Challenges From Atheism

Atheism remains an important challenge to faith throughout the Western world, especially in the United States. Many of its critics believe that the movement has lost its way and that its intellectual credentials and cultural appeal have dwindled in recent years. I completely disagree. Atheism is, of course, a “godless” worldview under which nearly every claim and nuance of “faith” is ridiculed as nothing less than a centuries-old fairy tale. As a matter of course, atheism has typically meant a lack of belief in gods. Although this might sound like mere semantics at first blush, atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; rather, it is a lack of belief. Some older lexicons define atheism as “a belief that there is no god.” Atheism has not gone away. In fact, it has morphed into a militant attack on Christianity itself.

Diagoras of Melos

Who created atheism? Atheism—or at least the idea that would today pass for atheistic—seems to have begun in the 5th century when Diagoras of Melos (ancient Greek poet and sophist) declared that there were no gods. Atheism contrasts with the word theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists. Etymology of the Greek word ἄθεος (atheos) means “without gods.”

American Atheists is a movement founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair in 1963. O’Hair filed suit in 1959 on behalf of her son who was forced to attend Bible readings in his school and was a victim of harassment at the hands of school employees after he declined to participate. The Murray v. Curlett case was consolidated into Abington School District v. Schempp and was decided on June 17, 1963. This landmark case held for the first time that state-mandated prayer and Bible readings in public schools were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. That year, the Society of Separationists (the precurser to American Atheists) was founded.

Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s been 134 years since Friedrich Nietzsche declared “God is Dead” (or Gott ist tot, in German), giving philosophy students a collective headache that’s lasted from the 19th century until today. It is, perhaps, one of the best known statements in all of philosophy. The death of God didn’t strike Nietzsche as an entirely good thing. Without a God, the basic belief system of Western Europe was in jeopardy. Nietzsche was an atheist during most of his adult life, and didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died; rather that our idea of one had. After the Enlightenment, the idea of a universe that was governed by physical laws and not by divine providence was considered to be reality.

Philosophy argued that governments no longer needed to be organized around the idea of divine right in order to be legitimate, but rather by the consent or rationality of the governed. Philosophers said large and consistent moral theories could exist without reference to God. Europe no longer needed God as the source for morality, value, or order in the universe; philosophy and science were capable of doing that. This increasing secularization of thought in the West led the philosopher to conclude that not only was God dead but that human beings had killed him with their scientific revolution—their desire to better understand the world. Nietzsche wrote in Twilight of the Idols, “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Atheism is on the March

As many atheists know, to not replace God with a new philosophical structure providing meaning can be a cause of existential dread. Are we at risk of becoming a society struggling with our own meaninglessness? Are we at risk for nihilism? Are we more vulnerable to ideologies and con men who promise to do what God used to do for us and society? While Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the future, the non-religious are less so than the spiritually-minded. It seems Nietzsche may have been wrong in the long run about our ability to deal with the idea that God is dead. Interestingly, Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

It would seem that atheism has become a religion onto itself.

Richard Dawkins’ international bestseller The God Delusion has been called a “hard-hitting, impassioned” book in which he is said to eviscerate the arguments for religion and demonstrate the “supreme improbability” of the existence of a supreme being. Proponents of his militant atheism believe Dawkins “makes a compelling case that faith is not just irrational but potentially deadly.”

Dawkins, in his Preface to The God Delusion, writes, “If you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth asking yourself how this came about. The answer is usually some form of childhood indoctrination. If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination. Mutatis mutandis if you were born in Afghanistan.” Dawkins’ militant attitude spills over from mere personal disbelief in God; he attacks Christian parents who, as he puts it, brainwash their children. He writes, “I want everybody to flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as ‘Catholic child’ or ‘Muslim child.’ Speak of a ‘child of Catholic parents’ if you like; but if you hear anybody speak of a ‘Catholic child,’ stop them and politely point out that children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics.”

The Militants

Atheism has not typically been antagonistic to religion. Even Diagoras of Melos simply believed life would be better without a god lording it over everyone. Nietzsche believed God was dead because unbelief killed Him. Psychology Today believes militant atheism is a myth. Not so fast. Julian Baggini, a committed atheist author, summarizes militant atheism rather eloquently. He writes, “Although atheism is not necessarily hostile to religion, there are, of course, some atheists who are hostile to religion, and not just fundamentalist religions… Atheism which is actively hostile to religion I would call militant. To be hostile in this sense requires more than just strong disagreement with religion—it requires something verging on hatred and is characterized by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious beliefs. Militant atheists tend to make one or both of two claims that atheists do not. The first is that religion is demonstrably false or nonsense, and the second is that it is usually or always harmful.”

Richard Dawkins is beyond any doubt the new high priest of the militant atheist movement. Upon release of The God Delusion, he officially declared war on religion in general and Christianity in particular. He has made it clear that he will not rest until he has completely defeated God and religion. Philip Johnson said, “After reading a great deal of this bombast, I have come to the conclusion that Richard has never assumed the duties of a Professor of the Public Understanding of Science—a position he holds due to the patronage of a zillionaire from Microsoft. He seems to lack the intellectual confidence to say anything of substance, so he sticks to the very safe path of appealing to the materialistic prejudices.”

But what of Dawkins’ arguments themselves? The God Delusion is little more than an aggregation of convenient (if not embellished) factoids, suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact, and loosely arranged to suggest that they actually constitute some element of Socratic reasoning. This makes dealing with its so-called arguments a little problematic, in that the work frequently substitutes aggressive, bullying rhetoric for serious evidence-based argument. Dawkins often treats evidence as something to cram into his preconceived theoretical (perhaps theatrical?) framework. Religion is persistently and consistently portrayed in the worst possible way.

Perhaps Michael Caputo gives us some hope in his We Believe in God: The Greatest Artists, Musicians, Philosophers, Scientists, Writers and Poets Believed in God.

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Are Science and Christianity at Odds?

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This question has been the fuel for countless discussions, arguments, and debates for centuries. I spend several hours a week viewing YouTube documentaries on apologetics, postmodernism, Israeli-Palestinian relations, Islam, creationism, evolution, and atheism. Having undertaken a systematic study of worldviews, I’m reminded that nearly no one simply creates his or her own worldview. We inherit a great deal of our worldview from our parents, primary caregivers, school, and church. I must always keep my own worldview in mind—including biases, prejudices, presuppositions, and misconceptions. This is critical. Not only do we interpret information according to our worldview, it is our worldview that filters what we see or what we deem relevant.

