God, Science or Both?

WHEN YOU PONDER THE vastness of the universe, the wonder of the natural world, or the mysteries of the human mind, what do you think? Some of us see nothing but a material world, machinations of which we believe are best explained by the logical reasoning of science. One of the world’s most famous and endearing scientists, Stephen Hawking, did not believe in God or heaven. Hawking invoked the name of God in his seminal book A Brief History of Time, writing that if astrophysics could find a “theory of everything”—in other words, a comprehensive explanation for how the universe works—they would glimpse “the mind of God.”

However, in later interviews and writings, such as 2010’s The Grand Design, which Hawking co-wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking clarified that he wasn’t referring to a creator in the traditional sense. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist, he wrote, adding, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, Hawking was perfectly at ease with believing something came from nothing.

In Hawking’ s Brief Answers to the Big Questions, his last book before his death March 14, 2018, he said, “People have always wanted answers to the big questions. Where did we come from? How did the universe begin? What is the meaning and design behind it all? Is there anyone out there?” (p. 3). He states the big question in cosmology: Did the universe have a beginning? He notes that many scientists were instinctively opposed to the idea, because they felt that a point of creation would be “…a place where science [breaks] down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God to determine how the universe would start off” (pp. 12-13). He clearly states in Brief Answers, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” He added, “If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

To Hawking and many like-minded scientists, the combined laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics could explain everything that ever happened or ever will happen in our known universe. He said, “If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.” Hawking’s number-one “big question” is definitely a big one: Is there a God? Trying to prove God does not exist is basically impossible. How does one prove a negative?

CHRISTIANITY AND REASON: THE THEOLOGICAL ROOTS OF SCIENCE

Christianity helped form the heart of Western civilization, shaping ideas and institutions that have persisted for two millennia. Yet there seems to be an inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. The conflict, Sam Harris writes, is “zero sum.” Zero-sum basically means if one party gains an advantage, another party must suffer an equivalent loss. In economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of the utility of the other party.

It is worth noting that science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom. Pope Benedict XVI argues that reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

Sam Harris said, “If God created the universe, what created God?” His sentiments are echoed by several atheist writers: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg. They argue the problem of infinite regress—a sequence of reasoning or justification which can never come to an end. Certainly, they say, there has to be a chain of causation, but they ask, “Why does it have to stop with God?” Dawkins makes the further point that only a complex God could have created such a complex universe; but he said we don’t have the luxury of accounting for one form of unexplained complexity (the universe) by pointing to an even greater form of unexplained complexity (God). Consequently, Dawkins concludes that “the theist answer has utterly failed” and he sees ” no alternative [but to] to dismiss it.”

CHRISTIANITY AND THE INVENTION OF INVENTION

Nicolaus Copernicus wrote, “So vast, without question, is the divine handiwork of the Almighty Creator.” Lists of the great ideas of modern science typically contain a major omission. On such lists we are sure to find Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, Kepler’s laws, Newton’s laws, and Einstein’s theory of relativity, yet the greatest idea of modern science is almost never included. It is such a big idea that it makes possible all the other ideas. Interestingly, the greatest idea of modern science is based not on reason but on faith. Consider the scientific method for proving a hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis is the building block of scientific method. Many describe it as an “educated guess,” based on knowledge and observation.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that scientific method could neither prove nor disprove any religious belief. Instead, religion requires a leap of faith. He said, “You either believe or you don’t believe. But you’re never reasoned into or out of any religious tenets.” Faith, however, is not a highly acclaimed word in the scientific community. Physicist Richard Feynmand wrote in The Meaning of It All, “I do not believe that the scientist can have that same certainty of faith that very deeply religious people have.” Astronomer and Carl Sagan protege Neil deGrasse Tyson complains that “the claims of religions rely on faith” and boasts that “the claims of science rely on experimental verification.” But where is the scientific verification that something came from nothing? Physicist Eugene Wigner has said that the mathematical order of nature “is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” Feynmand confesses, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery. The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”

There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. Yet the universe seems to be ordered. It does seem to follow rules. Without this irrational faith that the universe simply “knows” to follow a certain order, modern science is impossible. Dinesh D’Souza asks, “Where did Western man get this faith in a unified, ordered, and accessible universe? How did we go from chaos to cosmos? My answer, in a word, is Christianity.” Men such as Thales, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras posited a universe that operates through discoverable rules of cause-and-effect. Prior to this, much was based on mythical cosmologies chock full of ideas of an “enchanted universe.”

CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE

Churches began to build schools in Europe during the tail-end of the Medieval period, starting first with elementary and secondary grade levels. Eventually, they began to establish universities in Bologna and Paris. Oxford and Cambridge were founded in the early thirteenth century, followed by universities in Rome, Naples, Salamanca, Seville, Prague, Vienna, Cologne, and Heidelberg. These institutions were affiliated with the church, but they were independently governed and operated. The curriculum was a mix of secular and theological, leaving plenty of room for the study and advancement of new scientific knowledge. Interestingly, many of America’s earliest colleges and universities—Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Northwestern, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown—began as Christian institutions.

Francis Bacon—a devoutly religious man who did expository writing on the Book of Psalms and on prayer—used the inductive method to record experiments. He is considered by many to be the founder of scientific method—the “inventor of invention” if you will. It was under the supervision of the church that the first medical research institutions and the first observatories were built and supported. From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, a period of several centuries, the church did more for Western science than any other institution. Agnostics and atheists are prone to believing science was founded in the seventeenth century in revolt against religious dogma. In reality, science was founded between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by great leaders in their fields who were theists.

Here is a partial list of leading scientists who were Christian:

  • Nicolas Copernicus—Mathematician
  • Johannes Kepler—Astronomer
  • Galileo Galilei—Astronomer
  • Tycho Brahe—Astronomer
  • Rene Descartes—Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist
  • Robert Boyle—Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist
  • Isaac Newton—Mathematician
  • Gottfried Leibniz—Mathematician, Philosopher
  • Pierre Gassendi—Priest, Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer
  • Blaise Pascal—Mathematician
  • Marin Mersenne—Mathematician
  • George Cuvier—Naturalist, Zoologist
  • William Harvey—Physician
  • John Dalton—Chemist
  • Michael Faraday—Scientist in electromagnetism and electrochemistry
  • William Herschel—Astronomer
  • James Prescott Joule—Physicist
  • Charles Lyell—Geologist
  • Antoine Lavoiseir—Chemist
  • Joseph Priestly—Theologian, Philosopher, Chemist, Educator
  • William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin—Mathematician
  • Georg Ohm—Physicist
  • Andre-Marie Ampere—Physicist
  • Nicolas Steno—Scientist in anatomy and geology
  • Louis Pasteur—Chemist, Inventor
  • James Clerk Maxwell—Mathematical Physics
  • Max Planck—Theoretical Physicist
  • Gregor Mendel—Geneticist

A UNIVERSE WITH A BEGINNING

Do latest findings in modern science support or undermine the Christian claim that there is a God? Carl Sagan once said, “…the cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” Interestingly, in a stunning confirmation of Genesis, modern science has discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a non-material or spiritual cause. Atheists are unwilling to accept that the creation of the universe was, in fact, a miracle.

Ravi Zacharias, in his book The End of Reason, says “nothing cannot produce something.” He adds, “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 to account for the beginning of the universe did not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because according to those very laws matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. Atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell said that the universe is “just there.” Obviously, that is not a scientific explanation. In fact, according to science, nothing that exists (or that is) can explain its own existence.

I don’t mean to pick on atheist theories, but read the following thoughts from Stephen Jay Gould

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 (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); 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.

Ken Ham made a very interesting statement during his February 4, 2014 debate with Bill Nye on the merits of creationism versus evolution:

Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview anyway to carry out their experimental observational science… When they’re doing observational science using the scientific method they have to assume the laws of logic, they have to assume the laws of nature, they have to assume the uniformity of nature.

