The Flaw In Atheist Thinking


Miracles_coverIn remembrance of C. S. Lewis upon the 50th anniversary of his passing, I reread one of his books entitled Miracles.

Lewis, himself having been an atheist, brought a perspective I had never considered before. He made clear how irrational it is to try and prove the Supernatural by using the Natural. It can’t be done because the two are separate entities.

It’s like two scholars debating the scope of knowledge. One might say mathematics is the only field of study. The other might argue that no, literature is also a field of study, wholly different and separate from mathematics.

Sorry, the first one says. I can find no evidence for literature.

That’s because you’re only looking at the properties of mathematics, counters the other.

Where else would you expect me to look? his friend answers. I’m searching and searching in the vast field of knowledge, and there is no sign of literature.

Don’t you see, says the second professor, your search is limited. If you look beyond math, you’ll find literature.

How can I look beyond the only thing that’s there?

And so the argument would continue. The first professor cannot grasp the idea that the field of study with which he is familiar is not the sum of all knowledge, and the second professor can’t grasp how he can demonstrate with math how literature exists.

He might think of ways that math and poetry are alike, how math is the basis of music and music is an art akin to literature. He can even point out how literature has structure much the same way math does. But none of those evidences will be proof to the professor not willing to consider that math is not the sum total of all knowledge.

In the same way, the atheist who believes the natural world is the sum total of all that exists will not find any “circumstantial evidence,” to use a law term, to be compelling proof that something, let alone Someone, exists beyond the scope of what his five senses can detect.

It actually makes perfect sense. The flaw in the logic, however, is the assumption that Humankind can detect all that exists with our five senses: atheists take that as a given which needs no proof.

However, it is a false assumption that nature itself exposes. The fact that we did not for thousands of years detect other universes did not write them out of existence. The fact that we did not detect atoms and subatomic particles for thousands of years, did not negate their reality. Our five senses failed.

Relying upon the use of our five senses, we were wrong to think the earth was flat, that the sun rotates around the earth, that there were no other stars than the ones we can see, and any number of other errant ideas. Our five senses, then, are fallible.

Some might counter that, in fact, it is the advancement of knowledge which has allowed Humankind to correct these wrong beliefs by the use of our senses. Our technological improvements have made it possible for us to see further and look at smaller.

But that doesn’t address the issue. The human capacity to detect reality is flawed. We can go for generations believing a lie because our five senses have restrictions. What restrictions might they have now to which we’re oblivious?

An honest person will admit that we cannot know what restrictions are limiting our understanding. Which of course opens the door to the Supernatural. Because we don’t see, touch, taste, feel, or hear God in the same way we do our sister or boss or neighbor, does not mean God does not exist.

The ironic thing is that Humankind for centuries accepted the existence of the Supernatural, in large part because of their five senses, but also, I’d suggest, because of a spiritual sense.

Biblical history records that humans had encounters with God–that He insinuated Himself in the affairs of Humankind–so their five senses verified the existence of the supernatural. Some heard God’s voice, others saw His Shekinah glory, still others felt His Consuming Fire. Others, however, received visions and were filled with His Spirit.

What’s happened, then, it would seem, is what happens with all our physical capacities when they aren’t used: they atrophy. The ability people once had to interact with God, dependent upon their spiritual vision, faded, and had God left us to ourselves, I suspect we would have completely forgotten all about Him. Thankfully, He had no intention of abandoning us.

His greatest intervention was His decision to take on the appearance of a man, live so as to show us the Father, and die in order to make a way for us to once again interact with God.

Jesus Christ penetrated the natural on behalf of the Supernatural to restore our faulty, faded vision–the kind that allows us to see beyond the restrictions of our finite senses.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November 2013.

Published in: on August 17, 2017 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Children Believe


427707_boy_and_his_grandpaChristians believe Jesus was completely God and Jesus was completely a man. I realized how such an apparent impossibility must sound to a rational mind. Or perhaps to a grown-up mind stripped of its creative wonder.

Children have that creative wonder and believe easily. I remember believing that the earth is round long before I saw a photograph of our round earth taken from space. I remember believing that one day my daddy would be President, and I remember believing that my brother could score a touchdown by dragging me across the goal line while I had the football.

