By Richard Knopp
Those who refute the possibility of cosmic intelligence—they won’t allow that God created the universe—make several demands on those who do believe. Are their demands reasonable? And do they abide by them themselves?
Many Christians are aware that apologetics involves “defending” the faith. Peter says we are to be ready always to “make a defense [Greek, apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, New American Standard Bible). The need for apologetics is illustrated by the disturbing number of churched young people who are wandering away from their Christian heritage, often reporting their deep-seated doubts were addressed with “trite, unhelpful answers.”1
Apologetics is more than just a “defense,” as though we are sitting around passively waiting for someone to ask us a question (and hoping no one will). I approach apologetics as having three important tasks.
1. Negative apologetics offers replies to specific criticisms of Christianity—to show that Christianity is not false. For example, the disciples were accused of stealing Jesus’ dead body (Matthew 28:11-15); Paul was accused of being insane (Act 26:22-32); and the reality of evil implies that God does not exist. These claims need solid responses.
2. Positive apologetics attempts to show that Christianity is true (e.g., by using miracles; fulfilled prophecy; archaeology; personal experience; and evidences in nature, like the apparently fine-tuned physical conditions that make human life possible).
3. Neutralizing apologetics (my term) endeavors to demonstrate that other worldviews are severely problematic, logically inconsistent, or unlivable if consistently applied. Paul clearly sanctions this more offensive-minded stance. He talks about demolishing anything raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5) and being able to “refute those who oppose” God’s “trustworthy message” (Titus 1:9). One benefit of neutralizing apologetics is it does not depend on the use of Scripture in its method. It seeks to “neutralize” an alterative perspective from within—using its own game rules, so to speak.
This article applies neutralizing apologetics to the claim that there is “no cosmic intelligence” (NCI)—the view that the universe and life (i.e., everything) can ultimately be accounted for on purely naturalistic grounds without any directing intelligence. I suggest that such a worldview is inadequate intellectually, insufficient evidentially, and inferior existentially. In other words, it does not make sense; it has little, if any, evidence; and it provides no hope or meaning for one’s life. This bold claim may strike some as terribly ironic, especially because believers in God are the ones most frequently and acrimoniously accused of suffering delusion and lacking evidence.2
I have been teaching apologetics for about 30 years. I have a particular interest and expertise in the relationship between science and religion, and I have noted several prevailing “demands” on believers in God by those who advocate NCI:
Demand 1: You must be rational, which not only means using valid logic, but accepting the fundamental principles of cause and effect and not allowing your commitments to dictate your conclusions.
Demand 2: You must have sufficient empirical evidence for your claims.
Demand 3: You must not invoke some mysterious metaphysical principle to explain things. (This is often presented as the “god-of-the-gaps” fallacy: if one cannot explain a phenomenon, then just say, “God did it.”)
My question is this: How well do the champions of NCI comply with their own demands?
Regarding the Origin of the Cosmos
What are the best options for NCI?
a. Our universe is eternal.
b. Our universe began with a single big bang that was somehow self-caused.
c. Our universe has been eternally oscillating in expansion and contraction with innumerable “bangs.”
d. Our universe is among an infinite number of universes that were spontaneously generated from the properties of gravity and the subatomic (quantum) world. And since each universe has different physical laws and properties, it should not be surprising that one of those universes—ours—is “just right” for human life.
But all of these options inescapably violate the NCI demands imposed on the theist! First, note that these are not purely “scientific” claims. They are metaphysical (philosophical) assertions that go far beyond (meta) observable nature. Second, they have not been (and arguably cannot in principle be) empirically confirmed. Third, they are based on highly speculative ideas that defy what we do know about our universe.
