This is the transcript from a talk I did a few weeks ago.
The title I’ve been given today is, “A New Perspective on the New Atheism; Why God Won’t Go Away”. The first part of that title about the new atheism is one which we’ve all heard a lot about, and a lot of what Alister McGrath said last week in Big Issues helped us think through that. I’m not going to directly touch on that aspect of it; you can find his talk on the OICCU website if you’d like to hear what he had to say, instead I’m going to focus on the second bit- why God won’t go away. It was the famous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche who confidently proclaimed that, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” In the time of the enlightenment, back 200/300 years ago, there was an extremely confident belief that was incredibly widespread, which was that God would be gone from the human race within a generation or two. Hundreds of years on and God is still going on strong. Now I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, so I wouldn’t be able to write an academic paper on why certain individuals or why certain societies keep on believing in God. Instead I want to look at some of the changes that have occurred which have meant that the God hypothesis, by which I just mean God as an explanation for what we see in the universe, won’t go away. I’ll do that first, before explaining why God as a person hasn’t gone away in my life and then looking at why Christianity in particular won’t go away across the world.
Summer is finally upon us and for many of us it’s the best part of the year, when we go away on holiday to enjoy the Sun. It’s up there with as one of my favourite times of the year, along with Christmas. Everyone loves the summer because of great weather, ice cream and holidays. Apart from the obvious reasons of food, lots of food and more food, why do people like Christmas so much? Well we all know that Christmas is particularly magical for kids- almost all of them believe that Santa Clause personally visits their house, comes down the chimney and leaves them personalised gifts for free. If only life was that simple! When they grow older they quickly shed that belief in Santa Clause and move on. There is no sane and rational adult who maintains a belief in Santa Clause. We’ve been to the North Pole countless times and we have found no barns full of presents. Most chimneys are now closed off and we would expect Santa to have to break windows to come in. We would expect flying reindeers to come up on all the different defensive radars we have around the country. If such a man as Santa Clause existed, we would also expect better presents in our stockings than useless black socks which only mothers would buy! No sane adult still believes in Santa Clause as every place we would expect to see evidence, there is no evidence to be found.
So why is it that the God hypothesis won’t go away? Why are there top physicists who maintain that the God hypothesis has incredible power? Well one reason is the advances in science over the last few decades which show strong evidence not only for the universe having an absolutely beginning, known as the Big Bang, but also that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself, and I have many examples of this which I’d love to go through with you another time. In such a short time, I think the best I can do is provide a quote for you from a man who was arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of the 20th Century, Anthony Flew. He said this, “I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source. Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.”
So how about for me? Why does God still play such a large role in my life? Well it would be worth just giving some of back story so you can get the picture. I actually had the privilege of growing up in Turkey. I went to Turkish school as well as a small international school, and all of my friends were either Muslims or Christians. That was all I knew. We moved to England when I was about 9 and a half, and I ended going to 5 different schools within 5 years as we tried to find somewhere permanent to live. That was incredibly hard and sometimes I would wonder why God would put me through that. But then I joined my local secondary school, which was huge, and it was a place where I was one of the few Christians in a year of 250. Almost all my best mates in my neighbourhood were committed atheists and they would challenge me on a daily basis about God, Jesus, the Bible etc. Surely, from all of what the New Atheists have said, I would be the perfect candidate to abandon my belief in God as deeply irrational. I embarked on quite a long journey of reading, questioning and discussing and long story cut short, I found that Christianity really wasn’t that irrational. It would have been far easier to just give in to the peer pressure and become an atheist, but atheism just wasn’t as intellectually satisfying as Christianity was. The God of the Bible made far more sense of the world around me than the idea that this is all one big accident, for no meaning or purpose with no personal Lawgiver from which to base the morality that we all hold to. So my basic answer to why God hasn’t gone away in my life is that He answered all the big questions in life better than anything else, and that in all the difficulties I went through he didn’t let me down.
So that’s for me personally, but why is it that Christianity, which was on the back foot during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, in particular has flourished around the globe? Whilst in Europe and increasingly America, the prominence of Christianity has greatly receded, evangelical Christianity, which holds to the Bible as God’s infallible Word to mankind, has either stayed about the same or in some places even grown. Whilst Islam grows across the world almost completely as a result of high birth rates, one of the reasons Christianity is growing at the moment is because of large numbers of adults becoming followers. Did you know that Christianity has more than twice the number of adult converts every single year than all the rest of the world’s religions combined? In countries that used to be incredibly atheistic all across East and South-East Asia, Christianity is growing in swathes. China in particular is estimated to almost be at 100 million Christians, with many of them worshipping God illegally. India and Iran are also having large amounts of conversions to Christianity despite the considerable costs to followers of doing so, with Christianity also now playing a very large role across Africa and Latin America. Why is it that Christianity in particular is growing so much around the world? I have one very simple yet profound answer to that, “Jesus is extraordinary”. I have met numerous Muslims from the middle east, as well as former atheists from around the world, who have basically all said that when they read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels, their lives changed. There is not much that I can say about this Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago yet today remains more influential than ever, other than the fact that he is indescribable. His mind-blowing teaching cannot be dismissed as that of a good teacher, for he claimed to be the divine Son of God. Either he was lying about that, or he was telling the truth. I’d really like to encourage you to read an account of Jesus’ life for yourself and see which one of those Jesus looks like. Does he look and sound like a mad man, or a deceitful liar, or does he seem to be exactly what you’d expect to see and read if God took human form?
These are the reasons why God just won’t go away: he makes best sense of the universe and life’s big questions, but also because he showed himself to us 2000 years ago and continues to show himself today. Why not read about Jesus life for yourself and see what you think.