The physics of miracles: thermodynamics


Miracles are part of Christian tradition that are often ridiculed by atheists. The claim is that God or one of God’s agents does the impossible, and impossible things never happen, because they defy the laws of nature, so why do you believe in something as nonsensical as miracles?

But is that really what all miracles are — defying the laws of nature and doing the impossible?

Before we get into the physics, let’s first go to scripture to see how miracles are defined. (Generally speaking, in any argument with atheists over something in scripture, the first thing you should do is carefully study the relevant passages to see what the actual claim is. Atheists almost always get it wrong.)

There are two Hebrew words translated as ‘miracle’ in the Old Testament. They are

  • oth: this word refers to a sign. The purpose of this sort of miracle is to draw people’s attention to God. (e.g. Exodus 12:13)
  • mopheth: this word refers to a wonder and is often used together with oth (signs and wonders). The purpose of this sort of miracle is to display God’s power. (e.g. Exodus 7:3)

The Greek counterparts in the New Testament are

  • semeion: this word refers to a sign, and is used to describe acts that are evidence of divine authority, usually something that goes against the usual course of nature (e.g. John 2:11)
  • teras: this word refers to a wonder, and is used to describe something that causes a person to marvel (e.g. Acts 2:22)

There are two additional words used for miracle in the New Testament:

  • dunamis: this word refers to an act that is supernatural in origin (e.g. Mark 6:2)
  • ergon: this word means “work,” as in the works of Jesus (e.g. Matthew 11:2) (interestingly, ergon is the Greek word from which the unit of energy, erg, is derived)

Is it possible to square some miracles with the laws of nature without detracting from their wondrousness? I believe the answer is yes, based on two branches of physics: thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. In this first part, I’ll discuss miracles from the perspective of thermodynamics, the branch of physics that deals with heat, energy, and work.

What follows is more properly described as statistical mechanics, or statistical thermodynamics, but you don’t need to get hung up terms. This field of study deals with predictions about the behavior of systems with enormous numbers of particles. These numbers are so huge that no one could be absolutely certain about any predictions, but this is where statistics come to the rescue. You can make statistical predictions about systems of particles, and, as you’ll see, the more particles you’re dealing with, the more accurate the predictions become. And, interestingly, this is precisely what permits miracles that do not violate the laws of nature.

The laws of nature permit a lot more than most people realize. In our everyday lives, we don’t usually define common sense expectations in terms of probabilities, but that’s often precisely what common sense is. In thermodynamics, that which constitutes our everyday expectation in any given situation is what’s referred to as the most probable state of a system.

To see what I mean, let’s consider a room with air in it, and imagine that we divide the room into two equal parts. We’ll also imagine this room and the air molecules comprise a closed system: the room has been effectively sealed off with its doors and windows closed for several hours, with no energy or air added to or removed from it. This means the room has had time for the air particles to jostle around and distribute themselves randomly. What we expect when we walk into the room is that the air molecules will be relatively evenly distributed throughout the room with approximately the same number of molecules on either side. What we don’t expect is that all of the air molecules will be on one side of the room with a vacuum on the other side. Most of you probably couldn’t explain why you’d be astonished to find all of the air on just one side of the room — you intuitively sense that this would be extremely odd — but there is a sound reason for this expectation that is rooted in probability.

Let’s construct what scientists call a toy model, which is a very simplified example of a situation you wish to study, in order to understand the fundamentals. Our toy model consists of a room divided in half with only two air molecules in it, an oxygen molecule and a nitrogen molecule. Here are the possible arrangements of these molecules:





Each possible arrangement is called a “state” of the room. We see that there are four possible states for the room. There are two states in which the air molecules are distributed evenly in the room, and two in which both of the air molecules are on one side of the room. The probability of finding a room in a state in which both molecules are on one side of the room is 2 out of 4, or 50%.

Easy enough. But things start to change quickly the more particles we add. Let’s see what happens when we double the number of molecules to four — one nitrogen, one oxygen, one argon, and one carbon dioxide.

















As you can see, there are a total of 16 possible states for the room. Again, there are only two states in which the air molecules are on one side of the room, but now there are many more total possible states than before. The probability of all four molecules spontaneously arranging themselves on one side of the room is 2 out of 16, or 12.5%. This is a lot less probable than in the previous example, but not so low that you would be astonished to find all of the air molecules on one side of the room.

Based on this toy model, we can write the mathematical expression for the total number of possible arrangements of air molecules in a two-sided room as

total # of states = (2 sides of the room)# of molecules



That’s 2 raised to the power of the number of molecules. For the two-molecule example, that’s 22 = 4, and for the four-molecule example, that’s 24 = 16.

Let’s consider a room with N = 100 air molecules in it, and calculate the probability of finding all of the molecules on one side of the room:

total # of permutations = 2100 = 1030

Even with a paltry 100 air molecules in the room, the probability of finding them all on one side of the room is a minuscule 2 out of 1030 possible permutations. Let’s put this in perspective. If the air molecules randomly redistributed themselves every second, you’d have to wait a trillion lifetimes of the universe before you’d have a reasonable expectation of finding all 100 air molecules on one side of the room.

