There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?
In the last 100 years, archaeology has uncovered a multitude of artifacts and writings, verifying the truth of what the Bible says. Science itself, with the Big Bang theory showing a definite starting point for our universe, has strengthened the argument for God.
This isn’t enough to necessarily lead people to faith, but it certainly helps to have some support for the Bible’s claims. In fact, many former skeptics (such as Sir William Ramsey, or more recently, Lee Strobel) have made it their mission in the past to disprove or scrutinize the Bible, only to become more convinced of its veracity. To them, the world’s evidence pushed them strongly in the direction of Christian faith. These stories are numerous and uplifting.
However, we must be careful not to place evidence and arguments as central pillars of our faith. Once we receive the Holy Spirit—in a genuine conversion experience—he is stand-alone, sufficient evidence to convict us of the Bible’s truth. The rest is extra support for something that is sturdy enough to stand the test of time anyway. For the true believer, additional worldly evidence can cause us to rejoice, possibly increase our zeal, and allow us to more effectively share with nonbelievers. But for our own faith, it is ultimately extraneous.
This is why William Lane Craig states in his book, Reasonable Faith, that even if arguments and evidence would fail to support Christianity (which they certainly do not), he would still wholeheartedly be a believer. This statement, found early in his book, has brought mockery and condescension upon him from his atheist opponents. I can see why, as it seems to demonstrate that yet another Christian seems to be wholly irrational in his beliefs and immune to reason and persuasion—even a top-flight philosopher, debater, and logical thinker such as Dr. Craig. But as Dr. Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame has written in his work, belief in Christ can be just as “properly basic” as our belief in the external world, which we experience with the five senses. The Holy Spirit is that compelling.
I am not trying to say that we should all stop trying to seek the truth or welcome new evidence into the arena of debate. This post is more for the already-converted believers out there. The world’s evidence is subject to the truth of the Bible, not the other way around. The main point of this post is this: Evidence can help lead us to faith, but it shouldn’t be what’s keeping us in it.
What happens when the evidence turns against us?
This is really the heart of the issue. Ask yourself, as a believer, what you would do if there were some discovery tomorrow that seemed to directly disprove some part of the Bible. What if there were a dry spell where no able and well-informed apologists could successfully hold the skeptics at bay? Would you cease to follow Christ? Would you exalt human reasoning and deem Christianity as fool’s gold?
While this would seem the “rational” response to such developments, consider the following thoughts.
– The scientific community as a whole believed that the world was eternal, with no beginning, until the Big Bang theory became widely accepted.
– People have doubted the age of biblical books for centuries, which cast doubt on chronology and fulfilled prophecies. Only in 1947 (until 1956) were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, putting to rest many of those doubts.
– Most of ancient history—whether religious or not—is lost forever, and early Christianity was only a small movement at that time within the world. The fact that we have as much as we do today is purely by the grace of God.
Depending on when people lived and died, there is a chance they may have had insufficient worldly evidence to buttress their faith in Christ. I pity the man—if he existed—who read Isaiah or Daniel and thought the proof of prophecy of Jesus’ life and death was strong, but then was dissuaded in 1946 by some scholar who claimed, “No one knows for sure when those books were written anyway. The Christians probably went back and altered the text of those OT books to fit the details of Jesus’ life.”
I believe much has been discovered so recently because God saw our dwindling faith, our “enlightened” minds refusing to believe apart from evidence, and he graciously offered us some. There is no guarantee He will continue to do so. (It is also a theory of mine that in His divine foreknowledge, He might withhold some evidence from those that would reject him regardless of the circumstances. This is done in order to spare these people some of his wrath. Ignorance may mitigate the severity of punishment, according to Luke 12:47-48.)
Right now, in 2011, I believe the arguments and evidence favor Christianity. But my advice is to not get too cozy in this, and to strengthen your faith with the Holy Spirit as your foundation. My guess is, if this world goes for another 100+ years, people will seriously start to question the human existence of Jesus Christ altogether. Science will come up with some novel, clever way of describing the beginning of the universe apart from God…until a better theory arises later.
Timothy Keller, in Reason for God, offers up strong arguments for God and some deep insights. I highly recommend his book for people of all spiritual walks. But in an honest way that I respect, he also admits that it is possible to reason your way out of any argument. There is no airtight proof.
Attending law school and completing the moot court requirement taught me that this is true. I remember, for the first go-around, we had to take either the side of the prosecution or that of the defense. We not only found ways to support our position, but we grew invested in it, fully convinced we were on the right side. The next semester/round, we swapped. It was amazing (and alarming) to me how easy it was to switch and find convincing evidence to support whatever we put our minds to.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Job 5:13: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”
We simply cannot rely on such fickle things when it comes to our eternal destiny. The world’s knowledge is subject to constant change and revision. If there is an absolute, unchanging truth out there—such as the Bible—there are going to be periods of history where the world and the word of God butt heads. It’s up to you to place your faith in the unchanging truth of God.