“The conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science” (Sam Harris).

ORIGINS OF A CONFLICT

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Science is at war with religion. This conflict can be traced back to the Dark Ages during which the church quite vigorously forced its dogma and control on church members. Anyone who questioned church authority was summarily punished. Some of science’s forefathers—Galileo, Copernicus, and Bruno—were persecuted. What we miss, however, if we hold this “abridged” history of science versus religion are the numerous examples of Christianity and science getting along just fine, answering the many questions we have about us, our planet, and our universe.

If we refuse to have at least an open mind about a different paradigm or worldview, we’ll never have the opportunity to think for ourselves. Education is extremely important, but just how important is public education? Public schools teach that science and education are incompatible. Period. This wild and unverified conclusion is reckless. Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) said, “All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule.” Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, wrote, “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise… It subverts science and saps the intellect.”

Many believe science and Christianity are at odds, but the opposite is actually true. There is no underlying conflict between Christianity (currently the world’s largest religion at 2.4 billion believers) and science. Naturally, this does not mean that religious antagonism to science does not exist. Believers often take on science with a vengeance. But science history shows that such claims of antagonism are often exaggerated or unsubstantiated. Let’s remember that science (as a sustained and organized movement) emerged in Christian Europe. During the sixteenth century, people from every culture studied the natural world, and yet modern science appeared first in Europe among a civilization primarily shaped by the Judeo-Christian worldview. To be blunt, Christianity provided the philosophical foundation and spiritual motivation for doing science. The Christian worldview—with its insistence on the orderliness of the universe, its emphasis on human reason, and its teaching that God is glorified as we seek to understand His creation—laid the foundation for the modern scientific revolution.

MOST SCIENTIFIC PIONEERS BELIEVED IN GOD

Most scientific pioneers were theists, including prominent figures such as Copernicus, Newton, Pascal, Kepler, Pasteur, and Planck. Many of these individuals intently pursued science because of their belief in the Christian God. Francis Bacon believed the natural world was full of mysteries that God means for us to explore. This is often referred to as God’s general revelation. Kepler wrote, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” Newton believed his scientific discoveries offered convincing evidence for the existence and creativity of God. He said, “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

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This argument is lost on atheists like Christopher Hitchens, who discounts the religious convictions of these scientific giants. He said belief in God was the only option for a scientist at that time in history. But this puts Hitchens in a pickle. If religious believers get no credit for their positive contributions to society (e.g., shaping modern science) simply because “everyone was religious,” then why should their mistakes be used to discredit them? This is truly a double-standard. To make the case that religion “poisons everything,” Hitchens has to ignore much evidence to the contrary. Dawkins accepts that some early scientific pioneers may have been Christians, but he believes Christian scientists today are a rarity. He said, “Great scientists who profess religion become harder to find throughout the twentieth century.”

NATURALISM VERSUS THEISM

Naturalism is a scientifically oriented worldview that completely denies the existence of God and the soul. Rather, it holds that everything arises from natural properties and causes; supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. The term seems to have no precise meaning today. Different philosophers over the centuries have proffered myriad definitions. But naturalists have always attempted to align philosophy more closely with science. Adherents to this philosophy assert that natural laws are, well, natural—that they govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe all on their own without input from a Creator or Intelligent Designer.

Theism holds that there is a personal creator and sustainer of the universe who is omnipotent, omniscient, essentially good, omnipresent, and eternal. Christianity believes that the Creator has revealed Himself to humankind in the person of Jesus Christ, a member of the trinity of God, who was resurrected from the dead in confirmation of His deity. Christians believe in the supernatural world, including the One True God, spirit, angels, and miracles. Here’s the deal! Naturalism and theism are at odds with each other, not science and Christianity. Naturalism is intrinsically atheistic because it sees nothing outside of the natural or physical world.

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Have you found yourself asking, Why does the natural world make any sense to begin with? Albert Einstein once remarked that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Einstein understood a basic truth about science—it relies upon certain philosophical assumptions about the natural world. These assumptions include the existence of an external world that is orderly and rational, and the trustworthiness  of our minds to grasp that world. Science cannot proceed apart from these assumptions, even though they cannot be independently proven. Oxford professor John C. Lennox makes a provocative statement: “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly.” Without this deep conviction science would not be possible.

In order to further expound on the complexity of explaining the universe, take a look at the following excerpt from Stephen Hawking’s seminal book A Brief History of Time?

When most people believed in an essentially static and unchanging universe, the question of whether or not it had a beginning was really one of metaphysics or theology. One could account for what was observed equally well on the theory that the universe had existed forever or on the theory that it was set in motion at some finite time in such a manner as to look as though it had existed forever. But in 1929, Edwin Hubble made the landmark observation that wherever you look, distant galaxies are moving rapidly away from us. In other words, the universe is expanding. This means that at earlier times objects would have been closer together. In fact, it seemed that there was a time, about ten or twenty thousand million years ago, when they were all at exactly the same place and when, therefore, the density of the universe was infinite. This discovery finally brought the question of the beginning of the universe into the realm of science.

According to British physicist, broadcaster, and educator Paul Davies, the intelligibility of the universe points toward a rational foundation. He says science is based on the assumption that the universe is thoroughly rational and logical at all levels. Every single level! Atheists claim that the laws of nature exist without any basis in reason and that the universe is ultimately absurd. As a scientist, Davies said he found this position hard to accept. He said, “There must be an unchanging rational ground in which the logical, orderly nature of the universe is rooted.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

This brings us full-circle. It’s not Christianity that is at odds with science—it’s naturalism. Problem is, people like Richard Dawkins believe there is a conflict between science and religion because they think there is a conflict between evolution and theism. However, the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and a belief in God. It’s not simply that the order of the universe fits better with God in it. There is a much deeper link. An ordered, rational, logical universe is what we would expect from a God who created us in His image. Forming true beliefs about the world is one way we reflect the image imprinted in us by God.

Science depends on the assumption that the world is orderly and that our minds can access this reality. Even the most secular scientists presume that nature operates in a law-like fashion. This conviction  is best explained by the pioneers of the scientific revolution, who believed the cosmos is orderly because it was designed by the rational Creator of the universe who desires for us, as beings made in His image, to understand, enjoy, and explore His creation.

