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Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 11, 2024 12:01 am


Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 11, 2024 12:01 am

Many people who deny the existence of God conclude that the universe must have somehow brought about its own existence. Today, R.C. Sproul demonstrates the absurdity of self-creation.

Get R.C. Sproul's Teaching Series 'Defending Your Faith' on DVD and the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount:

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

Meet the Host:

Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

When we look at the idea of self-creation, it's manifestly absurd because for something to create itself, to be an effect that is its own cause, to create itself, it would have to exist before it existed. Where do we come from? Where did the universe come from? I grew up believing in the big bang, that one day nothing became something all by itself.

And as you just heard from R.C. Sproul, believing in the self-creation of the universe is manifestly absurd. But why? And could you explain why to your unbelieving neighbour? This is the Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries, and I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. As Dr. Sproul continues to help us this week become better apologists, those who can give a defence of the Christian faith, he's talking through and responding to some of the ways philosophers and others have sought to explain reality. And today's explanation, which is still held by people, is the idea of self-creation, and it's much easier to refute than you might think.

Here's Dr. Sproul. We're going to continue now with our study of defending the faith, and we've been looking at the possible alternatives to account for reality as we encounter it. And you will recall we listed the four principal arguments to account for the universe as we know it, the first one being illusion, the second one being self-creation, the third was self-existence, and the fourth was creation by something that is self-existent ultimately. So we notice again that three and four both have the idea of self-existent being in their premise, and we'll get to that later. But the first two are two that we have to deal with before we come to three and four, and we've already eliminated that one, making use of course of the Cartesian manner of reasoning to a knowledge of the self. And now we come in our study to the second one, which is not the only alternative that atheists offer to full-bodied theism, but certainly the most frequent alternative proffered by opponents of theism. Now it's rare indeed that somebody will come right out and say that the universe is self-created, but I'm using this as a generic principle under which we assume several different types of self-creation, that even though people won't say that that's what they mean, the concept may fairly be defined as an idea of self-creation. Let me illustrate that in a few ways.

Before I look at variations on this theme, let me take a moment first to look at it as I've written it. The idea of self-creation is a concept that we say in philosophy is analytically false. That is, it is false by definition.

Again, I remind you that at the beginning we looked at those principles of knowledge, the principles of epistemology that were crucial for understanding truth of any sort, and I said principles that we ought never to negotiate as theists because those who reject theism along the line will reject one or more of those principles of knowledge, such as the law of non-contradiction, the law of causality, and so on. Now when we look at the idea of self-creation, it's manifestly absurd because because for something to create itself, to be an effect that is its own cause, to create itself, it would have to exist before it existed. Or to put it another way, to create itself, it would have to be before it was. Or to state it one more way, that would mean that something would have to be and not be at the same time and the same relationship, which clearly violates the law of non-contradiction and puts this idea into the level of pure irrationality and absurdity. Again, for something to create itself, it would have to antedate itself. It would have to be before it was. Does everybody understand that?

All right. So the idea of self-creation is by logical analysis a false premise. Now let me just, before we continue, make a comparison and contrast between this concept here of self-creation and the concept here in number three of self-existence. To say that something is self-existent is to say it is eternal, and it has the power of being within itself, that is, it's uncreated. Now rationally, in terms of logic, there is nothing absurd or irrational contained in the idea of self-existence or eternal existence. That is at least, as we will see later in more detail, a rational possibility, because it violates no law of reason. It violates no law of logic to speak of something's being self-existent. But to speak of its being self-created, on the other hand, does violate rationality and the laws of logic because it violates the law of non-contradiction, as I've just said.

So I'm suggesting to you that nothing can be self-created. I think I may have already used the illustration of the two children that were arguing about the origin of things and the story. And one of the little boys said to the other, where did the trees come from? And the boy said, God made the trees. Well, where did the grass come from? God made the grass.

Well, where did you come from? God made me. Well, then where did God come from? And the profound answer the little boy gives is that God made Himself.

That may sound fun, but it is not sound. That is, even God could not make Himself. Then even God would have to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship, and manifestly, even He does not have that ability to be and not be at the same time and the same relationship. Hamlet understood the options, to be or not to be.

