First of all, let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Yes, I cribbed the title of this post from a Slipknot lyric, and no, I am not going to tell you which song. I would much prefer you do a deep dive through their discography and discover the wonders of their music on your own. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I think it’s time to get serious and address one of the single biggest stumbling blocks that stands in the way of the average person believing in any kind of benevolent divine power, let alone the Christian God.
War. Poverty. Disease. Mysterious rashes. Broken relationships. Depression. Suicide. Starvation. If God exists, then He has to be omniscient and omnipotent; after all, He created us, so He would have to know what was going on with us and also must have the power to do something about it. Surely the being who ostensibly created the universe could extend His hand and, say, stop genocide or reverse a famine. After all, just look at the plagues He supposedly rained down on Egypt in the name of his chosen people, the Israelites. It’s not like God can’t or won’t get involved in human affairs (we assume), so we can conclude that either He doesn’t exist or He does exist but doesn’t care about what’s going on down here.
I’ve mentioned this in a few previous posts, but I think we generally tend to think that these sorts of atheistic or God-questioning ideas are new, born of 19th and 20th century thinkers like Nietzsche and bred by the leaps and bounds being made in technology, science, and social justice. God hasn’t poked his fingers down from the clouds to stop coronavirus; in fact, the only effective impediment to its spread so far has been a man-made vaccine. In a world like this, what need do we have for a God that seemingly isn’t interested in helping us when we need it most? Believe me, pal – you weren’t the first one to have this thought. It’s been bounced around for millennia. In Psalm 14, written around 1000 BC, David discusses the types of people who say, “There is no God.” Clearly, this is a question that all theists must grapple with – does God exist, and does he care about us?
There is a subcategory of theology that I’ve been interested in lately called “natural theology.” Just like the atheistic ideas I was talking about in the previous paragraph, natural theology has been around for about as long as humans have looked skyward and wondered, “Why?” To boil it down to its rawest form, natural theology consists of arguing for the existence of God by using the natural world as evidence. The ancients looked at it thusly: the Sun rises and sets, the waves lap at the shore, the wind blows the grass, the rain pelts the crops. There must be some force setting all of these events in motion, and the fact that they happen regularly and predictably demonstrate that there is a divine puppet master pulling the strings and calling the shots.
Of course, we now laugh at this idea…right? Well, not quite. Even with the incredible advancements we’ve made in the past few centuries concerning our understanding of the natural world, the argument has only been strengthened for an Intelligent Creator. As it stands in 2021, we can cure disease, we can treat life-threatening injuries, we can even perform head transplants. It is no secret that we’ve solved a lot of problems that come with life, but we’ve actually yet to crack the biggest problem of them all – where, exactly, did life come from, and how did it begin?
Scientists remain stumped by this question, with each decade bringing a new theory that is quickly disproved. Take the Oparin-Haldane theory as an example, first posited in the 1920s. The theory consists primarily of the idea that life can actually start spontaneously, given that there is an adequate amount of ultraviolet radiation coming from the Sun and the proper atmospheric conditions of ammonia and water vapor. Life as we know it, according to the theory, began in the oceans, subsisting on nutrients that existed on the early Earth. Phew, that was easy. Problem solved, right?
Hm, not quite. Even in this proposed scenario, think about everything that has to go just right to create life. The Sun has to be exactly the correct temperature and distance from the Earth to give that precise level of ultraviolet radiation. The levels of ammonia and water vapor in the atmosphere have to actually lower on their own so that the conditions on Earth aren’t hostile to organic life. Then, by some stroke of magic, once organisms begin to appear there have to be nutrient blocks already existing on the Earth that can sustain them. The chances of all of this happening by luck are so small that you would run out of pencils trying to write enough zeroes, and that’s just on Earth! What about the universe?
