Question from an Atheist
Every once in awhile I get a really good question from www.everystudent.com. This one I thought was worthy of sharing, because it touches on some excellent questions related to the cause of the Universe and existence of God
I am an atheist who studied and practiced various forms of Buddhism for many years. I became interested in Christianity after reading some of Steven S Goldsmith’s books.
My sticking points to believing in God are:
Given the unlimited number of opportunities provided by endless time and space, I don’t think it unbelievable that occasionally a planet is exactly the right distance from a star and has the right combination of gases to sustain organic life. In 4.5 billion years there is ample opportunity for evolution to bring us to our present state of development.
Furthermore, I believe that given enough opportunities, anything that occurs must reoccur. I firmly believe there is humanoid life on other planets in other solar systems in every galaxy.
Whenever a Christian tries to convince me of the Biblical explanation of creation, I feel compelled to ask, “What was there before “the creation”? Nothing? Also, if the universe is finite, what do we encounter after we come to “the end”? Nothing? Inconceivable!
Having no faith and being as skeptical as I am, I need something more to help me believe.
Can you think of anything compelling enough to help me suspend my present state of disbelief? I certainly hope so. I really would like to believe.
I received your question and would be delighted to provide a response. I appreciate your spirit of inquiry and think that your openness with your objections is a good starting point in which to have a productive dialogue.
What I would like to suggest is that you approach your journey with the question: Which is more plausible, that God exists or that God does not exist? What I mean in making this suggestion is that in the face of good reasons for thinking God exists, if there are not equally compelling reasons to believe he does not exist, it would be prudent to come to the belief that God exists. What I also mean is that the atheist has a burden to provide reasons for their worldview as much as the theist has in providing reasons for their worldview. Similarly, if one of the points of evidence for God’s existence is found to have a weakness, this would not mean that God does not exist, but would merely mean that the particular point is unpersuasive. In asking, “What is the positive evidence for God’s existence?,” we must also ask the question, “What is the positive evidence for God’s non-existence?” The conclusion one comes to should be based on comparing the different worldviews and deciding which one is the best in explaining the “situation” in which we find ourselves. That is, which is the best in explaining the cosmos, the human condition, history, morality, and so on. Which has the best collection of evidence?
I think your sticking points to belief hinge on your third objection, wondering what was before the creation of the Universe, so I would like to address that first. This question, “what was there before creation?” is a large problem for atheism, yet is adequately explained by theism. The reasoning from the theistic side usually goes as follows:
1 Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2 The Universe began to exist
3 Therefore, the Universe has a cause.
Since it is unreasonable to believe that the Universe caused itself, or that the Universe was created by another contingent thing, it is reasonable to believe that the Universe was created by a being that exists necessarily rather than contingently.
Duane Morris of “On Reasonable Ground” states, “We have not observed an instance of something coming from “nothing,” and we understand that something which does not exist cannot bring itself into existence.” If the Universe came into existence then something must have caused it to exist; unless that thing is eternal, then it would also need a cause. This sort of reasoning goes on until we get to something that has always existed, or else we come to an illogical conclusion that the Universe was caused by nothing, or that an infinite amount of prior causes exists. Therefore, according to Dallas Willard (USC): ‘It is logically necessary that there be something the existence of which does not derive from other things.’”
The atheist must say that the Universe came about uncaused out of nothing or assert that it has always existed. What I have often heard from the atheist side in attempting to solve this problem is an appeal to something else which is also contingent, that is, something else which requires a cause, which merely pushes the argument back a step, illiciting the question, “well what caused that?” The contingent thing could be a prior explosion, or a prior Universe, or a multiverse, they say, but all of these explanations contain the same problem. Unless we appeal to a cause of the Universe which has always existed, we must finally conclude that nothing caused everything.
In the face of these options, it is reasonable to believe that the cause of the Universe is a self-existent being or thing, that is, something eternal. So, the belief in God is to merely believe in something that has the capacity to create the Universe; something not bound by time, self-existent, uncaused, with the intelligence, power, and free will needed to do so. The first cause argument does not prove the Christian God, and is not meant to do so, but does give us some strong reasoning that a personal creator must exist.
But I think we have another issue which you made mention to in your first objection, that of infinite space and time. This relates not only to your first objection but also to the question of the cause of the Universe, for if there is the possibility of infinite time, than possibly the Universe could have always existed. However, to say that time is infinite in the past is to acknowledge that we have crossed an infinite amount of time to get to the present, which is a self-defeating position. To say that an infinite period of time has elapsed up until now is to acknowledge that time is finite. The trouble lies when understanding the concept of infinity, we understand that a potential infinite could occur in reality, but an actual infinite (a completed infinite series) cannot. An infinite past constitutes a completed infinite series and therefore cannot exist.
I think those are the bigger issues raised in your message. Your belief in occasionally a planet being in the right place at the right time to sustain life would not disprove God’s existence, but it might take away an example of intelligent design in the Universe, as would your belief in humans on other planets. Either way, these points don’t do anything to add credence to the idea that God doesn’t exist. I may not be educated enough to know what enough about the question related to the edges of the Universe; perhaps if you could expand this idea I could be of more help.
So is that a good starting point? How else can I help? Once again, I appreciate your inquiry and willingness to investigate these things, and I wouldn’t be too worried about your lack of faith. Biblical faith is simply being convinced that something is true, and therefore worthy to place our trust in. Being convinced of the truth of something most often means we need to have good reasons to believe in it. Josh McDowell once said, “I cannot believe in my heart what my mind rejects,” and I find this to be a commendable notion.
 Morris, Duane. On Reasonable Ground, Apologetics course material
 Willard, Dallas. The Three Stage Argument for the Existence of God in R. Douglas Geivett & Brendan Sweetman ed’s., Contemporary Perspectives in Religious Epistemology. (Oxford, 1992).”