Over the past couple of years, I’ve been active on social media. In that time, I’ve discovered that many atheists are active on social media as well and they often target me for my views on Christianity. I’ve learned much about many of their views, so this article offers some arguments to present my views in the context of theirs.
One discovery I’ve made is that many want “evidence” for my faith in Christianity. They don’t want to hear that many of the two billion Christians in the world have strong personal testimonies. This “anecdotal” evidence, even when considered collectively, is not enough. I told them that I could collect testimonies from a thousand people in my church to create an empirical study using subjective content analysis, which would analyze themes and patterns. They reply that they need physical evidence. Of course, they know that I can’t produce physical evidence of the metaphysical.
The Physical Sciences
Atheists often turn to science, yet not to all sciences, such as the social sciences. They consider the natural and physical sciences paramount. Nobel-prize winning chemist, Harry Kroto stated “science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine truth with any degree of reliability.”[i] This view is consistent with scientism, which suggests that science can answer any and all questions. Richard Dawkins believes similarly, noting that scientists are “the specialists in discovering what is true about the world and the universe.”[ii] Stephen Hawking chimes in by saying that “philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”[iii] Lawrence Krauss adds “the only knowledge we have is from experiments…the only knowledge about the world is empirical.”[iv]
Not all atheists think this way. Atheist philosopher Massimo Pigliucci is a good example:
“I don’t know what’s the matter with physicists these days. It used to be that we’re an intellectually sophisticated bunch, with the likes of Einstein and Bohr doing not only brilliant scientific research, but also interested in, respectful of, and conversant in other branches of knowledge, particularly philosophy. These days it is much more likely to encounter physicists like Steve Weinberg or Stephen Hawking who merrily go about dismissing philosophy for the wrong reasons, and quite obviously out of a combination of profound ignorance and hubris (the two often go together, as I’m sure Plato would happily point out). The latest such bore is Lawrence Krauss, of Arizona State University.”[v]
Physical science is one tool we can use to better understand the world, but it shouldn’t be the only tool, lest we place more weight on what the world is comprised of (oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc.) than on the bigger question of why we and the world are here. To further understand the latter, we additionally must draw on the social sciences, such as psychology, and philosophy and theology. We should consider these questions in the context of our morality and ethical foundations. We wouldn’t build a home with a single tool, such as a hammer. Building a house requires the entire toolbox. As C.S. Lewis said, “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[vi] Einstein underscored the point by stating “the man of science is a poor philosopher.”
As Frank Turek says, “there is little consensus on what is or isn’t science. Those who insist that science is only about finding natural causes by using observation and repetition are excluding sciences that infer intelligent causes, such as archeology, cryptology, and…forensic science.”[vii]
In summary, if we constrain our focus to the natural sciences, which many atheists insist we do, we limit the discussion and constrain opportunities to identify the truth. Instead, inquiry should include all relevant sciences. Otherwise, if we only look for natural causes, there is no way we can develop an understanding of the supernatural.
God of the Gaps and the Cosmological Argument
Atheists often cite what they call the God of the Gaps fallacy in an effort to counter the Cosmological Argument. The Cosmological Argument posits that all things in nature depend on something else for their existence. Accordingly, the entire cosmos must depend on a Supreme Being who exists independently or necessarily.
Scientists today support the Big Bang theory.[viii] The mathematical underpinnings of this theory include Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, along with theories of fundamental particles. According to this theory, the universe (space, time, matter) started approximately 13.8 billion years ago with a small singularity, ever inflating to the state which we know today.[ix] Events before the Big Bang are not defined and what powered the Big Bang, setting it into rapid inflationary expansion is not known. Some atheists are content with not knowing what powered the Big Bang. They suggest that theists simply fill in this “gap” in knowledge with God, applying the God of the Gaps fallacy.
Aristotle drew this conclusion about God’s existence: “there must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for the wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.”[x] Aristotle thought the universe was eternal, but we know better.
According to Aristotle, God isn’t just for the gaps in nature that we can’t explain. God isn’t limited to the “shrinking bits of the natural world.” God is in every part of the world. This concept is explained in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence. If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”
As for the mighty force that powered the Big Bang, believers offer the explanation of a supernatural being. This supernatural being would need to be spaceless, timeless (unbounded by linear time), and metaphysical to have been present prior to the Big Bang. This being would further need to be intentional and active or the Big Bang wouldn’t have been possible. In other words, this presence could not be a passive form.
