Demolishing atheist arguments — clarification on the Third Way

This is a follow-up to Russell’s guest post about Aquinas’ Five Ways. Following a vigorous discussion in the comments, he wanted to clarify his commentary of the Third Way.

My apologies, I’ve muddled up the Third Way a bit here. Let me try it again and unmuddle. If you aren’t satisfied, I’ll double your money back.

The Third Way

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The words ‘possibility’ and ‘necessity’ have be used in the context of Aquinas’ time.

‘Possibility’ is used in the Aristotelian sense, that is, the hylemorphic composite nature of something that can possibly be and not to be. This nature is inherent. Whatever form something has now, if it has hylemorphic nature, it will fail to exist in that form given enough time. It lacks the potential for indefinite existence.

By ‘necessity,’ he means the opposite of possibility: something that by its nature is everlasting, it cannot cease to exist no matter how much time passes. It cannot change into something it is not. By its very nature, for example, it cannot become contingent.

Aquinas’ argument starts with establishing the fact that if the hylemorphic somethings of the Universe, be it an entity or an action or a cause or an event or whatever, at some point, given infinite time, never existed, and, again, given infinite time, all things would have never existed, and we wouldn’t be here arguing about why we are here.

He says that’s absurd, and, because we are here, something has to have Necessary Being, which means something that exists is non-temporal and non-contingent. Here he uses being to mean being as existence and as a supreme being that men call God, “I am that I am,” which is of itself Being. He uses being not as one being among other beings, but being qua being. I’m not an expert in Latin, but the tricky passage is here: Ergo necesse est ponere aliquid quod sit per se necessarium, non habens causam necessitatis aliunde, sed quod est causa necessitatis aliis, quod omnes dicunt Deum. Sit per se isn’t complete by itself, so we have to look at necessarium, as well, and that all roughly translates into being as an abstract which has its own necessity, its own everlastingness.

It’s this Necessary Being that sustains all Possible things.

So, Aquinas’ argument then takes care of the Universe always existing, the Universe contracting and expanding forever, and multi-universes for the same reason.

I hope this has unmuddled what I had muddled. Amateur philosophers, sheesh!

Another point is that these Ways are not empirical, scientific proofs, but metaphysical demonstrations. That means none of his arguments are tied to past, current, or future scientific knowledge, because they don’t rest on empirical evidence.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss Everettian multiverses and faith.

DW writes

It was a pleasure encountering your blog, and reading through some of your writings. Your story of your encounter with and transformation by faith in Christ was genuinely inspiring.

I would gently push back on a single thread of thought, one I encountered in your witness on James Bishop’s blog. You talk at some length about the Everettian multiverse, a concept that has been seized upon by anti-theists as “proof” that God neither exists nor is necessary for existence.

Whether a quantum branching multiverse is “theory” at all in the scientific sense is open for debate, but I’d like to suggest…as a practicing practical theologian…that multiversal cosmologies are not inherently antithetical to Christian faith. They are also, for atheism, something of an own goal.

An Everettian multiverse refers to the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics developed by the late physicist, Hugh Everett. Everett essentially said that the seemingly probabilistic nature of the quantum world is explained by every possibility actually playing out in different universes.

DW is right that the multiverse cosmologies are not inherently antithetical to Christian faith. RTB’s resident astrophysicist, Jeff Zweerink, discusses this a little in his booklet, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? DW offered to send me something he’s written on the topic, so I’m curious to see what he means by the multiverse being an ‘own goal’ for atheism.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the main scientific problem with the multiverse hypothesis is that it is not science, it is science-flavored. It suffers from one insurmountable scientific problem, which is that there is no way to test it, since every universe in the multiverse is causally disconnected from every other universe. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an interesting topic for scientific discussion, since the existence of a multiverse is intriguingly hinted at by some physical theories.

The theological/philosophical dimension is also worth exploring, as it emphasizes the difference between a God-created multiverse and a godless one. As much as some atheists cling to the latter as a comforting alternative to the former, what it actually represents is the end of all hope.

