Out of Time: Why Our Universe is More Probable on Theism than on Naturalism

Below is the first part, slightly edited, of a brief six-point rebuttal I presented some months earlier (here) against Jeffery Jay Lowder’s “Six Findings from Experimental Science Which Disconfirm Theism” at the Secular Outpost. We’ve been discussing probability of late here on the Cadre blog, and this touches on probability, so I thought I would post it here. Lowder’s first proposed theism-disconfirming finding is this:

1.The universe began to exist with time, not in time.

Though Lowder doesn’t elaborate (and I won’t presume to put words in his mouth), I think the basic idea is that if time began with the universe, there could be no previous time in which God could have acted to create it. If indeed that’s the idea, it’s theologically na├»ve. With few exceptions Christian theologians do not hold that God is prior to the creation temporally, but rather ontologically. That is, temporal reality derives from eternal reality. Only in that sense of eternal being did God exist “prior to” or “before” the creation of the space-time continuum that is our universe.

But on naturalism, the existence of the universe is a brute fact which simply cannot be explained, especially not with experimental and scientific evidence. To the degree that naturalism is dependent on such evidence this fact about the universe would seem to weaken naturalism accordingly. As Richard Swinburne suggests, the cosmological question is a matter of picking the right explanatory stopping point. But our universe itself doesn’t appear a promising candidate. Why would a universe marked throughout by finitude, causality, contingency and entropy be thought arbitrarily self-existent?

Now I say that the existence of the universe on naturalism is a "brute fact" because if the universe began with time rather than in time, then there was no time (prior to its own existence) for the existence of explanans of a scientific sort. I would suggest further that the above considerations lend themselves to the following counterargument:

1. Either the existence of the universe is explained by something outside itself or it has no explanation.
2. The universe has an explanation.
3. The universe is explained by something outside itself.

This appears to be a valid disjunctive syllogism, and premise one appears uncontroversial. So naturalists would have to dispute premise two if they want to avoid the conclusion. But here's the real problem: Given that naturalism derives from the success of scientific explanation, and given certain basic properties of the universe (contingency, entropy, etc.) it would be a very surprising fact on naturalism that the universe has no explanation. But if it is a brute fact it has no explanation.

As for theism: God by definition has no ground or explanation for his own existence. If God exists at all he exists necessarily and eternally. Consequently it is perfectly coherent on theism to suppose that one entity is eternally self-existent, namely God himself, whose deliberate act of creation explains the existence of the physical universe. And of course a more coherent proposition is intrinsically more probable than a less coherent proposition. Therefore the probability that the universe itself has no explanation on naturalism (which claims physical reality to be scientifically explicable) is low, relative to the probability on theism (which claims physical reality to be the creation of God) that the universe does have an explanation.  Therefore the universe existing with time rather than in time is more probable on theism than on naturalism.


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