My Thoughts After Reading “Atheist Delusions” by David Bentley Hart

Before I say anything else, I want to urge the reader not to allow the title of this book to color their perception of it any more than they can help. Whoever selected the title of “Atheist Delusions” may have done so in an attempt to grab the interest of today’s conflict thirsty, spectacle seeking, self-righteous intellectual crowd more so than to put an accurate heading on the book.

“Atheist Delusions” is, quite simply, an enormous book. Not in length, but in scope and vision. Hart proposes a different way of looking at the past, present, and future of the world; a different way of interpreting the philosophical, scientific, political, and religious narrative of the West. And not only are the scope of his topic and the ambition of his vision big, so are his knowledge and ability.

I read “Atheist Delusions” after reading “The God Delusion” and I think it would be illustrative to compare the two.

Dawkins is funnier. He is more accessible. He demands less. His is exactly the kind of book that becomes a 21st century best seller. Hart uses bigger words, longer sentences, longer paragraphs, a much larger vocabulary, and most importantly, more intricate and profound concepts. His is, in this respect, the kind of book that I imagine would have sold well 150 years ago.

To give the impression, however, that this book is mere contemplative philosophy would be very misleading. There are more facts in some of Hart’s individual chapters than in Dawkins’ whole book. I suspect that a genuine unbiased statistical analysis would reveal at least 10 times as many verifiably factual statements in “Atheist Delusions.” Hart certainly puts forth his fair share of opinions, no doubt, but it is refreshing to be given so much information to go along with it.

Historical information is presented in support of Hart’s thesis: that the typical modern narrative of the West – of ancient cultures, blossoming in rationality and scientific inquiry, followed by a great darkness and stagnation caused by the rise of Christianity with its blind submission to dogma, followed by a flourishing of mankind again as the shackles of belief are cast off and reason is championed once more – is a rhetorical myth constructed in the support of modernity’s underlying agenda. That agenda is a new conception of freedom, not as the submission to an underlying set of principles that govern reality but as the isolated action of the will, free from all such underlying, universal principles. In the old understanding of freedom, we unlocked our true potential and thus the freedom to soar as we learned to be true to our own nature and the nature of reality. The new, modern conception of freedom is one unencumbered by such pesky, metaphysical guidelines. It is freedom for freedom’s sake.

That narrative which has been constructed to that end, of Christianity as mankind’s historical obstruction of reason, was, generally, what I was indeed taught in school.

The wealth of history, complete with names, dates, and quotes from primary sources that are presented to counter this modern myth was (no pun intended) enlightening to me. I don’t think I have ever willingly read so many historical facts in my life. I learned a great deal, and walked away knowing that the textbooks I grew up with didn’t share the whole picture. The crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, Galileo’s skirmishes with the Catholic Church, and the like were dealt with extensively. If you are wondering how in the world such historical facts could possibly be the subject of a book about the merits of Christianity, you will just have to read it and see.

If the book contains 10 times more facts than “The God Delusion”, it contains 20 times the depth of philosophy. Hart, for a man so well acquainted with history, is also an excellent articulator of profound metaphysical inquiry. I suspect that Dawkins would read much of what thrilled me in this book and scarcely be able to get anything intelligible out of it. I base this on the casual dismissal of theology and related philosophies that was typical in his own book and illustrative of his own narrow scope of expertise.

Hart puts things more blatantly when he speaks of “Richard Dawkins triumphantly adducing ‘philosophical’ arguments that a college freshmen midway through his first logic course could dismantle in a trice.” Thank you, David Bentley Hart, for confirming that I’m not going crazy.

In more constructively critical language, he speaks to the same kind of closed-mindedness which is typical of the New Atheists in his remark: “It is astonishing really, (and evidence that a good scientific education can still leave a person’s speculative aptitudes entirely undeveloped), how many very intelligent scientists cling to an illogical, inflexible, and fideistic certainty that empirical science should be regarded not only as a source of factual knowledge and theoretical hypotheses but as an arbiter of values or of moral or metaphysical truths.”

