Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Belief, Part 1: God

“There's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!” -- George Carlin

The idea of God sounds a little crazy, on the same level as a fairy tale (or a horror movie after reading the above quote by the comedian George Carlin). One of the reasons I enjoy apologetics, theology and philosophy is that is requires me to continually immerse myself in my religion beyond the cursory. Faith and belief are not easy at times. As George Hanson once said, “The difficulties of belief are great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.” In the end, I think belief is the most reasonable position to hold, as opposed to atheism or agnosticism.

After several years of wrestling with the concept, I ultimately came to the conclusion that God was real and that He revealed Himself through Jesus Christ. On one hand, I wish coming to that conclusion were as easy as writing this sentence. On the other hand, nothing in my life that is of value is easy – my marriage, fatherhood, and, yes this includes my belief in God.

I am writing this blog post as a means to explain why I believe in the existence of a god. This is not an exhaustive explanation and will only (briefly) touch on some of concepts that have been influential to me. I will look at the Bible and Christ in a future post.

Good and Evil

Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within.” Kant makes a profound point with which I would agree. Where we part ways, however, is when we look at the origins of the awe inspiring (Kant did not believe is a god).

Witnessing an injustice brings about a profound anger inside of me. When someone is hurt, I want to protect the victim and see the perpetrator held to account for his actions. When I witness an act of kindness or bravery, it brings a smile to my face. Why is this so? There are certain actions in life that humans look upon in disgust, while there are other actions that we find admirable. The idea of right and wrong, or good and evil, just and unjust is cross-cultural. In other words, if I spend time with another culture, I would see, to some degree or another, many similar standards or norms in place. This is especially the case with the concept of “fairness.”

Is the human idea of good and evil merely genetic, handed down via the evolutionary process, or is there a different explanation? In my eyes, the evolutionary explanation fails in many areas (I touched on this is a previous post). For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? There has to be a better explanation.

Our universe is governed by certain laws or constants, such as gravity. Could it be that the idea of good and evil is a similar law for humanity? Before we say no, read what C.S. Lewis said on the subject, “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 cooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe to when I called in 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? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because he is not a water animal; a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove God did not exist—in other words, that the whole reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. This atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should have never found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

If there is not a god, can there be such a thing as an objective right and wrong? The idea of morality presupposes right and wrong -- but whose definition are we using? If we are using a human definition, then right and wrong is subjective and anything goes, as long as most people feel it is okay. In essence, morality changes with the times. God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). My argument is that a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil. A humanistic concept of good/evil is only temporal and thus changes.

It is important to note, that I do not believe in God simply because the alternative would mean the subjectivity of good and evil. Quite the opposite. There are things that are intrinsically wrong (mala in se). If there are acts that are wrong, in and of themselves, how can good and evil be subjective? We can never argue that evil acts by brutal people (such as Hitler or child rapists) are good. As such, evil cannot change with the times, not should it. The fact that humans have what some would call a moral compass, which biology fails miserably to explain, should raise a lot of questions about the origin of such a compass.

The Beauty of Mathematics and the Cosmos

I mentioned earlier the idea of scientific laws or constants, such as gravity. There are many constants in place on our planet and in our universe that are vital to life. Given the preciseness of the constants, some would argue that the existence of life sits on a razor’s edge.

Dr. Francis Collins notes, “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory in unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal…In sum our universe is wildly improbable.”

Astronomer Dr. Martin Rees once said, “The expansion speed, the material content of the universe, and the strengths of basic forces, seem to have been a prerequisite for the emergence of the hospitable cosmic habitat in which we live.” He notes that if there were the slightest tweaking of the numbers, “The universe as we know it would not be here.” Further, the mere placement of our plant within our solar system and within our universe is strikingly fortuitous. Along these lines, atheist author Richard Dawkins once said, "It is such a privilege to be born at all" and that his birth was an "improbable event."

Additionally, the mathematics and formulas behind many of these scientific principles are extraordinary beautiful. Some have even called them, “elegant in their simplicity.” The more we dig into science and mathematics, the more we see beauty at the most infinitesimal levels. Nobel-prize winning physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg once said, “Sometimes nature seems more beautiful that strictly necessary.”

God in the Gaps

The fact that we are here is startling. The fact we have the ability comprehend ourselves and analyze what is going on around is also amazing. The fact that once we dig down into our environment we see a great deal or order and beauty would almost be humorous, if it wasn’t so fascinating.

There appears to something working in our universe beyond random chance. The existence of good and evil, coupled with the staggering improbabilities of life as we know it, lead me to keep my mind open about the existence of a god (there are other concepts that help me, but for relative brevity, I focused on these two).

One may look at what I have written an accuse me of using “God in the gaps” reasoning (if one can’t find a scientific answer, attribute the act to ‘God’). Collins also commented on this subject noting, “Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps…There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.” In short, I let the evidence lead me to my conclusion, rather than the other way around.

My subsequent post on the Bible and Christ will show how God has revealed Himself to His creation, beyond the general revelation outlined here. These general (natural) and specific (Biblical) revelations, in my opinion, are overwhelming evidence that God is real.

At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.

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