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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Three Intractable Problems for Atheism

Is science doing real work while people who posit a creator are being intellectually lazy? That's what atheists like Richard Dawkins would have you believe. In an interview with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Dawkins claimed pointing to an intelligent designer is "a cowardly evasion, it's lazy. What we should be doing as scientists is rolling up our sleeves and saying, right, Darwin solved the big problem. Now let's take that as encouragement to solve the other big problems, like the origin of life and the origin of the cosmos."1

Is Dawkins right? In fact, he has the whole thing backwards. Darwin had the easier time constructing his evolutionary model because he didn't have the details to worry about. Scientists in Darwin's day didn't know about the complex structures of DNA or how the telltale evidence of the Big Bang proves the universe must've come into existence at a specific point in the past. Darwin could sluff over the biology. However atheists today don't have that luxury.

1. What Started the Universe?

The first problem is the most fundamental. Why does our universe exit? Why should it be here at all? Usually when bringing up this issue, you will hear people retreat to talk of the Big Bangs and quantum vacuums. But both of those things assume what is being asked.

You cannot have a bang unless there is something to go bang and something else to trigger the bang. If before the Big Bang there is nothing, then nothing cannot bang. Quantum vacuums, which have become the easy excuse in trying to solve this problem, are not nothing either. As I've explained before, these fluctuations have attributes and potentials. The fact that they fluctuate means they are in time and they have energy states. Just as an idea isn't nothing, to define quantum states as nothing is to misunderstand what nothing is. Out of nothing nothing comes is foundational to all scientific studies. If you give up on that, you're not doing science any more.

So, instead of starting with nothing, maybe we assume the thing that banged is the eternal thing. But if the singularity that banged existed from all eternity, then why didn't it bang earlier than when it did? We know the universe is using up its energy, so we know that it's only been around a limited amount of time. Why? What was that thing that changed to make the singularity explode into the universe we see? What ever it was that changed, it certainly wasn't nothing, because if nothing changed, then the universe would never have come to be.

2. What Started Life?

In 2011, John Horgan wrote an article for the Scientific American web site entitled "Pssst! Don't tell the creationists, but scientists don't have a clue how life began." There, Horgan explains how the search to understand the origin of life from nonliving chemicals has given science exactly zero answers.2 The problems are legion: the speed at which microorganisms emerged from the time that earth was capable of supporting any life is pretty fast. It really doesn't give the incredibly complex chains of molecules like DNA or RNA much time to "stumble" into the right configurations to start replicating, especially given the harsh environment and the capacity for destruction even after a fortuitous assembly.

Just what those things were that first came together is problematic, too. As David Berlinkski pointed out, there is a real chicken and the egg problem, given the need for proteins to assemble DNA or RNA and the need for DNA or RNA to carry the blueprint for those very proteins. Even the RNA Word hypotheses Horgan mentions are not immune to monstrous problems, such as the astronomical odds it would take to assemble any kind of self-replicating chain of RNA. That's why there is no functional model at all for how life came to be; there's merely a bunch of speculation containing an incredible number of holes.

3. Where Did Consciousness Come From?

Even if one were to get chemicals to self-replicate, that wouldn't be the end of the difficulty to explain how beings like us got here. While reproduction is a defining feature of life, life has different levels. A plant is a living being, but it isn't conscious; it cannot think. Human beings are known as thinking creatures. But, just how does this consciousness arise from non-conscious material? What model is there for this? Again, there isn't one.

Consciousness is an incredibly tricky thing. A lot of materialists want to redefine consciousness as the electro-chemical reactions happening in the brain, but that makes no sense. Consciousness is something qualitatively different than electrical connections, otherwise we would have to consider that our tablets and smart phones are conscious right now. Consciousness is qualitatively different from physical processes, which means that it cannot be grounded in only the physical. It requires a completely different explanation, one that science cannot offer.

