In the early 2000s, a new movement of vocal atheists arose, committed with religious fervor to the propagation of their faith that there is no God, and imagining that the world would be a much better place if religion would just go away. One event that vitalized this crusade of “New Atheists” was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, undertaken by Islamic radicals. After 911, many secularists lumped all religious believers together as part of the problem of violence throughout the world.
There were four leading New Atheists, sometimes named the Four Horseman of the Non-
Apocalypse. These were Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authored books attacking religious belief as nonsensical and dangerous, including the best-selling The God Delusion by Dawkins.
Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling book attacking religious belief was God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens, like the other New Atheist evangelists, was involved in a number of debates with defenders of religion. What many people do not know is that Hitchens developed close relationships with some of the Christians with whom he debated. One of these Christians was a man by the name of Larry Alex Taunton, a Christian apologist (defender of the faith) with an organization called Fixed Point Foundation. In 2010, as Hitchens was suffering from terminal cancer, Hitchens and Taunton held their one-and-only debate in my home town of Billings, Montana. Why Billings? Apparently Hitchens had never been to Montana, and the debate gave him an excuse to travel there.
Hitchens passed away on December 15, 2011, one year after his debate with Larry Taunton. Last week on March 24, 2016, Taunton returned to the Babcock Theater in Billings, the same stage where he and Hitchens had previously debated, to promote his new book about his relationship with Hitchens, called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. This book has earned praise from both Christians and skeptics, with back-cover endorsements from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer.
Taunton spoke last week for about an hour and a half, highlighting how he and Hitchens formed a friendship, and how that relationship grew to the point of taking long road trips together. I would like to highlight four key points that stood out to me.
1. Christopher Hitchens was a complex person. Taunton pointed out that while Hitchens was famous as a proponent of atheism and an adversary of religion, Hitchens was not defined by his atheism. Hitchens believed in truth and integrity, and was embarrassed at times by what he heard from fellow atheists. Taunton related a time when Hitchens appeared on a program hosted by atheist Bill Maher (of the documentary Religulous), and ripped into both Maher and Maher’s audience for their shallowness.
Christopher Hitchens’ complexity as a person is not unusual; I would say that most—perhaps all—people are complex. When we are conversing with a person, we should not assume that the persona they present is the complete package, and we should not assume that the person even fully understands all of their own motives and reasons for believing as they do. A person might say they believe there is no God because of some set of logical arguments, but in reality, their reasons for rejecting theism are something totally different, such as a desire to live without certain moral restrains, or that they have not really understood the other side. Likewise, a person might be a theist because they are convinced by the cosmological, moral, or design arguments for the existence of God, but deeper reasons come into play as well. Of course, as a Christian, I would add that there are spiritual influences at work beneath and above all of the human reasons.
2. The logical and moral implications of atheism are frightening. Many consider Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, to be a consistent atheist. People, in Singer’s thinking, don’t have any more inherent value than animals, and in some cases have even less. The implications of Singer’s ethical system include infanticide and euthanasia. Hitchens was appalled by this line of reasoning, and was personally opposed to abortion and capital punishment. Hitchens was more concerned about discovering what was morally right and then working out the logical basis for his beliefs at another time, than he was about following the implications of atheism to their logical conclusions.
3. The importance of relationships. The key to pointing people to Christ is usually not having a better argument, but exemplifying what is written in 1 Peter 3:15, which states,
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. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV)
Even though Hitchens had written a best-selling book with the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens was able to respect, honor, and be drawn to a Christian who displayed love, gentleness, and respect along with intellectual rigor. We cannot develop a deep relationship with everyone, but we can pray that God would put us in at least one key relationship with an unbeliever in which we can be a powerful witness for Christ.
We all have interests or backgrounds that overlap with those of unbelievers. I have a friend who is on staff at the headquarters of a major Christian ministry. In his role, he interacts with Christians all day, and did not have significant relationships with unbelievers. So my friend joined an African violet club. I had no idea such clubs existed, but it was a way for him to rub shoulders with those outside of his Christian world.
Christopher Hitchens also developed a friendship with theologian Douglas Wilson. One realm of common interest between these two men was their appreciation of the writings of British humorous author P.G. Wodehouse. Hitchens and Wilson could sit and give one quote after another from characters in Wodehouse’s fiction. This small area of overlap was a bridge that enabled the two men to have much more serious conversations and debates, sometimes while drinking beer together in a bar.
