The end of faith

For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. – 1 Cor. 13:9-10

We don’t talk about heaven much these days. Today’s Christians seem more preoccupied with this life and its ebbs and flows rather than with their future eternity. If we do, we are accused of pipe-dreaming, escapism and indifference to the problems of the here and now. Heaven is more of a palliative comfort technique; something to tell dying patients to provide them with some “hope”.

Now, in a sense, that misconception is understandable. Scripture speaks about heaven as our future “hope” (e.g. Col. 1:5) and you don’t need hope if you’re happy with where you are now.

Well, what wrong with that? Doesn’t the Bible teach us to be content (Phil. 4:11)? Aren’t we to avoid the example of the Israelites and their incessant, unfaithful whining in the desert (Ex. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3)? What’s wrong with being happy with your life this side of eternity?

Well, let’s say this: It’s one thing to be content and another thing to be complacent. Or if you prefer, there is godly contentment (2 Cor. 12:10) and ungodly contentment (Judges 17:11). In other words, as Christians, we are called to live in this world (John 17:11, 15), take care of it (Gen. 1:28), and be thankful for God’s providence (Eph. 5:3-4; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thes. 5:18; 1 Tim. 4:4), but we are also called to NOT live for this world (Mat. 6:19-20; John 17:16), to NOT love it’s evil (1 John 2:15-17) and to set our eyes and affections on the things that are above (Col. 3:1-3).

Why?

Because this world, beautiful and wonderful as it may be, has an expiry date. The apostle Peter wrote some interesting words about that: “…the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Pet. 3:12b), while the book of Revelation is essentially a chronicling of the last days of the cosmos, followed by the creation of a new, eternal one (cf. Rev. 21:1). Now, the Bible is quite clear that this undoing of the universe will not be a natural phenomenon, but rather the active outpouring of God’s wrath and judgement on the universe’s rebellion against Him (2 Pet. 3:7). In other words, the fate of this world is bound up with its sin, and as God’s people, freed from the bondage of sin (Rom. 6:6-7), we are by nature separated from the world and its destiny. In fact, when we say that “Jesus saves”, this is what we’re (or should be) talking about: Due to Christ’s perfect and completed sacrifice for the consequence of sin, those who “put Him on” (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27) through repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15), are delivered – saved – from God’s wrath and His coming, natural judgment on a sinful world (1 Thes. 1:10).

But God’s grace has no limits – neither has His creativity. God will let sin and the rebellion of the human and spiritual realms run its course, get as bad as it can possibly get, and then utterly destroy it; but He has also promised to create the world anew (Rev. 21:5).

Let’s take a moment to think about this: As far as we can push our collective theological minds, we can say that God didn’t have to create the world in the first place. He did it for His own pleasure; He put so much of His creative power into it; He made it as a work of love; and it ruined itself. And yet, God, who is outside time, will “wait” until the rebellion is done, save a few whom He has chosen through faith in Christ (and only), destroy the world as judgment and then… make a new one, which will never be infected by sin again, simply because sin had its day in the sun and lost. Satan, the originator of sin, will be forever imprisoned (Rev. 20:10), and those who will inhabit the new world will be completely and continuously free from the power of sin through the sheer sanctifying and perfecting power of Christ (Rev. 21:4, 27). It will be a new, perfect, unblemished world existing solely because of and for the glory of almighty God, whose creative power and wisdom designed all this.

When we say, “I’m a Christian”, do we see ourselves as part of this titanic plan? Are we thankful for God’s immeasurable grace that our existence is bound up with the eternally-saving and not the eternally-damning side of His plans? Do we live our lives like that?

Well, the evidence says no: If you look at the most popular Christian books today, not only will you notice a sad absence or twisting of Biblical doctrine, but also you will find that most of them could easily be classified as Christian “self-help” or “how-to” guides. And if you pull back and scan the “Christian” landscape of today, you will find that there is a virtually pornographic obsession with “me, my life and this world”. You know how some people say that “Jesus is a crutch”? Who do you think gave them that idea? Or why do you think atheists today will say that “you don’t need a God to be happy”? We live an earth-bound Christianity, and when it doesn’t work (and it wouldn’t), we slap on human remedies like spiritual duct tape, because we have no other resource.

