October 22, 2013

Heart and Soul: Theology

Until that chilly Monday morning in Varaždin, Croatia, my life as a Seventh-day Adventist soldier in the Communist army had gone smoothly and unchallenged!

But things changed that spring day of 1979. “You must have done something terribly wrong, Jovan,” the captain said grimly. “I don’t know what it is, but we’ll soon find out. The general mayor wants you to report to his office immediately.” Every soldier knew what that meant, especially someone like me, who, instead of reporting for work on Sabbath, worshipped illegally at the local Adventist church.

The General Speaks

At the general’s office I was stunned to see my Bible on his desk. It was open to Genesis 1. The general smiled and spoke softly: “Looking at your profile, I can see you are a bright and intelligent young man. . . . I’m curious to know how much you’ve been infected and damaged by religious virus.” He continued: “At school you were taught about the Darwinian explanation of life and the processes that brought human beings into existence in the course of millions of years. On the other hand, your book says God created man out of dust in an instant. What do you believe, soldier, the scientific facts about our origin or the ancient fables of your book?” 

“I believe what the Bible says, sir.”

The general closed the Bible. Staring straight at me, he asked: “As an educated, rational man, do you believe a snake chatted with a woman and a donkey spoke to a man, the sun stood still, water turned into wine, and dead people, following their burial, walked again?”

I did not hesitate: “The Bible is the Word of God, sir, and I believe that those miracles took place.”

Rising slowly from his chair, he raised a clenched fist toward me and shouted:  “You are mad, insane; you’re out of your mind; how could you believe such foolishness? You are dangerous; get out of my office immediately!”

A World Without God

Since that time, more than 30 years ago, I have witnessed to and learned from hundreds of atheists. Some have become close friends. Often I’d ask them to do a quick thought experiment: to imagine the world without God; no God who gives meaning and purpose to our lives, no hope of resurrection, no promise of heaven, and no afterlife. We close all churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples and denounce the Bible and other sacred literature as the fabrication of primitive minds. How do we, having gotten rid of God, live with meaning or purpose in a vast and purposeless universe? A universe without God raises desperate questions:

Where does significance come from if we are the mere byproduct of natural blind forces (“Because our number came up in a Monte Carlo game,”  as atheist biologist Jacques Monod has said)?1

If everything is a mere collection of atoms, then humans are not different in kind from other forms of life or from dead matter. But if that is the case, how can humans claim unique value, or special rights? According to Stephen Hawking, “the human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet.”2 Why then should killings in Auschwitz or Rwanda be more reprehensible than spraying out a swarm of mosquitoes?

Furthermore, if life is won by the fittest and even they end in the grave, why should it make a difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint? Is care for the sick, the poor, and the disadvantaged a hindrance to the species’ survival?

No argument proves God’s existence with mathematical certainty. No airtight argument silences all skeptics. Unanswered questions remain. But I do claim that the God of Christianity is the best explanation of the mysteries that surround us, mysteries that cannot be explained in any naturalistic way. These mysteries serve as pointers to God, the Creator of the universe and Savior of humankind.

These mysteries serve as pointers to God, the Creator of the universe and Savior of humankind.

Something Rather Than Nothing

For years atheists, philosophers, and secular scientists ridiculed the biblical testimony that the universe had a beginning caused by God. To them the universe was “just there,” with no beginning, infinite in age, relieving them of the responsibility to account for its ultimate cause—
until a series of discoveries in astronomy at the beginning of the twentieth century disturbed their peace.

The new discoveries pointed to a conclusion that matter, space, and time had a beginning. Evidently something outside of time and space caused the universe into being. Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow illustrated this by saying that “the universe was wound up like a clock at this moment, and everything that happened since has been its unwinding.”3

Today no reputable scientist contests the beginning of the universe. Still, the majority of them reject its implications. Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize recipient in physics, states boldly: “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”4

The Way Things Are

The universe exhibits an astounding degree of mathematical fine-tuning. It operates to very specific numerical values. Cosmologists tell us that the fundamental forces of the universe must be tuned with knife’s-edge finesse for life to occur. Atheist physicist Lee Smolin illustrates: Imagine God seated at a big cosmic desk to which hundreds of different dials are attached, each dial representing one numerical constant, with an extreme precision set to a fixed number. What if scientists, while God is not looking, were to sneak into the room and change something? What if light were to travel at 200,000 miles per second instead of 186,000? What if the values of the universe were a little different? Smolin contends that if we moved one of the values in either direction, not by 10 percent or 2 percent, but by one part in a hundred thousand million million million, there would be no universe, no life.5

The fine-tuned universe is unsettling to atheists. They cannot deny it, yet they refuse to follow its evidence that would lead them to the Christian God. Some prefer a theory of multiple universes. With many, many universes similar to ours, the argument goes, it is statistically unsurprising that one of them happened to be hospitable for life. Nevertheless, they dismiss the question of how intelligent life arose as a meaningless and speculative question, with nothing but empty speculation to be gained from asking why.

