Why Dawkins’ “God Delusion” is a Delusion

“New Atheism is, in fact, a pop-cultural phenomenon lacking in intellectual rigor and blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American Philosophy” (Craig, 2017a).

Highly educated atheists have begun to attract the attention of the innocent by using well-articulated, yet philosophically deficient theories to explain their positions. Among these “New Atheists,” Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins are (or in the late Hitchens’ case, was) arguably the most vocal and published. The present blog will offer a brief explanation of New Atheism, along with a rebuttal to some of the theories proposed by Richard Dawkins in his book, “The God Delusion.”

Moral Relativism

New Atheism explicitly endorses moral relativism and adheres closely to a belief in materialism. Moral relativism is the belief that all morals are culturally contingent and culturally determined, so people operate according to the acceptable norms within their societies. Moral relativism suggests there is no objective moral standard against which morals can be judged for societies as a whole. Accordingly, Nazis who acted in conformity with the skewed values of other Nazis in the death camps were simply being “normal.” In contrast, if an objective moral standard exists, Nazis would be judged against a greater sense of justice, which applies across all societies.

The reason atheists subscribe to moral relativism is because they believe the explanation for creation lies in evolution. To them, evolution takes the place of God. Since evolution cannot explain an objective moral standard (which can only be explained by an external moral agent and lawgiver), atheists must adhere to a relative moral standard.

Why doesn’t evolution explain an objective moral standard? Let me provide an example. Animals do not “murder” other animals. They kill them. And animals do not hold one another accountable for killing innocent prey. If a bass fish decided to chase and kill a tadpole because she was bored, the “crime” would likely go unnoticed by other fish and frogs. Humans would not accuse the bass fish of murder. Yet if a man decided to chase and murder a child because he was bored, society would hold him accountable. Such accountability crosses cultures and eras because it is a part of our objective moral standard. This example demonstrates that if we evolved from animals, the explanation for our innate sense of justice is unexplained by evolution.

So where did this sense of justice come from? If the universe is merely an accident and we are products of luck, why should we care about justice at all? Without a divine guide, we could have just as easily developed no moral sense of justice, killing and forcibly copulating our peers as animals do.

C.S. Lewis (1952, pp. 41) puts it this way: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? …Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist –  in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense.”

Atheist Materialism

Atheist materialism is the belief that everything in the world can be explained by its physical properties, within the confines of physical science. As Dawkins (1998, pp. 215) says: “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. … We are machines for propagating DNA. … It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”

According to this world view, humans are “accidental byproducts of nature who have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called planet Earth – lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe – and are doomed to perish individually and collectively in relatively short time” (Craig, 2017b).

Dawkins (2006, pp. 196) states, “Genes ‘collaborate’ with hundreds of other genes in programming the developmental processes that culminate in a body, in the same kind of way as the words of a recipe collaborate in a cookery process that culminates in a dish…Genes then cooperate in cartels to build bodies…There is a butcher and a baker, but perhaps a gap in the market for the candlestick maker. The invisible hand of natural selection fills the gap. That is different from having a central planner who favors the troika of butcher + baker + candlestick maker. The idea of cooperating cartels assembled by the invisible hand will turn out to be central to our understanding of religious memes and how they work.”

In other words, Dawkins replaces God with “the invisible hand of natural selection.” Natural selection is God to Dawkins.

To further develop these theories, Dawkins published the “God Delusion” in 2006. According to Dawkins (pp.  157 – 158), the “central argument” of his book is as follows.

Dawkins’ Central Argument:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artifact, such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.
  3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a ‘crane’, not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, graduate degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that – an illusion.
  5. We don’t have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.
  6. We should not give up the hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

Rebuttal to Dawkins’ Central Argument

In summary, Dawkins’ Central Argument makes these points: (1) humans are driven to find explanations of the world surrounding them (true); (2) humans have a natural tendency to attribute the appearance of a design to design (or a creator) (true); (3) however, we must ignore #2 because a Creator requires a Creator (false); and (4) Darwinian evolution is a substitute for God (false).

  1. How did we get here? And even more importantly, why are we here?

What distinguishes humans from other life forms is we have an innate desire to find purpose in our lives. Purpose leads to fulfillment and is an important component of human life. Without purpose, we suffer tremendous psychological consequences (Taylor, 2013). For this reason, Dawkins’ assertion that humans are driven to find explanations is reasonable.  We are innately driven to find explanations and this has been part of our nature since the beginning of humanity.

In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Nazi death camp survivor Viktor Frankl states, “This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

It is the human sense of purpose that distinguishes us from other life forms, along with our self-awareness (consciousness) and intentionality. Natural selection does not explain these as we have no scientific evidence for how life forms suddenly became aware of their surroundings. Daniel Dennett asserts that our consciousness is merely an illusion, which begs the question of whether he was conscious when he made such an assertion! We further have no scientific evidence for why we are innately wired to seek purpose and an explanation for our lives.

“The root of this present waywardness is always the same – the attempt of physicists to overstep the legitimate boundaries of science. The questions they most lust to solve are actually bound up with the issues of life and consciousness. But it’s a Sisyphusian task: physics can furnish no true answers for them” (Lanza, 2009, pp. 15).

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10.

  1. Designers design and creators create

Dawkins asserts that we have a natural tendency to attribute the appearance of a design to design. He points out that intelligent engineers design man-made objects, such as watches or iPhones or cars.  Yet he stops short of allowing the same attribution to be made for spiders, eyes, and other forms of life by suggesting that the presence of what he considers to be a larger problem (Who designed the designer?) eliminates the question of design altogether.  But the elimination of the question is premature. We have all been witnesses to the creation of life, whether from seeds, caterpillars, puppies, or fetuses. In all cases, a source created life. There is always a source from which designs and creations are derived.

Physical life cycles on earth cycle back to the beginning of the earth and before that to the beginning of the universe. And before that? Is the process never ending? In other words, do we have an infinite regression of physical causes?

Scientists have overwhelmingly supported the Big Bang Theory, which validates a start date for time, space, and matter. Accordingly, nothing physical or bounded by time could have existed prior to the Big Bang so the infinite regression of physical causes is ruled out. What could have existed prior to the Big Bang requires qualities outside of time, space, and matter. Thomas Aquinas offers an answer via his “First Mover Theory for God.”

1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow (1992) states, “I suppose the idea of a beginning of time annoyed Einstein because of its theological implications… There is a kind of religion in science… Every effect must have its cause; there is no First Cause…This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of products of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control. If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized. As usual when faced with trauma, the mind reacts by ignoring its implications – in science this is known as ‘refusing to speculate’ – or trivializing the origin of the world by calling it the Big Bang, as if the Universe were a firecracker.”

“Today’s preoccupation with unprovable physical ‘theories of everything’ is a sacrilege to science itself, a strange detour from the purpose of the scientific method, whose bible has always decreed that we must question everything relentlessly and not worship what Bacon called ‘The Idols of the Mind.’” (Lanza, 2009, pp. 14).

  1. Is Darwinian Evolution a Substitute for God?

In his book, “Signature in the Cell,” Stephen Meyer details significant events in the origins of the first life and the origin of the firms forms of animal life, which is referred to as “the Cambrian Explosion.” He notes that only intelligence can explain the origin of the biological information necessary to build the first forms of life and new forms of life.

Processes of natural selection build upon and explain existing life forms, not the origin of the first form of life. And the first form of life, as with all life, contained deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. According to Meyer, the code expressed in DNA cannot be explained naturally. DNA code supports the existence of a designing intelligence.

“Indeed, Richard Dawkins admits that the amount of information in a one-celled life (like an amoeba) has as much information in its DNA as 1,000 Encyclopaedia Britannicas. Now, believing that 1,000 encyclopedias came into existence without any intelligent intervention is like believing that an entire bookstore resulted from an explosion in a printing shop. I don’t have enough faith to believe that!” (Turek, 2014, pp. 59). Human DNA contains genetic material that is over three billion characters long and each of those characters must be correctly ordered for humans to survive. According to Microsoft founder Bill Gates (1996, pp. 228), “Human DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”

Therefore, God exists.

Thank you for your time.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29: 11-13.

