(Note this refers back to the initial letter in italics)
Take the case of a woman who falls from the roof of a ten story building. Would it be enough to say "it just happened"? Would we not want to know whether she fell by accident, jumped or was pushed? What we are asking is whether it happened by blind chance or by design. Design of course implies the existence of a designer, a mind. I can understand why people want to avoid that possibility for the Cosmos. It makes the universe a most uncomfortable place. But once we face that there might be a Mind behind everything that happens, then we can begin to grapple with why bad things happen. If no design exists, why call any occurence "bad"?
In your previous letter you cited a principle much loved by Carl Sagan: If the conclusion based on the evidence is not the most simple explanation of the phenomena, it is not a good conclusion. I am sure you are aware he got it from a medieval Catholic philosopher and it is called Ockham's razor. When we are talking about the origin of the universe, it cuts both ways. Would the most simple explanation be that the Big Bang assembled itself or that Someone lit the fuse? The former (even if you call it a "singularity") seems fanciful--maybe even wishful thinking. The latter, on the other hand, corresponds to the density of what we experience. That is why, even tho it is demanding, most people are drawn to it. Let me know what you think. I would welcome reflections from other university students or people like yourself who are willing to face challenging questions.
Fr. Phil Bloom
P.S. For more on the case against naturalism, please see the review of Reason in the Balance.
That was a challenging response. As for wishful thinking, in my experience atheism has been perceived as both optimism and pessimism. The Atheist's club at NYU distributes a flyer saying that "These days people can be happy without dreaming up imaginary gods" and I've grown attached to that witty slogan. Atheism can be a source of happiness -- by ignoring the restrictions the church can place on someone and the guilt that goes along with infractions such as social drinking, premarital sex (even with a fiancee) and so forth. But most Atheists really wish there was a God -- but they refuse to believe in something for which they see no proof. I once heard a friend sing this to the tune of the Wizard of Oz's "If I only had a brain" -- "I'd be kind, I'd be giving, after death I'd go on living, if I only had a soul.." That was the president of the yo-yo club. He's the gentlest soul in the world. I forget his name. My point is, the "wishful thinking" argument is null here because Atheists tend to consider religion as "wishful thinking" from which they have been liberated -- but wishful thinking nonetheless. And the religious consider Atheism to be wishful thinking, because they suspect if not outright believe that all Godless atheists are afraid of going to hell because they don't want to be good, so they'd rather just not believe in it all.
But that's just my experience. Hmm. Again, we return to the strange need people seem to have to assign "good" and "bad" values to objects or situations based on their perspective. As I said, humans are emotional creatures. So are animals.You seem to want to know why. Why that is, I cannot say for sure. Evolutionists have detailed theories. As for the origins of emotion, it is difficult for science to be conclusive because we cannot conduct certain types of experiments.. we cannot observe chimpanzees evolving into humans, as everyone knows (almost everyone) but we can see that emotions seem to help creatures survive. Pack loyalty in wolves, family and tribal units in primates, and paternal instincts in most mammals are a sign of emotional cues which promote survival. All of our science fiction dealing with robots show that the big weakness of automatons and vastly intelligent and technologically superior robots have the same weakness -- no emotions. In Star Trek, emotionless Vulcans and Androids like Data want to feel these strange, illogical, unpredictable human emotions. And as you know, Star Trek (especially at the outset) was an exploration of the human psyche, not outer space. So we all seem to agree on the power and advantage of emotion. But that is certainly not all.
Scientists speculate that the reasons baby mammals (puppies, kittens, cubs, fawns, even piglets compared to their full grown counterparts) look so incredibly adorable is because it gave them a better chance of being cared for. Then again, maybe it's just an accident that humans find baby mammals cute. The evidence is admittedly very weak here. Overall, though, we seem to see emotion as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. It rules our mating drive and our families and our love for our children is impossible to ignore. Of course it should be tied to evolution.