Is “Why” an Unreasonable Question?

Considering the odds against life, is it really meaningless to ask why we do exist at all? 

Imagine this scenario6: A soldier is captured by enemy forces. His sentence is swift—execution by the firing squad.  He is tied to a post, and a marker is put on his chest marking his heart. One thousand soldiers are called to shoot him from a distance of 50 feet. One thousand rifles are aimed at his heart, and all are fired at the same time. All 1,000 miss their target.

Is it logical for this soldier to ask how and why such a thing could have happened? Would he not wonder whether it was mechanical error in 1,000 rifles? Or because 1,000 pairs of sharpshooters’ hands all trembled beyond control? Or because some unnatural mystery intervened to preserve him alive? Entirely reasonable, you concede.

Yet the odds against life occurring
in the universe are a billion times larger
than for 1,000 soldiers to miss their target 50 feet away. No natural explanation for life, intelligent or otherwise, exists. Christians believe that life in its delicate balances points to a loving and solicitous Creator who took special care in designing the universe in a way that would make it ready for you and me.

The Mystery of Objective Moral Values 

Eminent Australian philosopher John Mackie has stated atheism’s great tenet: “There are no objective values.”7 And Christians agree that if there is no God, there are no objective moral values.

But if that is so, to which moral standard do atheists appeal when they approve certain actions as good and condemn others as objectively wrong? If atheism is true, on what basis do we call Hitler’s actions repugnant and Mother Teresa’s noble?

Atheistic philosophy views morality as just an aid to survival, like hands, feet, and teeth. Leading evolutionist Michael Ruse confirms: “Our sense of morality is adaptation. . . . This is in no way to say that that which has evolved is morally good.”8 In other words, our actions are inherently neither moral nor immoral, neither good nor bad, but neutral, either helping or hindering our survival.

But could an atheist live with the notion that incest, child molestation, abduction, and slavery are morally neutral? Do atheists avoid these simply for reasons of survival? Would they prefer to rape, murder, torture children, and abuse those who are elderly if this aided our survival? And if they recoil at such a thought, which objective moral code inspires their repugnance?

In addition, how do they explain actions that conflict with survival values? Why care for individuals who have disabilities, are chronically ill, are senile, are hard-core criminals, etc.? We know caring for them is not advantageous to our survival. If evolutionary dogma is true, why not “put them to sleep . . . lest they hinder the evolutionary process”?9

Beyond this, nothing in evolutionary philosophy tells me to risk my life to help a stranger I may never see again. The evolutionary model, logically followed, converts Oskar Schindler into an utter fool for risking his own life to save more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis. Yet it would be hard to find an atheist who would not be profoundly moved by such altruism, even though they would be incapable of explaining the basis for Schindler’s compassion.

Christianity’s Answer

Biblically based morality is intertwined with the notion that human beings are special creatures with an intrinsic value. The image of God makes us different from other lower forms of life. We may be genetically similar to animals, but we are different in kind. We don’t hold a lion guilty for eating zebra, but we do hold human beings responsible for mistreating  fellow human beings. God has endowed humans with a moral compass that helps us differentiate good from bad, love from hate, justice from injustice, a moral action from an immoral one (Rom. 2:14, 15; 12:3). The referential point of morality to which both atheists and Christians appeal, humanity’s sense of moral awareness—if our conscience has not been deadened (Heb. 3:13)—cannot be explained in any naturalistic way, and is a clear pointer to God, the moral law-giver.

The Christian faith is rationally consistent and based on reality. It is also testable and falsifiable. It answers more than we can reasonably ask. It stands on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a testimony that no other religion or philosophy can claim.

And Christianity is not merely true, it is relevant. It does not leave me a cosmic orphan of animal origin and no destiny. I belong to God’s family. The cross of Jesus expounds my value. I have eternal worth. My life has meaning and purpose, and my future is radiant with hope. Concluding with C. S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”10 

  1. John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? (Evangelical Press, 2000), p. 363.
  2. David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes—and Its Implications (New York: Viking, 1997), pp. 177, 178.
  3. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomer (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1978), p. 113.
  4. Malcolm Browne, “Clues to the Universe’s Origin Expected,” New York Times, Mar. 12, 1978.
  5. From a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Dan Baker, available online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=exuaBSd74xU.
  6. The parable is adapted and modified from John Leslie, “Anthropic Principle, World Ensemble, Design,” American Philosophical Quarterly 19 (1982):150.
  7. John Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 15
  8. Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 12.
  9. John R. W. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 18.
  10. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: Harper One, 1980), p. 140.