If we are living in a universe with a beginning, the Principle of Causality points to a Creator God. Science is predicated on the causal relationships described in the Principle of Causality. Every effect has a cause; everything that begins, changes, is finite or limited has a cause. The universe, if it began to exist, is changing over time, and is not infinitely old, requires an adequate cause to explain its origin. The Cosmological Argument for God’s existence is grounded in the Principle of Causality:
(1) The Universe Began to Exist
(Confirmed by the scientific evidence)
(2) Anything That Has a Beginning Must Be Caused By Something Else
(Affirmed by the Principal of Causality)
(3) Therefore, the Universe Must Have a Cause
(Inferred from the Principal of Causality)
(4) The First Cause Must Be Eternal and Uncaused
(Declared by definition)
(5) The Cause is God
(Offered as the most reasonable uncaused first cause)
While several of these premises must be examined more completely, in today’s post, I’d like to review the classic evidence supporting the first claim: the universe began to exist. To understand the evidence, we can look in many places, but one of the clearest writers on the topic has been Robert Jastrow, an astrophysicist who established NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1961. He was also the Director and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mount Wilson Institute which manages the Mount Wilson Observatory. In his book, God and the Astronomers, he described the evidence and made the case for a finite universe with a beginning. These four simple evidences are easy to remember and articulate:
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
This law (also known as the Law of Increased Entropy) recognizes the following: While the quantity of energy within a closed, isolated system (like the Universe) remains the same, the amount of usable energy deteriorates gradually over time. “Usable energy is inevitably used for productivity, growth and repair. In the process, usable energy is converted into unusable energy. Thus, usable energy is irretrievably lost in the form of unusable energy.”
Many of us have played with wind-up toys over the years. After toys of this nature are wound, there is a limited period of time in which we can enjoy them. Within a few seconds, wind-up toys slow down and stop; they run out of energy. Imagine walking into an empty room and discovering a wind-up toy sitting on the floor, still operating (unwinding). The discovery of this toy (and the fact it is still in the process of unwinding), would raise two reasonable inferences: (1) the toy was recently wound at a fixed point in the not-too-distant past, and (2) there was an adequate cause responsible for the initial winding. In other words, you would start looking for the “winder” somewhere in the room, given the fact the toy was still in the process of unwinding. We happen to be living in a “wind-up” universe slowly losing its usable energy. If the universe had no beginning and was infinitely old, why would there be any usable energy still available to us? The fact there is still usable energy in the universe points to a beginning in which the universe was tightly wound, and causes us to look for the cause responsible for such winding.
The Expansion of the Universe
Over the years, a number of scientists have calculated or observed the expansion of the universe. In 1905, Albert Einstein developed the Special Theory of Relativity involving measurements of length, velocity and time from moving observers. These equations led to the now famous E = mc2 equation, which describes how matter and energy can be converted from one form to another. In 1915, by applying relativity to Newtonian physics, Einstein derived the equations of general relativity which describe the relationships between gravity, the speed of light, mass, and other factors in regard to the universe as a whole. His work was consistent with an expanding universe. While this conclusion was initially troubling to Einstein, other mathematicians and scientists were coming to the same conclusion.
Alexander Friedman, a Russian mathematician working in the 1920’s with Einstein’s theories, used the mathematics to prove the universe is expanding. His work was being paralleled at the time by astronomers in Belgium who independently came to the same conclusion. An astronomer named Vesto Slipher presented findings at an obscure astronomy meeting in 1914 which showed that several ‘nebulae’ were receding away from the earth. A graduate student named Edwin Hubble was in attendance and realized the implications. Hubble later proved that these nebulae were actually galaxies, composed of billions of stars. In 1929 he proposed the law of red shifts. Galaxies which are moving away from the earth demonstrate emission spectra with bands shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, and Hubble observed these distant galaxies demonstrated this red shift phenomena. In essence, he proved by observation the universe is indeed expanding.
