In piece on First Things Joe Carter briefly fisks an article by skeptic gadfly Michael Shermer on Big Questions Online titled The Biggest Big Question of All. Joe takes a few brief jabs at the essay and rightly points out its immediate flaw, but I don’t think it goes far enough – indeed, there are many flaws in Schermer’s article.
In the essay Shermer attempts to lay out a sort of overview of competing theories about the origin of the universe. He starts with the idea that God created the universe, and dismisses it as a possibility as “The theist’s answer is an untestable hypothesis” because we are, “natural beings delimited by living in a finite universe” unlike God who is a being that is “outside of space and time” and thus unsearchable. Oddly it is the only possibility he dismisses, choosing to take every other bit of scientific speculation with undue seriousness.
The problem with that dismissal though is that last I checked every person investigating the origin of the universe is delimited by living in a finite universe (unless there are some infinite and eternal physicists I don’t know about) and all the proffered causes of the origin of the universe would be outside the universe. By that measure, every alternative he considers is equally untestable. Indeed, if by testability he means the ability to recreate, measure, and observe the conditions which led to the formation of the universe then indeed all such conditions would be untestable barring some incredible technological leaps.
So his essay fails even on that preliminary basis. But it fails further as he lays out the options – he parses out a series of scenarios that in actuality aren’t that readily separated. For example he considers the multi-verse, Brane-String Universes and M-Theory as if they are separate theories when in fact they are aspects of the same set of theories. Inflationary cosmology isn’t actually a ’cause’ of the existence of the universe, but rather a description of how the universe unfolded. And the ‘Wrong-question’ point isn’t really even a theory, but rather a technical way of saying ‘just because’.
On closer inspection some of the options even ignore logic. For example the ‘Boom-and-Bust Cycle’ idea defies the fact that an actual infinite is impossible – but believing impossible theories isn’t a barrier to atheists like Shermer, provided the theory in question doesn’t allow for the existence of God.
On the whole, Michael Shermer does himself a disservice here. When laid side by side it quickly becomes apparent to anyone with an ounce of rational thought that the idea of God as the First Cause compares quite favorably to any of the scientific speculation offered to date.