Why Evolution is a Problem for Atheism

evolution

Does evolution show that there is no need for God? According to many prominent Atheists, yes.

“The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design.” – Richard Dawkins

“the deeper we probe these questions, and the more we learn about the world in which we live, the less reason there is to believe in God… Science, in the broadest sense, is making belief in God obsolete, and we are the better for it.” – Stephen Pinker

Before his death in December 2011, perhaps Christopher Hitchens best represented this common Atheist sentiment when he wrote this:

[Scientific discoveries] make pathetic nonsense of any idea that our presence on this planet, let alone in this of so many billion galaxies, is part of a plan. – Christopher Hitchens

Moreover, it would seem that some Christians have accepted the premise that they have to choose between God and evolution. Therefore, some have rejected evolution in favor of what they believe has been empirically verified; their relationship with God. But do Christians have to make this choice? Whether evolution is true or not, there are several reasons why I believe this is a false choice, but that will not be my focus today.

In this entry, I want to put the shoe on the other foot. I will attempt to demonstrate that if evolution is true, it is a serious, perhaps unworkable, problem for Atheism!

Here’s my case…

Evolution supports the second premise of the cosmological argument that “the universe began to exist” because, as I will show, it relies on a linear view of time. That is to say that time can be described as a sequence of moments taking place one after another moving in a straight line. A linear view of time certainly seems to correspond to our experience of reality and, as such, this conclusion appears to be uncontroversial. But as we will see, this has serious theological implications.

To see the problem we need a brief over view of the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise 1: Anything that begins to exist has a cause. This claim, generally, is uncontroversial among contemporary scholars. However, there have been some notable objectors. Enter prominent theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss.

In his book A Universe from Nothing , Dr. Krauss argues that the universe could have sprung into being from nothing. The problem with Dr. Krauss’ objection is his definition of “nothing”. Quantum vacuums, simply put, are not nothing! Nor is gravity, nor are the laws of physics! Nothing literally means “no things”, or to use Aristotle’s definition, “what rocks dream about”. So we are still left with explaining how matter can come from non-matter… And that’s another matter (see what I did there?).

Premise 2: The universe began to exist. This is supported by “big bang” cosmology, the second law of thermodynamics, and, as it turns out, by evolution.

To explain, evolution purports to account for the complexity and variety in biology with small incremental changes accumulating one after another over millions of years. In other words, evolution has given rise from the simple to the complex by a process of natural selection and that process continues to the present day. This is a clear example of what is meant by linear time.

The issue is that, if time really works this way, there must have been an absolute beginning. i.e. It is logically impossible to have an infinite number of past events. If the number of days in the past is INFINITE, we would have never reached the present day. Likewise, if you could travel back in time, no matter how far back you go, there would still be an infinite amount of days in the past. This is metaphysically absurd.

If we exist — right now — in a changing state of affairs, then it is impossible to go on and on forever in the past. Logically, there must have been a beginning or a first change. – Tim Stratton

Thus, the second premise “the universe began to exist” is true.

Conclusion: Therefore, universe has a cause. And since the universe is composed of time, space and matter, the uncaused first cause of the universe is, by definition, timeless, space-less and immaterial. In other words, the cause of the universe is what Christians would call “God”.

Or am I wrong? Let me know in the comments section and click follow if you want to see new posts as soon as they are published!

Have a specific topic you want to see addressed? Let me know in the comments section.

[Editorial note: When I use a capital “A” in reference to Atheism in this blog, I am referring to a person who makes the positive claim “I believe there are no gods”. This is meant to differentiate from the more “passive atheism” that purports to simply “lack a belief in god”. This is a distinction that I reject in principal, but indulge here because I do not want to distract from the topic at hand.]

10 Comments

  1. I have struggled explaining to people how atheism is preposterous. How can something come from nothing?
    Atheists believe that mankind is a lot smarter than we are.
    We can’t understand infinity, it’s beyond our comprehension.

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  2. Trying to make evolution the same as cosmogony? Seems like a reach.

    I mean, the cosmological argument had it’s own problems. But suggesting biological evolution somehow defends a premise is a nonsense.

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    1. It’s not the cosmological argument that I am raising concerns with here. (Although, I could.)
      It’s the willingness to confuse evolution with cosmogony. We don’t have to know anything about the beginnings of the universe to accept evolution. In fact, in Darwin’s day, they did know nothing about the beginnings of the universe. It doesn’t matter to evolution how the universe got to the stage it got to when life started. It doesn’t even matter to evolution how life began. They are wildly different questions.