I really like this candid interview with Dr. Craig. He says it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ.
This video with Francis Chan, while not entirely on topic with this post, is also helpful (especially the first couple of minutes where he talks about the potter and the clay): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8.
I leave you with some more scripture to mull over:
1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.'”
Psalms 81:11-12: ““But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”
Isaiah 44:18: “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
Isaiah 65:2: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations–”
1 Corinthians 1:20: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher (NASB: “debater”) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
Wait, what? Isn’t proving Christianity to be true by using the Bible completely circular? Not exactly. I’m only trying to show that more than any other religious book (or even secular book of antiquity), we have something special with regard to accuracy, reliability, and inspiration that cannot be adequately explained away.
Proving God exists can be done by other means. Proving the Bible is true necessarily validates Christianity to be true, as well…and for the purposes of knowing the whole truth that will lead to salvation, it’s necessary to take this extra step.
Let’s examine some aspects of the Bible that lend credibility to its divine nature. I cannot possibly delve into every topic in great detail and will even have to skip some, which may come in a later post.
Unlike other “holy” books that were typically written by one man based on supposed visions and enlightenment, the Bible is a collection of books/writings from 40 authors over almost 2,000 years.
A court of law or even common sense will tell you that multiple people agreeing on the truth of certain statements is more reliable than one person asserting something. Agreeing over a huge span of time? Well, there’s not much precedent for that, but I’d imagine it’s something to be impressed about.
Now, let’s put on our cynical caps for a minute here. Imagine you were a creative man with a knack for words and eloquent, high-sounding rhetoric. You also happen to like worldly things like wealth, power, and women. Would you try to write stories and teachings that fall exactly in line with Christian teaching and become author #41? Or would you perhaps try to establish a new religion of your own, becoming very influential, looked up to by followers, and enjoying the company of multiple women?
If you’re thinking that Jesus was essentially one of these people that established a new religion for gain, I’d beg to differ. Comparisons between Jesus and others (like Muhammad and Joseph Smith) fall woefully short. First of all, Jesus claimed to actually be God. He performed many miracles, including his own bodily resurrection as a way to prove this. Second, Jesus never opportunistically said that God’s word (at that time, essentially the Old Testament) had errors in it and that he came to correct it. He came to bring a new spiritual era, true, but only because he was God who can determine these things. Not only that, but he fell in line with dozens of Old Testament prophecies perfectly, but we’ll get to that later. So he clearly wasn’t contradictory at all. Finally, Jesus’ ministry lasted a mere three years. During that time, did he get to enjoy earthly benefits galore? No, not at all. In fact, he knew he was headed to his doom, but he had a mission to fulfill. He traveled tirelessly, faced persecution, lived a celibate life, and served wherever he went. He mingled with the poor and rejects of society, he helped those in need, and even showed us humility by washing his own followers’ feet. He then suffered excruciating physical pain, but more importantly, the intense torture of spiritual separation from God the Father on the cross.
Jesus, if he were a false teacher, had nothing of worldly value to gain. Another significant point to bring up is that Jesus did not author these books himself (at least in the practical sense). Instead, he lived a life worthy to be written about and worshiped. To me, actions speak louder than words, and that’s all those other books are…words of flawed and suspicious men.
Historical Accuracy and Archeology
If the Bible had historical errors in it, or things we can confirm as categorically false, it would admittedly cast a shadow over the entire book. What we have in reality is the opposite. Isn’t it fortunate (although not at all coincidental if you believe that God knows what he’s doing) that in the last 100 years, we have found more to confirm the history of the Bible than ever before? As the skepticism and self-“enlightenment” of people in the modern age casts the Bible in a dubious light, we are given enough to battle back and stand firm.
In the words of Pastor Lon Solomon, “the more they dig out of the ground, the more the Bible proves to be right.” If you want to hear a quick 30-minute sermon that covers a lot of the confirmations of the Bible’s claims, please listen to this: http://mcleanbible.org/media_player.asp?messageID=40403. In addition to seminary degrees and such, Lon Solomon also completed his masters in Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, so this is kind of an area of expertise for him.
Every time skeptics have pointed out some supposed inaccuracy in the Bible, later evidence has validated the Bible’s claims, not those of the scholars. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to “wait and see” before the Bible proves to be right (in one case—a somewhat minor historical detail—it took about 1,800 years!).