Well, it is a similar story. Physicist Freeman Dyson famously said, “As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.” If gravitational laws were just a little different, for example, the universe would be uninhabitable. The degree of fine tuning required is so precise that it is as close to impossible as any event can get. Just to hit you with another quote, here’s one from Stephen Hawking: “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed before it even reached it’s present size.” Besides the laws of gravity, there are actually nineteen universal constants that must be perfectly fine-tuned for the universe to support life. The odds are that we shouldn’t be here at all.
Atheism tends to explain this away with the multiverse theory. Actually, it is hypothesized, there are an infinite number of universes, and we are just living in the one that happened to get all of these conditions right. The problem for this argument is the lack of evidence. We currently live in our universe. We can observe it, we can observe our world, and we know what universal constants are needed to support life here. There is exactly zero evidence to support the idea of infinite universes, but plenty of evidence to support the idea that our luck as a species is akin to a 100-year-old man winning the lottery every day of his life, over and over again for thousands of lifetimes.
Sure, But What Kind of God?
With this in mind, it isn’t too difficult to come to the understanding that there is at least some force of creation in the universe, some guiding hand that set things up the way that they are. The real question is whether or not this “God” is a personal God, a God who cares about us and has real agency in our lives. While we can use science to argue fairly convincingly for an Intelligent Creator, we can’t use it in the same way to argue that this Intelligent Creator is compassionate or involved. What we can do, however, is quickly look to the Bible.
This is probably the part where you roll your eyes. “I was with you on the universe stuff,” you might say, “but of course you have to go and drag the Bible into it.” I mean, the website is called John’s Apologetics with a little cross emblem next to the title tag, so I’m not really sure what you were expecting. One of the greatest things about the Bible, besides the fact that it is a single, coherent narrative written over thousands of years by dozens of authors that ultimately culminates in Jesus Christ, is that it doesn’t sugarcoat anything about the character of God or the character of humanity. Let’s dive into that a bit, because I think both sides of the coin are equally important.
I think we all know a thing or two about the character of humanity. We’re a pretty rotten bunch, after all. We have the potential to do nice stuff sometimes, but if you turn on the news or flip through social media for even a minute you will be faced with the type of behavior that makes you consider a hermetic existence somewhere deep in the hills. We are selfish, we are greedy, we are spiteful, and we tend to value our own pleasure and comfort above all else. This isn’t an exercise in self-loathing, I’m simply stating the truth.
What about God? After all, the Bible says that we were “created in His image,” so he must be pretty rotten too. Throughout the Old Testament especially, God does some pretty questionable stuff – killing the Egyptian firstborns? Asking Abraham to sacrifice his son? What about the whole Job situation? Sure, there is a lesson to be learned in each of these stories, and you’ve probably had a holier-than-thou Christian try to impart them to you during a time of struggle in your life. “Let go and let God,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” “God is just calling another angel to heaven,” etc. These empty cliches do more harm than good, and it’s really not helpful to think of a tough time in your life as a “test from God,” that is going to make you stronger or more faith-driven. Sometimes, terrible stuff happens, and there isn’t really a reason for it.
The assertion of most, then, is that the world is filled with pointless evil. It lurks around us every day, and if God existed or cared about us, he would do something to stop it. This is interesting to me mostly because of what it suggests about an atheistic worldview. Going back to the “creation was a random accident,” idea, this would then align to some degree with Darwinism to suggest ultimately that our current rational state and cognitive view of the world grew out of this accidental creation and continuously evolved accidentally over the history of our species. Isn’t it an enormous symbol of trust in your own cognitive abilities to call any evil “pointless”? Many consider religion to be blind faith, but this seems to be the biggest act of blind faith there is.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that we must distrust our entire conception of reality. Without that bedrock of agreed reality, everything is meaningless. We can agree that the sky is blue, water is wet, rocks are hard, etc. However, when it comes to the grander philosophical issues, it seems a bit arrogant to assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil in the world, they would be accessible to our minds.
