Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Smart People Don't Believe in Invisible Men

Invisible guy in the sky.  Invisible sky fairy.  Big daddy in the clouds. These are all slang or mocking conceptions that people have created in response to the God that Christians believe in.  People, they say, who believe in such a God must be deluded, dimwitted, deranged, or even clinically insane.  In fact if you want to see how far the ridicule extends just Google "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster".  Being a "Pastafarian" is portrayed as just as legitimate as being a Christian.  The (facetious) message is more or less that it is ridiculous for intelligent, well-educated people to believe in invisible guys hanging out in the clouds.
And I agree with them on that point.
For a very long time I felt that it was just far too irrational to believe in some supernatural being sitting in his big chair in the clouds looking down on us like ants in a cage.  I could maybe fathom a "universal energy" or something that was somehow behind the inner workings of life and the cosmos but not this "god" fellow that church folk bought into. After a while I started to equate God with this "energy" and was more open to the idea of His being real and present but I was still a giant leap from believing in the Bible and the monotheistic ("single, all powerful") Christian God.  It just didn't seem relevant. 

In fact, even when I became a Christian in 2004, my conviction and belief in God developed mostly due to being part of a wonderful community of people who seemed more or less normal and helped each other out along their journey.  I loved the "family" feeling and the potential deeper connection to life that my "belief" in God provided but I was still plagued with many of the same questions and struggles I had before I became a Christian.  I would still (on many days) question whether I had put all my stock in some fairy tale, and often doubted whether this whole thing was really just a huge scam (as I would hear atheistic colleagues, friends and family claim).  The analytical, reasonable, scientific and logical side of my brain cried out with questions and challenges to the emotional side of my brain. People would ask me questions like, "How can you really know that God exists?" or "Really what does it matter?" and sometimes I would want to just throw my hands up, walk over to their side and join them.  I didn't have these answers.  And probably the saddest part is I didn't know there were answers.  Nobody talked about them.  It was all about "just knowing" and believing God existed.  Reading God's Word (in the Bible) and going to church were apparently all the incentive one should need.  And I certainly didn't feel like I had to be out spreading this Word.  I knew, more or less, what I believed and that was enough, right?

Well, it wasn't enough... I knew this somewhere deep down and I felt guilty for feeling that it wasn't enough. 

Until I heard about the field of "Christian Apologetics".

It was Ravi Zacharias who said “What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.”

Imagine my shock when I discovered that there was a whole discipline and loads of scholars (yes, well-researched, well-respected Masters and Doctorate students, professors and entire departments of Post-Secondary institutions) devoted to cutting edge research on the History, Philosophy and in-depth study of God's existence within the scope of the Christian religion. 

There were reasons. 

Reasons backed by science (to a level that was WAY beyond my scope of scientific understanding) to show that God is the best explanation for the existence and many of the fundamental properties that we see in our world (and greater universe) today.  Good reasons for believing in God.  Reasons that I could buy into and share with confidence.

In response to 1 Peter 3:15 (that we are all called to give a defense of the hope we have in our heart) I found loads of arguments for the existence of God, and NONE of them were from the bible. No cyclical arguments that say we should believe in God because that is what it says in His Word. Yes, the Bible can be examined as a historical text (and most historians and new testament scholars agree that it is a very (if not one of the most from that era) reliable text) but that only provides evidence for the historicity of Christ's life, death and resurrection (which is a completely separate argument from the existence of a Creator).

I must pause though and give a disclaimer.  I am by no means an expert here.  I have been so blessed in my exposure to the intellectual field of apologetics but I personally have only touched on the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Thus, I will refer you over and over again to many sources who are much wiser and more educated than I am.  Nonetheless, if you're struggling with the idea of God's reasonable existence like I was, I think you'll find this very brief look at some of the research both interesting and digestible. Hopefully it will spark in you a need for further investigation.

Some of these arguments get VERY technical (we're talking quantum physics here!) so I would like to introduce you to the ideas that I found compelling and accessible (to the level that I understand them).  There are many experts and arguments that I will skip but I'd simply like to walk you through the ideas that I found the most exciting and convincing, and encourage you to do your own further studying!

I am (in a very unscholarly, plagiaristic fashion) going to give you for the most part general references here.  These are the select folks whose works I have encountered and want to give them appropriate credit.  That said, this is a blog, and not a post-grad paper so I don't feel the need to credit every idea to its exact source location.  I will give you general ideas and their authors and leave it up to you to hunt down any further specifics you might be longing for!

I would like to start by clarifying that there are a couple of different overall arguments and it is imperative to keep them separate.  First, there is the argument that there is a Creator.  In other words, the universe, the world, and all that we live here with were created by some transcendental being (or "of relating to a spiritual or non-physical realm").  Secondly (and strongly related to the first) there is the argument that this is ONE creator (i.e. a monotheism, versus a polytheism with many gods).  Lastly, (and a separate argument all together) is that this Creator is the God of the Christian faith (and defense of this point rests on the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Christ).  It is important to keep these points (and the arguments for their truth) somewhat separate. 

