I just came across an interesting argument that Oxford Professor Peter Millican produced in a speech for the Oxford Union called God Does Not Exist. He was saying that it may be that the universe has some non-physical cause, but if it did, this cause would probably be beyond our conception. It wouldn’t be some primitive God of the Bible, but something that no one has ever thought up. To support this, he said:
“Big jumps in science in the past have generally involved having to think of things that we couldn’t have thought before.” Think of quantum mechanics, think of the bending of space in relativity theory. How likely is it that the first thing that comes to the primitive mind, namely an agent who did it, is going to be the answer to the most difficult scientific questions? There’s no reason at all to suppose that our faculties will be competent to answer that question. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.”
This struck me as interesting on many fronts. First, it seems highly dependent on the meaning of “big jumps.” I suppose it could be true that nobody ever thought that space could bend before relativity theory, but is this really the normal way it goes? Isn’t it the case that some new discoveries have not been way outside the box? Dr. Millican seems to be assuming that the “bigness” of the question determines the complexity of the answer. Strictly speaking, this could be impossible to refute because Dr. Millican can define “bigness” however he chooses, but let us grant the sensible assertion that the discovery of the Pythogorean Theorem was a bigger jump than L’Hopital’s Rule. Some 4th graders can give the entire proof of the Pythagorean Theorem while the calculus needed to even make sense of L’Hopital’s Rule is far more complex. Now, perhaps this example doesn’t qualify as “science,” but the principle seems to be the same. For a more scientific example, one might point to the discovery that that the brain, not the heart, is the command-center of the body. In Ancient Greek philosophy, much effort was spent in arguing about whether or not the heart was the command-center of the body. At some point, scientific consensus came to be that the “brain” was the right answer. I doubt this was beyond the conception of most people. Lest it be argued that this isn’t a big enough jump, perhaps we ought to consider where neuroscience would be if the neuroscientists were studying the heart instead of the brain.
Dr. Millican may, instead, wish to define “big jumps” in science as finding the answers to “difficult questions” in science. Here, he assumes that the question of identifying the cause of the universe is a difficult one. No doubt it is a difficult question if you reject the Bible and assume naturalism to begin with. But, if God really does exist, and if he has revealed the answer to this question, as some other debaters think he did, does the question qualify as a difficult question anymore? So the argument seems to me to reduce to a weak statement like: “since you are expected not to believe that the universe is created by God, and instead believe that this is a really tough question, you ought to believe that it had some cause beyond your understanding. Therefore it is irrational to believe that God created it.”
So, where are we left? If we’d just reject the notion of God in the first place, and reject the Biblical accounts, we could see how difficult it is to identify the cause of the universe. Since it is such a difficult question, we ought not to think God is the cause because difficult questions have answers that we probably have never thought of. Is this what is being said, or do I exaggerate?