So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)
What has always existed, God or stuff? I was a college student when I began to think seriously about this question. I didn’t think it was possible to know if God existed, so I began to consider what it would mean if stuff were eternal, meaning that physical matter has always existed and will always exist. Let’s walk that path for a minute.
I found there are several big problems that the “stuff is eternal” camp needed to solve. These are three that perplexed me. The “big bang” theory (the explanation for the current state of the universe and not the television show) is a big problem. According to the theory, the universe had a starting point 16 billion years ago and has been expanding outward since. For the big bang theory to work, the stuff needs eventually stop expanding and contract so that the big bang can repeat itself and continue to do so in an ever-repeating cycle. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be enough matter in the universe for gravity to slow the expansion and cause the collapse. This realization has led to the search for “dark matter” which will provide the additional gravitational pull we need to stop the expansion. It has also led to other explanations for how matter has come to exist. Do we have any proof dark matter exists? No, but I would need to believe it exists because it is necessary to support the stuff is eternal view of the universe.
The existence of life on earth is a problem. The view until a thousand or so years ago was that life was created by God or the gods. No one considered where life may have come from if stuff is eternal and there is no God. At first, the answer seemed easy, life happened by some happy accident when the right collection of chemicals got together in some primordial soup. Life began as a simple one-celled something that reproduced itself and evolved over time into the vast array of plants and animals we find on Earth today. Then, we found out how difficult it is for life to “happen.” Whether life first happened on Earth or someplace else and was eventually transported to Earth by a meteor or alien space craft, science has found the odds of life simply happening are astronomical. Regardless of the odds against life happening on its own, if we want to believe that stuff is eternal, we need to believe that life just happened.
Finally, regardless of how people got here, there is no dispute that we have a strong belief about what is morally right and wrong. It is right to tell the truth and wrong to kill people, for example. We believe in moral right and wrong so strongly we have developed laws to reflect our view of morality and punish people who don’t follow them. This was the biggest road block for me along the path of stuff is eternal. I wasn’t smart enough to weigh in on the continuation of the universe or on the origin of life. But, I lived with moral decisions every day. It became clear that in the stuff is eternal world, what we consider moral laws are really just practices that have developed over time to protect human existence. We have agreed as a group to enforce our beliefs on everyone for the sake of preserving our view of how life should be. This wasn’t even a matter of faith in some unseen thing or occurrence, it was a dressed up version of brute force, might makes right.
When I had reached this point along the path of stuff is eternal, I decided not to make a final decision about stuff and God, because it would take as much, or more, faith to believe that stuff is eternal than it did to believe that God existed. Was it laughable to believe God created the heavens and the Earth and God was the creator of life? No more than believing the universe will continue to exist and life simply happened by accident, even though both are contrary to any scientific explanation.
This is where I was, stuck in the middle. I began by thinking that it took too much faith in the unprovable to believe in God and got to the place that it would take too much faith in the unprovable to be an atheist.
Next week, I will tell you have this has resolved. I hope telling about my journey will help you or someone you know who is traveling the same path I traveled. For now, I will leave you with the question I asked at the beginning of the post, “What has always existed, God or stuff?”