In his article, John Horgan is honest in reporting that science is completely in the dark concerning the beginning of life. Yet, he balks at one workable explanation available to him, the idea of a creator. At the end of the article he writes that creationists' "explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God." Of course, this is as old as it is uninformed. Asking what created the creator is like asking which golfer is going to win the Daytona 500. It's a clear category error and is really Horgan's way of ignoring the only other option out there.

These three problems should offer clear signs that there is more to the world than matter in motion. Science is a field that relies upon observation to draw conclusions. In our entire history, no human has ever seen a thing come from nothing, seen life emerge spontaneously from non-life, or seen consciousness emerge from unconscious matter. It just doesn't happen. So why would anyone think all three happened, and happened without the guidance of any intelligent entity? If you're a golfer in Daytona, you can pull your driver from your bag, but it won't do you much good in this competition. Scientists can continue to talk about these problems, but they won't get any closer to the answer.


1. Teitelbaum, Jeremy. "The Dean and Richard Dawkins." UConn Today. University of Connecticut, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
2. Horgan, John. "Pssst! Don't Tell the Creationists, but Scientists Don't Have a Clue How Life Began." Scientific American. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc., 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
Image courtesy rosipaw and licensed via theCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.


  1. Of these three questions, only the first, as far as I know, is demonstrably intractable. (The Planck time issue prevents us from looking back to the moment the big bang started. Much less "before" that.) What does that prove? It proves we don't know and nothing else.

    The other two questions don't have this same kind of restriction. But your characterizations of and comments on the problems are misleading.

    For instance, you write "What model is there for [consciousness]? Again, there isn't one." An obvious argument from ignorance fallacy, assuming that "consciousness is more than physical" is true simply because "consciousness is entirely physical" hasn't been proven.

    Your thoughts on abiogensis are similar, opening with how we "'don't have a clue'" how life began and offering no positive evidence beyond "Look at how hard this is."

    Yes, it's a hard problem, *perhaps* even intractable. But we don't know yet whether that's true.

    1. All time has done since Darwin is provide more and more evidence that life arising by natural means is impossible, not the other way around. Constantly using the "we don't know yet" excuse is just another evasion of the a Creator. After all, the more science looks into it, the more things looked a Designer.

  2. Please watch A Brief History of Everything featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson and count how many times he said "for reasons unknown".

  3. Oh brother. Stephen Hawking States that Science Can Prove There Is No God Necessary for Our Universe to Exist

  4. If these problems are intractable they are that way for EVERYONE, including theists.

    The idea that theists escape the problem by asserting "God did it" is nothing but pretense.

  5. Even assuming these issues are intractable, they are so for EVERYONE.

    Theists do not escape the problem with mere assertions about some being they assert exists.

  6. These mysteries are no problem at all for atheists. There are many things we don't know. But, we do know one thing for certain, and it is etched in stone: There's no such thing as gods, winged angels, or pointy-tailed demons.

    1. How can you possibly know? BTW most rational people are aware that winged angels and pointy tailed demons are simply imagery of things that don't have visible form.

  7. Filling in the holes with "God did it" does everyone an incredibly poor service. We dont know YET, because we've only just in the past century begun to seriously uncover the origins of the universe. If that day comes, and you dont like the answer, what will the next goalpost be?

    1. Yeah,m I didn't fill in the holes with God. You're trying to do so with :We don't know YET" statements. Inference to the best explanation is not the same thing as God of the gaps arguments. Even atheist philosophers recognize that. I think you need to learn the difference.

  8. While reading the comments here I'm struck by the general ignorance about how logic and argument are used in these types of arguments.

    All of the comments focus on the informal fallacy of an appeal to ignorance. They claim that is what's going on here mischaracterizing the argument as, "Look at what we don't know, therefore God did it." Nothing could be farther from the truth. The actual argument is more like, "This cannot possibly account for this, therefore some other explanation is necessary, and the only explanation that could possibly fit, is what we'd call, 'God.'"


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