Sunday, September 13, 2009
Essay - Belief and the Existence of God
Belief and the Existence of God
Atheism and theism is the central idea regarding our reality, our lives, our being. This essay will aim to draw out the two different ideas regarding the existence of God and how it affects our lives. It will also seek to demonstrate Christian theism as the most rational explanation for our universe. The fundamental question for every person is the question “Is there a God?” We cannot sit on the fence in regard to this universal issue; the relations between belief or disbelief and the existence of God affect the very way we live and the way we perceive life.
A central focus will be made on The Dawkins Lennox debate held in 2007; it will be a heavy reference throughout this essay. Dawkins holds an atheist view point and John Lennox brings a Christian theist’s view point; both are very well qualified men and worth the time to acknowledge on this topic. Their qualifications and short bios are as follows:
“Richard Dawkins FRS is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. He is the author of nine books: The selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind watchmaker, river out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, A Devil’s Chaplain, The Ancestor’s Tale and The God Delusion. He is Fellow of both Royal society and the Royal Society of Literature.
John Lennox is Reader in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, University of Oxford. He holds doctorates from Oxford (D.Phil.), Cambridge (Ph.D.), and the University of Wales (D.Sc.) and an MA in Bioethics from the University of Surrey. Professor Lennox has weighed in on the science-religion debate with a new book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007).
Atheism is the belief in the non-existence of God. (Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006). There are a number of atheists that vary in their beliefs but there are examples from well known atheists that suggest the primary reasons for their disbelief in God. In the debate between John Lennox and Richard Dawkins, it is revealed some of the reasons why a leading atheist Richard Dawkins rejects the idea of God (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). He states that the revelation of the theory of evolution showed him that the idea of a Supernatural Designer is not needed to produce complex creatures. He also states that if God existed then He would need to come from somewhere. These questions raise a number of issues such as “Does evolution take away the necessity of a Grand Designer?” or “Because we cannot scientifically test God does this mean that God is not real?” For the atheist, reasons such as these cause them to disbelieve in God.
Theism is the belief in God. (Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006) There are also a number of reasons for theists to believe in God. One reason is that there is design in the universe that is un-explained. John Lennox states that the universe is mathematically fine-tuned for the way we have it (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007), such as the ability to support life. Hugh Ross gives evidence that if it were slightly changed neither we nor life would be here (cited in Deem, 2006). Theists see that where there is apparent design it should be assumed there is a designer. Theists deduct that it takes more faith to believe our fine-tuned universe happened by accident, than to believe it was designed (David Pawson Ministries, 2005).
Morality has been a controversial issue and is thought and considered by every person to some degree. Different fundamental beliefs regarding morality have its consequences, for Christian theism morality is defined by God in the Bible. According to Dawkins, atheism has no absolutes regarding morality except for what our supposed evolutionary development has produced. Richard Dawkins who is a biologist describes morality as “dancing to our DNA” (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). However if this is the case then there is no real or absolute way to define what is morally right or wrong in a universal sense. This kind of thinking is known as relativism; R.C. Sproul Jr. states that with morals being relative it destroys the ability for someone to define a situation as “wrong” or “right”(2007, p.101). Therefore atheistic relativism has the consequence of ultimately no universal “rights”; this line of thinking by obvious reasoning can be destructive. Dawkins argues that our ideas of morals have come from evolutionary causes and development (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). But this line of thinking still leaves a lingering thought: could someone really say that Hitler was “wrong” and be “right”? C.S. Lewis argues that the reason why people thought Hitler was “wrong” is that there was a line that every person looked to in order to judge him by; Lewis illustrates “Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something-some Real Morality- for them to be true about.”(1952, p.13). Therefore universal morality is evidence of a standard not made by human means, but by God.
A significant issue is raised in regards to belief and consequence with the ability to justify his/her reasoning. An argument known as the “argument from reason” can be found in a book “Miracles” which brings to light this problem (Lewis, 1947). What it is saying is that if we were not designed to think then we cannot trust our thinking to be able to reach ultimate truth about our universe. In the chapter “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism” C.S. Lewis draws out the point that mankind are different from animals in that we see truths through inferences. For example, when someone comes across a garden they inference “There must be a gardener” (The Dawkins Lennox debate 2007); whereas animals are less concerned with abstract meaning and if they come across a garden they may not be as aware that it has a gardener. Throughout history, man has been looking for answers using abstract thought as to why he is here. Evidence of this can be found in the Bible which is one of the oldest books to be written (Nelson, 1994). To conclude the consequences of reason Lewis illustrates:
“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God” (cited in Argument from Reason, 2009).
Unfortunately for the atheist the problem of purporting rationality from irrationality enters into the realm of science. If science requires the variables being tested to be consistent – if there is no Designer who designed them to be consistent – then how can we be sure that they will continue to be consistent? John Lennox makes a point that the early scientists understood that the laws are orderly because they understood that they had a law-Giver (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). A theist scientist knows that because they are orderly they can actually practice science; this is what science is and demands: “systematic study and knowledge of natural or physical phenomena” (Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006). If someone disbelieves in God it throws a challenging light onto their justification to practice reliable science, because if the laws were not designed, then they are potentially less able to be trusted.