Our universe is expanding like a balloon. Imagine individual galaxies drawn on the balloon’s surface. As the edge of the balloon expands, the edge galaxies move away from center and away from each other. This is what we are seeing in our universe today. If we could go back in time and reverse the process (“deflate the balloon”), we would eventually arrive at an initial point of convergence. Once again, the science demonstrates our universe had a beginning.
The Radiation Echo
In 1964, two American physicists and radio astronomers, Arno Allan Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson, happened upon an important discovery. They were unable to eliminate the radio signal “noise” from their large antenna at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, regardless of where in the universe they tried to point their instrument. As a result, they began to consult with colleagues to determine the cause of this background noise. Phillip James Edwin Peebles, a physicist and theoretical cosmologist at Princeton University, suggested the noise might not be from the antenna at all. Instead, he proposed they might be detecting the residual “background radiation” caused when the universe first came into being. Penzias and Wilson pursued this line of investigation and confirmed Peebles’ suspicions. Numerous additional experiments and observations have since established the existence of cosmic background radiation (culminating in data from the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite launched in 1989). For many scientists, this discovery solidified their belief the universe had a beginning at a fixed point in the past.
The Philosophy of Infinite Regression
If these three evidences weren’t enough to prove that the universe has a beginning, there is also a very powerful philosophical reality related to the concept of infinity demonstrating the finitude of the universe. If the universe existed from all eternity, then time would also have existed from all eternity. There would be no “beginning of time”. But if this were true, we could never arrive at today. If you don’t have an initial and definite place from which to begin time, you can’t measure your way up to the present moment.
Imagine a linear race track with a start and finish line. Now imagine I’ve asked you to put on your track shoes and step into the starting blocks for a race. Looking down the track, you can see the finish line is just one hundred yards away. As you place your feet in the blocks and prepare to run, I raise the starting pistol into the air. Just before I fire the pistol, however, I stop and tell you to move the start line (along with your blocks) back six inches. Frustrated but eager, you reluctantly move everything back as I’ve requested. Ready to start the race once again, I raise the pistol to the sky. Just prior to firing, however, I once again command you to move the start line back another six inches. You grudgingly comply. Now imagine that every time you are ready to run, I simply command you to stop and move the starting line. If I continue to do this, will you ever reach the finish line? No. Unless there is a fixed start, you’ll never get to the finish. In a similar way, time also requires a fixed starting point in order for any of us to reach a fixed finish; unless time has a fixed beginning, we cannot arrive at the finish line we call “today”.
There are good evidential reasons to believe we are living in a universe that began to exist. If this is true, it’s reasonable for us to search for an adequate cause of the universe, based on the Principle of Causality. In future posts, we’ll see what we can learn about the nature of this cause from both scientific explorations and Biblical teaching. Theism is not without evidential support, and as we begin to embrace and master the evidences we’ll all become better Christian Case Makers.
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As a Christian, I have a reasonable expectation of Heaven, based on the clear teaching of Scripture and the logical consequence of God’s nature. I also anticipate a particular experience in Heaven based on the teaching of the Old and New Testament. I’m looking forward to what each of us will become when we are united with God. At the same time, I recognize there are some earthly pursuits I will abandon in the next life. While many of our cravings and desires will be satisfied once we are reunited with the One who has created us in His Image, some needs will simply vanish once we leave this world. As we think about the future with God, let’s remember what won’t be needed in Heaven so we can live differently while we are here on Earth:
The Need to Have Faith
Faith is the mechanism through which we are saved, and although the nature of faith (as it is described in Scripture) is not blind, it does require us to trust in the most reasonable inference from the evidence Jesus provided, even though we don’t have first-hand access to Jesus or the eyewitnesses who wrote the Gospels:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
In this life, we are asked to trust in something often unseen (God), on the basis of something that was seen (Jesus as He was described in the Gospels) and for which there is sufficient evidence (as observed in our universe and world). God’s “hiddenness” requires us to draw conclusions and inferences from evidence, but a day is coming when we will see him directly. In that day, faith (as we understand and experience it here on earth) will no longer exist. We will simply know.
