Category Archives: Philosophy of Religion

Scientific Evidence- so what?

Relationship

I wrote last week about Why God Won’t Go Away. There I touched very briefly on some of the developments in science over the last few decades which have strengthened the ‘God hypothesis’. Let’s say the arguments for a divine being’s existence are sound, and that the scientific evidence really does point to God as so how many claim. So what? What existential difference does it make to you and to me that such a divine being exists? But most of all, how does it substantiate Christianity in any way?

The first angle I want to take with this is not at all existential but is still quite important. Clearly, the scientific evidence and philosophical arguments for God’s existence deal a large blow to atheism. It goes much further, though. The scientific evidence for the universe having a temporal beginning at the Big Bang is pretty convincing. Combine this evidence with some very powerful philosophical arguments against an infinite regress of temporal events and it seems to me  like the case against a past-eternal universe is insurmountable. This actually has huge implications. This would mean that Mormonism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, most forms of New Ageism and all forms of pantheism are false, since they are all completely predicated on an eternal universe. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty significant! The only options left are one of the monotheistic religions or deism. Of course the point still stands that none of this proves Christianity to be true, but the first words of the Bible that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” have been thoroughly vindicated.

Yet this still doesn’t necessarily seem to effect the way I should live, or the human condition in general. If this God could just as likely be a distant, detached and disinterested deity then how does this affect me? Well, to be honest it doesn’t. However, it does have some important implications for Jesus’ claims and miracles, which certainly does affect the human condition. Let me explain.
If there is no God, then no matter what the evidence might point towards, Jesus simply cannot have risen from the dead. The chances of him being ‘medically’ dead and then three days later rising again are reduced to nothing. Literally none. Zero. Zilch.  Yet if there is a God who miraculously created the universe, fine-tuned the initial conditions for intelligent life and intervened to seed the world with life, then suddenly Jesus rising again is a genuine possibility. If there is good evidence that might lead us to think that he rose from the dead, then that is most likely what happened! It’s now an imperative to investigate this Jesus and see what all the fuss is about.

Is this Creator one of those lonely, impersonal gods, or is God a tri-unity of Father, Son and Spirit, three persons who are in an eternal relationship with each other of mutual love and self-giving? Has he stayed away at a safe distance or has he been willing to come to earth, take the form a human being and live like one of us? Has he suffered excruciating pain in order to reconcile us-his enemies- to him, or has he been a selfish loner, completely uninterested in any kind of relationship?

Or think about it another way. If the evidence has established the existence of an incredibly powerful, immaterial and timeless deity, then it seems unclear at best how we would be able to know him. He would be unlike anything in the universe. C.S. Lewis made this point himself, using the analogy of Hamlet. Now the character of Hamlet has no comprehension of Shakespeare, and any philosophizing he might do still doesn’t even get him close to getting to know Shakespeare on a personal level. For that, Lewis argues, Shakespeare would have to write himself into the story and take the form of a character. So it is with Jesus. We can only know God on a personal level and to the fullest extent because he wrote himself into the human story as the man Jesus. The Bible calls Jesus the image of the invisible God in one of my all time favourite little passages. It’s worth checking out, right here.

Friends, these are the questions that must be answered in light of the evidence for God. So whilst the scientific evidence doesn’t establish Christianity, it certainly does rule out most of the other options. The evidence means that it is vital that we look deeper. And looking deeper does not come at a huge cost. With so many options ruled out by the evidence, there are only a few contenders. Of those few, only one God exists has actually made himself known to us by living like one of us, living among us and living for us.  Even Islam doesn’t claim to allow for a personal knowledge of God, only to know what his abstract Will is. It’s time to come to know the God who wants to know you, and who was willing to pay the price: even death on a cross.


Is God hardwired into the human brain?


A month or two ago I read this news story about how recent evidence suggests that God might be ‘hardwired’ into our brain. Before this study was even in the making, many of the New Atheists had already made up their mind that this was true. For example, in his book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” Daniel Dennett claims that such hardwiring is a “fiction generating contraption” (Dennett, 2006: 120). Dawkins concurs: “The irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain”  (Dawkins, The God Delusion: 184). I’m not so sure if this conclusion is warranted. If a personal and loving God existed we would most certainly expect him to make himself known to his creation in order that they might engage with him in a Father-child relationship. This evidence puts yet another nail in poor Sigmund Freud‘s coffin, who said people believed in God as a result of nurture rather than nature. The great reformer John Calvin, meanwhile, has once again been vindicated by his comments written more than 400 years earlier that, “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.3.1, P43).

Another point may well be made to those who attempt to use the scientific evidence to undercut belief in God. Many of the New Atheists seem to think that because our belief in God may have originated from the way our brain is wired, this means that the belief is false. However, this seems to a clear example of the genetic fallacy in action. It is fallacious to try to invalidate a belief by simply showing how it originated. Yet even if we did grant that belief in God is false (which I don’t for a minute accept), then what implications would this have about the reliability of our cognitive faculties,  that evolutionary and biological mechanisms tend to create parts of our brain based on entirely vacuous concepts? Charles Darwin expressed his concerns like so, “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Letter from Charles Darwin, pictured right, to William Graham, July 3rd 1881.)

Charles Darwin. 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in....

Image via Wikipedia

Unless humans possess a mind which cannot be reduced purely to physics and biology, or there is a God who designed our cognitive faculties to aim at truth rather than mere survival, then what we know about evolution undercuts belief in an atheistic naturalism. On Professor Dawkins’ view our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control, regardless of whether we’re theists or naturalists. Paul Copan has said here, “in fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).” Alvin Plantinga has written quite extensively about his ‘Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’ (if that interests you check this out), and I think his argument poses a huge threat to naturalism.

If we accept what Dawkins et al. would have us believe about our cognitive faculties, then all our knowledge of two plus two equaling four, an external world existing, rape being morally wrong and there being objective purpose in life, are thrown out.

Surely it makes more sense to accept that we are hardwired for God because he designed us so, and because he genuinely wants us to know Him.


Why God Won’t Go Away

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.