New Atheism

What Is New Atheism's Doctrine of Creation?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Instead of "In the beginning, God" it's "In the beginning, hydrogen". Or, to use the popular term, the "Big Bang".

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part four of a series. Read part three.

Amazing as it may seem, many New Atheists use the term "creation" to describe the universe and the activities that brought it about. But instead of "In the beginning, God..." their doctrine of creation is, "In the beginning, hydrogen..." Or, to use the more popular term, the "Big Bang."

How the New Atheists Say It Happened

In his book, Does God Believe in Atheists?, John Blanchard describes the Big Bang theory as it is generally taught in public schools, colleges, and universities today. We quote him at length, in order to ask some vital questions afterward:

  1. Between ten and twenty billion years ago (fifteen billion is the current favorite) all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a speck of matter smaller than a pinhead, and commonly defined as a "singularity". The temperature was so hot that no atoms or even subatomic particles could exist in it, and the matter was so dense that the laws of physics would not have applied. It is therefore commonly accepted that any description of the universe can go back on until a point one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second (10-43) after the Big Bang - that is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 of a second!

    At this point, the universe underwent a period of cosmic inflation, and this rapid, accelerating expansion created ripples (the so-called "quantum fluctuations") in the fabric of space. This ensured that matter was not evenly distributed in the newly expanding universe, preparing the way for the later formation of galaxies, stars and planets. This cosmic inflation also ensured that the resulting universe would be at critical density, so that it would keep expanding for ever, though the rate of expansion would slow down endlessly.
  1. After one ten-billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth (10-34) of a second, the temperature had dropped below 1,000 trillion trillion (1027) degrees, enabling quarks (the components of protons and neutrons) and electrons to form. By this time the cosmic inflation had already ended, having expanded the universe a million trillion trillion (1030) times, and from this point on the expansion was gradually slowed down by the pull of gravity.
  2. At about one-ten-thousandth of a second into the life of the universe, the temperature had cooled to 1015 degrees, enabling quarks to bind together to form protons and neutrons, which (along with electrons) are the building blocks of the atom.
  3. After some three minutes, the temperature had dropped to about a billion degrees, enabling protons and neutrons to bind together and form the nuclei of hydrogen and helium, the component elements of stars. At this stage, the universe was about the density of water, and would continue to cool and expand in this state for about 300,000 years.
  4. After 300,000 years, the temperature fell to 3,000 degrees, allowing electrons to bind together with the hydrogen and helium nuclei to form hydrogen and helium atoms.
  5. Over the course of the next billion years, gravity began to pull clusters of hydrogen and helium atoms together to form the first quasars and stars, leading eventually to the formation of the Milky Way and other galaxies.
  6. Another five billion years on (about five billion years ago), the burning of hydrogen and helium in the interior of stars produced heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron, which were dispersed by stellar winds and supernova explosions. Some of these elements produced new stars, while others condensed around stars to create planets. In this way, the system of planets orbiting our sun was formed, planet Earth becoming one of these.
  7. Two billions years later (about three billion years ago) our planet had produced a suitable atmosphere and sufficient water to sustain life.1

New Atheists declare this doctrine of creation with an air of infallibility, but as Blanchard explains, with little evidence. The Big Bang theory is not rooted in true science (conclusions based on observation, experimentation, and analysis) nearly as much as it is built upon a mass of conjectures. Despite this fact, for most New Atheists (as well as evolutionists who are not professing atheists) the Big Bang is an axiom - something that they consider to be self-evident and not in need of proof.

It is amazing that scientists who cannot accurately and consistently predict what the weather will be tomorrow afternoon - much less a week, a year, or a century from now - can claim to know the detailed origin of the universe an alleged ten to twenty billion years ago, as described above. But beyond the questions about the Big Bang raised by the simple fact of human fallibility are literally thousands of other questions that the New Atheist cannot answer. As John Blanchard writes, "Some of them are fundamental: Where did the original material come from? What do we mean by 'original'? What was the source of such energy? When did time begin? What came before 'time zero'?" Or, as the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Liebniz asked in the eighteenth century: "Why is there something rather than nothing? That is, why does anything at all exist?"

