Doubt your doubts!
Published: 22 October 2016 (GMT+10)
Today’s feedback comes from Ryan S. from the UK, who asks a series of questions on how to respond to skeptics who constantly mock biblical creation. CMI’s Shaun Doyle offers some tips on how to answer the objections, as well as dealing with the doubts that can arise when we feel constantly bombarded with mockery for our commitment to the Bible.
How confident can I be that the universe had a beginning? Lawrence K says that it is not definite and it is still possible it is eternal
If the universe could be eternal, it doesn’t mean it’s probable. Krauss needs to give evidence and argument to show that a past-eternal universe is more probable than one with an absolute beginning. But interestingly, Krauss said in a debate with William Lane Craig: “We know our observable universe had a beginning. We know that. That’s not a philosophical statement; it’s a scientific one.” But if, according to Krauss, we can know (his emphasis) the observable universe had a beginning based on the observable evidence, why should we think the universe could be past-eternal? He cites some theoretical models that seemingly give us a past eternal universe, but whether they do is debatable (see Physicists: The universe had a beginning). For more on Krauss, please see Godless universe untenable, The Unbelievers: A Review, and In the beginning God created—or was it a quantum fluctuation?
But why think the universe had a beginning? Most importantly, the Bible implies that the universe had a beginning (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1–3, Hebrews 11:3; see Did God create time? and Process theism and creatio ex nihilo for more information). And this is amazingly supported by thermodynamics, as Dr Sarfati points out in If God created the universe, then who created God?:
- 1st Law: The total amount of mass-energy in the universe is constant.
- 2nd Law: The amount of energy available for work is running out, or entropy is increasing to a maximum.
If the total amount of mass-energy is limited, and the amount of usable energy is decreasing, then the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would already have exhausted all usable energy—the ‘heat death’ of the universe.
But there are also good arguments for the necessity of the universe having a beginning. For instance, there can’t really be an actual infinite number of things, because it would result in paradoxes. Say we have an actual infinite collection of apples labelled with all the natural numbers: 1, 2, 3 … . Now, take away every apple labelled with an even number: 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. How many apples do we have left? An infinite number of apples! After all, the series 1, 3, 5, 7 … goes on into infinity, just like the series 1, 2, 3, … . So infinity minus infinity equals infinity. If that isn’t weird enough, start again with an actual infinite collection of apples labelled with all the natural numbers: 1, 2, 3 … . But this time, take away all the apples from the collection except those labelled 1, 2, and 3. We’ve again taken an infinite number of apples from an infinite number of apples, but this time we only have three apples left! How can we get such contradictory results, if an actual infinite number of apples could exist? We couldn’t.
Now, think about an infinite series of seconds, and then number them with all the natural numbers. The same thing happens with seconds as it does with apples. If we try to take away actual infinite amounts of seconds from actual infinite amounts of seconds, we get the same sort of contradictory results we did with apples. As such, there can’t be an actually infinite number of seconds. Time can’t be without beginning, and we can’t ever reach an ‘infinitieth’ second in the future.1 Therefore, time must have a beginning.
But how confident can you be in these arguments? They don’t make a beginning for the universe impossible to doubt, but that’s not their intent. They aim to show that a universe with a beginning is significantly more plausible than an eternal universe. Construed in this light, I suggest that these arguments, especially when taken together, succeed in their intended aim. You will always have the ability to doubt that the universe had a beginning, but I think these arguments show we are amply justified in thinking that a universe with a beginning is markedly more plausible than not. So why let the doubt worry you, when there are no good arguments for an eternal universe, and there are good arguments for a beginning (from the authority of Scripture, the laws of thermodynamics, and philosophy)? But I can’t judge that for you; you must make that call yourself.
Can any form of objective morality exist in atheism?
What options are there other than God? First, objective morals stand over us in relations of obligation and accountability, so any standard for morality must also stand over us, i.e. be transcendental. Some moral facts are necessary truths, so any standard for morality exists necessarily. And only persons can prescribe good and bad, and hold moral agents accountable, so the moral standard must be personal. A transcendent, necessary, personal being, by the nature of objective morality, is the only plausible candidate for a standard for morality. But what else would we call a transcendent, necessary, personal standard of goodness other than ‘God’? For more on the moral argument for God, please see Can we be good without God?, Atheism—no objective morality?, Bomb-building vs the biblical foundation, and The creation basis for morality
But again, can this argument be doubted? Yes. But it doesn’t have to dispel all doubt to be a good argument. Instead, ask yourself this question: what reasons do I have to doubt this argument? Don’t let a feeling of doubt overwhelm you, but do to it what it does to your faith—question it, test it; subject your doubts to the same sort of scrutiny you subject your beliefs to. Why should your doubts be immune from the sort of scrutiny your doubts subject your faith to?
How do I answer the objection of their being thousands of prior religions?
What is the objection? The existence of counterfeit religions doesn’t imply that all religions are false. It just means that people are good at making stuff up. If the problem is that Christianity came late on the historical scene, then the answer is that Christianity wasn’t a man-made innovation—it is the proper fulfilment of Old Testament Judaism, based on the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Christians worship the God of Israel, who was never without a witness in the world. All that has changed is that we now know more about God (and ourselves) than people in the past did, because He has revealed more of Himself. But God has always revealed Himself enough so that we are all morally culpable for not worshipping Him and giving Him thanks (Romans 1:18–23).
Your question actually assumes that “thousands” of false religions came first. However, since the true God that we worship revealed himself to the first couple, Adam and Eve, our faith was actually the original religion. There is continuity between us and them, even though they did not have the more complete picture that we have today, as God has acted in the world and revealed more of Himself over time. For more information, please see The Fall and the existence of other religions, Is God obscure and arbitrary in what He wants from us?, Wilhelm Schmidt and the origin of religion, and Debunking Freud.
I feel as if creationists are losing this fight as we are constantly mocked
Yes, we are constantly mocked. And not just by those outside the church, but by those inside the church too. And the constant barrage of mockery can lead one to question whether or not the scoffers have a point. That’s actually the aim of mockery. But when one struggles to answer the objections that the scoffers produce, it makes it much harder. Which is why there are times when it’s helpful to take a step back from engaging the debates and to read encouraging material and listen to encouraging talks from those whom you know will build you up rather than tear you down. In fact, this is where we should start! Such material can be emotionally uplifting, faith affirming, as well as useful for equipping us for debates in the future. Besides, it’s just good management of one’s intellectual resources to be trained by those who can be trusted to care for one’s soul (or at least whose material is aimed at building creationists up, rather than tearing them down) before one engages the debates for oneself. Why? For the same reason that we don’t throw a three-year-old into the deep end of a pool to fend for themselves to train them to swim; they don’t yet have the ability to handle it. I don’t know where you are at, but let me suggest that you are best served by spending time on sites like creation.com where you will be built up in the faith. For more information, please see Dealing with doubt and Virtual debates, real-world doubts, as well as our resources The Creation Answers Book and Christianity for Skeptics.
References and notes
- But note, this discussion is about actual infinites—a complete collection of infinite things. This does not preclude potential infinites. Time can grow indefinitely toward infinity in the future, for example, as long as it doesn’t ever reach infinity. Return to text.