      If you want to argue about the cosmological argument, that’s fine. I have some questions for you, though:
      (1) Are you standing by your definition of ‘nothing’ as ‘what rocks dream about’? Or, would you like to offer more of a definition?
      (2) How has it been concluded that that nothing was an accurate description of a state prior to the universe?
      (3) How many examples of such a nothing have we had, to observe its behaviour?
      (4) How is there a God in this nothing?
      (5) How can God lie in a causal relationship with nothing and still create an effect?

      (Really, its question 5 I would like an answer to. But, I don’t think you can get there without answering 1-4 as well.)

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      1. I am still not detecting an argument to the premise of this entry, Allallt. Of course we don’t need to understand origins to accept evolution, that simply has nothing to do with the argument that I have put forth. Rather, the argument is that, if you accept evolution, you are committing yourself to the logical consequences therein. You say that it’s nonsense and that I am confusing evolution with cosmology, but I don’t see that you’ve made any argument to support either of these claims. So, I am not sure why you find this confusing. As I have argued, evolution, if true, shows us something about the nature of time. And THAT has implications that happen to support the 2nd premise of Kalam. Therefore, I don’t understand your critique here.

        1) Yes – I would hasten to add: “the argument(s) Allallt makes in response to direct requests and critical examination”. 😛
        2) This is the inescapable conclusion of big bang cosmology. It is true that many have seen the theological implications and, therefore, have proposed other models of the universe to try to avoid this conclusion – but thus far, they have not been unsuccessful. There are two points I would like to make here: A. This research has, sometimes, been ideologically motivated which is problematic; even unscientific. B. Worse, even if a theory was successful in avoiding an absolute beginning at the big bang, they will not have gotten rid of the problem – only moved it back a step. The concept of an actually infinite amount of past events is not logically defensible as I have shown in this article.
        3) You can’t observe nothing for its behavior… Nothing, remember, is “no thing”, so I don’t know what you’re after here. The fact that there was no material things prior to the existence of the universe (which encompasses space-time), is a deduction – not an experiment.
        4) What do you mean by “God”? An uncaused, first cause that is timeless, space-less and immaterial is the unavoidable conclusion of the cosmological argument. This is what I mean by “God” and he necessarily exists if the first two premises of the argument are correct… Which, again, you haven’t argued.
        5) Not sure what you mean by this. Moreover, I have not argued that God is in a “causal relationship with nothing”. “Nothing” is, by definition, not an effect, so I am not sure about the coherence of this question as stated. Perhaps you mean God exists along side the absence of a material universe?

        Respectfully, I have noticed a trend with you from the several articles on which we have interacted. Instead of making an argument which would require you to shoulder some of the burden of proof, you deflect direct requests and ask questions. I welcome the questions, but I do expect the folks that I interact with to be forthcoming with their arguments as well. If you would like to continue, this is my ask of you. Be well!

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  3. Quick response to your answers to the questions:
    (1) Fine.
    (2) No, it is not a logical conclusion of Big Bang cosmology that before the Big Bang there was ‘what rocks dream of’. Ignoring that cosmologists would readily tell you they struggle with the concept of ‘before’ time — which is what is being posited in these arguments — there are several models of things like hyperinflation (proposed by Alan Guth) and multiverses (some versions expounded by Alexander Vilenkin) that appear to do away with this philosophical nothing.
    That is why Krauss deals with a ‘quantum’ nothing; a complete absence, still bounded by quantum theory, that gives rise to fluctuations.
    You actually have to establish the philosophical nothing, as opposed to just asserting that it is the logical consequence of the “Big Bang”.
    Under hyperinflation, there doesn’t have to be a beginning. (Strictly, there doesn’t have to be a beginning under Hawking’s formulation of M-theory either.) Because any two points in the expanding substrate would be expanding away from each other at a ‘speed’ faster than light — and therefore faster than information or causality — each and every point lies in no causal relationship with another. As a result, there is no sensible way of discussing time. Universes are then born when a part of that substrate decays and the inflation slows.
    (3) It isn’t reasonable to make assertions about what a ‘philosophical nothing’ (as contrary to quantum nothing) would do — or even whether it is possible. You can’t know that ‘from nothing, nothing comes’ because all we have is something.
    (4) Why have you said “he”? Nothing in the argument suggests a gender specific anything. My question was how God can exist in this nothing? Remember — all there is is what rocks dream of. And yet here we suddenly have a God. That doesn’t sound like nothing. It’s particularly ironic as you’re arguing for an absolute ‘philosophical nothing’.
    You start the argument by saying there is nothing. But you end the argument saying there is nothing except God.
    And there is nothing in the argument that concludes a God. In a deductive argument, you can’t have a key word in the conclusion that doesn’t appear in any previous premise.
    Even with the supporting statements in each premise, you don’t get to a God — unless you define God as the cause of the universe… but then you have a very specific problem.
    Could God be a blind impersonal force or physical principle? If so, you’ve just given a name to a physical process. If not, you’ve smuggled that baggage in.
    (5) I never said ‘philosophical nothing’ is an effect. I’m asking how God lies in a causal relationship with the nothing to make a universe?
    See, under the argument you’ve presented, the question ‘How do you get something from nothing?’ isn’t answered. How does God get something from nothing?
    There’s no explanation there. It’s a bald assertion with no reason to accept it.