The Need to Study
We won’t find ourselves cracking the books in Heaven to have knowledge about God. We won’t be in seminary classes, trying to understand the complexity of the Trinity or the nature of God. In Heaven, our direct contact with the God of the universe will open our eyes to the mysteries we’ve been struggling to understand:
1 Corinthians 13:11-12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Our desire to learn will be fully satisfied in Heaven. Much of what we spend hours trying to master here on earth will be available to us immediately once we are in God’s presence.
The Need to Comfort
We also won’t find ourselves crying on each other’s shoulder in Heaven. In fact, we won’t find ourselves crying at all. We won’t need each other’s comfort in difficult times because there won’t be any difficult times:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
Our current struggles with sin (and the consequences we often experience as a result of our poor choices) will vanish in the next life. Better yet, our search for mercy and justice will be fully realized in God’s presence.
The Need to Reach Others
We won’t be planning missions trips in Heaven. We won’t be trying to figure out the best way to witness to the lost or reach those who don’t yet know Jesus. Truth is, there is only one chance to place your faith in Christ, and that time will have expired by the time we get to Heaven:
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
We die just once, and then we are judged. There is no second chance in Heaven, even though there are so many chances for each of us here on earth. This is the place where we are asked to trust the most reasonable inference from the evidence; to place our faith in what cannot be seen. Once it has all been revealed to us, the opportunities to do this will be gone.
The more I understand about the nature of Heaven (what I can expect and what I cannot), the more committed I am to an intentional life here on earth. Some activities and pursuits will be unnecessary or irrelevant in Heaven; they’re only important while we are living our daily, temporal lives. As I get older, I’ve learned to do the things today I won’t be able to do later. Now is the time to run a marathon; I won’t be as physically able in the years to come. All of us have a “bucket list”; a series of temporal goals we want to achieve before the opportunity is lost forever. It’s time to rethink our “bucket lists” and embrace heavenly goals before we pass from this life and the opportunity is lost forever. Now is the time to reason from the evidence and trust, to learn and defend, to comfort those in need, and to share the Gospel.
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Humans have been thinking about life after death from the earliest of times. Heaven has been the topic of ancient authors and contemporary thinkers. Countless books, movies and television programs have been produced on the topic. This year’s entry, Heaven is for Real, continues the long tradition of fascination with the afterlife. But is Heaven reasonable? Are the any good reasons to believe there might be a life beyond the grave, aside from the very obvious teaching of the Bible? This week, I’ll spend some time examining the case for Heaven and we’ll look briefly at the nature of Heaven as described in Scripture. We’re also providing a Bible Insert for March 2014 summarizing this information.
As a theist, I obviously believe the evidence for God’s existence is strong. I didn’t always believe this to be the case, but having arrived at this conclusion, the following reasoning would incline me to consider the existence of Heaven, even if I didn’t have access to a Bible:
The Evidence Persuades Us a Good God Created Our World
There are good, reasonable arguments for the existence of a Creator God and the mere existence of a world in which love is possible (in spite of the presence of evil) is an indication this God is good.
A Good God Would Not Create a World in Which Justice, Satisfaction and Joy Are Unattainable
If God is good, He wouldn’t create beings for whom justice, satisfaction and joy are elusive and unavailable.
Justice, Satisfaction and Joy Is Often Unattainable in This Temporal Earthly Life
Yet our common experience tells us justice is not always served here on Earth (bad people often get away with their crimes) and while we continually pursue satisfaction and joy, we find that it is fleeting and transient.