Let’s now consider a typical room, which has N = 1027 air molecules in it. That number is a 1 with 27 zeroes after it


or a billion billion billion.

The total number of possible arrangements of the air molecules in a room divided into two equal parts is

2N = 21027

or 2 raised to the power of a billion billion billion. It’s an absurdly large number.

There are still only two possible ways for all of the air molecules to be on one side of the room or the other, so the probability of finding a room in a state in which all of the air molecules are, by random chance, on one side of the room or the other is 2 out of 21027. To say that this is an extremely improbable state is beyond understatement.

In fact, by any reasonable definition, we can say that it’s effectively impossible for the air molecules in a room to spontaneously arrange themselves to be on just one side of the room. But notice that it’s not strictly impossible. The probability of finding the air molecules on one side of the room by chance is extremely, extremely low, so low that we would never expect it to happen in the normal course of nature, but the probability is not precisely zero.

This toy model neglects other important physical effects, but it suffices to demonstrate the point that a lot of physical systems are largely governed by probabilities. Personally, I think this is how God has built leeway into the system of the universe to do the seemingly impossible in the natural world without violating the laws of nature. It is God, or an agent of God, doing what is effectively impossible, i.e. impossible for us, but not strictly impossible, and certainly not impossible for God.

Let’s consider a biblical example — the parting of the Red Sea. In Exodus 14, Moses is described as stretching out his hand at God’s command and parting the Red Sea so that the millions of people of Israel could cross it and escape from the pursuing Egyptians. This is referenced later in Deuteronomy 26:8 as one of the “signs and wonders” (oth and mopheth) God used to display his power and free Israel from Egypt. The probability of finding the waters of the Red Sea spontaneously parting on their own would be as exceptionally low as in our example of the air molecules in the room spontaneously arranging themselves on just one side. It’s so low that we would never expect it to happen in the usual course of nature, but, as we saw in the example of air molecules, it’s not strictly impossible.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not: a) claiming that all physical miracles have a foundation in probability — the miracle (semeion) of Jesus turning water into wine would involve a different physical mechanism than that illustrated by statistical thermodynamics; b) claiming that all miracles are physical in character; or c) attempting to explain miracles in a way that detracts from their miraculousness. That physical miracles could fit into the natural framework of the universe makes them no less wondrous than if they defied the laws of nature. Think of it this way. It’s not strictly impossible for you to win the Mega Millions lottery four times in a row — the probability is approximately 1 out of 1025, about 100,000 times more probable than finding 100 air molecules on one side of a room. However, the odds are so overwhelmingly against it that it no one would believe it happened without someone intervening in the system to force this outcome. Isn’t that what we’re talking about with miracles?

According to the laws of physics, a miracle like parting the Red Sea does not violate the laws of nature, it just requires a far greater power over the forces of nature than we humans could ever have.

In the next part, I’ll look at miracles from the perspective of the weird and wondrous world of quantum mechanics.

Since posting, I’ve lightly edited this article for clarification of two points: 1) not all physical miracles are probabilistic in nature; and 2) not all miracles are physical in character. Some miracles described in the Bible, such as the creation of the universe, the creation of the nefesh (animal soul) and the neshama (human soul), and Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, are entirely supernatural in character.

Parting of the Red Sea image credit: The Swordbearer.

Theory is not fact

Whenever someone even hints at a criticism of Darwinism or “climate change,” the True Believers come out of the woodwork to try to shame the heretics. You can always tell who they are, because they say things like “climate change is a fact” or “evolution is a fact the same way gravity is a fact.” The implication here is, you wouldn’t be so dumb as to deny the reality of gravity, would you, so why are you denying the reality of evolution or climate change?

But here the True Believer shows his blind faith, for with his inability to distinguish between fact and theory he exposes himself as someone whose understanding of how science works doesn’t even rise to the level of middle school. Another way to describe this sort of blind faith is science fetishism. As I told the anklebiting commenter to Surak’s article, we do not permit people to fetishize science here.

A fact is something we observe; for example, that objects in free fall accelerate toward the Earth’s center at a rate of 9.8 m/s2 or that the Moon orbits the Earth with an average orbital speed of 3700 km/s. There is no doubt of the fact that objects fall toward each other, because we see it and measure it all the time; this is what the science fetishist means when he says “gravity is a fact.” But what he apparently doesn’t realize is that gravity is a theory. Theories are not facts, they are models that attempt to make sense of the facts. And, as it turns out, there are several theories of gravity that attempt to make sense of what we know: Newton’s universal law of gravitation, Einstein’s general theory of relativity, modified Newtonian dynamics, and so on. And, as we all know from the various scientific revolutions that have taken place in the last several hundred years, no theory is invulnerable to being overturned by new and better evidence or new ways of thinking.

When a science fetishist leaps into a conversation to tell you that evolution is a fact, the first thing you should tell him is that you are fully aware of the fact that different lifeforms have emerged over the course of the Earth’s natural history and that lifeforms have been observed to change over relatively short periods of time. And then ask him which theory explains it — microevolution, macroevolution, speciation, microbial evolution, or chemical evolution — and why. At that point you will expose what Hugh Ross describes as the evolution shell game when fetishists argue about evolution, wherein he will either substitute the facts of fossils and other evidence for theory or well-established forms of evolution for those that are not at all supported.

