Are You Smarter Than This Kid?

William is 11-years old but he loses me at about his third sentence on why Stephen Hawking was wrong to conclude there is no god. I know there are a bunch of folks reading this blog who are on both sides of that issue, so give a listen and tell us what you think in the comments.

And please, remember, keep it civil.

Asked during a recent interview with Hellenic College Holy Cross to explain his unusual passion for engaging atheists, William said:

“Well because there’s these atheists that try to say that there is no God, when in reality it takes more faith to believe that there’s no God than it does to believe that there is a God… Because it makes more sense that something created the universe than that the universe created itself. It takes more faith to say the universe created itself than to say something other created the universe because that is more logical.”

So what about this remarkable young man’s reasoning? Is he working from any flawed premises? Are any of his conclusions illogical? How does a human being of such tender years have this level of intelligence?

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland.

14 thoughts on “Are You Smarter Than This Kid?”

  1. Mark,

    Interesting video and there is no doubt that this young man is very intelligent. He is correct to argue that Hawking was wrong to claim the God does not exist. But, Hawking also allowed for the possibility of God’s existence. For example, in 1976, Hawking and his friend Roger Penrose famously asked, “Who was it that lit the metaphorical match that brought the universe into existence”.

    On the other hand, this young man is also wrong to assert that God exists – for two reasons: first, scientific proof requires empirical data. Now, consider that prior to the Big Bang, time (and the laws of the universe) did not exist. Therefore, someone who lives in this universe cannot go back before the unverse and time began and take a photo of God lighting Hawking’s match. In other words, empirical proof cannot be obtained.

    Second, the kid assumes that the principle of cause and effect is always and everywhere true. But this is just not the case: Quantum theory allows for indeterminate causality. In other words, the universe could have come into existence without having been caused. Or, in quantum terms, the Big Bang could have occurred before it was caused! See Nature (News Feature), “How quantum trickery can scramble cause and effect, Vol 546:Issue 7660.

    Great article. Thanks for posting this. I’m thinking of using hte video in my class (University of Montana, Missoula).

    P.S. I’m not an atheist. I believe in God AND I teach biblical Hebrew and Old Testament with a focus on the Genesis creation stories. I also hold a PhD in Tumor Immunology. I claim that a belief in the Judeo-Christian God is, and always will be a matter of faith. Always!

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    1. > first, scientific proof requires empirical data.

      There are different forms of logic, and different ways of proof, than pure empiricism.

      The question the young fellow is asking is, what is easier to believe? That a Creator created the universe? Or that it created itself? He’s answering the question using logic. Logic is logic; it isn’t empirical.

      He’s using inductive reasoning. Same as a criminologist. A criminologist has to look at the scene of an untimely death and decide whether it’s worth pursuing the notion that the dead person died by design, rather than accident. If by design, they’re looking for a creator; if by accident, well, then that’s that.

      There’s no certainty, in the form that empiricism claims to deliver. It’s just a question of what’s easier to believe. I.e., the preponderance of evidence.

      The criminologist shares with the physicist and the paleontologist that none of them can go backwards in time and test out hypotheses with empirical methods. Did Stephen Hawking conclude there was no God with empirical methods? I don’t think so. Like Fleetwood Mac said, yesterday’s gone.

      So you’re the criminologist, looking for evidence of design.

      You find that the dead guy was in his late sixties, had a heart problem, and had a pacemaker. Accident seems likely.

      But then you notice he had a girlfriend and the dead guy left her his estate, $10 million.

      Hmmm.

      Then you notice there was a new microwave oven. A gift, it turns out, from his girlfriend.

      Hmmm.

      Then you discover the dead guy had made his girlfriend his beneficiary in his will a month earlier.

      Hmmm.

      Then you discover the presence of the microwave’s manual, in her car, opened to the page where it said, “Caution: pacemakers may cease functioning when this over is in operation.” And that statement is highlighted.

      Hmmm.

      At some point, the evidence will start to suggest that maybe this death was not by accident, but by design.

      You still can’t prove it empirically.

      But only an idiot would ignore the case for death by design.

      Same with the kid’s reasoning.

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    2. “the “four big bangs” that materialism can’t explain.

      The “Cosmological Big Bang”
      The “Biological Big Bang”
      The “Psychological Big Bang”
      The “Moral Big Bang”

      and no, “Quantum theory allows for indeterminate causality. In other words, the universe could have come into existence without having been caused. ”

      is not the argument. The cosmological argument works whether the universe was created in a “bang” or if it is eternal in some sort of timeless quantum Möbius strip.

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

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  2. At about 2:20, the kid basically says what has always been said of God, which is this: “When we reach the stage of our understanding of existence that we can’t yet explain, that’s when we say there’s a God.” As the centuries have passed and we’ve learned more, that goalpost has continued to move. What we can’t yet understand, we credit to God. The only thing this “proves” is that we obviously have more to learn. Maybe someday we’ll prove there’s a God. This isn’t it.

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    1. What the kid means by what he’s saying is not that he’s proven through empirical method that God exists, but that belief in God is no larger a leap of faith than disbelief that God exists. There is no empirical proof for either. When quantum mechanics posits that quantum theory can scramble cause and effect that’s simply an admission that we can’t find cause and effect to explain what we’re seeing. There can be no causeless effect.

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    2. Rich,
      If I understand your response correctly, you seem to be advancing an argument against a premise no one has made. This premise is the so-called “God of the gaps” argument. An argument to which few serious apologists adhere. It’s a favorite whipping horse of atheists when inveighing against fundamental, literalists.

      Cheers,

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  3. “But, Hawking also allowed for the possibility of God’s existence.

    Always the danger of saying “historical person thought X.” Hawking was soft agnostic early on, but as he got older he more like a hard atheist.

