People have sought the answers to questions for a long time. There are basically two ways to answer a question, a scientific process and a process involving imaginary events or beings.
The science process does not require any technology. It only requires someone to observe, to make a guess, and to test the validity of the guess. Clearly, this method will only generate answers when the question is about something that is testable.
For example, fire, found at lightning strikes, can be carried as coals in a grass bundle. If your coals go out, you must wait for the next storm and hope a nearby tree gets struck. At some point, someone observed that heat resulted from rubbing a stick to make it sharp. If the sharpening was rapid enough, the heat generated could set tinder on fire.
The other method of answering questions is by using the imagination. Many of the answers generated by the imagination involve imaginary beings.
Thunder is loud, surprising, and scary. People want explanations for events, and stories were told, assigning the cause of thunder to an imaginary sky-god. In creating the story, people gained a bit of control over thunder, as a sky-god might be placated with prayer, dances, or sacrifice.
Thousands of years ago, most questions were beyond the simple science of observe, guess and test. Those questions were given supernatural answers or answers from the imagination.
Primitive, nomadic peoples told stories over their campfires to entertain, to instruct, and to indoctrinate. Some of these stories might be about actual humans, such as ancestors, or about animals known to live in the area. Stories about ancestors could generate pride in the family group while stories about animals could illustrate animal behavior.
Stories of gods and monsters behaving in human ways could teach the young how to behave. Supernatural beings being rewarded for courage or punished for cowardice served as examples for ordinary humans.
As science changed the world, science answered more questions and replaced the former religious answers.
Although science has answered most of the big and little questions about the way the world works, many people still cling to their supernatural answers. I suspect this occurs, in part, because the answers of science require some effort, but the answers of religion require only faith.
In the October 12, 2012, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy Graham is confronted with a reader who challenges the existence of God.
Billy’s reader says, “I don’t think God created us; I think that we created God. People thousands of years ago just made up the idea of God, so they could explain the things they didn’t understand. But we don’t need God now, because science answers all our questions.” You can read all of Billy’s answer here.
Billy starts by giving a bit of lip service to science by crediting medicine for his longevity. He does not mention that science is responsible for his being able to communicate to thousands of people at the same time via radio, TV, newspapers, and the Internet.
Billy then states an old argument for the necessity of religion: there are questions that science can’t answer. He says as an example that scientists can speculate about the how the universe was formed but scientists cannot tell the reason why the universe was formed. He adds that science cannot give reasons for existence, for how we should live, or what happens after we die.
Billy implies that science cannot give reasons for why things happen and that is just false. We observe apples falling from trees and we know why they fall. The apple’s stem supports the apple in the tree and the apple has potential energy relative to the ground. When the stem no longer supports the apple, the apple falls to the ground, reducing its potential energy. Rocks roll downhill and water flows downhill for the same reason. We do not need any imaginary being to explain why things fall or flow downhill.
Billy says only God can give us answers to questions involving why and those answers are in the Bible.
In fact, God does not tell us why an apple falls from a tree. God also does not tell us how an apple falls. God does not tell us how to predict where the apple will be when half the time of fall has elapsed. God’s answers are insufficient even in this simple case. Why should we consider God an expert in bigger questions such as those relating to the universe?
Does the Bible even tell us why the universe was created as Billy suggests? In fact, the first two chapters of Genesis give two differing accounts of HOW God created the universe, but do not mention WHY God created the universe.
Billy does not share what he means by saying that the Bible tells us why the universe was created. I suspect that it follows from Billy’s Christian faith.
The Bible story puts humankind at the center of the created universe and suggests that God has a special relationship with people. Billy and the preachers say that God so loved the world that He sent His only son to die for the sins of humankind.
In the face of a world that seems uncaring, it may be comforting to believe that the creator of the world cares for you. However, the idea that believing in God provides comfort is not proof that God exists or that He created the world. Believing in Santa Claus comforts children but few would argue that this is proof of Santa’s existence.
Life is short and on its face, empty of meaning. Whatever meaning we find in the world is meaning that we impose on the world. By looking to outside authority for that meaning, we give up our chance to make the world personally meaningful. If those authorities focused on making this life better for us it might be okay. Many philosophers have encouraged us to cherish our families and friends for the brief time we have.
However, Billy and the preachers tell us to focus on the next life and ignore this one. They tell us the next life is real and this one is only a shadow. In doing this, they encourage us to blankly stare at heaven while real life is going on around us and loved ones are slipping away from us.
Billy closes his article by encouraging the reader to read the Bible. I disagree with Billy’s conclusions. Billy seems to think that reading about an imaginary being with supernatural powers will lead the reader to believe that being is real. If that were the case, we should believe that Superman, Batman, and Harry Potter are real.
I agree with Billy about reading the Bible. I suggest reading the Hebrew Testament. The stories are much more imaginative and give a better insight into the horrible, human hating monster Billy calls a loving God.
I am currently reading Lawrence M. Krauss’s “A Universe From Nothing.” (ISBN-13: 9781451624458) Krauss is a cosmologist, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His book discusses one of the issues raised by Billy Graham and others who challenge the Big Bang: “How do you get something from nothing?”
A review from Booklist by David Pitt: “Theoretical physicist Krauss, author of several books about physics, including The Physics of Star Trek (1995), admits up front that he is not “sympathetic to the conviction that creation requires a creator.” The book isn’t exclusively an argument against divine creation, or intelligent design, but, rather, an exploration of a tantalizing question: How and why can something — the universe in which we live, for example — spring from nothing? It’s an evolutionary story, really, taking us back to the Big Bang and showing how the universe developed over billions of years into its present form. Sure to be controversial, for Krauss does not shy away from the atheistic implications of a scientifically explainable universe, the book is full of big ideas explained in simple, precise terms, making it accessible to all comers, from career physicists to the lay reader whose knowledge of the field begins and ends with a formula few understand, E=mc².”
If you like what you’ve read here, you can Subscribe and receive and email whenever I publish a new article or you can subscribe to my RSS feed. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can e-mail me directly with questions or comments.
Read all my articles at my main Examiner site.