Mr. Ham made the point that creationists and evolutionists really have the same evidence when discussing the topic of origins. We have the same Grand Canyon, the same fossils, the same dinosaurs, the same humans, the same radioactivity, the same stars and planets, and so on. So the issue is not about evidence, but is rather an argument about how the evidence is interpreted in relation to the past. Frankly, its about one’s worldview. Accordingly, this becomes a worldview/religious debate. It is our worldview, based on our starting point (God’s Word or man’s theories), that drives the interpretation of evidence. This is especially relevant when the discussion is about the origin of the universe.

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) clarify this even further, stating, “A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions.” (p. 8) Assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see. Successful homicide detectives never approach a crime scene with a preconceived notion of what happened.

IS THERE AN END IN SIGHT?

Stephen Hawking gave a lecture in 1996 called “The Beginning of Time.” He discussed whether time itself had a beginning, and whether it will have and end. I assume this means Hawking did not accept the biblical concept of eternity. He said, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago.” Regarding whether the universe will end, he said “…even if the universe does come to an end, it won’t be for at least twenty billion years.” For me, coming to a conclusion such as this requires a great deal of faith and a pinch or two of conjecture.

Many astrophysicists and theoretical physicists seem to hold the scientific opinion that we live in a closed universe, which means there is sufficient matter in the universe to halt the expansion driven by the Big Bang and cause eventual re-collapse. In other words, the Big Bang caused the universe to burst into existence, and it has been gradually expanding; however, gravity will supposedly pull everything back in, leading to another Big Bang. I read a post on howstuffworks.com that explains a closed universe this way:

Tie one end of a bungee cord to your leg, the other end to the rail of a bridge and then jump off. You’ll accelerate downward rapidly until you begin to stretch the cord. As tension increases, the cord gradually slows your descent. Eventually, you’ll come to a complete stop, but just for a second as the cord, stretched to its limit, yanks you back toward the bridge. Astronomers think a closed universe will behave in much the same way. Its expansion will slow down until it reaches a maximum size. Then it will recoil, collapsing back on itself. As it does, the universe will become denser and hotter until it ends in an infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity.

An open universe, on the contrary, means the universe will continue to expand indefinitely. Those holding to this theory believe galaxies will run out of the raw materials necessary for making new stars. Stars that already exist will burn out. Galaxies will become coffins filled with dust and dead stars. At that point, the universe will become dark, cold and, unfortunately, lifeless. Creation.com discusses whether the Bible supports the theory that our universe is expanding. We have been told, since Hubble’s discovery in the late 1920s, that the universe is expanding. Hubble found proportionality between the red-shift in the light coming from relatively nearby galaxies and their distance from Earth.

Hubble initially interpreted his red-shifts as a Doppler effect, due to the motion of the galaxies as they rushed away from our location in the universe. Later, Hubble became disillusioned with the recession interpretation: “… it seems likely that red-shifts may not be due to an expanding Universe, and much of the speculation on the structure of the universe may require re-examination.” He said that what became known as the Hubble Law could also be due to “some hitherto unknown principle of nature,” but not due to expansion of space.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Psalm 104 presents a description of the biblical account of how the universe was formed. Verse 2 says, “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (NIV). Verse 5 says, “He set the earth on its foundation; it can never be moved.” We must remember that God did not provide the Scriptures as a “science” book. Rather, it is a love letter to His creation. Science certainly attempts to explain the how and God explains the why of creation. Regardless, the Bible does not attempt to make strict scientific pronouncements. You won’t find a verse that says, “Thus says the LORD: The universe is expanding at X rate.” God says in Genesis 1:6-7, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse, and it was so. God called the expanse heaven” (NASB).

The prophets of the Old Testament knew that God had stretched out the heavens—a description that bears an uncanny similarity to the theory of an expanding (or open) universe. According to science, what was often considered a metaphorical, poetic expression turns out to be more literal than ever thought. An expanding universe does not negate the biblical account of creation. The great majority of scientists would say that matter is not eternal—that matter did not exist prior to the Big Bang. In fact, the prevailing theory is that nothing at all existed prior to the Big Bang, including time and space. At the moment of the Big Bang—the moment of creation—time began. Space began. Matter began.