 

 

Is Faith Irrational?

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The truth about God is too important not to be seriously investigated and honestly and fairly discussed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for friendly conversations about religion to escalate into shouting matches—and this helps no one. Belief and unbelief are two sides to the same coin. The debate over faith and spirituality is here to stay. However, it does no good to vilify the other side. If any real ground is to be reached, we need to change the tone of this conversation.

WHY ALL THIS HOSTILITY AGAINST RELIGION?

It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of books on atheism and apologetics becoming New York Times best-sellers would have been hard to imagine. So what happened? Why are people reading books bashing God and ridiculing the faithful, or proffering a defense of the Gospel? Of course, that’s a rather complex question.

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First, we live in a much different world following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The events of that horrific day, when 2,996 people were murdered and more than 6,000 were injured, are burned into our collective memory. We all had front-row seats to religious fanaticism run amok. Until that day, such zealotry had always been going on “somewhere else” in the world. It is impossible to overstate how drastically the events of 9/11 changed our world.

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In the days that followed, the cultural conversation turned to the role and value of religion in the public square and throughout the globe. Such conversations are certainly legitimate and appropriate and, if conducted properly, can be quite healthy. But events like 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013, or the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, helped create the cultural context in which the hyper-aggressive claims of today’s militant atheists could actually be entertained by a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

Second, there is a growing undercurrent of unbelief in America. A Newsweek cover story written by John Meacham, published on April 16, 2009, titles “The End of Christian America,” reported that “the number of Americans who claim no religious belief or affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.” Why is this? While sociologists have more than enough polling data to analyze, I think Timothy Keller offers a plausible explanation in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism:

Three generations ago, most people inherited rather than chose their religious faith. The great majority of people belonged to one of the historic mainline Protestant churches or the Roman Catholic Church. Today, however, the now-dubbed “old-line” Protestant churches of cultural, inherited faith are aging and losing members rapidly. People are opting instead for a non-religious life, for non-institutional personally constructed spirituality, or for orthodox, high-commitment religious groups that expect members to have a conversion experience. Therefore the population is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious at once.

This post 9/11 rejection of God and religion has its roots in pluralism and secularization. It seems a growing number of people—on both sides of the God question—are no longer content to “play church.” It is likely many see “religion” as a training ground for extremism, dogma, elitism, and narrow-mindedness. Either what people believe is true and they are going to attempt to live out their faith in all areas of their life, or it’s false and people shouldn’t waste their time going through the motions of their childhood faith if belief makes no difference whatever.

So these two factors have generated a cultural conversation about faith and God in the 21st century. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for those who attempt to share the Gospel. In addition, the events of 9/11 and after also created room in culture for militant atheists whose advocates tell anyone who’ll listen that if we get rid of religion, we can free ourselves from what they call childish nonsense. Atheism, of course, is not new. It’s been with us for quite a long time. The media fueled atheism, starting perhaps with the April 8, 1966 cover story of Time magazine, “Is God Dead?” Friedrich Nietzsche infamously said Gott ist tot God is dead) in his 1882 collection titled “The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding.”

What is new, however, is the biting and powerful rhetoric, as well as the cultural visibility, of these so-called militant atheist, the likes of which include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Nye. Naturally, their visibility has increased secondary to the explosion of the Internet, blogs, and 24/7 media coverage of every imaginable topic. The more controversial and polarizing, the better. Hoping that something hits the mark, these militant atheists tend to throw everything at people. They appeal primarily to the emotions, lacking any evidence regarding the non-existence of God. Granted, it’s impossible to prove a negative. But these individuals skillfully dodge the concept of proof and instead use sarcasm and innuendo to rattle their theist counterparts and paint religion—especially Christianity—as delusional.

SO, IS FAITH IRRATIONAL?

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A distinct feature of the rhetoric being espoused by the militant atheists today is their belief that religion is blind, irrational, and, well, just plain stupid. This is evident in the title of Richard Dawkins’ seminal work: The God Delusion. His intent is clear—those who believe in God are fools who have been brainwashed by their parents and ancestors into believing something absurd. Dawkins thinks religious people are deluded. I find myself asking, What could possibly cause Dawkins and others like him to be so adamantly against religion? Why resort to attacking fellow citizens simply because they believe in God? A major reason is because Dawkins has decided religious belief is not based in evidence. He said, “In all areas except religion, we believe what we believe as a result of evidence.”  In other words, he believes religious faith is blind but in other disciplines—especially science—we demand physical proof for what we believe. Dawkins concludes that religion is a “nonsensical enterprise” that “poisons everything.”

Dawkins’ definition of a “delusion” is “a persistent false belief in the face of strong contradictory evidence.” Now wait just a minute! Isn’t it nearly impossible to prove a negative? What is this strong contradictory evidence? Daniel Dennett—an American philosopher, writer, cognitive scientist, atheist, and secularist—claims that Christians are addicted to their blind faith. According to militant atheist Sam Harris, “Faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give one another to believe things strongly without evidence.” Harris said, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Doubting Thomas

Dawkins often cites the story of doubting Thomas as proof that Christianity requires blind faith. When the other disciples reported that they had seen the risen Christ, Thomas refused to believe until he could see the nail marks and put his hands where the nails had been and into Jesus’ side where He had been speared. A week later, Jesus showed up and gave Thomas the evidence he demanded. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, NIV). True to form, Dawkins says this Scripture passage proves that Christianity opposes reason. He adds, “Thomas demanded [physical] evidence… the other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are help up to us as worthy of imitation.”

BIBLICAL FAITH

The fact that some Christians may have so-called “blind faith” is not the same as Christianity itself valuing blind faith and irrationality. Frankly, the Bible does not tell us to irrationally believe something in the face of reliable physical evidence to the contrary. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Eugene Peterson, in his translation of Hebrews 11:1, writes, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see” (MSG) [Emphasis added]. To me, this wonderfully written paraphrase shows that Christianity does not require blind faith in face of scientific evidence to the contrary. Hebrews 11 (the “faith” chapter) explains trust in God.