As for climate change as “fact,” I can only surmise that our True Believer is not aware that scientists — including the famous hockey stick guy, himself — are now finally admitting that there has been no significant warming in the last two decades. It’s only a matter of time before the whole edifice of human-caused “climate change” collapses.

UPDATE: im2l844 asks in the comments:

Do you have a concise response to the “consensus” argument that is invariably trotted out by the AGW faithful?

Yes, there are two responses: who cares? and what consensus?

Who cares if there’s a consensus? Reality isn’t decided by a vote. There was a time when 97% of scientists thought the Earth was the center of the universe, so that tells you the value of consensus.

The reality is, there isn’t a consensus about global warming or climate change or whatever the True Believer wants to call it. The 97% statistic that is invariably trotted out is based on a very small number of scientists polled — just 77 — who met the criteria for a 2-minute survey as part of a student’s thesis. What the True Believer either doesn’t know or refuses to acknowledge is that over 31,000 scientists from an array of scientific fields have signed a petition stating they believe “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which the blind faith of a True Believer is exposed.

In response to my claims of philosophical corruption in biology and climate change, JLAfan2001 comments:

All of this is just biased assertions. No links or evidence was provided anywhere to support anything that was written in this article. Why? Because there isn’t any evidence for it. Climate change and Darwinian evolution are proven facts because the actual evidence is overwhelming in favor of them. Stop spreading misinformation.

A blog is not a research journal, and it’s unreasonable to expect a blogger to provide links and evidence for every claim he makes. On the other hand, if a reader wishes to engage in a meaningful discussion, he has the obligation to fairly consider and give a thoughtful reply to the claims made.

Darwinism, as some of you are hopefully aware, is based on four principles: common descent, random mutation, natural selection, and gradualism. It is not enough for Darwin to be right about one of these ideas; if any one of these foundations of Darwin’s theory is undone by the evidence, then Darwin was wrong.

There is no need to discuss common descent of all animal life on Earth for two reasons: the evidence for common descent is virtually conclusive, and there is no conflict between science and scripture on this point. There is also convincing evidence that random genetic mutations do occur. There is nothing in Christian scripture that conflicts with the notion of genetic mutation. The problems with Darwinism in regard to both science and scripture occurred from the beginning because of the lack of evidence for natural selection and gradualism, as Darwin’s friend, Thomas Huxley, pointed out to him. There is now overwhelming evidence against natural selection and gradualism.

Consider the following evidence provided by naturalists Peter and Rosemary Grant who studied Darwin’s famed Galapagos finches for about 25 years. Keep in mind that they are highly acclaimed supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The following comes from the Wikipedia article about them and their work:

They won the 2005 Balzan Prize for Population Biology [2]. The Balzan Prize citation states:

“Peter and Rosemary Grant are distinguished for their remarkable long-term studies demonstrating evolution in action in Galápagos finches. They have demonstrated how very rapid changes in body and beak size in response to changes in the food supply are driven by natural selection. They have also elucidated the mechanisms by which new species arise and how genetic diversity is maintained in natural populations. The work of the Grants has had a seminal influence in the fields of population biology, evolution and ecology.” [Emphasis added]

It always amazes me that the followers of Darwin are so dogmatic they don’t realize the real significance of the evidence they uncover. Darwin was able to spend only a limited amount of time studying the finches of the Galápagos — long enough to observe groups of finches that had differences in beak and body structures, which seemed to be determined by available food supplies, but too short a period of time to actually witness changes the way that the Grants did.

The key words from the Grants’ observations are “…very rapid changes.” The Grants witnessed changes as they were taking place over a period of a few years. Darwinian evolution cannot take place like this. Yes, random mutations take place, but the overwhelming evidence is that positive genetic mutations are rare and do not occur often enough to allow natural selection to bring about such significant effects over the incredibly short period of time the Grants reported. According to classic Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism, natural selection cannot cause large changes in body and beak over a period of a few years or generations. The evidence shows that some other process must be at work, and the likely candidate is epigenetics.

The Darwinist’s basic premise about time and evolution was stated by Harvard biologist George Wald in Scientific American in August 1954,

Time is in fact the hero of the plot. The time with which we have to deal is of the order of two billion years. What we regard as impossible on the basis of human experience is meaningless here. Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.

For Darwinism to work, very long periods of time and countless generations are required.

Wald’s argument was undone in the 1970s when Elso Barghoorn, a Harvard paleontologist, discovered fossils of bacteria and algae in rocks that were about 3.5 billion years old. What this fossil evidence shows is that life occurred on Earth almost immediately (in geological terms) after the formation of the oceans at about 3.8 billion years ago. Water is necessary for life as we know it, and the evidence that life suddenly (in geological and biological terms) appeared just after water showed up in significant amounts completely undercuts Wald’s argument. As a result of this conclusive new evidence, Scientific American published a retraction of Wald’s article in 1979. Because of this time problem, Darwinism now has no credible hypothesis about the origins of life on Earth.

Also in the 1970s, eminent paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould advanced their hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium in response to the severe problems the fossil record posed for Darwinism. Niles Eldredge was quoted in a Nov. 4, 1980 New York Times article:

The fossil record we were told to find for the past 120 years (since Darwin) does not exist.