References

Craig, W.L. (2017)a. Does God exist? Accessed July 22, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/popular-articles-does-god-exist

Craig, W.L. (2017)b. Navigating Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. Accessed July 22, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape

Dawkins, R. (1998). Unweaving the Rainbow. London: Allen Lane, cited in Lewis Wolpert, Six Impossible Things before Breakfast (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), 215.

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. London. Bantam Press.

Frankl, V.E. (1946). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, MA. Beacon Press.

Gates, B. (1996). The Road Ahead. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Jastrow, R. (1992). God and the Astronomers. Toronto: W.W. Norton.

Lanza, R. and Berman, B. (2009). Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Meyer, S. (2009). Signature in the Cell. USA: Harper One.

Taylor, S. (2013). The power of purpose: Why is a sense of purpose essential for our well-being? Psychology Today. Accessed July 22, 2017 at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201307/the-power-purpose

Turek, F. (2014). Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make their Case. Colorado Springs, CO.

 

The Problem with Pain and its Association with Giving Up on God

Death of an Atheist I Never Really Knew

I didn’t grow up with any atheists, as far as I knew. In fact, for the first few decades of my life, I personally knew of no self-proclaimed atheists at all. I was educated in Catholic schools and all of my friends were either Christian or Jewish. The norm was to worship within the faiths of Judeo-Christianity.

Shortly after my family and I moved to a new town in Florida, my husband’s uncle died. He had served many years in the United States Air Force and had earned much recognition before accepting a position with a military defense contractor. He died during a training exercise in Norway when he was unexpectedly thrown off a boat at high speed. Since his wife and two young sons lived near our new home and most of our relatives didn’t, we opened our home to quite a few relatives who came to stay with us for a week. Hotels are not convenient in my small town. It was then I heard that Kevin was an atheist. Everyone prayed for him and the subject of his atheism was brought up quite frequently that week. Shortly thereafter, one of his sons became very vocal about his Christian beliefs and his love for Jesus Christ. Kevin’s wife and other son were much less vocal, though I heard they were also believers. His death focused everyone on our own mortality and on our spirituality.

A few years passed and I felt inspired to write fiction books to share my spiritual experiences with others. I tossed the first book aside after determining it hadn’t met my own standards, and I give away the second and third books for free.

Initial Perceptions of Atheists

I opened a Twitter account to promote my first book and by the time I began my third book, I had an active account. My pastor had become active too and I recall when he sent me a message asking me if the atheists had been in touch with me too. They had – and most of my first encounters were unpleasant with people showing up in my notifications demanding evidence for my beliefs and then calling me names when I provided same. I was accused of being “deluded” and “dogmatic” and I could feel their anger in the tweets I received. My pastor chose not to debate them but I decided to continue. I wanted to learn more about them and discover what made them tick. I’ve always believed in God and honestly had no understanding of why atheists had chosen the path they had chosen.

I created an atheist character in my third book based off of my initial atheist interactions: he was proud and selfish, with an “ego the size of Cuba.” The book can be found here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/650139

My Discovery about Atheists

Then I got to know a handful of atheists and I made an important discovery: most aren’t proud and most do not fall within my characterization. Many have endured extreme difficulties. I’ve heard the stories of atheists who have suffered horrible family losses and who have endured unspeakable tragedies. I know one who has had PAN for the past thirty seven years, which is completely debilitating and sometimes requires chemotherapy. I know of another who lost quite a few friends to suicides while growing up in a very depressing rural area. Some have lost children to cancer. Others have lost parents and loved ones. Many were once Christians who called out to God in their greatest times of need, yet they determined that God did not answer. It is for these reasons that this group of atheists believes there is no God. Their remedy for what they perceive as a lack of response is to walk away.

And I understand that. But I also understand that misery breeds more misery and a life devoid of the joy which God provides is hopelessly sad.

The Problem of Pain

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” –Lewis, 1940, p. 17).

The problem of pain makes the assumption that God wants to make His creatures perfectly happy and that making us happy should be God’s goal. But we are not always happy, so we know this is not God’s goal. Atheists who justify their atheism with the problem of pain protest this point. Their perfect vision of the world is a Garden of Eden in which everyone has free will to do what they want. Yet this conception of a Garden of Eden is impossible to achieve: Adam and Eve proved that. Free will is always accompanied by sin, and we all sin, and sin corrupts paradise. Enter the earth.

“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that hell should be able to veto heaven” (Lewis, 1946).

But hell cannot veto heaven so such blackmail is futile. Furthermore, stating that God’s goal should be to keep us happy all of the time does not speak to our purpose. We are not here with a singular goal of being happy. We are here to grow spiritually, to overcome challenges, and to become more Christ-like. Our ultimate goal is to leave the world in a better place than it was prior to our entry.

Through the example of Jesus Christ, we see the way the Lord uses adversity and pain to grow our spirits. We all have examples of times in which we have been broken (or challenged) and how the adversity we faced made us stronger people. To become stronger, we overcame our fears, our self-pity, our anger, and our despair. By witnessing hatred, we developed a stronger appreciation for love. By witnessing hubris, we developed an appreciation for humility.  By witnessing tragedy, we grew empathy. By witnessing injustice and discrimination, we became more just and more tolerant of those unlike us. By witnessing immorality, we became more moral. We live by the example of Christ who overcame the enormous challenge of experiencing the hatred of His children as they beat and crucified Him without mercy. And He loved them and prayed for their redemption.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts  knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Lewis, 1946).

Instead of directing our energies to battle God, we should direct our energies to understand God’s intentions for us. He wants us to emerge from the earth victorious. He is our biggest cheerleader.

“Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with Him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you” – Job 22:21

We need to surrender to God and to obey His calling by taking up our crosses and fulfilling our duties and missions. Through dutifulness, obedience, and surrender comes joy, the true joy that is impossible to attain if in battle against God.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” –Romans 12:1-2.

Thank you for investing the time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce.  C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA

Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain. C.S.  Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA.

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Six Step Plan and Response to Mr. Oz Atheist

The intention of the following blog is to offer a Christian response to an atheist perspective on our purpose in life. The blog begins with an atheist’s perspective and purpose without God, followed by a Christian’s response and purpose with God. The latter includes a discussion on the pursuit of happiness and joy and the predictors of same, since the underlying current in Mr. Oz Atheist’s message speaks to the pursuit of enjoyment. Mr. Oz Atheist, as he calls himself on social media, composed the following blog a couple of years ago.

Mr. Oz Atheist: Purpose without God

“I didn’t ask to be born” The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that’s surviving off more hormones than oxygen.

They’re right too. They didn’t ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we’re even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that’s our starting point.

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don’t just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for.

I have said before that being an atheist doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to live for, it means I’ve got nothing to die for.

Now please don’t confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn’t* die to save my children, for example. Because I would. Of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing.

But a theist believes that when they die they’ll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason…they’re only a virgin once. Maybe it’s one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I’ll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That’s what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally.

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose.

I don’t understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can’t enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can’t see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it?

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven…what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary.

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it’s finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there’s a last page.

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it’s finished, but my life doesn’t.

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn’t why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I’ll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not.

Yes, maybe a theist has an ‘ultimate’ purpose in life and as an atheist, I don’t, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one.

I’m happy to define my life’s own purpose. I’m happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being.

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said ‘I would die without God in my life’. I don’t see any honour in this. I don’t see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale?

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It’s a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it.

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn’t people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from?

Christian Apologist: Purpose with God

Mr. Oz Atheist has made a couple of assertions which merit a response. First, I note that it is a great shame that any theist has suggested to Mr. Oz Atheist that he kill himself because he does not believe in God. The theist likely believes Mr. Oz Atheist is in quicksand and instead of offering a rope, it appears she or he would rather walk away.

God calls on us to offer the rope:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

Mr. Oz Atheist additionally states that he is living for the here and now – for enjoyment in this life – and that theists are living for enjoyment in the next. This assertion is true, but he has forced a false dichotomy with the implicit assumption that theists are not also seeking happiness and joy in this life. Of course we are seeking happiness and joy! The difference for Christians is that we are seeking happiness and joy in both this life and the next.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mr. Oz Atheist would likely agree with the following famous quote by Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.” The central purpose of human life, according to one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle, is happiness.

But what makes for happy lives? Studies of happiness over the past few decades have drawn from the seminal articles or books by Cantril (1965), Andrews and Withey (1976) and Diener (1984). The focus of these studies often includes subjective well-being (SWB), which is concerned with “how and why people experience their lives in positive ways, including cognitive judgments and affective reactions” (Diener, 1984, p. 542).