But it shouldn’t be like this. If we are truly saved, if Christ can claim us as His own, if God calls us His children through Christ, then we are headed for a place dominated and centred upon God’s glory (Rev. 21:23). We are destined to receive an inheritance that knows no end (Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:4). If we think like that, if we see our lives in that context, then there is no telling of the victories we will naturally gain over the struggles of this life. Why? Because our perspective will change. In fact, all of Christian living is built on this foundational attitude and perception (Mat. 6:33).

Are we excited by the prospect of heaven? Are we of those who “who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8) or have we invested our joy and energy in this passing world so much that the thought of heaven is something we hope will matter to us on our deathbed?

So, with all that in mind, let’s look at our original verse (1 Cor. 13:9-10). Addressing the confusion over the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes to the Corinthians and, like a good doctor, points out that their main problem wasn’t so much the misuse and abuse of those gifts in their assembly, but the fact that such behaviour demonstrated their lovelessness towards each other. It was a church riddled with problems, including gross sexual immorality, indifference towards the poor, secular lawsuits between brethren, and chaos in the use of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave – and still gives – to believers in order to edify each other in the Lord. Instead, the Corinthians seem to have been using those gifts, especially the easily-imitable tongues, in a “more spiritual than thou” manner (1 Cor. 12:31). And Paul sees through and past all that noise, and pinpoints the one thing that was lacking and that would fix everything if it were applied: Love.

We are familiar with the famous 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the chapter of Love (vv. 1-8a). You can even find it elegantly quoted in non-biblical contexts. It’s inspiring because it shows us not only HOW love should be manifested among us, but it also helps us understand what it means exactly when the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8).

But that’s not all. In Chapter 13, Paul tells the Corinthians that they also have a problem of perspective when it comes to the use of the gifts. He tells them that in all their “spiritual” squabbling, they’ve forgotten that the gifts, even the super-gifts like prophesying, will not last forever, but one day, they will pass away (cf. 1 John 2:17).

And it is in that context that Paul describes something amazing: The end of faith – but not like Sam Harris dreamt it. The apostle talks about a time when all gifts will cease and something that he refers to as “that which is perfect” (το τέλειον; toh tehleion) (v.10). And when that “perfect” comes, he writes, there won’t be any need anymore for faith because we will be able to see face to face (v. 12).

Now, there are three main interpretations of what the “perfect” is, and they are mostly of interest because they have to do with the question of whether or not the gifts of the Spirit, like prophesying and speaking in tongues, have now been rendered inoperative or still continue today. It is not my intention to discuss that issue here, since it is not really important to what we’re looking at. I think it’s enough to list the three interpretations of the “perfect”:

1. The completion of Scripture. According to this interpretation, the “perfect” came when the book of Revelation was finished.

2. The rapture of the Church and the second coming of Christ. According to this interpretation, the “perfect” will come when the invisible Church is taken into the heavens (1 Thes. 4:15-17) and Christ returns to set up His millennium kingdom (Rev. 20:4-6) and judge all of mankind (Rev. 20:11-13).

3. The eternal state in God’s glory. According to this interpretation, the “perfect” will come when we have gone past the millennium kingdom of Christ and entered the New Jerusalem, or what we refer to as “heaven” (Rev. 21:9-22:4).

Considering that Paul talks about seeing “face to face”, I think that “perfect” he’s talking about fits with the third interpretation. Having the Scripture completed certainly doesn’t allow us to see “face to face” (just think of all the theological debates going on today) and in the millennium kingdom of Christ there are still teachers needed to proclaim and expound the Word of God (i.e. “prophesy”; cf. Joel 2:28).

