Don’t Move the Goalposts

Football goalposts on an empty fieldChristian apologists often bring up unresolved scientific questions and usually conclude with, “Well, if you can’t answer that question, Christianity can!  God did it.”  For example:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • What came before the Big Bang?
  • Why does the universe look fine-tuned for life?
  • How did life come from nonlife?

Admittedly, there is no scientific consensus on these questions.  But a century ago, Christian apologists pointed to different questions if they wanted to put science in the hot seat: Okay, Science, if you’re so smart, how is heredity transmitted?  What causes cancer?  What caused the universe?

And centuries before that, Christianity asked, What causes lightning?  Disease?  Drought?  Earthquakes?  It used these questions to argue that Christianity had answers that science didn’t.

Not only is science the sole disciple that could provide answers, increasingly only science can uncover the questions.  That is, the apologist pretends to inform science of questions that science discovered itself.

If in hindsight “God did it” was a foolish resolution for the questions of previous centuries—the cause of lightning and disease, for example—why offer it now?  Why expect the results to be any different?  Wouldn’t it be wise to learn from the past and be a little hesitant to stake God’s existence on the gamble that Science will finally come up short?

What’s especially maddening is apologists like William Lane Craig putting on an imaginary lab coat and ineptly fiddling with beakers and turning dials, playing scientist like a child playing house.  He imagines himself strutting into a community of befuddled scientists and saying with a chuckle, “Okay, fellas, Christianity can take it from here” and seeing them breathe a sigh of relief that the cavalry has finally come to bail them out of their intellectual predicament.  He imagines that he can better answer questions that his discipline couldn’t even formulate.

This reminds me of the fable about Science scaling the highest peak of knowledge.  After much difficulty, Science finally summits and is about to plant his flag when he looks over and sees Theology and Philosophy sitting there, looking at him.  “What took you so long?” one of them says.  “We’ve been here for centuries.”

Uh, yeah, Theology and Philosophy can invent claims, but Science does it the hard way—it actually uncovers the facts and makes the testable hypotheses.  It gets to the summit step by step along the route of Evidence rather than floating there on a lavender cloud of imagination and wishful thinking.  Religion is like the dog that walks under the ox and thinks that he is pulling the cart.

To the Christian who thinks that science’s unanswered questions make his point, I say: make a commitment.  Publicly state that this issue (pick something—abiogenesis or the cause of the Big Bang or fine tuning or whatever) is the hill that you will fight to the death on.  Man up, commit to it, and impose consequences.  Say, “I publicly declare that God must be the resolution to this question.  A scientific consensus will never find me wrong or else I will drop my faith.”

If the Christian fails to do this (or rather, when he fails to do this), he then admits that when his cherished question du jour is resolved, he’ll discard it like a used tissue and find another in science’s long list of unanswered questions.  That is, he admits that this is just a rhetorical device, stated only for show, rather than being a serious argument.

He’ll just move the goalposts.  Again.

Photo credit: Graham Ballantyne

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22 thoughts on “Don’t Move the Goalposts

  1. “Why is there something rather than nothing” is not an unresolved scientific question. It is not a scientific question at all. It is an important philosophical question that each worldview must answer.

  2. Bob,

    We’ve been discussing these issues for YEARS and I have to say you are the most expert goalpost mover I know. Every time an answer is provided to your objection, you change the criteria. The expert cited doesn’t have the right degree. There are too few who agree with the views of an expert who may have an answer to your concern. So an answer may resolve your question, but instead of acknowledging you move on to another topic, to some other rabbit trail. An alleged failure to demonstrate consensus is asserted. Or whatever.

    In this case, the answer is that throughout most of human history, the presumption that God created, that God was an orderly God and that He had imbued His creation with an order that could be discovered was the motivation for great advances. It motivated Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Bacon and a host of others. But no matter how many scientists I can put into a list, it won’t be enough to convince you if your mind is made up. You will likely say that there won’t be enough evidence demonstrating that Christianity has actually advanced science.

    So read any of the works of Rodney Stark, a Baylor sociologist, PhD, author and expert on how Christianity has influenced the advance of society (that is actually his expertise, though you will likely find some reason to discount his views) in areas of economics, science, technology and manufacturing.

    You have provided a straw man argument regarding the Christians in your just so tales above. Can you, using your own criteria, demonstrate that the consensus of Christian responses to your example mountain is what you claim it is?

    Let me know your thoughts after you have done this thoughtful research. Just don’t move the goal posts, please.

    Best wishes,
    Rick

    • Let me know your thoughts after you have done this thoughtful research. Just don’t move the goal posts, please.

      No need for thoughtful research. I already know that I can say nothing that will impress you.

  3. to all,

    The question: why something rather than nothing? is meaningless and misleading. Why would the answer be: because God created everything? After all, the question may apply to God as well: why God rather than nothing? And if God is supposed to be self-explanatory, why can’t the world be self-explanatory in the first place???

