Sunday, July 03, 2005

Answering Atheism (Pt. 1)

There is an organization in Los Angeles called Atheists United (AU). I recently happened upon their website and an article entitled “Some Questions About Your Belief.” In it, they pose a number of questions, 37 to be exact, about belief in God. Although AU says that the questions posed in this article “should not be viewed as a challenge to any particular religion,” they all, oddly enough, pertain to one faith in particular: Mine! Therefore, I would like to offer some short answers to the questions they have posed. I trust they are sincerely searching for the truth about these matters (surely they know how important such things are), so maybe this will help. At any rate, it may help you to have something to say if you are ever caught off guard by questions like these: 1) How would you define God, and why are you so convinced that there is one? God is the transcendent, personal Creator of the universe. I am convinced that He exists because of: (1) the existence and attributes of the world (i.e., creation requires a Creator, design requires a Designer), (2) the witness of our moral nature (the innate sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice—moral law requires a Law Giver & justice requires a Judge), (3) the eyewitness accounts of miraculous acts in the history of Israel and the church, (4) the evidence of the fulfilled prophecies and teachings of the Bible, (5) the testimony of Jesus Christ as validated by his resurrection from the dead, (6) the testimony of answered prayer, and (7) my personal relationship with Him and the testimony of millions of others who say they have met Him too! For an easy to read introduction to the evidences for God's existence, I recommend a new book that my friend Rob Bowman and Ken Boa co-authored: 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists. In the meantime, see my short article here. 2) If everything needs a creator, then who or what created God? Who says everything needs a creator? Only things that have the attributes of having been caused must have a source of origin outside themselves. This would include our cosmos, as even atheistic, naturalistic scientists must recognize when they speak of the “big bang” beginning of the universe. The objection you have voiced is a common misunderstanding of what is called the cosmological argument. There are excellent chapters on this argument in J. P. Moreland's book Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity and William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Check them out so that you are not caught in the embarrassing position of objecting to things that nobody is saying in the first place. 3) How can something that cannot be described be said to exist? God can be described. He is a Being who has the capacity to communicate with us, who is perfect in knowledge, power, love, and justice. If God exceeds our capacity of complete or comprehensive description, that is proof of our limitations, not of His nonexistence. A helpful discussion of the use of language to speak about God may be found in Norman L. Geisler and Winfried Corduan's book Philosophy of Religion. The attributes of God that we use to describe Him are exquisitely detailed by J. I. Packer in Knowing God and by A. W. Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy. 4) Since there are countless religions in the world today claiming to be the one true religion, why do you think yours is truer than theirs? Why do you say that there are “countless religions” in the world claiming to be "the one true religion"? Almost all religions teach that there are many paths to the divine. The only major world religions claiming to be the “one true religion” these days are Christianity and Islam. There is certainly nothing irrational about claiming that one religion is true and others are false or at least false in some respects. Atheists United break no laws of logic simply by claiming that their view of God (i.e., he does not exist) is true and mine is not. As to why I think Christianity is the true religion, I base that claim on the evidence that supports the central and unique truth claims of Christianity. This evidence includes the proofs that the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus was truly sent from God and a Witness to the Truth of these teachings. The issues of religious pluralism, tolerance, and truth are important ones in our society today. I believe these terms have been through some dangerous redefining and that we need to return to their original meanings if we are to have any hope of a meaningful discussion about truth. As an introduction to this issue, I recommend Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, by Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. 5) Can more than one of these religions be right? In areas that do not contradict and are not mutually exclusive, they can all be correct. If they claim to be “the only true religion,” they can all be wrong, but only one could be right. There are substantial reasons to believe that Christianity is right when it claims that Jesus is the Only Way. 6) If you feel in your heart that your religion is the right one, how do you answer those of other faiths who claim the same thing? First, I don't base my truth-claims about Christianity on what I “feel in my heart.” What I feel in my heart is a result of what I have come to believe in my head, based on evidence that has persuaded me of the truth of Christianity. What would I say to others who can only tell me “I feel in my heart that my religion is right”? I would say, “Grow up! Children live by their emotions, but adults think.” Emotions are great; I would not give two cents for a religion that did not touch the heart, but emotions are not the foundation. Someone has wisely said, “Every emotion should be the son of a thought and the father of an action.” The teachings of Christianity stir my emotions because I am persuaded that they are true; and if they are true, they are the most joyful good tidings ever brought to man! Of course if they are not true, they are pointless, and powerless to stir the emotions of a thinking person. For a good discussion about the role of emotions, read Emotions: Can You Trust Them? by James Dobson. 7) How do you settle the debate and find out which of these religions, if any, is the right one? You settle the debate by examining whatever evidences the various religions offer for their central or crucial truth claims. Two good starting places would be World Religions and Cults 101, by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz and Unshakable Foundations, by Geisler and Bocchino. 