This kind of talk can easily be accused of being overly condescending or arrogant, especially when it is so infused with Hart’s large vocabulary. But Hart does reveal that he has a great deal of respect for many of Christianity’s enemies… just not the modern, uncreative, best-selling, simplistic ones.

His mastery of history sheds light on the present and the future. I cannot help but share a passage that I find a particularly piercing assessment of the present, as described in terms consistent with the book’s aforementioned thesis:

“The true essence of modernity is a particular conception of what it is to be free, as I have said; and the Enlightenment language of an ‘age of reason’ was always really just a way of placing a frame around the idea of freedom, so as to portray it as the rational autonomy and moral independence that lay beyond the intellectual infancy of ‘irrational’ belief. But we are anything but rationalists now, so we no longer need cling to the pretense that reason was ever our paramount concern; we are today more likely to be committed to ‘my truth’ than to any notion of truth in general, no matter where that might lead. The myth of ‘enlightenment’ served well to liberate us from any antique notions of divine or natural law that might place unwelcome constraints on our wills; but it has discharged its part and lingers on now only as a kind of habit of rhetoric. And now that the rationalist moment has largely passed, the modern faith in human liberation has become, if anything, more robust and more militant. Freedom – conceived as the perfect, unconstrained spontaneity of individual will – is its own justification, its own highest standard, its own unquestionable truth.”

When I read over my review I can’t help but agree with prospective readers that I sound painfully biased. Maybe it is unfair of me to compare works that are clearly on two different scholarly plains. Hart is a brilliant scholar and a philosopher, while Dawkins is an intelligent, snarky scientist. Then again, maybe it isn’t unfair. After all, Dawkins is Atheism’s front man, and ideological front men should be held to decent scholarly standards.

And are we not all biased towards what we perceive as the truth? Read the book and reach your own conclusions. I couldn’t possibly presume to demonstrate Hart’s conclusions as skillfully as he does in a thousand pages, let alone in a brief review.  I have merely tried to describe them.  The truth has always been open to our inquiry. That’s part of the beauty of life.

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Can Science Explain Everything Without God?

string theory multiple dimensions

The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene has got to be one of the most interesting books I have ever picked up.  Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University who is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory.  His book explains and illustrates the fundamental concepts of relativity, both general and special, and quantum mechanics, and then explains how superstring theory is making great strides towards unifying theses models into one all-encompassing theory of everything.

The search for a scientific theory of everything, or T.O.E., has been practically frantic for decades.  In essence, a successful T.O.E. would provide one all-encompassing cohesive framework for explaining the properties and behaviors of all matter, all energy, and all forces in all dimensions.  We’ve already acquired some very intriguing insights into the nature of motion, acceleration, gravity, matter, space, and time among other things through empirically verifiable experiments, and superstring theory may one day be capable of unifying and making sense of these findings.

The search for a T.O.E. is exciting because, as human beings, we have a real hunger to understand the world around us.  We want to know the how and the why, not just the what.  If we could establish a fully cohesive, logically consistent T.O.E. that was supported by experimental evidence, we would finally know the how and the why of everything that goes on in the universe, and would no longer need God to explain anything, right?

Well, not exactly…  Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about whether our minds would even be trustworthy guides in a materialistic universe, here are some other gaps that such a T.O.E. would not close:

1) Observations that can contribute to science are limited to phenomena observable by the 5 sense organs.
Information about reality is only valid for scientific purposes if we become aware of it through the use of our senses provided by our physical bodies.  This is wonderful because it eliminates a huge amount of subjectivism from the scientific process.  But it also rules out the possibility of science describing or explaining anything that cannot be observed this way.  Therefore any phenomena not observable in any way by any of the senses is beyond the realm of science.  Science has no business saying what does or does not exist in this realm.  It is inherently limited to a description of the sensory.

Someone might point out that scientists also use logic and math that has not been confirmed by direct observation, but these concepts do follow directly from mathematical and logical concepts that we have observed at work in the real world, and are confirmed by experiment.

The bottom line is that since science does not have authority in the realm of the subjective, it cannot rule out the existence of realities that are not universally observable in the natural world.  That’s potentially a big hole in a theoretical T.O.E.  Why should we assume that all truths are universally observable in the natural world by the sense organs?