The plain truth is that the fossil evidence has fractured the field of evolution.

The genetic evidence discovered during the last few decades has not only failed to support every version of Darwinism, it has simply destroyed the Darwinist notions of natural selection and gradualism. First, this from the book Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by the well-known science writer and ardent Darwin supporter Carl Zimmer:

But they [referring to Darwinists] assumed that the genes that built fruit flies would be peculiar to insects and other arthropods. Other animals don’t have the segmented exoskeleton of arthropods, so biologists assumed that their very different bodies must be built by very different genes.

Joy turned to shock when biologists began to find Hox genes in other animals — in frogs, mice, and humans; in velvet worms, barnacles, and starfish. In every case, parts of their Hox genes were almost identical, regardless of the animal that carried them.

Biologists discovered that the Hox genes did the same job in all of these animals: specifying different sections of the head-to-tail axis just as they do in insects. Hox genes in these different animals are so similar that scientists can replace a defective Hox gene in a fruit fly with the corresponding Hox gene from a mouse, and the fly will still grow its proper body parts.

In the simplest possible words, the genetic evidence described by Zimmer refutes the Darwinist and Neo-Darwinist ‘tree of life.’ The Darwinists are seriously wrong.

The genetic evidence gets even worse for Darwin’s theory based on natural selection and gradualism. The following comes from noted biology professor, Sean Carroll, who in his 2005 book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo, quotes and supports Thomas Huxley’s opposition to Christian beliefs:

As a natural process, of the same character as the development of a tree from its seed, or of a fowl from its egg, evolution excludes creation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention.

Once again, we find an ardent supporter of Darwinism who is incapable of understanding the most important implications of his own research. Carroll draws these conclusions from the best and most recent fossil and genetic evidence:

For more than a century, biologists had assumed that different types of animals were genetically constructed in completely different ways … But contrary to the expectations of any biologist, most of the genes first identified as governing major aspects of fruit fly body organization were found to have exact counterparts that did the same thing in most animals, including ourselves. [emphasis added]

The discovery that the same sets of genes control the formation and pattern of body regions and body parts with similar functions (but very different designs) in insects, vertebrates, and other animals has forced a complete rethinking of animal history, the origins of structures, and the nature of diversity. [emphasis added]

…the prevailing view of the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis was that the process of random mutation and selection would so alter DNA and protein sequences that only closely related species would bear homologous genes…Virtually everything I have described…has been discovered in the past twenty years … they have forced biologists to rethink completely their picture of how forms evolve.” [emphasis added]

The fact that such different forms of animals are shaped by very similar sets of tool kit proteins was entirely unanticipated … the discovery … has forced a complete change in our picture of how complex structures arise.” [emphasis added]

Carroll appears incapable of drawing the final conclusion that is irresistible to anyone who is not a dogmatic Darwinist. The evidence from the field of Evo Devo conclusively demonstrates that classic Darwinists and Neo-Darwinists need to “rethink completely” how evolution took place. Let’s help Carroll out and state the obvious: Darwinists have always been and continue to be wrong about the way life evolved on Earth.

Carroll goes on to put a final nail in the coffin of Darwinism. Open your mind if you can to the following evidence from Endless Forms Most Beautiful:

The surprising message from Evo Devo is that all of the genes for building large, complex animal bodies long predated the appearance of those bodies in the Cambrian Explosion. The genetic potential was in place for at least 50 million years, and probably a fair bit longer, before large, complex forms emerged. [emphasis added]

It does not appear that scarcity is a fault of the fossil record. Without confirmed body fossils, paleontology is reluctant to conjure up more than a vague image of a featureless, wormlike creature for the last common ancestor…” [emphasis added]

If we can’t say much for certain from the fossil record, what can we say about the animal ancestors based on other kinds of evidence? We can make inferences based on what is shared among descendants. This is the critical logic used in Evo Devo to peer into the distant past.” [emphasis added]

…the common ancestor of bilaterians…(…Urbilateria…)…had a tool kit of at least six or seven Hox genes, Pax-6, Distal-less, tinman, and a few hundred more body-building genes. It is intriguing to ponder just what so many genes were doing in Urbilateria. [emphasis added]

So, according to the best and latest genetic evidence, the tool box genes necessary for the formation of eyes (Pax-6), hearts (tinman), limbs (Distal-less) and many other complex structures of large and complex animal forms must have predated the Cambrian explosion of animal life forms by at least 50 million years. But, it is during the Cambrian Age when all of these structures, organs, and basic body plans are first observed in the fossil record. What this evidence means in terms of the Darwinian evolution hypothesis is that some very primitive, worm-like, as yet undiscovered animal form must have possessed all of the genes necessary for the Cambrian explosion even though it didn’t have any of the complex structures itself.

So, the best a Darwinist can do to reconcile the evidence with current theory is to “conjure” a primitive organism that developed these genes vital to complex life forms even though no advantage had been gained from the genes and, therefore, natural selection had no chance to work. Carroll’s genetic evidence is irrefutable and his logic is devastating to Darwinism. But, as a devoted secular evolutionist, he does not take and is likely incapable of taking the last step demanded by both evidence, logic, and a commitment to science. So it is left to you to draw and honestly state the only possible conclusion:

Darwin was wrong about natural selection and gradualism.