McDowell and McDowell (2017), in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, describes what they call “concordist interpretations,” which are driven by what some believe are remarkable agreements between Scripture and modern science. Astronomer Robert Jastrow has said such instances of concordance are significant: “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation… That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (Durbin, SCBTF, 15, 18).

Zoologist Andrew Parker was so struck with the consistency between the sequence of creation events in Genesis 1 and the modern scientific understanding of these events that he wrote The Genesis Enigma, in which he describes this consistency and concludes as follows:

Here, then, is the Genesis Enigma: The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known.  How did the writer of this page come to write this creation account? I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful, impartial evidence to suggest that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration.

Perhaps you will find the following excerpt from the Afterword of Nathaniel T. Jeanson’s Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, rather powerful:

In the beginning, around 6,000 years ago, God created “kinds” of creatures—the original min. Representing creatures somewhere between the rank of subgenus and order, these min contained millions of heterozygous sites in their genomes. As they reproduced, shifts from heterozygosity to homozygosity led to diverse offspring. Less than 1,700 years after the creation of these min, their population sizes were dramatically reduced. At least for the land-dwelling, air-breathing min, their population sizes were reduced to no more than 14 individuals. In some cases, their populations declined to just 2. However, because this population bottleneck was so short, the heterozygosity of the Ark passengers would have been minimally effected. For sexually reproducing min, a male and female could have possessed a combined four copies of nuclear DNA. These copies could have been very different, preserving a massive amount of speciation potential.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Whenever I bring up science and faith, my secular friends either go mute or they try to start an argument. Not the “forensic point-counterpoint kind,” but the “You’ve got to be crazy! What is wrong with you?” kind. They say, “With the advent of modern science, how can you still believe that whole “creationism and the Earth is only 6,000 years old” garbage. They’ve decided miracles cannot happen. They’re convinced that the creation story of Christianity is nothing but an “enchanted” fairy tale. But scientists cannot escape the question of God. Nature is well-ordered and follows the laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics. Nature bears the marks of a designer. Finally, science is only one source of truth.

Science cannot exist without the assumptions of a stable creation, with meaning, purpose, or the laws of nature to govern it. Without the assumptions brought about by Christianity, modern science would have no footing whatsoever. If nature were inherently self-serving and motivated merely by survival rather than to the giving of life, the stability of natural laws would be unknowable. Nature itself would be a moving deception. We would not have the ability to even perceive such a reality if it existed.

 

References

Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hawking, S. (2018). Brief Answers to the Big Questions. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making sense of your world: A biblical worldview, second edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Sire, J. (2015). Naming the elephant: Worldview as a concept, second edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Zacharias, R. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Press.

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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

Science-fish

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.”

hubble-ultraviolet-survey-2

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.

einstein

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.

Lower Manhattan Just After Towers Fell

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.

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Three)

“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).

APOLOGETICS_3

One True Religion?

Many Americans believe, “All religions are good, so let us all just get along!” The problem is that neither Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam teach such inclusive ideas. Each claim to be the one true religion. The COEXIST symbol is merely portraying yet another religious view: All religions are equally valid. But is it logically possible for all religions to be true? Or is there only one true religion?

Do all religions lead to God? Think about the logic of this. Can I pick up my cell phone and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. This reminds me of a comedian (I cannot remember his name) who said, “Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the phone number of a friend or relative? You get close, but no cigar! I think if you get every number right but one you should at least get someone who knows the person you’re trying to reach!” Regarding religion, the truth is all roads don’t lead to Rome, and all religions don’t lead to God.

