This is the first part in a series that I will be doing for a few weeks where I examine twenty arguments for the existence of God as explained in the book, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. The first argument that they have is called The Argument of Change. Apparently, this argument is an adaptation of the first of Thomas Aquinas’s “5 Ways.” I wouldn’t know because I’ve never read Aquinas, so I’ll just take the authors’ word for it. I’ve never heard of this argument, and there’s probably a good reason why. I’ll first try to summarize the argument in a paragraph, then give a more lengthy explanation. Finally, I’ll give my critique of the argument and let you know if I find it convincing (but you’re encouraged to draw your own conclusions).
The Short Explanation
The Argument of Change takes a minute to wrap your head around (at least it did for me). In brief, it argues that any given thing cannot change in and of itself. For change to happen, it requires outside forces to interact with the object to actualize any sort of change. And since everything requires an outside force to initiate change in an object, then you ultimately end up at God being the outside force that initialized all change.
The Long Explanation
This argument, in my opinion, is better illustrated than explained (although an explanation is still needed in order to get to God).
An acorn is not a tree. It could be a tree, but it is not a tree. For an acorn to actually become a tree, it needs outside influences to cause the acorn to grow into a tree. It needs water, sunlight, and the right climate. It also has to manage to not be dug up or eaten before it’s become an established tree. . These factors (water, sunlight, climate, and other means of survival) are not present within the acorn itself. They are only present outside of the acorn. If we took all these factors away, the acorn would never grow into a tree. It would always remain an acorn.
The same is true for anything. Whatever it is, outside influences are necessary for that thing to experience change.
A wool shirt wouldn’t exist without someone making the yarn. The yard wouldn’t exist without someone shearing a sheep. A sheep wouldn’t exist unless it ate grass. Grass wouldn’t exist without the sun. Although the potential for the wool shirt is in the sheep, there cannot be an actual wool shirt without someone making it.
The point is that nothing can actualized without an outside influence.
Everything is in a constant process of change. From one thing to another, there is always change going on. Sometimes it’s quick and obvious (like boiling water) and other times it’s slow and unobservable (like the sun slowly dying). The universe is the sum of all things changing. It’s the entirety of the process of change.
Because all change requires outside forces, and since the universe is the entirety of all change, that means that the universe required an outside force is needed to initiate all change in the universe. This outside force is God.
I’ll first say that I find this argument entirely unconvincing. The first time I read it, I struggled to find how this was actually an argument for the existence of God! To me, it looked more like special pleading for God’s existence rather than an argument supporting God’s existence.
My biggest problem with this argument is that it uses individual things that have potential, or organized changes, then switches to the universe (the sum of all individuals), that has no potential because it’s been heading toward chaos and disorganization since the beginning. This is called “entropy.” Entropy is the antithesis of potential—the complete and utter opposite.
Take the acorn. As an acorn grows, it uses the outside influences to grow. It’s molecular biology replicates the necessary cells to turn into an oak tree. We tend to call this particular process of change as maturing. Once an acorn fully matures, it’s an oak tree. At a certain point, it will reach its limit for organized change, and start moving the other direction—toward disorganization. We call this particular process of change as dying. An acorn matures into a tree, and then it slowly dies. All living things go through this process.
Non-living things, however, don’t have a maturity stage. They immediately start decaying or moving toward disorganization.
But truthfully, it doesn’t make any difference if the thing in question is living or non-living, because everything is ultimately in the process of change toward disorganization. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Entropy. As matter is used, it cannot be reused nor can be be replenished. It’s useless. It’s dead matter.
And this is the direction of the universe. The only “potential” the universe ever had was at the very first split second of its existence. After that, physics took effect and it’s been heading toward a lifeless equilibrium, where all matter will eventually be evenly spread throughout the entirety of space. The process of organization that we see in things such as an acorn, is really just part of the process of entropy—it’s matter being that’s being used up on the road to a dead and empty universe.
The authors conclude this argument with this statement:
If there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe.
If I heard that as a skeptic, I would have laughed. Why? Because laws of nature could easily explain the change within nature. What I don’t mean is that the laws of nature can explain the origin of nature. But I do believe it certainly could explain the change in nature.
Gravity can explain why molecules grouped together to form the sun. Nuclear physics can explain why the sun produces heat. Biology explains why the grass grows and why the sheep eats the grass. Those are all results of natural phenomenon. You might even argue economics is a natural phenomenon that effects desires and actions.
At best, this argument tries to point to a god that created the universe and walked away, allowing nature to run its course (deism). At worst, this argument is a version of the God-of-the-gaps fallacy.
It’s not convincing. Thumbs down.