April 27, 2012

How God Lets Us Know He Exists

God lets us know of His existence through two complementary channels rather than just one. Thus I want to describe a “two-pronged” apologetic. Each of these prongs can work without the other one, but they both have different advantages and disadvantages. One prong has the advantage of being immediate and certain, but has the disadvantage of being subjective (in the sense that it can’t be verified by anyone beside yourself.) The other prong has the disadvantage of not immediate and certain—because it takes work and investigation—but it has the advantage of being objective, meaning that it can be examined and tested by other people. Prong A is based on a God-given intuition that He exists. Prong B is based on evidence, including empirical evidence (things we can learn from our senses) and historical evidence.

(Note: In this post I am not talking about the difference between general revelation and special revelation.)

Prong A: God-Given Intuition that He Exists

If God wanted to be certain that everyone knew that He existed, He could use His power to simply “make” everyone know that He exists. He could hard-wire this conviction into our inner being. If God did this, then no one could ever legitimately accuse God of hiding Himself from humanity. Also, it would mean that no one could legitimately accuse God of making it too difficult to know that He exists.

If an all-powerful God exists, then we have to admit that it is at least logically possible that this is something God could do. Now, I am not suggesting that this is true merely because anyone feels it or claims it. Anyone could claim this about any false religion. People can also be mistaken. However, if God does exist and if God chooses to do something like this, then this could be something real and effective.

I do believe that this is exactly what God has done. I believe that He has hard-wired each of us to know that He is there. The Bible hits on this in Romans 1:18-20 as well as Romans 2:15 and Psalm 14:1. This doesn’t mean that we intuitively know everything about Him, but I believe that we all, deep down, know that God exists.

The big drawback of this way of knowing that God exists is that there is no way to prove it to other people. In addition, other people can deny that they have this inner awareness. In fact, the Bible specifically says that people “suppress” this awareness. Romans 1:18-23 teaches that although God made Himself plain to humanity, men suppress this truth. Of course, if everyone really has this awareness, this might be the reason why some atheists work so hard to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. Just because we all know He exists doesn’t mean that everyone likes it.

This way of knowing God is completely effective between God and individual people, but it is ineffective from person to person. God can convince you this way, but I can’t. I can’t cut open my chest and show you that God has put this knowledge in my heart. Likewise, atheists can fervently maintain that they themselves don’t have any deeply suppressed God-given awareness of God. I can’t cut open their heart and show it to them. Atheists can give alternate theories for why most of humanity believes in God. I could point to sociologists and scientists who are starting to believe that our minds are hard-wired to believe in God, but an atheist could claim that this is the result of evolution or other factors. At the same time, an atheist could try to convince me that I merely have a God delusion, but there is no way that he can cut open my heart to show me that either. This does not mean that different people have different truths, but it does mean that we can’t directly prove this to one another.

However, if God does exist and has done this, then this is knowledge that you and I will be accountable for whether we deny it or not. If it is true, then none of us will be able to stand before God and claim that He hid himself or that He made it too hard to know that He is there.

Prong B: God Reveals Himself through Evidence

God has also revealed Himself to humanity in a way that is not just internal. He has also revealed Himself in a way that can be examined objectively, using empirical and historical evidence, and presented to other people. While prong A was immediate and certain, prong B take effort and investigation.  However, prong B has the advantage that it is something that can be presented to other people and examined by other people.  God gives us certainty with prong A and evidence with prong B. 

God-Given Internal Conviction that He Exists
God Reveals Himself through Evidence
Takes effort and investigation
Certainty (although it can be suppressed)
Relative certainty at best (doubts always possible)
Available to all
Not everyone has access to all information
Private (cannot be examined by others)
Public (can be examined by others)

There are several disadvantages to this second avenue. First, this method takes a great deal of effort. Not everyone can or will exert this effort. Second, not everyone has access to all the relevant information. This was especially true in earlier eras of history. Also, this method cannot lead to absolute certainty. There is always something that a hardnosed skeptic could question. This is especially important when we remember that fallen human beings are not morally neutral about the question of the existence of God.

On the other hand, this avenue has some great advantages. Unlike internal intuition, evidence is something that can be shared with others. It is public. Other people can examine the same facts along with us. We can look at these things and discuss them together.

This is also something very helpful for those of us who already admit the belief in God. Without public evidence, one might wonder if their internal conviction is merely a delusion. External evidence and arguments help to strengthen our faith by seeing that there are reasons for what we already believe. Biblical faith is not blind faith.

In further posts we will explore these reasons in greater detail, but for now let me give you a summary of a non-circular argument for belief in the God of the Bible.