When I learned that my dad had no interest in being President, I was disillusioned, I have to admit. And when I learned that my brother had figuratively, as well as literally, pulled my leg, I was disillusioned in another way. But the point for this post in recalling these childhood memories is to illustrate that I believed without requiring proof or explanation.

I believed the teacher who said the earth was round because she was the teacher! I believed my dad would be President because he was Dad. And I believed my brother’s version of the rules of football because he was my brother. Children believe easily.

Jesus said as much when His disciples tried to get people to stop bringing their children to Him.

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14b-15; emphasis mine)

Jesus was not saying we need to be childish, but childlike. Trusting. Not skeptical. That isn’t to say that skeptics can’t come to Christ.

Of His twelve chosen disciples, one was a skeptic. Thomas determined that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he personally verified the fact with his own eyes. Can you blame him? I mean, he saw Jesus die. Most likely he saw them wrap his body for burial, put him in the tomb, and roll the stone in front of the entrance. Who wouldn’t be skeptical about this “He is risen” message?

Well, little children wouldn’t—not when they hear it from someone they trust. And adults wouldn’t if they are willing to hear what God says in the same way children hear—with wide-eyed wonder, with hope and expectation, with confident dependence.

The thing is, this kind of childlike faith does not replace reason. I believed my dad would become President up until the day when he told me why that wouldn’t happen. I didn’t keep believing in the face of contrary evidence. But here’s the important point—I learned from the very father I believed in. I went to him and asked him. The answer he gave me wasn’t the one I wanted to hear, but I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could still trust him.

Interestingly, God deals with us in a similar way. When we trust Him, we can ask Him all kinds of questions. We may not hear the answer we wanted, but we can be sure He won’t lie to us. We can be sure He’ll give us what we need when we need it.

I’m reminded of the story Corrie ten Boom told. She was struggling about whether or not she could handle some difficulty in the future. Her father helped her understand, by comparing the circumstance to when he gave her the train ticket she needed–not too soon but right when she needed it—that God would give her what she needed when she needed it.

Children are great question askers. They believe easily, but they also want to understand why. When Jesus said we are to become like little children, I’m confident He knew precisely what that entails, including their curious minds that want to know why. The great thing about God is that He satisfies the curious minds. In fact He authoritatively states that He is the Truth–the source for the answers to all our questions.

For people who want to make up their own truth, that’s not a satisfying statement. But like my brother who was quite inventive in coming up with his own football rules to benefit himself, there will come a day when those who live by their own truth will meet Truth. There will be no way to escape the fact that all those points they said they were scoring by using their own made up rules, count for nothing.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Assurance Of Things Hoped For


Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Some while ago I had a discussion on a Facebook site that brings Christians and atheists together. The question came up at once about how foolish it is for Christians to depend on faith instead of reason.

No, no, several of us responded. We aren’t choosing faith over reason. Our reason leads us to faith. Impossible, these atheists answered. Finally we backed up a step and defined our terms. It soon became clear: to the atheists in the discussion, faith was limited to blind belief, more nearly tied to what I call wishful thinking.

A light went on. No wonder those atheists were dismissive of Christians. Who wouldn’t question someone who knows something isn’t so (or who has no evidence that it is) but who wants it to be true and therefore simply declares it into existence?

To the atheists in that discussion, there was no other meaning to the idea of faith.

And yet, the Bible gives an entirely different view of the issue. Hebrews 12:1 basically defines faith for us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I think the last part of the definition is actually the strongest because conviction pushes the matter beyond just wanting it to be true. There’s a convincing element to the word. After all, we convict criminals—we make a strong and convinced statement about a person’s guilt, not based on wishful thinking, but on evidence.

In the same way, faith is conviction—belief based on evidence.

But doubters are quick to point out what comes next—the conviction is of things not seen. You can’t see God, and yet you’re convinced? You can’t see angels. You can’t see heaven. You can’t see the Holy Spirit or demons or hell or Satan or Jesus or a video showing men moved by the Holy Spirit writing the Bible. Pretty much everything in the Christian faith is conviction of things not seen.