Some skeptics in the past have brought up these objections to the Bible’s historical accuracy:
– “King David never existed! He was never even mentioned once outside of the Bible.” Well, I’m no expert in ancient history, but isn’t there a LOT of stuff that’s missing from the past? Does that mean that only the things we find could have been real? Either way, this is moot because archaeologists did eventually find clear evidence of a King David. Somehow, I have a feeling skeptics will find something else to complain about rather than giving any credit to the Bible…
– “How could Moses have written the Bible? There wasn’t even written language during those times (around 1600 BC?) in the Near East, only hieroglyphics!” There is now evidence showing that written language was in existence, even as far back as 3000 BC. Tons of clay tablets and such have since been unearthed, even regarding very mundane details and transactions. Surely, of all people, Moses would have been able to write having been raised in a royal home. (I actually saw this old objection posted recently on some Yahoo! answers page, so unfortunately, some falsehoods never die. Skeptics seem to recycle old, dead arguments over and over after a while.)
– “We don’t even know if Jesus ever existed as a real man, let alone as God. We can’t take the Bible as historically reliable, and secular sources haven’t corroborated Jesus’ existence.” This claim, to me, seems the most far-fetched and ridiculous of the lot. Jesus has got to be one of the most confirmed people of ancient history ever, especially considering the 2000 years that have passed (and it took almost that long for this objection to even be raised without being seen as completely stupid). We have tons of secular historians who have mentioned Jesus’ existence, such as Josephus, and archaeologists have even found the ossuary of James, on which it is written: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” I mean, how much more do we need to spell it out for you? This is also why I don’t even bother addressing the Christ-mythers out there, who talk about Horus, etc. Talk about people hungry for conspiracy theories.
The list could go on and on and on, but at some point, you have to give credit where it’s due. If you’re the overly suspicious type and you constantly try to catch your spouse in the act of cheating…only to come home early to her folding your laundry and lovingly preparing your food, you’re going to feel like a jerk for suspecting anything. Do that 100 times over, and eventually you have to stop questioning her loyalty and truthfulness.
OK, so what? The Bible could have taken real history and fit it in to make it seem more true. (I still find it impressive that even when we analyze some small detail, it checks out…even if it’s a detail the author might not have had knowledge of or access to otherwise.)
But how does that prove the Bible’s theological or supernatural claims are true? Well, some of that does take some faith, but it’s a myth to say that there is no proof whatsoever that the Bible is supernaturally inspired.
Prophecies in the Bible abound, and other than far-fetched conspiracy theorizing, there’s no way to explain them away. “I am God and there is no other. I declare from ancient times things that have not happened yet.” –Isaiah 46:10.
A few examples are as follows:
– Isaiah 13 talks very specifically about the fall of Babylon 200 years before it happens.
– The Book of Daniel (for example, chapter 2 or chapter 11) talks about 500 years of the history of the ancient Near East before it happened. Critics tried to say that the book was a forgery and these details were written in after the fact, but we now know that isn’t true thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
– Although many prophecies in the Old Testament were about Jesus, 30 of the most specific ones all came true (one person claims that the chance of a man matching up to these 30 prophecies by accident rather than divine inspiration would be one in 10 with 100 zeroes after it). As a great example, read Isaiah 53 and try to deny that it’s talking about Jesus, who would come centuries later. Chapter 9 of the Book of Daniel actually predicts the exact year of the messiah’s death…and guess who died that year? That’s right, Jesus. Hundreds of years after Daniel foretold it.
Again, critics might cast doubt onto the New Testament, but its books are the closest to the described events that we have ever found in ancient literature, being circulated around during the lifetimes of the people who witnessed the events firsthand. Even the most skeptic historians date the books of the New Testament to mere decades after the events (the next-best works of antiquity, such as Homer, are centuries after). But of course, it’s never enough for some people.
In a way, it’s understandable why the Bible is often faced with such heavy scrutiny. After all, it claims to be divine in nature and inspiration. Is it so surprising, then, that the Bible proves itself vastly more worthy than any other book of its kind (or time period)? It’s no wonder why so many world religions try to piggyback on this undeniably great book.
There comes a point when people can’t keep chalking things up to conspiracies or coincidence. When the obvious truth is so plain to see and we still refuse to see it, that’s clear evidence of our unwillingness to be open to the facts.
But what about all the inconsistencies in the Bible? Doesn’t that undermine its credibility? Well, first of all, on every theological point, there have been solutions offered. Some are easy and downright silly to keep bringing up (which skeptics will do anyway), and some are a bit more difficult, but they have all been addressed. Even when there is something historical or archaeological we can’t reconcile with what we know, we can trust that scholars and historians will catch up eventually. They have many times in the past, and it will probably happen again in the future. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but God has given us enough to work with here so that it doesn’t need to be some giant leap of faith, only a reasonable one. The more you know, the smaller that leap has to be, and not the other way around.
