Sunday, November 24, 2013

William Lane Craig on a Universe Without God

"If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.”

—William Lane Craig
Reasonable Faith


Ex N1hilo said...

I appreciate Dr. Craig's zeal for defending the faith. And what he says here is true and profound. Yet it puzzles me that those who promote the Kalam argument and the Big Bang theory in defense of Christianity can't see that the assumptions that under gird them would, if true, make immortality impossible.

Deon Cloete said...

Could you perhaps explain your position ? Why would the assumptions that undergird Kalam & Big Bang make immortality impossible?

Phil Ensor said...

At least he seems able to imagine a universe without god. That's a big step. Respect.

Philip Riggall said...

"Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's salvation henceforth be safely built" - Bertrand Russell. One of the few honest atheists who acknowledge the reality of the atheist position.

John Moore said...

I accept the gist of what Craig is saying here, but I disagree with his scary language. We could just as well say the same thing like this:

"If there is no God, then man and the universe won't last forever. Like mortals, we will die eventually. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life has no long-term cosmic purpose. It means that the life we have is all we have."

John Moore said...

And here is one more way to say the same kind of thing:

"If there is no cosmic tortoise, then the Earth is just looming in limbo without support. The Earth must tumble into the abyss of despair if not for the tortoise's sturdy back, which provides a buttress for every human endeavor and uplifts the Earth among its cosmic neighbors."

Ex N1hilo said...


The axiom is often expressed this way: "The present is the key to the past." This unproven and unprovable assumption is often called “Uniformitarianism.” The idea is that, by extrapolating the effects of the natural processes that we observe today into the distant past and the distant future, we can determine the origins and history of the universe, the earth, life, the origin of species, and so on, as well as their ultimate destiny.

Now, there is an aspect of this approach that has some validity and some utility, as well as support from Scripture. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants that He would never again destroy all life by water. He promised that as long as the earth remains, hot and cold, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, day and might will not cease. It is the regularity of nature that God's word promises us in the post-flood world, not only in Genesis, but in many passages throughout Scripture, that makes science and technology possible.

The men who founded modern science believed that creation came from a rational God who made us in His image; who promised regularity in nature; and who declared that his glory can be seen in the things He made. They reasoned that; therefore, we ought to be able to investigate nature; so as to understand it better and to “think God's thoughts after Him,” as Johann Kepler famously declared. The project these men founded has been wildly successful in broadening our knowledge of creation; benefiting humanity in countless ways from medicine to increased agricultural output, to world-wide communications and travel. It gives us all the more reason to worship and glorify God for His wonders and His benevolence.

Later on, men such as Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin sought to extend the great success of empirical science beyond merely describing and predicting phenomena that men can observe here and now. They reasoned that if we extend the principle of the regularity of nature back in time to the beginning, if there was one, or into the depths of an infinite past, we may be able to extrapolate out a detailed prehistory of events that occurred long before there was a man to witness or record them. Thus, theories such as Evolution and the Big Bang are built upon the assumption of uniformitarianism. Apart from this assumption, they have no rational basis. The same is true of theories regarding future events. If the assumption is true, then entropy will continue to rise until there is no useful energy left. Heat death awaits everything in the universe, including whatever may remain of you and I after we die. That means no resurrection. No everlasting life. Immortality is a lie. If the uniformitarian assumption is true, miracles are excluded by definition. Conversely, the occurrence of a miracle would disprove uniformitarianism.

It should go without saying that Christians ought not to think in uniformitarian terms. Unfortunately, many hold both of these contradictory worldviews as “truth.” The uniformitarianism assumption is, of course, unprovable. It represents the mere wishful thinking of those who do not see fit to acknowledge God.

Not anonymous said...

Ex N1hilo,

As you say, the Bible makes clear in several places that the laws of physics in this universe do not change. This assumption has not only enabled science to be done, but it has been borne out time and again in observation. Even the most distant galaxies, billions of light years away, and dating back to near the beginning o the universe, according to various measures, are obeying the same laws of physics as we see in our part of the universe in this time. We have also been able to make many predictions about the universe based on this assumption, and those predictions have come true with regularity, implying that the assumption is, like the Bible tells us, correct.

There is ample evidence that the universe had a beginning, from the cosmic background radiation that we observe today and that which was predicted even very close to the actual temperature that we now measure it before its discovery, to the second law of thermodynamics or "the law of decay", as Paul puts it, to the fact that the universe is expanding. Mathematical theorems have proven that an expanding universe like ours will have a beginning. So we have a lot of evidence that we can see today, much of which was predicted beforehand with great accuracy, implying that our assumptions are true.