Faith Hebrews 11

Many individuals—believers, non-believers, and agnostics alike—have a gross misunderstanding of what constitutes faith. Faith is not merely a manner by which we “fill in the gaps” in the absence of, or in the face of, real, tangible, evidence. Carl Sagan, for example, once said, “Faith is believing in something in the absence of evidence.” This is a rather narrow definition. Let’s take a closer look at the word substance. It comes from the Greek word hupostasis, meaning “a placing or setting under, a substructure or foundation.” This word can also be translated as “confidence.” The Greek word for evidence, elengchos, means “that by which a thing is proved or tested; conviction.”

Biblical faith comes from careful observation and the weighing of all available evidence. Faith, therefore, is dynamic rather than static. The militant atheists like to lump all religions together and dismiss them with sweeping generalizations. But Christianity is unique in valuing the role of the mind which includes the proper use of reasoning and argumentation. In fact 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…” (NIV). The King James Bible uses this same terminology: the substance of things hoped for. Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. God said to Israel, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, NKJV).

EVERYONE HAS FAITH!

When people hear the word faith, they typically think of religion. No doubt religious people have faith in God. Christians have faith in the Word and many unseen things such as heaven, angels, and the spirit. The point that’s often passed over is that Christians are not the only ones who have faith—everyone does. Everyone has faith in something, including Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. If you don’t have faith, you wouldn’t eat, leave your house, get in an airplane, or go to the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper in an elevator car.

The philosophical revolution over the past few decades has lead to the strengthening of the traditional arguments for God’s existence with new insights and evidence. In their writings, militant atheists hardly interact with these arguments, and, until recently, they have refused to engage leading Christian thinkers in public. As part of my class on World Views at Colorado Christian University, I watched a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and the late Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked by Hitchens’ vilification of Christianity and the vitriolic and mean-spirited comments he threw at D’Souza in an attempt to throw his opponent off his game.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Faulty views of Christianity and its followers are not countered solely by good arguments, but also through relationships. The apostle Paul spoke of imparting not only the truth of the Gospel, but also his very own life. We typically refer to this as our “witness.” Perhaps Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply haven’t gotten to know thoughtful and intelligent Christians who value the role of evidence and reason. In other words, believers who grasp the importance of 1 Peter 3:15.

If the human condition limits our ability to know what is true, how do we determine what to believe? It’s been said that we have no criterion for truth—only the means to recognize error. In other words, our knowledge is finite but our ignorance is infinite. Philosophy has long recognized this fact and uses dialectics to assist in our quest to understand what is true. This process involves repeated and thorough criticism of our assumptions. After all, our Christian worldview is more inherited than undertaken by us. Of course, most atheists are fond of stating that faith is defined as believing without evidence. This is actually a faith that mirrors Hebrews 11:1. Even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of law-like order in nature and throughout the universe that is at least comprehensible to Christians.

 

Atheism: The End of Reason

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There’s a new atheism taking root in America, a movement more powerful and subversive than the atheism of Madalyn Murray O’Hare in the 1950s and 1960s. This militant atheism is led by individuals such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Harris’ bestselling Letter to a Christian Nation absolutely and unflinchingly attacks all religions—but is particularly hard on the Christian faith. Harris writes, “It is time for us as Americans to outgrow our religious beliefs.” His unwavering hatred for religion is laced with strong, condemning language and illustrations designed to convince the world that Christians are stupid for believing in God.

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Commenting on Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, which takes a militant approach similar to that of Sam Harris, fellow atheist Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, says, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” And in response to Sam Harris, atheist and professor of psychology Scott Atran used almost identical words: “I find it fascinating that among the brilliant scientists and philosophers… there was no convincing evidence presented that they know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence-based. It makes me embarrassed to be a scientist and atheist.”

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The Big Bang theory, along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, implies that there is indeed an “in the beginning.” All the data indicates a universe that is exploding outward from a point of infinite density. We know quite well that this singularity is not really a point in the universe; it is the whole of three-dimensional space compressed to zero size. This, in fact, actually represents a boundary at which space ceases to exist. Even the terms plead for explanation. At the point of the universe’s origin, there is something rather than nothing—a mystery that leaves science totally silent.

Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing

Not only is there something, the laws of science actually break down right at the beginning. The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want all certainty established do not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because, according to those laws of science by which atheists want to measure all things, matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist, and atheist, said that the university is “just there.” But that clearly is not a scientific explanation by any stretch of the imagination. According to science, nothing that exists (or that is) can explain its own existence. Yet, according to their cosmology, we just happen to be here. This means that any purpose for our existence for our being is as random as any cause for our being. Atheist Stephen Jay Gould makes this observation:

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures… because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available… because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age… because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer—but none exists… We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves—from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.

The Odds of So-Called Random Life

Francis Crick (1916-2004), a British molecular biologist and co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, regarding how life began, made the absurd comment, “Probably because a spaceship from another planet brought spores to seed the earth.” Carl Sagan believed the whole universe is “nothing more than molecules in motion.” He believed that some extraterrestrial entity would be able to explain us to ourselves and thereby justified the billions of dollars spend on listening in on outer space, watching and waiting for contact.

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Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000¹²³—a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are one in 10²°. They note that there are about two thousand enzymes, saying the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in (10²°) ²°°°° = 10 to the 40,000th power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. And this is just one step in the formation of life.

What about DNA and its origin, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed. Moreover, no one has explained the process of mitosis or meiosis. The chance of the random ordering of organic molecules is not essentially different from a big fat zero. Remember, that’s the zero to which Sam Harris gives credit for everything; that’s his explanation for why we are here. And if we accept this explanation, the resulting pointlessness of existence is devastating to our desire to feel significant. Thankfully, this rhetoric does not faze billions of people who still seek a relationship with God.

Man’s Search for Meaning

If life is random, then the inescapable consequence is that there can be no ultimate meaning and purpose to existence. This consequence is the existential  Achilles’ heel of atheistic belief. As individuals—and collectively in cultures around the globe—man has been searching for meaning for centuries. But if life is random, we have climbed the evolutionary ladder only to find nothing at the top.

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The greatest disappointment you can feel is when you have experienced what you thought would bring ultimate in pleasure—and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity—nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness. Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and philosopher, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, sometimes asked his patients who suffered from a multitude of mental torments, “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their answers he could find the proper guideline or approach for his psychotherapy. He called this approach logotherapy.

