(This originally appreared in the March/April 1997 MCOI Journal)
“To be or not to be. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. To die. To sleep. No more. And by a sleep to say we end the heart ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a con¬summation devoutly to be wished. To die. To sleep. To sleep, per¬chance to dream. Aye. there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. When we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes the calamity of so long life. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time. The oppressors wrong. The proudman ‘s contumely. The pains of disprized love. The laws delay. The insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes. … Who would far less bear to grunt and sweat under a weary life but at the dread of something after death. The undiscovered country from whose bourn no trav¬eler returns puzzles the will and makes us rather bear the ills we have than to fly to others we know not of. Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all” (Hamlet)
Hamlet, the character in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name, was quite depressed when he spoke these words. Suicide was the subject of his soliloquy, for he passionately wanted to die. But his musings were not about the morality of suicide, but on the wisdom of it, given the fact that no one had ever returned from the “undiscovered country” of death to let us know whether death really was the end of it all. Who would bear the injustices, the pains of this life, Hamlet wondered, if not for the greater fear of what might await on the “other side.”
Is there life beyond the grave? In the current debate in our culture regarding assisted suicide, this question is rarely asked. It is assumed, taken for granted, that great pain or hopelessness would be reason enough to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and into the peaceful nothingness that most seem certain awaits the weary traveler. From an atheist’s humanistic viewpoint, this life is all there is. Logically, then, we came from nothing and are going nowhere. We are a mistake of nature and, since we live but a short time, our lives are ultimately meaningless. We cannot find meaning in legacy, for even the universe will cease to be, and all legacies will bum out with the sun.
Solomon could have identified with the tortured thoughts of Hamlet. He wrote Ecclesiastes while in a similar frame of mind. His recurring phrase, “under the sun,” is talking about life if God does not exist. If this life is all there is,we die like a dog and that’s it; life is meaningless and futile.
We find that atheists and agnostics do not live lives consistent with their worldview for they proceed to act as though their lives have meaning, as though there are such things as right and wrong, good and bad, when there really can be no such absolutes in a universe without God. A universe without God is a universe without a moral base.
I am not saying that atheists and agnostics are any more immoral than anyone else. In fact, many live very moral lives. They may be good citizens; seeking to advance the good. They want the best for their children and seek to protect them from harm. They seek to “do unto others as they would have them do unto them.” What I am pointing out is that they are not living lives consistent with their worldview. Why follow the “Golden Rule” if we deny the ruler? If there is no God, and we are products of time and chance, anything is permissible.
In Dr. William Lane Craig’s excellent tape series, Reasonable Faith, Dr. Craig talks about the 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal He wrote that if the odds were even whether God existed or not, it would be better to believe in God than not to believe in Him. His position was that if we believed in God and He exists, we have won everything. If we believe in God and He doesn’t exist, we’ve lost nothing. On the other hand, if we don’t believe God exists and He does not, we’ve lost nothing. But, if we don’t believe God exists and He does, we have lost everything. Therefore, it is better to believe God exists and possibly gain everything vs. to believe He doesn’t exist and possibly lose everything. Bet on God’s existence, Pascal reasoned, for to lose is to lose nothing and to win is to win everything.
Pascal’s wager does seem to be the best description of the possibilities and wisest course of action. There are many, however, who feel that God’s existence must be proved absolutely or it is impossible for Him to exist. What they don’t realize (or they choose to ignore) is there are many things we cannot prove absolutely and yet believe. For example, I cannot prove absolutely that I exist and neither can you. We can give good evidence that we exist; evidence that will take us beyond a reasonable doubt, and that is enough certainty to place our bets, I’ll wager. Can it be proven God exists? I believe it can, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but, as Blaise Pascal pointed out, even if the odds were even, the prudent man would bet on God.
Only God Could Be in Atheist
Atheism is the view that God does not exist. How would an atheist know that for certain? One would have to be in all places, in the universe simultaneously to know God does not exist somewhere in the universe, which means he (the atheist) must be omnipresent (present everywhere simultaneously). Second, the atheist would have to have all knowledge in the universe; past, present, and future, to know God never has, does not currently, and never will exist. This requires omniscience (all knowledge). Third, the atheist would have to have all power in order to hold all of this together. In other words he would have to be omnipotent (all powerful). In other words, he’d have to BE God to deny Him. God, being omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, is the ONLY one who can say for sure God does not exist!
