In the Beginning…

by David Glass

In his debate with his fellow Oxford professor, John Lennox, Richard Dawkins objected to the idea that the beginning of the universe provided evidence for the existence of God. Dawkins’ argument was that the Bible, in claiming that the universe had a beginning, had a 50% chance of getting it right – you might as well toss a coin. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins presents two further objections.[1] The first is that if there is a cause of the universe, there is no reason to think that the cause would have all the properties attributed to God such as omnipotence, omniscience, the ability to listen to prayers and forgive sins, etc. Related to this, a further objection is that it ‘would be more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a “big bang singularity”, or some other physical concept as yet unknown.’ [2]

In responding to Dawkins’ objections, I will not argue that the universe had a beginning, but will address the question of whether such a beginning would count in favour of God.[3] Let’s take his objections in reverse order. If the universe had a beginning, would a big bang singularity be a better candidate for being the cause of the universe than God? Dawkins’ suggestion seems confused.[4] A big bang singularity represents a problem, not a solution, for Dawkins. What the exact nature of such a singularity would be is far from clear, but if the universe had a beginning such a singularity

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would mark the beginning (or else the time immediately after which the universe began to exist). If we consider the timeline of the universe, the singularity would simply be the time t=0.

There are at least two problems with appealing to a singularity as the cause of the universe. Some have argued that a big bang singularity is precisely nothing, which still leaves us with the question of how the universe came into existence out of nothing. Others have argued that a big bang singularity would be a real physical state, but if so it would still just exist at the time t=0. So the question would be how did the singularity come into existence out of nothing? Cosmologists John Barrow and Frank Tipler put it like this, ‘At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated in such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.’ [5]

Now consider Dawkins’ objection that there is no reason to think that the cause would have all the properties attributed to God. The obvious response is ‘so what?’ The point of the argument is not to establish all the attributes of God. Just because it cannot tell us everything about God, it does not follow that it cannot tell us anything about God. Dawkins would not be impressed by an objection to evolution on the grounds that because it cannot tell us everything about the history of life on Earth it cannot tell us anything. In the current context, the basic idea is just that if the universe had a beginning, it must have a cause that is not physical and that is outside space and time. That is certainly much more consistent with…

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In the Beginning … – Saints and Sceptics