Centuries ago people used to wonder what it was that caused that loud, booming noise just after a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky – a noise which, today, we call ‘thunder’.
The most honest answer to that question then would have been ‘I don’t know’. But since ‘I don’t know’ was not sufficient to assuage the fears and anxieties of those that were terrified of that strange booming noise from the skies, an answer was invented that attempted to placate the fearful and the curious:
“That noise is made by a god high up in the clouds!”
A comparison can be drawn between the question of the origin of the universe, and the question of what might be the cause of thunder. Of course, today, we know what causes thunder. Thunder is a sonic shockwave resulting from the sudden increase in air pressure and temperature from lightning. Such an explanation would of course have been beyond the scope of the ancients to investigate let alone comprehend. Thunder, thus, fell within the realm of things that ‘gods’ were responsible for making (various cultures had different gods to whom they attributed thunder).
Those in antiquity who chose not to believe that gods were responsible for thunder went to their graves without ever having found out the real cause of thunder, since that answer was to be found several centuries later. The ones who thought it was the gods responsible for thunder must have lived the rest of their lives content – convinced that they had the answer to the question of what caused thunder – yet, once we had the tools to investigate the phenomenon, it turned out they were WRONG.
Scientists and people who think scientifically prefer to not make assumptions about the answer to the question of the universe’s origin until sufficient evidence is found that might point to a verifiable explanation. In other words, they’d rather not jump to the conclusion that Thor, or whichever manufactured magical entity, is responsible. It is quite possible, in fact – likely, that the answer to this question will not be discovered during our lifetimes. But just because this may be so, it does not mean therefore whatever other suggestion someone comes up with is right by default. They bear the burden of proof to show that their suggestion is valid, and provide evidence to support it.
It is the contention of many atheists that the evidence so far presented by theists (believers in any form of god) has been insufficient to prove the claim that a god is responsible for the origin of the universe, let alone exists.
In Part 2, we will look at how far modern science has gone in trying to understand the question of the origin of the universe.