And of course, the Big Bang is not only scientifically observed, but is perfectly in line with the Scriptures. The Bible was, after all, the only religion or even "science" in the world just 150 years ago that predicted a universe with a beginning. That science has now borne that out with the Big Bang is a major feather in the cap of the truth of the Bible.

Your view that entropy means no Resurrection does not follow. Yes, if the universe was allowed to continue in its present form then that would be the case, but the Bible is clear that God will intervene in this current universe and create a New Heavens and New Earth, where presumably the laws of physics, including Paul's "law of decay", will be overturned and a fallen creation perfected. This current creation is not going to last until heat death. As the Bible says, a New Creation is on the way.

Miracles would be excluded by uniformitarianism its strictest sense, but of course that is not the sense that almost all modern Christians or the Christian scientists of the past understood the term. The view is that God set up this universe that operates according to his own ordered, rational principles, but of course, as the Creator, he may step in as he wishes and overturn those things at will - see the "New Heavens and the New Earth", for instance, or the miracles. It is, as JP Moreland puts it, no different than a hand reaching out to catch a falling apple. God uses this power extremely judiciously, as we must live in a rationally ordered system for miracles to be recognized as such. So there is no conflict. God can step in if he wants, but he rarely does, and the universe as a whole operates under his rational order. Newton certainly believed in the order of things as well as in miracles, and he saw no contradiction in that, not because he was too dim to see it, but because there is none under the kind of uniformitarianism that he held. Similarly, William Lane Craig used to eschew the ontological argument because he did not believe the Principle of Sufficient Reason was true, but later he came to realize that the argument goes through even under a very weak version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, one that he agrees is true. So these terms do indeed have "stronger and weaker" forms.

(Cont. in next comment)

Not anonymous said...

(cont. from above)

Only under the strictest and least charitable definition of uniformitarianism is there any conflict with Christianity, but of course, that is a straw man, as by definition none of these highly intelligent and thoughtful Christian scientists or theologians hold to that view. I see no conflict whatsoever in the idea that most all orthodox Christians hold, that God created a rational, intelligible universe that runs in a uniform, predictable way, but that He also, as Creator, intervenes in that universe as He wishes (though hardly ever does). In fact, major Christan doctrine of the New Heavens and New Earth at the end of the age depends necessarily on such intervention. Setting up the universe in such a fashion allows Him to show himself to us by contravening that order on occasion through miracles, which by definition would stand out in an ordered universe, as well as grants us a means to explore HIs creation through science.

I have no idea how this is viewed as some kind of problem. In fact, I think the idea that the universe is not uniform and rational outside of God's intervention is the unBiblical view.

Ex N1hilo said...

Not anonymous,

No disrespect meant; only an honest disagreement. What you have written illustrates my point. It is common for Christians to hold, as you appear to have expressed, that "God has made the processes of nature immutable, but does change them from time to time, and will do so in a big way in the future."

This is a self-contradictory and therefore self-refuting position.

In particular, when we observe the cosmic background radiation, we are "seeing" the Big Bang, only if the laws and ordinary processes of nature have never changed. If they have changed, we don't know what we are seeing.

How would we know they have never changed? The Scriptures seem to indicate that they changed significantly after the fall and then again after the flood.

RedCarnage said...

Just because there is no afterlife does not make 'life absurd'. It makes it more special. This is the only life we KNOW we have. Live it to your best and help as many people as you can.
Lack of a God and a afterlife make our time here precious and valuable. Do not waste it following things that can not be proved.

janitorialmusings said...

>>It makes it more special.

How does it make it more special?

>>Live it to your best and help as many people as you can.

Why does the fact that I will only exist for 60 years mean I should live my best rather than my worst? Either way it won't matter after 60 years. And eventually it won't matter to anyone else either because we'll all be nonexistent.

>>Lack of a God and a afterlife make our time here precious and valuable.

In a sense that's right. The clock is ticking down and we have a very short time to accomplish what we want. The few years we have to exist should be focused on those wants. But that's a subjective value. And since the time resource is so limited it may make more sense to live selfishly rather than altruistically. And if some people want to spend their time following things that can not be proved, how can you call that wasted? In what sense is it wasted if it fulfills my desires? In the end whether we spend our time following only what can be proved or only what cannot be proved, our activities will be wasted, for they will all amount to nothing and no significance will remain.

janitorialmusings said...

