This statement is actually much less controversial than one might think. In fact, it is simply a restatement of something one often hears out of atheists. Steven Hawking, for instance has said that the universe will not have an explanation, but “simply be”. Bertrand Russell has suggested that the universe is our terminus of explanation. Many others have made the same intimation.
These men are saying that, from their atheistic perspective, the universe has no explanation. This is equivalent to saying that the universe is either explained by God, or by nothing.
Of course, it is not simply that this is what is being said, it is the fact that there is good reason to say it. Certainly, the materialist is convicted that everything which exists is composed of matter. If this is true, there can’t possibly be an explanation of all the matter and energy that exists (which is how “universe” is being defined in this argument).
I won’t discuss the much longer (and much less relevant) arguments against non-materialist atheists here. Rather, I’ll point out that the most common move I’ve encountered among atheists is off topic.
That is, many begin emphasizing at this point that this doesn’t prove the truth of any particular religion. But, of course, that is a separate discussion. Showing theism to be the most reasonable case precedes an argument for a particular form of theism. And claiming “but the Muslims might be right” does not support atheism.
Rather, the inability of materialism to offer an explanation as to why matter exists is a reason to move materialism off the table in this discussion. Unless, of course, the materialist wants to argue that there simply is no explanation.
Personally, I don’t see how this last differs from an appeal to magic. Halting inquiry in order to conclude that there is nothing beyond the point where we halted is not a good way to get at truth, after all. I think it much more reasonable, and much more in line with inquiry, to take the view that things have explanations.
Of course, some will press the multiverse as an explanation of the universe. I’ll discuss that in a future post.