Hugh Everett was a brilliant scientist, but he was also at least partially motivated by his desire for immortality when developing his Many Worlds model. This goes to show, despite claims to the contrary, that atheists can be as emotionally driven in their philosophies as anyone else. That’s not to say it was an unreasonable motivation; I mean, who could blame the man? He knew his godless worldview strongly implied he’d eventually be annihilated by an indifferent universe. It’s a terrifying thing to contemplate. However, a godless multiverse is no better — and in my opinion, considerably worse — than being snuffed out for all eternity by an indifferent universe. If there is an eternal multiverse that wasn’t created by God, then we are all doomed to either pointlessly repeat the same life over and over for eternity or to live out every possibility, which includes an infinite number of both pointlessly enjoyable and pointlessly miserable existences. It is only with a personal Creator that existence has any purpose and any meaning.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which a reader asks about death before sin.

PH writes:

You say in your FAQ that both Genesis and the NT are clear that homo sapiens existed before the creation of Adam. Yet Genesis and Romans are both very clear that death came about as the result of sin. How do you reconcile these two statements?

Before I address this, let me remind you all that I’m not a trained theologian, and I have no authority in these matters. This is simply how I, personally, have reconciled these statements.

I believe Gerald Schroeder is correct that it was spiritual death, not physical death, that resulted from sin. After being told, “on the day that you eat [the forbidden fruit] you shall surely die,” (emphasis added) and then eating the fruit, Adam lives for another 930 years. Instead of being physically killed as a punishment, he and Eve are thrown out of Eden, and God never addresses them again. In God According to God, Schroeder explains why this is a far worse punishment:

The Bible does not imply that eating of the forbidden fruit brought physical death for the first time into the world. The death that this first of human couples experienced was the death of their unbounded spirituality. Loss of spirituality for one who had conversed with the Creator, a separation from that infinite light, would be far more devastating than actual physical death. For this unfortunate couple of the Bible, only the physical remained.

Cain suffered similarly. At Cain’s exile, following his murdering Abel, he pleaded: “My punishment is greater than I can bear… From Your Presence I shall be hidden” (Gen. 4:13-14).

Hugh Ross points out that we have a tendency to forget the first fall was Satan’s, not man’s. I suppose God knew Satan would corrupt the world, so he mercifully built physical decay and death into this fallen world so that neither would it last forever nor would we even have enough time to grow more corrupt than we already are.

Scripturally, there is no problem whatsoever with physical death preceding Adam. In fact, as strange as it sounds, we should be grateful to God for it.

The path to delusion — redux

Several readers have asked me about the purported new evidence for multiple universes, and what truth there is in the claim:

Have scientists discovered a parallel universe? Bright spots from after Big Bang may be another universe bumping into our own

In response, I’m reposting this article from last year. It links to a must-read interview with physicist, George F. R. Ellis, who offers sobering commentary on a growing tendency to mistake good theory for reality.

Update: A friend of mine encapsulates the goofiness this way:

Yesterday I was eating my Wheaties, and I noticed that my cereal pieces were smaller on average than than the Wheaties I’d eaten the day before. Now, there are alternative explanations that some have given, like maybe my Wheaties box is almost empty now so I’m getting down to the crumbs at the bottom, but my experience is also consistent with the possibility that my Wheaties box switched places with a Wheaties box from a parallel universe where Wheaties are smaller. If so, this would be the first time we’ve directly observed Wheaties from another universe. We can’t rule this out at this time.

In this excellent interview, eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis discusses the ill-advised direction in which some scientists are going:

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

It is indeed a very small subset, but it is also a very vocal and visible subset–many of these scientists are in the popular media as representatives of science. Ellis also takes them to task for formally rejecting philosophy while unwittingly engaging in a weak form of it.

The great irony here is that any atheists who claim to champion evidence and reason are abandoning both if they claim that the multiverse hypothesis, or any other fundamentally untestable idea put forth by scientists, is very likely true, because it’s elegant or the math is convincing or it’s beautifully consistent with what we believe, and so on. I have to check myself here, too, because I find some of these untestable ideas compelling for the same reasons. But, in terms of the irony, as Ellis points out, it was Galileo and Newton—both Christians—who revolutionized science by making it primarily an experimental, evidence-based endeavor, and now this is being dismissed by those who also ostensibly dismiss faith; they have abandoned evidence and reason in favor of what may only be a beautiful delusion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview with Ellis (who is himself a Christian, incidentally) for an engaging discussion of what’s going awry on the modern scientific landscape.