Overview  of a Case for God

1.    It makes sense to believe in God. There are strong reasons to believe that God, or at least something like God, exists. These reasons include arguments from the origin of the universe, the design of the universe, the existence of real moral standards, and the fact of human self-consciousness. At the very least, these reasons demonstrate that it is not crazy talk to think that God might exist. In fact, it makes very good sense. Also, if it is possible that God exists, then it is possible for God to interact with our world. This means that miracles are possible and should not be dismissed out of hand.

2.    Next, the New Testament documents are generally reliable historical documents. Contrary to the claims of some skeptics, the texts of the Bible have been accurately transmitted to us. We have over 5,700 handwritten copies of the Greek New Testament. This is far more than other ancient manuscripts. The time gap between the original writings and the earliest existing copies is far less than other ancient manuscripts. Finally, the texts were carefully copied. There were multiple lines of transmission ensuring that no one could person or group could have changed the text. The small amount of variations can be eliminated by comparing copies with each other. Also, the documents have earmarks of historical honesty and accuracy. This includes detailed knowledge of the culture and geography, embarrassing details, hard sayings and unpopular teachings, and other details they would not have invented. (Please note carefully, at this point in the conversation I am not claiming to prove that the Bible is the flawless Word of God. Please notice this so that you don’t give a wrongful accusation of circular reasoning.)

3.    Using historical evidence, including the generally reliable New Testament documents, history and logic show that Jesus had a tomb that was empty on the Sunday after He was buried. The best explanation for this is that Jesus rose from the dead, just as He had predicted. Other explanations do not stand up under scrutiny. (Remember, no one should claim this is “impossible” unless one has already assumed that God does not exist. That would be circular reasoning.)

4.    Finally, if Jesus rose from the dead, it validates His claim to be the God of the Old Testament. In addition, if Jesus really is God, then His view of the Bible is correct. (God wouldn’t be wrong about the Bible.) And since the generally reliable New Testament documents show us that Jesus viewed Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, this is the view of the Bible that we should have as well.

If God exists, this fact changes everything about the meaning of your life. These questions are worth your time exercising a few brain cells and searching your conscience. 

Faith with Reasons
The Universe: Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?

April 13, 2012

Faith With Reasons

Why doesn't everybody believe in God?
Did you ever wonder if you would be a Christian if you were born in India? I remember asking myself that when I was younger. If you were born in a Christian home, maybe you’ve had that thought as well. Are there reasons to believe the Christian worldview, or is that merely the result of what someone is brought up to believe? Is Christianity just a leap in the dark, or are there reasons to believe?

Some Christians think it is a lack of faith to have these kinds of questions, but I think it is natural and healthy. When I thought through these questions, I came to answers that helped me realize that there really was something to Christianity. Seeing the reasons why this worldview made sense made my belief stronger. Likewise, if you’re not a Christian I hope you care enough to seriously think about these things.  The whole meaning of our existence, and eternity, changes depending on what the truth is about God.

“Apologetics” is the discipline of giving a reasonable answer or defense for Christian belief. This word doesn’t mean to “apologize” in the modern sense. Instead, it means “to give an answer” in the sense of 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” This article is the first in a series that will give a basic overview of the reasons for believing in the reality of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. However, before we can launch into the reasons there are some things we need to say first.

1. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
If God is real, why doesn’t everyone believe in Him? Why are there atheists? The Bible answers this question in the opposite way that you might expect. We usually describe “atheists” as people who don’t believe in God, but according to the Bible, God doesn’t believe in atheists. I’m not saying this to be cute. Look at what Romans 1:18-20 teaches:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Notice some of the key words in these verse: “made known,” “plain,” clearly seen,” “being understood,” and “without excuse.” What this passage teaches is that—at least deep down—everyone knows that God exists. The reason for this is that God Himself “has made it plain to them.” God has designed us so that we are automatically aware that God is real. It is as if this sense of God has been hardwired in our hearts.  Another way to think about it is as if we’re built with automatic God-detectors that look at God’s creation and detect His presence just as a smoke detector detects smoke. We can look at the stars or our own hard and infer that there must be something behind all of this.  I think this explains why the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in some sort of God. Even today in America, between 85% and 90% of people believe in some sort of God.

This doesn’t mean that anyone can look at the mountains and know that Jesus Christ is the person of the Trinity who became fully man while still remaining fully God so that He could die on the cross as a substitute for all who will place their faith in Him as their sin-bearer. We need special revelation to know that. What we can know from creation is more basic: there is a God, He must be powerful and intelligent, and we owe Him our obedience.