4. The importance of taking people into the Scriptures and pointing them to Christ. As Hitchens and Taunton developed a relationship, it became clear to Taunton that Hitchens had a somewhat superficial understanding of the Bible and Christianity. Eventually, Taunton challenged Hitchens to a Bible study. The two men went on a road trip and studied the Gospel of John together, which brought in topics from throughout the Bible as they conversed. This study occurred after Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hitchens was not converted to Christianity—he said if he converted it would be because the cancer had gotten into his brain—but through his relationship with Taunton and others, Hitchens learned that Christians and Christianity were not entirely who and what he thought they were.
Taunton did not hold back when talking about the seriousness of these topics. Christianity is not just a philosophy to affirm or deny, but a call to faith in Christ. We are all moving towards judgment, and Taunton was blunt with Hitchens about his need to turn to Christ. Taunton let Hitchens know that he was praying for him, which Hitchens genuinely appreciated—not because Hitchens thought it would matter but he appreciated the gesture of friendship. Hitchens asked Taunton what he prayed, and Taunton told him that it wasn’t so much for physical healing but that Hitchens would come to faith in Christ. Some would be offended by this, but Hitchens by this point had a good enough understanding of Christianity to know that this prayer was a greater expression of Taunton’s love than a prayer for healing would have been.
I have not yet read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, but there is reason to believe that by the end Hitchens no longer believed that “religion poisons everything.” Hitchens was able to say about Larry Taunton that “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” Hitchens stated this knowing full well that it was Taunton’s faith in Christ that made him into the sort of person who would bring healing rather than poison to this hurting world.
May we as Christians all be this same sort of witness for Christ.
Grace and Peace
The Faith of Christopher Hitchens will be available from Amazon starting April 12th.
The debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens were featured on the documentary Collision.
The video of the clash between Hitchens and Maher can be found here: Christopher Hitchens gives Bill Maher’s crowd of leftist automatons a well-deserved finger.
Today, February 4, 2015, marks the one-year anniversary of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Is creation a viable model of origins?” debate. After the debate, I wrote a post-debate analysis, in which I pointed out that both speakers made some valid points, and both speakers made some blunders.
Ken Ham believes that the Bible requires us to hold to a young Earth, and so he goes about looking for scientific evidence to back up his interpretation. Bill Nye also believes that the Bible teaches a young Earth, and he rejects Christianity.
Both speakers acknowledged that there are Christians and other religious people who hold to some sort of middle ground. I am in that middle ground: I am a Christian who believes the Bible does not set a date for the original creation, and I believe God may have used processes (e.g. biological evolution) to some degree to accomplish his creation objectives.
But what if there were only two choices? What if our only two options really were “young Earth creationism” or “naturalistic cosmological and biological evolution?” Which way would I go?
For me, the choice would be fairly straight-forward. My readers all know that I think young Earth creationism is a complete failure scientifically. Neither its arguments for a young Earth, nor its arguments for Noah’s flood being responsible for most of Earth’s geological features, hold any credibility.
So if given only two choices–young Earth creationism, or atheistic naturalism–I would unhesitatingly pick…
Young Earth creationism.
Because what I would have to believe in order to be an atheist is even more out of touch with reality than is young Earth creationism.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,”
is much more credible than
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be,”
“In the beginning nothing created everything.”
I find the classic arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument and the moral argument, to be compelling. Young-Earth creationism functions within a universe that could really exist. Atheism does not. This universe runs by laws–natural and moral–that came from somewhere. Atheism functions in a universe that is run by laws, but has no explanation for where the universe/multiverse, along with its laws, came from.
Fortunately, I don’t have to choose either Ken Ham’s way, or Bill Nye’s way. The Bible does not require a young Earth. Science does not demand naturalism.
Grace and Peace
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1
“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan
“In the beginning nothing created everything.” — Not a quote from an atheist that I know of, but a good summary of one of the very few options open to atheists. The only other option I can think of is that the universe/multiverse is itself eternal, which doesn’t answer the basic question of “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Do you believe in human rights? Then it makes more sense to believe in God than to believe that God does not exist.
Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, demonstrates that while it is fairly straight-forward to make a religious case for human rights, it has proven very difficult to construct a case for human rights from a purely secular foundation. If the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, and if the existence of Homo sapiens is merely an accident, then all of the injustices of the human experience don’t really matter one way or another. This is not saying that non-Christians (or non-theists) cannot really believe in human rights or morality, because it is clear that they can. It is just that they have to borrow—perhaps subconsciously—some of their ethics from the Christians.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of The Reason for God (pp. 155-156 of the hardback edition), in a section called “The Argument for God from the Violence of Nature.”
How would we know [that moral obligation exists]? To sharpen our focus on the significance of this indelible knowledge of moral obligation, consider the observations of writer Annie Dillard. Dillard lived for a year by a creek in the mountains of Virginia expecting to be inspired and refreshed by closeness to “nature.” Instead, she came to realize that nature was completely ruled by one central principle—violence by the strong against the weak.
Annie Dillard saw that all of nature is based on violence. Yet we inescapably believe it is wrong for stronger human individuals or groups to kill weaker ones. If violence is totally natural why would it be wrong for strong humans to trample weak ones? There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural. We can’t know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some supernatural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong. That means there would have to be heaven or God or some kind of divine order outside of nature in order to make that judgment.
There is only one way out of this conundrum. We can pick up the Biblical account of things and see if it explains our moral sense any better than a secular view. If the world was made by a God of peace, justice, and love, then that is why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. If the world is fallen, broken, and needs to be redeemed, that explains the violence and disorder we see.
If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?
Think about that again. The following two statements cannot both be true:
- There is no God.
- Napalming babies is wrong.
If you are an atheist, which of these contradictory beliefs will you hold on to, and which will you let go of? Or will you just live with the disharmony?
Grace and Peace
One argument for the existence of God involves the impossibility of an actual infinite past. We cannot trace a pattern of cause and effect back into an eternal past. One difficulty is that we could never have arrived at the present point of time. What created the universe? The big bang. What caused the big bang? A quantum fluctuation in the multiverse (one possible scenario). What caused that multiverse to exist? Some previous multiverse. What caused that previous or broader multiverse to exist? And so on forever.
There are many problems with this naturalistic picture of an infinitely old cosmos. The Christian solution (as well as that of other theists such as Jews and Muslims) is to say that the universe is not eternal; that it was created by something other than the universe, and that is God. But then someone will ask, “Who created God?” This is actually a rather silly question, though some of those who ask the question have taken to calling themselves “Brights.” As Christian apologist William Lane Craig once replied to the “Who created God?” question: “That’s really a meaningless question. It’s like wracking your brain wondering, ‘What is the cause of the First Uncaused Cause?'”
John Lennox, professor of Mathematics at Oxford, gives his answer to this question in his excellent book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Lennox writes:
There is another objection to the existence of God that is related to the preceding one [about God needing to be more complex than the universe]. Much attention has been drawn to it by the fact that Richard Dawkins has made it a central issue in his best-selling book The God Delusion. It is the age-old schoolboy teaser: If we say that God created the universe we shall have to ask who created God and so on, so that, according to Dawkins, the only way out of an impossible infinite regress is to deny that God exists.
Is this really the best that the Brights can do? I can hear an Irish friend saying: ‘Well, it proves one thing — if they had a better argument they would use it.’ If that is thought to be a rather strong reaction, just think of the question: Who made God? The very asking of it shows that the questioner has a created God in mind. It is then scarcely surprising that one calls one’s book The God Delusion. For that is precisely what a created god is, a delusion, virtually by definition — as Xenophanes pointed out centuries before Dawkins. A more informative title might have been: The Created-God Delusion. The book could then have been reduced to a pamphlet — but sales might just have suffered.
Now Dawkins candidly tells us that he does not like people telling him that they also do not believe in the God in which he does not believe. But we cannot afford to base our arguments on his dislikes. For, whether he likes it or not, he openly invites the charge. After all, it is he who is arguing that God is a delusion. In order to weigh his argument we need first of all to know what he means by God. And his main argument is focussed on a created God. Well, several billion of us would share his disbelief in such a god. He needn’t have bothered. Most of us have long since been convinced of what he is trying to tell us. Certainly, no Christian would ever dream of suggesting that God was created. Nor, indeed, would Jews or Muslims. His argument, by his own admission, has nothing to say about an eternal God. It is entirely beside the point. Dawkins should shelve it on the shelf marked ‘Celestial Teapots’ where it belongs.