How to demolish the most common arguments against God

Are you tired of hearing the same weak atheist arguments over and over, but lack a definitive way to respond to them? Do you sense that they’re wrong, but have trouble articulating why? Chances are, you have a vague and passing familiarity with the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who demolished these arguments centuries ago; but to be an effective defender of your faith, what you need is a solid understanding of Aquinas’ Five Ways.

The following is a guest post by one of our readers, Russell, who has been studying Aquinas. After he left a comment about Aquinas’ Five Ways in another article, I requested that he write this overview. Once you familiarize yourself with the Five Ways, you’ll realize that they’re really just common sense—and excellent retorts to those atheists who demonstrate that their level of understanding doesn’t even rise to the level of common sense.


This is a quick overview of Aquinas’ most famous arguments, the Five Ways, for the existence of God. I’m not an expert on Aquinas, so any faults about his Ways are mine, not the good Doctor’s.

St. Thomas Aquinas was born in Italy, and lived from 1225 to 1274. Known as “Doctor Angelicus,” he was a great theologian, prolific writer, and the father of the Thomistic school of theology.

Aquinas combined Aristotelian dialectic with Christian theology. I know, doesn’t sound all that impressive. We can’t see how profound that was, because, like fish who can’t see the water in which they live, we can’t imagine a world without it. The combination of Athens and Jerusalem has been a cornerstone of Western Civilization, and his influence in this regard cannot be overstated.

Sadly, most modern ‘thinkers’ have no clue who Aquinas was, and therefore why their arguments against God are nothing more than the babbling of uneducated fools. They don’t realize Aquinas already dealt with the nattering nonsense that keeps trying to pass itself off as science and logic.

Aquinas’ Five Ways, or Quinque viae, are still standing, centuries later, as solid arguments for the existence of God. Not proofs of existence, like some keep saying, but arguments for the existence of God.

His Five Ways are:

  1. The Argument from Motion.
  2. The Argument from Efficient Cause.
  3. The Argument to Necessary Being or Contingency.
  4. The Argument from Gradation.
  5. The Argument from Design.

You could spend a lifetime examining his arguments, but we’re not going to do that here. All I’m aiming for is a broad overview of the Big Five.

One core idea that Aquinas builds on is Aristotelian in nature: the difference between potentiality and actuality. The idea is, something can exist in one state or the other, say a rock on top a hill. The rock has the potential to roll down the hill, but it cannot do so on its own. If another force—say, a mover—pushes the rock, then it will actually roll down the hill.

The First Way

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.[1]

Things do move. We see them moving. Something has to move the thing that’s moving. Potentiality is only moved by actuality. Something can’t exist potentially moving and actually moving. So a potential depends on an actual to change it to an actual. There has to be something that does not need to be moved, that moves all things, and that is God.

This isn’t what most people think it is—this is not an argument for a beginning of a temporal series. The Unmoved Mover in this case is above the lower elements of the set. Aquinas jumps categories, from things that are contingent to a non-contingent entity. There has to be a change in categories because the non-contingent entity is fundamentally different than contingent things. Aquinas will make use of this idea again. And because this is only talking about contingent things, Aquinas says only contingent things have a start to their movement.

The Second Way

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.[1]

In some ways this is another angle to his First Way. Nothing can cause itself, for it would have to pre-exist itself to do so. So anything caused has to have a cause. You can’t have an infinite number of causes, because something along the way has to change the potential causes into actual caused. There might be more than one intermediate causes, but they, too, can’t stretch into an infinite series for the same reason. So there has to be another category above causes and caused, an Uncaused Cause, which we call God.

How long of a paint brush would you need to get it to paint by itself? A meter? 100 meters? An infinite length? The answer is, there is no length that will change the potential nature of the brush to an actually painting brush. It will require a mover, a cause, to do so.