So, if God exists, prove it right?

Well, although we may not be able to prove that God exists there are some fascinating and compelling facts about the basic fundamentals of our world for which the best explanation appears to be the existence of a Creator. 

Before we begin I also implore you to remember that we must consider ALL of these arguments together and not just one argument as sufficient.

In a similar scenario, the brilliant and authentic Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias always says that in order for a worldview, or religion, to be coherent (i.e. make sense and be fully consistent), it must sufficiently address and answer the four major questions of life.  These questions surround the understanding of origin, meaning, morality and destiny.   In fact it is interesting to really reflect on various worldviews, because to be coherent (logical and consistent) they must have an explanation or coverage sufficient to address answers to all four of these questions. It is when a worldview is examined as a whole that its validity can be obtained and not just by examining one evidence or argument.  Many believe that Christianity's coverage is the most comprehensive in this respect (I will discuss this in a future post).

So for now, just to get the ball rolling in your further quest into this idea of a "reasonable and rational" belief in God, here are some arguments.  I am a sceptic by nature so I am assuming you are all sceptics as well and I am thus having a hard time making this succinct as I imagine with every sentence a rebuttal that might be launched.  Please know I provide this information as an "abstract" or a small taste of what's out there.  PLEASE, if you are doubtful or skeptical of what you see here (but possibly a little intrigued as well, as I was!) continue to pursue answers for as long and as far as it takes you to find them!

First, I must reference William Lane Craig.  There are many other scholars and intellects who have studied this but I am primarily familiar with his work.  Much of what you'll read below you'll find on his website "Reasonable Faith". 

Also much of my understanding of the Moral Argument comes from RZIM, or Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

The Universe Began to Exist, and Therefore Has a Creator

This argument has been popularized as of late by William Lane Craig and is fairly easy to summarize.  It goes as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Generally speaking, those opposed to the idea of a Creator (and many scientists in general) have been working hard on premise #2, trying to determine if there is any way around the well-supported Big Bang Theory for the beginning of the Universe.  I will not go into the great debate here, as there is a HUGE amount of work out there that can be read or viewed on it (and things get complicated quickly with scientific jargon and defeater defeaters and such). Nonetheless it raised an interesting topic for me to ponder.  If the universe did begin, and before the universe there was nothing (and nothing as in no-thing, or an absence of anything, but not nothing which is its own something ... see how quickly this gets confusing!!) ... anyways, where did the universe come from???
(The following is directly quoted from Craig's article:
In 2003, the mathematician Arvind Borde, and physicists Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past, but must have a past spacetime boundary (i.e., a beginning). What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds so long as time and causality hold, regardless of the physical description of the very early universe. Because we don’t yet have a quantum theory of gravity, we can’t yet provide a physical description of the first split-second of the universe; but the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of one’s theory of gravitation. For instance, their theorem implies that the quantum vacuum state which may have characterized the early universe cannot have existed eternally into the past, but must itself have had a beginning. Even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called ‘multiverse’, composed of many universes, their theorem requires that the multiverse itself must have had a beginning.
There are also folks (such as Sean Carroll and Lawrence Krauss) who attempt to undermine the first premise, but I have a very hard time with this one (and Craig has much to say on this as well) as I just cannot buy that things can pop into being from non-being without some creator or creative force.  If the universe is not eternal in the past, then there must be an explanation for its coming into being.  The real question I face is if this explanation isn't God and things can just come into being from nothing (with no causal explanation) then why don't we see things just popping into being all over the place?  I urge you to do your own research here, but I certainly found the existence of a Creator to be quite plausible in light of this argument.

The Fine Tuning of the Universe for Advanced Life 

To understand what is meant by the "fine tuning" of the universe, imagine a huge panel full of controls and dials.  Each one of these controls a property of nature in the universe.  In order to allow for advanced life (such as we observe now on the earth), each of these controls must be tuned to an extremely fine degree of specificity, within a very narrow range.  Since these "dials" (or often called "constants") are ALL properly tuned to the appropriate degree or level, we are able to have the stability of the atoms and molecules, the rates and sizes of nuclear reactions and nuclear and gravitational forces, the energy (from stars) and heavy atoms, and the chemistry of DNA and all of the observable elements (just to name a few!) that are required for life. 

Recent scientific discoveries have shown that these constraints must be fine tuned to such a narrow degree in order to allow or produce life that the probability of them all aligning is EXTREMELY low.

Of course, we observe life, and thus the alignment and fine-tuning of all of these properties, which begs the question... how did they get this way?

This is where theologians suggest that God's creative power is sufficient to answer this question. 

In fact, the only other current theory tabled to address the fine tuning of the universe is the idea of a multiverse as propagated by Physicist Victor Sengar.  Multiverse theory proposes the existence of infinite parallel universes wherein one (i.e. the one we currently observe) is expected to be habitable by intelligent life.  This theory is still in speculative form (limited by current String Theory) and is fraught with holes and issues (William Lane Craig addresses this very well, so check out his work!).

