Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Is Creation Possible?

In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, authors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli introduce their discussion of the topic of divine creation of the universe as part of a series of questions:
There is much to be said about the issue of creation and evolution. However, here we only summarize the answers to five essential questions: (1) Is creation possible? (2) What difference does creation make? (3) Is evolution possible? (4) What difference does evolution make? (5) Does evolution contradict creation? (p. 103)
Not surprising (to me at least), Kreeft and Tacelli’s answer to the question “Is creation possible?” is superficial and uninquisitive. That is to say that, while Kreeft and Tacelli will of course, as believers, affirm that creation of the universe is possible, they identify no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate such a possibility, nor do they explain what “creation” in this context practically means. Rather, their primary if not only concern seems to be to secure the belief that creation is possible from the charge of irrationality.

They write:
When Jewish and Christian theologians first talked to Greek philosophers, the Greeks thought the biblical notion that God created the world ex nihilo ("out of nothing") was absurd and irrational, because it violated a law of nature that ex nihilo nihil fit ("out of nothing nothing comes"). The reply was (and is) that 
1. It is indeed a law of nature, but the laws of nature cannot be expected to bind the transcendent Creator of nature. 
2. The reason for this is that all of nature and all powers in nature are finite, but God is infinite; no finite power can produce the infinite change from nonbeing to being, but infinite power can. 
3. The idea of God creating out of nothing is not irrational because it does not claim that anything ever popped into existence without an adequate cause. God did not pop into existence, and nature did have an adequate cause: God. (Ibid.)
Needless to say, observing that a position in the field of metaphysics “does not claim that anything ever popped into existence without an adequate cause,” does not suffice to shield said position from the charge of irrationality. The rationality of a position pertains not only to the content of the position in question (i.e., what the position affirms), but also to the means by which it can be discovered and validated as factually informed knowledge. For example, one may hold that the universe has always existed and that this must be true because he learned it from the ghost of King Henry VIII visiting him in a dream. Here the metaphysical view in question does not contend that “anything ever popped into existence without an adequate cause,” but the “means” by which the view was discovered and validated do not adhere to rational standards.

And yet it is context here which is so threadbare here, for they do not explain the content of the position in question, nor do they indicate the means by which independent parties can discover and validate what they claim. What exactly do Kreeft and Tacelli mean by ‘creation’? Presumably the entire universe which we observe and infer to exist beyond our observations, was “created” by this “transcendent Creator of nature.” Thus the universe is the product of some kind of action, specifically an action which is creative in nature. But what exactly is that action, what performed that action, and how can we discover and validate the claim that this alleged action ever occurred? Unfortunately, Kreeft and Tacelli do not explain any of this.

An enormous liability for this view is that whatever action is said to have produced the universe would have had to have happened well before any human beings would have been able to observe it firsthand. Even though anyone reading this was born, no one reading this was able to observe his own birth when it took place or anything that occurred before his birth (distant quasars and the like notwithstanding). Likewise, even according to the biblical account in the Book of Genesis, Adam, the first human being, was not around to witness this divine act of creation that is said to have produced the universe. So no account of this alleged event is based on eyewitness testimony. And of course, no one alive today would have been able to witness it. Far from witnessing it, we learn about this supposed divine act of creation only from other human beings, not from anything we actually uncover by examining nature itself – for when we examine nature itself, we are examining things that are naturally occurring or man-made, and yet the divine act of creation is supposed to be “supernatural.”

Theists are quite emphatic in their insistence that the god which they have in mind is not physical or material. Human beings and other living organisms, of course, are physical existents. And while theists use terms like “immaterial” and “non-physical” to describe their god, such descriptors are unhelpful in that they only tell us what their god is not, not what it supposedly is. This is critical in assessing whether or not “creation is possible” since the creating in question is supposed to have been accomplished by whatever it is that the theist calls “God,” and without understanding what exactly “God” is or is supposed to be, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make progress toward concluding that “creation is possible,” since this question all ultimately hinges on the nature of the thing which is said to have done the creating.

Elsewhere in their book, Kreeft and Tacelli claim that “God is spiritual.” But what does this mean? They elaborate as follows:
By saying God is spiritual, we mean that God is not a material being. To be a material being is to be a body of some kind. But a body is always limited and subject to change. To be subject to change in this way is not to be what one will become. And therefore to be subject to change involves nonbeing. And since to be a body is to be subject to change, therefore to be a body involves nonbeing. Now God is the limitless fullness of being, so God cannot be a body. In fact, God cannot be material at all-at least not as matter is normally understood. God must be immaterial, that is, spiritual. (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 91)
Here we are again told what their god is not: “God is not a material being,” it “cannot be material at all,” it “must be immaterial.” In fact, the authors treat “immaterial” and “spiritual” as essentially synonymous. This too seems to be a liability, not only with respect to what it leaves implicit about the positive characteristics of “God,” but also to negative implications resulting from categorical associations that can be drawn from this. For example, dreams can be said to be “immaterial” – for they surely are not material. Similarly, things we imagine are also surely not material. So “immaterial” – and by extension, “spiritual” – would arguably include dreams and imaginary things. And yet, somehow I would expect theists to insist that their god is neither a dream or an imaginary thing. They want their god to be real, but describing it as “immaterial” and equating “spiritual” with “immaterial” puts it in a category alongside things which clearly are not real.