Movement and cause are the same: that which is contingent has to rely on an non-contingent entity to become actual and caused. Again, this isn’t a temporal series. It can apply to those, but the underlying requirement is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover, which is in a different category than contingent things.

The Third Way

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.[1]

The Third Way is another angle of the first two, but Aquinas really brings out the need for a non-contingent entity.

These first three ways are profound enough to answer the blathering ninnies that run about saying stupid things like, “If everything has a cause, then what caused God?” and “What if the Universe is of infinite time, Bible boy? What then?”

The first question—what caused God—shows the utter lack of education possessed by many of those with degrees. Aquinas doesn’t argue that everything has a cause, but that everything contingent has a cause. If you are talking with someone who makes the argument that God should have a cause, you should kindly point out that no serious philosopher has made that argument, especially not Aquinas, not Aristotle, and not even William Lane Craig.

Here’s a bit of advice for Christians defending against such an argument. If the person persists in maintaining that’s the argument, he’s not arguing from good faith, he’s intellectually dishonest and you may treat him as such. Dialectic arguments should only be used to explode his pseudo-dialectic mutterings. Use rhetoric to strike against his emotions. Stick to the truth. You’ll do fine. If he accepts your correction, you could end up having a delightful discussion with him.

The second question—what if the universe is infinite in time—isn’t quite as cut and dried. Aquinas makes an argument for a single act of creation, but he also argues such an event isn’t needed. The tricky part is understanding that Aquinas’ argument for God is not one of a temporal series in and of itself, but that God, the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being, is fundamentally different than anything that isn’t Him. God is a different category altogether. If the Universe has begun to exist, then it there needs a Cause that is Uncaused. I know, dead horse. And for everything in the Universe, there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence, because if something can not exist at one point, it lacks the ability to self-exists.

If the Universe has always existed, or even if there’s an infinite number of Universes, then there needs be a Necessary Being to uphold all existence. It doesn’t matter if there is a beginning or not to the Universe, everything contingent needs to be upheld moment to moment by the Necessary Being.

“Fine, but what about a quantum field fluctuations?” Same answer.

See, the problem is at this point, the person arguing against God while trying to use science is barking up the wrong category. God’s involvement is metaphysical, above nature, also know as supernatural. Using contingent factoids cannot prove or disprove arguments from a metaphysical category.

The guy arguing against God needs to engage the actual arguments made by Aquinas at the same level in order to be rational. Anything less is dishonest.

The Fourth Way

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But ‘more’ and ‘less’ are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.[1]

Like Aquinas’ other Ways, this is just a summary of his arguments. He spends hundreds of pages explaining why God has to be Good and not just anything. This is not a quantitative argument about sums and magnitudes, but one of transcendental perfection. To treat this as the extent of his argument is either ignorant or dishonest.

For example:

That’s an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like, and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion. — Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion


The Fifth Way

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.[1]

This is just common sense, which explains why most learned men of our age have no idea what point Aquinas is making here. That which lacks intelligence cannot have a purpose. Unintelligent thing act according to laws set for them. Intelligence precedes laws. So, that which has set the laws by which all things are governed we call God.

Since we don’t know for certain what the physical laws were like during the first blip after the Big Bang, we can’t describe how things worked. But, again, God is above that, He had laid down governance for those initial conditions as much as He did for the material Universe after. All things operate according to His will.

The implications should be clear, no matter what law is discovered by man’s questing, it cannot supersede God. There is no God of the gaps for Aquinas—God is above and below all.

To summarize, Aquinas argues for some Being that is above everything as the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover, and is the fundamental source of everything, the Necessary Being. He is the Alpha and the Omega, whom men call God. He exists in a different category than everything else in the Universe, and is not just one entity among many.

Every time someone makes an argument against God and either doesn’t address Aquinas or does so incorrectly, despite being corrected, you know they are not arguing honestly. No fact of the physical universe can prove or disprove God. No law, no factoid, no wild-eyed claims of quantum field fluctuations can address the wrong category.

So why aren’t these Ways considered proofs? Aquinas set out to defend belief in God as being philosophically rational at a metaphysical level, not something empirically provable, by merging Athenian logic and Jerusalem belief.