Diener (1984) distinguishes two dimensions of subjective well-being: cognitive well-being, which relates to life satisfaction, and affective well-being, which relates to happiness. Diener’s (1984) extensive review examined a variety of demographic variables impacting subjective well-being, including age (findings mixed), race (blacks lower SWB), religiosity (findings mixed) employment (unemployed least happy), education (interacts with other variables), marital status (married people higher SWB), having children (negligible or negative effects), income (income inequality lowers SWB), and gender (interacts with age). More recent studies have indicated that demographic variables are established variables of interest in quality of life studies (Vinson & Ericson, 2014). Other factors also relate positively to SWB, such as optimism, social support, and self-esteem (Quevedo & Abella, 2011). Additional positive correlates of happiness include personal income (Cummins, 2000), health (Salinas-Jiminez et al., 2010), social capital, trust (Growiec & Growiec, 2014), and financial satisfaction (Ng & Diener, 2014).

As Deiner (1984) discovered, the relationship between religiosity and happiness is mixed. One explanation relates to social conformity to prevailing country norms. As Okulicz-Kozaryn (2010) note, people who live in countries where many people believe in God are much happier than non-believers. Considering I reside in a country considered religious (the United States), while Mr. Oz Atheist resides in a country considered less religious (Australia), and we both consider ourselves happy, our happiness is partially explained by our beliefs and social conformity theory. Our happiness is further partially explained by the individual-level variables noted above. Other reasons for mixed findings with respect to religiosity include demographics. For example, women tend to be more religious (Freese, 2004).  Even so, Okulicz and Kozaryn (2010, p.  155) determined that “the major conclusion from the extant literature is that religious faith predicts happiness (it creates purpose in life) and church attendance predicts happiness (it creates a sense of belonging)”.

Within the United States, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study (2014) differentiated respondents who identified themselves as highly religious (praying and attending religious services at least once per week) with those who don’t on several factors. Highly religious people were more likely to gather with extended family at least once per month, were very happy with life, were more likely to have volunteered, and more likely to have donated goods or time to the poor. These differences persist within a variety of religions and after controlling for age, income, education, geographic region, marital status, and parental status.

Empirical studies, such as those cited above, do not explain one hundred percent of the variation between predictors and outcome variables. Other variables (those not considered or available) account for the unexplained variance. Furthermore, we all know of people who are healthy and wealthy, yet extremely unhappy: “outliers” on a regression line.

So, what are other important predictors of happiness? Given that the above variables are primarily demographic and attitudinal, let us consider higher order variables, following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

According to Aristotle, happiness is derived from the cultivation of virtue and the fulfillment of a broad range of physical and mental conditions (http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/). In other words, aside from the demographic and attitudinal variables cited above, the cultivation of virtue speaks to one’s happiness. Aristotle’s assertion is consistent with the resounding theme of Christianity.

In fact, his assertions, when coupled with Christianity, provide a pathway to achieve tremendous happiness and joy. The truth is, we can never find true joy and happiness apart from the vine which supports us: Jesus. If we try to separate from the vine, as a grape would free itself from a branch, we start to wither and become weak. We lose the strength of the love and light within us. We end up in darkness and find ourselves in a constant state of trying to find light and happiness through any means but that of the source of all light and happiness. The attempts are futile. Yet God lets us live out our desires (cf., Romans 1) and always welcomes us back with open arms as prodigal sons and daughters, or lost sheep. With all of this in mind, I offer six steps to happiness.

Six Steps to Happiness

  1. Seek Jesus through prayer and study.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”  John 8:32

  1. Take delight in the Lord.

 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

  1. Find and achieve your purpose in life by identifying and capitalizing on your spiritual gifts. What do you do really well? What are you passionate about? How can these gifts be used to help others? If we all do our part, a greater collective happiness will follow.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms” 1 Peter 4:10

  1. Listen to and obey the Lord. Expect the Lord’s discipline. We all have room for improvement, and as we grow closer to Jesus, we begin to see the areas in which we need to improve the most. The plan is to strive for perfection and to be as Christ-like as possible. Jesus came to set the example. He is the reason for our very existence and our ultimate purpose is to emulate our servant leader.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and; Love your neighbor as yourself” Luke 10:27

Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” Job 5:17.

  1. Build in a pattern of continuous improvement. Once you’re on the path and your eyes have been opened to the love and the light of the Lord, there is no stopping you. Your passion will be ignited and prosperity will come your way.

“And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3

  1. Expect and embrace adversity. Of course, challenges will come your way as well. God uses challenges to build and shape us spiritually. He promised adversity. The very fact no one is immune demonstrates God’s fulfillment of His promise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” Revelation 2:10

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12

With that, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which he attributed to George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

In conclusion, the pursuit of happiness is achieved when we learn about, acknowledge, and embrace our spiritual calling.  Fulfilling our purpose with God brings love, light, happiness and joy. It opens our eyes to an array of colors on the planet never realized before. It is as if a rainbow, which once appeared dim and shadowy, is suddenly unveiled in brighter and more spectacular hues than we could have possibly imagined. The sky seems bluer, the roses redder, and the grasses greener.  Our path to heaven is set – and we have cast all fears and doubts into the deep sea.

Joy is the serious business of heaven” – CS Lewis

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be accessed here: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2015/10/

References

Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum.

Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cummins, R.A. (2000). Personal income and subjective well-being: A review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 133-158.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

Freese, J. (2004). Risk preferences and gender differences in religiousness: Evidence from the World Values Survey. Review of Religious Research, 46(1), 88-91.

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N.F., (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259.

Growiec, K. & Growiec, J. (2014). Trusting only whom you know, knowing only whom you trust: The joint impact of social capital and trust in CEE countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(5), 1015-1040.

Ng, W. & Diener, E. (2014). What matters to the rich and poor? Subjective well-being, financial satisfaction, and post-materialistic needs across the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(2), 326-338.

Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 13(2), 165-179.

Pargament, K., 2002. Is religion nothing but. . .? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry 13, 239–244.

Quevedo, R.J.M. & Abella, M.C. (2011). Well-being and personality: Facet-level analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 206-211.

Salinas-Jiminez, M., Artes, J., & Salines-Jiminez, J. (2010). Income, motivation, and satisfaction with life: An empirical analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 779-793.

Vinson, T. & Ericson, M. (2014). The social dimensions of happiness and life satisfaction of Australians: Evidence from the World Values Survey. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 240-253.

 

 

What Would You Do If You Were Me? A Christian Response to Atheist Engineer

The following blog is a response to a blog from an atheist on social media who calls himself Atheist Engineer. I have been communicating with him for over six months and came upon his blog yesterday, which highlights a few words I’ve said to him. The purpose of this blog is to offer my response to his opinions on Christianity.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST:

Atheist Engineer is one of the atheists I consider “humanists,” who are half way up the ladder to God. I know this because he has a good set of morals on many issues and aside from our disagreement on Christianity, I share many of his humanist views towards equality, feminism, and the like. That’s why I care about him and others like him and have decided to keep communicating with them on social media.

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I care about his eternal fate and the fate of those like him. I’ve identified several others very similar to him on social media. But what I want to be clear in this comment is (1) that our Lord is loving, fair, and the source of our objective moral code so the punishment will fit the crime; (2) that eternal burning in hell, in my humble and hopeful opinion, may only be reserved for the “weeds” of the Bible — people of Satan with no moral compass — people like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot; (3) God has made it very clear that He desires all of His “lost sheep” to return to Him. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Prodigal Son make quite clear the lengths to which God will go to be sure His children are rescued and the level of forgiveness He offers. Furthermore, the story of Saul/Paul assures us that God is willing to forgive even the biggest sinners, as just prior to Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was busy identifying, jailing, and witnessing the deaths of early Christians who were worshiping Jesus illegally in the years just following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In other words, we know that God forgives, loves, and embraces His lost sheep as His children. He also knows of the characteristics within His children and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives that have led to their decisions — as He made them the way they are. I’ve identified recent studies indicating that atheism is partially genetic, which tells me that God will be kind to people predisposed to atheism. I’ve further identified studies indicating that people often turn to God later in their lives. With age comes wisdom.