This blurriness can trip up even the most ardent defenders of Christianity. For example, years ago I read a paper written by apologist Peter Pike in which he attempted to make the case for the existence of the Christian god by reference to the properties of logic (I can no longer access the original paper online; fortunately, I kept a copy and have uploaded it to my website – readers can read the entire paper here). In his original paper, Pike makes the following, very telling point (emphasis original):
When something “exists” it is. Note that this does not mean that we are dealing with physical or material existence. Indeed, immaterial existence also exists. (For evidence of this, imagine a red ball. The red ball you have imagined does not have any physical existence; it exists immaterially. Granted, one can argue that the immaterial existence is based on a material brain, but the ball that is imagined is not material. It does not exist physically anywhere.)
Notice how this Christian apologist, according to what he has himself written and argued, clearly believes that imaginary things are examples of “immaterial existence” and that something one imagines “exists immaterially,” and this is argued to be “evidence” supporting the contention that “immaterial existence also exists.” Thus, while “the ball that is imagined is not material” and “does not exist physically anywhere,” the apologist still nevertheless believes that it really exists.

Whether belief in a god causes this confusion or such confusion inclines a thinker to adopting a theistic worldview, is not the topic I want to explore here. But admissions such as this should give us pause when observing the difficulty apologists have in explaining what they mean by descriptors such as “immaterial” and “spiritual.” And while Kreeft and Tacelli do state that their god is “intelligent, refer to it as having a “will” and claim that “the sufficient reason for our ordered world-system must ultimately be a creative ordering Mind” (Op cit., p. 58), they do not, from what I can find, come out and say that explicitly that their god is conscious. This appears to be taken for granted, for it would be the one thing that ties all these alleged attributes together. And being “immaterial,” this consciousness would have to be a disembodied, or at any rate bodiless consciousness (for, they say, “God cannot be a body”).

But where do Kreeft and Tacelli demonstrate that a consciousness can create any material things? This is essentially what they would be claiming if they affirm that “creation is possible” in a theistic context. They are essentially saying that the universe did “pop into existence” and that their god is an “adequate cause” for this (for it is only when this is affirmed “without an adequate cause” does this view, in their view, become irrational). But they provide no explanation for how this could have happened.

To accept rationally that some proposed outcome is possible requires evidence. Otherwise, we may merely be engaging in wishful thinking. We need evidence to inform our views and anchor them to reality. I cannot realistically suppose that I might win the lottery if I do not first get a lottery ticket just as I cannot realistically suppose that I can fly to Tokyo without boarding some kind of aircraft. All that Kreeft and Tacelli give us is what they call “God.” But demonstrating that matter can be produced by conscious activity is something they do not do, and yet the claim that “creation is possible,” which they surely endorse, would require such a demonstration in order to entertain their claim as rationally acceptable.

What does the evidence that we do have tell us about such matters? All examples of consciousness that we can observe and examine are in nature, specifically in biological organisms which possess sensory organs and nervous systems. Rocks, balls of lint and bus transfers are not conscious organisms. All evidence that we gather from nature confirms that consciousness is a biological phenomenon (see here). And all evidence that I am aware of confirms that conscious activity cannot cause material things to “pop into existence.” I cannot, for example, wish a million dollars into my bank account or into my mattress. I can wish for these things, but reality will not rearrange itself to conform to my wishing, for wishing does not make it so. And all evidence that I am aware of confirms that other conscious organisms have this same limitation: reality does not conform to my consciousness, to my wife’s consciousness, to my neighbor’s consciousness, to my town’s mayor’s consciousness, or to anyone else’s consciousness, even to my cat’s consciousness. Consciousness is simply not a metaphysically creative faculty in the sense that it can bring things into existence ex nihilo. And nothing I find in Kreeft and Tacelli’s book calls this observed state of affairs into question or proves my recognition of it wrong.

One thing I can do with my consciousness, however, is imagine a conscious being which can do whatever it wishes and a corresponding reality which conforms to those wishes. I can imagine, for example, that the universe was created by an act of will, that a conscious being essentially wished the universe into being, thus satisfying Kreeft and Tacelli’s low bar of acceptability, for I can say that this conscious being is “an adequate cause” and therefore point out that my position “does not claim that anything ever popped into existence without an adequate cause,” including the alleged conscious being itself. Indeed, if I imagined the conscious being, isn’t that “an adequate cause” for the conscious being’s existence? The Peter Pike quote above would suggest that at least some thinkers might suppose so.