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The road to heaven is clear. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I’m betting my life and my salvation on the fact that He was right. I believe Jesus Christ was God incarnate, and I don’t think He would lie about the road to paradise. Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (NIV). The most unique attribute of God is His holiness and justice. His holiness is demonstrated by His being “set apart” from all of creation. “With whom then will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, NIV). God is pure and undefiled, separate from sinners. He is unable to fellowship or dwell with the wicked. Psalm 5:4-5 says, “For You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, wicked people are not welcome” (NIV).

When we try to figure out, explain, or define God by our own reasoning, we come dangerously close to creating an image or idol—an image of God that satisfies us from our innately limited point of view.  If God exists—and I believe He does—we certainly did not create Him. Today’s vocal atheists—some prefer to be called anti-theists—proclaim that those who believe in God have simply created Him in their mind. Any attempt on our part to define or explain God will be just that. An attempt.

I’ve heard it said, “No religion is the TRUE RELIGION because humans are behind each doctrine or belief. Religions only serve to divide people who might otherwise get along just fine. Instead, in the name of a god or supreme being, people judge, exclude, or persecute others based upon their religious beliefs.”

Militant Atheists

Most so-called “open-minded” people today tout the belief that no one religion can have a monopoly on truth. Atheists, of course, insist no religion is true because God does not exist. I have been studying apologetics for about a year, and have watched debates between the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens, or Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It is not unusual to see visceral, nasty attacks on Christians. Many of these anti-theists say believers are narrow-minded, exclusionary, bigoted, elitist, deluded, or just plain stupid.

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Many of the more visible atheists today are rather militant, showing hostility toward religion, who are bent on propagating atheism among the masses rather than just quietly, privately, refusing to believe in God. Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens propose that religion is harmful. Both have gone so far as stating that parents who force their faith on their unsuspecting children are pounding religion into their young minds, consequently giving them little-to-no chance of making their own decision about religion. Hitchens actually believes this is a form of child abuse. These militant atheists tend to form their comments from a base of emotions, subjectivity, and a cavalier treatment of subject matter better discussed with depth of thinking and an open mind.

These non-believers are fond of letting the sins of individuals who claim to be Christians discount or discolor the very image of God. Richard Dawkins is known for this tactic, blaming Christians for violent persecution and prosthelytizing during the Crusades. They typically exaggerate the number of people killed while ignoring the terrible murder, persecution, torture, and genocide of countless despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Hirohito, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Muammar Gaddafi, Edi Anim, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

What About The Presence of Evil?

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and others typically argue that the presence of evil and tragedy in the world is proof that God does not exist. They malign the Christian God by saying either God is omnipotent and able to stop evil but chooses not to— making him cold and callous—or He is unable to stop evil, indicating He lacks the power to stop evil. Of course, this is the most troubling accusation for a believer to answer. The best way to examine this issue is to look at God’s nature and His desire for mankind. God loves us and wants us to love Him back.

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But He gave us free will. We can choose to love Him in return, or we can turn our backs on His grace and goodness. Love is a choice. Martin Luther examined free will in his treatise The Bondage of the Will. Luther is actually responding to Erasmus who took issue with the necessity of free will. The following are passages from Luther’s response.

Section. 5. BUT this is still more intolerable, your enumerating this subject of “free-will” among those things that are “useless, and not necessary;” and drawing up for us, instead of it, a “form” of those things which you consider “necessary unto Christian piety.”
Section. 6. THE “form” of Christianity set forth by you, among other things, has this, “That we should strive with all our powers, have recourse to the remedy of repentance, and in all ways try to gain the mercy of God; without which, neither human will, nor endeavour, is effectual.” —Martin Luther

If love is a choice, evil actions are also a choice made by mankind and not Almighty God. If you have a choice, you have to be able to choose not to love, which is in itself the nature of evil. Evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, he gave us not only our greatest blessing, but he also gave us our greatest curse, because we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.

THEREFORE, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what “free-will” can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatever of Christian matters, and shall be far behind all People upon the earth. —Martin Luther

The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. The potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are the result of man making wrong choices. God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t.