In this benighted age, where Science über alles is the mode de jour of all right-thinking people, this is nigh well unconceivable. It’s claimed that science encompasses all knowledge, including metaphysics, which is an absurd position to take, since that means science also includes astrology and the rules to croquet.

The Five Ways aren’t arguments for Jesus being the Son of God or that the Bible is the Word of God, but that there are rational reasons for accepting the existence of a Supreme Being, whom men call God.

This was just a quick flyby at 30,000 feet. Aquinas was a prolific writer, and he explores these ideas further in many books and hundreds and hundreds of pages.

If this has piqued your interest, I suggest checking out Professor Edward Feser’s blog. Professor Feser has a gift for explaining Aquinas clearly, as well as many philosophical arguments, both the pros and cons. I also recommend Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and, of course, the Summa Theologica.

[1] Wikipedia :

Weekly Psalm 19: Arp 274

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — colliding galaxies, Arp 274.


Galaxy collisions are a testament to the strange way in which space is scaled. The universe is a relatively crowded place on the galactic scale, which is why these collisions are fairly common. But when galaxies crash into each other, the stars in them are so far apart from each other that the stars themselves usually don’t collide.

Think of it this way. If you were to draw a 1 cm dot that represented the Sun, the nearest star to the Sun (Alpha Centauri, ~4 light-years away) would be a slightly larger dot about 400 km away. That’s how much space there is between the stars.

Now, if you were to draw a 1 cm dot that represented the Milky Way Galaxy, the nearest galaxy to ours (Andromeda, ~2.5 million light-years away) would only be 25 cm away.

That’s why galaxies often collide, but stars usually don’t. However, the gas and dust that is inside galaxies does collide, and this leads to a brief period of intense star formation as the galaxies gravitationally tear each other apart. Once this violent dance settles down, a newly formed galaxy remains.

Galaxy collisions take hundreds of millions of years to play out, so what we’re seeing with images like the one above are cosmic snapshots of collisions. Astrophysicists use supercomputer simulations to hugely speed up the process and explore what a full collision would look like.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Livio (STScI) and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Backyard Astronomy: November 2015


There’s not a lot going on in the November sky, but here are couple events you and your family can enjoy, with or without binoculars.

November 5,6: Taurids Meteor Shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth moves through a cloud of debris left behind by a celestial object, like a comet. The Taurids are unusual in that they are debris from two objects: Asteroid 2004 TG10 and Comet 2P Encke. The meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus. As meteor showers go, this one is wimpy, with a modest 5-10 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs every year from September 7 to December 10, but will peak after midnight in the early morning of the 6th.

November 17,18: Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids are debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, and appear to radiate from the constellation Leo. As meteor showers go, this one is average with 15 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs every year from November 6th to November 30th, but will peak after midnight in the early morning of the 18th.

God is not a magician


A recent pop news article claimed physicists have proved God didn’t create the universe. In response, I explained why you can’t trust the pop media to report on science accurately. In a follow-up post, I discussed why the universe isn’t “nothing,” as the article implied. In this, the third part, we’ll talk about what the Bible says about the creation of the universe and compare this with the current state of scientific thinking.

Let’s first summarize the problem as presented in the pop news article:

The supposed biblical claim: God created the universe from absolute nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Only God could create something from absolute nothing.

The atheist counterclaim: Physicists have discovered a way to create a universe from nothing using only the laws of physics. Therefore, God is irrelevant.

I’ve already explained why the atheist claim is bogus. But is creatio ex nihilo what the Bible says? It’s unclear, because there is nothing in scripture that explicitly says this. Those who believe creatio ex nihilo infer it from Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s not an unreasonable inference—the Hebrew word for “create” means to bring something into existence that did not exist before—and it is probably for this reason that the great biblical commentator Nahmanides believed the universe was brought forth by God “from total and absolute nothing.” From my reading of Nahmanides (and my non-expertise in theology), the total and absolute nothing refers to something corporeal. More on this in a moment.