Therefore, If There is a Good God, It Is Reasonable to Believe He Has an Eternal, Heavenly Life Waiting for Us in Which Complete Justice, Satisfaction and Joy Will Be Realized
So where is justice, satisfaction and joy to be found? If God has designed us for eternity, and offers complete justice, satisfaction and joy in the next chapter of our existence, He will accomplish all we expect of Him and everything His nature demands.
If the case for God’s existence is reasonable, the case for Heaven’s existence is also reasonable. Thoughtful consideration of this reality (in light of God’s nature) can also tell us something about the nature of Heaven. Even if I knew nothing about what Christian Scripture teaches about the afterlife, I would still be inclined to believe Heaven is a place of perfection:
If there is a Creator God, He created everything from nothing; matter from non-matter, life from non-life.
If God can do all that, he has unfathomable power
If God has unfathomable power, he has the power to eliminate imperfection
If God has the power to eliminate imperfection, He can certainly eliminate it from the realm in which He exists
Therefore, Heaven is a place of perfection
Even from this simple line of reasoning, it’s easy to see why we might believe Heaven is a place of perfect justice, satisfaction and joy. This reality ought to give us reasons to rejoice and reasons to be concerned. While Heaven will certainly be a place of perfection, all of us should think earnestly about our own imperfection. Are any of us qualified, based on our own merit, to enter such a prefect, holy realm? The case for Heaven’s existence and perfect nature should cause us to examine the nature of Salvation as offered through the sacrifice of Christ. The reasonable existence of Heaven points to the reasonable necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross.
Be sure to visit the right column of the homepage to download this month’s free Bible Insert on the Case for Heaven (you’ll also find our complete collection of Bible Inserts).
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The problem of evil is perhaps the most common objection non-believers have to the existence of God. If God is allegedly all-powerful and all-loving, why does he allow the horrific evil we witness in history or in our daily lives? Is He too weak to stop evil, or simply unwilling? Does the existence of evil negate the reasonable existence of God? Like many short, rhetorically powerful objections to God’s existence, there are sound and adequate responses theists can offer, but few that can be articulated with brevity. Any attempt to answer the problem of evil is called a “theodicy” (from the Greek theos “god” and dike “justice”): “a vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil”. Like many of the criminal cases I work as a detective, the case for God’s existence (given the presence of evil) is a case made cumulatively.
All of my cold cases are circumstantial cases made by assembling a large variety of evidences pointing to the same conclusion. The cumulative nature of my cases requires jurors to consider the collective whole, rather than any isolated piece of evidence. In fact, no single piece of evidence in a cumulative circumstantial case may be all that convincing when considered on its own. But when it is added to the other evidences pointing to the same conclusion, the totality of the case becomes overwhelming. This is the difficult nature of circumstantial cases. They are time consuming, both in their development prior to trial and in their presentation before a jury.
In a similar way, the answer to the problem of evil is cumulative and often difficult to develop (and time-consuming to present). It requires us to consider a number of evidences pointing the same conclusion, and to prepare for the attack any one of these evidences is likely to experience when skeptics attempt to isolate them from the larger case. Any effort to defend the existence of God from the problem of evil must address and include the following cumulative set of truths:
The Relationship Between Moral Evil and Human Freedom
Our theodicy must articulate the nature of love and God’s desire to create a world in which love is possible. True love requires that humans have the ability to freely choose; love cannot be forced if it is to be heartfelt and real. Freedom of this nature is often costly. A world in which people have the freedom to love and perform great acts of kindness is also a world in which people have the freedom to hate and commit great acts of evil. You cannot have one without the other, and we understand this intuitively.
The Relationship Between Human Suffering and the Nature of God
Our theodicy must also articulate the nature and values of God and the temporary nature of our temporal lives. As difficult as it may seems in times of suffering, our response must at least address several important aspects of God. (1) A good God values character over comfort. Creature comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. (2) A transcendent God understands that ‘love’ is the perfect balance between mercy and justice. We, as humans, often hold a very temporal understanding of love; we think of love as that warm instantaneous feeling, that lustful desire, or that passionate season of romance. But God understands that true love transcends the moment and often requires discernment, discipline and judgment. (3) An eternal God provides humans with an existence beyond the grave. We usually want our desire for comfort, love, mercy and justice to be satisfied in this life (and immediately if at all possible!) But our pursuit of immediate gratification often leads us to do things that are ultimately harmful to ourselves and to others.