2) Implications of probability waves in quantum mechanics.
The double-slit experiment and other data indicate that all particles exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves, and that the wavelike behavior of a particle, such as an electron for instance, is modeled by the mathematical concept of a probability.

In other words, we absolutely cannot predict where a particle is going to go, we can only give the probability that we will find it at any place at any time.  This is not due to a lack of knowledge on our part, this is literally because particles do not behave in an exactly predictable manner.  There is actually an element of true, mathematical randomness in their behavior.  If the same experiment is carried out the same exact way multiple times, a particle will not behave the same way each time, even with all else equal.

This concept deeply shakes our concept of reality.  And for those interested, Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum tunneling make things even weirder.  These concepts led Richard Feynman to write of quantum mechanics that it “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense.  And it fully agrees with experiment.  So I hope you accept nature as She is–absurd.”  This is one of the most brilliant physicists since Einstein speaking.

But what if the behaviors of particles aren’t actually random?  What if they behave within a certain framework of probabilities so as to maintain order in the cosmos, but leave a certain amount of “randomness” in their behavior for manipulation by a supernatural agent?  This concept essentially provides a scientific means for the occurrence of “miracles” which would be departures from the possibilities allowed by classical, but not contemporary physics.

3) The existence of information, matter, energy, time, space, or anything.
Scientists are uncovering an ever growing body of specific information about the nature, behavior, and natural laws of our universe.  From universal constants to mathematical formulas of incredible complexity to the information encoded in our DNA that they would claim resulted indirectly from these constants and formulas.

But even if we were to identify all of the information that describes physical existence, we wouldn’t have identified where the information came from, or where the matter came from that it acted on, or where anything at all originally came from.  The materialist can choose to assume that it was just always there, and most do believe essentially this.

But notice that not only is the question of why such information and matter “always was” beyond the scope of human science, it also indicates the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, immaterial body of very specific and elegant information that has resulted in fantastic and beautiful complexity, and that this information either already contained or else resulted in consciousness (after all, it has resulted in us.)

Surely even as a cynic, if you know the basic philosophical claims that the Hebrew scriptures make, and you are familiar with contemporary scientific findings, you see that the two are in fact converging rather than moving farther apart.

I hope that in light of these principals, it is clear that while a T.O.E., if it is even possible for us to uncover and uncover reliably with our human minds, would not have authority to speak on matters whose implications are unverifiable by the sense organs, would leave the door open for supernatural agency in our world through probability waves in quantum mechanics, and would explain the behavior of but not the reason for the existence of information or anything else.

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

world hunger

There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.

The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

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Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.

The Media: What Effect is it Having on our Minds?

Media

The contemporary world is one absolutely saturated with media.  If you are reading this article then you are in fact currently consuming public media.  It seems that in almost every pocket, living room, bedroom, bar, and classroom in the modern world there is a piece of technology that connects us to the media.  By “the media” I mean simply the public broadcast of rhetorical or entertaining material.

There is really no historical precedent for this level of media saturation.  Historical peoples have had circuses, gladiators, theater, the opera.  But these pastimes were not available 24/7, on demand, on private devices.  More recent generations had the newspaper, then then the awe-inspiring radio.  But even these were not attended to for hours each day, in living color, or produced as part of an enormous, multi-billion dollar industry.

I’d like to give a scientific, a philosophical, and a Biblical principle to help us understand how to feel about these strange times.

Science: Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons were not discovered until the early 1990’s, but they have incredible implications concerning our social behavior.  Scientists have discovered that when we observe behavior performed by someone else, our own brain activity mirrors that of the actual participant.

This is what can make video-based media so engrossing.  When we see someone smile, our own brains behave as though we were smiling.  When we see someone using a hammer, our own brains behave as though we were using a hammer.

When we see television or movie characters performing sexual acts…  You guessed it, our brains behave as though we were having sex.  When we see acts of graphic violence and revenge, the same principle applies.