How, then, does one become convinced or convicted as to the truth of Christianity? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it! If I could give an answer in a nutshell, I’d have pastors and missionaries and evangelists beating a path to my apartment.

There’s actually a lot that goes into this convincing/convicting. One element is proclamation. Like anything else that we believe, we may have first heard the statement from someone we trust and we believed it for no other reason than that he or she said it was true. Many a Christian took that first “leap of faith” because someone older and smarter and more experienced and knowledgeable told us the truth about Jesus. And about us.

Another element in the process of becoming convinced/convicted is verification from personal experience. So a trusted someone says, all people everywhere are sinners. Without much trouble, I can verify that statement based on my experiences. I see the news that shows people doing heinous things, I look at my family and friends and see their flaws and foibles, I search my own heart and find wrong attitudes and desires. So, yes, I can agree with and be convince of the truth that all people everywhere are sinners.

A third component to the process is reliable corroborative evidence—things like people whose lives have been changed or who live their lives in a way that is countercultural, Bible passages and the overarching Biblical narrative, miraculous events that have no explanation apart from supernatural intervention (or lying, but lying has been disproved).

Another part of this process is deductive reasoning. For instance, one way to arrive at belief in God is to draw a conclusion from several self-evident statements:

    1. One who creates is outside of and apart from what it creates (a painter and his painting; a watch maker and his watch)
    2. Nothing in the known world has the ability to create sentience
    3. Therefore, something outside the known world with the capacity to create sentience must exist.

That’s a somewhat clumsy effort to illustrate how deduction works, but I hope you get the idea. There are numerous others, but apparently Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury is credited with the development of this approach. Here’s his deduction proving God’s existence with a bit of explanation following:

Anselm’s first form of his argument follows:

    1. God is the greatest possible being (nothing greater can be conceived)
    2. If God exists in the mind alone (only as an idea), then a greater being could be imagined to exist both in the mind and in reality
    3. This being would then be greater than God
    4. Thus God cannot exist only as an idea in the mind
    5. Therefore, God exists both in the mind (as an idea) and in reality.

The first premise (1) that God is the greatest possible being stems from the classical attributes of God i.e. omnipotence, omnipresent, omniscience…etc. It naturally follows that there cannot be two rival omnipotent beings…etc. For Anselm (and most theistic thinkers) this understanding of God goes without saying. It is axiomatic to say that God is omnipotent…etc. Any other definition of God would not be God.

The second and third premises (2 and 3) argue that something that exists in reality is better than something that exists only in ones imagination. For example, which is better imagining that you have £1 million, or actually having £1 million in your bank account?

The conclusion (4) follows from the first three premises (1,2 and 3). Anselm’s final conclusion (5) is that if all the previous premises are true (1,2,3 and 4) then God must exist. “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God”

Other elements that go into the convincing/conviction that is faith in what we do not see involves inductive arguments. We reason from what we “see” to what we don’t see. For instance the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence is inductive—we see that an objective morality exists and conclude that the sense of right and wrong has its origin in a Moral Being.

These various ways of becoming convicted of what is not seen are philosophical. Too often our atheist friends want to stop with the words “not seen” as if the lack of material evidence means there is no evidence. However, there’s one overarching argument against this opposition.

While atheists accept that science can discover new things to the point that scientists might refute a position that had been commonly held to be true in a past age, atheists take for themselves omniscience in regard to God by saying that since they have not discovered scientific evidence for Him, He does not exist anywhere in the known and unknown universes and possible dimensions.

To know such a thing a person would have to, well, be like God. But since, in their view, there is no God, then they can’t know if God is in some distant universe or dimension. In other words, their position is simply . . . dare I say it? . . . wishful thinking.

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments (13)  
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Faith vs. Reason


A_starry_sky_above_Death_ValleyToday Some years ago I heard a sermon by Alistair Begg on the life of Abraham (actually, at the time still using the name Abram). At one point Pastor Begg said something like, When faith comes up against questions, then the questions have to go.