The Big Bang theorists' answer to such questions is a non-answer couched in equivocations and evasions: "The hope is that soon we may be able to see the heat of the early universe in enough detail to answer our questions about how [but not why] it was formed. If the data is detailed enough, it could offer observational evidence that may clarify how [but again, not why] everything began."2

Why New Atheists Say It Had to Happen That Way

Behind their highly speculative theories of the origin of the universe is New Atheists' belief that it had to happen that way. They simply assert that evolution must be true because God could not have created a world with such problems as we see all around us. In The End of Faith, Sam Harris writes:

The perverse wonder of evolution is this: the very mechanisms that create the incredible beauty and diversity of the living world guarantee monstrosity and death. The child born without limbs, the sightless fly, the vanished species - these are nothing less than Mother Nature caught in the act of throwing her clay. No perfect God could maintain such incongruities. It is worth remembering that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox, plague, and filariasis. Any person who intentionally loosed such horrors upon the earth would be ground to dust for his crimes.3

Notice that Harris (along with most of his New Atheist colleagues) misappropriates the language of Scripture to speak of creation. But they attribute the work of creation to inanimate, insensate, unthinking mechanisms.

And of course Sam Harris will not accept the Biblical account of how the horrors he describes were loosed upon the world - that God did not create a world of "monstrosity and death." Therefore he does not understand that his last sentence above merely echoes God's own thundering indictment of Harris himself, and all of his fellow men, in the pages of Scripture:

Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned... (Romans 5:12)

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:20-22)

Answering With Biblical Authority

Christians can argue against the New Atheist position on many points. We can, for example, argue against the illogic of attributing creative intelligence to mere unguided mechanisms. As British former atheist Robert Frost writes:

If the scientists prefers to suggest that there is no "God", no "Creator", no "first cause", what does atheism offer him intellectually? The atheist must, of necessity, believe that matter without mind created reason and logic. Matter without intelligence created understanding and comprehension. Matter without morals created complex ethical codes and legal systems. Matter without conscience created a sense of right and wrong. Matter without emotion created skills and art, music, drama, architecture, comedy, literature and dance. Matter without design created in humankind an insatiable hunger for meaning and purpose.4

But ultimately all such arguments, in order to be valid and trustworthy, must have a valid authority. What one believes about creation is a matter of presuppositions, and the authority on which those presuppositions are based. For the Christian, indeed for all mankind, Scripture alone must be the authority upon which presuppositions rest. All other ground is sinking sand. We can test presuppositions to see whose axioms fit the observable evidence, and whose do not. We can also test the logical out-workings of presuppositions.

Those who believe in six-literal-day creation and those who do not - whether they believe in atheistic evolution or in some theistic theory - have the same body of evidence before them. All have the same physical data of the universe, gathered through the experimental sciences of astronomy, biology, geology, hydrology, oceanography, and so on.

But evidence does not speak for itself - it must be interpreted. And all interpretation of evidence is based upon presuppositions. No one examines the evidence as a neutral party. As Romans chapter one makes clear, no one examines the evidence without presuppositions - beliefs - about the way the evidence should be viewed.

The Christian who presupposes a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis believes in the existence of a Creator who gave mankind an eyewitness account of the origins of man and the universe in the Bible. The Christian's starting point for interpreting the scientific evidence is that the Genesis account is accurate and trustworthy.

The evolutionist, on the other hand (whether atheistic or theistic), presupposes that the Genesis account is not accurate and trustworthy, and that the scientific evidence must be explained in some other way. He comes to the same evidence not as a neutral - not without beliefs - but with a different set of beliefs.

The question, then, is this: Since we are all looking at the same body of evidence, which interpretation of that evidence, based on which set of presuppositions, truly makes sense of it? We at TeachingtheWord are convinced that the Genesis account, which says that God created a perfect universe, out of nothing, in six literal and contiguous days, is the only one that makes sense of the evidence. It is the only one that explains how the universe and mankind originated, and how they came to be in their present condition.

References:

1. John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000) pages 254-255.

2. A quotation of the voice-over narration from the BBC Television program, Stephen Hawking's Universe, originally broadcast August 30th, 1997.

3. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004) page 172.

4. David Wilkinson and Robert Frost, Thinking Clearly About God and Science (London: Monarch Books, 2000) page 41.

tq0075


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