2. Sinners suppress the truth that is plain to them.
But still, you ask, why are there atheists if this passage is true? Look at what this passage also says. It says that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” We all have some knowledge of the true God, but we suppress it; we push it down and deny it because we don’t like that truth. The passage goes on in verses 21-23 to say that we substitute our knowledge of the true God with ideas of our own making. The real God terrifies us so we try to substitute Him with something more comfortable—something more to our liking that we can control. This explains why most people who believe in God do not believe in the true God of the Bible. We’re aware that God is holy and that we are sinful. These feelings of guilt make us want to run from God rather than running to Him.

Suppressing the knowledge of God is like a little boy trying to hide a dog from his parents by stuffing it in a hamper. The more it barks, the more we have to push it down. This explains why some atheists have so much anger while denying a God they claim doesn’t exist. As it has been said, there are two things that many atheists believe: (1) There is no God. (2) I hate Him.

Still, we all have enough true knowledge of God to make us accountable to Him. If these verses are true, no one on Judgment Day is going to be able to say, “God, I would have believed in You, but I had no idea that you were there!”  God will say, “You had some knowledge of Me? What did you do with it? You didn’t seek after more truth—You squandered what I gave you and did what you wanted to do.”

3. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem.
When I was young I thought I could write a book answering every possible objection to Christianity. People would read it and they would have to believe. Now I realize how foolish that idea was. Unbelief is more of a heart problem than a head problem. Sure, there are intellectual obstacles that people have, but even when they are cleared away it does not mean that people will want to believe in the real God. The Israelites that God brought through the Red Sea had plenty of reasons to believe that God was real, but they still turned away from Him. We are rebels. The real God makes people uncomfortable and cramps our style. You can know that God exists but not like Him.

4. Nobody is neutral.
People can always find some sort of smokescreen excuse not to believe in God.  This means that just because someone doesn’t accept some of the evidence for God that there is a problem with the evidence. If Romans 1 is true, then we are not impartial judges. We have reasons of the heart that keep us from looking at the evidence clearly. We tend to see what we want to see. Don’t expect yourself or anyone you talk to to be neutral. If God exists, then He is the real judge. Don’t try to take over His job.

5. Don’t have unreasonable standards for certainty.
There are not many things that we can know with absolute, mathematical certainty. You can know that you yourself exist, and that  2 + 2 = 4, but beyond that there is always some remote possibility that you are being deceived. Some people can find a way to doubt anything—that George Washington existed, or that the sky is blue. If you’re skeptical enough, I couldn’t even prove to you that I really exist. Even if I come to your house and hit you upside the head, you could still claim that maybe you’re in the Matrix or high on acid. Still, we never demand that level of certainty with other things in life. If you intentionally run over some people with your car, you’re going to go to jail. It won’t help if your attorney claims that maybe those people were holograms. In the same way, don’t think that you will be off the hook with God just because you think some bizarre loophole might still be possible.

6. Our attitude should be described as faith seeking understanding.
There is a difference between asking questions and questioning. Having questions about Christianity isn’t a bad thing as long as you are seeking answers, not excuses.  Christians should have the attitude of Anselm of Canterbury who wrote, “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.” Having this attitude keep us from forgetting that God is the judge, not us.

7. Doubt Your Doubts
Some people have a superhuman ability to doubt everything about Christianity. But what if those same people applied as much effort in doubting the alternatives to Christianity? You have to believe in something. If you think that the Christian worldview is wrong, then what do you replace it with? Skeptics should invest as much effort in doubting their own worldviews, not just Christianity. Personally, this is a main reason that I think the Christian worldview is true. I can’t bring myself to consistently believe in anything else. If Christianity isn’t true, then I assume materialism would be. But when I’ve tried to seriously imagine that we are all nothing more than physical and chemistry, thrown together by accident with no purpose—I can’t believe it. I can’t consistently believe that love, goodness, and beauty are just chemicals in my brain. I can’t believe that I can be self-aware if I’m nothing more than an advanced calculator. And I can’t believe that this all came about with no design. I doubt the alternative to Christianity more than I doubt Christianity. It has the least contradictions, the least problems, the best evidence, and the most power to explain all of reality. We should believe whatever complete worldview makes the most sense.

If God exists, He could let us know that he exists just by planting this knowledge within us. He could also let us know that He exists by giving us evidence. I believe that He has done both of these things. We will think about that more in the next post.

How God Lets Us Know He Exists
The Universe; Caused, Self-Caused, or Uncaused?
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