For someone like our doubtful commenter, being able to admit and publicly state Darwin’s limitations is a test of one’s commitment to true science. Can he pass that test by stating here and now that Darwin was wrong?

For the rational person, is faith a bad word?

I had the chance to speak with Oxford mathematician, John Lennox, while he was visiting Austin a couple of weeks ago, and as an experienced Christian apologist, he offered me some very good advice. One piece of advice that surprised me, however, was that I should limit my use of the word “faith” in conjunction with science.

The problem is, while we Christians understand what is meant by the word “faith,” atheists don’t. The word has been co-opted and corrupted to mean “blind faith,” as in “believing without reason or evidence” or “believing in spite of evidence to the contrary.” Here’s a typical example (sent to me by an atheist on Twitter):


Christians and atheists use the same words, but it should be evident we’re speaking different languages. For the atheist, faith is the act of surrendering your intellect. However, C. S. Lewis probably put it best when he explained that faith is, in fact, the opposite of that: it is the act of holding onto a belief you once accepted through reason in spite of your transitory emotions.

There is a wonderful example of faith in Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, which did not make it to the film adaptation. In it, Dr. Arroway, who understands and believes in the laws of physics, is admiring an enormous Foucault pendulum. Her friend, the not-quite-priest, Palmer Joss, asks her if she’s willing to test her faith in the laws of physics by placing herself just a little beyond where the pendulum is predicted to stop in its upward swing. (See the video below.) Admirably, she does so, but admits to having her faith shaken a bit as the several-hundred-pound weight at the end of the pendulum was swinging towards her face. This is precisely what Lewis meant by having faith–holding on to a reasonable belief in spite of your emotions.

There is another, slightly different, sense in which Christians use the word “faith,” which doesn’t have anything to do with emotions. It means to accept something as likely to be true in spite of your inability to prove it. Christian philosophers, William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, point out ways in which we take things on faith, probably without even realizing it. For instance, most of us take it on faith that there is a past. Does that sound ludicrous to you? Well, try proving that the universe didn’t just pop into existence five minutes ago, complete with fake memories of everything that we think happened in the past. You can’t prove it didn’t happen. Try proving that you aren’t in the Matrix and being manipulated to think you’re experiencing things that you really aren’t. You can’t. Yet you very likely go through your daily life taking it on faith that reality is reality and that you are in fact experiencing these things and that your memories are real, because that is a reasonable thing to do.

Atheists engage in faith every bit as much as Christians, but the ones who object to “faith” are either too blind to realize they engage in it, or they pick and choose what sort of faith is acceptable and what is not.

Faith is not a bad word. Unfortunately, Lennox is right, and you won’t get very far with non-Christians if you insist on sticking to the strict definitions of words that carry emotional baggage. By all means, correct atheists who accuse you of having faith as though it’s a bad thing, but when trying to convince them that Christian beliefs are reasonable and not at all incompatible with, say, modern science, you will have to use other words. For all their talk of reason, most atheists are no different than most people in general, and are far more readily convinced by rhetoric than by dialectic. In other words, they are more easily moved by clever appeals to emotion than by strictly logical arguments.

Austin Event: John Lennox and Steven Weinberg

UPDATE: Sadly, Professor Weinberg has withdrawn from this event. Philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac will take his place, and the event will proceed as planned.

Also, for some reason, “Veritas Forum” has been scrubbed from the promotional materials, so the new poster is below.

For those of you in the Austin, Texas area, the Veritas Forum is hosting a dialogue between John Lennox and Steven Weinberg Daniel Bonevac. For those who can’t make it, Veritas tends to post videos of their events on their website, so check in with them afterward.



Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we expose the intellectual dishonesty of a commenter and a few scientists.

“Allallt” commented on the Science as true worship, Part I post:

I am currently in my 5th year of study at a university, I worked alongside a biologist for a year, I lived with two doctors, and although I don’t mean to imply that you are lying, I have never met a single person who claimed to know a deficiency in evolution that kept quiet about.
I’ve never met a scientist who thought they could disprove another scientist, who didn’t take the opportunity and the pay for the paper they published.
‘Science’ is a collection of scientists in different universities in different countries publishing in different journal articles. I’m not sure they have the structure to keep such a conspiracy going.
None of this makes biologists right about evolution. But it does mean I am very sceptical of your opening story about a scientist who not only claims to know the deficiencies in evolution, but also thinks everyone else knows but everyone is just a part of a big global conspiracy.

You know you’re dealing with an intellectually dishonest person when he says he doesn’t mean to do something, but does it anyway. As I pointed out to him in my response, I did not say there was a big global conspiracy. Biologists are forthright about the work they’re doing, but they’re not always forthright about the conclusions. Until now, I had assumed it was not always deliberate, and that some scientists are just so locked into a particular paradigm that they can’t admit the obvious — that Darwin’s theory is flawed — to themselves, let alone to the public. However, after reading the following, I’m starting to doubt that.