Instead of accepting the possibility of a supernatural force, many atheists speculate that the multiverse is a possibility, which suggests that another universe was present before our universe, or that there are other universes aside from ours. Given the fact we have no (zero, zilch, zip) evidence of a multiverse, this argument seems silly since atheists demand evidence!
Some atheists are also satisfied with not knowing the answers to other mysteries within our physical realms, such as the questions of consciousness (non-physical), dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy are prevalent within the universe, as scientists have discovered, yet no one knows anything about their properties. Despite a lack of knowledge about the physical properties of dark matter and energy, atheists don’t doubt the presence of dark matter and dark energy.
Consciousness implies awareness, which is the subjective experience we have within our internal and external worlds. Consciousness also corresponds to our feelings, choices, sense of self, memory, thought, language, and internally generated images and patterns. Our views of reality depend on our consciousness, which defines our existence.
In his book Biocentrism, Robert Lanza offers a theory on consciousness. Lanza considers the structure of the universe, noting that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, which implies that intelligence existed prior to matter. Space and time are not objects or things, he states, but rather tools of our animal understanding. Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells,” which means that when the shell comes off (space and time), we continue to exist.
“The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist. It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body. They believe that the body is going to perish, sooner or later, thinking their consciousness will disappear too. If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local.” [xi]
In summary, the question of consciousness calls to attention the existence of a spiritual, non-physical realm. The question of what powered the universe calls to attention the existence of an independent, metaphysical force: God. Excluding the possibility of choosing God as the answer by framing the choice as a God of the gaps fallacy equates to telling the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial of his former wife and friend that they will not be allowed to fill the gaps of their knowledge of whether he committed the crime with the glove, the weapon, and any blood evidence. We would never require that jury make a decision when not provided with all of the evidence, so why should we attempt to do the same in the present context? In summary, God is the only logical answer to two of life’s greatest mysteries. Let’s move on.
The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument argues for the existence of God based on intelligent design and order in nature. This particular argument is one that some atheists consider compelling. When we consider all of the forces and constants that had to come together to create the perfect conditions of our world, we often come to the realization that an invisible hand guided these conditions. As noted by Robert Lanza:
“By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed.”[xii]
Further information on the specific constants can be found in the CODATA 1998 recommendations by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States.
An excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas further demonstrates the teleological argument. Click here: Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God
The Uncaused Cause
Atheists often apply physical laws to God, stating that He needed a cause. They don’t understand that God is the uncaused cause. He is eternal. This concepts of eternity and an uncaused cause are difficult for many to grasp, given our mortal lives, physical laws, and linear time.
Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory helps to evaluate whether an uncaused cause is intuitive. This theory is below and was recently supported in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2009, 23: 901-917.
- Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
- All things moving must be moved by something else.
- Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
- It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
- Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
- There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
- Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.
Stephen Hawking acknowledges that the universe had a start date, noting that time prior to real time in the linear (as we know it) and prior to the Big Bang was what he calls “imaginary time.”[xiii]
Imaginary time is unbounded, non-linear time. By understanding unbounded time, we can better understand God’s omniscience and the free will He has bestowed upon us. Omniscience means that God is all-knowing. Atheists often conflate His knowledge with His control over us, thinking that for God to be all knowing, He must have control over our actions. He must have predetermined our lives. Alternatively, I suggest that the reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s seen our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”
C.S. Lewis described this concept this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”[xiv]
This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand several important aspects of God, which we will discuss next.
In summary, believers aim to explain the universe prior to the Big Bang with the only reasonable explanation of an uncaused cause that is unbounded by time: God. Even atheist Albert Einstein was uncomfortable with a start date because he knew of its divine implications.
The Problem of Pain
Some atheists apply an absolute moral standard to God when they point to the evils in this world to suggest that He is the cause of such evils and He should be held accountable. They use the characteristics of God, which include His omniscience and omnipotence, to make the assertion that He had knowledge of everything that would happen in the world when He created the world. And if this is the case, He was well aware that some humans would be in His Lamb’s Book of Life and would be welcomed to heaven, while others would not be on the list, ending up in hell.
Some say that if God knew our every choice before we were born, knowing that we’d be going to heaven or hell, then we have no choices to make in our lives. We have no free will. Some question the character of God, wondering why a loving Father would be willing to allow some of His children not to choose Him. They state that God’s children shouldn’t be forced to choose God; they should be given free will not to choose Him. The bottom line with these issues is that some people feel that we don’t have free will if God truly has omniscience because God already knows our fates so we can do nothing to change fate.