Frankl, along with Voltaire, Sartre, and Nietzsche, were honest and consistent in their views. They admitted the ridiculousness of life—the pointlessness of everything in an atheistic world. In contrast, contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are so blind to the conceit of their own minds that they try to present this view of life as some sort of triumphal liberation. Sartre, as atheistic intellectual elites know but are embarrassed to acknowledge, denounced atheism on his deathbed as philosophically unlivable. Hear what Sartre said: ” I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.”

Morality and the Atheist

There is no way for militant atheists like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to argue for moral preferences except by their own subjective means—that is, their personal preference or environment. What is the objective moral framework these men adopt on which they build their objection to God? Harris said, “I can see no moral framework operating in the world, but what I do see is morally condemnable.” In philosophical terms, this is called a mutually-exclusive assumption. Therefore, the moral framework he is forced to adopt is, in reality, one he built himself.

Bertrand Russell admitted he couldn’t live as though ethical values were simply a matter of personal taste. He said, “I do not know the solution.” Russell tried to get around the existence of objective morality. When asked how he differentiated between good and bad, Russell answered, “I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow… I can see they are different.” Consider this: You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, but you distinguish good and bad by what faculty? Russell’s response was, “By my feelings.” To simply say you do not see a moral order to the universe is to ignore the real issue. Rather than proof of the absence of moral order, this amounts to insistence on determining for oneself what is good and what is evil in spite of what we intuitively know to be true.

Concluding Remarks

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. We come to a real situation of determining how many levels of cause-and-effect it takes to explain all of existence. We cannot have an infinite series of causes in time, starting from the present of any completed state and moving backward in search of an ultimate cause, because if the sequence were infinite, we would never arrive at the present. A can of alphabet soup dumped onto a table implies that somebody made that soup. You would absolutely deny that those shapes just happened to be in the soup. And if the letters fell out of the can in sequence every time you would never even consider the possibility that it was accidental.

Something does not come from nothing.

 

 

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part One)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

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CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS SEEKS TO build bridges to unbelievers by presenting reasons and evidence that Christianity is true, rational and worthy of belief. Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath said, “…Christian apologetics represents the serious and sustained engagement with ‘ultimate questions’ raised by a culture, people, group or individual aiming to show how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers to such questions. Where is God in the suffering of the world? Is faith in God reasonable?” Agnostics and atheists are quick to conclude that either God is all-loving but not powerful enough to stop the evil that exists in the world, or He is all-powerful, but not willing to wipe out evil.

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Apologetics in a Post-Modern World

If everyone already belonged to one religion, apologetics might still be necessary as a way to provide believers with the best possible grounds for their faith. But clearly that is not the culture we live in. Modernism, which became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is rather difficult to pinpoint because it encompasses a variety of specific artistic and philosophic movements including symbolism, futurism, surrealism, dadaism, and others. Its basic tenet involves rejection of all religious and moral principles as the sole means of cultural progress. Consequently, it includes an extreme break with tradition. Specifically, modernism developed out of Romanticism’s revolt against the effects of the Industrial Revolution and bourgeois values.

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When modernism failed to cure the ills of society—war, famine, disease, exploitation, global environmental crises—postmodernism came on the scene. Postmodernists believe there is no such thing as absolute truth; rather, truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people in power to control others. Truth and error are synonymous. Facts are too limiting, changing erratically and often. Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Traditional authority is considered to be false and corrupt. Postmodernists wage intellectual battle against traditional truth and reality. They despise the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion.

We presently live in a deeply diverse world characterized by pluralism. Pluralism is a word we encounter all the time, but few truly understand what it implies. It has at least three primary definitions. Thoroughly exploring what we mean by pluralism will help us clarify a lot of what we encounter in contemporary society. And getting the definition clear is necessary for any apologist who wants to understand and address his or her audience accurately.

Pluralism as Mere Plurality.

The basic definition of pluralism means the state of being more than one. A rudimentary example would be choices of breakfast cereal in the grocery store. Sociologists suggest that such proliferation of choices in modern society—the characteristic of various goods, services, and ideologies—is a process they call pluralization. Although discussions about pluralism are not new, all the relevant questions need to be carefully considered. What is God like? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force of energy? If Christianity is true, does it necessarily follow that all other religions are wrong? Can so many be wrong, or are all religions at least partially or equally valid? The fact of a pluralistic world has required theologians to adopt positions regarding believers in other religions.

Today’s militant atheists are no longer satisfied with simply choosing to not believe in God. They’ve taken on the “mission” of attacking Christianity and its ardent followers as religious bigots who are elitist, narrow-minded, deluded, and exclusionary in their approach to God and heaven. Granted, worldviews are mutually exclusive of all other beliefs, but it does not mean holding a belief in one true God makes the believer an elitist. Christians do not think they are morally better than people in other religions. Because Christianity does not teach salvation through works but salvation by grace through faith, all boasting is excluded (see Romans 3:27).

Pluralism as Preference.

This second definition goes beyond mere recognition that there is more than one; rather, it affirms that it is good that there is more than one. Here pluralism moves from sociological description to ideological description. Rather than “what is,” there is “what ought to be.” Pluralism can be expressed even about ultimate questions of life and death. Someone might prefer there to be more than one philosophy, more than one ideology, more than one religion in a society because the presence of competing alternatives prevents any individual or any group from asserting unchallenged claims to truth, justice and power. Such pluralism, on this understanding, also can lead to mutual and complementary instruction from each particular point of view.

In this regard, we are all pluralists. But preferring plurality in some instances does not, of course, commit one to preferring it in all instances. Consider that some individuals prefer matrimonial pluralism (polygamy) over monogamy. Someone else might support private ownership of property while others might believe in communal ownership, or the rule of law to anarchy, and so on. We must resist the illusion that pluralism means everyone is right and no one is wrong. Pluralism is often touted on the campuses of our liberal colleges as the only way to believe. In reality, most of us are pluralistic in only some matters and definitely not pluralistic in others.

Pluralism as Relativism.

Someone might recognize a situation as pluralism: “There is more than one.” Someone else might actually prefer a situation to be pluralistic: “It’s good that there is more than one.” But this level of pluralism goes further, declaring that no single option among the available varieties in a pluralistic situation can be judged superior to the others. For example, consider the claim everything is beautiful. To hold the attitude that everything is beautiful is to see every option as good. But is this truly accurate? Even on the basic level of vanilla versus chocolate, we’re talking subjective preference not objective judgment. When it comes to flavors of ice cream, all have their merits and all should be affirmed.

