THE SHORTEST LEAPNovember 11, 2002
Christians often attempt to defend their belief in the unproven claims of the Bible by arguing that since atheists haven't proved their god doesn't exist, atheists take just as big a leap of faith as they have. Here's a simple thought experiment you can to which demonstrates why it takes LESS of a leap to reject an unproven claim than to accept it.
Imagine that I have a cardboard box, 1' x 1' x 1' in size. And you guess that it contains a live baby chipmunk. How could we determine the ODDS that your guess is correct?
To start, we'd need to compile a list of all the things that can fit inside 1' cube cardboard boxes.
We could leave out anything that you KNOW isn't in there (for example, the shirt that you are wearing). We could also leave out anything that we know to be non-existent, like the real Luke Skywalker's actual lightsabre.
Even cutting as many corners as possible, it's going to be an extremely long list. And we're not even counting all the things in the universe that might fit, but we've never even heard of.
For sake of argument, let's say it has 1 million entries on it (though if you think about it, there are very likely MORE than a million different things that can fit in a 1' space). But let's say a million.
Now how many of those million things are live baby chipmunks? The answer is: one in a million. And so that is the odds that your guess is correct: one in a million. So it's clear that in this thought experiment it takes much more of a leap to believe your guess than it does to reject it.
Is the question of God's existence similar enough to the question "what's in the box" to make this thought experiment apt? The answer is yes.
Christian theologians try to improve their odds by dishonestly trimming down the list of alternatives, or by dishonestly re-defining the Christian god so that he won't get trimmed from anybody else's list.
Generally speaking, conservative theologians brush off the god claims of all other religions as if they were irrelevant (despite the fact that nobody ever proved that Osiris, Thor, Kuan-Yin, Allah, etc. don't exist, either), while liberal theologians claim that "all gods are the same god". The goal shared is to trim the choices down to TWO: "he either exists or he doesn't", so that they can claim at least a 50/50 change of being right.
The other thing they BOTH do is incrementally deprive their god of characteristics which earlier Christians attributed to him, but which now no longer fit. Christians used to believe that God lived in a Heaven that was in the sky within our own universe, but now (due to the evidence gathered by telescopes) they've moved him off into another plane of existence. This would be like a person who claimed that the box contained a bowling ball - and then when the box is weighed and found to be too light, they claim they meant it was a styrofoam bowling ball all along. Changing your guess while claiming it's still the same guess (the way that Christians claim they're still talking about the same god, even though they've changed so many of the details of his description) is CHEATING.
In fact, the Christian god is only one entry on a long list of creator gods of all the religions that ever existed (hundreds, if not thousands), not to mention alternatives such as "the universe was created by intelligent aliens", "the universe is an illusion", several competing formulations of Big Bang cosmology, and an indeterminate number of other possibilities that nobody ever thought of yet.
The only fair and honest way to figure out these mysteries is to give each possibility a fair hearing, and then if it turns out to violate the evidence - or to have no evidence in its favor in the first place - you strike it from the list. What's left is worthy of serious consideration. This process is called science, and this is why the Big Bang theory trumps Creationism. It's not that it's impossible that the Big Bang might be wrong. It's that the Big Bang still deserves its place on the list of possibilities worth considering.