    So a better question is: is the universe self-explanatory? Such a question assumes no answer. I don’t think that science will provide the final answer, because scientific theories are never final. Science may challenge faith in many ways, but it cannot prove that no God exists…

    For now, the greatest scientific challenge to faith seems to be the attack on free will. If free will is an illusion, as many scientists claim, then religion is absurd. And morality would make little sense. Life would lose much of its meaning if we turned out to be self-aware robots.

    • I’ve always thought that the defense of free will was simply the observation that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle means that, at the foundation, things are inherently random. Does this not overturn the deterministic view?

      As for morality, we have the dilemma of society’s needs and the realization that people aren’t totally responsible for their actions. Saddam Hussein was an SOB, but when you read about his upbringing, his personality is understandable. Not excusable, but understandable.

      Our sense of justice is a compromise–we can’t make things perfectly safe for society (execute all jaywalkers) and take into account only mitigating circumstances (let Saddam Hussein go free because it wasn’t completely his fault).

      • Hi Bob,

        The disproof of universal determinism does little to support free will defenders. The problem is more that 1) the more we know about psychology and neuroscience, the less room is left for free agency 2) we need a mechanism by which the “will” could control some brain processes and so act freely. Many scientists say that the self is an illusion, an empty concept, and that our will is a helpless bystander that is deluded into thinking that it is effective while the real decisions are made by the unconscious. Still, some scientists hold fast to traditional views. So it cannot be said that there is a consensus (yet).

  4. Rick Townsend,

    You are correct to what you said about Bob. But the reason for his blind presuppositions is he is unable to understand Spiritual things..God has not given Bob eyes to see and ears to hear.. Bob hates God and is driven to self destruct. Bob is in a bad place. Bob is spending his life trying to convince others that the Christian God does not exist. Which is impossible because God has predestined every one He plans to save before the foundation of the earth. And Jesus was the substitute for those the Father gave the Son.. So Bob is wasting his time, as Bob can not unconvert one soul. But what is bad for Bob in his open rejection and mocking of the Triune God , all Bob is doing is making hell worse for himself. Can you imagine every word and blog Bob post makes hell more untolerable. He is self destructing. His articles are a waste of time because they can not change God decrees. There is nothing Bob can do to change God’s predestined plan..Bob can not change one’s person mind regarding Christianity. What Bob needs to do is shut down his stupid blog… Or go after Muslims who practice a theo-political evil religion..

    • BobC:

      Bob hates God and is driven to self destruct.

      I don’t hate what doesn’t exist. What I hate is what God belief does to people.

      all Bob is doing is making hell worse for himself.

      I thought hell was one-size-fits-all. No?

      What Bob needs to do is shut down his stupid blog… Or go after Muslims who practice a theo-political evil religion..

      So Christianity (or at least your flavor of it) is correct, but Islam is not. How do we figure that?

  5. Bob Calvan on November 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm said:
    Bob asked:

    “How about this instead: “God is so pure and holy that his grace extends to every human….”

    God’s justice extends to every human as all men have sinned against God. The worst anyone will receive is Justice.

    Bob asked:

    “… Jesus paid for all our sins, and that extends to everyone. When your mortgage is paid off, you needn’t do anything else to get away from your debt, and the same is true in the celestial domain.”

    False assumption Jesus only paid for the sins of those the Father gives the Son. Jesus is their substitute. Yes the mortgage is paid for those the Father gives the Son (John 6:37-44)

    Bob Calvan said:

    God is so forgiving and good that you can have a perfect Holy substitute pay for the laws you have broke. Jesus can take the wrath of God for your sins. Or you can pay for them yourself. Either way justice will be done.

    Bob’s reply:

    “…Jesus paid for our sins. There’s nothing more to be said….”

    Again Bob falsely assumes Jesus died for every human that has ever lived.. Jesus only died for those the Father gives the Son.

    • God’s justice extends to every human as all men have sinned against God. The worst anyone will receive is Justice.

      Justice sounds fine to me. It works in the temporal world; why not in the world beyond?

      Jesus only paid for the sins of those the Father gives the Son.

      So God created many people who he knew would stumble through life unsaved and then roast in hell forever? Doesn’t that sound petty or capricious or even sadistic?

  6. Bob asked:

    “..So God created many people who he knew would stumble through life unsaved and then roast in hell forever? Doesn’t that sound petty or capricious or even sadistic?

    Like I said the unbeliever is guilty of sinning against God.. And is without excuse, and will receive what is due to him; Justice.

    All men deserve justice but God by His Grace determined to save for Himself a people for His own good purpose.

    Grace can not be demanded or earned by man it is a free gift from God. To those He chooses to redeem.

    Bob said:

    I don’t hate what doesn’t exist. What I hate is what God belief does to people.

    But Bob in his heart knows God exit’s and suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1)..That is why Bob does not attack false gods, mythical gods, He knows the true God the Creator exit’s . And the proof of that is he can not stop his hatred toward Christianity. Amazing how Bob wastes so much time on a God he does not believe in

    I thought hell was one-size-fits-all. No?