He was referring to 75-year-old Abram, having believed God when He promised to give his descendants the land He’d brought him to, confronting questions ten years later: How long do I have to wait? Is this really going to happen? Maybe I misunderstood and this nation will be built through my servant who stands to be my heir.

No, God said, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

So, another thirteen or so years pass, with missteps along the way. And when Abram knows it is impossible for he and his wife to have a child, God renews His promise.

What’s Abram to believe? His rational understanding of the way the world works (he knew his body was as good as dead when it came to procreation and he knew his wife was past her child-bearing years), or the promise of God? His reason, or his faith?

“And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23).

Abraham believed God.

He didn’t hope something into existence without cause and against all odds. Rather, he believed God was powerful and completely true to His word. He believed God was not limited by what Abraham had heretofore experienced. (I’ve never seen a 99-year-old man father a child, so it can’t happen.)

Oddly, this kind of faith is out of vogue. Well, I suppose it isn’t so odd. After all, Satan, a liar and the father of lies, has been lying about God and His work and plan since those days in Eden. Then along came modernism, buoyed by rationalism. And we have professing Christians saying things like this:

Our earlier understandings of Creation and of most Christian doctrines no longer make sense because we now know more about Creation, that is, we know more about God’s acts as Creator. We’re capable of higher understandings.
– Acts of Being: Updating Thomistic Existentialism

So why, I wonder, wasn’t Abraham justified by reason instead of by faith?

Published in: on August 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Children Believe


427707_boy_and_his_grandpaAs I wrote yesterday about Jesus being God and Jesus being a man, I realized how such an apparent impossibility must sound to a rational mind. Or perhaps to a grown-up mind stripped of its creative wonder.

Children have that creative wonder and believe easily. I remember believing that the earth is round long before I saw a photograph of our round earth taken from space. I remember believing that one day my daddy would be President, and I remember believing that my brother could score a touchdown by dragging me across the goal line while I had the football.

When I learned that my dad had no interest in being President, I was disillusioned, I have to admit. And when I learned that my brother had figuratively, as well as literally, pulled my leg, I was disillusioned in another way. But the point for this post in recalling these childhood memories is to illustrate that I believed without requiring proof or explanation.

I believed the teacher who said the earth was round because she was the teacher! I believed my dad would be President because he was Dad. And I believed my brother’s version of the rules of football because he was my brother. Children believe easily.

Jesus said as much when His disciples tried to get people to stop bringing their children to Him.

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14b-15–emphasis mine)

Jesus was not saying we need to be childish, but childlike. Trusting. Not skeptical. That isn’t to say that skeptics can’t come to Christ.

Of His twelve chosen disciples, one was a skeptic. Thomas determined that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he personally verified the fact with his own eyes. Can you blame him? I mean, he saw Jesus die. Most likely he saw them wrap his body for burial, put him in the tomb, and roll the stone in front of the entrance. Who wouldn’t be skeptical about this “He is risen” message?

Well, little children wouldn’t–not when they hear it from someone they trust. And adults wouldn’t if they are willing to hear what God says in the same way children hear–with wide-eyed wonder, with hope and expectation, with confident dependence.

The thing is, this kind of childlike faith does not replace reason. I believed my dad would become President up until the day when he told me why that wouldn’t happen. I didn’t keep believing in the face of contrary evidence. But here’s the important point–I learned from the very father I believed in. I went to him and asked him. The answer he gave me wasn’t the one I wanted to hear, but I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could still trust him.

Interestingly, God deals with us in a similar way. When we trust Him, we can ask Him all kinds of questions. We may not hear the answer we wanted, but we can be sure He won’t lie to us. We can be sure He’ll give us what we need when we need it.

I’m reminded of the story Corrie ten Boom told. She was struggling about whether or not she could handle some difficulty in the future. Her father helped her understand, by comparing the circumstance to when he gave her the train ticket she needed–not too soon but right when she needed it–that God would give her what she needed when she needed it.

Children are great question askers. They believe easily, but they also want to understand why. When Jesus said we are to become like little children, I’m confident He knew precisely what that entails, including their curious minds that want to know why. The great thing about God is that He satisfies the curious minds. In fact He authoritatively states that He is the Truth–the source for the answers to all our questions.

