The atheist’s act of faith

Universe’s origin a religious question

I was in a school a few days ago addressing a group of fifth and sixth years about ‘the new atheism’. There is actually very little that’s new about the new atheism because it hasn’t developed any new killer arguments in favour of atheism. The only thing that’s new about it is that it is newly in vogue thanks to best-selling writers like the scientist, Richard Dawkins.

In any event, I tried to explain to students some of the typical arguments employed by the likes of Dawkins (pictured below). One of them is that we no longer need God to explain anything of significance because science has answered most or all of the big questions.

In fact, this is very far from being the case. Science can’t address itself to some very basic questions such as, ‘what is the meaning and purpose of life?’ That can only be answered by philosophy and/or religion.

What science has managed to do is close off space for what are sometimes called ‘God of the gaps’ type arguments.

Once upon a time we had no idea what caused thunder and lightning, or volcanoes and earthquakes and so we decided the gods, or God, must be causing them. Now, thanks to science, we have natural explanations for all these things and so we can dispense with supernatural explanations.


Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to close off a last major gap in our explanatory knowledge, namely where did life come from? Darwin seemed to show that life evolved, it wasn’t created.

In point of fact, Darwin’s theory was really only threatening to a very literal interpretation of the book of Genesis which led some people to believe that the world was created only a few thousand years ago.

Darwin’s theory does not in any way, shape or form show that we don’t have a creator. Indeed, despite all the advances in science we are still left confronting a question science will never be able to answer, namely, why is there something instead of nothing?

I explained to those fifth and sixth years that the existence of the universe confronts us with one of two very astonishing explanations. One is that it has a creator, namely God. The second is that nothing made it, or to put it another way, that nothing made everything. I asked them to consider which of these explanations seemed more plausible?

Of course, it’s often argued that saying a divine entity created the universe is still a ‘god of the gaps’ argument and that one day science will be able to explain how something came from nothing, just as it can now explain where lightning and so on comes from.


However, lightning comes from something. It doesn’t come from nothing. Likewise in the case of thunder, or earthquakes or volcanoes. Science is able to trace the chain of cause and effect in each of these cases.

But in the case of the universe, eventually we get back to the very start. We get back to the clump of matter that everything in the universe comes from and we have to ask ourselves where did the ‘clump’ itself come from? Again, the answer is either that the clump of matter came from nothing, or it came from a creator, and science has no way to examine either nothing, or a creator.

Therefore the question of the origin of the universe isn’t a scientific one at all, but a philosophical and religious one.

(By the way, the question, ‘but who made God?’ assumes that God has a creator, in which case he would not be God, but a creature like the rest of us. Unless there is a first, uncreated and uncaused cause of everything else, nothing could exist at all. That uncaused cause is God by definition).

To return to the clump of matter, science now tells us that billions of years ago this clump exploded in something called ‘the Big Bang’. The matter expanded at enormous speed eventually bringing into being the universe as we know it with its planets and stars and galaxies, and us.


The Big Bang theory was back in the news recently when more evidence for it was found via a telescope based at the South Pole.

The Big Bang theory was first properly propounded by a Belgian priest-scientist in the 1920s, Georges Lemaître. Interestingly there was huge resistance to it from Soviet scientists.

Let’s bear in mind that the Soviet Union was an officially atheistic state and the Big Bang looks awfully like a moment of creation. It looked like a priest was trying to sneak God back into the scientific worldview.

In fact, what we had here was an example of atheism versus science, not religion versus science.

The real test of a scientific theory is whether it is supported by evidence.

  Many scientific theories have come and gone in the past. But for the time being, the Big Bang theory is supported by the available evidence and more and more evidence has been uncovered in the last few decades that supports it, including this latest evidence from the observatory at the South Pole, if other scientists are able to confirm what it seems to have discovered.

Does the Big Bang on its own ‘prove’ the existence of God, let alone the Christian God? By no means. But to repeat, the moment of the Big Bang does sound a lot like a moment of creation and those who continue to deny the existence of God are still left with the question: how did something come from nothing?

In fact, in the final analysis the vain hope of atheists that science will eventually answer this question resembles nothing so much as an act of faith.