Our end of faith comes when we don’t need faith anymore, because the “dim mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12), the smokescreen, will finally be removed. Take a moment to think about that:

The Lord says to Moses:

“You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” – Exodus 33:20

Isaiah, upon seeing a vision of the Lord cries out:

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”
– Is. 6:5

Paul writes to Timothy:

[God] alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see – 1 Tim. 6:16

And even John, when he sees Christ in glory:

“And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” – Rev. 1:17

… and yet, one day, we will be able to see Him face to face, clearer than we see each other now. No more obstruction by sin, human finiteness, worldly distractions, satanic powers, fleshly weakness, temptations, grief, persecutions or anything else we can add to that list. No more sorrow (Rev. 21:4), but only an unending, everlasting, eternal, perfect joy of and in our God. Imagine the unity with Him and between us as the perfected body and bride of Christ! Think of the unquenchable praise, the unparalleled worship and the adoration that we will give Him for who He is and what He has done. Imagine an eternal state where everything that keeps you from worshiping the Lord with all your mind, soul and being is gone. Imagine the unleashed glory of that place and of those who inhabit it forever!

And so, let me ask again: How does all that match the way we see our lives? How do we feel about it? Is it the greatest burning desire of our soul, or is it something that we’re vaguely looking forward to when we’re tired of having a good time here?

As always, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of a great truth. There is so much to unpack, but for now let me leave you with this:

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God – 2 Cor. 7:1

The New Atheism

Last Friday marked a historical landmark for this blog: the blogpost with the shortest life-span.

It was simply a humorous list of 21 “instructions” that aimed to point out some characteristics of the attitude and apologetics of the New Atheists. I admit that the tone leaned a little towards the sarcastic, but certainly no more than what is allowed in this blog, and definitely nowhere near than the usual vitriol fired by the New Atheists when they attack those who are “simple-minded” enough to still hold onto theist positions.

It didn’t fly. Within an hour of posting the list it was obvious that it wasn’t going in the right direction: one atheist blogger commented in counterattack sarcasm, one guy wrote something that sounded supportive but didn’t make any sense, and five hours and an “astonishing” 18 hits after the blogpost went up, I thought it wiser to take it down. Trouble is inevitable and well-expected with the content of what I usually write, but trouble because of the tone of what I write is something we can all live without. So, apologies to all atheist readers who I unwillingly offended – I didn’t mean to, but that’s hardly an excuse.

So, having said all that, I’d still like to return to the subject, and occupy our minds a little with the rise of the New atheism today. What we’ll say below will actually still echo elements from that list of contentions, but I will try to steer clear of forming “straw-men” as I was accused.

It’s no news that atheism is currently seeing a new day in the sun. Aggressively propagated by eminent academics like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, the idea that God does not exist is crossing rapidly from its old elitist intelligentsia home right into the world of mainstream thinking. It’s no longer something discussed at philosophical symposia in incomprehensible German terminology; it is now vehemently debated and defended in the public square.

Of course, geographically speaking, this isn’t really news to us who live in the Old World. Western Europe has been progressively secularised in terms of social structure and worldview since the Enlightenment, and even the famously religious Victorians embraced a strange, moralistic form of atheism (“I’m a Christian in my body, but not in my mind”).

Thus, I wonder if the alarms sounding from all fronts about the New Atheists don’t have more to do with the sudden spread and wide appeal of their ideas in the US; even though hyper-modernised as a country, even Richard Dawkins finds it necessary to specifically address the “religiosity” of his US readers in “The God Delusion”. But whatever the reason, what is most interesting is the reception of these ideas by a much wider audience than before.

In the following paragraphs I don’t aim to put forth a full-blown apologetic against every single argument of the New Atheism. Others, much more knowledgeable and intelligent have done so, and, even though there is much left to answer, I will give some references throughout. This article will just take an overarching view of New Atheism and pick up some of what I think are its more stringent arguments – in particular, as a scientist, I am interested in the way the New Atheists argue their case by claiming that atheism is the only place that science can lead us.