Now couple this principle with the fact that our brains go into a low alpha brain wave state when we stare at a screen.  This means that we become considerably more suggestible because the parts of our brains that evaluate and criticize are being turned off.

What you get is a superhighway of ideas that pour into your brain and effect it as though it were having real experiences of… whatever you choose to watch, be it pornography, graphic violence, etc.

In light of these principles, recent mass-murder sprees and their correlation with the technology saturated world, are not surprising.

If you wouldn’t do it, think twice before you watch it.

Philosophy: Distortion of Perspective

Søren Kierkegaard lived in a time before television, but his analysis of the media was very telling:

“On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.”

Malcom Muggeridge put it this way:

“Now can this really be, as the media continually insists, what life is about–this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets litter the world?”

Both men are pointing out a basic principle.  The media tells us what to view as important.  It tells us that everyone else, “the public,” is very concerned or interested or entertained by exhibit A, and that we should be, too.

In this way, it inflates the importance of subjects that only distract us from our own personal talents, responsibilities, and the great themes of human existence that aren’t directly involved with the violent shooting last night, the latest celebrity gossip, etc.

Bible: Intentions of the Heart

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  

Jesus is pointing out for us that something as simple as visual stimuli is capable of opening the door to very damaging mental processes.

He goes on to tell us later in the sermon that “the eye is the lamp of the body.”  Jesus knew what contemporary psychology and neuroscience is telling us, that what we see has a profound impact on us.

I urge Christian readers, consider the motives behind your consumption of media.  Consider the effects that television and movies may be having on your values.  And I urge us all to meditate on great themes and do great things in this world.  Do not sacrifice your mind to the media.

Speaking With Authority About Origins

demolition

In an ingenious slam poetry performance, Taylor Mali addresses the trend in intellectualism for the past several decades of doing the easy work of tearing down ideas without doing the hard work of building cohesive new ones.  The last line of his humorous performance suddenly takes a turn for the serious as he pronounces:

“Contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days just to question authority, you gotta speak with it, too.”

Atheism claims that there is no reason to believe in God anymore because we do not need Him to explain the existence of the world around us.  In science, we are told, we do not assume that something exists unless its existence is necessitated by the evidence.  The burden of proof is placed on the believer.

It really is so much easier to tear down an idea than to build one up.  To place the burden of proof on your opponent.  To point out all of the things that we can’t know.  This is really the essence of the argument against God.

In light of this principle I would like to address the use of the studies of physics and macroevolution by the atheistic movement.

In my limited understanding and exposure to the world of contemporary physics, I find it to be a substantial, respectable field.  Much of it is speculative, but much of it is also well documented and speaks with authority in describing the world around us.

I’ve got my own problems with the theory of evolution.  I don’t think it holds water.  But I will say in its favor that the theory of evolution speaks with authority about something.  It isn’t about shifting the burden of proof onto someone else.  It isn’t about pointing out all of the things that we can’t know or can’t prove.  

I don’t believe in the theory of macroevolution, but I can respect the fact that it seeks to explain, rather than to tear down.  What I can’t respect is the arrogance with which atheism takes these theories and others and uses them to tear down the idea of God.  Let me explain why.

Concerning macroevolution:

To claim that because we have a plausible theory (which I would claim is actually very weak) about how life could have evolved from a single cell into man, has little to do with the incredible questions of the universe’s existence or order.  It even leaves the question of the origin of life unanswered.

Concerning contemporary physics:

I said earlier that science claims not to need God to explain the existence and order in the cosmos.  But science has not explained why the universe exists or why it is the way it is.

The general vague idea is that the laws and constants that govern our universe are eternal and that they called the universe into existence.  For starters, this does’t explain where the laws themselves came from.  Secondly, it doesn’t explain why they happen to be so beautifully and incredibly fine-tuned.  And thirdly, this is a very primitive and unsubstantiated view of natural laws.

As philosopher and author Jim Holt points out, “physical laws are actually generalized descriptions of patterns and regularities in the world.  They don’t exist outside the world… they can’t call a world into existence out of nothingness.”  He points out that even Stephen Hawking asks what breathes fire into the equations and gives them a universe to describe.