Concluding Remarks

The Apostle Paul, a skillful debater who was happy to wrangle with rabbis and philosophers alike, recognized the perils of linking faith improperly with clever argument. Of course, this is exactly the approach taken by today’s militant atheists. Their rhetoric is steeped in emotions and conjecture. When engaging in apologetics, we must remain humble and respectful. We engage in apologetics because we are commanded to. We all have minds that need convincing and satisfying. Christianity meets all our needs. We need to communicate this fact to non-believers. If God has commissioned us to work with Him in testifying to the virtues of the Gospel, then we must do so with vigor and enthusiasm.

As a Christian, I do believe that God has given us the privilege of hearing and embracing the Good News, of receiving adoption into His family, and of joining the Body of Christ as a vital cog in the wheel of salvation. We do believe that we know some things that others do not know, but we do not know all there is to know. What human mind can fully grasp the reality of God Almighty? Above all, I know I have met Jesus Christ on my own road to Damascus. On the basis of what we know—indeed, what we have been shown—we offer to our neighbors through apologetics the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Savior.

What’s Next?

Next week, in Part Four, I will present the truth and the nature of conversion, including the definition of being “born again,” and how one comes to a decision regarding religion. I look forward to presenting the Christian doctrine to you.

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Two)

“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).

have you ever been

THE GENERAL PROBLEM, the problem that faces anyone with a message nowadays, is the broad cultural doubt about absolutes and the authority figures who presume to enforce them. Interestingly, a byproduct of this type of skepticism leads to complacent satisfaction with what one already knows and believes. I’m reminded of a comment I heard at a seminar years ago. The facilitator of the meeting said, “There is what we know and there’s what we don’t know, but more importantly there’s what we don’t know that we don’t know. Brilliant!

Alan Bloom, in his best-seller The Closing of the American Mind, said openness results in American conformism—out there in the rest of the world is a drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here in America we can create all the lifestyles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Bloom says, “Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing.”

It begs the question: If there are no grounds upon which one can argue that one civilization is superior to another, or that one moral code is loftier than another, or that one way of doing things is better than another, then why bother learning about other cultures and philosophies and religions? What begins as a political value of coexisting with differences and resisting authoritarianism that would squelch individuality has become, ironically, a broad indifference to difference and a disincentive to improving oneself by learning from others.

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Christians have a particularly hard time getting the message of the Gospel across to people today. A Christian sharing his or her faith is almost immediately labeled a Bible-thumping wingnut or, worse, a narrow-minded elitist. The other person is typically not inclined to sit still for any length of time to listen to an argument on the Gospel. They are especially unwilling to tolerate any sort of suggestion that they need to convert to Christianity. My life is just fine the way it is, thank you very much! Moreover, statistically most Americans today believe they are already Christians. They celebrate Christmas and Easter, go to church on a fairly regular basis, and treat the poor and disadvantaged with compassion. If they think they are a Christian, why would they need to hear from someone else about the Christian faith? Especially if they think they’re going to hear a lecture that they’re really not much of a Christian.

Detractors of the Christian Faith

“The number-one attraction to the Christian faith is other Christians. Unfortunately, however, the number-one detraction to the Christian faith is other Christians.” (Pastor Mike Miller)

Several years ago Hollywood gave us an in-depth look at ongoing child molestation in the Archdiocese of Boston in the docudrama Spotlight starring Michael Keaton. Under an extraordinary cloak of secrecy, the Archdiocese quietly settled scores of sexual abuse cases leveled against at least 70 priests in Boston. The Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe found court records and other documents that identified 19 present and former priests who had been accused as pedophiles. The investigative team discovered that the church’s annual directories showed as many as 107 priests were removed from parishes and placed in such categories as “sick leave” or “absent on leave” and “awaiting assignment.”

Cardinal Bernard Law says he “cannot estimate” how many priests have molested children.

Cardinal Bernard Law, Archdiocese of Boston

The child molestation problem in the Catholic church is only one of numerous failings atheists and doubters like to cite when attacking Christianity. As scandals go, the one involving Jim Bakker was huge. Bakker was accused of raping Jessica Hahn, a church secretary, then paying $279,000 for her silence. Hahn blew the whistle on questionable financial doings at PTL, a conglomerate of the Bakkers that included the church, a televangelist network, a theme park, a water park, and an extravagant residential complex. As a result of Ms. Hahn’s whistle blowing, Jim Bakker was found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was paroled after serving 5 years behind bars.