Before we start, it’s probably best to understand why we refer to this as the New Atheism. Here I will summarise the eight distinctive characteristics of the New Atheism that Dr Albert Mohler gives in his recent book Atheism Remix: A Christian confronts the New Atheists (pp 54-63):

1. It is marked by an unprecedented new boldness.

2. There is a clear and specific rejection of the Christian God of the Bible.

3. There is a rejection of Jesus Christ with a new explicitness and intensity.

4. It is specifically grounded in scientific argument.

5. There is a new refusal to tolerate moderate and liberal forms of belief.

6. There is an attack on religious toleration, which seems to include religious freedom of speech.

7. There is a questioning of the right of parents to inculcate belief on their own children.

8. There is the argument that religion itself must be eliminated in order to preserve human freedom.

Now, discussing the roots of the New Atheism is always an interesting conversation. It usually instigates emotional accusations from both theists and atheists, and – in my personal opinion – demonstrates very quickly the understanding that a person of either camp has on the subject. But it does bring two things into focus:

1) A perceived failure of theism/religion to respond to the modern (and post-modern) concerns. In human words, this means that people today feel that the notion of a God cannot satisfy our big questions. Under this I would tentatively put the general negative-to-hostile feeling that has been generated by the abuses of organised/institutional religion and the often-extreme conduct of the members of various religions (whether such extremism and fanaticism is actually allowed or justified by the core theology of their religion is something that seems unhelpfully ignored by the New Atheists).

2) A perceived uselessness of theism/religion in current ideological models. This is best demonstrated in the current vicious Evolution/Creation debate, which, essentially, runs much deeper than the fossil record and is a great example of how the interpretation of scientific data can quickly transform into a philosophy on the actual purpose of our existence. As a personal note, it saddens me as a scientist to see the almost intentional blurring of the de facto boundaries of Science; boundaries that even Prof Dawkins has admitted in a recent debate with his main critic Alistair McGrath. Pure, real, unadulterated Science can only look with a degree of confidence for the what, when, where and how of our existence as a cosmos; the why has always been outside of its scope because it must be beyond its grasp if it still wants to be called Science and not Metaphysics.

So in those two elements there is immediately much to find and understand about the New Atheism and in particular the growing hostile, militant attitude of its proponents. For the New Atheists God is not only dead, He is also useless. Theism, and in particular biblical theism, is not just passively pointless, it is dangerous, a disease; a mental virus that infects the entire human consciousness. So it logically follows that religious people are also dangerous (as Christopher Hitchens would have it), and ample evidence of that can be found from the Crusades to every suicide bomber attack today. Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. lamenting “If God is God He is not good; if God is good He is not God” still echoes through this idea, which some would – unjustly – simplify like this: “I can’t believe that there is a God because there is so much evil in the world”. But clichés aside, it is important to understand that the effects of believing in God today are seen as an active threat.

Nor are they perceived as useful either, as we mentioned above. In fact, Religion and Theism are seen as downright debilitating. Religion is the Big Leash; it’s holding us back with its viral epidemic, making people comfortable with the Unexplained and complacent with the world’s defects and problems. In the greater scheme of things, the New Atheists would argue, belief in God is holding us back from spreading our evolutionary wings, of “becoming all that we can be” in terms of human evolution. Religious belief might have had some evolutionary benefit once (though what that could be has not been proposed by the New Atheists to my knowledge) but it is time to grow out of our infantile minds, as Nietzsche would say, and let Nature take us to the next step.