For the God who created and upholds the universe was not created — he is eternal. He was not ‘made’ and therefore subject to the laws that science discovered; it was he who made the universe with its laws. Indeed, that fact constitutes the fundamental distinction between God and the universe. The universe came to be, God did not.
The William Lane Craig quote is from Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, p. 193.
The long quote from Lennox is from the 2009 edition of God’s Undertaker, pp. 182-183.
|The following item was originally posted in November 2010, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.
Yesterday, I wrote about a new advertising campaign from Answers in Genesis. In this present entry, I’ll take a look again at an advertising campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association. I have done a little editing to improve the article.
The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign [in 2010], urging us all to “Consider Humanism.” I can summarize the logic of their ad campaign with one word: Nonsense!
This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.
The graphics I’ve seen have this format:
- What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
- What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.
Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”
I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.
There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:
This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.
I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.
The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system from the surrounding nations—including worship of Baal and Molech— that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.
Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” But then isn’t the God whom he could imagine one modeled after Einstein’s own thoughts in some way?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads—and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer—so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:
I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.
First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.
Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.
Genocide is quite simply wrong. I can say that as a Christian who believes in objective morality. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong—right and wrong are at best social constructions to them—but I take them at their word that they really do believe for some reason that genocide is wrong.
Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil. From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:
- God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe before the final judgement, he is within his rights to do so.
- The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
- All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what all sinners deserve.
- The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and not given as a general command for how Israel should interact with its neighbors.
- God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
- Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
- We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.
This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.
If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.
If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, including morality and ethics. This ad campaign by the American Humanist Association was downright silly, and demonstrated that their rejection of Christianity has an irrational side to it. Christianity, in contrast to atheism, offers a solid foundation for both reason and morality.
Grace and Peace
Answers in Genesis has some new billboards that I actually like, highlighted on today’s Around the World With Ken Ham blog. Here’s one of them:
As I recently reminded one reader here on The GeoChristian, I am on the same side as the young-Earth creationists. We may differ on a secondary issue—the age of the Earth—but my goal is the same as theirs: to point people to Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I have many reasons to be thankful that the atheists are wrong. Here are a few:
- I can actually know the God of the universe through knowing his son Jesus Christ as revealed by God in the Scriptures.
- I can read about mass murderers, human traffickers, drug dealers, and child abusers, and objectively say “these things are evil.” Atheists also view these things as evil, but don’t have a strong foundation for doing so.
- There is such a thing as a Final Judgement. In the end, all wrongs will be dealt with, and every teardrop will be wiped away from the eyes of God’s people.
- Good works matter. It really does matter if I give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, or sponsor a child in Africa.
- Matter matters. God created the universe and proclaimed it to be good. It really does matter what we do with the physical world. It is not just stuff be used for our own purposes, but it all belongs to God.
- Beauty matters. Art, music, drama, and other expressions of human creativity are not just evolutionary anomalies, but point to God who created humans in his image.
- The future of God’s people is bright and full of promise. To an atheist, the ultimate future of humanity as a whole is death.
- Human beings have inherent value and dignity, because they are created in the image of God.
- Humans also have purpose. Purpose does not have to be constructed or invented, as in Sartre’s depressing work Being and Nothingness. That purpose is to love God and love people.
- My individuality matters. I am not just a cog in the wheel, but make a unique contribution to my part of the world.
- For those in Christ, the end of this life is not the end, but the beginning of real life.
- That new life—which we have a taste of now—will be free of all the hurt and ugliness that mar this world.
- In the resurrection, we won’t be floating around in “heaven” with harps (that is not a Biblical picture of “eternal life”), but we will be walking around in resurrected bodies on a renewed Earth. That is going to be awesome.
- For believers, death is only a temporary separation. I am going to see my Dad again!
- There will be no more pain or sickness.
Grace and Peace
Skeptics and atheists like to present their side as that of reason, and the religious side as that of faith. But it just isn’t so. It is, in fact, quite reasonable to believe that there is a God who is is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and incredibly powerful.