The Biblical Conceptions of Hell

Gotquestions.org, which is a resource used by many pastors, offers an explanation of the afterlife.

“In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46).”

So the questions presents themselves: (1) Do both “weeds” and “lost sheep” end up in the so-called “final hell” based on their earthly decisions or (2) do only “weeds” and “lost sheep” who retained their decisions to deny God even after death end up there? Conservative Biblical scholars are of the opinion that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. C.S. Lewis, some Catholics and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (sheol, hades, or purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis spells out his version of such an existence.

Either tradition cannot be proven, so one looks to the Bible for an answer. According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall (1992), the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6).

Based on God’s objective moral standard, we know that whatever the fate, the punishment will fit the crime. Therefore, I tend to lean to the opinion of C.S. Lewis, yet again, that is only my opinion. I can not say for certain the fate that will meet those who leave this world denying the Lord’s presence. I can only pray for them, hoping for the best, and counting on the Lord’s objective moral standard of love. A river can not exceed its source, so our morals and standards of love and goodness cannot exceed those from which we’re born: God. In other words, our ethical standards can never be better than those of the standard Himself.

What Would I Do?

Personally, I have never spent so much time considering the consequence of hell as I have over this past year while on social media. The atheists I now know often discuss the matter, so I have begun focusing on it more closely. The reason I haven’t considered it much is because I have always figured that I and my loved ones would end up in paradise, or heaven. I cannot even imagine gambling on the possibility of going to hell.

So, what would I do if in Atheist Engineer’s shoes? It’s hard to imagine, since I have never been an atheist, exactly what he is thinking. If I were in his shoes, however, I would meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible seems to present negative issues for Atheist Engineer, I would suggest that he initially avoid reading the books outside of the four gospels and Acts. Then, if I were him, I would ask God for an answer. I am confident that Atheist Engineer will receive God’s answer, which will guide him up the rest of the ladder.

To Conclude…

I have not fully addressed all of the issues noted by Atheist Engineer in this particular blog, because I’ve already answered them in other blogs. As examples, in my blog entitled, “A Christian Defense against Atheism,” which was originally a rebuttal to Atheist Engineer, I discuss issues of the problem of pain, free will, omniscience and omnipotence, and arguments such as the teleological argument and the cosmological argument for God. In “10 Good Response to Believe God Exists,” I summarize many of my points made in other blogs. This blog is a quick and easy read. In “Why Were Early Christians So Brave?” and “An Extra-Biblical Case for Christianity,” I make a case for the divinity of Jesus Christ. In “Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement” I explain the atonement. In “Thoughts on the Atheist Experience Show along with a Testimonial in Support of Jesus,” I discuss the fate of those who follow different faiths. Finally, in “The Moral Argument for God,” I make an argument for God’s absolute moral standard.  I hope you’ll take the time to review any and all blogs if you’re interested in the way, the truth, and the life.

Thank you for investing your time.

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” – C.S. Lewis

References:

Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, USA.

ATHEIST ENGINEER:

I try to treat believers with the same or better respect than they treat me. As a result, a few of them get to know me well enough to realize I’m not the hateful, angry, baby eating, Satan worshiper that some fundamentalists say we are.

Not me. Or any of the atheists I’ve personally met and made friends with.

One of these Christians who has taken the time to get to know me recently asked:

… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve tried to be as convincing as possible. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you had my beliefs and you really cared about someone?

I suspect she was referring to my accusations that she exaggerates the “evidence for Jesus” and presents it without mentioning the known problems or issues with the evidence. I consider it dishonest and I’ve said as much. But her point is that she does it because she feels compelled to try to save us “lost sheep.”

So What Would I Do?

As a former Christian, I can still easily put myself back in my old Christian mindset. I would feel moral anguish if I thought that good people would be punished while I am rewarded, simply because they didn’t believe my Jesus. Such a plan would be horribly unfair to so much of humanity! Social scientists say that the greatest factors in deterring a person’s religious identity are the time and location of their birth and the culture they live in. God is ethereal. His presence is spiritual. There are many competing religious beliefs. In other words, it wouldn’t be their fault if they didn’t believe the right thing.

If I had her beliefs and found myself worrying about good people being excluded from my God’s plan for salvation, I’d start questioning whether I’ve learned true things about my just and loving God’s plans.

I’d wonder why a just and loving god would base salvation on having the right belief. I’d consider the possibility that serious flaws were introduced into my religious text during the times it was oral tradition, then copied, then selected from among many similar manuscripts, then translated, then interpreted.

I’d consider the possibility that some of the more objectionable parts of my holy book were actually just the author’s personal human opinion, not divine revelation.

I’d wonder if the Council of Nicea was actually guided by God or just a group of men making a power grab as usual.

https://goo.gl/GIqG0a

Such doubts would be extremely helpful for her. I think she’s smart enough to realize that there’s a huge disconnect between “just and loving God” and “salvation contingent upon beliefs and worship.” She realized that she cannot enjoy heaven knowing that good people are unjustly excluded from the party.

It’s unethical and I think most modern Christians know this. It’s an unavoidable fact of their religion

The concept of hell is inescapably incongruent with the claim of a just and loving God. Infinite torture is not ethical in response to any finite crime. It would be excessive for even the most monstrous despot in human history (take your pick).

To Conclude…

I wish I could help these kind and ethically awake Christians. It’s tragic that they’ve been taught to believe such hurtful things about the nature of the cosmos and our existence. They’re left to believe they are compelled to fight to save good people from their horrific vision of a spiteful God. However, my integrity is too important to compromise.

I feel sorry for the sense of despair it must cause them when I refuse to lie to comfort them. But I won’t claim to believe just to help a Christian feel better about the unethical foundations of their religion.

But I can still be respectful to them. I will pay them the respect of patiently explaining why the arguments they present (which I’ve invariably seen or heard before) are unconvincing. I can help them face the challenges of secular morality and ethics when they’re ready to admit that absolute morals are not real. I can help them grapple with their own mortality when they’re ready to concede that heaven was an empty promise. But I know I can’t make them see this. They must chose to face it on their own.

The sense of moral disharmony Christians feel about good people being tortured is their conscience telling them that their religion is false. In the end, they will have to either face this spiritual conundrum or ignore it. That’s for them to decide, not me. But having faced it myself, I can say honestly that life is much better without the struggle to find a way to interpret reality so it fits the just and loving God assertion.

A Christian’s Rebuttal to “Why I Am Not A Christian” By Bertrand Russell

Russell delivered this lecture in 1927 at the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

A few months ago, I encountered an atheist on Twitter who posed a challenge. He said that he would read material by my favorite Christian author if I would read material by his favorite atheist. I was hesitant to agree because I had never read any books or articles by those advocating atheism, and I was fearful that something they would write would challenge my beliefs in a way I found uncomfortable. After some prodding, he finally convinced me to read Bertrand Russell. In exchange, he read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

After both of us read the other’s suggestions, this particular atheist, “Facepalmer,” wrote a rather long rebuttal of C.S. Lewis, while I wrote a rather short blurb on Russell. I found Russell’s “arguments” against God to be unsubstantiated, yet I wasn’t prepared to write a rebuttal to the arguments since I needed to do some research on effective ways to counter them. It was at this point that I was inspired to read rebuttals to other atheists’ arguments, since I figured I had seen their best in Russell.

Well, I’ve done my research by reading numerous rebuttals on atheists’ Robert Price, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. Therefore, the intention of this blog is to present these arguments and to offer an opinion on the arguments from a Christian perspective. I next present Bertrand Russell’s arguments, along with my rebuttals to the arguments.

The First Cause Argument

Russell states, “Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be.”

Russell adds that the First Cause “cannot have any validity” and adds “There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.”

In all fairness to Bertrand Russell, when he delivered his speech in 1927, scientists had not reached the conclusion that the universe had a start date yet. Coincidentally, it was in 1927 when an astronomer named Georges Lemaitre conceived that the universe started long ago as a single point. Two years later, an astronomer named Edwin Hubble discovered that other galaxies were moving away from us and the farthest galaxies were moving faster than the galaxies closer to us. Hubble is known as the Father of the Big Bang Theory (LaRocco & Rothstein, 2017). “The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it talks about the universe as we know it starting with a small singularity, then inflating over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today” (Howell, 2015).

