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Dear Evangelicals, This is NOT a “Gotcha” for Atheists

teaching creationism

Several days ago, I received the following email from an Evangelical man:

So where did it all come from. The known universe before the bang?

Over the past decade, I have received scores of emails from Evangelicals posing this very question or something similar. Evangelicals think that this question is some sort of “gotcha” question atheists can’t answer; that by being unable to answer this question, atheists show the bankruptcy of atheism.

I am going to surprise the man who wrote this email by answering his question: I DON’T KNOW! No one knows where “it” came from; where the universe came from before the Big Bang. Atheists can’t answer this question, but neither can Christians. Saying GOD DID IT! is a faith claim, as is quoting verses from Genesis 1-3. To quote the great intellectual and scholar Ken “Hambo” Ham, “Were you there?” Ham loves to use this line of illogic when challenging evolutionists and other scientists. Since these learned men and women didn’t observe firsthand the beginning of the universe (and what became before the Big Bang), they can’t possibly “know” what happened. However, what’s good for the proverbial goose is good for the gander. When Evangelicals say GOD DID IT! it is fair for scientists to ask, “Were you there?” If not, then Christians cannot possibly know whether the Christian God created the universe or exists outside of space and time. These are faith claims, not science.

Of course, Ham and other creationists resort to special pleading to defend and justify their beliefs. The Bible is different from any other book, Evangelicals say. Written by God through human instrumentality, the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Thus, we can KNOW who created the universe and when and how he did it by reading the Bible! The problem with this argument is that there is no evidence for the claim that the Christian God wrote the Bible. There’s a plethora of evidence, however, that suggests the Bible is the work of fallible men. Believing the Bible was written by God and is somehow, in some way, a one-of-a-kind divine text requires faith. Deep down, creationists know this, and that’s why Answers in Genesis, Creation Research Society, Institute for Creation Research, and dozens of other groups, spend countless hours trying to make science “fit” the creationist narrative. Faith is not enough for these zealots. They desperately want respectability and are willing to lie, distort scientific facts, and misrepresent science to get it. Yet, despite all their “scientific” work, creationism remains a matter of faith, not science.

Creationists can no more answer the aforementioned questions than atheists can. The difference between Evangelicals and evolutionists (a derogatory term often used by Evangelicals as a label for science in general) however, is that scientists continue to work towards answering the question of how the universe began and explaining what existed before the Big Bang. Science may never satisfactorily and completely answer these questions, and I am fine with that. Not every question — presently — is answerable. Evangelicals, armed with arrogance and certainty, think the Bible reveals to them everything they need to know about life. “The Bible says” becomes the answer to countless complex, difficult science questions. The underlying issue is that Evangelicals need to be right; to have “Biblical” answers for every question. Evangelicals have become the insufferable man at a party who dominates the discussion and has answers for every question. Or at least he thinks he does, anyway.

Let me conclude this post with this: atheism and evolution are not the same, any more than atheism and liberalism are the same. Atheism is defined this way: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. While it is certainly true that many atheists are evolutionists and political liberals, that cannot be said of all atheists. Atheism is a singular statement about the existence of deities. From there, atheists go in all sorts of ways.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar

    I remember the first time I was asked,”Were you there?” I replied,”No, and neither were you.” Did Hambo not think this smug response through before teaching his sheep to bleat that as an answer?

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    Bob Felton

    With two engineering degrees and more than 20-years experience as a consultant in the private sector, few things irritate me so much as some yahoo undertaking to explain to me how science — especially, for some reason, the Second Law of Thermodynamics — proves that Christianity is true. Ignorance per se doesn’t annoy me, especially in scientific matters; who knows everything? But smug self-assured ignorance makes me crazy.

    I’d probably get myself arrested if I ever went to Ken Ham’s ridiculous Creation Museum.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Um, astrophysics and cosmology, not biology, are the sciences where people try to understand the nature of the universe, including its beginning. So “evolutionists” aren’t the appropriate folks to consider here. (I dislike the term “evolutionist”; the creationists have given it religious overtones when they’re not using the ridiculous term “Darwinist”. The experts on the evolution of life on earth are evolutionary biologists and paleontologists. The experts on the evolution of the planet itself are geologists.)

    As to what came before the Big Bang, consider that time is a property of our universe. We don’t actually know if it is a property that extends beyond our universe, so it might not make sense to talk about “before” the beginning of the universe. But this is all waaay beyond my pay grade, so to speak.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Exactly. Many Evangelicals use the word “evolutionist” as a term to describe people who reject creationism in favor of, you know, science.

      I have no problem with admitting I don’t know much about science. Theology/Bible/Church history is where my expertise lies. Smart is the person who understands and admits their intellectual limitations. I tend to trust people who have expertise in the various science disciplines. We all put our “faith” in experts. What’s infuriating is when Evangelicals think if they read the Bible and a few creationist books that they, all of a sudden, are experts in fields men and women have devoted their lives to.

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        The confusion between the terms agnostic and atheist is frequently exploited by apologists to sow seeds of doubt. Philosophically there appears quite a distinction, with terms such as knowledge versus belief thrown about willy nilly. My own take is that the matter can be simplified. An atheist at its most basic is one who doesn’t accept that the hypothesis that there is a god has acquired a sufficient burden of proof. By referring to ‘evidence’ I immediately introduce a route to knowledge, albeit I have no idea what that evidence might be. So atheism is always the basis of agnosticism. Those who claim not to be atheists but agnostics tend to have a foot in the religious belief camp, but if they don’t then they should acknowledge that they are primarily atheists because they are still waiting for evidence. I might say that this is the opposite of the view I once held, which was that there are only degrees of agnosticism.