    No, Hell is different for each sinner. And you won’t be partying with your buddies. You will be in total isolation suffering for you sins in darkness for eternity all alone. Not a pretty picture, and the more you shake you fist at God the worse it is. Bob is an aggressive atheist who mocks Christianity and his Creator..And God will not be mocked..Bob thinks this is a joke and funny. But the joke is on him..And Bob is also responsible for raising his children to hate God..And we know what Jesus said about that. What kind of man would want his children to suffer eternal punishment?

    Bob asked:

    What Bob needs to do is shut down his stupid blog… Or go after Muslims who practice a theo-political evil religion..

    So Christianity (or at least your flavor of it) is correct, but Islam is not. How do we figure that?

    Yes Christianity is correct, as the God of Christianity is the only true God. By the impossibility of the contrary.

    Islam from it’s beginning always starts with a small group the is very religious and peacful in a community. Untill it finally becomes the majority religion. Than it changes to a political governmental power in inflicks it’s laws. And we know what happens from that. As we have all seen.

    • the unbeliever … will receive what is due to him; Justice.

      Justice sounds fair to me. It’s the eternity in hell that’s a ridiculous affront to justice.

      All men deserve justice …

      Why do people deserve punishment for acting exactly the way God made them to?

      But Bob in his heart knows God exit’s and suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. (Rom 1)

      I’m afraid you’re mistaken (and in no position to tell me what my opinions are).

      That is why Bob does not attack false gods, mythical gods, He knows the true God the Creator exit’s .

      Do you think before you click “Post Comment”? I attack the excesses of Christianity because that’s the biggest religious problem in the US. In some other countries, it might be some other religion, but I don’t live there.

      Amazing how Bob wastes so much time on a God he does not believe in

      Again, I think we’re repeating ourselves. Indeed, I don’t believe in God, but many Americans do. That’s the problem.

      No, Hell is different for each sinner.

      Oh? Show me this in the Bible.

      You will be in total isolation suffering for you sins in darkness for eternity all alone.

      Yep, God’s Perfect Justice®: “It just seems nuts!”

      the more you shake you fist at God the worse it is

      Actually, Bob C, it’s you who must worry. You shake your fist at the Buddhist pantheon. Truly, I worry about your soul in Buddhist hell.

      Yes Christianity is correct, as the God of Christianity is the only true God. By the impossibility of the contrary.

      Until I get more than that, I must consider this argument empty.

      Untill [Islam] finally becomes the majority religion. Than it changes to a political governmental power in inflicks it’s laws.

      And when the Dominionists get their way and install Christians in every part of society? Theocracy is a problem except if it’s a Christian one?

  7. RF2

    Asked:

    “Currently, I have nagging doubts. If God created the world and he is good, why is the animal kingdom so full of suffering and misery? Animals don’t sin, so why do they suffer so much? It’s unfair and meaningless. In nature, preys suffer when they are caught and they probably suffer from fear. Predators suffer from hunger most of the time. And all the great animals suffer from parasites… Life is unfair, but evolution explains it quite well. ”

    Se when you hold to “Sola Scriptura” your questions are answered. I understand most people do not like the answers but that is irrelevant. As God says let all men be liars,but God is true.

    The animal kingdom also lives in a fallen world, God cursed the earth and we have tares in the wheat, and weather, and animal tragedies. These are all reminders of what sin has done to man and earth. When you see the damage of tornado’s ,earthquakes and death. They are small pictures of God’s judgments. God says I will have my way in the whirlwind and the storm. But we also see when God creates a new sinless world the wolf will lay down with the lamb. So this evil world in God’s timeless existence has been done away with,there will be a time with no evil no sickness and animals at peace. Only to be seen by God’s elect.

    RF2

    Asked:

    .Another problem is why do people suffer from mental diseases by which they can no longer think normally and relate to other people? They are made unable to make sense of their life. They live in a meaningless world.”

    They to suffer from a fallen world. And we have no Idea what God ( who does all things right) has ordained for those people. And we do not understand everything they think and what goes on in their minds. Bible is silent on what happens to babies and mentally ill people or retarded people. But we know God is perfect and good. And what ever happens to hem is perfect and good.

    Or you can hold to evolution and that is the way it is in a random world that signifies nothing. Big deal if animals rip each other to shreds? Who cares? What do you expect for a chance universe? Purposeless evil is fine!

    Reply ↓

  8. Hello Bob,

    Thought I’d stop by and check out your blog, and happily enough (in a sense) you’ve touched on one of my favorite innumeracies masquerading as an apologetic.

    Fine-tuned for life? Imagine an engineer walking up to his boss and saying, “Hey, I’ve got a filter here that’s fine tuned for gold. That’s right, I’ve managed to set up a process that produces gold at the rate of 1 part in 10^40.”

    That’s about how fine-tuned this universe is for life.

    As ever, Jesse

  9. Pingback: “God Did It” Explains Everything … or Maybe Not | Cross Examined

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