It is by faith that theists believe in God and it is beyond a reasonable doubt that they do believe (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). Through discussing with atheists (Pilgrimage, 2009), the greatest struggle between atheism and Christian theism is the idea of belief and disbelief in God; the very meanings of those labels and “isms” bear witness to this fact. There are two types of atheists; one is a strong atheist who claims to know there is no God and the other is a weak atheist who does not know if there is a God. A weak atheist claims that by default they are without belief in God but they still admit there could be one, though some claim to be “agnostic” atheists and believe that it is impossible to know if there is a God. Atheism claims that theism is unscientific because God cannot be falsified and theism is accused of using the God of the gaps fallacy (God of the gaps, 2009, The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). Therefore atheists basically believe in what they can be sure of, mainly through scientific demonstration. An emphasis is made on a simple disbelief in God (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). There is no scientific proof of God, nor is there scientific proof of no-God. So we cannot pull down God and test Him in a test tube; proof is only spoken of in the field of mathematics (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). For theists finding truth and having faith is about taking the best conclusion with the evidence they have laid out before them, they take a belief in something beyond a reasonable doubt (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007).
Belief is “a principle or idea considered to be true; religious faith” (Collins English Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2006). So a belief is what someone considers to be true; but belief is not merely speaking out what someone believes, but is more like speaking and then acting on what they believe. If someone was a Christian theist by statement and did not consistently do what Christian theists did, then they would not be a real actively living Christian theist. Consider now the weak or agnostic atheist and their stance on their disbelief in God. Notice the claim of “disbelief” (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007) rather than the claim of “I believe atheism”. It is an attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the theist. The theist in reply to the atheist’s disbelief in God might as well reply “I just disbelieve in the non-existence of God” (Brian, 2009). Every person does not have a neutral belief; there is a need to act upon the best conclusion about the existence of God and live it out. Belief or disbelief in the existence of God is not a matter of “I don’t know”, but a matter of “taking the best conclusion”. Atheists not only disbelieve in God but by their actions they actively believe in no God by not acknowledging or following His ways. Without God there can be no absolute right and wrong outside of what individuals think; individuals live the way they like (The Dawkins Lennox debate, 2007). For example, a murderer who has a lifestyle of a murderer cannot say and be neutral (even if he is honest) “I don’t know if there is a state law by which we will be judged”. Belief in regard to the existence of God affects the way we live and we cannot escape it, just as the law of the land affects the way we live.
Every person has a “religion” or something they devote their lives to by choice. Sir Keith Sinclair (1961, cited in Ahdar, 2006, p.620), speaking of New Zealand in post-World War II, states “The prevailing religion is a simple materialism. The pursuit of wealth and possession fills more minds than thoughts of salvation”. Religion is not only a belief in God but a devotion to something people believe in. We need to understand what our chosen religious world view or devotion has led us to and where it is taking us. World views such as Atheism and Christianity need to be weighed and taken seriously.
Some evidence points to the conclusion of God and some evidence points to the conclusion of no God. However, one conclusion is better than the other when the evidence is weighed. The Bible makes the Christian theist’s position clear in Romans 1:20 “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.” (Nelson, 1994). Beliefs have consequences, and people need to have understanding of what they believe and the consequences of what they believe. The Bible says that people are either for Him or against Him; there is no in-between (Nelson, 1994). People need to make the best decision with the evidence placed before them. It is imperative that people make a conscious decision about where they stand regarding belief and the existence God.
Ahdar, R. (2006). Reflections on the Path of Religion-State Relations in New Zealand. Brigham Young University Law Review, 3, 619-659.
Argument from Reason. Retrieved August 21, 2009, from Http://en,wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_Reason
Brian. (2009, July 9). How to be morally responsible sceptic mp3 audio by Dallas Willard. Message posted to the comments, archived at http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2009_07_01_archive.html
Collins, C., Cross, R., Gilmour, L., Holmes, A., Mackie, W., & Weber, P. (Eds.). (2006). Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus (3rd ed.). Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers.
David Pawson Ministries. (2005, January 12th) Natural disasters a biblical perspective (Television broadcast). Britain: Revelation TV.
Deem, R. (2006, June) Evidence for the fine tuning of the universe. Retrieved August 14, 2009, from http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/designun.html
God of the gaps. Retrieved September 8, 2009, from Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps#Criticisms_of_the_view
Lewis, C. (1947). Miracles. London: HarperCollins Publishers.
Lewis, C. (1952). Mere Christianity (Rev.). London: HarperCollins Publishers.
Nelson, T. (1994) The holy bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Pilgrimage. (2009) Retrieved from http://www.vessel-of-clay.blogspot.com/
Sproul Jr., R. (2002) Tearing down strongholds. New Jersey, P&R Publishing Company.
Taunton, L. (Executive director). (2007, October).The Dawkins Lennox debate. Birmingham: Fixed Point Foundation.
by Daniel (Da Bomb)