I always get some flak when I’ve replied to this last one, and not unjustly. Because it is unavoidable that this sort of language immediately evokes some spine-chilling terminology used by some very “destructive” forces in the recent past – namely Nazism and Stalinism. Now, if we disagree with the straw-men attacks of the New Atheists, we really ought not to do the same and accuse them all of wanting to bring about a Fourth Reich. But isn’t it fair to at least mention that their assertion that a completely evolutionary worldview is needed to “save” mankind has been experimented with in the past with far-from-salvific consequences we are still reaping decades later? As a biologist, I am not aware of any new dimensions in the Theory of Evolution and Darwinism that would prohibit such a “logical evolution” in the future. Isn’t it practically an axiom that without a God there is no absolute; that without absolutes morality is relative, and a relative morality can easily redefine itself to anyone’s whim? What honest Evolutionist could argue that whatever Greater Good we devise under a completely naturalistic (and thus, atheistic) worldview will stand forever without fail?

But that, the atheist camp would argue, is irrelevant (hence the flak). Arguments from moralism don’t prove anything – and I fully agree. Besides, religious regimes also have volumes of dark pages in the books of History, and we’d be naive to think that Religion is a safe and proven way to social bliss. Thus, like Prof Dawkins would argue, whether or not we like the Darwinean/Nietzschean dystopia has nothing to do with reality. In other words, if the truth is that God doesn’t exist and evolution/naturalism is all we have, who cares about who likes what and what is right or wrong? Or, put differently, God doesn’t exist just because we’d like Him to (conversely, of course, we can say that God doesn’t not exist just because we’d like Him not to). The existence or not of God must be an absolute – He’s either there or He isn’t. This is why, I think, the New Atheists don’t particularly support the postmodernist philosophy, which decries any claim to propositional truth – including that God exists or does not.

The major question then, to my mind, is whether or not the “God hypothesis” is true or false, since it is from here that all other – theistic and atheistic – arguments follow. Now, in The God delusion Dawkins creates a scale of 7 degrees of belief in God:

1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.

2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.

3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.

4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.

5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.

6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.

7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

Dawkins classifies himself as a number 6 on the scale, saying that no sane person can say with absolute certainty that God exists or does not exist. He does, however find that God is highly improbable. His view is rather peculiar (to say the least) since he reaches this conclusion by way of a philosophical fallacy (in my untrained eyes): Dawkins rightly states, in several places, that the designer of a thing must be at least as complex as the thing itself, if not more, and complexity is inversely proportional to probability. Thus, he extrapolates and says that God – the ultimate Designer of all things – must be so vastly complex that He inversely becomes vastly improbable as a being.

This is where things become intensely philosophical – and it is important to understand this. If, for example, you read through Alvin Plantinga’s in-depth critique of The God delusion, your head will spin – not because of pretentiousness, but because of necessity: Dawkins himself opened Pandora’s box (good for him, of course) by understandably thinking that he could dismantle theism by taking apart every historical argument for the existence of God, including Anselm’s ontological argument (a God that exists in reality is greater than a God who exists only in our imagination; we imagine/understand God as the greatest being of all; thus God cannot exist in our imagination/understanding only, He must exist in reality as well).

So what is Dawkins’ fallacy concerning the improbability of God? Simply put, the whole argument assumes that God would also be part of His creation, where the inverse relationship between complexity and probability applies. But, by definition, God, would transcend His creation, or otherwise He would not be God. Furthermore, there’s the question of whether or not God should be thought of as complex in the Dawkins sense of being composed of multiple parts. In classical theology (e.g. Thomas Aquinas), God has been thought of as simple in that He is immaterial and in that He is without “distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like” (Alvin Plantinga – see link above). In this sense again we can say that a simple, immaterial, spiritual God would not, by definition, fit into the complexity-probability model, even though His creation might.

But what is of particular interest to me is Dawkins’ own declaration that the “God hypothesis” is, by its very nature, an untestable scientific hypothesis (i.e. there is no experiment we can devise and perform to equivocate it), there is no good reason to accept it as true. Now, this might ring like the right tune to our “rational” ears, but I think that it has a central flaw: Since the “God hypothesis” is by nature untestable, it cannot, by nature, be treated as a regular testable hypothesis (according to Karl Popper’s definition). In other words, since God, by definition, must transcend the material world (and thus transcend the realm of Science), what makes anyone think that God should be “discovered” by any scientific means? In fact, if He could be conclusively discovered by a microscope or telescope, then He wouldn’t, by definition, be God – certainly not a God any theist would believe in.

