When I was speaking out in Eastern Canada this summer, I was invited to join a local group of freethinkers for lunch and a conversation. I was connected to them through a mutual friend who promised me that the group just wanted to have a nice, informal chat with a Canadian Christian apologist.
When I arrived, I met the group of four, who quickly introduced themselves, explaining how most of them had left the Christian faith and were now committed atheists. I had barely met them all before they were ready to grill me about my faith. I was immediately asked, “What’s your best case for God?” So much for that nice, informal conversation!
The conversation was actually quite cordial but we covered many topics which made it clear that these freethinkers were not happy with religion, particularly Christianity. They told me they could not find any good reasons to believe in God, and they wanted me, as a Christian apologist, to give them good reasons, if such reasons actually exist.
That conversation is one of the reasons why we’ve written this blog series on the existence of God. We want Canadians to know that there are adequate reasons for our belief in the Christian God which deserve careful consideration by any honest truth-seeker.
In fact, the question “What’s your best case for God?” itself assumes two important truths which imply that God exists.
Two reasons for God’s existence
First, the question assumes a moral position—that it is better to be informed than ignorant. The problem is, without a supernatural creator, there is no basis for objective morality. In other words, being ignorant about the question of God’s existence is neither better nor worse than being informed if no God exists. By demanding reasons, the questioner implies knowing the right answer to the question of God’s existence is a morally superior situation to not knowing or simply asserting a position without evidence. This becomes obvious when the same questioner suggests that blind faith in God is in fact harmful, and therefore shouldn’t be practiced.
Second, the question presumes that a reasonable answer actually exists. Of course, the freethinker who asked that question believes no argument for God is reasonable. But that’s not what I mean. Rather, my point is that anyone who asks for evidence to prove or disprove a position, presumes that reason and our ability to use it, are not merely illusory but real facts about our existence; we not only live in a world where rules of logic exist, but we have the capacity (and obligation) to follow those rules of logic. But an atheistic worldview has a hard time explaining how blind, random chance is capable of creating order in both the universe and in our minds. Again, a logical universe seems more likely in a world created by a logical mind. Both of these claims are contentious, so let me unpack each of them.
The first argument involves what is widely know as the “Moral Argument” for the existence of God, which we’ve covered in detail earlier in this series. Moral claims, the idea that right and wrong exists and that we should do what is right, are central to the teachings of all religious groups, even if they differ on what those “right actions” are.
For example, in some Middle Eastern cultures, a woman who is raped can be jailed or even killed because of the belief that she has dishonoured her family. Western culture is rightly horrified that an innocent woman would ever be treated in such a way. Despite their differences, both cultures still value family honour, even if they practice that belief in vastly different ways.
The moral argument shows that for these moral rules to be universal and create obligations for human beings, they cannot be grounded in anything less than a supernatural creator. In fact, there are only four possible ways we can ground morality, and only a supernatural origin could make it binding upon us.
Four Possibilities for Morality
One possibility is that moral values are determined by the individual. If individuals create their own morality, then every person could do anything that seems right for them. There would be no way to say that any one view is objectively better or worse than any other. But as soon as someone starts harming others, it becomes obvious that some actions are objectively wrong, even if the person perpetuating the actions doesn’t think they are wrong.
Another possibility is that right and wrong come from society’s laws and structure. It is wrong, one could argue, for us to kill or steal because society says it is wrong to do so. However, if this were true, then whatever any society says could never be challenged. Internally, no law could ever be brought to court or overturned since it would be morally “right” by the very nature of the term. Worse, other societies could not be corrected for wrongs which they perpetrate. Concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and female genital mutilation, etc., become simply cultural practices and not great evils as long as they are approved by the societies in which they are practiced.
Most secular scientists and freethinkers today argue that human evolution produced morality. As human beings evolved, our morality evolved with us. Our morals originated from a sense of empathy as others suffered, and as our brains became more complicated we found more ways to avoid suffering in our selves and in others. This is what eventually evolved into our modern philosophical and religious beliefs about right and wrong. These ideas survived because they helped our species survive. Individuals who helped other individuals tended to survive longer than individuals who lived independently.[i]
Of course, the obvious dilemma with this model is that it does not account for the objectivity of moral values. In The Time Machine, a story written by the late atheist HG Wells, a time traveler travels into the future where the human race has evolved into two species: one lives on the surface in an idyllic world, while the other lives underground and feeds off of the people on the surface. Each species evolved its own morality, and therefore cannot be condemned for its actions. This shows that if we can evolve into believing that the Holocaust is wrong or that rape is wrong, we can just as easily evolve out of believing it, and find ourselves in a society which perpetuates such practices.
None of these options, then, can explain objective morals values. At best, they tell us what is right and wrong for a season. But if you believe, as I do, that killing six million innocent people based solely on ethnicity, or that sexually assaulting a child, is always wrong, then none of these options is acceptable.
