A lot of atheists these days are taking their gloves off in an all-out effort to discredit religious faith. Sam Harris condemns what he calls “the lunatic influence of religious belief.” Daniel Dennett arrogantly claims, “We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.” Christopher Hitchens attributes faith in God to mental disease: “All religions and all churches are equally demented in their belief in divine intervention, divine intercession, or even the existence of the divine in the first place.” Harris goes so far as to say, “Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance.”
So much for scholarly neutrality and reserve! Why do these men use such inflammatory language, unless they are consciously (or subconsciously) threatened by the existence of God and the role of faith in our culture? They may be asking themselves why anyone in the sophisticated 21st century would actually believe in God. The truth of the matter is that, vocal critics notwithstanding, the case for God has never been stronger.
The cosmological argument: every effect must have an adequate cause
Hebrews 3:4 says, “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” We know intuitively that houses don’t just spring up out of nothing. They need a designer and a builder. And yet the universe is much more complex than a house.
Doug Powell illustrates it this way: a car that has a working engine, a healthy battery, a properly connected electrical system, and plenty of gasoline, still does not run all by itself. Parking lots are full of cars that are not in operation. To run, they need a driver – i.e. someone not part of the car, who has the power to start the car, and who does not rely on the car for his existence. Likewise, the universe needs a driver, an intelligent agent capable of choosing whether to get it going. (Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics, p. 44-45)
Harvard Biologist Richard Lewontin said, “We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” However, if anyone ought to know that nature is not a closed system, modern physicists should. Physicists at the CERN laboratory in Geneva said recently they had clocked subatomic particles called neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second. The precision of the experiments baffled scientists, who wonder if the finding is, in the words of Matthew Strassler of Rutgers University, “a doorway into something fundamental and deep we don’t know about nature.” An article on this finding concludes, “Perhaps no cosmic speed limit exists, or maybe neutrinos travel through an undiscovered fifth dimension – separate from the three dimensions of space and the one of time that we know about.” (The Week, 11-14-11, p. 24)
Arno Penzias, who won the Nobel prize for his discovery of the radiation echo corroborating a Big Bang, and, hence, a beginning to the universe, admits: “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Bible as a whole.”
The teleological argument: intricate design demands a designer
The apostle Paul says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). When pondering the marvels of the vast universe, the miracle of life, or the complexities of a single cell, we see the unmistakable characteristics of intricate design all around us.
In 1983 physicist Paul Davies denied the possibility of God and argued for an atheistic interpretation of the universe. In his 1998 book, The Cosmic Blueprint, he showed evidence of a change, writing of “powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.” In 1995, he won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Biologist Michael Behe explains that “Darwin’s theory encounters its greatest difficulties when it comes to the development of the cell. Many cellular systems are what I would term ‘irreducibly complex.’ …That means the system needs several components before it can work properly.” He uses the mousetrap as an illustration, with the platform, hammer, spring, etc. working together: “You can’t catch a mouse with just a platform and then catch a few more by adding the spring. All the pieces have to be in place before you can catch any mice.”
He then moves to the bacterial flagellum, which requires a number of parts working together in unison, including a rotor, stator, and motor. Genetic studies have shown that about 40 different kinds of proteins are needed to make it work. Likewise, “the intracellular transport system is also quite complex. Plant and animal cells are divided into many discrete compartments. Supplies, including enzymes and proteins, have to be shipped between these compartments. Some supplies are packaged into molecular trucks, and each truck has a key that will fit only the lock of its particular cellular destination. Other proteins act as loading docks, opening the truck and letting the contents into the destination compartment.”
Simple cells are not so simple. They contain a power plant, an information center, highly complex coded language, an internal transport system, and a bacterial propulsion system. Michael Denton wonders, “Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality… which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man?”
The moral argument: our moral sense demands a perfect source
A philosophy professor says, “There is no absolute truth.” Can he prove it? How could he ever be absolutely certain? The statement contains an internal contradiction. Paul Copan calls it the “self-excepting” fallacy, i.e. making a claim that applies to everyone else except the person making the claim.
When Nazis tried at Nuremberg said, “We were only following orders,” did that make their actions right? If a society decides that a minority group like Jews, Christians, or atheists are criminals deserving capital punishment, does that make it right to put everyone in that group to death? Did the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 do something wrong, or did they simply have a different opinion about who should die that day? We would all agree that torturing babies for fun is wrong. But how do we know for sure – that it’s not just somebody’s opinion about right and wrong? Is it wrong for trespassers to enter your home, thieves to burgle your home, and arsonists to burn your home, if they do not believe they’re doing anything wrong?
Where do morals come from, anyway? Are they simply a human construct, a byproduct of evolutionary development, or do they come from a higher source? Do “right” and “wrong” really exist? Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl point out, “The quintessential relativist is a sociopath, one with no conscience.” Is that the world you want to live in?
The Bible contains a better answer. Can we put the North Pole anywhere the majority says it goes, or is it fixed, immovable, and a point that can be used for navigation by everybody? We know the answer, and the same principle applies to moral behavior. “Every good gift and every perfect is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, emphasis mine, M.W.). Against the contrast of “diverse and strange teachings,” the Bible asserts that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). There is a consistency to the divine character, and the law of God regulating human behavior reflects a perfect sense of right and wrong.
So strong is this moral sense within us that we feel intense guilt when we do something we know is wrong. This is a unique human characteristic, reflective of beings made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-28). You don’t see an assembly of squirrels confessing wrong for stealing acorns, but human beings are in mental wards when they can’t handle their guilt. We exonerate predatory animals of any guilt but put human murderers on trial. Why is that? Because deep down, we know that some things are inherently right, and some things are inherently wrong – not just inadvisable – and there are consequences to our actions.
Where did this sense of morality come from? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 summarizes the purpose of life – “The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Can our purpose in life be validated without God or judgment day? If we are not ultimately accountable for our actions, then what is to prevent us from becoming sociopathic monsters? On the other hand, if God holds us morally responsible for our actions, and ties our purpose in life to that accountability, then we have every reason to live up to that high and noble calling for which we were created. Which of those two models of life best fits the evidence?
The Bible does not contain a detailed, step-by-step argument for God’s existence. It simply assumes that people whose thinking is not corrupted by worldly propaganda will intuitively know, deep down, that he exists. God’s fingerprints are all around us, if we simply open our eyes to see them. The first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Scripture affirms, “What can be known about God is plain to them… so they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Therefore Psalm 14:1 concludes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”