Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species in 1859. Up until then, said Richard Dawkins, atheism was "logically tenable" but from Darwin onwards you could be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist." (The Blind Watchmaker). Notice that philosophy might give you tenable arguments, but biology is the place for true intellectual fulfillment... according to this biologist anyway...
With the discovery of natural selection, biologists had a naturalistic explanation for the existence of brilliantly adapted (and therefore apparently designed) species, populating an intricate and flourishing bio-sphere.
Well, for the sake of argument, let's say that the whole thing is explained according to this process (I mean it's a bit like the old saying "If all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail", but let's go with the argument). Let's imagine it explains the whole variation and adaptation of life on the planet. What we have here is a mechanism explaining the origin of species.
Notice first that mechanism says nothing about agency - a point John Lennox makes well in places like here.
But notice, second, that we're talking merely of the origin of species. There are other origins questions to ask. Like - the origin of the cosmos, the origin of life (natural selection assumes the existence of life) and the origin of consciousness. These are not at all suited to explanations via natural selection and yet they pose even more fundamental questions for us. So if an atheist claims to have origins questions sewn up, tell them they have, at best, a mechanism to explain one of the least interesting of the origins questions.
It's not just beginnings that are fascinating. What about before the beginnings? What are we assuming pre-existed these origins questions?
As we've just noted, natural selection assumes the pre-existence of 'life.' But when it comes to the even bigger origins questions, what about the pre-existence of things like laws of physics, logic and mathematics. Every attempted naturalistic explanation for 'beginnings' assumes plenty about 'before beginnings.' Take, for example, Hawking's book from 2 years ago which said:
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,"
Besides the logical incoherence of the universe self-creating, we have here pre-existing 'laws'. We have an ordered, self-consistent reality calling the tune for all the cosmos. Gravity is chief among the gods as he bosses around lesser deities like time, matter and energy, which in turn war to create the cosmos as we know it.
Now Christians also have beliefs about before the beginning. We believe in the pre-existence of Persons, of love, of minds, of purpose. And these Persons have brought forth laws, time, matter and energy. It was not matter that made minds, but minds that made matter.
When you consider that every minute of our waking life we're confronted in technicolour by the reality of persons, love, minds and purpose. In fact, everything we hold dear consists of persons, love, minds and purpose. What should we believe about ultimate reality - about before beginnings? Gravity reigning as supreme being? Or love?
We shouldn't fear questions of beginnings. And we should positively pursue questions about before beginnings.
13 thoughts on “Beginnings and Before Beginnings”
Science is fascinating, especially when it's honest about the limitations of what we actually know via this means. BBC's Horizon did an amazing documentary last year entitled: 'What if everything we know about the universe is wrong?" It was a sound and fascinating insight into just how much remains entirely unknown about the nature of the beginnings and structure of the physical universe, and confirmed everything Einstein stated about mystery lying at the core of everything which surrounds us. That is where we start when we take an honest, scientific approach to our existence.
Really interesting points Glen. It's so clear that all of creation reflects the Trinitarian God who is behind it all.
A bit of a side point here but I think it's relevant. You describe the atheist approach as a mechanism to explain just one of the questions about origins.
Re this kind of mechanism, I came across a (secular/politically conservative) blog post this morning that touches on why such a limited mechanism-based or rule-based approach to thinking has become so popular in the west (providing a comfortable habitat for Dawkins and co.)
The author outlines the problem in his post, if not the remedy. He points out that:
"philosophy and the search for truth become ... philosophy that reduces complex matters to an overly-simple rule of conduct, and then sets out with an air of superiority to judge as ignorant all those who do not agree with the simple rule ... In these ways, a too-narrow philosophical position, or rule ... is made to serve the beliefs of the thinker ... But that is not philosophy. It is propaganda in support of personal Will."
Having said that, I realize that the goal of the Christian shouldn't be to promote a wider or more sound secular philosophical position (which is perhaps the goal of the author of the post). It should be to begin with Jesus, who was eternally present before beginnings, and point our atheist friends towards him.
What about the origins of love? Is there love if no one can perceive it? If there is nothing and no one to love? The beginnings of the universe seem to predate the origin of love to me.
If Christianity is correct, then love most certainly predates the physical universe. It was because of the fellowship between the community of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that creation was undertaken - a realm where the marvel of this union could be expressed and reflected in countless ways, that we have really only begun to gain a glimpse of in our current, degraded condition.
In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins concedes the point that he has no empirical explanation for the origin of life but in doing so unwittingly concedes that his position is in fact based on faith. Here is what he writes:
At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We'll call it the Replicator. It may not necessarily have been the biggest or the most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself. This may seem a very unlikely sort of accident to happen. So it was. (page 15)
Wow - if ever you needed to see faith in action!
I suppose, if Christianity is correct.
@Grundy - And one of the things that recommends Christianity as being correct is the fact that love is ultimate. Only Christians can say this.
Hi Kip - Dawkins has a Virgin Birth for more incredible than anything the Bible has dreamt up!
Be great to catch up when you're around.
@Glen Why's that a fact now?
Well it's a fact within the Christian vision of reality. And I'd say it's what our better selves value most highly - whatever our creed. Do you disagree?
So it's a fact just like there is no God is a fact. I didn't know we could frame facts within different visions of reality. I think I disagree, but to be honest, I don't know what "vision of reality" or "better selves" mean here.
Sorry, what I meant was that statements like "love is ultimate" are a fact if Christianity is true (or IOW 'within the Christian vision of reality'). Such statements are false if Christianity is not true.
My appeal to our "better selves" is something like the claim "Most people place love as an ultimate value in life - or at least, on reflection, would want to order their lives with that priority."
I'm not offering this as a proof of anything, merely observing that Christians are able to ground a fairly universal human intuition about love (not to mention truth, beauty and moral goodness) in something deeper than brute biology.
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