I would like to clarify something about my last point. I said that you were right that with no afterlife our time is, in a sense, more precious. And I want to draw out that this is in a sense of desperation. Everything we value and love, all our hopes and dreams, will soon come to nothing. The sense of significance we gain from knowing our time is so short is rooted in desperation. On the other hand, the Christian sense of significance is rooted in hope. And since our actions in this earthly life have eternal consequences--as opposed to the atheist view where our actions have limited consequences--the significance is much greater in the Christian scheme than the atheist.

Not anonymous said...


No disrespect taken or given. I understand that people can have honest disagreements about such things.

I obviously don't think my position is self-contradictory, because I am not arguing for the same sense of "uniformitarianism" that you are arguing against. I think the idea that God speaks to us through the Book of Nature is very scriptural, as is the idea that the basic laws of the universe do not change. And I see no reason to think that God "reaching out to catch the apple" on occasion changes those basic laws. He can violate one of His laws as he will, but that doesn't mean that we can or that those basic laws change over time absent his direct intervention in a given circumstance. That is all most Christians mean and there isn't anything contradictory about it. And in fact, the miracles of God are pretty "tame" when considering the laws of nature as a whole. God could suspend gravity for a moment or two if He wished, but he apparently has not done that in all human history. He likes to do things that will, as Pascal said, "not give too much light" to those who don't wish to follow Him.

I'm not sure if you are a YEC or not. I realize people who hold to Young Earth cannot hold that the laws of physics are constant, because direct observation has repeatedly shown that things are very old. The only way for a YEC to deny this is to hold that the laws of physics change.

An interesting note about the Cosmic Background radiation. You would be correct that if we just interpreted the data based on an assumption then the assumption also has to be questioned, but the fact that we were able to actively PREDICT the data based on the assumption before it was ever seen, down to a very good estimate of its precise temperature, is very good evidence that the assumption was indeed correct. It had predictive power.

I also disagree that the Scriptures imply that the laws of physics changed post-flood or post-Adam. Even setting aside the nature of those episodes, being literal events or parables meant to convey theological truths across cultures (Jesus spoke in parables as well, so why not "the Word" itself?), I don't see where it implies new physics. It merely says that God promised not to destroy mankind again in a flood in the former case, and the latter case has Adam and Eve thrown from the Garden, but it is making a lot of assumptions to conclude from the information there that the entire physics of the universe was upended. Even later, when lifespans were shortened, only means the biology of those creatures may have been changed somehow, or perhaps even that God let certain radiation begin to reach the earth at that time or something, but there is no indication of a new physics.

janitorialmusings said...

>>I realize people who hold to Young Earth cannot hold that the laws of physics are constant, because direct observation has repeatedly shown that things are very old. The only way for a YEC to deny this is to hold that the laws of physics change.

This is getting off topic, and I don't really want to get involved in your discussion here, but I want to clarify one point. The laws of physics are things like, for instance, the inverse square law. But the inverse square law (and all other laws of physics I'm aware of) do not themselves tell us how old the earth is. The laws of physics applied to some scientific theory may tell us that the earth is a certain age, but in that case the YEC can find the flaw to be in the scientific theory and not in the law per se. So a YEC does not have to hold that the laws of physics change.

Not anonymous said...


This is a move YECs typically make, because of things like the speed of light. The speed of light is one of the laws of physics, and by every measure it is constant through time and space. But a YEC cannot hold that the speed of light is actually unchangeable, because then the universe would be far older than they allow, due to the distance between us and other objects in the universe and the time it takes light to traverse those distances. So the typical YEC move that I've seen is to deny that physical laws like the speed of light are constant in order to account for those uncomfortable facts.

janitorialmusings said...


This will be my last word on the subect, simply because I don't think this is the forum to start going down these issues.

>>This is a move YECs typically make, because of things like the speed of light.

That it is a move some YECs make doesn't mean it is the only one they can make. You said that YEC *cannot* hold the laws of physics to be constant, and *that* is the claim I was addressing--not what YEC typically do or do not say.

>>But a YEC cannot hold that the speed of light is actually unchangeable, because then the universe would be far older than they allow, due to the distance between us and other objects in the universe and the time it takes light to traverse those distances.

Again, you're simply mistaken about what moves a YEC can or cannot make. I'll not bother to broach this issue further here. But if you'd like to see what other moves a YEC can make please take a look at my blog. In the search bar type in "starlight" and the first article that appears "Greg Koukl, YEC, & The Problem of Starlight" addresses the issue.

Not anonymous said...


Of course you are correct. I was not precise enough. I should have said "typically make" rather than "have to make". It doesn't obscure the larger point, but thank you for holding my feet to the fire on my lack of precision!

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment. By posting your comment you are agreeing to the comment policy.

Blog Archive