There is a difference between atheists and agnostics. An atheist claims to know God does not exist. Agnostics make the claim they do not know God does not exist and neither can anyone else. Some have said that agnostics are atheists without guts. It is interesting for me to dialogue with atheists and agnostics because, generally, they (like most people) haven’t thought through why they believe what they believe or where their belief naturally leads. While atheists claim to know something only God could know, they offer no evidence for their claim and, as we already have pointed out most do not live lives consistent with their world view. Since they cannot make a positive defense for their view, they attempt to undermine the opposing view (God exists) and win by default. Typically, the God they are rejecting is the God of Christianity. But, even if they could show that the God of Christianity doesn’t exist, that doesn’t mean their view is correct. It is possible both are wrong and another view is the correct one. In some cases, their arguments are actually argument for the existence of God rather than against it.
Where Did We Come From?
It commonly is believed in our culture that macro evolution is true: one genus evolved from another genus. There currently is no evidence in the scientific data proving this is true. Other very important questions arise. Where, for example, did the universe come from? What was its cause? We know that anything that “came to be” had a cause. The universe “came to be.” The late Carl Sagan (and others) believed the universe is eternal. If the universe is eternal, though, we could not be here today. A brief explanation is in order.
If the universe is infinite and uncaused, there would have to have been an infinite number of events in time past We cannot actually cross an infinite set. No matter how far you go, there is still an infinite distance to travel. Therefore, we could never travel across an infinite number of events in order to arrive at today, but here we are. If the universe is going to run out of fuel and burn out, this event already would have occurred an infinite amount of time ago. In fact, no matter what any particular scientist believes will happen to the universe in the future, it already would have happened if the universe was eternal.
The universe is aging. In fact, scientists talk about the age of the universe being 12 – 18 billion years old. Age denotes time. Therefore, we can see that the universe had a beginning or “came to be.” What caused it? The very universe itself is an argument for the existence of God.
If evolution is untrue, though, how did it ever gain such credibility and widespread support? How did the Theory of Evolution come about to begin with? Charles Darwin rejected the “creation” view, which was prevalent in his day, as unscientific. It not only was unscientific, it was also unbiblical. The popular creation view of his day was called “The Great Chain of Being” This view had originated with Plato rather than with scripture. The teaching was that God created each organism in its particular place on the “chain” and anv variations or changes were viewed as separate creations and assigned their own places in the “Great Chain.” It seems that variations in species were viewed as an indication that that was somehow imperfect. Marvin I. Luhenow in his excellent book, Bones of Contention: A Creationsists assessment of Human Fossils, points this out:
“The Great Cham of being was responsible for even more mischief. It allowed for the endorsement of slavery. When the nations of Africa and the East were opened up and world-trade routes developed, western Europe leamed about the many ‘savage’ tribes that inhabited large portions of the earth The differences in culture and language of these ‘savages’ was proof to the chauvinistic western Europeans that these strange peoples were inferior races. The ‘savages’ were fitted into The Great Chan of Being above apes and below Europeans. There was no evolutionary significance in their placement. Europeans believed that the Almighty had crested the ‘savages’ as true humans but as inferior races. Hence. since the Almighty had created them as inferior races, it was proper for the superior races of western Europe and the United States to keep them in their place; that had been ordained by the Almighty. Some even want so far as to claim that the Almighty created these inferior beings without souls, to be used by the superior races as much as they would use domestic animals.