I mean, he can't have it both ways, at the same time and in the same relationship. Well, again, let's look then at how different theories of self-creation have been articulated in the past. One of the most widespread attempts to use the concept of self-creation as a substitute for the notion of creation of the universe by a self-existent, eternal being took place during the Enlightenment, where even though the Enlightenment movement was not monolithic in its premises, some of the Enlightenment thinkers were theists, some were not.

But in the French encyclopedist movement, people like Diderot, for example, and de Holbach, argued vociferously against the existence of God. And for them, the chief principle of aufplauung, or of enlightenment that swept through Europe, was the idea that now, with the advent of modern science of the 18th century, the God hypothesis was deemed no longer necessary in order to explain or to account for or to provide a sufficient cause for the universe. And the encyclopedist, for example, argued that in place of the God hypothesis, which former generations believed was a rational necessity, a logical necessity to account for reality as we encounter it, now that can be released with impunity, because now we know, said the French encyclopedist, that material things in the universe come into being through what is called spontaneous generation. Spontaneous generation. Now, spontaneous generation means that things simply begin on their own, suddenly, without any developmental period that they come into being. And the idea came to pass where people would go out and they would see mud puddles that had happened overnight in the street, and they'd look down in the mud puddles, and they'd see tiny little fish eggs or tadpoles, and they'd say, well, look what's happened here in this mud puddle.

Life is just coming spontaneously out of the mud puddle, not analyzing what was going on with birds carrying things and dropping them in the mud and so on, that the causes for the origin that the causes for the origin of the tadpoles were not visible to the naked eye. And so there was a period of time in history where people believed that ex nihilo things came on their own. That is, the fundamental law of science was ignored, ex nihilo nihil fit.

Let me write that down. Ex nihilo nihil fit. Out of nothing, nothing comes. And the reason why you have this axiomatic premise in science that out of nothing, nothing comes is because the scientist understands that out of nothing, nothing can come. It doesn't come because it cannot come. Nothing doesn't produce something because nothing can produce something.

And we'll look at that again more fully in a little while. But this principle was challenged in the Enlightenment with this concept of spontaneous generation. Things just pop into existence on their own. Now, I remember as a young person going to high school, listening to our science professors belittle these former principles of spontaneous generation and telling us that nobody believed in spontaneous generation anymore. I don't think they were quite accurate in their assessment of what people were saying because there are still widespread pockets of belief in some form of spontaneous generation. But what our science professors were trying to teach us in school was that this idea that grew into prominence in the 18th century for things just coming into existence by themselves has been debunked.

It should have been debunked the minute it was uttered because it involved a logical impossibility from the outset. But I remember, to my astonishment, a few years ago reading an essay written by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist from the West Coast on this concept of spontaneous generation. And he said, we have come to the place now in modern science where we can no longer affirm the concept of spontaneous generation. And he went on to say that reality cannot be generated by itself spontaneously. And we have to replace that concept of spontaneous generation with a more refined and sophisticated scientific idea, which he defined as, and I kid you not, gradual spontaneous generation.

And I read that, and I laughed, but I said, wait a minute, this man holds a Nobel Prize in science. This is a very learned man here, and he's talking nonsense like this. And sometimes the more learned you are, the easier it is for you to get away with nonsense statements—gradual spontaneous generation. In other words, if you're going to get away with spontaneous generation, in other words, you can't get something out of nothing quickly. It takes time. You have to wait for it in the evolutionary process for this nothing to yield something.

It might take eons and eons, but if you have enough patience, sooner or later, you're going to be able to navigate itself. Again, at this point, here is where the philosopher and the scientist butt heads, because at this point, the scientist has left half of the scientific method back in the laboratory someplace. Or when he parked his car in the parking lot, he took half of the scientific method, the empirical half, the inductive half with him, side, back in the car or in the trunk. And he needs to go back and open up the trunk and look at these statements that butcher rationality—gradual spontaneous generation. Now, if somebody says to me, nobody really believes in self-creation, gradual spontaneous generation or just spontaneous generation brings to mind the old axiom, a rose by any other name.