This is one of my favorite arguments for the existence of a creator God, and I really hope not to butcher it too much here. I could just point you to apologists’ articles on this topic, but I think it’s fair that my blog should contain these kinds of materials directly. Plus, I can communicate my own interpretative thoughts here.
I will say that because of this argument’s frequent use (it has existed in some form or another for centuries) and its inherent power, plenty of people have tried to debunk it as fallacious or speculative. No argument is perfect, but I’ve found that there are no satisfactory responses to this one. People will often post videos or write articles claiming to have proved it false, but what they fail to realize is that their counterpoints have already been addressed elsewhere. The finer points won’t often show up in debates due to the lack of time…but just because they are not mentioned in those settings doesn’t mean that the apologists haven’t thought it through or written about it.
That being said, this is the layout of the argument. You can see that if the premises are true (or more likely to be true than false), then the conclusion logically follows.
Premise #1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise #2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause.
What also follows from this logical argument is that the cause of the universe must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, and personal. These attributes all describe a creator God, but we’ll get to that…
Premise #1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
“Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”
At the most basic, scientific level, you and I began to exist because of the union of sperm and egg. The sperm and the egg were formed out of biological functions in our parents’ bodies, fueled and constructed from foods they ate. Getting away from biology for a moment, we also know that a rainstorm cannot happen without preexisting conditions of humidity and such. A car comes to existence by manufacturing and design processes.
Simply put, we have never witnessed an exception to this rule throughout observational history. For a premise in an argument to be true, it must be “more plausibly true than not,” and I think this premise is a strong candidate for plausibility.
Premise #2: The universe began to exist.
There are basically three proofs for this premise that are virtually irrefutable. We only need to establish a more-likely-than-not level of certainty, but again, this one is pretty much knocked out of the park.
First, the Big Bang model shows us that the universe began to exist about 13.7 billion years ago, exploding out from a singularity. This theory was first espoused by Georges Lemaitre in 1927, but it was Edwin Hubble’s work on a telescope that provided the first observational evidence in support of this theory in 1929. Since then, science has continually confirmed this theory to a degree of high certainty. It is the most widely accepted theory of the beginning of the universe today. This disproves earlier scientists’ claims that the universe was eternal.
Second, the Second Law of Thermodynamics demonstrates to us that any closed system (like our universe) will increase in entropy over time, and that this is an irreversible process. Scientists have determined that our universe is actually headed—in a finite amount of time—toward a state of maximum entropy, which will result in the end of all life once this “heat death” is achieved. Now, the question is, if this is going to occur in a finite amount of time, why hasn’t this already occurred if our universe is eternal? The logical and unavoidable conclusion is that our universe has NOT been around forever.
Third, an actual infinite number of anything cannot exist. An infinite past for the universe and an infinite number of events that have already taken place is logically untenable. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, Hilbert’s Hotel demonstrates the impossibility of infinity beautifully, as does our common sense.
(I love the intentional irony of Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase, “To infinity and beyond!”)
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause.
If our first two premises are correct and the logical progression is valid, then the conclusion follows that the universe had a cause.
OK great, big deal. Now what?
Well, we know from the big bang theory that the universe began to exist billions of years ago. What we also know with modern science is the inextricably tied nature of space, matter, and time. These things all began to exist at the big bang, even time itself (I know, it’s pretty much impossible to comprehend).
So, this means that whatever caused the creation/beginning of the universe must be outside the bounds of space, matter, and time. Therefore, it must be spaceless, immaterial, and timeless.
Again, hard to grasp, but necessarily true. Next, this cause or creator must be unimaginably powerful, since it had the capability to create a universe from nothing (and not only that, but finely tuned all of the initial conditions that were required for life, but that’s another proof entirely).
Finally, this cause must be personal. Why is that? Well, the only immaterial and spaceless things we know of are abstract objects (like numbers) and an unembodied mind. But abstract objects cannot cause anything in themselves, so we’re left with an unimaginably powerful mind. Unlike our human minds, which can “create” thoughts, plans, and intentions seemingly from nothing…this mind must have been powerful enough to create the universe from a willful decision.
Consider a cause that is not deliberate or personal, like freezing weather conditions (which cause things to freeze). If the temperature is low enough, water will necessarily freeze. The weather cannot decide whether or not that water will freeze; it just will by necessity.
But a personal cause can decide upon an effect apart from necessity. There were no necessary reasons for space, matter, and time to have come about from a spaceless, immaterial, and timeless cause. The existence of the universe didn’t need to follow from any preexisting conditions. If the universe was necessary (and by that, I don’t mean its usefulness, but rather logical necessity of existence), it would have always existed with the cause, and would therefore be eternal. But we know this isn’t the case.