The Relationship Between Natural Evil and God’s Existence
Our theodicy must address the sometimes hidden or obscured causes of natural evil (like earthquakes, tsunamis or even birth defects. We must address a number of collective factors: (1) God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process that makes it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. (2) God may also tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of human free agency. (3) God may permit some natural evil because it challenges people to think about God for the first time. (4) God may permit some natural evil because it provides humans with the motivation and opportunity to develop Godly character.
The Relationship Between Immoral Christian Behavior and a Moral God
Our theodicy must be prepared to defend the existence of the Christian God, in light of the sometimes immoral behavior of “Christians”. While history may include examples of “Christian” groups committing evil upon those with whom they disagreed, a fair examination will also reveal they were not alone in this sort of behavior. Groups holding virtually every worldview, from theists to atheists, have been mutually guilty of evil behavior. The common denominator in these violent human groups was not worldview; it was the presence of humans. Regardless of worldview, humans will try to find a way to justify their evil actions. The question is not which group is more violent but which worldview most authorizes and accommodates this violence.
The Relationship Between Our Understanding and God’s Actions
Our theodicy must address the nature and actions of God through history, particularly when God has commanded the destruction of particular people groups. It’s easy for us to judge the words and actions of God as if He were just another human, subject to an objective standard transcending Him. But when we judge God’s actions in this way, we are ignoring His unique authority and power: (1) If there is a God, all of creation is His handiwork. He has the right to create and destroy what is His, even when this destruction may seem unfair to the artwork itself. (2) If there is a God, all of us are His patients. He has the wisdom and authority to treat us as He sees fit, even when we might not be able to understand the overarching danger we face if drastic action isn’t taken. (3) If there is a God, He is more concerned about saving us for eternity than He is about making our mortal lives safe.
The Relationship Between Evil and Eternity
Our theodicy must also address our limited view of reality. If the Christian worldview is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporal lives. Whatever we experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. Our eternal life with God will be a life without suffering, without pain and without evil. As our eternal life with God stretches beyond our temporal experience, whatever suffering or injustice we might have experienced here on earth will seem like it occurred in the blink of an eye.
The Nature of Objective Evil and the Existence of God
Finally, our theodicy must recognize the futility of any objection to evil unless we can first ground the definition of good and bad (right and wrong) in the existence of a transcendent source for such concepts. If evil is simply a matter of personal or cultural opinion, we could eliminate evil by simply changing our minds. If notions of evil transcend each of us personally and apply to all cultures regardless of location or time in history (like the claim, “it’s never OK to torture babies for the fun of it”), we’ve got to discover the transcendent source for our definitions. There can be no transcendently sufficient definition of evil unless there is a transcendent standard of righteousness. Evil, as a concept, ceases to have meaning unless it can be compared and measured against an objective standard of virtue. Those who complain about evil see it as more than personal opinion, but to do so, they must borrow their objective standard from a transcendent, theistic worldview.
Any adequate response to the problem of evil must robustly address the collective, cumulative case. Even in trying to briefly reconstruct the case, I’ve exceeded the word count I typically use for my daily blog. This is the problem with answering the problem of evil. While the objection can be stated in a sentence of two, the response cannot. This shouldn’t surprise us; when a defendant says simply, “I didn’t do it; I wasn’t there,” the necessary response from the prosecuting team will take weeks to articulate. But when we’re done, the cumulative case will be persuasive, even though any one small piece of this case may be less than convincing. This is the nature of cumulative cases, and this is the nature of our theodicy.
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