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.
Two points I'd like to make. First, it is a common objection to discount Christianity simply on the basis that there are thousands of religions out there and so they can't all be right. My response to this is as follows:
I ask them if they ever had to take a multiple choice test in school. They will, of course, respond yes. Then you ask them if they refused to take the test even knowing that most of the answers are wrong. They will say no. And you say, of course not. Instead you do everything you can to study and make sure you know what the correct answers are so you can pass the test. So, instead of discounting all religions, one should be diligent and put a thorough effort into learning which one is the truth so they can pass the ultimate test that involves their salvation and eternal soul. Because nothing is more important.
Second, the fact that Krauss suggests that the universe could still be eternal is really a simple realization that there is no such thing as nothing. There never could have been a time in all of reality where there was absolutely nothing. Therefore, something always had to have existed for all eternity. Something with no beginning or end. He has actually, without realizing it, stumbled across a very good case for the existence of God and he doesn't realize it. What appropriate name could you give a being that always existed and didn't have a beginning and will have no end? The Great I Am, of course.
The fact that there are skeptics and scoffers who mock and ridicule Christians is actually a source of encouragement for us. The Bible said it would happen. Second Peter 3:3 says that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts. And verse 5 says they willingly are ignorant of 3 critical events: .a) the creation and the Fall into sin, b) the Flood and the judgment on the people for their sin, and c) the coming judgment by fire. In Luke 21:17, Jesus said we would be hated of all men for His name's sake. The bottom line is that truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth. First Peter 4:12-13 says Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. So, it should encourage you that unbelievers attack you, since they also attacked and crucified Jesus.
Amazing article! I would like to recommend a three part DVD series "What you aren't being told about astronomy" by Spike Psarris. It is DEVASTATING to big bang cosmological theories and pretty much any other naturalistic/materialistic explanation for the origin of the universe. Well worth the price of the DVD's as the material obliterates the materialists arguments.
Hi Shaun. I love your articles, but I believe your argument about infinities in this article is flawed.
In mathematics, we speak of different kinds of infinities. For example, there are countable infinities, such as the natural numbers or the integers. (Note: Even the rational numbers are countable--they can be mapped one-to-one to the natural numbers).
However it can also be proven that the set of real numbers (which includes both rational and irrational numbers), is not countable. Even though they are ordered (so that, for any two distinct real numbers, we can say one is larger than the other), it is not possible to put them into a one-to-one mapping with the natural numbers.
We can, for example, speak of an infinite number of "instants" in time in any given minute, second or nanosecond, and this is mathematically consistent and workable. The fact that we can add additional elements to the set and still have an infinite set does not contradict anything--it just means that infinity does not behave the same way a finite set would behave. Note: Even though the "count" does not increase, the length or "measure" of the set may change, depending on what is added.
The problem with infinity arises when we introduce the idea of causation, because there needs to be a first cause. Without a first cause, why would anything exist? Philosophically, an infinite regress of causes is untenable. As you aptly noted, the first two laws of Thermodynamics require a beginning.
An uncountably infinite set can have a first element (think of the real numbers between 0 and 1, including 0, for example), but an infinite set does not necessarily have a first element (the set of integers, for example).
Thanks again, Shaun, for your insightful articles!!
May God bless you and CMI!
Thanks for the compliments, Mitch. I do, however, believe that this argument stands up to scrutiny. I’m not here saying anything against the internal consistency of transfinite arithmetic (and I’m talking of countable infinites in what I’m describing). Far from it! What I’m saying is that we can’t transpose the assumptions of transfinite arithmetic onto concrete sets like a set of apples, or a set of seconds. Why? For instance, we can’t subtract actual infinites; that operation is prohibited in transfinite arithmetic, because it results in contradictions (i.e. aleph-null minus aleph-null can equal anything from 0 to aleph-null).
Doing that on paper is fine. We can define a mathematical realm of discourse as we like, and modify it as we go to keep it internally consistent. Indeed, it’s a process of discovery to see how and when our mathematical systems logically ‘break’, so to speak, and to see if they can be modified to take that into account. In fact, the history of set theory is an excellent example of this very process.
Problems arise, however, when we transpose the assumptions of transfinite arithmetic to concrete reality. How do you stop people taking apples from a pile, even if the pile has an actually infinite number of apples? How do we stop people (conceptually) taking seconds away from an actually infinite set of seconds? We can’t, hence the problem. But it’s not so much a problem so much of logic, as it is a problem of metaphysics.