In summary (not to beat you over the head with it)…the “cause” of the universe was spaceless, immaterial, timeless, unimaginably powerful, and personal. This aptly describes a creator God, which is the most plausible conclusion one can draw from logic and science itself.
That’s it in a nutshell!
Please don’t be offended by the title of this post. This is not to boast or to bash, but to take a practical look at what I believe sets Christianity apart from the other major world religions. I am going to try to leave the substantive merits of each religion’s theology out of the picture. For the sake of discussion, I will assume (rather than try to prove) the following two things:
a) God probably does exist.
b) Based on the fact that God created us and endowed us with the ability/inclination to ponder His existence and character, the truth about God has probably been revealed to us in some form.
Now let’s compare Christianity to its alternatives. I’ll break it down into three very basic categories:
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
I could discuss more or break it down further into more specific areas, but I think these three summarize some of the practical differences well. By the end, I hope it will become clear why thinking Christians believe their religion to the best candidate for God’s revelation to mankind, even apart from the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
All other major religions have a founder who is now dead and in the grave. Muhammad enjoyed some success in his lifetime, but then he passed away. Buddha and Confucius left their mark then succumbed to death. Hinduism doesn’t really have a founder, but rather centers on worshiping a huge multitude of unseen and unmet deities. Joseph Smith died while firing a gun that had been smuggled into prison.
Christianity claims to have a founder who is the savior God, and with Jesus Christ, there was no dead body left behind to rot and decay. Christians claim that Jesus moved about with us, died, then rose again…only to continue revealing himself for some further time to over 500 people. Then, He ascended to heaven in plain view of many followers, leaving nothing behind to bury. We believe that our founder was God in the flesh, not a mere man or even a messenger.
This means that Jesus, as God, is the only founder of a major religion that claimed to be perfect and sinless. Buddha never made such a claim, and even Muhammad admitted he was in need of forgiveness (in addition to the obvious faults he had). Joseph Smith? Don’t get me started. With regard to Jesus, other than heresy, there were no charges levied against him throughout his lifetime. Of course, if Jesus really was God, then even the heresy charge is false. Now, would you trust the teachings of God, or an imperfect man who has shortcomings, ulterior motives, or both?
(Of course, this is all dependent on the credibility of the founder himself, but we’ll get to that later.)
No other religion would dare make these bold claims of a perfect, living founder. Why not? Because there’s no way such radical claims would survive long enough to not get laughed out of the courtroom of public opinion. Honestly, I’d love to see another religion try. Ancient religions and modern cults alike have not dared to do the impossible by tricking people with such obvious lies.
The words we live by were given to us by a perfect, living being who defeated death, thereby setting an example of what’s to come for us as well. While other religions may have been started by an imperfect and mortal man, we believe ours was started by an eternal person of the Trinity. This is a risky thing if Christianity is false, and uniquely powerful if it’s true.
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
I’ll start out by saying that the popularity of a view (or in this case, religion) does not necessarily make it true. I’m not going to argue that. What I’m going to show is that the wide popularity of Christianity—and the rapid rate at which it initially spread—is very difficult to explain practically unless it were true.
Consider Islam for a minute, the second-most popular religion and the fastest-growing. How did it get so popular? Well, first of all, it piggy-backed off of Christianity and took credit for all of its teachings and people. Abraham? A Muslim. Jesus Christ? An overrated Muslim prophet. Even Adam—that’s right, THAT Adam—was a Muslim, by their definition. This is how Muslims claim that their religion is the oldest in the world, when really it began about 600 years after Christianity. The foundation—largely based on Christianity/Judaism—was already in place, so there is a ring of truth to it.
Furthermore, Islam is characterized by a lot of violence and threats. Yes, there are peaceful parts of the Qur’an, but much of it speaks about killing infidels who will not proclaim Allah as the true God and Muhammad as His messenger. Early Islam was not spread with reason and love, but rather with military conquest and a “believe or die” approach. It’s not hard to see why early Muslims believed Muhammad was chosen by God, and therefore his words were truth. He was winning battles, and they figured that God wouldn’t allow this to happen if he were a fraud. But really, this is shabby proof for truth. Anyone can win military battles, religious or not. If anything, it’s a powerful motivational tool to teach that fearlessly dying for Allah will earn you 72 virgins in the afterlife.
Consider this criticism from a 13th century Jewish philosopher: “That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.”