Since the universe had a start date for time, space, and matter (Hawking, 2017), one wonders what existed prior to the Big Bang. At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang. What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter. The sheer force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful. So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal. In other words, the force bears all of the characteristics of God.

Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover Theory for Proof of God, which was quoted in Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23: 901-917, helps to further explain this logic.

1. Our senses tell us that there is some motion in the world.
2. All things moving must be moved by something else.
3. Motion is the change from potentiality to actuality.
4. It is not possible to be potential and actual in the same respect.
5. Therefore, the mover cannot also be the moved.
6. There cannot be an infinite regression of movers.
7. Therefore, there must be a first, unmoved mover.

A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 59) states, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1) Not matter, for matter is not self-causing. It requires an antecedent cause, and God is that Cause…In the beginning God, the uncaused Cause of matter, mind, and law. There we must begin.”

In summary, Russell refutes the First Cause Argument by saying that the universe had no start date so the argument is irrelevant, yet the fact that the universe has a start date, coupled with logic, suggests that God is the First Cause, the uncaused Cause.

The Natural Law Argument

Russell states, “Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question ‘Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?’ If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others – the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it — if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.”

In the above statement, Russell makes the assertion that “if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to the law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary.”

Russell doesn’t understand that God is not “subject to the law” that guides the universe; He is the law that guides the universe. He is the moral code and the absolute standard. God is the eternally great I AM (Exodus 3:14), “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). In Revelation 22:13, God states, “I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states (p. 28), “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real – anything above and beyond the actual facts which we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not due. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else – a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

There was no start point at which time God sat down to make choices about the physical laws that guide the universe. Such an assertion drags God down to the level of a human and traps Him in our linear timeline. God is unbounded by time and choice. As C.S. Lewis indicated in the Great Divorce, “Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and time until you are beyond both.” Humans create laws to govern society. God is the law and the standard from which our innate sense of an absolute standard of right and wrong is derived.

Similarly, Stephen Hawking refers to the dynamical laws that govern the universe. He states, “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. This kind of beginning to the universe, and of time itself, is very different to the beginnings that had been considered earlier. These had to be imposed on the universe by some external agency. There is no dynamical reason why the motion of bodies in the solar system cannot be extrapolated back in time, far beyond four thousand and four BC, the date for the creation of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. Thus it would require the direct intervention of God, if the universe began at that date. By contrast, the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside” (Hawking, 2017).

Let’s unpack Stephen Hawking’s statement. He points to the book of Genesis and a universe start date of four thousand and four BC, which, if such a date were true, he indicates that it “would require the direct intervention of God.” I will assume that he made the latter statement in recognition of the physical evidence supporting the 13.8 billion year start date. Hawking further states that there are “dynamical laws that govern the universe” that are “intrinsic” to the universe. Such assertions naturally beg the question of how these “intrinsic” laws came about. Laws don’t create themselves. I ask readers to consider why we have “intrinsic laws” that govern the universe if we supposedly have no source or governor of such laws.

Famed mathematical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, worked alongside of Stephen Hawking for many years. He recently went on Christian Radio and stated that Hawking’s new book is “misleading,” adding that M theory is “not even a theory” and “hardly science” but “hopes.” He further noted that the universe did not “create itself from nothing” (Hunt4Truth.wordpress.com, 2014).

As A.W. Tozer (2006 p. 57-58) helps to explain the way God is both present within the universe intrinsically and independent of it, extrinsically. He says, “God dwells in His creation and is everywhere indivisibly present in all His works…While God dwells in His world He is separated from it by a gulf forever impassable. However closely He may be identified with the work of His hands, they are and must eternally be other than He, and He is and must be antecedent to and independent of them. He is transcendent above all His works even while He is immanent within them.”

The Argument from Design

Russell states, “When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.”

In this argument, Russell discounts (1) free will, (2) our purpose in this existence, and (3) intelligent design. Let us first consider free will. Genesis indicates that God gave us free will and that we face consequences for our choices. Accordingly, blaming God for the existence of toxic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Fascists is ignoring the fact that He gave us free will. God wants the very best for us, yet He doesn’t control us. It’s up to us to capitalize on our spiritual gifts to advance our souls. Some don’t. Some make serious and irreparable mistakes, such as Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. Yet all are made with free choice.

As C.S. Lewis states, “If a thing is free to be good, it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Russell also calls into question an imperfect world, yet let us note our very purpose within this imperfect world. Had He made us perfect, we wouldn’t have the desire to persevere and grow, overcoming our challenges to emerge as better people. Champions are born out of adversity. More on this point will be discussed later.

“And what did God do?” C.S. Lewis asks (2002, p. 49). “First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about the right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.”

A short discussion on intelligent design seems fitting at this point, to further address Russell’s assertion of defective design. Dembski (1998) offers an interesting perspective on intelligent design, which is the concept in which we were created by an intelligent Creator, God. “But design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term ‘junk DNA.’ Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as “junk” merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how ‘non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.’ Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it. Or consider vestigial organs that later are found to have a function after all. Evolutionary biology texts often cite the human coccyx as a ‘vestigial structure’ that hearkens back to vertebrate ancestors with tails. Yet if one looks at a recent edition of Gray’s Anatomy, one finds that the coccyx is a crucial point of contact with muscles that attach to the pelvic floor. The phrase ‘vestigial structure’ often merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. The human appendix, formerly thought to be vestigial, is now known to be a functioning component of the immune system.”

He adds, “Admitting design into science can only enrich the scientific enterprise. All the tried and true tools of science will remain intact. But design adds a new tool to the scientist’s explanatory tool chest. Moreover, design raises a whole new set of research questions. Once we know that something is designed, we will want to know how it was produced, to what extent the design is optimal, and what is its purpose. Note that we can detect design without knowing what something was designed for. There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with objects that are obviously designed but whose specific purpose anthropologists do not understand.”

Atheists discount intelligent design and often call on natural selection, chance, and the long history of the earth to explain the evolution of humans. Natural selection doesn’t explain the origins of life, however. It merely explains the evolution of existing life forms. According to Trevors and Abel (2004) “The constraints of historical science are such that the origin of life may never be understood. Selection pressure cannot select nucleotides at the digital programming level where primary structures form. Genomes predetermine the phenotypes which natural selection only secondarily favors. Contentions that offer nothing more than long periods of time offer no mechanism of explanation for the derivation of genetic programming. No new information is provided by such tautologies. The argument simply says it happened.”

According to Hugh Ross (2016), “Many suggest that earth’s life-sustaining features are just ‘amazing coincidences’ that somehow fell into place in a way that suits human needs and, at the same time, determines what life-forms exist…Ongoing research tells us that earth has been shaped not only by an intricately orchestrated interplay of physical forces and conditions, but also by its vast abundance and diversity of life-forms. By means that no depth and breadth of scientific research can explain, life arose early in earth’s history under anything but the benign conditions it would seem to require and somehow persisted through multiple mass extinction events, always appearing and reappearing at just-right times and in just-right forms to meet the needs and demands of the revised environment.”

“The more thoroughly researchers investigate the history of our planet, the more astonishing the story of our existence becomes. The number and complexity of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have expanded explosively within the last decade…Are we simply the result of a colossal matrix of innumerable, narrow coincidences, against all odds, or is there a more reasonable explanation?” (p. 14).

“Even if evolutionary processes are responsible for new life-forms, there must be an external intellect sustaining the material world to make life and evolution possible,” according to Frank Turek (2015 p. 82-83). “In other words, evolutionary processes themselves rely on the goal-directedness of the material world. Evolution could not work without a mind actively directing the repetitive and precise natural forces that keep life together and make mutation and natural selection possible! …Mutations may be random in the sense that they do not have any goal in mind, but the natural forces that produce the mutations are not random. Living and nonliving things continue to exist because the foundation of the entire material world is goal-directed, not random.”

In summary, the purposes and complexities of life forms on the earth, coupled with goal-directed non-random evolutionary processes, suggest the presence of an intelligent designer, an originator. Using the imperfections and failures of humans (e.g., Ku Klux Klan) to discount the possibility of an intelligent designer equates to pointing to cracks in a home’s foundation to claim the home had no builder. Such assertions obscure the purposeful intentions of the Creator who designed the universe and the free will He granted.

The Moral Arguments for a Deity

Russell says, “The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.”