When I was young, Stephen Jay Gould was derided, as was Carl Sagan. Of Gould, John Maynard Smith, Emeritus Professor at Sussex, once wrote, “Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists.” [emphasis added]

This was precisely the point of my anecdote about the biology student who didn’t want to “hand a victory to Christians” with any public admission of flaws in Darwin’s theory. Actual biologists are well aware of Darwin’s deficiencies. The reason most of the general public is not is because any criticisms are deliberately held back from public discourse. So, while there is no global conspiracy to hide the research, how many nonbiologists are going to read through journal papers or even popular level science books with the necessary rigor to realize that Darwin’s theory is as scientifically dead as geocentric theory? Not many, and those who do are derided as “deniers” or “creationists.”

All of this dissembling and labeling betrays an incredibly unscientific attitude, and shows to what degree ideology rules certain scientific fields (see also: climate change). Contrast this with the way physicists openly and even joyfully discuss serious challenges to one of the most successful and widely-accepted theories in physics, the standard model of particle physics:

“It was so weird that people were forced to chuck their favorite theories and start from scratch,” Adam Martin, co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “That’s a fun area of particle physics. We’re looking into the unknown. Is it one new particle? Is it two new particles?”

The LHC’s data shows two deviations from events expected by the Standard Model, which is the theoretical foundation of particle physics. The recent paper examines four possible explanations for the deviations, one of them being a heavier version of the Higgs boson. Further research may open up doors for new models in particle physics or lead to a mundane, anticlimactic explanation, according to Martin.

“People are still cautiously optimistic,” he said. “Everybody knows that with more data, it could just go away. If it stays, it’s potentially really, really, really exciting.”

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss an atheist’s not-so-clever attempt to dismiss the Argument from Contingency and the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

JB is arguing science and faith with an atheist friend and asked for help with the science. JB’s friend sent him a link to “Arizona Atheist,” who attempts to refute two of William Lane Craig’s arguments for God’s existence. Despite AA’s bold claim to have “demolished” Craig’s arguments, it’s such a weak and muddled attempt that it hardly seems worth commenting on. However, since it’s frequently cited by those seeking to refute Craig’s arguments, I’ll get into it.

Arizona Atheist comments first on Craig’s Argument from Contingency:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4).

Now this is a logically airtight argument. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if we don’t like the conclusion. It doesn’t matter if we have other objections to God’s existence. So long as we grant the three premises, we have to accept the conclusion. So the question is this: Which is more plausible–that those premises are true or that they are false?

Since the logic is airtight, the only way to attack the argument is to show that any of its premises are wrong. AA goes after Premise 1:

According to modern physics, however things can seemingly happen without cause. There are several things we observe that appear to have no cause. For example, “[w]hen an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause of that event. Similarly, no cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus.”

This is a very weak attack on Premise 1, for two reasons:

  1. Just because we find no cause doesn’t mean there is no cause. AA tacitly acknowledges this with hedge words like “seemingly” and “evident.”
  2. AA has misunderstood the argument. The Argument from Contingency doesn’t address events, it addresses existence. The photon exists, and it has a cause — an electron in an atom dropping from a higher energy level to a lower energy level. The products of radioactive decay exist, and they also have a cause — radioactive decay of a nucleus.

Next, AA goes after the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is similar to the Argument from Contingency, but differs in that it rests on the “controversial” nature of Premise 2. It’s only controversial in the sense that you can sort of dispute the standard interpretation of big bang cosmology if you accept some strange assumptions. AA therefore mostly goes after Premise 2, but not before first dismissing Premise 1, again on the false basis that “things can seem to happen without cause.” Note the weasel words “can seem to.”

AA then goes on to attack Premise 2 in one of the most desperately feeble attempts to dismiss reason and evidence I have ever seen. (Why are atheists constantly held up as champions of reason? I have seen no evidence that this stereotype is warranted.)

Craig supports the validity of Premise 2 with both philosophical and scientific arguments against an infinitely old universe. For the latter, he cites work by theoretical physicist Alexander Vilenkin, who figures prominently in AA’s refutation.

AA awkwardly begins his refutation by stating,

Again, as I’ve said already, just because Craig can’t imagine an infinite universe doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Simply arguing that it’s impossible without any proof is no argument.

Craig rejects an infinitely old universe, not because of a lack of imagination, but because it’s ruled out by physics. At this point, AA needed to show in what way Craig’s philosophical argument for Premise 2 is flawed, or to provide evidence contradicting it, but he doesn’t do this. Instead, he supplies an irrelevant quote from Vilenkin and dismisses the interpretation that Premise 3 implies the cause is necessarily God*.

Now for the part where AA completely abandons any reasonable standard for evidence and reason. The prevailing paradigm of modern physics is that the universe began to exist between 11 and 17 billion years ago in a sudden event called the big bang. There is loads of evidence for the big bang, which is why virtually no one believes the steady-state cosmological model anymore. Now, even though the standard interpretation has been that the big bang represents the creation of the universe from complete and total nothing, there’s a wrinkle: in actuality, it’s not entirely clear what sort of a beginning the big bang represents. In spite of the evidence supporting the big bang, there is a limit to what we can know about it. As physicist Alan Guth put it, the big bang theory “gives not even a clue about what banged, what caused it to bang, or what happened before it banged.”

AA rests his entire case against the Kalam Cosmological Argument on this wrinkle, even after Vilenkin’s commentary should have convinced him otherwise.