In modern societies, my subjective view is that some groups of people around the world are already closed to the idea of accepting the so-called “white man’s religion”: Christianity. (This is kind of odd because Christianity didn’t originate in America or Europe anyway.) So they will naturally gravitate toward Islam. To be fair, I think that’s also why a lot of Americans have a bias against Islam. They are repelled from a religion that led to horrors like the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the same way, a huge chunk of the world is decidedly anti-American or anti-white, based on some of the evils perpetrated in the past, such as the atomic bomb. Islam is the much-welcomed alternative among the available flavors of religion.
What about something like Mormonism? Well, again, the piggy-back charge comes into play. The smart thing is, Joseph Smith knew that there were real flaws in the Christian church and perceived weaknesses in the Bible. So he used those chinks in the armor to convince people that there had to be a better truth out there, which incidentally, was revealed to him alone through golden plates. Simple people who were dissatisfied with what Christianity had to offer them assumed that this new guy knew what he was talking about since he shared some of their same complaints. The inerrancy of the Bible is still a hotly debated topic today, and it’s easy to see why doubt in its inerrancy would make some people gravitate toward new ideas or cults.
Christianity, however, sticks out like a sore thumb compared to these other religions. Here, you have a founder who appeared to be a mere carpenter—and not an especially attractive one at that. He didn’t win any military battles, and he was even mocked, beaten, and crucified. Jesus had nothing to gain if he was lying and even knew he was expediting his own death. His ministry only lasted three years. Most of the early proponents of the church were commoners without any position of authority from which to coerce. Paul—perhaps the greatest evangelist/missionary ever and the original apologist—spread the Word by logic, reason, and argumentation.
Early Christianity flourished in spite of severe persecution, martyrdom, and heavy Jewish bias against Christian teachings. In fact, Christianity flew in the face of many established norms of the time. Its teachings were not the kind that would easily resonate with people hearing them. I’d imagine it’s much harder to convince a wide group of people that you ARE God, rather than just hearing from Him!
There must have been a compelling reason to believe and to force change upon centuries of ingrained customs and ideas. Jews were expecting a conquering king, not a crucified savior. Teachings like “turn the other cheek” instead of exacting revenge were considered offensive or cowardly. Yet Christianity somehow spread at an unprecedented rate with this most unlikely of styles. Something about Jesus was undeniable…
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
There is almost a universal pattern for creating and spreading world religions. Someone claims to have a vision, shares it with others in a convincing fashion, it sounds good enough to believe, then others follow suit. Even Hinduism, which doesn’t have an identified founder, probably came up with stories about their 300,000 gods from various people’s dreams, which have been passed down. Especially in ancient times, there was a tendency by people to misinterpret dreams as divine revelation. (I’m not ruling out supernatural dreams completely, but in the vast majority of cases, they are probably just our uninhibited imaginations running wild. I admit I am highly skeptical of dreams as visions, even when they come from Christians.)
Think about this for a moment. How can you disprove a person’s exclusive vision or dream? If I put my head under a bucket, shook around a little bit, then came out wide-eyed claiming to have seen the “truth,” how could you really prove me wrong?
Atheists always like to say, “The mark of a good argument is that it is falsifiable.” What we have in most religions are unfalsifiable stories and claimed truths. The main proof people are going to have for their faith, then, is that it feels right and makes sense to them. This is almost entirely subjective.
But what about Christianity? Well, our holy book happens to come with writings of real historical events that were being circulated within the lifetimes of the actual people involved. And these historical events are not merely peripheral issues that place things within some known context to give it the air of veracity…the MAIN EVENT is told as a historical event. Namely, a man named Jesus Christ walked upon this earth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at specific times and places and died under Roman law, leaving behind an empty tomb.
I think people who look into the issue themselves will agree with John Dickson when he says, “the beliefs and texts of Christianity become uniquely open to public scrutiny. It is as if Christianity places its neck on the chopping block of academic scrutiny and invites anyone who wishes to come and take a swing.” (Please see this excellent excerpt: http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10746/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx.)
In 2,000 years, NO ONE has been able to disprove the empty tomb, and only recently is there some effort by Christ-mythers to claim that Jesus never existed at all. (I’ve looked into these…move along people, there really is nothing of worth there.) There are a number of alternative theories bandied about, like the disciples stole the body, but they are woefully full of holes. Maybe I’ll address them in a later post.
Think about this: what could be the ultimate sign that Jesus was God in the flesh? Miracles? Sure, he did some of those. But then again, miracles have been recorded in other instances as well. Rising from the dead is the ultimate sign, and it just happens to be one the Roman government could not deny. They had every reason to parade Jesus’ body around town and squash Christianity immediately…but they couldn’t do it. Jesus really was gone and ascended.