What I’m afraid I cannot do, however, is reliably distinguish between what theists like Kreeft and Tacelli call “God” and what they might in fact merely be imagining. I acknowledge that Kreeft and Tacelli do have the ability to imagine – in fact, they urge their readers on several occasions in their book to imagine certain scenarios. It may be that they’re simply imagining the god whose existence they’re trying to prove. It would be intellectually irresponsible for me simply to ignore this possibility while accepting the alleged possibility they affirm uncritically. So long as we have no alternative but to imagine the god theists claim to worship, the burden of proof lies squarely on their shoulders. They should not get sore at anyone for asking for actual, relevant evidence.

If any theists who might happen to be reading this know of any evidence for the position that the universe was created by conscious activity, they are invited to use the comments section to introduce it. Simply asserting that it is possible does not serve as a demonstration. More instances of requiring me to engage my imagination will only reinforce the suspicion that there may in fact be no distinction between what the believer calls “God” and what he may merely be imagining.

by Dawson Bethrick


Robert Kidd said...


I've pointed out to a number of creationists that they are equivocating on the definition of "create". They just don't get it. They don't understand why that's a problem.

Robert Kidd

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Robert,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think you’re correct: they are equivocating. Specifically, they are employing a concept (‘create’) while ignoring the duplicity of meaning that their religion requires them to pack into it. When construction workers build a bridge or high rise, they assemble it from pre-existing materials. Here we can validly employ the concept ‘create’ to their activity. Rand summarizes this usage as follows (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 25):

<< The power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is the only creative power man possesses. It is an enormous and glorious power—and it is the only meaning of the concept “creative.” “Creation” does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. “Creation” means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before. (This is true of any human product, scientific or esthetic: man’s imagination is nothing more than the ability to rearrange the things he has observed in reality.) >>

But religionists don’t mean ‘assembling something from pre-existing materials’ when they speak of “Creation”; they mean whipping any and all materials into existence by means of conscious activity, essentially by wishing. Quite a trick! But they never demonstrate that such a feat is possible. Simply believing and/or asserting that it is possible is not a demonstration. And they can’t demonstrate it.

They may point to a novelist’s story as an example of what they have in mind. But as the quote from Rand points out, this involves the use of imagination – and notice how different people reading the same story will imagine the described scenes, characters and action differently from one another (we often hear, “the book was better!” than the film adaptation). And of course, such retorts simply underscore the cartoon universe premise of the theistic view of reality.

No, I don’t expect die-hard believers to admit to the fallacy here. But it’s there nonetheless.


Robert Kidd said...

Thank you very much for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time. I wish I had your gift with words.

I am starting to feel like Cheryl Taggart at her end. I'm starting to feel like there's no hope for my kids' future. It's everywhere. When "existence exists" is just about the most controversial statement you can make, What's the point of even trying to talk to people. I feel like I want to find my own hidden valley and never have to see another person as long as I live.

Sorry, I'm feeling very down lately about the world but I guess I need to buck up and live my life as fully as I can. As long as we are alive we have to keep trying.


Ydemoc said...

Hey Robert,

As far as your dispiritedness is concerned, the following video "WHY I’M STILL OPTIMISTIC IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING by Yaron Brook," might offer a pick-me-up. Here's the summary along with a link to watch. Maybe you've already seen it?

"It’s difficult not to be discouraged at the state of today’s world: our dysfunctional politics, our battered economy, and a culture sinking deeper and deeper into irrationality and nihilism. In this talk, Yaron Brook explains why, despite all of this, he is still optimistic.

The signs of hope don’t make the headlines, but they’re all around us: from the continued innovation of the tech sector to the continued functioning of markets and businesses as engines of wealth and job creation, to the outraged backlash against the nuttiest ideas, to the persistent, gradual rise of Objectivism as it continues to reach more people and change more lives.

Recorded live as part of the Objectivist summer conference on July 7, 2022."



Robert Kidd said...


Thank you very much for the link. I have watched many of Yaron's vids and I like him very much. He's a real role model. I don't believe I've watched that one yet, though. So, I appreciate it.

I'm just feeling down. I go through periods like this and places like this blog are an immense help. I'm surrounded by concrete-bound people. I have no one to talk to. I see what's happening and know why it's happening and know what the answer is but that answer is almost universally rejected. Not just rejected, but despised.

But like John Galt, the pain only goes down so far. It can't get past Objectivism. It used to really get to me but then someone gave me a copy of Atlas Shrugged many years ago and I feel like it saved me. I've got it on my iPod and when I'm feeling down I listen to my favorite parts again and again. I watch videos by Yaron and Harry Binswanger and other objectivists and get a recharge.