Here are a few examples: atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg claims there was “no reason at all” for the big bang. Like other universes, it “just springs up . . . without any cause at all.” If you want something more, “Get over it!”3 The famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking declares, “Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can. Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”4 The Cambridge cosmologist Martin Rees, in speaking about “many universes,” says it is “highly speculative,” but it is the view “I much prefer. Even though in our present state of knowledge any such preference can be no more than a hunch.”5
Regarding the Origin of Life
When it comes to the origin of life on earth, NCI has only two options: Life arose by “spontaneous generation” or the original seeds of life came to earth from space—the so-called “panspermia” hypothesis held by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and molecular biologist Francis Crick. Hoyle’s conclusion was greatly driven by his calculations that the random chance of life starting on earth was 1 in 10 to the 40,000th power (10 with 40,000 zeros)! This figure is particularly amazing when it is estimated that the total number of atoms in the entire visible universe is about 10 to the 80th power.6
But the more dominant view is that life started “spontaneously” on earth. Obviously, no one saw it. But significantly, no one has ever seen it. And no one has come close to replicating it in laboratory conditions. George Whitesides, chemistry professor at Harvard, candidly describes it this way: “Most chemists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth. How? I have no idea. On the basis of all the chemistry that I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable.”7 Biochemist Michael Denton asserts that such an event would be “indistinguishable from a miracle.”8 And Francis Crick, the agnostic codiscoverer of DNA, says that “an honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.”9 Crick confesses: “Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I swear I will never write another one, because there is too much speculation running after too few facts.”10
Where Does No Cosmic Intelligence (NCI) Lead?
Instead of inferring a creative agent of intelligence (i.e., God), we apparently have to abandon the basic principle of cause and effect in cosmology. We are left to believe that things just happen without a cause (like the origin of the universe). Get over it. We apparently must accept the origin of life as a spontaneous event that no one has ever seen or has any idea how it could have feasibly happened based on what we currently know. And we are led to accept some highly speculative alternative (like infinite universes) on the basis of a “hunch” that has little to no hope of ever being empirically confirmed in this actual world.
We cannot say, “God created it.” We have to say things like, “The universe did it” or “life just spontaneously happened.” We want to avoid admitting, like Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, that “we have a prior commitment to materialism”—a materialism that “is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”11 But we will have to concede, as Rosenberg acknowledges, “Individual life is meaningless, without a purpose, and without ultimate moral value.”12
These are the alternatives to a cosmic intelligence. I now understand better what Paul means in Romans 1:18-25. Even though they have a sense of God, they suppress it; they speculate; and they substitute something else for the real thing. No wonder he characterizes it as futile thinking.
Does the Christian faith face tough questions? Yes. Should we be gracious to those who doubt? Yes (Jude 22). Yet without God, what are the alternatives? If we are wandering away, where will we go that is any better? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-69).
1Drew Dyck, “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church,” Christianity Today, November 2010, 40.
2A notable example is Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
3Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (New York: Norton, 2011), Kindle edition, 38, 39, emphasis added.
4Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Random House, 2010), 180.
5Martin Rees, Our Cosmic Habitat (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 164.
6Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (London: Dent, 1981), 24-27. Stephen Meyer slightly increases Hoyle’s figures to 10 to the 41,000th power (Signature in the Cell [New York: HarperCollins, 2009], 213). See www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe (accessed February 23, 2014).
7George Whitesides, “Revolutions in Chemistry,” Chemical and Engineering News, March 26, 2007, 12-17. See cen.acs.org/articles/85/i13/Revolutions-Chemistry.html (accessed February 2, 2014).
8Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (London: Adler and Adler, 1985), 264.
9Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), 88.
10Crick, Life Itself, 153.
11Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, 31.
12Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, 19.
Richard Knopp serves as professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.
For more information on this and other related topics, check out www.roomfordoubt.com. Room For Doubt is a new grant-funded apologetics initiative that provides learning experiences and resources to strengthen the faith of committed Christians, address the concerns of those who have doubts about their Christian heritage, and represent the Christian message to those who are skeptical about its claims. The program encourages questions and makes room for doubt; yet it offers reason for Christian hope.
Also, see www.worldvieweyes.org/Events.html. This web page lists a variety of materials that are compiled or created by the author of this article (e.g., books, other websites, presentation handouts, audio/video recordings). WorldViewEyes has received grants of more than $1 million from the Lilly Endowment to help youth and adults expand their minds, engage their culture, evaluate beliefs, and embrace a Christian worldview.