By contrast, Muhammad won military battles, but so have countless other men who did not claim to have divine revelation from God. Muslims actually need to believe that Jesus was never crucified at all, but ascended beforehand (even they cannot deny that Jesus is not dead or buried). In other words, they need to deny one of the most obvious facts of ancient history, the crucifixion, to maintain their beliefs. Christianity, on the other hand, is completely in line with recorded history.
Buddha and Confucius may have been wise and thoughtful, but really, they’re just limited men trying to do their best. Joseph Smith? Even if he really did believe what he was preaching, there is no way to verify the truth of anything he said. In fact, there is ample reason not to trust him, considering his hypocrisy (he would fight, smoke, and drink, despite telling others not to do so).
Jesus can be trusted because of what he showed us: a perfect life without sin, power over the natural world, and even power over death. This person could not have been a mere wise teacher. It’s like C.S. Lewis famously said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
So historically, Christianity stands up to the test better than any other religion. What about science?
Well, again, I may need to address this further in a separate post. But very briefly, I’d say that for an ancient book (that was never intended to be about science), it shows itself to be surprisingly accurate. Don’t believe the hype about Genesis 1 contradicting modern science.
There are numerous prominent scientists who are Bible-believing Christians today. Some figures suggest the number is growing, as our knowledge expands. Consider this account of Dr. Hugh Ross, a man who started with no religious leanings whatsoever and actually came to be a Christian based on science:
Not all of Hugh’s discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and “holy books” and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious “ground zero” and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking evidence.
Now, this isn’t to say that visions or spiritual experiences are all invalid. In fact, the most important factor that leads most people to faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit, not proof or logic. But during the dry times and when our sin muffles the voice of the Holy Spirit, I’m thankful that we have history, science, and reasoning to back up our faith.
This is a simplistic proof—one of many—that recently sprung to my mind, and the more I think about it, the more valid it seems. I apologize if it’s been mentioned before elsewhere (and more eloquently). Let me retrace my steps.
I’ve mentioned William Lane Craig numerous times before (in this blog and to people I know), and I’ve become quite familiar with his arguments for God’s existence. A sub-point Dr. Craig makes is that the cause of the universe must be powerful and personal, in addition to being timeless, spaceless, and immaterial (because all of these properties came into being with the universe itself). Very briefly and simply put, there are only two things that exist outside the bounds of natural and physical reality: abstract objects (like numbers) and an unembodied mind. Because abstract objects, by definition, cannot effect anything in themselves, it follows that the cause of the universe must be a mind. He calls it “personal” because unlike other causes, this mind that caused the universe chose to bring it into existence, evidenced by the fact that the universe didn’t always exist, whereas the timeless cause did. So it wasn’t a necessary result of the cause itself. I apologize if I’m butchering this, but I don’t want to spend too much time elaborating on this. If you’re interested, please do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Dr. Craig’s work.
His elaboration about how the mind exists apart from the physical brain struck me. True, we as humans on earth wouldn’t be able to think without a functioning brain, but our minds and thoughts are actually independent from the matter of the brain. When we have certain thoughts, it may be reflected in certain electrical impulses in our brains, but that’s really only a simultaneous effect with the cause (the thoughts we willed to existence). In other words, our minds control the physical reaction of the brain.
Perhaps this analogy might be helpful: a driver, steering wheel, and a car. The driver represents the mind, the steering wheel is the brain, and the car is the outward (or even inward) results of the choices made upon the steering wheel. You can watch the expressions of a car, such as turning left, and link it to the steering wheel…but it doesn’t really tell you much about the driver or her purpose in turning the wheel that way. The driver seems to exist independently from the wheel and car, even if she needs the steering wheel to put her will into action.
Our thoughts, feelings, imaginations, artistic expression…they all spring to life seemingly out of nowhere, apart from any discernible natural cause.
There are only two possible explanations for the human mind
1) Human minds are endowed with autonomy, purposes, and will from God.
Christians believe that God created us in His image. This doesn’t necessarily mean that when we finally see God, He will be walking around with two legs, two arms, nostrils, etc. It means that we have been given spiritual and immaterial aspects that are wholly unique in resembling Him. We have souls, for instance. But we also have minds that defy all explanation.
In a way, we are able to act upon our own brains, which can subsequently act upon our bodies or not. I could sit here and will random thoughts from nothing, much like God can will things into existence from nothing. Of course God has no limits…we are the vastly weaker demo version “made in His image.”
Now, I must point out that this mind-brain interaction, as science as demonstrated, can be a two-way street. The brain, for example, can be acted upon to induce certain thoughts. Controlled electrical manipulation can make you think you’re smelling something that’s not really there (of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s illusory when you actually do smell it in the real world). On the flip side, the mind, while immaterial, can act as the origin of “messages” to the brain itself.