One of the most convincing arguments for the existence of God is the cosmological argument. One form of this argument goes like this:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This “Kalam” cosmological argument is summarized in a video from Reasonable Faith:
Being that the conclusion (#3) follows logically from the premises (#1 and #2), skeptics try to show that either of the two premises are invalid. In other words, they attempt to demonstrate that something can begin to exist without being caused to exist by something else, or that the universe did not begin to exist; that it has in some sense existed forever. But the evidence from the real world tells us that the premises are true statements.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that premise #1 is valid. Things do not pop into existence out of nothing; we call that magic, not science. I can already hear the skeptics snickering and saying, “that ignorant GeoChristian guy doesn’t even know about quantum theory, which allows particles to come into existence from nothing.” But I am right and the skeptics are wrong, because quantum particles do not materialize into existence from absolute nothingness Those particles emerge from a quantum vacuum, which is the lowest possible quantum energy state, but not nothing. In addition, the particles can only come into existence because there are laws that allow them to, and those laws are part of the cause. Skeptics cannot point to a single phenomenon in nature that would invalidate premise #1.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that premise #2 is valid. Many things point to the universe having come into existence at a distinct point of time in the finite past, such as the second law of thermodynamics, the finite size of the universe, and the expansion of the universe.
If the premises are valid, the conclusion is valid: something outside of the universe caused the universe to exist. That something, to a Christian or other theist, is God.
What is more likely:
1. A universe that was caused to exist by something material but eternal (or timeless) and non-thermodynamic (as in not having to obey the laws of thermodynamics),
2. A universe that was caused by something immaterial and outside of itself, that is a God who is uncaused, eternal (or timeless), and powerful?
Grace and Peace
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. — Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.
Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?
The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.
I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.
Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.
Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.
Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”
In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.
On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Grace and Peace
UN-MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM NEWSWEEK — The print edition of Newsweek is being discontinued, but they had to take one last swipe at Biblical Christianity. One of the final cover stories was What Do We Really Know About Jesus? by the non-Christian Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman. Most of Ehrman’s attacks on the Biblical record have been answered by Christian scholars numerous times, and others fall into the “so what?” category.
In response, Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason writes, “Many times, questions about the Bible can be resolved simply by reading what the text actually says, rather than believing what we think it says.” As I’ve pointed out before, doing this in itself takes care of a great number of apparent “contradictions” that authors such as Ehrman are concerned about.
UN-MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE ATHEISTS — Dr. Ehrman is wrong, but the organization American Atheists goes beyond being wrong with their “Keep the Merry! Dump the Myth!” advertising campaign, complete with a billboard in New York City’s Times Square, which can be seen at cnn.com: Christmas exposes atheist divide on dealing with religion.
Jesus a myth? I’m quite skeptical.
From the CNN article:
“Christianity stole Christmas in the first place and they don’t own the season, they don’t own the Christmas season,” [American Atheists’ president] Silverman said, pointing to pagan winter solstice celebrations that predated Jesus Christ. “When they say keep Christ in Christmas, they are actually saying put Christ back in Christmas.”
Isn’t that sort of like saying Canada Day (July 1st) doesn’t really have anything to do with Canada because it was predated by the Fourth of July?
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES — I tend to be skeptical whenever someone comes out with a “I went to heaven and saw a glorious light” story, while acknowledging that such things could happen. Most of my cynicism comes from the lack of the centrality of Christ in most of these stories.
Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, puts these near-death (or near-heaven) experiences in perspective in his article Incredible Journeys: What to Make of Visits to Heaven.
In this vein, the silliest claim made in the current wave of books is that because of such experiences, we now know, as some of the titles suggest, that Heaven Is for Real or that there is Proof of Heaven. Christians believe that “heaven is for real” not because of the testimony of a 4-year-old boy or even of a neurosurgeon, but because Jesus Christ testified to such and rose from the grave to vindicate his testimony. He tells the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, ESV). His teachings not only assumed a tangible, bodily existence known as the kingdom of heaven, but also an intermediate glorious state of bodiless existence.
A MODEST PROPOSAL — From the Parchment & Pen Blog: Should William & Kate Get an Abortion? You know, they haven’t been married very long, its only a zygote, and so forth.
Grace and Peace
There are, of course, many Christians who are scientists, and many scientists who are Christians. As a graduate student in geology, I found rich fellowship with a half dozen Christian geologists-in-training, and there was a Christian on the faculty of the department as well.
Davis Young, a Christian geology professor (retired), and author of The Bible, Rocks and Time, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, and Mind over Magma: the Story of Igneous Petrology, has written what he considers to be his most important book: Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God.