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This is clearly not applicable to the bewildering variety of religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Native religion, Islam, Wicca—all are belief systems considered “good” by their adherents. All can be labeled as “spiritual paths.” This becomes a rather sticky situation, however, when lifelong believers of these various religions are convinced that his or her belief is in fact the best of all. Interestingly, many young college students, when pressed, tend to confess that they feel they shouldn’t think that way. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins believe parents should not be allowed to force-feed their doctrine on their children. In fact, he sees this as a form of child abuse, indicating it takes away the child’s freedom to think for himself or herself.

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Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, complains that most college students today believe that everything is relative. Some are religious, some are atheist; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism, and they take comfort in that unity. They believe relativism is vital to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, to which all primary and secondary education in America has dedicated itself for more than fifty years. Therefore, openness is the great insight of modern times. The true believer is the real danger. Interestingly, the obsession that one is right no matter what has led to persecution, slavery, xenophobia, racism, chauvinism, and exploitation—not openness. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right. Instead, it is said that to think you’re right in the first place is wrong. This is precisely what has led to the modern-day concept that there is no way to tell good from evil!

It’s Not About Saying You’re Sorry!

Apologetics has little to do with how we understand the word apology today. Rather, it is derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to make a reasoned defense. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance describes apologetics as “a speech in defense” or “intelligent reasoning.” Etymology indicates apologetics was originally the term for making a legal defense in ancient courts. Accordingly, as used in 1 Peter 3:15, it means “to make a defense to everyone” or “to give an answer to every man.” It is vital that we not ignore the second part of the verse, which admonishes us to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (NIV).

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The question is  How can believers both defend and commend their religion without needlessly offending their neighbors and exacerbating the tensions of their community? After all, apologetics can bless and apologetics can curse. When engaging in defense of the Christian faith, we must always look for the most loving approach. Peterson (2006) says in his translation The Message, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing… no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 7). It is vital that we show the ability to critique a position or argument without lambasting the other person.

Effective Apologists are Good Listeners!

Be prepared to actively listen to people with whom you are having a discussion. Seek to understand where they are coming from. Never presume to know their “character” simply because of what they’ve said or written about their religion or cultural beliefs. Let them have their say whenever they wish to speak. It is important to be wary of steamrollers, but be careful of not being one yourself. It’s better to allow them to speak too much than too little or you’ll be accused of cutting them off at the knees. Respond to what they actually said, not what you think they should have said. Try to keep them on point, however, which is not always easy.

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If you’re debating them about Scripture, ask them to stay within one passage and reach a conclusion with you on that passage before moving on to another. You might not realize it, but just because you disagree with someone does not mean there’s nothing you can learn from them! Every individual has unique experiences and ideas, and you never know when their thoughts might compliment yours. Remain teachable, even from those with whom you vehemently disagree. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. When someone points out an error or mistake on your part, do not try to cover it up. Admit to it, noting it was an honest mistake. If someone insists you’ve made a mistake when you are well-grounded in what you’ve stated, promise to check your sources and get back to them on it. It takes grace and humility to admit when you’re wrong, but people will respect you for it.

Don’t be baited by personal insults. Ad hominem attacks, which are by nature leveled against an individual rather than an argument, have unfortunately become quite common when discussing sensitive subjects such as religion. We should never repay insult with insult. Remember, Christ never retaliated against or mocked those who mocked Him. 

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will present a detailed look at the classical approach to Christian apologetics. What exactly does Christianity believe? Can truth be objectively known? What are the three main arguments for the existence of God? Are miracles possible in a physical universe? Is the New Testament historically accurate? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? We’ll also look at the hypocrisy of intolerant tolerance. For example, when our public schools shifted their policy from decidedly Christian to “neutral,” it did not take long for them to go from neutral to intolerance. Public schools have become “Christian-free zones” in the name of so-called separation of church and state. We’ve allowed our government leaders to interpret and enforce the First Amendment as freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Please join me next week for Part Two of Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today.

 

An Argument for the Existence of God

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied regarding the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. Belief in a world birthed by accident, a life that has no purpose, morality without a point of reference except for those absolutes that have been smuggled in – well hidden behind the mask of relativism – and death that ends in oblivion makes me prefer the possibility of this oblivion to the sheer weight of the emptiness of a God-less world.

Judging that life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. As we know, everyone has a worldview. A worldview basically offers answers to four necessary questions – questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny.

Origin

Big Bang cosmology, along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, implies that there is indeed an In the Beginning. All the data indicates a universe that is exploding outward from a point of infinite density. Of course, singularity is not really a point; it is the whole of three-dimensional space compressed to zero size. It is the point at which space ceases to exist. What’s important to note is at the point of the universe’s origin, there is something rather than nothing – a mystery that leaves science totally silent.

Nothing Cannot Produce Something

The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want all certainty established do not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because, according to those laws of science by which atheists want to measure all things, matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. In fact, the very mathematics and physics by which atheists define or explain the universe did not exist at the time the universe came together.

The Odds of Random Life

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000¹²³ – a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are 1 in 10 to the 20th power. The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 part in 10 to the 40,000th power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Moreover, nothing has been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts. The inescapable fact for the atheist is that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance. An unfathomable proposition.

MEANING

If life is random, then the inescapable consequence, first and foremost, is that there can be no ultimate meaning and purpose to existence. This consequence is the existential Achilles’ heel of atheistic belief. As individuals and collectively as cultures, we humans long for meaning. But if life is random, we have climbed the evolutionary ladder only to find nothing at the top. Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure. Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning.  We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pushed incessantly – especially in the case of a drug addict or sex addict – we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed.

The greatest disappointment (and resulting pain) you can feel is when you have just experienced that which you thought would bring you the ultimate pleasure – and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity – nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness, with no purpose.

Voltaire and the Fallacies of Religion

Philosophers such as Voltaire, who theorized on the fallacies of religion, had no better answer to give to the masses they had rescued from what they considered religious “tyranny.” Here is what Voltaire wrote:

I am a puny part of the great whole,
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.

Thus the whole world in every member groans;
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit…
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.

Contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so blind to the conceit of their own minds that they try to present this view of life as some sort of triumphal liberation. Sartre, as atheistic intellectual elites know but are embarrassed to acknowledge, denounced atheism on his deathbed as philosophically unlivable. Sartre said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” And he used to be an atheist.