    Lastly, respectfully, you’re wrong if you think I have to have any burden of proof when you make a claim.

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    1. Much more substantive this time – I appreciate it 🙂

      2) Is there any evidence to support any of these models? How do these theories deal with the impossibility of an actual infinite number of past events?

      3) If this is true, you undermine the law of causality. This is a serious problem since science is a search for causes!

      4) Good question. This is an important distinction. “Nothing” is “no physical things”. I think “what rocks dream about” is an adequate description, especially in response to the “not nothing” definition of nothing that Krauss and others have argued, BUT I understand why you would want to quibble with it. In any case, God is not a physical thing. This is why I was careful to define “God” here as the uncaused, first cause which is timeless, space-less and immaterial.

      You say “In a deductive argument, you can’t have a key word in the conclusion that doesn’t appear in any previous premise.” But this is a willful misreading of Kalam – see below:

      P1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
      P2. The universe began to exist.
      C. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

      Certainly your objection does not belong here. I think you mean that my further deduction that the cause is God does not follow from the premises. But the further deduction that the cause is God only draws on what necessarily follows from P2, that time, space and matter began to exist. This means that the cause is, by definition, timeless, space-less and immaterial. As stated explicitly, this is what I mean by “God”.

      You say “Could God be a blind impersonal force or physical principle? If so, you’ve just given a name to a physical process.” No, see premise 2!

      5) With the definition of “nothing” hopefully cleared up, this question is really just “How does God create time, space and matter from non time, space and matter?” [Feel free to clarify this objection if you don’t think this accurately represents your question] But if you are looking for a mechanism here, I believe that is a category mistake. The necessary, uncaused, first cause is, by definition, a supernatural event because no nature could precede it to be its own cause.

      Lastly, respectfully :), you have made claims here and elsewhere:

      – “suggesting biological evolution somehow defends a premise is a nonsense.”
      – I have “willingly confused evolution with cosmology”.
      – You made many claims in your well-written piece about the Euthyphro dilemma but chose to try to shift the burden of proof upon questioning.

      But I digress. Appreciate your thoughts now that you have put them forward.

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  4. (2) Multiverses are predictions made my parsimonious effective models of cosmogony.
    As for inflation, you can read the ‘observational status’ and the ‘theoretical status’ in the relevant Wiki page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflation_(cosmology)#Observational_status).
    But, other than your scepticism of alternative explanations (like the above, but they are not exhaustive) what is the evidence of God? It would be a mistake to say the cosmological argument is evidence for God if you are only getting there by applying incredulity to alternative solutions.

    (3) Please back up the claim that science is the search for causes. It might be considered a search for explanations. Or, it might be considered the development of models of reality, informed by empirical evidence and mathematics. I see no reason to define it as the search for causes.

    (4)
    (i) The quantum vacuum is also not a physical thing.
    (ii) Physical principles are also not physical things.
    (iii) If God cannot be an impersonal force, you have smuggled in the idea of a personal cause to the universe. That is not valid.
    (iv) All that premise 2 implies (by abductive logic, not deductive logic) is that what ever the cause of the universe is, it is not contingent on the universe to exist. We don’t know if quantum vacuums or physical principles are contingent on the universe.
    We don’t even know if the universe, as you define it here (i.e. in its absence there is philosophical nothing), ever didn’t exist. (Apologies for the double negatives.) That’s simply not a prediction of Inflationary Cosmology.
    (And to clarify, even the singularity is speculative. Cosmologists do not agree that there was one and there are other very early models of the universe that avoid the singularity.)

    (5) I am not asking how God came into existence. I am asking God God made something from nothing. The very question you are setting out to answer (‘why is there something rather than nothing’) remains the question.
    ‘God did it’ is not better, in explanatory power, to ‘it just happened’.