Russell makes several assertions that require a refutation. The first assertion is on the difference between right and wrong and whether God ordered both right and wrong. He asserts that God, who is only good, cannot have ordered wrongdoings. The Bible suggests God has ordered both. For example, in Habakkuk 1:5-11, God relates his intention to raise up Babylon, a ruthless and dreaded nation to achieve His purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

The Christian scholars on Gotquestions.org expand upon this: “’All things’ includes both good and bad things. God can use struggles, heartbreaks and tragedies in ways to bring about His glory and our good. Such events, even though we don’t understand the reason for them, are part of His perfect, divine plan. If God could not control evil, He would not be God. His sovereignty demands that He be in control of everything, even ‘dreaded’ nations such as Babylon.”

Turek (2015, p. 138) states, “We can’t see the ultimate outcomes of events because the human story isn’t over yet – not here or in the afterlife where perfect justice will be done. And even if God were to tell us those outcomes and His reasons for allowing such evil, we wouldn’t be able to comprehend them all. That’s because every event sets off a ripple effect that impacts countless other events and people. How many lives will be changed in the future by the trillions of good and bad events happening just this hour? No human mind can know or grasp it all. And even if we could, knowing the reasons for a painful event might alter our behavior and prevent that good outcome that would have otherwise occurred.”

“If God would concede me His wisdom for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in this world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are,” says a former priest at Notre Dame in Paris, Jacques Marie Louis Monsabre said (quoted in Turek, 2015, p. 139).

A second assertion from Russell is that a superior deity gave orders to the God who made this world. If this were the case, God wouldn’t be God, the eternal uncaused cause. God would be an inferior deity. Based on Aquinas’ line of theory noted above, I refute this point.

A third assertion is that the devil made the world as we know it when “God was not looking.” Psalm 139 states that God is everywhere, so doing something behind God’s back is simply not possible.

Psalm 139:

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

As A.W. Tozer (2006, p. 60) says, “The presence and manifestation of the presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”

The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice

Russell states, “Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.” Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, “The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.” You would say, “Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment”; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.” Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.”

Let us unpack his assertions. Russell points out that believers believe that the existence of heaven and hell establishes a remedy to the injustices that occur on earth when the good suffer and the wicked prosper. He then states that he only knows of “this world.” This statement implies that because he has no knowledge of or experience in heaven and hell, they must not exist. According to Russell, only the physical world exists, which is the world in which Russell lived. Such an argument equates to me saying that because I have no knowledge of someone else’s dreams, the person must not have had such dreams. Another example relates to the dismissal of near death experiences, which are “too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether” (Lichfield, 2015). Click here for many inspirational findings and scientific studies relating to otherworldly near death experiences:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/

As A.W. Tozer (2006) states, “Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits. We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word.”

“The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see the other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of sense triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible, the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race” (p. 53-54).

Russell states that because we have injustice in the world that justice must not rule the world. Yet we all adhere to an absolute moral standard, which suggests justice is innate, established, and sourced. For example, any parent with a sound mind would demand justice if his or her son or daughter were raped or murdered or hurt in any way. Any person with a sound mind would want justice for the perpetrator if he or she were unfairly and indiscriminately tortured. The horrors of World War II still plague the minds of the sensible members of societies, whether in Guam or Bolivia. These are examples of the way humans adhere to a shared moral standard. This standard is not relative, set within particular cultures (though there are relative standards as well), but shared between cultures. Such a standard calls attention to the source of the standard: God.

Arguments against Christ and the Church

The rest of Russell’s arguments point to Christ’s character, morality, teachings, and perceived failings of the church. Russell states, “I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said, ‘Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present prime minister [Stanley Baldwin], for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.”

Russell calls attention to Christ’s directive to turn the other cheek, yet states that Christians do not follow the directive (without any empirical support), implying that the directive is invalid. Such an argument equates to a mother telling her son to forgive his friend, and the son deciding not to forgive the friend, so someone makes the assertion that the mother must have poor character.

Russell goes on to state that Lao-tse and Buddha also called on followers to turn the other cheek, implying that Christ isn’t original. If Christian values didn’t form the fabric of ethical guidelines in previous societies and cultures, wouldn’t we question them more? The fact that previous cultures adhere to similar arguments helps to validate the arguments and the Lord’s influence on prior generations. In his book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis does an excellent job of explaining this concept by noting marked similarities between the major world religions and belief systems and Christianity.

Russell also takes issue with Christ’s “moral character” because Christ “believes in hell.” He states, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.”

Religious scholars from the Gotquestions.org website state the following with respect to hell: “In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word used to describe the realm of the dead is sheol. It simply means ‘the place of the dead’ or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits.’ The New Testament Greek equivalent to sheol is hades, which is also a general reference to ‘the place of the dead.’ The Greek word gehenna is used in the New Testament for ‘hell’ and is derived from the Hebrew word hinnom. Other Scriptures in the New Testament indicated that sheol/hades is a temporary place where souls are kept as they await the final resurrection. The souls of the righteous, at death, go directly into the presence of God—the part of sheol called ‘heaven,’ ‘paradise,’ or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).”

“The lake of fire, mentioned only in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, 14-15, is the final hell, the place of eternal punishment for all unrepentant rebels, both angelic and human (Matthew 25:41). It is described as a place of burning sulfur, and those in it experience eternal, unspeakable agony of an unrelenting nature (Luke 16:24; Mark 9:45-46). Those who have rejected Christ and are in the temporary abode of the dead in hades/sheol have the lake of fire as their final destination.”

To me, it seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin will be the types cast into the lake of fire, yet clearly I can’t know this to be certain because I’m not the judge. What I do have is a sense of distributive and procedural justice based on the innate moral standard to which I adhere. This standard, set by God, suggests that people will be treated fairly. Accordingly, I don’t believe that all people should be punished in the same way as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin. God gave me common sense, which suggests He’ll vary the punishments to fit the crimes.

It seems likely that people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin are not of God (lost sheep), but are the weeds described in the Bible, aligned to Satan. My guess is that such despots take the express train to hell, however hell is conceived, to either be destroyed or to spend eternity in an environment devoid of all love, which is God. God is love. Eternity without God is despair, which the Bible states is torment.

Russell further criticizes the church. I do not dispute the assertion that some churches are flawed and there are flaws in the history of churches. Yet many are not. Many churches today are run by strong people with good Christian values who strive to deliver Biblically-inspired messages of inspiration to attendees. My own church, Fishhawk Fellowship Church (Fishhawkfc.org), is a case in point. My church is relatively young (not much older than a decade), yet its pastors and staff offer the community such powerful messages each week that attendance has skyrocketed to the point where the church must now move from its original building to a much larger one, which will soon be under construction. Its message is to “come, grow, serve, and go” and it serves the local, national and global communities with all sorts of outreach programs. If other churches adopted its approach, I suspect they would be booming in attendance as well, fueling Christianity.

In conclusion, I find it interesting how atheists often challenge the divinity and governance of the Christian God. For example, Christopher Hitchens refers to himself as a “Protestant Atheist.”

Why is the Christian God the God of choice? My suspicion is that the Christian God is the one they know is the most likely to be real. As C.S. Lewis said, “Atheists express their rage against God, although in their view, He does not exist.” As Ray Comfort has added, “Atheists don’t hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don’t exist. It is impossible to hate something that doesn’t exist. Atheists – like the painting experts hated the painter – hate God because He does exist.” According to C.S. Lewis, “We may ignore, but we can in no way evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere, incognito.”

Interestingly, I conducted a poll on Twitter in which I asked atheists the following question: “If shown that God exists, would you follow Him?” Sixteen atheists responded “no.” This answer surprised me, yet offered an explanation for some of the hostility I’ve seen on Twitter from atheists.

Thank you for your time.

References

Lewis, C.S. (2002). The complete C.S. Lewis signature classics. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Dembski, W. A. Science and design. First things: A monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 86: 21-34.
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/does-God-use-evil.html
Got questions? Accessed 1-21-2017 at: https://www.gotquestions.org/sheol-hades-hell.html
Hawking, S. (2017). The Beginning of Time. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
Howell, E. (2015). What is the Big Bang Theory? Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html
Hunt4Truth.com (2014). Scientist debunks Hawking’s ‘No God needed’ theory. Accessed 1-21-2017 at hunt4truth.wordpress.com.
LaRocco, C. & Rothstein, B. (2017). The Big Bang: It sure was Big. Accessed 1-20-2017 at: http://umich.edu/~gs265/bigbang.htm
Lichfield, G. (2015). The science of near-death experiences. The Atlantic. April.
Ross, H. (2016). Improbable Planet: How earth became humanity’s home. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Tozer, A.W. (2006; 1948). The pursuit of God: The human thirst for the divine. USA: First Wingspread Publishers.
Trevors, J.T. & Abel, D.L. (2004). Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biology International, 28: 729-739.
Turek, F. (2015). Stealing from God: Why atheists need God to make their case. USA: NavPress

Why Were Early Christians So Brave?