To answer these issues, we have to return to God’s unbounded time. God hasn’t already decided on our fate; He knows our fate but He is also with us as we make our choices, determining our own fate. As noted above and consistent with His timeless presence, He is concurrently in the past, present, and future. He’s watching His children make decisions, yet He’s already seen the decisions made. He knew from the beginning the choices made because He was just as present then as He is now. His presence is, was, and always will be – in the present. Accordingly, we are with Him when we make our choices, so we can always change our minds, and He already knows the outcomes of our “changed minds.”
To wrap our minds around this concept, try to unbound Him by time and remove any words or phrases that freeze Him in time. Eliminate words such as then, now, soon, before, after, and in the past or future. God simply is. So, instead of saying, “God knew back then what my choices would be today,” consider saying “God knew my choices and is with me as I make them.” Hopefully this helps to understand that we still have free will. We’re not locked into a life we didn’t intentionally choose.
Even so, some may wonder of the fates of those who do not choose to align with God. Given the fates proposed in the Bible, some wonder why God would permit them to even exist? Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell?
Recall that our fate is our choice. No one goes to heaven or hell without choosing heaven or hell. But what is hell like, should that be the choice? Will it be all fire, as suggested in the Book of Revelation, or will it be more of a shadowy Sheol? The Bible says that it is a place of torment, which is attributable to the lack of God within those who have chosen that particular fate. Though God is present everywhere, including in hell, people in hell are not with God. God is no longer within those who have chosen that fate.
Some atheists state that the world is unjust. They question why some are blessed with much while others suffer so. To understand this issue, we need to examine purpose of good and evil. The world isn’t a perfect place because if it were, we could never grow the sorts of characteristics needed to be more consistent with the example of Jesus Christ. We’re here to grow and learn from our mistakes, because learning from our mistakes is what helps us to grow. We’re here to persevere through pain, to show empathy around those in need, to demonstrate faith when tested. In other words, we’re tested in all sorts of ways to grow characteristics like determination, faith, perseverance, empathy, and love. How could we ever truly understand love if we hadn’t experienced its counterpart? How could we ever develop hope if we never had anything for which to hope? How could we ever develop humility if we had never been humbled? So, the fact that the Lord has put us into a world with all of these yin and yang sorts of good and evil characteristics is to improve us and make us more like Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
This world is but a stepping stone to the next one, equivalent in time to a speck of sand on the beaches of heaven, so we must invest our time wisely. We’re put here to advance our souls by capitalizing on the spiritual gifts with which we’ve been bestowed. Similar to the Parable of the Talents, we are instructed to invest well in our talents. To those to whom much has been given, much is expected. God holds us accountable, so ignoring one’s spiritual talents will not be viewed favorably. Yet God doesn’t leave us behind either. He wants all of His children to succeed and prosper. Indeed, they are given free will not to choose Him and many make that choice. The Parable of the Lost Sheep states that God goes to great lengths to keep His children from making that choice, yet some resist His calls.
Many think that Jesus was merely a prophet or a great moral teacher. Muslims believe that too, but many even go further by denying that Jesus died on the cross. Most Muslims think God took Jesus into heaven before the crucifixion and some guy who looked just like Him was beaten and crucified in His place. Even the Jewish Sanhedrin acknowledged that Jesus died on the cross. By believing that He wasn’t crucified, Muslims deny the resurrection, which denies the foundation of Christianity.
The prophet Zechariah predicted to the Jews that their King would come to them, humble and lowly, riding on a donkey. If one were still waiting for the King to come, one might consider that few use that mode of transportation anymore. Beyond that, the prophet Isaiah so clearly predicted Jesus’ coming in his 53rd chapter that Jewish rabbis exclude that passage from their list of regular synagogue readings from the Tenach, which is in our Old Testament. They also exclude other passages referring to the Messiah, the Virgin Mary, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for 30 shekel coins.
Jesus was much more than a prophet. It says in many passages of the New Testament that He was and is the Son of God. He said He’s the Son of God and He forgave people for their sins against others. He said that no one gets to the Father except through Him. A great moral teacher doesn’t forgive people like that and call Himself the way, the truth, and the life. To call Him merely a great moral teacher while knowing that He said He is the Son of God is really saying that He was just a crazy man. A mad man. A liar. As C.S. Lewis put it, He would be the equivalent of a poached egg.
After Jesus was buried, His eleven remaining apostles hid out in their homes, afraid they would meet the same demise that He had met. They feared for their lives and questioned their beliefs in the man they had followed. Then Jesus appeared to them very much alive. That’s the key. Had He not appeared to them after He was crucified, they would never have done what they did for Him. They were burned, stoned, clubbed, beheaded, and crucified, all while enthusiastically preaching His word.
