A Dialogue About Origins
I wrote this dialogue a few years ago for my book Deadline, but it was nonessential, so I removed it, and it’s never been published until now. I hope some readers will find the interaction between these two men stimulating and useful. The Jake referred to is Jake Woods, main character of Deadline, a non-Christian. I’m breaking into a conversation he’s having with the man sitting next to him on an airplane.
When Jake didn’t respond the man made it clear he wasn’t going to let it drop. “Why would you think there isn’t anything beyond death?”
“Why would you think there is?”
“Because I think people are different than rocks or trees or dung beetles.”
Jake said nothing.
“Well, sure. But so what?”
“There’s more to what we are than a bunch of chemicals and water and calcium. There’s a mind, not just a brain. Personhood doesn’t stop just because the body stops.”
This guy might be a nut, but he wasn’t your basic airplane bore.
“Keep talking,” Jake said. “Maybe you’ll write my column for me.”
“A column?” He turned enough to stick his right hand over to Jake. “Brandon Jurose. I’m a physics prof at Berkeley.”
“Jake Woods, columnist for the Tribune.”
“Glad to meet you, Jake. Sorry to interrupt your column.”
“That’s all right. Sometimes I need some stimulation to get the juices flowing. Keep talking—you’re more interesting than my physics prof was.”
Jurose smiled. “I can’t understand why people find it so easy to believe in themselves and so hard to believe in God. It strikes me as irrational to think that all we are is the product of time plus chance plus nothing. That belief takes more faith than I can muster.”
“Sure. There’s a lot more tangible evidence for creation than random existence, you know.”
Jake stared at him blankly.
“Ever hear of a philosopher named Francis Schaeffer?” Jurose asked. “In one of his books he laid out a logical argument for the existence of God.”
“A logical argument? Okay...I’m game,” Jake sighed, more interested than he wanted to admit.
“It starts by acknowledging that something exists. I’ll ask you what he asked—do you believe that there is something, as opposed to nothing?”
“Well, you know, there are some eastern mystics who say everything’s an illusion. Nothing exists. Of course, here they are formulating a philosophy—not something you’d expect of nonexisting beings in a nonexistent universe. Kick them in the shins and when they feel the pain, it’ll remind them their philosophy is wrong, they really do exist. So, Jake, do you believe there is something that exists, as opposed to there being nothing?”
“Sure, that’s an easy one. Something exists.”
“Okay, then the second question is, where did that something come from?”
“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”
Jurose’s big grin reminded him of Finney’s. “No, you have to tell me. I’ll give you three options, but if you can’t think of a fourth, you have to choose one of them, okay?”
“First option—whatever exists came into being out of nothing. That’s spontaneous generation. Second option—whatever exists has always been. Third option—whatever exists came out of something else that’s always been. The second two options require that something is eternal.”
“I guess I’m a Big Bang man.”
“Okay, but you still have to answer the question.”
“Well, the Big Bang had to have something to go ‘bang,’ right? And I can’t imagine there was absolutely nothing in the universe and something suddenly came into being on its own. So, I’ll eliminate spontaneous generation. It’s been a long time since my last biology class, but if I remember correctly, something doesn’t come from nothing.”
“Your science is right. So far so good. Where does that leave us?”
“Well, what’s here must have come from something else.”
“And that something else has always been, right? Otherwise at some point back there something would have had to come from nothing, and you’ve said it couldn’t. Right?”
“So what you’ve said is, you believe in a first cause, an eternal first cause that didn’t come from something else, but from which everything in the universe ultimately came.”
“I said that?”
“Yes, you did. Now, the question is, what was the nature of this first cause? There are only two possibilities. It was a something or a someone. It was either unliving or living, impersonal or personal. So, tell me Jake, was the first cause impersonal or personal?”
“Impersonal, I guess. At least that’s what science tells us.”
“Really? How does science tell us that?” The scientist’s scrunched-up face told Jake his logic was in trouble.
“Well, don’t most scientists believe in evolution?”
“What scientists subjectively choose to believe is irrelevant. What science—the objective discipline—teaches, is something else. The question is this—that eternally existent source of all things, the first cause, was it personal or impersonal? Forget what you’ve been told. Make up your own mind.”
“The key to answering the question is observing what exists, and deducing from that. You tell me, Jake—what exists?”
“Everything exists, right?”
“Right, but is everything the same? Are there different kinds of things in the universe?”
“Sure. Inanimate things. Like rocks. Living things like plants and trees. Then there’s animals. And people are the highest form of animals.”
“Any difference between a rock and a plant?”
“Sure. The plant is living.”
“Do you think nonliving matter could produce the living?”
“I suppose it had to.”
“Don’t suppose anything. Just answer the question.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, think about trees and animals. Do you see a basic difference between them? I mean, are they just different in degree or in kind?”
Jake paused. “Different in kind. There’s a huge difference between my Springer Spaniel and the elm tree outside my apartment. In fact, there’s a major difference between animals—a microbe or an insect as opposed to, say, a horse or a dog.”
Jurose nodded. “I’ve got a bull dog. I know what you mean. And what about the difference between your dog and your family? Different in kind or just degree?”
The word “family” stung Jake. He hoped Jurose wouldn’t ask him specifics. “Different in kind.”
“Yet you said before that people are just ‘higher animals.’ Higher is a matter of degree—it suggests people are more advanced, but not essentially different than wasps and badgers.”
“Okay, maybe I was wrong. Whether you call them animals or not, people are different than lower animals, much different.”
“So what you’ve said is not only that something does exist, but more than one kind of thing exists. You’ve identified maybe five categories—nonliving matter, living plants, lower animals, higher animals and people. But let’s just go with two categories to make it simpler. We’ll call them nonliving and living, the impersonal and the personal. Rocks and trees are impersonal. People are personal. I’ll let you decide about your spaniel, but it doesn’t affect the argument.”
