Does Space Argue Against God?

What comes to mind when you stare into the starry skies? What do you think about when you hear descriptions about the enormity of the universe, or the billions and billions of stars that reside within it? Do you ever wonder how all of it got here, or maybe even where its “going”? And of course the big one: how does all of this relate to the question of God?

No doubt different people will offer different answers to the above questions. But we can count Tim Maudlin, professor of philosophy at New York University, as someone who believes modern cosmology has “refuted” the traditional biblical account of the origin of the cosmos. Though after reading an interview with him in the New York Times I’m not sure that his case is as persuasive as he suggests. Going point by point is beyond the scope here, but I’ll mention a few things.

First, according to Maudlin:

The biblical account of the origin of the cosmos in Genesis, for example, posits that a god created the physical universe particularly with human beings in mind, and so unsurprisingly placed the Earth at the center of creation.

…We now have precise knowledge of the distribution of galaxies and know that ours is nowhere near the center of the universe, just as we know that our planetary system has no privileged place among the billions of such systems in our galaxy and that Earth is not even at the center of our planetary system. We also know that the Big Bang, the beginning of our universe, occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, whereas Earth didn’t even exist until about 10 billion years later.

Hmmm. The opening chapters of Genesis clearly do make the theological point that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creative work—after all the text is careful to describe both men and women as being made in the very image of God. Still, you will search in vain there (or anywhere else in the Bible) to find a passage that places the earth in the spatial center of the universe. And why would humanity’s prominence within God’s creation rest on being in the center of the physical universe anyway?

Nor does the age of the earth, or even the age of the earth relative to the rest of the universe have much to do with the significance either of our planet or us. That would be similar to saying nuclear power isn’t very significant in our world because it’s relatively young—never mind its potential to annihilate civilization or provide the electrical power so integral to modern life. Frankly, Maudlin’s comments here strike me as curious non-sequiters.

Finally, I’m not sure what criteria would constitute the earth having a “privileged place” in the universe, but being the only planet that we currently know of that supports life couldn’t hurt.

Here’s another quote from Maudlin:

No one looking at the vast extent of the universe and the completely random location of homo sapiens within it (in both space and time) could seriously maintain that the whole thing was intentionally created for us.

Particularly in light of the above discussion, my question is simply this: why not? Leaving aside my own view that the universe is fundamentally more for God than us, it’s still not clear why Maudlin feels warranted to make this statement.

I’ll mention just a couple more problematic points:

One thing is for sure: If there were some deity who desired that we know of its existence, there would be simple, clear ways to convey that information.

On this Maudlin and I might well agree. He seems to be suggesting, however, that God hasn’t done this. But that, to put it mildly, is an arguable point. To take up just one example, I might suggest that when a man claims to be God incarnate, is clearly put to death, then rises from the grave to new life, we might do well to give his claims great weight. And if Maudlin wants to debate the evidence for this being a historical reality, that is a conversation Christian believers should welcome heartily.

Atheism is the default position in any scientific inquiry…. That is, any entity has to earn its admission into a scientific account either via direct evidence for its existence or because it plays some fundamental explanatory role.

No doubt many fabled scientific names throughout history would be shocked to find that, far from their faith being the ground and impetus of their scientific advances, it was actually diametrically opposed to “the default position in any scientific inquiry.” (See, for example, chapter 9 of Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World, or chapter 2 in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God.) In fact, playing a “fundamental explanatory role” in science is the very thing that many scientists, philosophers, and apologists—both now and in the past—would say God does.

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