It still arose. If you analyze these concepts of spontaneous generation, what you find is a sophisticated attempt to articulate this idea of self-creation. When the Hubble spacecraft was launched as an important scientific enterprise by the United States of America, there was a radio broadcast that day in which a very prominent and famous astrophysicist was quoted as talking about the significance of now increasing our understanding of outer space and changing the horizons by virtue of this new technology. And he went on to explain how the beginnings of the universe took place in his judgment 15 to 18 billion years ago, he said, when the universe exploded into being. Now, here's a case where the astrophysicist used language that language that was heavily conditioned by philosophy.

The word being is a word that is filled with philosophical content. And he talked about the origin of the universe. He put a time frame on it 15 to 18 billion years ago. The universe exploded. Now, he didn't say the universe exploded into its present form, which would be one thing.

It's one thing to say that prior to 15 to 18 billion years ago, the universe was in one form. It existed. It was real. There was substance there. It had being. And then it changed dramatically with the Big Bang or so, 15 to 18 billion years ago. That's one thing. But this physicist used the word exploded into being.

And I found that curious. I thought, what do you mean exploded into being? What was it before the explosion?

Was it the opposite of being, the antithesis of being, which in philosophical categories is non-being, which is a synonym for nothing. So now we have what it takes is not just time, but it takes an enormous explosion for something to come out of nothing. And if you go back far enough in time, 18 billion years perhaps, you can find this great explosion where reality comes into being from non-reality. That, ladies and gentlemen, is philosophical nonsense.

That is sheer irrationality. And I suspect that if I had the opportunity to interview the physicist who made that statement, he would be quick—I'm convinced he would be, I hope he would be—quick to say, I misspoke. I meant to say that there was a present or previous state of being that changed at the time of the great explosion, but I don't mean to suggest that the explosion came from nothing into something. I hope and trust that that's what the physicists would say if we had the opportunity to interview him and that he, just like any other scholar, is capable of saying things on the spur of the moment without thinking them through.

But you pay attention to the verbiage of people who are as prominent as this particular astrophysicist was. So we see spontaneous generation gradually gradual spontaneous generation, universes exploding into being, but far and away the most frequent form of self-creation that we meet in the modern culture is the idea of creation by chance, namely that the universe comes into being through some power attributed to chance. Usually the formula goes space plus time plus chance. Now I don't have time in today's lecture to explore that particular aspect of self-creation, and because it is used so widely and so frequently, I want to address it in a separate lecture. I've written a whole book on it entitled Not a Chance and see how this relates particularly to modern concepts of quantum mechanics and physics and so on, which theories tend to teach us that at the subatomic level actually we have scientific evidence of things coming into being out of nothing based upon the Heisenberg indeterminacy principle and some other theories set forth by Niels Bohr and others.

And so we'll look at that more closely in our next lecture. But just to recapitulate again today, what we're doing is we're seeing four possibilities to explain the presence of anything. Remember the oldest question in philosophy and in science is the question, why is there something rather than nothing? And I've tried to labor the point to you that I want you to think about if there ever was a time when there was nothing, absolute nothingness, no God, no matter, no nothing, what could there possibly be now?

If there ever was a time when there was absolutely nothing, the only way you could go to try to explain the presence of something would be through some kind of self-creation, something coming out of nothing by itself, which is a task I wouldn't assign to God, to gremlins, or to a scientist, or to an amino acid, or to anything to create itself. That was R.C. Sproul on this Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Did you follow today's argument and take good notes? Well, you can go back and re-review today's message and work through this lesson in the study guide when you give a donation of any amount at or when you call us at 800 435 4343. To thank you for fueling this listener-supported outreach, we'll send you the entire 32-message series on DVD plus give you lifetime digital access to the messages and study guide. So click the link in the podcast show notes or visit I've mentioned this before, but all of Ligonier's ministry partners have access to this complete series right now and hundreds of others.

So if you'd like to become a ministry partner and help spread trusted teaching to the nations and receive exclusive benefits like complete access to our teaching series library, please click give monthly when you respond to today's offer at and learn about this program and the wonderful people who are a part of it. Here's a preview of tomorrow's episode. Chance has no being. Chance is not a thing that operates and works upon other things. It is simply a mental concept that refers to mathematical possibilities, but in and of itself has no ontology. It has no being. So how do you respond to someone who says the universe came into existence by chance? Join us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-11 02:55:25 / 2024-06-11 03:03:06 / 8

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