When it comes to deciding what seems less demanding for origin/creation theory, I suppose it becomes a matter of opinion which one feels is less complicated: the uninspired Big Bang, or Creationism, in any sense including the stance that moderate christians seem to take (someone "lit the fuse"). Because it is hard to understand why there is such a thing as existence without declaring the existence of a cause that existed beforehand, the existence of God seems to make more sense than there being something from nothing. The fact is, people understand everything by cause and effect. For instance, if you walked out one morning and saw eggshells on the street all over the neighborhood, you would find it rather puzzling. But if you remembered that last night was Halloween, it would all make sense.
It is natural for humans to say that there was one ultimate cause, the uncaused cause. And since it would seem understandable for this cause to break all rules of existence, (it already breaks our rules for understanding things, because it has no cause) and since it cannot be found or measured, it would be non-corporeal, invisible, yet.. evidence for its existence would be found in every unexplained event.
The big bang theory can be explained by making one logical jump: Matter, either in the form of energy or as physical matter, has existed for all time. The Law of the Conservation of Matter and Energy is just that -- a Law. Like the law of gravity, you cannot disobey it (though if you hop up and down, you can fight it valiantly, as I have tried). The Law of the Conservation of Matter and Energy states that matter cannot be created out of nothing, nor can it be destroyed. E=mc squared, while I'm not sure if the theory was disproven or what, is basically on the mark in saying that energy is matter. Thus you can actually destroy matter, but you would actually be converting it into a tremendous amount of energy.. we're all familiar with this concept and the nuclear bomb. But energy and matter have to come from somewhere. Science, unforgiving as it is, has proven this without a doubt to be true, to be Law. For instance, the Pythagorean Theorem governing right triangles is a staple of geometry, and is used a thousand times a day to solve problems, but it is only a theory, because there exist an infinite number and variety of right triangles, any one of them could disprove the theory. But everyone knows that will never happen. Law is that much more solid. Therefore it makes sense to make the logical jump (as I stated in the beginning) that matter, either in the form of energy or as physical matter, has existed for all time.
As I see others see it, God exists as a creator because He formed the universe. He brought matter into existence and then gave it the form we see today. In doing so.. he broke the Law of conservation of Matter and Energy. I always learned that God is Absolute, Unchanging and Perfect, thus in breaking one of His own natural laws I see a problem. Nevertheless, if He only "lit the fuse", and formed things, then there is no problem at all. But I see no logical foundation for the logical jump necessary for Creationism: God exists. It is a far less likely proposition to me. There is no real evidence for it, just a lot of people believing in it. Therefore I choose not to believe in it.
I plan to attend the Atheists meeting tomorrow (free food) and I'll be sure to give them your URL. At least, I hope to meet some nice people who are interested in exchanging ideas with religious people, and to THOSE people I'd give your URL, although personally I think most young people don't consider that type of interaction a worthwhile expenditure of time. I guess I'm weird then:).
Well this exploration of creation has been fascinating for me. Goodnight.
Thank you for your letter. I am glad you see that the "wishful thinking" argument can cut both ways. Altho it seems to me the wishful thinking of the atheist or naturalist is different than what you described. It may be that for some it is a way of putting aside the rather terrible thought of spending eternity in hell. But I think there is something more subtle involved. Maybe like going into your own house during a blackout and bumping into something unfamiliar--and hoping that it is not alive. Or like coming upon the end of a rope and starting to pull it. And then all of a sudden finding something is pulling back. That is the disquieting kind of universe we may be living in.
Alex, a question about evolution. I ask this as someone who recognizes the fact of evolution, but is less certain how much the theory can actually explain. Why with all the different groups of apes, chimpanzees and other advanced primates, have we not observed any who are decent artists? Or are there some simian pictures or sculptures? I ask this as someone removed from academia and appreciative of the chance to ask someone closer to these subjects.
I have forgotten what the Pythagorean theorem is. Would it be a law of mathematics that could not be broken without a logical contradiction? Or is it like the laws of physics which could be broken without that kind of contradiction?
When I said God "lit the fuse" (of the Big Bang) I was making a picture. The classic definition of creation is the production of something from nothing. (see 2 Maccabees 7:28) That does not mean that nothing existed before energy and matter. God did. If such a being exists, our knowledge of him would clearly depend more on his initiative than any efforts of our own. What I would hope to do for you is to help remove some obstacles.
I'll be heading down to Peru next Mon (Oct 19), but would enjoy hearing from you before then.
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)