Evidence for Atheism

Where is the empirical evidence for atheism?

By Robin Schumacher

Evidence for Atheism: The Series

Where is the evidence for atheism?
Where is the empirical evidence for atheism?
Where is the historical evidence for atheism?

The Big Bang Theory is currently a popular comedy show on television, whose opening song contains the follow lyrics:

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait...
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

The death of the steady state theory and the near-universal acceptance of the big bang theory causes quite a problem for atheists. First, it means that our universe had a beginning and whatever has a beginning has a cause (and therefore is not eternal and cannot serve as the atheist's necessary and self-existent first cause). Second, it demands an answer for what caused the big bang.

Atheists honestly don't know what caused the "bang." Now, that doesn't mean there haven't been a lot of various theories tossed about, but when pressed for the type of absolute proof that they demand for validation of the Christian faith, atheists come up short.

The most recent attempt at explaining the origin of our universe has been the multi-verse, which postulates the simultaneous existence of many, possibly infinitely many, parallel universes in which almost anything that is theoretically possible will ultimately be actualized. So, then, the atheist says that with the multi-verse there is nothing surprising in the fact that we have the universe that we do.

However, the multi-verse theory was pretty much laid to rest this January* at a rather unusual event: the 70th birthday celebration of Stephen Hawking, which was held at Cambridge. Delivering the eulogy was Dr. Alexander Vilenkin, who had written a recent paper that was presented at the "State of the Universe" meeting of scientists who had gathered to honor Hawking.

After demonstrating the fallacies of the various theories that have attempted to validate a multiverse, Vilenkin summed up his conclusions by saying, "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning." And in fact, prior to this address, Vilenkin had developed a scientific proof along with Borde and Guth that demonstrated how even if the multi-verse existed, it too must have a beginning.

This, naturally, puts every philosophical naturalist and atheist into mourning because Hawking himself has admitted, "Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention."

So with the multi-verse option struggling mightily, where is the atheist's empirical proof that God is not the cause of the universe?

Further, the atheist must explain the fine tuning of the universe and how that came about. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has calculated that the odds of all Anthropic constants (122 at last count) to be in place for any planet in the universe to support life by luck alone to be one chance in ten with 138 zeros after it. This number becomes even more incredible when one realizes there are only 10ˆ70 atoms in the entire universe. Finally, mathematicians point out that anything which exceeds 10 to the 50th power is the exact same thing as zero chance.

What proof does the atheist have that such a thing can be arrived at through their trinitarian god of time + matter + chance? Most will attempt to point to the universe ensemble / multi-verse hypothesis, which as we have seen, is no proof at all.

Next, atheists must come up with empirical evidence for the origin of life. Many atheists believe this is an easy task and begin to pull out their biology books and extol the explanatory power of evolution. In fact, Richard Dawkins has said: "An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: 'I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.' I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."[2]

But, not so fast.

The ill-titled "Origin of Species" by Darwin does not explain the origin of life at all. Rather, Darwin begins with 4-5 existing life forms that are already in possession of reproductive capabilities (isn't that convenient?) Evolution only attempts to explain the supposed change in existing biological entities and possesses no capacity to explain their original arrival. So Darwin does not come to the aid of the atheist at all in the way Dawkins describes.

The very building blocks of life and specified complexity like DNA also pose quite a problem for the atheist who must provide proof for how they came about through purely natural means. Having worked in database software for over 20 years, one thing that fascinates me about DNA is that it contains information and not just raw data. Dawkins admits: "What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, warm breath, nor a 'spark of life'. It is information, words, instructions...Think of a billion discrete digital characters...If you want to understand life, think about information technology."[3]

But everything we know says that only intelligence causes information. Moreover, scientists have also demonstrated that DNA is mathematically identical to a language. The atheist must show how, given that no language has ever arisen apart from intelligence, did such a thing happen in DNA without an intelligent cause.

How can the atheist, on the one hand, nod in agreement with an archaeologist who walks into a cave and discerns that an intelligent source is behind the scratchings on the wall, and yet assert that it is more reasonable to conclude that a non-intelligent cause is behind all the information contained in DNA?

Perhaps this is why when interviewed for the movie Expelled, Dawkins suggested the possibility of directed panspermia as the cause of DNA. In other words, aliens brought it here. One struggles to understand how pushing the problem to outer space solves the atheist's predicament.

The atheist also needs to provide proof on how absolute moral values can be produced through purely materialistic means and show this in action via repeatable empirical experiments. Sam Harris tried and failed miserably in his book The Moral Landscape, but perhaps other atheists can do better. If they try, they need to first remember the admonition of Einstein: "You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality."

Lastly, the atheist must provide empirical proof that they can trust their own cognitive faculties. Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga have argued that our experience tells us that order, design, purpose, intent, and intelligence produce trustable things. But chaos, chance, randomness, etc., produce the opposite where trustability and repeatability are concerned.

So, if our brains are stuff made of by the latter (all traits of a naturalist-only universe) and not the former, how can we trust anything we think? The atheist wants to have reliability, repeatability, trustability, and believability in their science, yet they want all this from a source that possesses none of these characteristics. In essence, the atheist demands warmth without a fire.

So where is the atheist's empirical proof for these and other issues that seem to suggest an intelligent source? Mind you, we are not looking for theories or spit-balling, but real empirical proof that shows how all of these things happened in a supposed anti-supernatural universe. The atheist must supply strong, credible evidence and must do so without committing the logical fallacy of "appeal to the future" (i.e. one day science will provide an answer), which merely inserts a "scientism of the gaps" argument.

* January 2012

2. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (1986), page 6.
3. Source

Image Credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight; "Starburst Galaxy"; Creative Commons

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Published 5-9-12