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    Melissa A Montana

    This reminds me of the idiot on Twitter who demanded to see photos of the Big Bang in action. He wanted to know why no one had filmed it. Since no one had filmed it, he concluded that it was false, and that proved god created the universe. When it was pointed out that no one has ever photographed god creating anything (and that cameras and people didn’t exist at that time) he got angry, said the Bible was proof, and locked everyone out of his account. This is why I don’t bother talking to religious nuts on Twitter anymore.

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    One day I will study physics so I can learn more about how scientists are studying the universe. I am nearly as ignorant as those creationists, the difference being that I admit that I don’t know instead of attributing gaps in my knowledge to “God did it”.

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      Both “Cosomos” series are good starting points. Both Sagan and DeGrasse-Tyson have very accessible books on the physics of the universe. DeGrasse-Tyson’s “Physics for People in a Hurry” is a good starting point as well.

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      Becky Wiren

      I like science and years ago in high school, thought I might be a scientist. I ended up being a teacher and a musician, among other things. But physics is cool and so is astronomy, so I like learning about the early universe and black holes, among other things. There are TONS of great Youtube content done by either actual scientists or educators. One main thing to remember about physics in particular is when you get to the quantum level, it doesn’t actually follow logically. Even physicists get their minds blown by how amazing things work!

      So, you can actually start learning on a simpler level and go to more complicated, or not. Crash Course from Hank Green breaks all kinds of topics down into simpler, easy to comprehend levels.

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    Brunetto Latini

    For me, it’s as simple as the words, a holdover from how I was taught to approach scripture.

    Atheist: no God. There is no God.

    Agnostic: no knowledge. I don’t know if there is or isn’t a God.

    I don’t have enough knowledge to know whether there isn’t a God. I know that the Judeo-Christian God is, at best, morally ambiguous. I know from practice it’s impossible for me to be what that God requires. I know the biblical model is incapable of explaining the existence of someone like me. I doubt that any other human religion is any better, and I have given up looking for an alternative. There may be a God, but given what I know about religion and what I don’t know about the universe, I’ve chosen to live as if it doesn’t matter to my happiness.

    So I think I’m agnostic. If it sounds like I have a foot in the religious camp, I really don’t think that matters, either. Happiness in this brief existence is all that matters.

    People who can be good people and happy their whole lives in their religions are fortunate people. I don’t begrudge them that happiness if they don’t begrudge me mine.

    • Avatar

      You can though, as Bruce suggests, be both an atheist and an agnostic. I am; I’m a-theist in its literal sense: I see no evidence for a God who is involved with ‘his creation. It is safe to say as result that no such God exists.

      Whether any other sort of God exists – one who hasn’t, for whatever reason, revealed himself to us – I don’t know. Therefore I can only be agnostic about a deity of this sort. (I have to say I think it highly unlikely such a being exists and therefore my agnosticism about him/her/it is almost, but not quite, indistinguishable from atheism.)

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    Tim Matter

    “So where did it all come from. The known universe before the bang?”

    This is coming from a person who not only doesn’t know what happened before the Big Bang, he probably denies things we know happened after the Big Bang. He probably denies that anything at all existed before 10,000 years ago. Denies dinosaurs, or anything at all, lived millions of years ago. Denies humans were in Australia 50,000 years ago and in America 12,000 years ago. Believes that there were just 8 humans alive on Earth at one point in time around 4400 years ago.
    Until he admits to things that we know happened before 6000 years ago, he has no right to denounce anybody else for not knowing what happened before 13,000,000,000 years ago.

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      I ended up in an argument, about 10 years ago, on Facebook from a friend from my Christian college that I went to decades ago. He objected to me talking about the Big Bang. (I even considered myself Christian at that point.) But I pointed out to him that there was more evidence for the Big Bang (Cosmic Background Radiation) than there was for creation. He didn’t like that and we’ve never had much to say to each other since.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    If we follow the “you weren’t there” line of argumentation, we can’t be sure of anything that happened before we were born or in any place where we haven’t physically been. That, of course, undermines their claims of the Bible’s authority—or their God’s existence.

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    “Atheism is defined this way: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” I include angels and devils/demons in that. Bruce, have you heard of Fundamentalists who say that atheists believe in the devil or Satan but not in God? Or Fundies who “get” that atheists don’t believe in ANY of that supernatural shtick?

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      Archon's Den

      Belief in Satan, but not God, is like Yin with no Yang, salt, but not pepper, Abbott without Costello! 😯 They come in a matched set. If I don’t believe in one, I certainly don’t believe in the other. An Abbott and Costello skit is often the conversation. Who’s on Creationism? Evolution’s on Creationism. Atheists don’t believe in Creationism. God don’t believe in Atheists…. Abbbbottttt. 😉 😆

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    To people who ask “were you there?” when I talk about the age or history of the earth, I have to reply,”I didn’t need to be, the rocks tell us all about it.”

    “But rocks don’t talk!”

    “Sure they do, you just have to know how to ask the questions.”

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