The only possible way for moral rules to exist, at all times and places, and as universally binding, is if they were created by a power higher than ourselves, a power with the right to make such laws and the ability to enforce them. Think of it this way: we stop at red lights because we know that those lights were put there by an intelligence (the government), with the right to put them up (because they are responsible for road safety), and the power to enforce those laws (through the police).
If we follow human-made rules only because they were created by a legitimate governing body, how much more the case for universal moral laws that govern all of humanity? Clearly they have to be made by an even more powerful and intelligent being that has the right to make them and the power to enforce them over all of humanity.
Even the freethinkers I had lunch with, conceded this point. They agreed that objective moral values only exist if God exists, but they were willing to say that neither existed. In response, I asked, “If you don’t believe in objective morality, why then do you insist on correcting Christians?”
“Because,” the one who had asked for evidence for God responded, “We want to create a better society where people are not harmed by religion.”
As soon as she said that, to his credit, the head of the freethinker’s club pointed out that if there is no objective morality, her statement made no sense. If there is no right or wrong, then we can’t say that harming people is objectively wrong, or that one society can be “better” than another. All we can conclude is that societies can be different.
Based on that logic, however, even her initial question loses its purpose. Why should she ask for evidence of God’s existence if it is morally no different to be ignorant than to be informed about any topic? The Christian who irrationally believes in God and “harms” others is no worse than the freethinker who has used sound reasoning to become a freethinker. They are merely different.
The Reason for Reason
The freethinker could then respond that an individual informed about how the world actually is, will be more likely to survive in that world and therefore better propagate the species. Knowing facts has nothing to do with objective morality, but with survival.
But even that argument has problems. First, the argument still cannot escape morality. It assumes that the survival of the human race is a worthwhile goal and that our extinction should be avoided. But these are of course moral, not rational claims.
Second, this argument actually undermines the very purpose of asking for evidence of God’s existence. That’s because if knowledge is merely a tool for survival, then it should[ii] only be obtained if it helps us survive. As soon as being unreasonable helps our species survive, we should value such ignorance.[iii]
Atheists admit that “ignorance” has already helped our species survive. In a discussion I had with the atheist writer, John Loftus, I pointed out that atheists agree that the vast majority of humanity has believed in some sort of a supernatural god. This belief in a god exists throughout history, and based on a Darwinian worldview, must have been present because it has helped our species survive. I then asked Loftus, since belief in a god is such a helpful survival tool, “Why do atheists keep insisting that we should reject belief in God, even if that belief is faulty?”
Loftus didn’t contradict my analysis. Instead he said that he corrected religious people because, as a former pastor, he didn’t want his knowledge to be wasted. Of course, if that knowledge hinders human survival, then the sharing of that knowledge actually damages humanity. Atheists, then, have no reason to correct religious people based on that argument!
The obvious response to this is that humanity is evolving out of its need for religious ideas and is instead embracing science and facts. God might have helped our species survive in the past, but He need not play that role in the future. But this argument relies on another assumption: that being reasonable is possible in a world where atheism is true.
I am of course not saying that atheists are all unreasonable. Clearly, many are more thoughtful than even some Christians I know. What I am asking, rather, is, how a universe that atheists universally agree came about solely through physical processes, could create order and reason? In fact, the earliest scientists believed that the world was worth studying because they believed it was created by a supernatural mind. That was and is the only plausible explanation for how human minds can understand the world in which we find ourselves.
Think about it this way: how can a human brain, a brain which evolved simply to survive on earth by understanding how to hunt or gather food or find shelter, learn about atoms or black holes? Why would we need to know of such things if such knowledge has little impact on our survival?
And more than that, not only do our brains understand such abstract concepts that we don’t actually need for our survival, but this information is out there to be understood. For example, it was in studying solar eclipses that we learned of the light spectrum and came to know the chemical composition of the sun. Though that information has little survival value, we are able to understand it. Moreover, that information was available to observers here on earth. Both seem unlikely coincidences in an atheistic universe where random chance is the cause of life. As Albert Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
In other words, it makes more sense that we find reasonable answers to our questions in a universe created by a Mind. There are answers available because there are answers inherent in the design of the universe. So when one asks for evidence for anything, including God, they presume that evidence is worth seeking because evidence can be understood.[iv]
What then is the best reason to believe in God’s existence? I hope you’ve encountered plenty of good reasons in our series. But I think, if we are honest, the underlying assumptions of the very question itself, and the fact that there are beings who can ask it, suggest that we already have an answer.
[i] Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, is a good example of this kind of argument.
[ii] One can rightly point out that this is itself a moral argument. But this also addresses the main reason materialists have for arguing for reason—human survival—and how the argument must still be grounded in something immaterial.
[iii] When I say reason here, I mean both the knowledge of how the world works and our human ability to translate that knowledge into something useful. For example, knowledge is knowing how to make a cake while reason is the capacity to understand that baking a cake would be useful for grandma’s birthday.
[iv] This argument is further developed in the Privileged Planet, Illustra Media.