Indeed, I think you see this when you say: “The problem with infinity arises when we introduce the idea of causation”. That’s essentially my point. Actually infinite collections can’t be causal realities. Just because we can perform arithmetic operations with aleph-null (or aleph-one) on paper according to internally consistent axioms, that does not mean we can really have a set of apples outside our window (or a set of seconds in our past) with a cardinality of aleph-null.
Your arguments are generally good Shaun so I'll only take issue with one small (but very big) thing. You said that the Bible implies that the universe had a beginning. There is a world of difference between implicit and explicit things in the Bible. It is perfectly EXplicit in the Bible that the universe had a beginning. There isn't anything implicit in Gen 1:1 and John 1:1. They both state flatly that there is A beginning and Genesis 1:1 includes the heavens just so that no one can misunderstand.
As far as arguments against infinite past time, I take it as axiomatic that things that occur MUST occur at specific points in time. If time extends to the infinite past then there can be no specific points in time. Why didn't the Big Bang occur a billion years earlier, or a trillion, or a trillion trillion years earlier? The idea collapses into nonsense once you really start to think about it.
As I like to say: the true God is no more disproven by mankind's invention of thousands of fictitious gods... than the Earth is disproven by science fiction writers' invention of thousands of fictitious inhabited planets.
Hi Ryan, please take to heart what Shaun says, especially about the danger of uncritically absorbing implicit (hidden curricular) signals in the way some questions / challenges are issued to you.
Three of the most useful ways in which to obey and apply 1 Thessalonians 5:21--"but test all things; hold fast what is good", ways that might be useful to you in consolidating Shaun's message--are diagnostic questions, as follows:
1. "Where do the hard facts end; where does the speculation begin"? We have NO OBLIGATION TO SPECULATION. We can DECLINE IT WHILE KEEPING INTEGRITY and intellectual honesty. Your mockers and scorners are pressuring you and trying to keep you off-balance. But what seems to be weighty arguments on their part, turn out--after the above analysis--to be lightweight sayings, speculative ones. Please ask God to help your discernment in knowing where the hard facts end. And offload every bogus "weight" (Heb. 12:1).
2. "What are the true definitions; are they being used fairly?" Abuse in this area is especially rife in pro-evolution discussion. Learn to spot equivocation, etc. We keep our integrity, BETTER, when we can spot unfair definitional conclusions--and avoid them. Learn to spot (wrong/unfair) interpretive presuppositions embedded in what the critics say. DON'T START WHERE THEY LEAVE OFF. Instead, get them to back up by forcing them to reexamine their comments and spot their (inaccurate) assumptions.
3. "Is this truth claim from strong (here-and-now) or weak (remnant-inference) [R-I] science?" The strength and reliability of the former DOESN'T extend to the latter--even though the tone of R-I writings exudes a (false!) confidence. Demand substance! Multiple mockers sum up to "hollow deception" (Col. 2:8). Fear God more than man (Is. 8:11-14).
"...Lawrence K says that it is not definite and it is still possible it is eternal"
Seems evolution can never fail. If there's a beginning it's evolution. If no beginning (eternal) it's still evolution! Yet creation must be false because it can be falsifiable in theory, i.e. no beginning to the universe. There should be a top ten list of inconsistent evolutionists/atheists statements on CMI?
"Can any form of objective morality exist in atheism?"
Objective morality stands on an absolute platform. Since atheists de-facto position is evolution (change over time), then the answer must be no.
"…thousands of prior religions?"
The statement doesn't imply truth or falsehood. An appeal to the majority of religions doesn't mean that the issue must be true or false. The religions must be evaluated on their internal merit.
"…creationists are losing this fight as we are constantly mocked."
Being mocked doesn't mean you are losing the fight. Christ was mocked and look what great things resulted. Also, in a sporting context many boxers are mocked yet they end up winning the fight!
This was really encouraging because I've been dealing with the same problem of being surrounded by evolutionists even within my own family who mock biblical creationists that it sends me into my own shell (I'm at uni now which is more daunting). I want to tell the guy that (s)he's not the only one whose going through this and that courage and the ability to doubt you doubts does build up. I'll pray for you ^.^
I think the evidence creation (a beginning) is quite clear when one looks at the life cycle of radioactive substances. Such materials have a finite life span due to their "decay". A time period of billions of years would render all radio active materials to be inert by our present time. Their very existence points to a recent beginning
"First they ignore you, then laugh at you and hate you. Then they fight you then you win."