Certainly the existence of a Creator (or Designer) of the universe provides a plausible explanation of the Fine Tuning. 

Moral Laws Require a "Moral Law Giver"

Here is where, for me, the idea of arguing for God's existence really struck a chord.  Where my head and my heart met and found deep resonance .
At the heart of it, everyone must ask themselves:
Is there a moral standard, or code to which we seem to be universally aware (regardless of our choice to follow it or not) that is not subject to arbitrary change or revision?
The question is, aside from all other laws, customs, cultures, traditions, personalities, choices and lifestyles, do good and bad exist? Is there a moral law that transcends humanity?
If so, there must be a moral law giver.  There must exist a Creator of this moral law.  Someone who defines the law in their very existence.
On atheism, life is over (fully and completely) when we die, and since there is nothing that transcends humanity, there cannot exist this "greater" moral code.  Everything that we do or are inclined to believe is rooted in our development, environment and survival.  Something that is called "good" could be something that enhanced or furthered the proliferation and thriving of a species.  This belief is fraught with problems though.  Take the example (albeit a dramatic one, but effective for reflection on the topic) of rape.  On atheism, if it could be proven that rape would help in the survival or optimal development of that species, it should be considered "good". 
In this naturalistic worldview there is no objective basis for morality.
I have yet to come across an argument that could convince me that there aren't objectively good and bad things.  Yes, there are grey areas but there are some things that are so universally accepted as good and bad that it is hard to argue that they could be arbitrary.  As an animal lover and a parent, when I see abhorrent things being done to animals and children, I feel, in the pit of my gut, that justice must be served.  This is because someone, or something, has been wronged.  Someone has done wrong. If these standards of right and wrong were human-devised they would fluctuate as much as anything man-made across the world and across the centuries.  They haven't. Sure you find people who are anomalies, mentally unstable, or arguing fiercely for atheism and willing to shirk moral standards as non-objective, but on the whole, there are many universals.
Now, one of the most important things I've come to understand regarding this argument is that you don't have to believe that God exists in order to be subject to His moral law.  He just has to exist. So the atheist that tries to argue that there are things that are objectively good and bad may very well be arguing themselves as subjects of this moral law, even as non-believers.  If the law exists, there must be some transcendent force or being that applied the law.  And here we have yet another argument for God.
There are many other "ideas" and arguments out there, some of which are related to the above arguments (i.e. other design arguments often referred to as Intelligent Design or the Teleological argument) or others including the Ontological argument and general cosmological arguments based on the universes existence but these are far more abstract than I wish to delve into here (see William Lane Craig's article
Everything I have shared here is just a tiny glimpse into the converging worlds of religion, philosophy, science and specifically physics. There are many, exceptionally well-spoken and educated scholars, philosophers and scientists who believe and argue for the existence of a Creator, God.
For me, this realization was extremely liberating.  It meant I didn't have to completely abandon my educated, analytical side to consider my faith.  I didn't have to adopt a completely emotional and irrational persona in order to consider prayer, religion or God. 
I can be a smart person, who believes in God.  Like many others who have gone before me and are going now ... finding a faith that is reasonable and well-thought. 
I have to say something now that many non-believers won't like.  I didn't like it.  If I'm honest I still don't.  That doesn't mean its not true though.
I will quote Ravi Zacharias on this as I think he says it beautifully:
“A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of a moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”
I didn't like God because God came with rules.  God came with restrictions.  God came with convictions on my heart regarding how I live and who I'm living for.
I was smart enough to know that I knew best.  And I didn't want to be told otherwise. 
Unfortunately this kind of "power" comes with great responsibilities and great insecurities.  Without transcendent boundaries and guidelines by which to lead my life, I was unwittingly lost. I was becoming more and more defensive and cynical and paranoid every day.  Since I threw up my arms and decided to give it over to one who knew more than me (even though I often still have a hard time swallowing that one!) I have found more peace.  Genuine peace. And love.
And truly isn't that what we all want?  Peace and love.  In our lives, in our decisions, in our families, in our world? 
And although I fully understand that as long as humans exist there will be those who argue against God's existence I find deep solace and empowerment in knowing that I can find and deliver strong, educated, and scholarly arguments for our Creator.  It isn't just emotional.  Its not just for the weak or the less fortunate. 
I can be smart and believe in God.  In my mind, that's just awesome. 
Even more awesome than an invisible sky guy.
But I guess you can decide that for yourself.

(For those looking for more, here are some sources that got me started:)
-William Lane Craig and his Reasonable Faith Ministry
-Greg Koukl, Alan Shlemon and Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason
-Lee Strobel and all of his amazing books, many of which are written like fiction stories which make them fun to read!  (i.e. Case for a Creator, Case for Faith, Case for Christ, Case for Grace, God's Outrageous Claims, etc)
-Ravi Zacharias and RZIM ministries