In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was implicated in a sex scandal involving a prostitute that resulted in his suspension and ultimate defrocking by the Assemblies of God church. Of course, this led to Swaggart’s now-famous “I have sinned” speech on television. Swaggart was found in the company of another prostitute in 1991, but refused to talk about the incident, deciding it was “flat none of your business.” Several prominent pastors have also come under fire for amassing fortunes and living an opulent lifestyle. Joel Osteen is said to have a personal net worth of $40 million. Kenneth Copeland (The Believer’s Voice of Victory) is worth approximately $760 million. Pat Roberson is said to have a personal net worth of $100 million. Copeland owns a $17.5 million jet, and lives in a lakefront mansion worth $6 million. The median salary of a pastor in America as of March 2018 is $93,760.

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Unfortunately, Christianity in North America has suffered considerably from the widely reported—and widely enjoyed—failures of prominent clergy. Over and over again, talk-radio shows that feature religion have been besieged by callers who wanted to report on personal disappointments with people who call themselves Christians. An abusive father here, a repressive mother there; a flirtatious pastor or licentious youth leader; a thieving church treasurer or a dishonest employee who had proudly proclaimed his faith—over and over again, people of all walks of life report encounters with repellent Christians guilty of rather questionable behavior. These individuals come to symbolize Christianity to their victims, and the pain that they cause sticks to the religion they profess.

A Sign of the Times

We live in a sort-of time-between-the-times, in which people raised in a more or less Christian culture now are reacting against it. This condition especially afflicts Baby Boomers, that generation that has defined itself so centrally as rebelling against “the Establishment.” Christianity was a part of the regime of Mom and Dad against whom they were reacting. Christian apologetics, accordingly, will have to be especially sensitive to this sort of resentment, as well as the incredulity expressed by many over outrageous scandals like the ones I described above. With the increasing presence of believers of other faiths, especially Islam, we are being forced to express a multicultural acceptance of the beliefs of others, sometimes to the subduing or exclusion of our own Christian beliefs. Again, Christians are considered narrow-minded, bigoted, elitist, and just plain dumb. This gulf today is essentially between liberalism and conservatism.

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Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. The non-churchgoing population in the United States and Europe is steadily increasing. The number of Americans answering “no religious preference” to poll questions has skyrocketed, having doubled or even tripled in the last decade (Douthat, 2007). A century ago most U.S. universities shifted from a formally Christian foundation to an overtly secular one. In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time. For example, in Europe Christianity is growing modestly and Islam is growing exponentially, while fundamentalism is coming under constant vitriolic fire in the U.S.

As a child, the plausibility of a faith usually rests on the authority of others, but when we reach adulthood there is a need for personal, firsthand experience as well. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior the year I turned thirteen. I was baptized as an outward public sign of my new faith. I do not recall experiencing the presence of God. I unfortunately fell by the wayside for decades, struggling for forty years in active addiction. It took a 12-Step program to give me back the God of my youth and to discover the meaning of spirituality. I learned that we cannot inherit our salvation from our parents. Ultimately, I came to grips with my own faults, powerlessness, and problems. It was painful, but it has proven to make all the difference in my adult life. It has created in me an absolute conviction of the reality of the Good News of the Gospel.

Can Doubt be a Powerful Tool?

Is certainty overrated? Today’s militant atheists believe no one can prove the existence of God, so why bother trying? The late Christopher Hitchens, an atheist known across academia as a defender of science and reality, was fond of stating that parents’ forcing their faith in God on their children is a form of child abuse, adding that it predisposes children to believing a myth rather than seeking observable, verifiable truth.