There are those cases of suffering in your life that you look back on and say, “Well, that was pretty bad at the time, but in retrospect it was good because it was an impetus for positive growth and change.” That definitely happens, but there are also plenty of times where you suffer (or humanity suffers) and there is no immediately obvious reason, no matter how hard we look. Perhaps I am getting too much into the question of suffering, and perhaps it is a better topic for its own blog post. I will, however, leave us here with a quote from my favorite Dutchman, theologian Alvin Platinga:
“Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness if there was no God and we just evolved [blindly]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say that there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (and not just an illusion of some sort) then you have a powerful….argument for the reality of God.”
I Get It! But Does He CARE?
Alright, alright, I’m getting to the point! I like to take my time, sue me. As a Christian, of course I believe in a loving and caring God. He emptied Himself and became human to carry the our burden and die on the cross to bring us into closer communion with Him. How could we love a God that we can’t relate to and who can’t relate to us? Through Christ, the relationship is a two-way street.
Even a cursory read-through of the Bible will reveal God as compassionate and intimately intertwined with human affairs. He chose the Israelites as his people to act as a guiding light – other groups of people would see what God was doing for the Israelites and come to Him in worship. It didn’t quite work out this way, and even with God’s best efforts, the Israelites embraced their fallen nature as humans and turned from Him. In the end, God came and fulfilled the promise of Israel in human form, opening the covenant between God and Israel to be between God and all of mankind. If that isn’t ultimate love, I am not sure what is. Jesus himself says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
If you don’t believe in Christ, however, then obviously none of this really matters and it certainly doesn’t pose a convincing argument. Again, there is no scientific way I can prove that God cares. This brings us back to natural theology, on which my main points rest. The scope of natural theology that I’m referring to isn’t just the Earth around us, but who we are as humans – I think our nature and our daily existence more than points to a compassionate and involved creator.
Consider how unique your life is, how unique you are. In all the vastness of the universe, and all the tens of thousands of years of human existence, there has never been another human being quite like you. Your face is unique, your body is unique, your personality is unique. You might have a celebrity doppelganger, but I promise, there are no exact copies of you walking around anywhere. This uniqueness is, well….unique to us as humans. Not only are we designed to be unique, we are meant to work together and thrive not in spite of our uniqueness but because of it. If we all brought the same thing to the table, the world as we know it simply wouldn’t be.
I hope you haven’t misconstrued any of my points in this article as arguments against evolution – I would like to clarify that I believe in evolution, evolution guided by God. If evolution was blind, what purpose would there be for unique beings? Why would we have evolved this way? Look around you at the animal kingdom – wouldn’t it make more sense for us to operate as a hivemind, nearly identical physically and in our basic goals and mindsets? Ants are much more efficient than we are! And yet, that’s not what you see in humans. What you see is evidence for a creator who not only cares, but who cares enough about each of us to set us apart. If we have been set apart, it isn’t too far of a logical leap to conclude that a personal relationship with our creator is possible.
We have logic, and thought, and free will. Even despite our flaws, God loves us enough and respects us enough as unique beings to allow us to make our own decisions, even when they hurt us. I’ll invite you once again to look at the animal kingdom – animals kill all the time! They take sex as they need it and don’t place any great importance on it, they murder as needed with no moral quandaries, they steal from each other in the name of survival without so much as an argument. This is the brutal way of evolution and nature on our planet, so why aren’t we the same way? The answer, and the reason why we have looked to the heavens for answers throughout our history, is because we all innately have an understanding of the existence of a compassionate creator whose moral bedrock is reflected in us. We can fight this instinct as much as we want, we can say it’s all random, but to quote Saint Augustine, “You have prompted [man], that he should delight to praise You, for You have made us for Yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in You.” There is no greater fulfillment than the fulfillment that comes from knowing God, the Intelligent Creator.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post, and as always, feel free to reach out with comments, ideas, disputes, anything at all. Until next week…