“Okay, there’s personal and impersonal—I’ll buy that.”
“The next question is, which of our two possible first causes, either of which has to be eternal, could account for all the impersonal things in this world?”
Jake paused. “I’m not sure. Either one?”
“An impersonal source could account for impersonal matter, provided it had the ability to replicate itself and change itself into new forms. That’s highly questionable, but let’s just assume it could. So, given time and just the right situation, maybe some impersonal chemicals could eventually account for the existence of other chemicals, minerals, dirt, rocks, etcetera.”
“And then there’s the other possible first cause—if there was a personal being who has always existed, could he account for all those impersonal things?”
“Sure, why not? People are always making things—paintings, sculpture, airplanes, you name it. So could he.”
“Right, Jake, exactly.”
“So, it’s a stalemate? The first cause could be either personal or impersonal?”
“No. Remember, we’ve got one part of the equation left, the critical part. What about the personal aspects of existence? A Creator who’s always existed, especially if he was all-powerful, that kind of being could create personal beings, right? He could give them the personal quality that he himself has, just as a man and woman can create a child, passing on their personal nature.”
“That makes sense.”
“But what about the other possibility, the only other one? What about impersonal matter as a first cause? Maybe it could account for the impersonal universe, but is impersonal matter capable of creating or evolving into personal beings?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Don’t you know, really? I mean, forget the propaganda you’ve always heard. Forget anything you heard in school or read somewhere. Just think for yourself, based on what you know about life. Is it possible for the unliving to make the living? For the impersonal to make the personal?”
“Isn’t there an unbridgable chasm between the impersonal and the personal, between the rock and human beings?” Jurose stopped suddenly. “Do you have kids?”
“Yeah, a daughter.”
“Okay, is there some fundamental difference, more than just a difference in degree, between your daughter and a rock?”
“Sure. But...with enough time, maybe the chasm could be bridged. Given millions of years of evolution, I suppose anything’s possible.”
“Jake, I’m a scientist. Believe me when I say that time makes the improbable probable, and the probable virtually certain. But time never makes the impossible possible. It’s inherently impossible to bridge the gap between life and nonlife, between a chemical or rock and a living, personal human being. Not in a million years, not in a billion or trillion.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Jurose shrugged. “If I kept flipping a coin a hundred times in a row, there are astronomical odds against it coming up heads every time. But given millions of years of coin flipping, the improbable becomes probable. Eventually I’d get a hundred in a row. But what are the chances of me flipping that coin in the air, and it sprouting wings, then flying off humming the Notre Dame fight song?”
“The chances would be...zero, I guess.”
“But what about if I flipped the coin a million years, or ten billion or a million billion years? I mean, given time anything is possible, right? Eventually the quarter would sprout wings and root for Notre Dame, wouldn’t it?”
“No. I see your point. You’re right. Time doesn’t make the impossible possible. Never thought of it that way. So, where does that leave us?”
“The only first cause that could account for both the personal and impersonal must be personal. It has to be. We must either believe that nothing exists, or that something comes from nothing, or that some eternal, impersonal thing has resulted in creating rocks and trees and people. Or, we must believe in an eternal personal Creator. There are simply no other options.”
Jake paused and thought, then flipped up the top of his laptop computer. “So, what do you believe, Dr. Jurose? I’d like to take notes, if you don’t mind. If I can put the cookies on the lower shelf, maybe I can work this into a column.” He poised his fingers on the keyboard.
“Well, I believe what is the only rational thing to believe. There is Someone who has always been, who was the Creator, the first cause. There has to be. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Of course, none of us witnessed the beginning. It’s beyond the scope of science to recreate the beginning. So, we have to believe some account of the beginning, or come up with an account of our own. It’s all a matter of faith—what will we believe and why?
“For years I went along with the status quo of my profession-I believed in large-scale evolution. Now, small-scale evolution, micro-evolution, is a fact, but I’m not talking about feathers changing colors or necks getting longer, I’m talking about macro-evolution, everything gradually working itself up from primordial slime. I actually believed it, because I thought there wasn’t a rational alternative. But I looked at the evidence, and there was so much that just didn’t make sense.”
Jake stopped typing, looked up and nodded.
“Think with me, Jake. What if we went into the Louvre or some other great art gallery, and looked at all these beautiful works of art—which aren’t nearly as beautiful or elaborate as the real world—and you asked me, ‘Who painted these?’ What if I said, ‘No one painted them, they evolved on their own, globs of paint formed themselves on these canvases over millions of years.’ What would you think if I said that?”
“I’d think you were crazy, I suppose.”
“And you’d be right. Throughout history people looked at the real thing, at the real ocean and forest and flowers and people and knew for certain there was a Creator. Anyone who didn’t realize this was thought a fool, and for good reason. That’s why the Bible says, ‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.’ I asked myself, during my pilgrimage, why doesn’t the Bible get into arguing for the existence of God? I finally concluded, maybe the Bible wasn’t written for fools.”
“You’re saying a lot of people are fools?”
“Well, you agreed with my analogy to the work of art. What’s the difference? It makes no more sense to say the detailed, complex beauties, even the nonliving much less the living, came from nowhere than it does to say the paintings in the art gallery came from nowhere.
“One more thing, Jake,” Jurose said as he put up his tray table for the descent. “You have to realize society has vested interests in believing God didn’t create us. If God isn’t our physical creator, then he’s not our moral judge. That gets us off the hook. We can be masters of our own destiny, reject and violate God’s standards and come up with our own. That’s what we’ve been doing, the last thirty years especially. Have you noticed it’s not working very well?”
For more information about this book, see Randy Alcorn's book, Deadline.