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Is it wrong to have doubts about your faith in God? Scripture says without faith it is impossible to please God (see Hebrews 11:6), and that a person who doubts shouldn’t expect to receive anything from Him (see James 1:7). In Matthew 9:23-25, we read about a father who brought his son to Jesus seeking healing for a life-long disease, perhaps epilepsy. The father said to Jesus, “If you can do anything…” Jesus replied, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (NIV). So there is nothing unusual for even a Christian to experience doubt. In fact, even among the disciples some doubted.

Christianity isn’t about having faith in faith alone. The Greek word for faith (pistis) is a derivative of the Greek word for persuasion (peitho). In other words, faith is not merely a blind, mindless acceptance of things our parents told us. Instead, it is a confidence based upon convincing evidence. Perhaps this is why Josh and Sean McDowell titled their book on seeking evidence in support of the Gospel Evidence That Demands a Verdict. This father-and-son team wanted to help arm Christians who have been stumped by arguments against the Bible or Christianity. I’ve actually been told that Christianity is nothing but a fairy tale, unsupported by scientific fact. Lee Strobel, an award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, set out to prove to his wife and the rest of the world that Christianity was bunk. What resulted was his book The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. The book also led to a major motion picture of the same name, and a series of books to follow.

Was Jesus an Apologist?

Jesus was a brilliant thinker, who used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. When Jesus praised the faith of children, He was encouraging humility as a virtue, not irrational religious trust or a blind leap of faith in the dark. Jesus deftly employed a variety of reasoning strategies in His debates on various topics. These include escaping the horns of a dilemma, a fortiori arguments, appeals to evidence, and reductio ad absurdum arguments. Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it.

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Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicate that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith. Followers of Jesus today, therefore, should emulate His intellectual zeal, using the same kinds of arguments He Himself used. Jesus’ argumentative strategies have applications to four contemporary debates: (i) the relationship between God and morality; (ii) the reliability of the New Testament; (iii) the resurrection of Jesus; and (iv) ethical relativism.

Apologetics Strengthens Believers

Many Christians claim to believe in Jesus, but only a minority can articulate good reasons for why their beliefs are true. When Christians learn good evidences for the truth of the Bible, for the existence of God, or how to respond to tough challenges to the faith, they gain confidence in their beliefs. Numerous studies show a number of students tend to leave the church during their college years. While they leave for many different kinds of reasons (moral, volitional, emotional, relational, etc.), intellectual questions are one important factor. Young people have genuine intellectual questions. And when these questions are not answered, many leave the church. Perhaps the contemporary church needs a renewal of apologetics.

reason and faith

People naturally have questions. They always have and always will. Jesus understood this. One of the key functions of apologetics, then, is to respond to questions and clear away objections people have that hinder their trust in Christ. Apologist, author, and speaker Ravi Zacharias emphasizes the important impact of an alert response to someone’s question, even in a small way: “Do not underestimate the role you play in clearing the obstacles in someone’s spiritual journey. A seed sown here, a light shone there, may be all that is needed to move someone one step further.”

Evangelism and apologetics are closely related. Both have a common general goal: encouraging commitment to Jesus Christ. In fact, in certain theological circles, apologetics has been labeled pre-evangelism. On this understanding, apologetics clears the ground for evangelism; it makes evangelism more effective by preemptively addressing impediments to hearing the Gospel. This is certainly true, but apologetics is also useful in the midst of the presentation of the Gospel and after the presentation of the Gospel. In other words, there is no moment in which a Christian takes off his or her evangelist hat and puts on their apologist hat. The relationship is more seamless than that. The difference between the two is one of focus rather than substance. Evangelism is focused on presenting the Gospel; apologetics is focused on defending and commending the Gospel. There is, moreover, an important difference in the audience of evangelism and apologetics. Evangelism is done only with non-Christians, but apologetics is done with Christians and non-Christians alike.

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will delve into “There Can’t Be Only One True Religion, Can There?”

References

Bloom, A. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Douthat, R. (July/August 2007). “Crisis of Faith.” The Atlantic Monthly.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Updated and Expanded. Nashville, TN: Thomas Collins.