The intention of the following blog is to offer support for Christians who encounter people who believe Jesus is merely a myth, perpetuated by the early Church. One such mythicist is Dr. Richard Carrier. I have had a number of delightful interactions with Carrier on Twitter, which alerted me to his thoughts on Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. He is an historian with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who has written numerous books and blog posts refuting the existence of Jesus.

Unlike Carrier, supporters of major world religions outside of Christianity do not question Jesus’ existence. For example, Jews and Muslims do not claim that Jesus didn’t exist. While Jews do not accept Jesus’ divinity, they acknowledge His existence and crucifixion. According to Muhammad, Muslims consider Jesus a prophet whom God took to heaven prior to the crucifixion (leading some to conclude that someone else took Jesus’ place on the cross). Carrier denies Jesus walked the earth, stating in his Twitter posts that Christianity was born out of a “hallucination” by Paul of a “celestial Jesus.”

According to Carrier’s webpage, his research focus is on the “origins of Christianity,” yet he has tweeted that the Bible is “propaganda” and the only historical texts one can rely upon are extra-Biblical.

Let’s consider that point. If I were going to write books on the “origins of Muslims,” wouldn’t it make sense for me to incorporate the Quran? If I were going to craft a history of any countries within the Arab region, wouldn’t I want to take the Quran into account? The Quran certainly offers historical accounts of Muhammad, Muslim beliefs, and Sharia law. Muhammad is an extremely influential prophet among Muslims, so excluding him from any discussions about Arab history seems nonsensical. Applying Carrier’s logic to this situation would require that I obtain extra-Quran accounts of Muhammad’s life before admitting he even lived.

Note that the Guinness Book of World Records has indicated: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion” (www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/best-selling-book-of-non-fiction). Furthermore, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages. Such figures indicate strong support for the Bible from all over the globe.

William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”

“Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”

Extensive evidence of the Bible’s historicity exists, derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone inscriptions, and archeological findings from regions described in the Bible. For a more extensive review, visit http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries#ixzz4XfDkyKvG

In addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.

The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).

Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion.”

As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:

  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)

In the Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”

In fact, suffering and martyrdom of the early Christian disciples has been documented by a variety of extra-Biblical sources. Eusebius, the first church historian, wrote Ecclesiastical History in which he speaks to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. He cites Dionysius of Corinth (~ 170 A.D.), Tertullian (~ 200 A.D.) and Origen (~ 240 A.D.) to back his assertions. He also cites Josephus (~ 95 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (~ 200 A.D.), and Hegesippus (~ 170 A.D.) on the martyrdom of James, the half brother of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).

“Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85). In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.

Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul? Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection. It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives. Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.

Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:

  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  2. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  3. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  4. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
  5. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  6. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  7. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  8. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  9. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  10. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  11. Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).

Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist? Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven. Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.

Paul, the author of between six and thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.

In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.

As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”

I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.

Carrier states: “Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”

Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.” Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:1-2: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the scriptures, as noted here:

Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

  1. Isaiah 53:11 “After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied, by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”
  2. Psalm 16:9-11 “Because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You will make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
  3. Psalm 118:22 “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
  4. Isaiah 53: 9-10 “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”

Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):

  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
  2. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
  3. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.

Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”

Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.

  1. People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
  2. People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
  3. Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
  4. Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
  5. Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.

“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).

Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.

According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”

According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.

According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”

Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: (https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html unless otherwise noted).

  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword.
  • Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014).
  • Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014).
  • Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India
  • Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
  • Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
  • James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014).
  • Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014).
  • Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).

Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.

The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world. Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected. Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles. Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.

It’s humbling when one considers the way a humble carpenter, a tax collector, several fishermen, a tentmaker, and others were able to change the world. With God, nothing is impossible. Amen.

Thank you for your time.

“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis

References

Richard Carrier’s full blog is available at http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/9978

Belt, D. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

Craig, W.L. (2016) Two recent archeological discoveries. Accessed February 3, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/two-recent-archaeological-discoveries

Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel  Publications: Grand Rapids, MI.

Johns, C. (2014). Life in the time of Jesus. National Geographic. Jesus and the Apostles. Christianity’s early rise. Special Issue.

Miller, S.M. (2007). The Complete Guide to the Bible. Barbour: Phoenix, AZ. USA.

Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Millennium House: Elanora Heights, Australia

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? An Extension of Penal Substitution Atonement

 

“The people stood watching and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. There was a written notice above Him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Jesus. ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’” – Luke 12:35-41.

“Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” – Psalm 22:16. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34; cf., Psalm 22:1.

Given such mental and physical anguish, people often wonder why the Prince of Peace, Jesus, had to die for our sins and for our salvation. This question is answered through theories of the atonement, which theologians have been developing for centuries. Christian theologians refer to the atonement as the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. The purpose of the following blog is to discuss the atonement theories of ransom, moral influence, and satisfaction/penal substitution and to offer an additional line of reasoning on the latter.

Ransom Theory

In the second century, Irenaeus of Lyons argued in favor of Ransom Theory (aka, Christus Victor and Classical Theory) as a way to explain Jesus’ crucifixion, stating that Jesus was paid as a ransom to Satan (Mattison, 2017). According to Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

However, many Christian scholars question whether Satan deserves to receive such a ransom. Indeed, references to Satan in the Bible refer to him as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), one who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), a deceiver (Revelation 12:9 and 20:3), evil (John 17:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and one who holds people captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).

Furthermore, the LORD has made it clear that He is against Satan:

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” – Ezekiel 13: 8-9.

“He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power” – Daniel 8:25.

From these verses, we understand that the LORD has sovereignty, so elevating Satan to His level by suggesting that the LORD must pay Satan ransom does not follow what the scriptures say of God or Satan.

Church fathers, including Augustine, taught Ransom Theory for centuries until other theories were developed, including Moral Influence Theory by Peter Abelard (1079-1142) and Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory by Anselm (1033-1109).

Moral Influence Theory

Peter Abelard (1079-1142) argued that Christ did not die to satisfy a ransom or for any principle of divine justice. Instead His purpose was to impress humanity with God’s love and to influence humanity toward moral improvement.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” – 1 Peter 2:22.

While these assertions are correct, the theory doesn’t fully explain the atonement and the payment for sins. For this reason, many church fathers and leaders adhere to Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory instead.

Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory

Anselm, a Benedictine monk who was a great philosopher and theologian of his day, argued that Jesus’ life was paid as a debt not to the devil, but to God. Anselm considered sin to be a dishonor to God and since the world’s sinful humanity cannot make sufficient satisfaction to God, God became human to do it on humanity’s behalf. Protestant reformers replaced God’s honor with God’s justice and many churches still adhere to the doctrine today (Mattison, 2017).

Below are two of many scriptural references that support this theory:

“Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was brought on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” – Isaiah 53: 4-5.

“He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; (Isaiah 53:9) by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray (Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6) but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” – 1 Peter 2:24.

In Exodus 12:29, God instructed the Israelite slaves to sacrifice a Passover lamb without blemish in order to spare their sons from the fates met by their Egyptian masters. The sacrifice led to the freedom of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Feast of the Passover is celebrated annually in commemoration of the event.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Like the unblemished Passover lamb, Jesus is free from sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was crucified during the time in which the Passover was observed (Mark 14:12). As the sacrifice of the original lamb led to freedom from slavery, the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover lamb, led to our freedom from the slavery of sin.

“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” – 1 Corinthians 5:7

Over the past century, philosophers, theologians, authors, and others have also offered support for Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory as a way to explain the atonement of Jesus. They include William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Charles Spurgeon.

“Divine Command Morality demands only that God act consistently with His own moral nature. But, arguably, God the Son’s voluntarily bearing of the punishment for sin that we deserved is entirely consistent with God’s nature, for it demonstrates His great love for fallen human beings that He should bear the penalty for sins that they deserved” – William Lane Craig.