Why does something exist instead of nothing?  Physics, which merely explains the behavior of our universe, has no answer.

Why is there so much fine tuning in the universe?  The best atheistic answer is that there are an infinite number of universes and that we happen to live in an amazingly orderly one.  So let’s see, the chances of that are about… 1 in infinity.

Where did the first life come from?  Investigate the atheistic theories for yourself.  Panspermia simply dodges the question, and all other proposals are embarrassing and contrived.

Where does consciousness come from?  The best atheistic answer is that it is a fundamental constant of reality.  Which borders on and honestly encroaches on the existence of the supernatural in its implications.

In conclusion:

Macroevolution makes pronouncements and theories about the way things are.  Physics describes our universe with elegance and precision.  But atheism wrongly uses these studies to tear down ideas which it has no ability to replace.  It questions authority without the ability to speak with it.

If you want authoritative, substantial answers, consider a Biblical worldview.

How Do We Decide What is Right and What is Wrong?

good and evil

Regardless of varying religious beliefs or the lack thereof, we live in a world of moral values.  There is a sense of moral obligation that we all possess which compels us to label some behaviors as good and others as evil.  I’m not arguing in this post that this morality is universal or objective or God given.  I’m simply establishing that we virtually all feel it.

Our sense of morality affects us individually to guide our behaviors, for instance, compelling us to tell the cashier when they give us too much change.  It affects us as a society to create laws against everything from arson to false advertising to murder.  It even prompts militant atheists to cry out against the existence of a God that would allow the things that they see around them which are morally objectionable.

My question today is not why we have this moral sense.  Some say it came to us through millions of years of evolution because it fostered the safety of the individual in the context of the group.  Some say it was given to us by God or is determined by His nature.  Some say it is actually all an illusion, completely constructed in human minds.  There is plenty to say on these matters, but my question is more universal and more practical.

How do we determine what is right and wrong?  This is an extremely practical question because we will all be required to make countless personal decisions, to formulate numerous opinions, and as members of society to collectively create laws and enforce them, all in light of moral principles.

At this point we could all immediately begin disagreeing about how to determine morality.  One could claim that we should get it from the words of the Bible.  Another that we must all decide for ourselves and can make no universal pronouncements.  Another that a set of principles such as love or tolerance should be systematically applied to human behavior.

But I’d like to zero in on the nature of our disagreement for a moment and see if I can’t give a general answer that we can all agree on: morality is determined by purpose.  One of my favorite speakers, Dr. Ravi Zacharias identifies this core principal of morality in many of his talks.  That which violates the ultimate purpose of a thing is morally wrong.

So if men are meant to live in harmony, if they are intended to live in freedom, if the goal of their existence is to live in joy and peace, then violating these purposes is morally wrong.

The reason why I think we can at least all agree on this principle is because it allows either God or man to do the purposing or intending or goal setting.  It simply reveals the inextricable link between purpose and morality.  The desired end of our existence determines how we ought to live.

This is where we must part ways.  If we differ in our opinions of our purpose, we will differ in our opinions on morality.

For those who do not believe in the supernatural, any ultimate purpose is an illusion.  Our lives have personal purpose and meaning, but objectively speaking these purposes are meaningless.  It follows that for atheists, morality simply must be boiled down to a matter of opinion, chance, or personal preservation.  There is no universal morality if we do not all have the same purpose.

It should not be surprising, then, when great minds attempt to systematically derive a universal morality from materialism and fail.

Now let me take you a step further down this road.  If morals are literally a matter of opinion with no higher authority to call upon because there is no ultimate purpose in the universe, then majority opinion goes.  Or, in a less democratic system, the strongest and bravest prevail in establishing their own wills.

The believer, on the other hand, believes in a supernaturally determined universal purpose, and thus he can honestly appeal to this universal purpose in order to determine universal moral principles.

Two closing observations.  1) For the atheist, there are no moral authorities more final than personal opinion and personal power.  2) The moral argument against God is self-defeating.  When an atheist claims that there is no God because of the evil in the world, he is by necessity sharing an opinion, not a proof.