Imagine that you’re one of those writers. Imagine that you’re a church leader in early Christian times trying to rev up your congregation after Jesus’ passing. You’ve decided that you need to craft an amazing story about the most glorious event that you’re claiming occurred in Jesus’ life: His resurrection and the discovery of His empty tomb. Who should make that discovery, in this novel you’re contriving? Peter the rock? John the loved one? Matthew the reformed tax collector? Certainly, the person who discovers the open tomb should be one of the male apostles. Someone with credibility. Someone people respect. You need people to believe this story you’re crafting. But instead of writing something you know would influence and motivate the people, you do the unthinkable. You choose a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was cursed by multiple demons at an earlier point in her life, along with other women, to make the most important discovery in the Bible. Of course, you realize that by choosing her, people will doubt your story. Your story will have no merit in the male-dominated world of Jesus’ time. Women were second class citizens then. They were treated similarly to the way some are treated in parts of the Arab world today, where they are prevented from getting an education and required to wear Niqabs and Burkas that cover their bodies from head to toe. In Saudi Arabia, women still aren’t allowed to drive cars, and in many Muslim countries in the region, being stoned for adultery still happens.
To the point that the church leaders wrote those passages for influence, think about this. For the first 300 years of Christianity, Christians were imprisoned and killed for simply being Christians under a variety of Roman rulers. Nero was one of the worst. About thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection, Nero blamed Christians for burning Rome and used that as justification for outlawing Christianity. He entertained himself by feeding Christians to hungry dogs and crucifying them and setting their bodies aflame. The only way to save themselves from such persecutions was to make a pagan sacrifice and deny Jesus. Thousands instead chose to endure brutal deaths, keeping their eyes on the unseen prize, heaven. The apostles and the five hundred people who saw Jesus alive after His death must have been very convincing to those early Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the cause. It wasn’t until the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision of a cross in 312 A.D. and converted to Christianity that the doors were opened to Christians to worship legally.
Some argue that the story of Jesus was crafted for control. If true, one would need to prove the early church leaders were gleaning power by controlling the masses with the story. Instead, the early church leaders had no legitimacy. They were hunted and killed for their beliefs instead of deriving some sort of earthly physical benefit from believing. They had no power. No glory. No churches. Moreover, the people who followed the early Christian leaders weren’t being controlled. In fact, the governing leaders determined that the early Christians were out of control. That’s why they imprisoned, beat, and killed them. They feared the Christians would rile the masses away from their means of control, which at the time were Paganism and Roman laws.
Some point that the church eventually gained power, which is true, but this point shouldn’t discount the first 300 years of Christianity, when no Christians had power and still risked their lives for the cause. I’m not saying that the church never had control and has never used its power to influence people. The church has had much power since legalized and sometimes that power has been used in the wrong ways. But in the early years, the church didn’t have power. Christians had to practice in secret. So discounting the legitimacy of Jesus’ story by saying that people created the story for control doesn’t make sense.
I’ve also heard atheists make the claim that the New Testament was an oral tradition for fifty or more years, disclaiming its legitimacy. However, if that were the case surely one of its authors would have included mention of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. No author makes mention of this major event in the New Testament, suggesting the authorship of much of the New Testament took place in the first few decades after Jesus was crucified. In fact, thirteen books of the New Testament were authored by Paul, which is over half of its books. Authorship occurred before Paul was beheaded in Rome by Nero between 64 and 67 AD.
In summary, I hope this short essay offers views consistent with your own. Keep the faith.
“So we keep our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18
[i] Cited by P.Z. Myers at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/theres_something_obvious_mssi.php The original quote can be accessed in The Times, April 7, 2011
[ii] Dawkins, R. (2004).The Devil’s Chaplain: Selected Writings, London, Phoenix, p. 204.
[iii] Hawking, S. & Mlodinow, L. (2010) The Grand Design, New York: Bantam Books, p. 5.
[iv] Krauss, L.M. Unbelievable: A Universe From Nothing? Lawrence Krauss vs. Rodney Holder
[v] Pigliucci, M. (2012) Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex. http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/lawrence-krauss-another-physicist-with.html
[vi] Lewis, C.S. (1996). The Weight of Glory. New York: Touchstone.
[vii] Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.
[x] http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html; http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
[x] Sachs, J. (2013). Aristotle: Metaphysics. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-met/#H9.
[xi] Lanza, R. (2009). Biocentrism. How life and consciousness are the keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.
[xiv] Lewis, C.S. (2002) Mere Christianity. Harper One.