“The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is as perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s question, ‘How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?’ is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. The holy suffering on the cross and resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.”

“Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation – you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.”

“Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’ (Ezekiel, 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person, or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got the sentence” – A.W. Tozer

“There was never an ill word spoken, nor an ill thought conceived, nor an evil deed done, for which God will not have punishment from some one or another. He will either have satisfaction from you, or else from Christ. If you have no atonement to bring through Christ, you must forever lie paying the debt which you never can pay, in eternal misery; for as surely as God is God, He will sooner lose His Godhead than suffer one sin to go unpunished, or one particle of rebellion unrevenged.”

“Oh! then, beloved, think how great must have been the substitution of Christ, when it satisfied God for all the sins of His people. For man’s sin God demands eternal punishment; and God hath prepared a Hell into which He casts those who die impenitent. Oh! my brethren, can ye think what must have been the greatness of the atonement which was the substitution for all this agony which God would have cast upon us, if He had not poured it upon Christ” – Charles Spurgeon

“The work of Christ on the cross did not influence God to love us, did not increase that love by one degree, did not open any fount of grace or mercy in His heart. He had loved us from old eternity and needed nothing to stimulate that love. The cross is not responsible for God’s love; rather it was His love which conceived the cross as the one method by which we could be saved. God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us, for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world. God never saw us except through atonement. The human race could not have existed one day in its fallen state had not Christ spread His mantle of atonement over it. And this He did in eternal purpose long ages before they led Him out to die on the hill above Jerusalem. All God’s dealings with man have been conditioned upon the cross.” – A.W. Tozer

“But supposing God became a man – suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person – then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was a man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.” – C.S. Lewis

Jesus Served as Both a Substitute and an Integral Part of Humanity

Consider Jesus’ role as the vine and humanity as its branches. In other words, consider that Jesus is at one with us, so when He was crucified, we and our sins were crucified. He and we are one. He served as both a substitute for us and as an integral part of us as both God and man. The scripture supports these assertions, as noted below.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:1-5.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” – Colossians 3:15.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” Colossians 1:17-20.

Jesus suffered greatly in His human form. Prior to and following His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus performed many miracles, demonstrating His divinity. Following His arrest and during the crucifixion, Jesus performed no miracles. During that period of time, He served as the body of mankind and endured pain and suffering at a very human level. He was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” in silence (Isaiah 53:7) and in a very human way, He endured excruciating pain.

Yet Questions Remain

The above theories offer explanations on the atonement of Jesus, yet questions and issues remain. Ransom Theory gives too much power to Satan, while Moral Influence and Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theories make only inferences of him. Satan’s role shouldn’t be discounted, given the attention he gets throughout the Bible and the way he is essentially the poster child of evil, deceit, lies, lawlessness, and sin. Moral Influence Theory also does not address the way Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, which is an essential element to understanding atonement. The benefit and truth behind Moral Influence Theory is the way it explains Jesus’ positive ethical influence and the way He came to serve as an example to us of the loving and equitable way we should treat humanity.

Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory, which states that LORD substituted Jesus in payment for our sins to the LORD, causes one to question why God needed to make a payment to God for the people He created. Atheists use the latter argument to refute Christianity altogether. They often follow up with a question on why God didn’t simply forgive humanity’s imperfections since He created humans with all said imperfections. Accordingly, Christians need an additional line of reasoning (and defense) to explain the atonement. For this reason, the next portion of this essay is devoted to offering this additional line of reasoning.

One way to answer to the question of why the atonement was necessary is to consider free will. The sins of humanity are the result of God’s gift of free will, which underscores God’s generosity and love in giving such a gift as He knew the implications. He knew that by giving the gift of free will, He would also need to make a tremendous sacrifice to give the gift of eternal life, as free will in a world of temptations and challenges often leads to sin, which leads to death.

“If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having” – C.S. Lewis

Captives of Sin

To provide a second answer, we need to direct our attention for a moment away from the payment to the LORD for the crime (i.e., sin) to focus on the crime itself. Jesus atoned for the sins of humanity. Sin is what binds and holds humanity hostage to the father of all sins, Satan. Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, mankind was imprisoned in death for its sins.

“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” – Matthew 27: 51-53.

The moment Jesus died on the cross was the same moment in which holy people who had passed were freed from captivity, death, and Satan, and raised to eternal life. Jesus had fulfilled the scriptures, such as Isaiah 53, by overcoming the world and redeeming humanity from sins and death.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

According to 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” This verse makes it clear that the devil did not benefit from Jesus’ death and resurrection as Ransom Theory suggests. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Satan expected the resurrection to occur, or he wouldn’t have worked through Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:27).

In his children’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis drew the same conclusion. The great lion in the book, Aslan, who represented Jesus, was killed by the White Witch, who represented  Satan. She and her helpers had strapped the lifeless body of Aslan to a Stone Table, pleased that they had killed him .

“The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colors and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan…they looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.”

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis’ “different incantation” is part of the Old Testament. Around 700 years before Jesus’ death and resurrection, the prophet Isaiah predicted both His suffering and the outcome: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied” – Isaiah 53:10-11.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” – Colossians 2:13-15.

One can only imagine the rage of Satan when he realized Jesus had triumphed and that he had been duped. His schemes in the first three hundred years of Christianity to persecute Christians by guiding Roman Emperors like Nero to torture them also backfired. The bravery of early Christians inspired many conversions and by the time Christianity was legalized  in 313AD, it had between five and six million adherents (Wawro, 2008). By 350AD, 33 million Christians lived in the Roman Empire and Christianity had become a universal religion (Wawro, 2008).

C.S. Lewis notes that “joy is the serious business of heaven,” while the Bible infers that sin is the serious business of hell. While Jesus is the vine, which grows love and life, Satan is the cancer of sin, which leads to death. Through sin, Satan grows his cancer and poisons humanity. Yet he was overcome, likely unexpectedly, through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus overcame the world, Satan, sin, lawlessness, and the cycle of sin, which had bound humanity to Satan.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13.

In summary, Jesus died for us not to pay ransom to the devil but to free us from the ties which bind us to the devil: our sins. He served humanity as the perfect sacrifice without sin, the Passover Lamb, and the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. He also served as the perfect moral influence and the example by which we should all strive to live.

This following logic is offered as a supplement to Satisfaction/Penal Substitution Theory to help explain the atonement of Jesus:

  1. Sin, which is also considered lawlessness, violates the law established by God (1 John 3:4)
  2. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
  3. Satan represents sin and death (cf., Daniel 8:25; 1 Corinthians 26; Ephesians 2:1-2).
  4. We all sin (Romans 3:23)
  5. When we sin, we’re held captive to Satan (2 Timothy 2:26) and death (Romans 6:23)
  6. Sin cannot break the cycle of sin and lawlessness; only one without sin (Jesus) can break the cycle (1 John 3:4); and only one who established the law (the LORD) can shatter lawlessness (Isaiah 33:22) and legal indebtedness (Colossians 2:13-15)
  7. Jesus’ death on the cross freed sinners from sins (1 Peter 2:2; 1 John 3:5), captivity and death (1 John 1:7)
  8. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have eternal life (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:22)
  9. Jesus’ resurrection was a triumph over the powers and authorities of darkness (Colossians 2:13-15).

Thank you for your time.

Bible References

1 John 3:4: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Daniel 8:25” “He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.”

1 Corinthians 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Ephesians 2:1-2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

2 Timothy 2:26: “and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam, all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Isaiah 33:22: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is He who will save us.

1 Peter 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

1 John 3:5: “But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins.”

1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Book and Website References

Craig, W.L. (2017). Philosophical Challenges in the Doctrine of the Atonement. Accessed February 6, 2017 at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/philosophical-challenges-in-the-doctrine-of-the-atonement#ixzz4Xx7AsJbR

Lewis, C.S. (1942; 1980; 2002). Mere Christianity. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. Harper One.

Lewis, C.S. (1950; 1978). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.

Mattison, M. (2017). The Meaning of the Atonement. Accessed February 6, 2017 at http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/openhse/atonement.html

Spurgeon, C. (1858) Particular Redemption. Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. 1858. http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.htm.

Tozer, A.W. (2005; 2009) The Radical Cross. Living the Passion of Christ. Moody Bible Institute

Wawro, J. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World.  Millennium House.