Robert Kidd

Robert Kidd said...

Hi Dawson,

Thank you very much for your comments. I hope I didn't upset you too much.

My situation is that I see what's coming, and I mean within the next year, and I know that I will not be able to comply. I'm speaking of a central bank digital currency and a social credit system. It's a red line in the sand. I know why it's happening and I know that the solution is so very hard for people because it means questioning their moral code.

I appreciate your offer to vent any time here but I'm OK. I'll get over my funk and be back to being happy again because I have the strength that comes from knowing that reality is on my side. I'm not in the dark like I was up until my early 20s and someone gave me a copy of Atlas shrugged. It was a moment of weakness and it won't happen again.

I know that you don't write for our sake but your own but you have no idea how important this blog is to me. Just knowing that I'm not alone helps a great deal, so thank you for your selfish endeavors.

Happy writing,

Robert Kidd

Bahnsen Burner said...

You’re most welcome, Robert!

What you describe is all very worrisome. In many ways, I think we’re already there. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I actually paid cash for anything. It is all electronic now. Life in the western world automatically presumes that everyone has some kind of 5G smartphone, which plays into the ubiquitous surveillance state we live in now. All our movements, transactions, even thoughts, are now trackable. I have more passwords than I know what to do to manage them. We are in an information war, and it’s hard not to suppose that most people around us have been lulled into passivity and ready compliance, captivated by the latest distraction. The daily headlines only stoke more fears: inflation out of control, massive unemployment right around the corner, a winter with increased energy scarcity, brewing tensions with Russia, China threatening Taiwan, possibly a civil war in Brazil now, while here at home our medical institutions are being weaponized, the IRS is now doubling in size, and HR departments are spawning DEI committees and pronoun police. Everything in the public spheres is backwards and turned upside down, and we’re supposed to remain silent. We are also supposed to fear imaginary things while at the same time we’re supposed ignore very real threats to our lives. Whatever we face in the future, whether near or distant, it require immense courage on the part of those who have any glimmer of what’s going on around us. Virtually every pronouncement from political leaders these days translates into some form of “you’re guilty for existing, now pay your fair share.” Pay for what? For more government, of course. It’s civilization versus centralization. I would say ‘take your pick’, but centralization does not offer an opt-out clause.

You wrote: “I see what's happening and know why it's happening and know what the answer is but that answer is almost universally rejected. Not just rejected, but despised.”

That’s pretty much where I’ve been going on 30 years now. I could not sit on what I had learned. I had to act in some way. I have sensed a moral urgency to reach other minds somehow. But I’ll never be able to compete with flashy video games, TV reruns, sporting events, titty bars, etc. And I’m at peace with that. If it’s true that the internet is forever, then my writings will likely survive me.


Robert Kidd said...

Thank you, Dawson,

Yes, I think we are 90% there. We still can use cash but they are starting to limit it. I think the UK just did away with 50 and 100-euro notes, Italy just implemented their own social credit system and the UK seems primed to. Their new Prime Minister is a fan of the Chinese social credit system. That is already mostly in place in the US with all the coordination between big tech and the government. The IRS and yes I agree the health care system has been weaponized. I feel so much anger toward my fellow Americans- even the so-called conservatives- that I can barely contain it sometimes.

Although we can still use cash, just try carrying more than a couple hundred dollars worth or try to withdraw large amounts from the bank. Get reported to the IRS and who knows who else. I say that the central bank digital currency and cashless society combined with some form of social credit system are the red lines in the sand because then they will have total control over all of us.

I think the whole pandemic lockdown, mask mandates, and vaccine mandates were a test to see how compliant the population would be. Very distressing indeed.

Fortunately, I have a comprehensive and true set of principles to guide me and I've already decided what I'll do if this happens. It's just that doing it will be the hardest thing I've ever faced.

Supposedly, there is a new quantum financial system up and running alongside our current system and a new gold, silver, and platinum-backed currency ready when this current system implodes. I have no way of verifying this, however.

I too feel that I can't sit back and just watch so I try to talk with people but it is so disheartening. It's very hard to get anyone to discuss deep philosophical issues at all. When I see what people believe and how they react to the ideas I present it seems insurmountable. Maybe if we go through a horrible period of time people will be more receptive. Or maybe they'll double down on the same ideas that have led us to where we are. We are seeing the result of over a hundred years of progressive education. I saw it firsthand when my kids were in school. Wow, the nonsense they would come home with! I battled it every day.

Well, I want to thank you and Ydemoc for taking the time to respond. I eagerly look forward to your next article.

Good evening.

Robert Kidd

Ydemoc said...

Dawson and Robert,

You're both welcome! I'm glad I could contribute a little something of substance to your blog, Dawson, and to you, Robert, after such a long dry spell on my part.

Hope it helps!