There's nothing in the world quite like a grumpy old atheist. I deal with them every day in various forums, and I can tell you now they're getting grumpier than they were a few years ago. From what I can see, it's fuelled by the gnawing realisation that things are not going their way. A couple of incidents in the past few weeks provide a good example.
There's a man named "Jim" who calls me up on Radio Pacific talkback most weeks, usually to attack my views on this, that or the other. Nothing wrong with that - it's what makes for challenging debate and interesting radio. But Jim is getting rattled, and the other day he lost it.
Earlier that week, the Herald had published a couple of articles on the co-discovers of DNA, Watson & Crick, being largely motivated in their work by atheism and a desire to prove God didn't exist. The irony being, of course, that fifty years after their discovery science now realises just how complex DNA is, and many scientists are suggesting DNA is proof of the existence of God. This news isn't going down well with Crick and Watson, and to dig himself out of his theological hole Crick now makes a living by trying to convince people that aliens created humans. Anything to avoid using that "G" word.
The Herald articles came hard on the heels of a recent Listener magazine profile of yours truly, and this magazine's decision to publish the rapidly accumulating evidence behind Intelligent Design - the scientific theory of origin that is likely to replace Darwin's obsolete Theory of Evolution within only a few years.
All of this was too much for my talkback caller Jim. He'd never discussed religion before, but this time he did his nut. "Did you read those articles on Watson and Crick?" he queried before continuing sarcastically: "Isn't it wonderful that you are so much more intelligent than they are, because you know God? Isn't it wonderful that you know more than the mighty Professor Richard Dawkins [a passionately atheist zoologist] who put electrodes on his head to feel the kind of religious experience that you claimed to have - only he didn't have them? - isn't it wonderful that you are so much smarter than all of those great men put together?"
Before I could rustle up the Bible passage about the fate of those who proclaim themselves wise among men and ignore God, or quote Jesus when he said "And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?" [Matt16:26], Jim's tortured soul had clearly got the better of him. All radio listeners could hear was mad, maniacal laughter, of the kind we used to see in Sunday night Hammer Horror movies starring Vincent Price.
I was reminded of this anguished atheist when I saw a couple of letters to the editor in the Herald a day or two later, criticising Christians for daring to point out that scientists are starting to take God seriously. "The root of the problem," opined crusty old atheist number one, George Pirie of the Rationalist movement, "is that the subject begs the question of what (or who) made the gods, of whom the biblical God is but one of thousands invented by man." Lionel Aspden, the other atheist, struck a similar pose in his letter: "[Your correspondent] David Balchin proposes that science explains how things work and God explains why things are. If he is correct, can he please explain, scientifically, how God works? For example, how did God come to exist?"
It is a hoary old question. "Who made God?" Atheists trumpet the question with a flourish thinking, perhaps like Jim, that they've been very, very clever.
Allow me, if you will, to burst the bubble. Both questioners labour under a misunderstanding of theology, when they ask "Who created God?" It is an invalid question, in the same way as "who made that square circle?" The ancient Greeks, fond as they were of philosophy and chewing over the big issues of life, naturally turned their attention to the existence of the world around them. It became obvious, from looking around, that everything that came into existence had a cause. From that point it was only a matter of logic to deduce that the entire world, because it was "something" and not "nothing", must in turn have been created by "something" else.
It has taken several millennia to scientifically confirm what the Greeks suspected and what the Bible had taught hundreds of years before the Greeks were a glimmer in anyone's eye, but NASA research has recently confirmed our universe is a finite, "created" space-time continuum that began in a "Big Bang" whereupon an infinite universe so small you could hold billions in your hand, exploded out within milliseconds to become the void we now know as Space. NASA has also confirmed, for the first time, that contrary to some of Stephen Hawking's theories, we do not live in a rebounding universe. According to satellite imagery of the edges of the universe just released, this is the only universe that has ever or will ever exist as far as its inhabitants are concerned, and it won't bounce back and forth - it will die. It had a created beginning. It will have an end.
The Big Bang theory has been a knife in the back for atheists. After a century of so-called scientific "Enlightenment" where new discoveries were meant to disprove the existence of God, the more scientists dig the more God they find. And finding out that the universe was "created" has been a terrible blow. Now to have NASA confirm that the universe will only exist once has rubbed salt into the wound, relegating atheists to relics of history where, ironically, they will share the stage with some religious nutters who still have meetings of the Flat Earth Society.
But I digress. One of the key points missed by the letter writers is that when the universe was created by God, so were certain natural laws that humans and all matter and energy are bound by. This much has been confirmed by the best scientific brains on the planet - you wouldn't be reading this unless the laws of physics and chemistry existed, making possible the machinery that this magazine depends on. But interestingly, Stephen Hawking and other scientists are also certain that the laws of Time were created when the universe began as well.
In other words, linear time with a beginning and an end didn't and doesn't exist outside of the physical universe we're all trapped within. Outside the boundaries of the universe, it's a different ballgame. It is only Time, which lays out events in sequence, that requires causation. The concept of "what came first?" is explicitly timebound. Everything within our universe requires causation in a sequence of events over a time period.
But why would God, existing in a dimension where Time is meaningless, need to be caused? He was, and is, and ever shall be. No wonder he referred to himself in the Bible simply as "I AM".
When we make up a cardboard box and, for argument's sake, put a mouse inside it, that mouse is bound by whatever terms and conditions we build into the box. The mouse is restricted in what it can do. We, the boxmakers, on the other hand, can come and go from the box at will. We can reach into it and interact directly with the mouse, even though the mouse can't return the favour of its own initiative, or we can go away and talk on the phone, have dinner, do a million things while the mouse remains unaware of our existence or activity. It knows it is confined to a box, but that's about all.
Now substitute Universe for Box, Humanity for Mouse, and God for Boxmaker. Get the picture? The laws that apply inside our box bind us, they don't bind God. And because science knows that all the laws of science only exist within our universe, there is no scientific reason to assume that a God who exists external to the universe is in any way subservient to the laws of nature like we are.
Perhaps that's why creating the universe with a snap of the fingers, breathing life into Adam and Eve, a virgin birth and raising people from the dead are child's play. For God, it's no more than giving toys to the mouse in the box and mixing things around a little. The agnostic Christian-hating philosopher Bertrand Russell gets most of the credit for coining the "Who made God" question. But like all atheists who cling to their outdated beliefs through sheer bloodymindedness, he refused to hear the rational answers.
Messrs Aspden and Pirie may not like it, but scientists are increasingly realising that not only does God exist but - as Harvard University's Patrick Glynn says - "ironically the picture of the Universe bequeathed to us by the most advanced twentieth century science is closer in spirit to the vision presented in the Book of Genesis than anything offered by science since Copernicus."
It's OK to be a grumpy old atheist if that's what you want. Just don't rely on science to back up your position anymore. The Flat Earth Society is looking for new blood anyway.