Is belief in God like belief in unicorns?
God and unicorns: A favorite atheist claim is that belief in God is akin to belief in unicorns. But, interestingly enough, the history of belief in unicorns has a crucial lesson to teach us about atheism: It is not sufficient for atheists to merely reject God as an ultimate explanation for such things as the origin of life and the origin of the universe. The atheist must provide his or her own substitute explanation, and provide evidence for that explanation. Bo Jinn comments in his book Illogical Atheism:
“There is the theory that the myth of the unicorn first came about when ancient nomadic people of Europe discovered strange objects washed up along their shores. These objects were long, pointed, conical and had the weight and texture of bone.”
“…The unicorn hypothesis was refuted, because many years later it was discovered that the horns were not horns, but tusks; belonging to a small whale we know today as the ‘narwhal’. The more evidence was brought against the unicorn hypothesis, the more the unicorn myth faded into obscurity. Notice, also, that the nomads were not completely wrong with their hypothesis. The horns did belong to an animal, also a mammal, which died at sea, just as they had thought! It just so happens that the animal was not precisely the kind of animal they had imagined. Rational intuition never completely succeeds, but it seldom completely fails either.”
“The point of the metaphor is that atheists have yet to find their narwhal. They do not have a substitute explanation for the existence of the universe which removes from any of the attributes by which theists have traditionally come to understand God.”
Desperately needing a non-theistic explanation for the origin of the universe, many atheists have resorted to nothing as their explanation. But even citing a unicorn as the cause of the universe would be a more reasonable claim. An relevant excerpt from my post How Atheism Impersonates Science:
In his book Universe From Nothing, famed atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss argues that our universe came from nothing rather than from God. This concept will come as a shock to most readers, since they have no doubt spent their entire lives with the assumption that nothing cannot cause anything to happen or to exist.
The following excerpt from Come Let Us Reason by William Lane Craig hilariously highlights the absurdity of the idea that nothing can cause something to happen or to exist:
Imagine the following dialogue between two people discussing the Second World War:
“Nothing stopped the German advance from sweeping across Belgium.”
“Oh, that’s good. I’m glad they were stopped.”
“But they weren’t stopped!”
“But you said that nothing stopped them.”
“So they were stopped.”
“No, nothing stopped them.”
“That’s what I said. They were stopped, and it was nothing which stopped them.”
“No, no, I meant they weren’t stopped by anything.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
Similar to Krauss, physicist Stephen Hawking claims that, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” However, this “nothing” is space filled with vacuum energy. Here, “nothing” doesn’t have the traditional definition of non-being, but rather space filled with vacuum energy (the quantum vacuum). Speaking of two different things as if they were the same is the logical fallacy known as equivocation. As William Lane Craig points out, Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinov commit painfully obvious equivocation in an interview about their book The Grand Design with Larry King on Larry King Live:
Hawking: “Gravity and quantum theory cause universes to be created spontaneously out of nothing.”
King: “Who created the nothing? Where did the nothing come from?”
Mlodinov: “According to quantum theory, there is no such thing as nothingness.”
In this ridiculous exchange, Hawking is using “nothing” to refer to the quantum vacuum, whereas Mlodinov uses “nothing” in the traditional definition of nothing as non-being.
Please click here to watch Hawking’s colleague, the Oxford University physicist Sir Roger Penrose, describe Hawking’s M-Theory (featured in The Grand Design) as, “not even a theory. It’s a collection of ideas, hopes, and aspirations.”