I could decide to type booglybooglybooglyboogly here in my blog. I could take out my violin or guitar and produce music, pre-written or not. Where does this autonomy come from? My thoughts do not magically spring to life from carbon atoms. The electrical impulses that might result can be naturally observed, but they are not the explanation or the source. Reactions do not cause themselves from nothing, they are only the natural result of certain preset conditions. We are a continual flux of such “reactions” that arise with no prior cause, other than the fact that we were endowed with this capability and potential.
Honestly, how can anyone explain this? Can even the smartest human being alive take a stab at this? Well, let’s take a look at one such attempt now.
2) Human minds are the result of naturalistic causes.
Stephen Hawking—theoretical physicist and cosmologist—is one of the greatest modern minds in existence. He is arguably “today’s Einstein,” and while his intelligence is admirable, he also resorts to using science as the sole explanation of everything in the universe. To him, there is no justification for theology or even, shockingly, philosophy (even though he is employing philosophy in his thoughts, and science itself is its offspring). He enthusiastically and diligently spends his life searching for the complete theory, or “Theory of Everything,” that promises to explain much more about the universe, including its origins.
In his latest book, The Grand Design, we get a glimpse into such a theory. Specifically, he argues that the human mind is not autonomous or purposeful at all, but rather, it is simply a conglomeration of matter and laws that have predetermined our every thought until we die.
Wow. Think about that for a moment, really try to grasp it…
…1, 4, 100, -36, 24.32671516543…see those numbers? That was all predetermined by the laws of nature. Even the times I hit Backspace on the keyboard to try different numbers instead, that was not my will or autonomy. That was the inevitable path I would take based on the laws governing the universe and everything in it.
The matter that existed before I was officially born, to the plums my mother may have eaten, which contributed to the matter of me in the womb, to where I am today…and the interplay of every other person in the world who has affected my life, the environment, events, situations…that ALL was just part of the natural path to me typing those numbers or even this blog. It even led to me contemplating the absurdity of it.
Brilliant minds really are capable of all kinds of craziness, aren’t they? Maybe Hawking is an example of being too smart for his own good. A “smarter” theory, such as scientific determinism, is not necessarily a correct one.
Now, the first possibility makes a lot of sense to me. In my heart AND my mind, this resonates clearly and fits together.
Does this naturalistic explanation really make any sense at all? I don’t know about you, but my common sense, intuition…even my humanity is already screaming “DOES NOT COMPUTE.” Perhaps it makes more sense to Hawking because he feels a little dead inside, like his life is going through the motions. I say this without condescension or derision, but I just find it hard to understand how someone could believe this determinism if they were living a fulfilling life.
Now let’s try a fun little exercise. I am going to be very generous and assume Stephen Hawking could be right. I am going to assume that he knows the feeling of artistic intensity, freedom, and expression when engrossed in an incredibly intricate section of a violin concerto. I am going to assume that he is so smart that he doesn’t make mistakes. (Being wrong and losing the black hole bet publicly? Forgiven.) I am going to assume that WITHOUT PROOF of any kind, his ideas that seem illogical are in fact, logical.
Where does that leave us? Well, funny enough, that leaves us with even higher implausibility of our brains being the product of evolution and natural process in the first place. Mathematically, you’ve just gone from impossible to even more impossible. Keep in mind that science estimates the universe’s age to be “only” about 14 billion years old, and the earth is newer at about 4 billion years. That wasn’t enough time to get to our evolved state without guided assistance, let alone this unfathomable thing we call a brain.
Think about it. Allowing for the supernatural along with the natural, we Christians are able to say that the brain is complex enough to house our thoughts, send signals to our legs to kick, to develop tendencies, and to learn and memorize. But the rest of it is accounted for with our immaterial minds, given to us by God, that allow us to generate thoughts from nothing, contemplate things beyond us without provocation, experience love in a real way, or to even appreciate humor. (If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, you obviously haven’t seen a parrot talking to a stuffed bunny or seen them dancing.)
Only allowing for natural causes means the brain needs to be additionally complex to be able to do all those things on its own. The brain, under this view, also needs to be able to account for every possible contingency, and be prone to both randomness/spontaneity and predictability. When you look out to a beautiful sunset and feel yourself in awe, that’s just an evolutionary trait instilled in you (for who knows what reason). It’s really quite unthinkable.
Let’s say that the multiverse theory (again, no observable proof) pretty much makes up for the probability issue. Even if every possible complexity-increasing beneficial mutation were to be passed on from generation to generation, would it still be enough to reach this level of development in 4 billion years? How is it that our brains are more complex than the universe itself, which is really just matter and natural laws of gravity and such? How is it that an infinitesimally small speck of the universe, like one human brain, is qualitatively greater than the whole?
Are theists really the ones with “dumb” faith?