MORALITY

Not only does atheism’s worldview lead to the death of meaning, it also leads to the death of moral reasoning. Rather than a philosophy or a worldview, atheist Sam Harris says atheism is simply a refusal to deny what a person should see as obvious – that there is no God. Therefore, Harris believes atheism shouldn’t exist, saying “just as no one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.'” Examples of what Harris sees as God’s failure to protect humanity are to be seen everywhere, he says, such as the massive destruction in the city of New Orleans brought about by a hurricane in 2005. What was God doing while Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, he asks? Didn’t he hear the prayers of those who “fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there?” These people, Harris insists, “died talking to an imaginary friend.”

Does the Reality of Evil Mean There is no God?

How conveniently the atheist plays word games. When it is Stalin or Pol Pot who slaughters thousands, it is because they are deranged or irrational ideologues; their atheism has nothing to do with their actions. But when a Holocaust is engendered by an ideologue, it is the culmination of four hundred years of Christian intolerance for the Jew. Atheists can’t have it both ways. If the murder of innocents is wrong, it is wrong not because science tells us it is wrong, but because every life has intrinsic worth – a postulate that atheism simply cannot deduce. There is no way for an atheist to argue for moral preferences except by this own subjective means. It is not okay to make absolute statements based on one’s personal feelings.

The antagonism of atheists toward God ends up proving that they intuitively find some things reprehensible. But they cannot explain this innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s Law written on their hearts – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry. When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good. When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.

Can Morality Exist Apart from a Moral Lawgiver?

Why is a moral lawgiver necessary in order to recognize good and evil? For the simple reason that a moral affirmation cannot remain an abstraction. The person who moralizes assumes intrinsic worth in himself or herself, and transfers intrinsic worth to the life of another; thus he or she considers that life worthy of protection. Transcending value, by definition, must come from a person of transcending worth. But in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Look at it this way: objective moral values exist only if God exists; objective moral values do exist; therefore God exists. Atheists, of course, will not admit that moral values are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful God to create them.

But What About Reason? Can’t It Provide a Moral Framework?

Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other leading atheists opt for reason as the source for their unbelief while maintaining belief in a moral code. Reason, however, cannot decide for us what is good and what is evil. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take us to morality. Harris claims that God breaks His own laws and is therefore evil or contradictory. This is to assume that God kills innocent people. When atheists do this, they are actually borrowing from the biblical revelation of justice and retribution while ignoring the big story into which it fits and by which it gains its purpose. In other words, they are taking God out of context.

We Can’t Have Free Will Without Suffering

Any discussion about why things are the way they are must include human autonomy (free will) versus God’s story of why we are the way we are. Though the sacred is offered to us, our will is arrogant and refuses to submit to God’s authority. No one of us is any different from or better than any other. This is true no matter their sin. Intrinsic value is not about behavior. It’s about who God says we are, and what He’s done to make us who we can become.

Could God really have created in us the ability to love without giving us the option to reject that love, the desire to trust and to be trusted without the freedom to doubt, or the privilege of making a choice without the responsibility of accepting the ramifications of that choice? A person may dismissively say that he or she does not see a moral order. The real issue is not an absence of moral order in the world, but the insistence on determining for oneself what is good and what is evil, in spite of what we intuitively know to be true. To believe that there is no moral order, one must assume knowledge of what a moral order would look like if there were one. If there truly is no moral order, any attempt to enforce one is sheer pragmatism, and is open to any challenge for other pragmatic reasons.

The Human Heart is Bent Toward Evil

Do you want empirical evidence that the heart of mankind is naturally bent toward evil? Witness the atrocities we see around us in our world. Today, October 2, 2017, we woke up to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The worst in U.S. history. As I am writing this blog post, the death toll stands at 59, with 527 people injured. The gunman waited until cover of darkness, then, using an assault rifle modified to operate on full-auto, he fired hundreds of rounds of bullets into a crowd enjoying a country music concert on the square below his hotel room. It would seem this man decided he knew what was an appropriate way to act out his frustrations. We cannot keep blaming this “ism” and that “ism.” The decisions and actions of each individual are determined by what is important to that individual.

The Need for Faith

The worldview of the Christian faith is simple enough. God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Many atheists tend to misinterpret Pascal’s wager. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal didn’t say he was wagering his belief. It was not a gamble, or a hedging of his bets. He was essentially saying that there are two tests for belief in God: the empirical test – that which is based on investigation – and the existential test – that which is based on personal experience. By denying the existence of God, atheists leave just one option in their pursuit of happiness and purpose, namely, the existential test of self-fulfillment.

It appears that no matter what evidence was offered, God could never prove Himself to atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins because it’s not proof they’re looking for. The are looking for a God they can cast in their own image. Neither of these men are the first to ask God to stoop to providing proof of Himself according to another person’s agenda. I immediately think of Satan’s temptations of Christ in the desert. (See Matthew 4:3, 6, and 9)

Jesus worked by changing the heart, not by legislating. Legislation can only force compliance. It can never produce the love necessary to change an attitude.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied to the argument for the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. No physical entity can explain its own existence. Regardless of how physical reality is sectioned out, we end up with a state where the evidence of any physical entity explaining its own existence is zero. Obviously, something does not come from nothing. This violates the very laws of science atheists worship.

A can of alphabet soup dumped onto a table implies that somebody made that soup. You would absolutely deny that those letters fell out of the can in sequence every time; you would never even consider the possibility that it was accidental. In the same manner, the “raw materials” that have resulted in this universe have been brought together simultaneously in the most amazing combinations – combinations too amazing to have just happened by accident. The mathematics alone is unfathomable. This is the basis for the argument of intelligent design.

The one thing that atheists leave unaddressed is how to persuade the human heart to do, and to want to do, that which is true, good, and beautiful. Technological advance without virtue in the technician is like the nuclear button in the hands of a madman. Consider, if you will, the example of Muhammad. Islam is a religion that is academically bankrupt, for it fails to meet the ordinary tests of truth. How can a religion that claims its prophet came to the entire world then restrict its miracle to a language that is not spoken by the vast majority of the people of the world? How can a man whose own passions were so untamed gain the right to speak moral platitudes? An honest Muslim open to considering these things will readily see that the “god” of the Qur’an is not the same God spoken of in the Old and New Testaments, and that the edifice of Islam is built on a geopolitical worldview masquerading as a religion. Islam is a religion of power, willing to destroy for the sake of its ideology; the Christian faith is one of communion and relationship with the One who made us.