    (The digression)
    In my post about the Euthyphro dilemma you wanted me to take a position about objective morality. That’s a position I don’t take a stance on throughout the whole piece, and don’t need to to make my point. What that piece does is point out that the solution to the dilemma simply rewords the question.
    The reason I asked you questions, and didn’t change the topic entirely to my position on a different question, is because it felt like you were dodging the topic and trying to get me on some unrelated ‘gotcha’.
    See, if you’d ever have bothered to try to answer why drunkenness isn’t made a virtue by God’s nature you’d almost definitely have had to take one of two positions:
    (a) Because it’s not a moral virtue (making God’s nature compliant to the external standard)
    (b) Because that isn’t God’s nature (making it arbitrary)
    Neither are satisfactory to you, and I doubt you have another answer.

    Biological evolution does not tell us anything about the ‘absurdity’ of an infinite past (I forgot how you worded it, but I remember how William Lane Craig words it) leading to the conclusion of a finite past. It simply doesn’t. It doesn’t follow. Arguing that infinite number of past events is absurd is has nothing to do with changes in allele frequency. It’s still on you to actually tie the two together. Which you haven’t done.

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  5. Oh my… I have a lot to say here and this “debate” is about to radically outgrow the premise of this article. Many of these points deserve a blog post of their own, as I’m sure you would agree. So I will give a final response here and we can take our swords to the next article I plan to publish – you’re going to like it (or maybe hate it…but you’ll be interested) 🙂

    (2) My default posture is always one of skepticism. This applies equally to scientific and religious claims. And this certainly applies to models for which we still have no evidence and that were, in some cases, ill-conceived. As ever, I will follow the evidence where it leads. At the moment, I believe the best supported position is that the universe began to exist at the big bang. But I will point out once again that, no alternate theory that says the universe is past-eternal can resolve the problem of an infinite regress.

    “What is the evidence of God?”… I have provided moral and cosmological arguments (here and in previous articles) which constitute positive evidence for God as well as several arguments that demonstrate the unreasonableness of Atheism. But stay tuned, for the very purpose of this blog is to provide cosmological, teleological, moral and philosophical evidence for the existence of God. But if this is question that you’re really open to exploring, you don’t have to wait for me! Seriously, the reasoning that I build on in this article, at base, comes from an Aristotelian argument. New evidence coming out of science has been amazing in its congruence with theism, but the best arguments and philosophical evidence for God has been around for 2,000 years.

    3) A search for explanations vs a search for causes, in this context, is a distinction without a difference. A scientist observes an effect and asks “what is the cause?” or, if you like, “what is the explanation?”. But if you are going to say that things don’t need causes/explanations, you are undermining the law of causality and a fundamental assumption that we need in order to do science.

    4) (i) Quantum vacuums presuppose energy – i.e. material.

    (ii) I take it you are not a materialist then? The materialist would argue that the laws of physics don’t exist outside of the minds that conceive of them (roughly speaking). I actually agree with you that they are not physical in nature. HOWEVER, they could not have existed prior to physical reality because physical principals are only descriptors of physical phenomena. That is, the laws of physics presuppose physical reality such that, before physical reality, you could not have a description of physical reality (i.e. laws of physics). The laws of physics, it turns out, came into being along with physics itself.

    (iii) Nonsense! This is not smuggled in. I never made the claim that the cause was personal – merely uncaused, timeless, space-less and immaterial. BUT, since you brought it up, I have argued elsewhere that the cause has to be personal because creation ex nihilo requires a CHOICE. It is also the case that the cause must be intelligent and extremely powerful. Only a personal agent fits the description of all of the necessary characteristics. This is an argument that deserves to be developed further, which is why I specifically did not add the additional characteristics in this article. But they do follow from the cosmological argument. Either way, the fact remains that I have not “smuggled in” this characteristic here because it is beyond the scope of the article.

    (iv) The conclusion that the cause of the universe is not the universe itself is not an inference to the best explanation (or abductive reasoning, if you like), it is deductive. That is to say, if it is true that the universe began to exist, it MUST be true that the universe is not its own cause because by order of logic it was not around to cause itself.

    Physical principals, it seems to me, are contingent on physical reality. Because, as stated above, you can’t have a self-existent description of something that doesn’t exist.

    5) If Kalam is successful, and I believe that it is, then we can conclude that the creation of the universe was, by definition, beyond nature, which is to say, supernatural. Therefore, it is a mistake to suppose that there needs to be a natural mechanism to explain it.

    [The digression]… let’s not 🙂 I hope to make my own entry about Euthyphro in the coming weeks and we can cross blades then! Best.

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