Vilenkin is an author of a physical theorem that rules out past-infinite universes. We have every reason to believe the universe has a finite age. But does this necessarily imply a beginning? In a correspondence AA initiated between Vilenkin and the late atheist physicist, Victor Stenger, Vilenkin comments that his theorem does not prove that the universe must have had a beginning, however…

…it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time.

First of all, it doesn’t disprove that the universe had a beginning. Second, what this essentially means is that the big bang could represent, not the beginning, but one of many “beginnings.” If the universe is cyclical, that is, if it bangs and expands and then contracts and crunches, and does this over and over for eternity, then the universe is effectively eternal, and this is what supposedly negates Premise 2.

That could kind of, sort of, maybe present a very weak argument against Premise 2 — its chief drawback being that not only is there no evidence for it, there is no known way to test it — except that AA inexplicably goes on to quote Vilenkin stating that it also happens to be theoretically impossible given what we assume about the nature of time, and that even if we grant that something very weird happens at time = 0 to allow a contracting universe, it still effectively supports Premise 2:

This sounds as if there is nothing wrong with having contraction prior to expansion. But the problem is that a contracting universe is highly unstable. Small perturbations would cause it to develop all sorts of messy singularities, so it would never make it to the expanding phase. That is why Aguirre & Gratton and Carroll & Chen had to assume that the arrow of time changes at t = 0. This makes the moment t = 0 rather special. I would say no less special than a true beginning of the universe.

So, AA’s refutation of Premise 2, his “demolishment” of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, rests not on the standard, accepted interpretation of modern cosmology — that the universe began to exist billions of years ago — but on the untested, unproved possibility that Vilenkin’s theory is wrong, that you can somehow get around a beginning, but at the cost of accepting something that is “no less special than a true beginning of the universe.”

I’m genuinely confused by AA’s response to Vilenkin’s comments. How much do you have to hate evidence and reason to read Vilenkin’s responses to these questions about his theorem and still conclude that it supports your case?

Having gone through this exercise, the absolute worst you can say about the Kalam Cosmological Argument is that Premise 2 is not 100% proven. But we already knew that. If you know anything at all about how science works, you know that nothing in science is a done deal — you can’t ever prove beyond doubt that any scientific theory is true — which is why Craig says “that for an argument to be a good one the premises need to be probably true in light of the evidence.” That is the standard by which all of modern science has operated for centuries. For something to be considered “true,” it only needs to be probably true based on a preponderance of evidence to support it and with no evidence to seriously contradict it. By this standard, it is true that our universe began to exist 13.8 billion years ago — which means we are reasonably assured Premise 2 is true, and therefore the Kalam Cosmological Argument is a legitimate argument. Given the weight of evidence and reason, it is far more supported than an untested — and untestable — theoretical exercise in exploring alternatives.

AA says he does not think philosophy is the best way to get at the truth; it’s reasonable to assume that he thinks science is, and yet he does his best to ignore it to avoid accepting the conclusions of two very powerful arguments in favor of God.

Incidentally, two years after AA posted his attempted refutation of Craig’s arguments, Vilenkin announced, at Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday celebration, that there is just no getting around a beginning for the universe.


* I don’t know what Vilenkin’s arguments are against Premise 3 implying the cause is necessarily God, but there is a case, however weak, to be made on the basis of an eternally expanding and contracting model of the universe. If it’s correct, it renders God superfluous. However, not only is this model theoretically unlikely, it’s physically untestable.

There is no modern science without Christianity

How often do you hear that Christianity is not compatible with science? The next time you hear that claim, refer the critic to this list of Christians in science and technology and ask how it’s possible that so many Christians were able to make significant contributions to science and tech in spite of that incompatibility:

John Philoponus
Bede the Venerable
Rabanus Maurus
Leo the Mathematician
Hunayn ibn Ishaq
Pope Sylvester II
Hermann of Reichenau
Hugh of Saint Victor
William of Conches
Hildegard of Bingen
Robert Grosseteste
Pope John XXI
Albertus Magnus
Roger Bacon
Theodoric of Freiberg
Thomas Bradwardine
William of Ockham
Jean Buridan
Nicephorus Gregoras
Nicole Oresme
Nicholas of Cusa
Otto Brunfels
Nicolaus Copernicus
Michael Servetus
Michael Stifel
William Turner
Ignazio Danti
Giordano Bruno
Bartholomaeus Pitiscus
John Napier
Johannes Kepler
Galileo Galilei
Laurentius Gothus
Marin Mersenne
René Descartes
Pierre Gassendi
Anton Maria of Rheita
Blaise Pascal
Isaac Barrow
Juan Lobkowitz
Seth Ward
Robert Boyle
John Wallis
John Ray
Gottfried Leibniz
Isaac Newton
Colin Maclaurin
Stephen Hales
Thomas Bayes
Firmin Abauzit
Emanuel Swedenborg
Carolus Linnaeus
Leonhard Euler
Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Joseph Priestley
Isaac Milner
Samuel Vince
Linthus Gregory
Bernhard Bolzano
William Buckland
Agustin-Louis Cauchy
Lars Levi Læstadius
George Boole
Edward Hitchcock
William Whewell
Michael Faraday
Charles Babbage
Adam Sedgwick
Temple Chevallier
John Bachman
Robert Main
James Clerk Maxwell
Andrew Pritchard
Arnold Henry Guyot
Gregor Mendel
Philip Henry Gosse
Asa Gray
Francesco Faà di Bruno
Julian Tenison Woods
James Prescott Joule
Heinrich Hertz
James Dwight Dana
Louis Pasteur
George Jackson Mivart
Armand David
George Stokes
George Salmon
Henry Baker Tristram
Lord Kelvin
Pierre Duhem
Georg Cantor
Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Dmitri Egorov
Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin
Pavel Florensky
Agnes Giberne
J. J. Thomson
John Ambrose Fleming
Max Planck
Edward Arthur Milne
Robert Millikan
Charles Stine
E. T. Whittaker
Arthur Compton
Ronald Fisher
Georges Lemaître
Otto Hahn
David Lack
Charles Coulson
George R. Price
Theodosius Dobzhansky
Werner Heisenberg
Michael Polanyi
Henry Eyring
Sewall Wright
William G. Pollard
Aldert van der Ziel
Mary Celine Fasenmyer
John Eccles
Carlos Chagas Filho
Sir Robert Boyd
Richard Smalley
Mariano Artigas
Arthur Peacocke
C. F. von Weizsäcker
Stanley Jaki
Allan Sandage
Charles Hard Townes
Ian Barbour
Freeman Dyson
Richard H. Bube
Antonino Zichichi
John Polkinghorne
Owen Gingerich
John T. Houghton
Russell Stannard
R. J. Berry
Gerhard Ertl
Michał Heller
Robert Griffiths
Ghilean Prance
Donald Knuth
George Frances Rayner Ellis
Colin Humphreys
John Suppe
Eric Priest
Christopher Isham
Henry F. Schaefer, III
Joel Primack
Robert T. Bakker
Joan Roughgarden
William D. Philips
Kenneth R. Miller
Francis Collins
Noella Marcillino
Simon Conway Morris
John D. Barrow
Denis Alexander
Don Page
Stephen Barr
Brian Kobilka
Karl W. Giberson
Martin Nowak
John Lennox
Jennifer Wiseman
Ard Louis
Larry Wall
Justin L. Barrett

Nobel laureates are highlighted in red.


Be sure to emphasize that it was Roger Bacon, a Franciscan monk, who originated the scientific method, and was thus the first modern scientist.

If the critic has any response to this at all, it will likely be to wave his hand and respond that it is in spite of their professed Christian faith that they made their contributions. This is simply untrue; and while it’s not surprising that a critic of Christianity would be ignorant of both this list and of Christianity’s part in the development of modern science, it’s very surprising — to me, anyway — that Christians likewise tend to be ignorant of these facts.

The first time I showed this list to a Christian audience during one of my lectures, there was an audible gasp. Most Christians are not only unaware that the claim of incompatibility is flatly false, but that the long list of Christians in science and technology is a testament to the fact that modern science is a direct product of the Christian faith.

I’ll say it again: Not only is science fully compatible with Christianity, it is extremely doubtful that we would have modern science without Christianity.

Entire volumes have been written on this topic, but the claim essentially rests on two beliefs. There could never be modern science without:

1. the counterintuitive notion of linear time, which was inferred from the Bible by St. Augustine in the 4th century.

2. belief in a deliberately ordered and knowable creation by a rational being (Genesis 1; Psalm 19; Proverbs 8:22-24; Romans 1:20; many more). C. S. Lewis, in his critique of atheist rationality in The Case for Christianity, explained it this way:

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. … Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought…

In contemporary terms, this is called the Boltzmann brain idea, which effectively says, in the absence of a conscious creative force, it is statistically much more probable that we are simply “brains in vats” hallucinating these experiences than that we actually inhabit a highly ordered universe. In other words, you have to have faith that even your perceptions and thoughts are accurately reflecting a reality that operates according to non-arbitrary and knowable rules. That’s a given in Christianity, but there is no reason to believe otherwise if you don’t believe in a rational conscious creative force behind the universe.

While it could be argued, in principle, that perhaps the following point is not absolutely necessary for the development of modern science, it nevertheless played a significant role:

3. belief that we must test everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that we must study the natural world to better understand the character and purpose of God (Psalm 19; Romans 1:20). Mitch Stokes, in his biography of Isaac Newton, observed the following about Newton and his contemporaries:

For Newton, “To be constantly engaged in studying and probing into God’s actions was true worship.” This idea defined the seventeenth-century scientist, and in many cases, the scientists doubled as theologians.

Personally, I think it’s extremely doubtful that modern science could have emerged without this third principle, but I’ll save this for a later post.

One of the greatest achievements of modern atheism has been to divorce Christians from their scientific legacy. Modern science is one of the crowning achievements of Western civilization, built upon the foundation of Christian faith, belief, and purpose. But how many Christians are aware of this? Instead of questioning the source, many Christians have willingly accepted the lie that Christianity and science are mutually incompatible. This is the classic mistake of accepting an adversary’s frame. Christians must reject it by educating themselves on the history of their faith and the great part it played in the development of modern science.

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.

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 :