Monday, March 14, 2011

Big Bang Cosmology and Atheism Go Together Like Peas in a Blender



by Jason Dulle

For millennia philosophers maintained that the universe is eternal. The philosophical payoff of this view was that it avoided the God question. If the universe has always been, it did not need a creator. The emergence of the Big Bang theory in the early part of the 20th century, however, changed all of that. The Big Bang model successfully predicted that the universe–including all spatio-temporal-material reality–had an absolute origin at a point in the finite past, from which it expanded, and continues to expand today.

The theistic implications of this model were recognized instantly. If the universe began to exist, it seemed to require a supernatural cause (one outside the confines of the natural world). That’s why it was met with fierce opposition, and why it took several decades and many lines of empirical confirmation to become the reigning paradigm it is today. Even now, cosmogenists continue to put forth alternative models in hopes of averting the beginning of the universe, many of which are little more than exercises in metaphysical speculation, incapable of both verification and falsification.

While not friendly to an atheistic worldview, many atheists eventually made their peace with the empirical evidence, and accepted the theory. But the theistic implications of a temporally finite universe have not gone away. Anything that begins to exist requires a cause. If the universe began to exist, what caused it to exist? It could not be a natural law, because natural laws originated with the universe. It could not be self-caused, because this is incoherent. Something cannot bring itself into existence, for that would entail its existence prior to its existence.

The atheist has two options. He can either admit to the existence of an external cause of the universe, or affirm that the universe is uncaused. For most atheists the first option is out of the question. An external cause of the universe looks too much like God: immaterial, eternal, non-spatial, intelligent, and personal. That leaves them the second option. But this won’t do either. The causal principle is one of the most basic intuitions we have. Things don’t just pop into existence uncaused from nothing, so why think the universe did? If everything that begins to exist has a sufficient cause, on what grounds is the origin of the universe excepted? If one excepts it on the basis that it is impossible to have a cause prior to the first event, they are guilty of begging the question in favor of atheism, for they are assuming that physical reality is the only reality, and thus the only possible cause of the Big Bang must be a physical cause. But it is entirely plausible that the external cause of the Big Bang was an eternal, non-physical reality. The only way to demonstrate that the universe cannot have a cause, then, is to demonstrate that the existence of an eternal, non-physical reality like God is impossible. But the very beginning of the universe is an argument for such a being’s existence!

Some atheists, recognizing the problem the principle of causal sufficiency makes for the atheistic worldview, cling to an eternal universe despite the scientific and philosophic evidence to the contrary. They recognize that it is nonsense to think something can come from nothing, uncaused. Something can only come from something. From nothing, nothing comes. If there was ever a time when nothing existed (as the Big Bang model predicts), then of necessity there would be nothing still, because nothing has no potential to become something. And yet there is something, so there could not have been a time when nothing existed. As a matter of historical fact, there can’t ever be a time when there was nothing. Something must exist eternally. If something must exist eternally, and the universe is not that something, then something resembling the God of theism must exist. Rather than admit the obvious-that this is evidence for the existence of God-these atheists reject the scientific and philosophical evidence for a finite universe, and assert that the universe must exist eternally.

What’s important to see, here, is that this sort of atheist is not being intellectually honest with the evidence. He has an a priori philosophical and volitional commitment to atheism, and that commitment biases him to such an extent that he will not accept the destination to which the rational evidence leads. Only theism is consistent with the evidence, and consistent with reason. While I commend atheists who reject the notion that the universe could come into being from nothing totally uncaused as an irrational leap of faith, I admonish them to go one step further, and recognize that the principle that something only comes from something, combined with the scientific an philosophical evidence for the finitude of the universe, supports theism, not atheism. To be consistent and honest with the data, they should accept the finitude of the universe, and admit that its existence requires a personal and supernatural cause.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Biblical Teaching on Judgmentalism: Setting the Record Straight


by Jason Dulle

Christians are often accused of being judgmental by non-Christians—and sometimes, even by fellow-Christians. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to even hear non-Christians quote Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 against Christians: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (even if they’ve never read a page from the Bible in their life!) I am persuaded that both the church and the culture at large have failed to understand the Biblical teaching on judgmentalism. Before I explain, let’s look at a few more Biblical passages often cited in support of non-judgmentalism:

1 Cor 4:3-5 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (ESV)

1 Cor 5:12-13 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (ESV) [talking about executing punishment]

James 4:11-12 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (ESV)

Most people understand judgmentalism to refer to anyone who tells another person that what s/he is doing is wrong; i.e. an expression of moral disapproval. There are two reasons we can be confident that this is not the meaning of these passages. First, it is a contradiction to tell a person they are wrong for telling other people they are wrong. Secondly, Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and other Biblical writers often expressed their moral disapproval of a host of behaviors and attitudes. Indeed, in one of the verses just quoted (1 Corinthians 5:13) Paul instructed the church to exercise judgment against the erring brother! So what does the Bible mean when it says “judge not?” The Biblical notion of judgmentalism refers to “an inappropriate sense of moral superiority over another because of that person’s moral failures,”[1] and/or a premature/inappropriate pronouncement regarding someone’s eternal destiny.

While people like to focus on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:1 not to judge, they fail to read on further in the chapter where Jesus called certain individuals “pigs,” “dogs” (7:6) and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (7:15)! John records Jesus as commanding us to make judgments: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). What Jesus was opposed to was not making moral distinctions between right and wrong or calling a spade a spade, but rather a critical and judgmental spirit stemming from a sense of moral superiority.

In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NET) Here Jesus warned against heaping criticism and condemnation on others without first examining our own behavior (hypocritical judgment). He was speaking in particular of religious leaders who harshly condemn others for moral failures while justifying their own. Jesus didn’t have a problem with someone pointing out the speck in his brother’s eye, but He wanted it to be done in the proper order: first take care of your own moral shortcomings, and then you can proceed on to pointing out the shortcomings of others. That’s why Jesus said “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This is not a call for non-judgmentalism, but rather for a proper ordering of judgment: judging ourselves before judging others (self-examination before others-examination). Jesus requires that we make moral judgments, but we must convey those moral judgments in love, and only after we have examined ourselves to make sure we are not passing judgment hypocritically.

Paul’s teaching is in line with Jesus’. Paul asked the Corinthians, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12) According to Paul it is the duty of Christians to judge the behavior of fellow-Christians. Earlier in the same chapter Paul demanded that man who was having a sexual relationship with his step-mother be “turn[ed]…over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 5:5) even declaring that he had judged him (1 Corinthians 5:3). Not only did Paul express his moral disapproval of this man’s actions in no uncertain terms, but he even prescribed that he be punished for his wrongdoing.

Judgmentalism is wrong, but moral judgments themselves are inescapable, morally justified, necessary, and integral to the Christian worldview. So the next time you are accused of violating the Biblical command to “judge not” for making and expressing moral distinctions, set the record straight regarding the Bible’s teaching.


[1]Paul Copan, “Who Are You to Judge Others?”—In Defense of Making Moral Judgments” available from http://www.rzim.org/publications/essay_arttext.php?id=9; Internet; accessed 05 August 2005, citing Caroline J. Simon, “Judgmentalism,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (July 1989): 275-287.

Is Creation a Myth? (part 2)

Is Creation a Myth? (part 1)