I’m sure this argument won’t dismantle the New Atheism machine, but I hope that it demonstrates two things: First, that one of the central arguments of the New Atheism makes a very mistaken assumption (that God is part of His creation) and second, that the perceived division between Science and Religion seems more artificial than real.

I’ll have to end this “lengthy discourse” here, but I hope that it will stimulate some thinking and discussion. The New Atheists have put forth more arguments than the ones we’ve briefly touched upon here, and hopefully we’ll be able to address more of them in time.

Furthermore, I appreciate that I haven’t even touched upon the arguments from Evolution and how all that fits into the conversation of the New Atheism. This was intentional, mostly because there simply isn’t enough space here. But I do plan to revisit the whole issue and we can look at it in some depth, hopefully in the context of the current Creation-Evolution debate. Here I just aimed to introduce the New Atheism and dissect it a little. We also haven’t looked at the other New Atheists, but I thought that looking at Richard Dawkins would cover some good ground. In the same way, I’m also aware of the fact that we haven’t looked at John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician who has raised some substantial arguments against Atheism’s claims through the Philosophy of Science. All that at a later time.

Finally, I’d also like to recommend Peter S. Williams’ extensive critique on The God Delusion, which you can find here.

For now, I’d like to close with the Bible’s calm, confident, and very unpretentious way of responding to atheism – in my mind, the Bible itself is the ultimate proof that a personal God does exist:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. – Rom. 1:18-23

Does the God of atheism exist?

It’s been a couple of busy weeks, and that’s been reflected on The Upturned Microscope. I had to graduate last week and had my parents up for a few days, and then I had to travel to London for a job interview this week… sometimes I feel busier than when I was actually doing my PhD.

But, in the same time, I haven’t been idle in matters of the Kingdom, as I’ve spent no small amount of time researching modern-day atheism. Yes, you read that right. And if you, like I used to, harbour a generally dismissive attitude towards the Great Debate, perhaps you, like me, might want to revise your position. Because, after all, people’s eternal souls are at stake, no matter how laughable our atheist friends find such warnings.

Now, let me point out that the following will involve some names, but it is merely within the context of my own opinions. No slander nor ad hominem attacks are intended, so please don’t sue me.

Before I became a Christian, I had a certain guilty admiration for atheists. Having been raised in an evangelical church with good people and even better friends, I didn’t have much religious disgruntlement to motivate me to doubt God’s existence as is the case with some atheists. But I did think they were pretty cool (about time I used that word here) in that I considered them to be in a way free of the “restraints” of religion – something like a new species of humans, looking down us, the stupid masses who clung to our awe of God for fear of His wrath. Now, I respect atheists, in much the same way that I respect all people who sincerely and thoughtfully are looking for greater answers. But it’s hard sometimes to read Richard Dawkins’ latest rant or watch fashionable deniers of the Holy Spirit on YouTube and keep a straight face.

This, friends, is a disease inherent to all men and women, and it’s called Ignoramus spiritualis, or spiritual ignorance. Take a look at 1 Cor. 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”.

What Paul is saying there, is that if a person has not been made a new creation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; cf. John 14:16-17; cf. 2 Tim. 1:14), then that person is unable to comprehend, let alone accept the Word of God. And it is my humble opinion that this principle is nowhere illustrated better than in those who call themselves atheists.

One of the most memorable confrontations I came across was the May 2007 Atheism/Christianity debate between theRational Responders (Brian Sapient and Kelly O’ Connor) and The Way of the Master’s Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I must admit that, like many others, I was generally disappointed by all those involved. Don’t get me wrong – I generally like both Cameron and Comfort, and I fully agree with their Law/Grace method of evangelism. But, as they admitted from the start, they’re not scientists, and in this brutal arena such a background is often indispensable. As a result, the Christians appeared ill-prepared and their tepid responses to the atheists’ attacks left much to be desired.

