as much scientific error as the incorrect answers then it is propaganda rather than anything resembling what Jesus would have called "the truth that sets you free."

I don't have nice simple answers to matters of faith.  I am not trying to sell you a spiritual view of the universe.  What I have is good, health, honest doubt.  What I also have is a view that rejects certainty, exclusivity, holding onto faith when its shown to be false, and putting forth the case for ones faith with false arguments.  I believe all of those things I reject are dangerous - and they are all things I used to embrace to some degree.

I used to have the simple answers.  I had a big slice of certainty, a bigger slice of exclusivity and held onto dogmas including those which an unbiased observer would find ridiculous.  Now I find that the bigger spiritual quest is found in the questions rather than in thinking we have answered any of them.

So.  Is there a God such as that posited by theists including orthodox Christians?

Yes.  No.  Maybe.  I'm not going to begin to try answering the question for you.

One thing is perfectly clear to me:  The website Counting to God does not have the answer.

Look for answers elsewhere.  Or better yet, look for questions.  It's a much more exciting path.

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