The greatest sacrament, compared to which all the others are types and shadows, is the Incarnation in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” We have beheld His glory as of the only Son from the Father. The word, the logos, combines two notions, one Greek, one Hebrew. For the Greek, the logos was the rational ordering principle of the universe. For the Hebrew, the word of the Lord was God’s activity in the world. In Hebrew, dabar means both word and deed. Science discerns a world of rational order developing through the unfolding of process devoid of a higher power. Theology declares the world in its scientific character to be an expression of the Word of God – literally the words spoken by God. For “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3, RSV)

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

Apologetics: Why We Believe What We Believe

Apologetics (from the Greek apologia) is a type of rhetorical writing in which the proponent of a tenet, theory or religious doctrine presents reasoned arguments or writings in justification of his or her belief. In the days of the Greeks, when someone was summoned to court to face a charge, he would present an “apology” or a defense. Specific to Christianity, apologetics is said to be “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel,” and includes putting forth basic principles that guide the believer in defending the faith. In other words, it involves expressing the truth of the biblical message. This could be described as proving Christianity. A better concept is that it involves persuading others.

Thinking Well

It is critical that an apologist learns to think well or logically. This is important for several reasons. Logic aids in putting together various pieces of the Christian faith to form a cohesive whole. The Bible does not always speak directly to a particular issue. Of paramount importance is learning to deduce true beliefs or proper courses of action from what is known of Scripture.  Sound, logical thinking is especially important for an apologist. On one hand, it helps prevent shoddy arguments. On the other hand, it helps evaluate the beliefs of the antagonist who is challenging Christianity. Too often believers stumble at criticisms leveled against Christianity simply because they sound solid as expressed by the opponent. On closer examination, the arugment stands on logically shaky legs.

An opponent might say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that individual really thinks there is no absolute truth that is, truth that stands for all people for all time, that person at best can only say, “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as absolute truth.” To claim there is no such thing as absolute truth is to state an absolute; the statement actually refutes itself. It is faulty logic to conclude that no belief system can claim final truth simply because there are so many belief systems. Postmodernism is fond of saying that truth is relative rather than absolute. Truth, according to a postmodernist, is what the individual thinks it is. Really? What does the existence of many points of view have to do with the true value of any of them?

I’ve had someone say to me, “Look at all the terrible things Christians have done through the centuries!” How should I respond to such an objection? While it is true that what Christians do influences non-Christians’ responses to the Gospel, such actions have nothing to do with whether Christianity itself is true. If part of the Gospel message was that once a person becomes a Christian that person absolutely will never sin again, the non-believer would have grounds for questioning the truth of Christianity. But the Bible doesn’t say that.

Answering the Charge of Elitism

I recently watched a debate between Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza and the late Richard Hitchens, an anti-theist (as he liked to call himself). During the Q&A at the end of the debate, a young college student said the notion that Christians have the only truth is “elitist.” She believes that because there are so many different beliefs in the world, it is not possible for any one group of people to claim they have the only truth. She, and many others, consider such thinking to be arrogant. Non-believers across secular college campuses today are accusing Christians of being elitist and narrow-minded, if not backward and old-fashioned. It is considered intellectually “uncool” to believe in the supernatural in the 21st Century.

How should a Christian respond to this charge? First, note the name-calling. The real issue is passed over in favor of a put-down. This is just another example of how ideas and issues are dealt with in our society today. What is most important is that Christians not react in kind. Too often in our society battles over issues and ideas are fought with name-calling and throwing slogans at each other. Not only is this is unbecoming, it is unprofitable in apologetics and evangelism.

Making the Case for Christianity

Believers are being asked to prove that Christianity is true. It is important to realize that a determined will can ignore even the best of evidence. Since we’re not talking about mathematical proof, we have to remember that what constitutes proof varies among individuals. It has been said that a Christian worldview is a matter of the heart and not the head. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Admittedly, merely throwing this Scripture at a non-believer is not an effective means of practicing apologetics.

At first blush, this seems to relieve us of the pressure of establishing an argument that convinces everyone. In any event, we cannot rely on a “one-size-fits-all argument” in defense of Christianity. Belief, indeed faith, is an individual matter. Certainly, we believe that because God created the universe, there is plenty of evidence in what is called general revelation. That is, nature and the universe. In addition, God has given us special revelation in the form of Scripture.

Today, modern scientific methods are used to recover the remains of the past in order to achieve a better understanding of ancient people and their practices. The Middle East has been the subject of many archaeological excavations because of its continuous history. Josh McDowell said, “It is important to note that archaeology without history is meaningless. All that archaeology can tell us is a sequence of cultural development, not give us an exact chronology. History gives us the chronology, the events, people, places.”

Over the past 100 year, archaeology has been busy verifying some of the history contained in the Bible. For instance, for many years Sodom and Gomorrah was considered by non-believers to be mythological. Recent excavations at Tell Mardikh, now known to be the site of Ebla, uncovered about 15,000 tablets. Some of these writings mention Sodom and Gomorrah. Other archaeological confirmation includes proof that there was a ruler named Belshazzar, the Hittites existed and had a vast empire, King Sargon’s rule is fact, and events described in the Book of Acts are demonstrably accurate. Archaeological findings have verified, and in no case disputed, historical points of the biblical record.

In Conclusion

The key verse for Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB) [Italics mine.] Eugene Peterson, in his translation, says it this way: “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (The Message) Every Christian should be able to give a reasonable accounting of his or her faith in Christ. Not every Christian needs to be an expert in apologetics; however, he or she should know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it with others, and how to defend it against lies and attacks.

There are two primary methods of Christian apologetics. The first, commonly known as classical apologetics, involves sharing proof and evidence that the Christian message is true. The second, commonly known as presuppositional apologetics, involves confronting the presuppositions (preconceived ideas and assumptions) behind anti-Christian positions. Christian apologetics is simply presenting a reasonable defense of the Christian faith to those who disagree. Apologetics is a necessary aspect of the Christian life. We are to be ready and equipped to proclaim the gospel and defend our faith.

Recommended Reading

D’Souza, Dinesh. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?
Strobel, Lee. (1998). The Case for Christ.
Zacharias, Ravi. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists.