Posts Tagged ‘atheism’


Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 1)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

“How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  It’s one of those questions that almost every Christian dreads, especially when it’s asked of him or her by a friend, a family member, or a co-worker.  When confronted by it, it seems that most Christians either end up compromising the answer, or else they end up running away from the question altogether.  Why?  I think that there are a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s an extremely emotional question.  If the person asking this question has already lost someone close to them, the thought of their friend or loved one spending eternity in hell is so overwhelming that one cannot dwell on it for very long.  The second reason that many Christians are afraid to face up to this question is because it seems like a blatant contradiction.  After all, it’s become so popular these days to talk about a loving God, there seems to be something terribly inconsistent about suggesting that this same God will actually allow people to go to a literal hell-  forever.

            As I said, at first glance, this question sounds like a contradiction, but when properly understood, there is no contradiction at all.  When a skeptic or an unbeliever asks me this question, the first thing that I ask them is why do they believe that God is loving?  In other words, what are they basing that on?  How do they know that God is loving?  Is it something that they just arbitrarily made up on their own, or do they have good, sound reasons for believing something like that?  It’s an important question because most people just assume that the idea of a loving God is central to most religions, but that’s not the case at all.  A survey of most of the world’s major religions will reveal that the concept of a loving, personal God is nowhere to be found.  For example, the idea of a loving God cannot be found in Buddhism because Buddhism does not believe in a personal God to begin with, yet love must necessarily come from a person. 

            As it turns out, the only way that anyone can speak about a loving, personal God, and do so with any degree of certainty, is if they are willing to begin with the Bible as a reliable, authoritative source of truth.  However, if they’re going to use the Bible as their starting point, even if only for the sake of discussion (as a skeptic), they forfeit the right to pick and choose which attributes of God they like in the Bible and which ones they don’t like.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that even though God is loving, he has other attributes as well.  It goes on to tell us that God is also perfectly righteous and holy.  Even the unbeliever can appreciate the fact that if God is so “loving” that he never punishes evil, then God is not a just judge- he is not a good judge.  Even the skeptic would not respect a God who is so careless or irresponsible with his love that he would allow all of the evil in this world to go unpunished.  So, while it may sound like a contradiction to ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell, there is nothing at all contradictory about a God who is also perfectly holy, just, and righteous allowing someone to go to hell.

            This leads me to my closing thought.  While the question of hell and a loving God involves no contradiction on God’s part, it does, however, expose a glaring contradiction on the part of the skeptic who asks this question.  Those who ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell are oftentimes the very same people who will later ask how a loving God could allow so much evil in our world.  In other words, according to them, if God is loving, he should not punish evil (in hell), yet at the same time, they believe that if God is loving, he should punish the evil and injustice that we see going on in our world-  a contradiction, for sure. 

            In my next post, I want to continue with this topic as we explore the reasons why so many people object to the idea of hell and why their objections don’t add up.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Theology | 1 Comment »

It’s A Matter Of Which Bias Is The Best Bias To Be Biased With

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

In my previous post I made mention of an editorial, written by a local high school student, which was published in his school’s newspaper.  I went on to explain that the author of the editorial had expressed a great deal of skepticism with regard to Christianity, the Bible, and the existence of God.  The reason that I decided to use his article as a springboard for discussion is because he raised some very important questions and objections that frequently come up in conversation whenever the topic of Christianity is being discussed. 

          One of the many issues that he raises is the idea that science has not only discredited the Bible, it has somehow called into question God’s very existence.  Throughout the article he attempts to portray the debate over God’s existence as a matter of “science vs. religion” or “facts vs. faith”.  For example, he states, “Of course many religious people dismiss the overwhelming majority of scientists as wrong.”  This idea that science and religion exist in two distinct, separate, and even opposing categories with no overlap between them is a view that seems to be held by most people today, both by believers and unbelievers alike.  As they see it, on the one hand you have science which deals only in matters of fact and reason, proven by experimentation.  On the other hand you have the category of religion which is portrayed as the very opposite of science, logic, reason, and rationality because it supposedly requires a “leap of blind faith”  as a feeble attempt to make up for its utter lack of scientific evidence and credibility.

            Even though this view of “science vs. religion” persists as one of the great myths of our time, it is not grounded in reality.  It cannot be the case that the debate over God’s existence is a matter of “faith vs. science” because both sides of the debate use scientific facts to support their view and both of them require some element of faith.  For example, the atheist, by faith, must believe that the universe either came from eternal matter or that it came from nothing, out of nothing, by nothing for no reason.  (By the way, notice that while some atheists ridicule Christians for believing that Someone created everything, they are apparently willing to believe that nothing created everything!)  In addition to their views on the origin of the universe, the atheist must believe, by faith, that the process of evolution began with the “biochemical evolution” of life from non-living matter.  By faith, the atheist must believe that the staggering complexity and order that we observe at every level in biological systems arose out of chaos and disorder.

            Not only do both sides of the “God debate” require some element of faith, both sides offer scientific arguments in an attempt to support their view.  The creationist and the evolutionist are both examining the same facts from the same fossil record, geology, biology, etc.  In the final analysis, the origins debate is not over the facts themselves.   The debate is strictly a matter of how to best interpret those facts. 

            When it comes to the process of interpreting the facts, one thing that we must be careful not to overlook is the role that one’s bias plays in that process.  In his editorial, the writer falsely assumes that all scientists are objective and unbiased when it comes to the process of interpreting the facts in front of them.  Either that, or he’s  assuming that no scientist would ever allow his or her bias to influence the outcome of their work.  At one point he writes, “Scientists are not trying to prove God is unreal, they base their work on evidence and logical reasoning.”  Let’s be up front and honest here.  Everyone has a bias of some sort, and everyone carries that bias with them wherever they go.  As a result, it influences everything they say and do, whether they are a teacher, a politician, a judge, or a scientist.  There is nothing “magic” about putting on a lab coat that somehow enables a person to suddenly give up their bias.  To illustrate, here are a couple of quotes from two scientists who are atheists:

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.”  

-Dr Steven Weinberg

Nobel Laureate in Physics: in New York Times, 11-21-06


“We take the side of science,…because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism….Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”  

-Richard Lewontin (of The Museum of Comparative Zoology) in “Billions and billions of demons.”  The New York Review, January 1997, p.31


So much for the editorial’s claim that no scientist is trying to disprove God’s existence.

            Not only does one’s bias play a role in interpreting the facts in science, it may actually be the most important factor of all.  If that’s the case, then the real question we need to ask is, “Which bias does the best job of explaining the facts?”  Or, as Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis says, “It’s a matter of which bias is the best bias to be biased with.”  The bias of an atheistic worldview suggests the following; Something came from nothing.  Order came from disorder. Life came from non-life.  Mind and consciousness came from inanimate matter.  Moral law and moral obligation came from amoral material.  Non-physical entities, such as information and the laws of logic came from purely physical processes. 

            In contrast to this, the bias of a Christian worldview offers us a more plausible, coherent, and comprehensive explanation that comports with reality.  As C. S. Lewis said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Science | 2 Comments »

Can We Be Good Without God?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The sign on a New York City subway read, “A million New Yorkers are good without God.”   In Boston, there were signs on the city buses and subways that read, “Good without God?  Millions of Americans are.”  Billboards in Chicago carried the same message.  During the Christmas season, buses in Washington D.C. carried posters that featured someone dressed as Santa Claus with the message, “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’ sake.”  These were all part of a bold advertising campaign in 56 cities and 29 states that was launched back in 2007 by organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Their campaign included many other slogans such as, “Imagine No Religion,”   suggesting that America would be much better off if we could somehow remove religion (Christianity in particular) from our culture.

For my purposes here, I want to focus specifically on their message that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I’m finding that more and more people in the public square are proudly proclaiming that, as an atheist, they can be good without God.  When I engage someone in conversation and they tell me that they can be a good person without believing in God, they are usually surprised to hear me say that I agree with them!  I realize that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I know of some people who do not believe in God who I would consider to be more moral than many so-called “Christians”.   So, what’s the problem?  The problem is that the person who denies God’s existence cannot make sense out of morality.  It’s important to keep in mind that the question is NOT whether one can be good without believing in God, but rather, can we be good if, in fact, there is no God.

A friend of mine who teaches Philosophy and World Religions in a local community college had invited me and a pastor from my church to come answer some questions regarding Christianity.  One of the students was a lady who identified herself as a practicing Buddhist.  Keep in mind that Buddhists do not necessarily believe that God exists.  During the Q&A, she had commented in a somewhat sarcastic tone of voice, “Look, I am a good person who does good for my community, and I don’t have to believe in your God in order to be a good person!”  In response, I said, “May I ask you a question?  You just used the word ‘good’ three times.  I need to point out to you  that as soon as you did that, you immediately introduced into this conversation some standard by which to measure what ‘good’ is and what it isn’t.  In order for that standard to make any sense, it must be an objective standard.  That is, it must exist outside both of us, and both of us must be accountable to that standard.  Since you’re the one who brought this standard into the conversation, I have to ask you: 1) What is that standard? and 2) Where did it come from-  what is it based on?”

After a long, awkward silence, she replied, “I don’t know.”  A student sitting behind her attempted to help her out.  This gentleman had leaned forward and whispered something in her ear, after which she confidently smiled and said, “I get my morality from Buddhism.”  As I was attempting to reply, another student began to speak, so I’m not sure if she (the Buddhist) could hear my next comment.  I had said to her that I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask her if Buddhist morality is better than Nazi mortality, she would most likely say, “Yes.”  But to say that one is “better” than the other is to measure both of them by some “higher” standard that exists outside both of them.  To compare the two and to say that one is better than the other is to say that one comes closer to meeting that standard than does the other. But to acknowledge some “Ultimate Standard” is to say that there exists a supreme moral law-  this requires a supreme Lawgiver.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason makes an insightful observation about this.  He points out that when someone says that they don’t have to believe in God in order to be a good person, it’s like saying that they don’t have to believe in authors in order to read books.  While that may be true, they certainly cannot make sense of books existing apart from authors, nor can they make sense of an objective moral law existing apart from a moral Lawgiver.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Ethics | 107 Comments »

Does the Problem of Evil Disprove God?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

It has been noted by some historians that later in his life Albert Einstein expressed the view, based upon his observations of the universe, that there must be a God Who initially set the universe into motion.  However, those same historians go on to point out that Einstein ended up backing away from a Judeo-Christian concept of God and settled for more of a deistic view of God, similar to a watchmaker who creates the watch, winds it up to get it going, but then walks away, never to be heard from again.  Apparently, one of the biggest reasons that drove Einstein to this conclusion was the problem of evil that he observed in the world.  He could not reconcile in his thinking a “good” God Who would allow evil to exist in His creation.  Similarly, historians who have studied the life of Charles Darwin have pointed out that his quest to find a purely naturalistic explanation for everything, without any reference to a Creator, all began with the death of his beloved daughter, Annie.  These, of course, are only two examples out of countless others who have come to the conclusion that since our world is so full of evil and suffering, there either isn’t a God, or if there is, it cannot be the God of the Bible.  But is that the case?  Does it logically follow that the existence of evil either “disproves” God or is inconsistent with the idea of God’s existence?

On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone say to me, “I can’t believe in God because I see a world that is full of evil and suffering.”  I often respond to them by saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me as if you’re really saying that when you look around the world, you see a world that is not the way it’s supposed to be- that things are not as they should be.” Of course, such a comment only makes sense if there really IS a way things are supposed to be, referring to some original plan or purpose.  To put it another way, how does one know what evil is unless they know what good is? And how do they know what good is unless there is some objective standard outside of us,  by which to differentiate between the two?  According to C.S. Lewis, this same observation regarding evil was instrumental in leading him out of his atheism.  As he puts it, “(As an atheist) 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?”

So, as it turns out, rather than disproving God, the question of the problem of evil actually requires God’s existence in order to make any sense.  Without Him, our observations and objections to “the problem of evil” become meaningless and irrelevant.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Evil | 20 Comments »

Can Atheism Make Sense of the Problem of Evil?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

British philosopher, mathematician, social critic, and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, “No one can believe in a good God if they’ve sat at the bedside of a dying child.”  Without a doubt, the image that Russell paints with that statement is one that grips all of us emotionally.  It is, of course, one thing to suggest that Christianity cannot adequately explain the problem of evil (which it can, by the way).  It’s quite another thing to offer a better, more plausible explanation based on atheism.  This is a very important point because most people these days act as if Christians are the only ones who have an obligation to respond to the question of evil, but that is not the case at all.  Every one of us has a worldview, and every worldview is equally obligated to address the problem of evil.  Atheism, as a worldview, shares the same responsibility to answer this question or to explain it from their perspective.  In doing so, atheism must be prepared to not only define evil and to explain the origin of evil, but they must also respond to the problem of evil in a way that is consistent with their worldview.

A few years ago, as I was working with some of our high school students, a young lady came up and asked me if there was any scientific evidence that pointed to God’s existence.  As I was responding to her question, another girl disrupted our conversation by coming up to us and saying, “There is no God!  He doesn’t exist!  I believe in science!  I believe in evolution!  I believe in things that I can see and prove!  I don’t believe in some imaginary being called ‘God’!”  She stopped her salvo of comments for a moment, and we just stood there looking at each other in silence.  After a while, she broke her silence by saying something that spoke volumes about why she had come to such a conclusion.  She continued, “A few years ago, my father was sick and I begged God to heal him, but he died anyway.  A couple of years later, my sister was involved in a horrible accident and, once again, I pleaded with God not to let her die, but she died anyway.  That’s when I knew that God was a myth-  He doesn’t exist.  That’s why I believe in evolution instead.”

As I responded to her, I said something that must have shocked her because it was really harsh, but it was intentional because I wanted to make sure that I had her attention-  and I did.  I said to her, “Look, I don’t know why you’re telling me all of this stuff about losing your father and your sister.  I mean, you act as if it’s some big deal or that there’s something actually wrong with what happened to them.  But if what you’re telling me is true- if there is no God, and if evolution is our ‘creator’- it certainly sounds to me as if natural selection did exactly what it’s supposed to do.  After all, isn’t that nature’s job?  Weren’t you about to tell me that natural selection is supposed to ‘weed out’ that which is unfit in order to make room for that which is more fit to survive?  Apparently, neither your father or your sister were fit enough to survive, so nature simply  ‘weeded them out’.”

I waited for a moment to let my words sink in (and prepared to duck, just in case she took a swing at me!)  I then said to her, “To be perfectly honest, I’m actually very, very sorry – deeply sorry- that you lost your father and your sister.  I lost my mother in ‘93 and my father in ‘04 and I still haven’t gotten over it.  I just wanted to make sure that you clearly understood that you cannot have it both ways.  If you’re going to say that there is no God, you cannot say that what happened to your loved ones is ‘bad’, or that it’s ‘wrong’.  You can’t say that it’s ‘tragic’ or that it’s ‘not right’, or ‘unfair’, or ‘unjust’, or that it’s ‘not supposed to happen’, because in a godless universe where evolution is the ultimate reality, that IS what’s supposed to happen.  Death is a good thing- a beneficial thing- because it eliminates the weak, making room for that which is more fit, mentally and physically.  So, in an evolutionary world, there can be so such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ events-  it’s just ‘stuff that happens’.”

That really is the point to all of this.  Given an atheistic worldview, not only is there no objective standard of right or wrong, good or bad, and just or unjust,  it is also devoid of any objective foundation on which to build the idea consistently that life has any real purpose, meaning, or value.  Given that starting point, there can be no significant difference between a natural disaster that wipes out thousands of people, and a guy using heavy equipment to remove an acreage of trees in order to make room for something that is coming along at a later time.  By the way, it’s important to keep in mind that I am NOT claiming that all atheists feel this way.  I’m simply pointing out that, given their atheistic worldview, it would be both hypocritical and inconsistent for them to disagree with my illustration or to object to it.

Atheists such as Bertrand Russell may claim that Christians have nothing worthwhile to say to a dying child.  But then, what would Russell have said to that child under the same circumstances-  Tough luck, kid?  Hey kid, isn’t natural selection great? Too bad for you? That’s just the way it goes?  Life stinks and then you die?  Such answers will never do.  But, like it or not, that is precisely where atheism leads us.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Evil | 3 Comments »

  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.