If there is a natural explanation then there is no reason to invent a god


RITE & REASON:ATHEISTS REJECT the idea that a supernatural being, and specifically a personal intervening supernatural being, created what we today call the universe.

There is good evidence that our universe came about naturally, which is more persuasive than the evidence that it was created by a god (small “g”). And there is good evidence that humans invented the idea of gods, which is more persuasive than the evidence that gods exist.

In his Rite and Reason articles last summer Prof James Mackey suggests that Richard Dawkins believes “evolution offers a full and adequate explanation of how the world came to be as we now know it”.

He bizarrely implies that Dawkins does not know the difference between a process and an agent, and that Dawkins “as a mere biologist” could not fully understand evolution theory.

In a general sense, of course, the word evolution could describe the effects of the continuum of changes in the universe from physics through chemistry to biology.

However, what scientists like Dawkins typically mean by evolution theory is the study of how biological life evolved after it came about.

The study of how biological life first came about is called abiogenesis.

The study of how our universe developed from the instant it began to expand is called cosmology. And science has consistently proved a more reliable way of studying all of these questions than has theology, which is like discussing the rules of quidditch with people who believe that Harry Potter is a documentary.

Every generation we learn more about how the universe operates.

In every generation religious people explain the parts that we don’t yet know by attributing them to gods. Every generation we patiently move more explanations from “a god did it” to “we now know how it happens naturally”. And we never move explanations in the other direction. At first we thought the heavens were above the earth. Then we thought the sun circled around the earth. Then Copernicus found that the earth circled around the sun. Then Newton discovered that gravity holds the planets in orbit. Then Wright discovered that the sun is not even the centre of our galaxy. Then Hubble discovered many more galaxies, and found that the universe is expanding.

Then Gamow worked back from the expansion to explain the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. And so we come to the question of what happened before the Big Bang. In some ways it is a meaningless question, as time as we know it only started with the Big Bang. But we can be guided by the consistent pattern of scientific answers relentlessly replacing theological answers.

If there is a plausible natural explanation, there is no reason to invent a god.

We are most likely to find the answer to this question in the field of quantum physics. This shows that, at a subatomic level, random energy fluctuations can and do cause tiny particles to randomly come into and go out of existence.

And Stephen Hawking in his latest work suggests that these fluctuations plus gravity could have brought our universe into existence without inventing a god.

However, scientific theories are not accepted as reliable until they have passed repeated objective tests. Science tries to prove itself wrong, while religion tries to prove itself right. It is the scientific method, rather than its outcomes at any given time, that makes science a more reliable guide to reality than theology.

As of now, we don’t yet know what happened outside of the Big Bang.

Most atheists are happy to accept that we don’t know, and to wait until we or a future species reliably find out. But whatever the answer may be, there is good reason to expect that it is a natural one, and no good reason to expect that it is a supernatural one.

Michael Nugent is chairman of Atheist Ireland