8) Why does God allow all these false religions to exist? Thanks for not saying He caused them to exist. God hates all false religions (because of the eternal ruin they do to their victims), but He allows them to exist because He has created us with the capacity to make choices, including bad choices. He has also given us the ability to understand how important this decision is and to sort out the evidence and make the right choice if we really have the desire to do so. Jesus told the Jews of His day that if anyone really wanted to do the will of God, he or she would know what teachings were true (John 7.17). I suspect most atheists have not been able to find God for the same reason that most burglars cannot find a policeman! If you would like a good introductory discussion on the thorny question of free will, my recommendation is Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. My personal viewpoint is represented by Norm Geisler in Chosen but Free. 9) Is the bloody history of Christianity consistent with what is supposed to be a religion of love, or does it simply illustrate the consequences of abandoning reason for faith? Nice try, but are you really sincere? An old debater’s trick, your question assumes that only two possibilities exist, both of which are harmful to the view you are seeking to disprove. By the way, this is a pretty pointed question in light of your statement that these “should not be viewed as a challenge to any particular religion.” That aside, the answer to your question as stated is “Neither.” When Christian individuals and institutions have shed innocent people's blood, they have acted inconsistently with the principles of Christianity, which is indeed a religion of love. The problem in such cases has not been that people have abandoned reason for faith, but quite the reverse. When nations or other institutions have resorted to violence in the name of Christ, they have done so because they abandoned faith in what God says in the Bible (e.g., turn the other cheek, love your enemies and do good to them, as much as possible be at peace with all people, etc.) and followed their flawed reasoning (I have to do this to them before they do it to me, etc.). That having been said, the history of Christianity is a much more positive history of peacemaking and love than the question assumes. A very helpful book on this subject that looks at both the good and the bad is Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett's Christianity on Trial: Arguments against Anti-Religious Bigotry. You will be amazed at the truth regarding Christianity and the crusades, slavery, the holocaust, and many other travesties of history. Hint: It’s not what you have been led to believe. 10) If everything is the product of a grand design by an omniscient, benevolent designer, why is the history of life a record of horrible suffering, blundering waste, and miserable failures? Why does this God go through billions of years of such carnage without yet arriving at His goal? Not "everything" is the product of God's grand design, at least not in the same sense. Suffering, waste, carnage, and other evils are the result of human beings refusing to follow the directions given to them by their omniscient and benevolent Creator. Christians also believe that God has a plan to bring greater good out of this history: good that more than counterbalances the evil. It is that greater good that is God's reason for allowing the evil to continue for now. For this perspective, get former atheist C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. In referring to the history of life on earth as a long history of "carnage” that has taken billions of years on its way to some “goal” not yet reached it would appear that you assume the truth of evolution and are wondering how the God of the Bible can be integrated into such a scheme. That is a good question to ask the theistic evolutionist, but those who take the Bible in its normal sense are not touched by this objection. Creation Science rejects the premise that earth’s history is a “record of horrible suffering, blundering waste, and miserable failures” (other than those already discussed as a result of man’s free will). For a statement that is both scientifically credible and accessible to the lay person, see H. M. Morris’ and Gary Parker’s What is Creation Science? 11) Why did God intervene so many times in human affairs during antiquity (according to the Bible) and yet not do anything during the Holocaust of the Second World War? Perhaps you are not aware that God did not uniformly intervene for biblical characters (even when great evil was being done). Quite often, people suffered greatly, even good people that loved God. In Bible times, the intervention of God through miracles was largely confined to periods when God wanted to give a sign to people that the messenger(s) who had come to them were truly sent from God. So we see miracles revolve around the lives of Moses, Elijah & Elisha, and Jesus & His apostles. Other major Bible characters—Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, John the Baptist, etc. lived remarkable lives of faith; but they did not perform miracles as far as we can tell. As for divine interventions in times of trouble, don’t forget that the Israelites languished in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years before Moses led them out. The northern ten tribes were decimated by the Assyrians and never really reconstituted. Judah suffered tremendously in the Babylonian conquest. The Jews suffered again horribly in the war between the Jews and the Romans in AD 66-73. In some cases their suffering was explained as God's judgment; in some cases it wasn't. On the other hand, to say that God did nothing during the Holocaust is not accurate. He didn't part any Red Seas, but he did keep yet another military superpower from destroying the Jewish people entirely, as so many powers before the Third Reich had tried to do. Through the courageous work of Christians and other good people, He saved many from the horror of Nazi death camps—as seen in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Yes, the death of six million Jews was indeed an enormous evil; but the survival and thriving of the Jewish people despite Hitler, and so many like him over the centuries, is a testimony to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sir Robert Anderson, the head of Scotland Yard, addressed your question expertly in The Silence of God. You should check it out for a thoughtful response. 12) Why should one's inner convictions about the existence of God indicate that He/She/They/It exists outside of that person's mind? Inner convictions in and of themselves prove nothing one way or the other about the existence of God (see # 6 above). On the other hand, inner convictions should be based on convincing evidence. Mine are. Are yours? Admittedly, yours have the more challenging task, since to prove the non-existence of something is infinitely harder (actually impossible) than to prove the existence of something. This is one reason Geisler and Turek say, in their book of the same title, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist. Questions 13-37 Coming Soon.