To make things worse, both Cameron and Comfort kept appealing to subjective experience (“deep down, you know there is a God”)rather than responding with evidence to support the existence of God, which just fueled the atheists’ prejudice that Christians are just silly superstitious hypocrites.

And finally, the Christians were mostly geared to doing all-out evangelism rather than debate. What’s wrong with that? Well, you’re either there for a debate or you aren’t. And claiming that you can prove God exists without reference to the Bible and then referring to the Bible in your opening statement doesn’t fly very well with an audience that’s there to listen to an evidence-based dialogue. Having said that, the WOTM duo has responded to criticisms such as mine by pointing out that their goal from the start was to do apologetics BUT first to preach Christ and Him crucified. As they put it, “our primary goal was to preach the gospel and then (where possible) support our preaching with apologetics, reason, logic, with a loving demeanor. That’s what we tried to do.” So I will concede that, in the face of the particular atheists’ hostility, emphasising the Gospel over pointless debates might have been the better approach. After all, reason is only for the reasonable.

Which now brings me to the atheist duo. I’ll admit I had never heard of either Sapient (an alias) nor O’Connor back in the old days and I was surprised – to say the least – that they got to represent the atheist viewpoint in such a major debate (it was televised on ABC). Angry, hostile, sneering, jeering, mocking, highly emotional, condescending and often downright rude (at some point, Comfort had to ask them to look at him when he spoke to them!), they hardly seem fitting to fill the shoes of atheism’s spokespersons in a big event like this. If anything, their yelling and crowd-pleasing blah made them look like religious fanatics (for all their weak countering, the Christians remained generally calm and composed throughout the debate). For example, when a viewer asked if the atheists were concerned about the possibility that they were wrong, O’Connor turned to the audience and yelped “Pascal’s wager! Whoo-hoo!” Call me fussy, but I expected a little more maturity in an encounter like this.

Solely from that debate then, it doesn’t seem to me like atheism has evolved (ha!) much over the past decade. The terms have changed (Richard Dawkins is still throwing his “meme” theory around), but the roots are the same: God doesn’t exist because…

… religion is the root of all evil in the world

I never understood that argument, no matter what format it takes. It’s like saying that you deny the existence of Ford because people who drive Ford cars appear to cause most road accidents in the world. No one is arguing that Religion has been exploited by religious fanatics and hypocrites to carry out often abominable acts (think IRA and Al’Quaeda). But there’s a big difference between God’s existence and people behaving like maniacs in His name. The Bible, at least, is full of such examples and accompanying warnings (cf. Mat. 23:13). So failure to obey God doesn’t make God disappear.

But there’s another dimension to this: I have yet to meet a calm atheist. Why? Because I have yet to meet an atheist with a positive religious experience. None of them ever says something like, “My family was religious and they were very supportive and loving, and we attended an excellent church with loving, caring friends… but one day I reached the logical conclusion that God does not exist.” No. I will challenge any atheist to look me straight in the eye and tell me that their atheism didn’t spawn from some kind of religious disappointment/disillusionment. And I find it strange that they usually criticise religion as something rooted in emotional elements, when their own atheism seems to stem from something similar – a de-religious experience. You don’t believe me? Watch the RR/WOTM debate again, and then watch Brian Sapient being interviewed by WOTM radio’s Todd Friel at the end of the debate.

… evolution is an established, proven fact

No – it’s not. And I say that as a biologist. Evolution is a theory that tries to explain how all things bright and random came to be, but it’s not without fundamental holes. We need to understand this, because Evolution has gradually been moved out of the Science field and kicked into the Philosophy/Politics ballpark. And that’s never a good thing, because it often removes the analytical hand of Science and replaces it with heated emotion that often clouds judgment and misinterprets data. And let me also point out here something that most scientists do agree about: The theory of Evolution in of itself might not disprove the existence of God in general, but it does cast doubt on the God of the Bible. Which is equally bad, but at least should remove Evolution from the atheists’ arsenal.

