Friday, February 19, 2016

P1 - The Universe had a beginning, a beginning made by God

Acts 17:24-27 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us."

The oldest question in human thought is: "why is there something, rather than nothing?" When we consider the universe and all of life, the question is: has the universe always existed, or did it have a beginning? The discussion the Apostle Paul had with the Greek Philosophers in Athens declares the first and most fundamental declaration of Biblical Christianity, as stated in the Nicene Creed: "I believe in God the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth". 

Atheists and skeptics have challenged the notion of the beginning of the universe by attempting to demonstrate it being eternal. In the opening statement of the 1980's epic documentary on the universe "Cosmos", the late author and Astronomer Carl Sagan states: "The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us -- there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries."

When Paul states in Acts 17:25 "The God Who made the world and all things in it", his statement was to counter the particular philosophical schools subscribed to by his audience. Among the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens were two reigning schools of thought: the Epicureans and the Stoics (see Acts 17:18). Philosopher Samuel Enoch Stumph writes in his book: "Philosophy, History and Problems", page 107, concerning the Epicureans view of creation: "In any case, human beings are not part of a created order caused or ruled by God but rather the accidental product of the collision of atoms."  Remarkably this ancient philosophical school corresponds to modern day forms of Atheism which contend that our material universe is all there there is to reality. 

Stumph then in the same book describes the second philosophical group encountered by Paul, the Stoics, wherein he writes on page 112: "The pivotal idea of Stoicism was the notion that God is in everything." This teaching of Stocisim would correspond roughly to Eastern religions or the worldview of Star Wars with its teaching of the "Force" permeating all of life. For the Apostle Paul, presenting a Personal, All-Powerful Creator who was distinct from the creation and Who was eternal with the creation having been begun by Him would have shocked the philosophers on Mars Hill.

When we think about our contemporary North American culture, both Atheism and forms of Eastern spirituality dominate book shelves and social media outlets. Both of these worldviews assert the eternality of the universe and the non-existence of an All-Powerful, Personal Creator. To acknowledge the beginning of the universe is not just a matter of theological declaration. It may surprise some that much scientific evidence supports the idea of a cosmic beginning. 

In contrast to many atheists who try to escape the implications of the beginning of the universe, the evidence and scripture assert this most fundamental of truths: the universe had a beginning, a beginning made by God.

A simple argument for the beginning of the universe
Dr. William Lane Craig is a world-renowned Christian apologist, theologian and philsopher who has made it his life work to develop a thorough understanding of demonstrating the beginning of the universe, with that beginning being initiated by God. In one of his arguments for God's existence, Dr. Craig offers the following simple argument: 

Premise #1 Anything that begins to exist, has a cause

Premise #2 The universe began to exist

Therefore: The universe had a cause

This startingly simple argument aims to argue that if the universe can be shown to have had a beginning, then there must had been a cause. Now what this argument doesn't address is the exact cause itself. Whatever opinion one may have of the prevailing Big Bang Theory, its widespread acceptance among the scientific establishment includes a feature that many secularists find uncomfortable - namely the the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Whether one advocates Big Bang cosmology or creationist theories about cosmic origins, the bigger picture of the universe having a definite beginning and not being eternal is the key thrust of this particular argument. By acknowledging the beginning of the universe, the contention of many atheists to assert an eternal universe ultimately has no scientific foundation. Moreover, the beginning of the universe also counteracts the viewpoints of Eastern thought. 

Certainly what Paul was advocating in Acts 17 to counteract the thought of His day can be used by Christians to assert the fundamental teaching of scripture that alligns with the evidence of science and canons of reason: namely, the universe had a beginning, a beginning made by God. 

Tomorrow we will consider a second argument that reinforces this first one by demonstrating how the cause of the universe is none other than God Himself. 

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