The summary on Barnes & Noble reads:
Bridging the fields of natural science and religion, Good News for Science: Why Scientific Minds Need God invites members of the professional scientific community, graduate, undergraduate, and high school science students, science teachers, and members of the general public who are interested in the natural sciences to embrace the Christian faith personally. Employing the theme of good news, this book challenges readers to ponder the question of life after death as a gateway to the overall claim that Christianity, at its best and most consistent, bears good news for both science and the scientist. On the one hand, Christianity, far from being antithetical to science, supplies the rational foundation that makes the scientific enterprise possible. On the other hand, the central message of Christianity brings a firm hope to scientists as individual persons in meeting their deepest needs and desires for genuine significance, purpose, goodness, forgiveness, justice, and relationship with the Creator. In presenting his case, the author eschews pseudo-science and treats with great respect the discoveries of contemporary mainstream natural science, including an ancient universe and Earth, biological evolution, and the standard model of cosmology. The text adopts an informal, personal, conversational style. Good News for Science will be of interest not only to the general scientific community but also to Christians who are seeking a resource to use in presenting Christian faith to scientifically knowledgeable individuals.
As the review says, this would be a great book for
- Professional scientists
- Students of science, at either the undergraduate or graduate levels
- High school teachers and students
- Members of the general public.
Grace and Peace
Christianity Today has a brief interview with philosopher Alvin Plantinga regarding his recent book entitled Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. The main points of the interview are:
- The alleged conflict between theistic religion and science is superficial.
- There is a deep harmony between theistic religion and science.
- Part of the reason there appears to be serious antagonism between theistic religion and science is because there are vocal advocates of warfare between the two. These people are wrong.
- Those who add naturalism to scientific theories such as evolution are doing so for non-scientific reasons.
- If we got here by unguided (i.e. no divine involvement) evolution, then there is no reason to trust that our minds can guide us to truth about evolution.
Regarding evolution, Plantinga states
In certain areas, the right word would be alleged conflict. For example, I argue that there’s no real conflict between evolutionary theory—that is, the scientific theory of evolution apart from any naturalistic spin—and what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” There’s no real conflict, even though conflict has been alleged by people on the Right as well as on the Left. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a host of others claim that there is outright conflict between evolutionary theory and belief in such a person as God, who has created and designed the living world. At the other end, there are Christian thinkers, too—like Phillip Johnson—who think there is irreconcilable conflict between the scientific theory of evolution and Christian belief.
But I don’t think there is. What current scientific evolutionary theory says is that the living world has come to be via a certain process of natural selection operating on some form of genetic variation. And it’s clear that God could have made the living world that way if he wanted to. What Christianity tells us, what theistic religion generally tells us, is that God has created the world and created human beings in his image. He could have done that through a variety of means. And that point goes all the way back to the 19th century. Some of the Princeton theologians—Charles Hodge, for example—said exactly that shortly after Darwin’s theory of evolution appeared. It’s not a new thought at all.
Despite what you hear from the loud voices on both sides—whether Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett for the atheists or Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, or Phillip Johnson for the Christian anti-evolutionists—the Bible does not say much, if anything, about biological evolution. The two main arguments—at least from the young-Earth side of Christianity—against evolution are that there could not have been any death before Adam’s fall into sin, and that animals were created to reproduce after their kinds. The Bible however does not teach that there was no animal death before the fall, and to take the statements about organisms reproducing after their kinds in Genesis 1 to mean that populations cannot vary over time is quite a hermeneutic stretch. On the other side, atheist extrapolations from “organisms have changed over time” to “there is no God” are downright silly.
The conclusion a clear thinking person ought to make—and most scientists like to think of themselves as clear thinkers—is that one cannot rule out Christianity because of biological evolution or because of any other scientific theory. Those who have rejected Christianity because of evolution—or some other branch of science—have done so because of non-scientific additions to science, and are not being as rational as they have been led to believe.
Grace and Peace
Why do “free-thinkers” all come to the same conclusions?
Is it permissible for a skeptic to be skeptical about skepticism?
Is it rational to believe that “In the beginning nothing created everything?”
Can science prove that science is the only way to know anything?
How can an atheist know that God doesn’t exist without being omniscient?
If an atheist steals from a fellow atheist, have they done something inherently evil?