Okay. I’ll admit that Creationists haven’t done a bang-up job in supporting the Biblical account of Creation. And that, I believe, is because the job is left usually to people who have no serious scientific training, or who do but argue as if they don’t. When Kirk Cameron pulled out his Croco-duck painting to argue against interspecies transition, I echoed Sapient’s cry of frustration. And yet, these lame weapons from the ’70s are given today to Christians as a “sound” argument against evolution! And then they get “blown out of the water” with complicated terms like “macroevolution” and “silent mutations”… please, Christian scientists, speak out as both Christians AND Scientists! And if you’re out there, please let me know.

… morality is not an absolute; it’s just a learned way for society to survive

This is the attack on Absolute Morality or – as C.S. Lewis put it – “who gave me my notion of right and wrong?” Morality is an important issue, because it either originated from an absolute source (God) or it’s just a trial-and-error approach to social survival that we learned over millions of years.

Well, it’s a big debate, I’ll admit. But I prefer to take the apostle Paul’s approach in the epistle to the Romans: Creation speaks of God, and conscience speaks of His Law (Rom. 1:18-32). After all, if we made up our own morality, we wouldn’t make it so hard, would we? And what would we benefit from setting hard standards of perfection? In other words, why would we make ourselves feel bad about ourselves? Doesn’t it seem more plausible that our conscience is simply a remnant of our “according to God’s image” nature telling us that there is a Perfect Law higher than ours?

Maybe that’s not clear. What I’m saying here is that, if morality had evolved as a conglomerate of social memes (transmitted units of information), then it would seem unlikely that we would devise standards that would be impossible to keep, like the Old Testament Law. The product would be guilt, and surely that’s not a good thing for species’ survival, is it?

Now, the above are in no way a comprehensive list of all atheist arguments, nor do I think that I’ve answered them comprehensively. I didn’t set out to do so. What I wanted to do is share some of my thoughts on today’s atheism that seems, to me at least, to be suffering from emotion-driven fanaticism with tired arguments rather than sincere seeking for the truth. What do I mean? Well, allow me to submit to you that atheists frequently demonstrate a spectacular lack of knowledge of Christian theology and doctrine. Now this puzzles me, because Christianity is one of the “world’s evils” that they are trying to debunk. Let me demonstrate in a quick FAQ fashion:


How could have God make the world perfect when there is so much imperfection and destruction in it?

The Bible teaches that though God made the world perfect, Man sinned and caused the creation to Fall (Gen. 3)

How can we talk about a just God, when even salvation is predestined?

This seems to be a favourite with the Rational Responders. Predestination is a hard one to swallow for our small finite minds (so it’s hard to believe that it was cooked up by humans). It’s easier to ask why would a just God even offer salvation to some? Because we’re talking also about a loving, gracious God.

Oh yeah? Then why would a loving God order people killed in the Old Testament?

Because He is also a Just God. Didn’t we just talk about that?

And so forth. But that just returns me to our original passage: “…the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And you can argue and argue until you’re blue (or red) in the face, but in the end, believing in God and knowing God requires honesty, sincerity and what we all lack, humbleness. So I’ll leave it too here, with a prayer that, if you are indeed seeking God, you will do so with an open heart that will fill your mind later (Rom. 12:2). And if you know God through His Son Jesus Christ (there really isn’t any other way), then that you will set your heart and mind to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).

So with all the above in mind (yes! We DO involve the mind!), take a look at what God’s Word says about the issue:

Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’— Exodus 3:13-14

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
— Prov. 1:7

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”— James 4:6

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”— Psalm 14:1

The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derisio
n.— Ps. 2:1-4

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him — Heb. 11:6