For people who want to make up their own truth, that’s not a satisfying statement. But like my brother who was quite inventive in coming up with his own football rules to benefit himself, there will come a day when those who live by their own truth will meet Truth. There will be no way to escape the fact that all those points they said they were scoring by using their own made up rules, count for nothing.

Published in: on April 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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The People Who Couldn’t Smell – A Story


Once upon a time in a country far, far away, tucked into an isolated valley, there lived the Tsiehtas, a group of people with only four senses. They could see and hear and feel and taste, but they couldn’t smell.

One day a visitor from neighboring Htiaf arrived in the valley. He admired the quaint cottages and well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens. But when he stopped beside a rose bush and pressed his nose to a blossom, a smile came over his face.

“This is the most fragrant flower I’ve ever found,” he said. “You have a real treasure in your valley.”

The Tsiehtas looked at the visitor suspiciously. “No offense, sir,” said the lord high counselor, “but there is no such thing as ‘fragrant.’ Certainly we appreciate the beauty of the blossoms, and for that reason we treasure our roses.”

“No fragrance? Of course there’s a fragrance. A sweet, rich scent that lingers even after I move to another part of the garden.”

“Ha-ha! You have a rich imagination … unless you are trying to intentionally propagate deception.”

A crowd begin to gather.

The visitor raised his voice. “Please believe me. I’m not making this up. The scent is so strong it overpowers that of the newly cut grass.”

“You think grass has a scent, too?” the lord high counselor said.

The crowd laughed, but one small boy dropped to his knees and buried his face in the grass. “I do think I smell something,” came his muffled voice.

“Nonsense and fairy tales. We have no evidence that ‘scent’ exists,” said the lord high counselor. “Show me this fragrance you speak of.”

“How can I show you that which is invisible?”

“And how can we believe in something without any proof?”

“I’m your proof! And so is my young friend here.” The visitor patted the little boy’s shoulder. “The fact that we can smell these scents is evidence they exist.”

“Hardly. Another visitor might arrive tomorrow and tell us the sun smells disgusting. Should we believe him, too?”

“What about this boy, one of your own?”

“You said yourself, he’s a boy. He’ll grow out of his fantasy.”

Sadly the visitor from Htiaf turned away. “How can I convince the Tsiehtas the scent is real when they can’t smell? If only I could give then the sense they are lacking!”

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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Faith vs. Reason


Today I heard a sermon by Alistair Begg on the life of Abraham (actually, at the time still using the name Abram). At one point Pastor Begg said something like, When faith comes up against questions, then the questions have to go.

He was referring to 75-year-old Abram, having believed God when He promised to give his descendants the land He’d brought him to, confronting questions ten years later. How long do I have to wait? Is this really going to happen? Maybe I misunderstood and this nation will be built through my servant who stands to be my heir. No, God said, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars.

So, another 13 or so years pass, with missteps along the way. And when Abram knows it is impossible for he and his wife to have a child, God renews His promise. What’s Abram to believe? His rational understanding of the way the world works (he knew his body was as good as dead when it came to procreation and he knew his wife was past her child-bearing years), or the promise of God? His reason, or his faith?

“And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23). Abraham believed God.

He didn’t hope something into existence without cause and against all odds. Rather, he believed God was powerful and completely true to His word. He believed God was not limited by what Abraham had heretofore experienced. (I’ve never seen a 99-year-old man father a child, so it can’t happen.)

Oddly, this kind of faith is out of vogue. Well, I suppose it isn’t so odd. After all, Satan, a liar and the father of lies, has been lying about God and His work and plan since those days in Eden. Then along came modernism, buoyed by rationalism. And we have professing Christians saying things like this:

Our earlier understandings of Creation and of most Christian doctrines no longer make sense because we now know more about Creation, that is, we know more about God’s acts as Creator. We’re capable of higher understandings.
Acts of Being: Updating Thomistic Existentialism

So why, I wonder, wasn’t Abraham justified by reason instead of by faith?

Published in: on July 10, 2009 at 9:42 am  Comments (8)  
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