I was once asked during an audience Q and A to give compelling evidence for the existence of God. “Can I ask you a few questions to get us rolling?” I said to the challenger. He nodded. “First, do you think things exist? Is the material universe real?”
“Yes, of course,” he answered.
“Good. Second question: Have the things in the universe always existed? Is the universe eternal?”
“No,” he said. “The universe came into being at the big bang.”
“OK, I’m with you. Now the final question: What caused the big bang?”
At this point, he balked. “How do I know?” he said. “I’m no scientist.”
“Neither am I,” I admitted. “But there are only two choices, aren’t there? Either some thing or no thing. What do you think? Do you think something outside the natural universe caused it to come into being, or do you think it simply popped into existence with no cause, for no reason?”
(I realize the big bang is controversial, but even Christians who are not convinced of the big bang can still leverage the skeptic’s belief in their own favor, as we shall see.)
At this point, the skeptic who leans on reason finds himself in a box. Both the law of excluded middle (it can’t be neither option because there’s no third choice) and the law of noncontradiction (it can’t be both because that’s a contradiction) oblige him to choose one of the only two logical possibilities.
To admit that something outside the natural, physical, time-bound universe is the world’s cause would be at odds with the skeptic’s naturalistic atheism. Yet what thoughtful person would opt for the alternative? Even if he thinks it possible the universe popped into existence, uncaused, out of nothing, it’s clearly not the odds-on favorite.
Cause and Effect
Imagine a man’s wife asking where the new Mercedes-Benz SL parked in their garage came from. I doubt she’d be satisfied if he told her, “Honey, it didn’t come from anywhere. It just popped into existence out of nothing. No problem. That’s how the universe began, you know.” Even ordinary folk untutored in physics realize that’s not going to wash.
Reason dictates we opt for the most reasonable alternative, and the something-from-nothing option isn’t it. Indeed, it’s worse than magic. In magic, a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. In this case, though, there’s no hat—and no magician. There’s just a rabbit (the universe, in our case) appearing out of nowhere.
Reason dictates we opt for the most reasonable alternative, and the something-from-nothing option isn’t it.
You might recognize this line of thinking as the Kalam cosmological argument, an ancient defense of theism recently revitalized by philosopher William Lane Craig. If you haven’t read his books, let me give you the short course.
You can construct a logically tight syllogism to make this case, but that’s not necessary for the average person when you appeal to a commonsense notion like this. Here’s the simplified version: a big bang needs a big banger. I think that pretty much covers it. Every effect requires a cause adequate to explain it. Pretty obvious.
Ironically, the night I was working out the details of this point in the lobby of a large hotel in Poland, there was a huge bang in the reception area. The gabby crowd in the lounge was immediately struck silent, everyone wondering the same thing: What was that?
Of course, they knew what it was. It was a big bang. The real questions in their minds were these: What caused that? Did something fall over? Did a firecracker go off? Did someone get shot? I promise you one thing, though. No one in that hotel—regardless of religious or philosophic conviction—thought the bang was uncaused. It never occurred to anyone that the bang banged itself.
Skeptics know this too. Once, at a dinner party, a young man sitting across from me announced—somewhat belligerently—that he no longer believed in God. “It’s irrational,” he said. “There’s no evidence.”
In response, I raised my point about the big bang. “If you heard a knock on the front door,” I said, “would you think the knock knocked itself, or would you conclude some one was doing the knocking and then get up and answer the door?”
No one in that hotel—regardless of religious or philosophic conviction—thought the bang was uncaused. It never occurred to anyone that the bang banged itself.
He sniffed dismissively at my question, so I let the issue go. Half an hour later, over dessert, though, there was a loud knock on the front door (I’m not making this up). Startled, the atheist lifted his head in surprise. “Who’s that?” he blurted out.
“No one,” I said. The point was lost on him, of course. His next move, though, was telling: he got up and answered the door. That night, this young, naive atheist had encountered reality.
He knew a simple knock couldn’t have knocked itself, yet he seemed willing to accept as reasonable that an entire universe popped into existence without rhyme, reason, or purpose.
Once, my daughter Annabeth slammed the flat of her hand down on the table with a bang and said, “If I bang my hand down, then I am the one who banged it. So who banged the big bang?” At 8 years old, she had internalized an obvious point: atheism has no resources to explain where the world came from. Theism does. It’s the best explanation for the way things are.