Challenges To Belief In God

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Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft quotes Thomas Aquinas as saying the two greatest challenges to belief in a loving creator God are  -

  • The APPARENT ABILITY OF SCIENCE TO EXPLAIN EVERYTHING IN NATURALISTIC TERMS

  • The PROBLEM OF EVIL & SUFFERING IN THE WORLD

The Apparent Ability of Science to Explain Everything in Naturalistic Terms

Stephen Hawking in his book The Grand Design claimed that science has shown there is no need for God as an explanaton of the origins of the universe and mankind. The Big Bang was the inevitable consequence of the laws of science:

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

"Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

As Ravi Zacharias has pointed out

"Hawking’s statement is itself a philosophical statement. It is manifestly not a statement of science; it is a philosophical statement about science. Therefore, because it says that philosophy is dead, it contradicts itself."

Furthermore he adds: "Hawking’s statement quoted above: “Because there is a law of gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing...” clearly assumes that gravity (or perhaps only the law of gravity?) exists. That is not nothing. So the universe is not created from nothing."

He goes on:

"When Newton discovered his law of gravitation he did not say, “Now I have gravity, I don’t need God.” What he did was to write Principia Mathematica, the most famous book in the history of science, expressing the hope that it would “persuade the thinking man” to believe in God. The laws of physics can explain how the jet engine works but not how it came to exist in the first place. It is self-evident that a jet engine could have not have been created by the laws of physics on their own—that task needed the intelligence and creative engineering work of Whittle. Indeed, come to think of it, the laws of physics plus Frank Whittle could not on their own produce a jet engine. There needs additionally to be some material around the place that is subject to those laws and that can be worked on by Whittle. For, not only did scientists not put the universe there, neither did science or the laws of mathematical physics."

In other words the fact that scientific discoveries based on mathematical laws have given us developments that have enabled men to travel to the moon and back or to send probes to the furthest reaches of the known universe is evidence that these are the creation of Someone outside our human understanding and beyond man's control or claim to omniscience.

The Problem Of Evil & Belief In A God Of Love

The classic formulation of the problem of evil is

Either  If God is all loving, why does he allow evil and suffering?
Or        If God is all powerful, why does he not do something about evil and suffering?

This appears to be a powerful argument against the existence of a God, who is supposed to be all powerful (omnipotent) and all-loving (omnibenevolent).

One problem is that it assumes God has not already demonstrated both these aspects of his character. What is needed is not some high-sounding metaphysical argument but actual demonstrable, objective evidence. And unsurprisingly, God has not been found wanting in either of these areas for those who have not already made up their minds to deny his existence for their own reasons and based on their own worldviews.

The False Claim Of Conflict Between Scientific Endeavour & Religious Belief

For centuries it has been claimed by some that there is a real conflict between scientific endeavour and religious belief, especially Christian belief in a Creator God. It must be noted that not all scientists have held this view, as evidenced most notably by men like Galileo, Newton, Pascal  and James Clerk Maxwell. It is fashionable to claim that science and religion are in conflict, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary from the work of Nobel laureates and other scientists of distinction who are Christians. The problem comes when some like Dawkins claim that only lesser mortals could possibly be deluded enough to believe in a supernatural Being, thus belittling the work of famous scientists across the generations.

The Clash of Scientific Anti-Supernaturalism vs Scientific, Theistic Supernaturalism

The real clash, as John Lennox noted in his GOD'S UNDERTAKER: Has Science Buried God?, is not between scientific endeavour, which has brought mankind a multitude of benefits as well as problems, and religious belief, but between Naturalism and Theism  -  in other words, between those scientists like Atkins, Dawkins and Hawking, who claim that a naturalistic, anti-supernaturalist worldview is the only one tenable for those of any intellectual capacity, and those like Collins, Lennox, McGrath and Polkinghorne, who hold that the universe and everything in it cannot have come about either as a result of spontaneous generation or through the intellectual abilties of human beings but through the existence of a supreme creative Being  -  God  -  of supernatural power and intelligence, who created the very laws upon which the universe depends.

The so-called laws of mathematics governing the working of the universe from its inception have been waiting to be discovered by human beings who are neither immortal nor omniscient.

The Role Of Evil & Suffering In The Debate

It is perhaps significant that some of those who espouse a naturalistic worldview do so because of the reality of evil and suffering. Chief among these is Charles Darwin who wrote movingly about how  he lost all joy he once had in music, poetry or the beauty of nature after the death of his daughter Annie at age ten and one can sympathise with the views of those who often say they could never believe in a God of love who allowed such pitiless cruelty.

The Bible in fact has much to say about unjust suffering and belief in God, most notably the account of Joseph's life in GENESIS, The Book of JEREMIAH and The Book of JOB, which charts many of the futile attempts to explain what is ultimately a mystery where joys and sorrows deeply mingle. Perhaps most poignantly of all is PSALM 22, the first and last lines of which Jesus quoted as he hung dying on the Cross. 

Dawkins' Demand For Evidence

In characteristically belligerent fashion Dawkins has written: 

"Next time somebody says to you that something is true, why not say to them "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say."  (Richard Dawkins A Devil's Chaplain  London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003 p248

Interestingly, Dawkins himself dismisses the idea of examining any evidence that might contradict his own particularly bilious view of the world and people of faith in particular. He is especially dismissive of fellow scientists,  like Alister McGrath or John Polkinghorne, who have taken the trouble to look at the evidence for God and unlike Dawkins are academically qualified in both science and theology.

John Lennox writes:

"Taking Dawkins' own advice, where is the evidence that religious faith is not based on evidence?"

So one must take Dawkins' demand and say that in the light of his failure to look at the evidence, we can't believe a word he says.

The Answer To The Challenges Of Science & Suffering 

The reality is God has already given us the evidence Dawkins claims he needs in an OBJECTIVE form which one can either accept or reject. The one thing one cannot argue is that there is no evidence or that it is dependent on the particular worldview or the subjective, anecdotal experiences of individuals.

The Challenge To Scientific Anti-Supernaturalism

is to provide the evidence to show how the vastness and power observed in the known universe or the mysterious laws of mathematics and physics governing the universe came about as a result either of spontaneous generation or man's claim to scientific omniscience. Only a supernatural Creator God could create a universe that shows all the evidence of intelligent design in the midst of apparent chaos.

Paul writing to Christians in Rome in the first century AD wrote:

ROMANS 1:18-23  

God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools (morons). Instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshipped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.(New Living Translation)

The Challenge to the Argument about Evil & Suffering

is to be seen in the objective, historical evidence of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

•  Jesus' totally innocent and barbaric death shows a God of love has entered into the evil and suffering of the world

•  Jesus' resurrection from the dead proved his control even of the cause of all human pain and despair  -  the reality of sin, suffering and death  as he promised.

PSALM 62:1-2  God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: POWER, O God, belongs to you;  unfailing LOVE, O Lord, is yours. 

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