When dealing with argumentative atheists who want to debate science and God, what matters most is not whether science lines up with their particular ideas about God, but whether science is consistent with what we know from scripture. You have to be persistent about this, because atheists almost always present their arguments against a God that resembles nothing like the God of the Bible:

Asked if the remarkable findings and the convincing if complex solution removed the need for a God figure to kick start the universe Dr Mir said: “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him.”

I doubt this is the exact question posed to Dr. Mir; and I believe the atheist we’re dealing with is not the physicist, but the reporter and/or his editor. Nevertheless, my interpretation of Mir’s response is, now that we have a plausible physical model for how the universe could arise from nothing but physical laws, we do not need the sort of God who waves his arms and magically conjures up a universe from nothing. In other words, the theory knocks down a strawman God. But it also supports the biblical God who operates in a way that we can relate to on at least a rudimentary level.

Have you ever watched a skilled magician performing tricks? Most people find it enjoyable to watch someone perform something that seems impossible. But it’s only fun, because everyone except for really little kids understands that the tricks are just illusions and the magician isn’t really defying the laws of nature. If we genuinely believed he was defying the laws of nature, the magic show would be more horrifying than entertaining*.

And yet, for reasons I don’t quite understand, a lot of people—including believers—regard God as the ultimate magician who really is defying the laws of nature. Personally, I find this notion of God repellant, because it contradicts what the Bible tells us about his character—he is knowable through nature, he is consistent, and he is reliable. But we needn’t worry, because the biblical account of the creation of the universe doesn’t describe something magical, it describes something miraculous.

It is tempting to think of magical and miraculous as synonymous, but there’s an important distinction between the two. For the purpose of this argument, magical refers to something that lacks a knowable mechanism, something that defies the laws of nature or does the impossible. Contrary to popular misconception, miraculous means none of those things. Rather, a miracle is something that is accomplished through divinely supernatural means; in other words, something that is accomplished by God through means that exist beyond the universe. As Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out, this is exactly what modern science implies for the creation of the universe.

Prof. Mir – who also works on the Large Hardron (sic) Collider at CERN in Switzerland – further explained that by “nothing” he only meant absence of energy, and not the absence of laws of physics.

Schroeder says this is what Genesis has been telling us all along. In his book, The Science of God, he provides what he considers to be the most faithful translation of Genesis 1:1, which is known as the Jerusalem translation: With wisdom as the first cause, God created the universe. In other words, Genesis implies the laws of physics predate the universe, just as physicists claim. It is the supernaturally existing laws of physics—wisdom, the first cause—God uses to create the universe.

Let’s summarize what we’ve discussed:

  • The Bible implies the universe was created from nothing except the laws of physics. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says the laws of physics predate the universe. Science agrees.
  • The Bible says God used the pre-existing laws of physics to create the universe. This is consistent with science.

Logically, we know the universe can’t create itself; it requires something above and beyond. This is what the Bible has been saying all along, and science is finally catching up.


* If you don’t believe me, watch a movie called The Prestige. Even though the ultimate trick in the movie isn’t strictly magic—in the sense that it breaks no laws of nature—the magician goes well beyond simple illusion, and it’s pretty disturbing.

Image credit: ESO.

Weekly Psalm 19: Enceladus

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.


Enceladus is the sixth-largest of Saturn’s 62 moons. At 500 km diameter, it is dwarfed by Saturn’s largest moon, Titan (5,100 km) and Earth’s Moon (3,500 km). It was discovered in the late 18th century by the German-English astronomer, William Herschel, whose son, John, named it. Not much was known about Enceladus until the Voyager missions studied the moon in the 1980s. The Cassini mission followed in 2005 to study Saturn and its moons in greater detail. The above image was taken during this latest mission.

The surface of Enceladus is comprised of clean ice (as opposed to “dirty” ice, which contains rock, dust, and organic compounds) that reflects most of the sunlight that reaches it. Enceladus has an active surface, with over 100 geysers spewing water vapor into the rings of Saturn. Last year, Cassini found evidence of a subsurface ocean beneath the icy surface. The Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to fly through one of Enceladus’ geyser plumes in the hope that it will reveal the chemical makeup of its liquid ocean.


Image credit: NASA/JPL.