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  4. No proof here. The argument that something created the universe rather than coming into existence on its own is plausible, but if so, what it was is still unanswered. Was it a mischievous puppy swatting a singularity and it went boom?

    The age of the universe is generally accepted, but generally accepted isn’t proof either. A related question is how is it that the universe exists at all? Someone once told me that time began with the big bang. I don’t know if I understood it correctly. If that were the case, there is no way to get from singularity to big boom as state #1 needs time to get to state #2. If one goes to quantum theory and whatever strangeness it involves, one still has the question of what kind of rules allowed this to happen. Those rules had to exist before the bang. No matter how far back you go, the question of how that happened is always there and you go back infinitely.

    The fact that the universe does exist does allow for the existence of God, but not proof of it. This also means that atheists are exercising faith when they claim there is no God, since that is not provable either. Accepting that we don’t know either way is agnosticism. A number of people say they lean towards atheism, but do so without any evidence for it. They just don’t know, but just can’t seem to leave it at that.

    A similar question arises with how life on earth began. Scientists have postulated some primeval soup that life arose from. The paradox is that if they ever are successful, it proves that an intelligence created it, and was not actually accidental. This supposition allows for the possibility of creation being accidental, but any scientific experiment is always done by a higher intelligence.

    This kid is smart. No question about that. He’ll have time to figure out the problems with his reasoning.

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  5. “Quantum theory allows for indeterminate causality”

    That’s in an existing universe.

    I’ve not understood this thinking. It’s like saying you can have free lunch because the lunch truck can show up unexpectedly. The existence of a lunch truck is not “nothing.”

    It’s as if quantum theory is the atheist’s deus ex machina, or non-god of the gaps.

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  6. I’m not seeing the scientific problem here. By definition, science only applies to what is within space and time, so of course science can’t be used to experimentally measure or prove what has to have happened, but outside of space and time. Hawking thought the universe is a cycle of big boom followed endlessly by big bust, therefore it had no beginning. Except that SOMETHING had to set all that in motion originally, so such a theory merely pushes the question of causation back a bit. Scientifically, it doesn’t matter whether our universe was caused by an act of God or by a Genesis device from Star Trek, except that if it was the latter, we still have to explain where the Genesis device came from originally. The word God is how we define that scientifically-unprovable original cause.

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  7. Kudos to this kid for getting so far along, but this old logical conundrum flows both ways. If we concede that something had to create the Universe, then what about God? Who created God? If you argue that nothing created God, then you are essentially making the same leap of faith as someone who asserts that nothing created the Universe. Except now you have added an all knowing being for which there is no empirical evidence, so the faith required is higher.

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  8. The commenter who mentioned quantum physics was right. Quantum physics indicates that there is an uncertainty in the product of energy and time. In an extremely small interval of time, the universe neither existed nor did not exist. The uncertainty brought to the question of whether the universe just happened or whether God caused it to happen from quantum physics (And I’m on the God-caused-it side, Barakh hatah Adonai Elohim melech ha’olam.) pretty much circumscribes the realms of faith and knowledge for me. Kind of rambling here, don’t know if it makes sense.

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  9. Smart kid, to be sure. But he’s on the wrong track, here.

    And, I’m sorry to say, if his arguments for God don’t improve, and if his faith rests on those arguments, he’ll be an atheist himself by the time he’s 20. (At a rough guess. I’m not pretending to prophesy.)

    I’ll do him the credit of assuming that his argument, as stated in the video, is merely an abbreviation: A stripped-down version about which he could offer more detail and clarification if given more time and asked more questions. In other words, I’m interpreting his position charitably.

    Even so, he seems to think that…
    1. All that is required to prove “God” is to prove that something outside space-time is the cause of space-time and everything in it;
    2. That any of the details of currently-accepted cosmology (Higgs Field, “pure gravity,” concept of a “singularity,” etc.) he cites in the video are relevant to his argument overall;
    …neither of which is correct.

    For the existence of “God” to be relevant, the word “God” has to be defined a particular way, and the proof has to match that definition. You need something like personhood; something like will; something like all-knowledge; something like all-power; something like an active sustaining presence relative to all created things at every location of space throughout every moment of time. (Other items could be added to this list, but that’ll do for starters.)

    Now there ARE arguments which show all of these things. Some of them date back to the Scholastics in the Middle Ages. Some of them date back to Plato and Aristotle. It’s in the literature; those who are interested should read any of the several books Ed Feser has written over the last decade or so.

    But the kid’s argument doesn’t hit the mark. It only goes so far as to demonstrate that space-time (and everything in it) is a thing which, at some point, didn’t exist; that something outside of itself must have brought it into existence; that the “laws of nature” themselves are insufficient explanation inasmuch as they are either part-and-parcel of space-time itself or else generalizations from the natural behavior of things inside space-time.

    That means, in principle, that there might be a Cause Of All Things which is impersonal, bereft of will or understanding, and which is only All Powerful in the sense that it can’t help belching out a space-time universe occasionally, but which has no power whatsoever to influence events during the history of that universe.

    Now, again, there are arguments which show the “Impersonal Cause which Randomly Belches Universes” idea to be bogus. But the kid’s approach shows no sign of his being aware of them.

    I think the lesson here is that he’s done a lot of popular science reading, and that’s all very well. But before he starts pronouncing on things philosophical and metaphysical, it behooves him to learn some philosophy and metaphysics. It’s not that hard; he just has to do the relevant reading. Surely he can handle that?

    And if he’s going to do it, he should start soon. ‘Cause before long, puberty’ll hit, he’ll pick up guitar and grow his hair long in an attempt to impress girls, and if he’s very lucky he’ll finish as a factory mid-level manager who happens to know a lot about physics.

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