To justify this outrageous idea some even appealed to the Bible.” (pg.95)
It would almost appear Charles Darwin many of these con¬cepts of excluding God in his Theory of Evolution. By eliminating God, the “Great Chain” was now scientific. In fact in 1925 the famous “Scopes” trial was held in order to allow the teaching of evolution in public schools. The state of Tennessee had outlawed this teaching and the ACLU had advertised to find a teacher who would challenge the constitutionality of the law. Dr. Norman L Geisler in his talk, “How-Secular Humanism look Over America,” quotes from the evolutionary textbook John Scopes was using titled, Man A Mammal. A quote from this work in the court transcript of the Scopes trial is as follows:
“The Races of Man at Present Time
There exists upon the earth five races or varieties of man each very different from the other in instinct, social customs and to an extent, in structure. They are the Ethopian. or Negro type, originating in Africa, the Malay, or Brown race, from the islands of the Pacific, the American Indian, the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China Japan, and the Eskimos, and finally, the highest type of all the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America”
The ACLU was promoting the teaching of racism in public schools in the name of evolution. But then again, if evolution is true, there really can be no such thing as racism. Racism at its core is “us against them.” Evolution is the epitome of “us against them!” Whoever survives, survives! Whoever survives best, rules! The survivors are justified in doing everything in their power to promote the success and dominance of their line. The fittest survive and rule; the unfit we moved out of the way What is, is. There is no wrong. To care for the weak, to promote the welfare of all, to treat others in a civilized way are all concepts borrowed from the Judeo/Christian worldview.
The very universe and everything in it points to a creator. We all know that nothing comes from nothing. Evolutionists ridicule Creationists because we believe God created everything. They then turn around, however, and teach with a straight face that nothing created everything! Which is more rational?
The Problem of Evil
I have known a number of atheists and agnostics who have held the opinion that since there is evil in the world, God cannot exist. What they fail to realize is the concept of good and evil come from God Himself. If there is no God, then there really is no good or evil. In order to determine if something is evil, there must be an objective standard by which to measure. Otherwise, right and wrong are simply personal choices, like choosing between a hamburger or in ice cream cone. If good and evil are simply social constructs decided by majority opinion, then murder, rape, discrimination based on race, molestation of children, etc. are not wrong by any objective standard. The “majority.” (those made strong by virtue of numbers) is not always right! In fact, the holocaust was a majority rule decision. Hitler was voted into power. Everything the Nazis did was perfectly “legal ” Thec Jews and others who were “eliminated” were lower on the evolutionary scale and were in the way of the superior race, which made the Nazi’s actions morally acceptable and, indeed, “right.” But who among us cannot look at that atrocity and cry out that it was terribly evil?
Evil exists because God created us with free choice, and we have chosen to do evil. However, people make the mistake of believing that just because evil is allowed to exist at present, God will never put an end to evil. Not so! Jesus commented on “the problem of evil” in Matthew 13: 24-30 in His parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus said that “a man” originally sowed ‘good seed’ m his field, but his enemy came in and sowed weeds aiming the wheat.The weeds sprang up, just like weeds always do! What a terrible situation! The wheat is hindered and choked by the weeds, while the weeds prosper and grow strong. This seems unfair. Why doesn’t the man who owns the field just go in and root out all those weeds so the field will be at peace? Doesn’t the man care about his wheat?Or, has he, perhaps, not the power to root out the weeds? No, neither one of these is true, according to Jesus. The man was asked by his tenants if he wanted them to go in and pull those weeds up. “‘No’, he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them ‘” His answer gives as insight into the heart of God. The “weeds” arc tolerated for the greater good ot the “wheat.” Will the man therefore tolerate the weeds forever? No. When the wheat is mature, there will be a harvest. The wheat will be brought into the barn, and the weeds will be burned. The forbearance of God should never be mistaken for weakness or indifference. Right will prevail m the end; evil will be destroyed. Count on it.
We could write volumes on each of these areas and arguments for the existence of God but others already have done this very well. 1 would highly recommend Dr. Norman Geisler’s book. When Skeptics Ask, or Dr. William Lane Craig’s book and audio book, Reasonable Faith for a deeper exploration of this topic. There are many other books we do not have the space to list. I would ask those who are believers to become familiar with the questions skeptics pose. Thev are good questions and deserve reasonable answers. I ask skeptics who are reading this really to examine the evidence and to consider where the preponderance of the evidence lies. Remember Pascal’s wager: if the odds were even, the prudent man still would believe in God. The betting window is open, and your bet is your life.
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