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A MATTER OF FAITH

 

When I consider your heavens,

 the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

        which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

            the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

            and crowned him with glory and honour.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;

            you put everything under his feet:

all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

he birds of the air and the fish of sea,

            all that swim the paths of the sea

 — Psalm 8: 3-8, New International Version (NIV)

 

IT IS a near-universal trend to ascribe the processes of nature to a supernatural Creator. But faith is in the kennel today. Unbelievers tell us to deny our senses and reject the instinctive conclusion that because Nature looks designed, it required a Designer.

In Chapter 1 of the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul avers that most of mankind has a ‘natural’ faith, prompted by an innate sense that the observed world is the handiwork of a Superior Being.

[S]ince 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. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

— Rom 1: 20-23

In the late 19th century, partly as a reaction to the increasing influence of the teaching of Evolution and materialist philosophy, the Natural Theology movement emerged. As defined by the Oxford Dictionary of English, natural theology is a ‘knowledge of God based on observed facts and experience apart from divine revelation.’ In its highest form, natural theology claimed to be the ‘second’ revelation of God.

 

Reversing the Equation

Although the structure of the natural order appears to demand a Maker, we may reasonably turn the equation around and claim that, in many respects, it also appears as if it were not designed. For though certain aspects of the natural order suggest the kindness and providence of a creator, it is possible, on sound evidence, to draw the opposite conclusion. For each instance of benevolence, a contrary example can be adduced.

Who would argue that earthquakes or tsunamis are evidence of a benign God? Or the existence of evil, the effects of which have for thousands of years deprived countless millions of life and happiness? Such questions unsettle thoughtful minds and help to swell the ranks of the unbelievers.

 

The God, Man

Atheism was given a leg-up with the introduction of the theory of Evolution in the mid-1800s and the subsequent explosion in scientific understanding. These developments, combined with rapid and thorough industrialisation, highlighted man’s power over nature and encouraged the notion that he could do anything. With such a presumption, the idea of God is irrelevant. The First World War inflicted further damage on the Christian cause, as nations battled each other in the name of the same loving God. The rise of Communism and Fascism in the inter-war years, and the onset of the Holocaust inexorably led countless numbers of people to abandon religious faith. One Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps remarked that his faith had gone up in the smoke of the ovens.

Progress in the genetic sciences, the mapping of the human genome, and laboratory success in the manipulation of genetic material have cemented man’s opinion of his own God-like powers. In some respects man has become, as was predicted of him in Genesis, like ‘one of us’ (Genesis 3: 5, 22).

 

Altruistic Atheism?

For all their assertions of neutrality on the question of God, many atheists espouse their view with some heat and are prepared to defend it with the passion of a religious zealot. Perhaps it is accurate to describe their stance as anti-God in principle.

The celebrity atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins,[FN1] is vitriolic in his attacks against the very notion of faith, by whomever it is held. Prof. Dawkins has abandoned all pretence of courtesy or respect for those on the opposite side of this question, and aggressively pursues his goal of eliminating religious faith. Judging by the favourable reception of his recent book, The God Delusion, he speaks for many who concur in his assertions.

 

Your Mystery or Mine?

Theists and atheists alike agree that the universe is vastly complicated and little understood. It presents many ‘mysteries’, such as the origin of Matter (Something from Nothing?) or the origin of Life (Intelligence from Mindless Processes?). Each side handles these mysteries in ways that are as much alike in practice as they are different in philosophy. A believer accepts God as the starting point; an unbeliever shelves the questions in the implicit belief that ‘future’ discoveries will provide the answer.[FN2] That a God exists is denied on the basis of probability. Atheists tell us that the world would be a different place if God did exist. For a start, there would be less chaos and destruction and less evil in the world.

 

Is Anyone in Charge?

In the musical, Pickwick, based on the Dickens novel, “The Pickwick Papers”, the title character — memorably portrayed in the original stage play by Harry Secombe — sings

If I ruled the world

Every day would be the first day of Spring,

Every heart would have a new song to sing,

And we'd sing of the joy

Every morning would bring.

Paradise for all. The ineffable state of bliss, which mankind has sought for thousands of years. So, says the unbeliever, if we can imagine a world like that, and God has not seen fit to give it to us, then God must not exist, at least not the sort of loving God that Christians talk about. Therefore, there is not likely to be a God. We are alone in the universe and we will survive only by the force of our own evolved intellect and resourcefulness. Today we live, tomorrow we die. That’s all there is. Get used to it.

To blind chance is attributed the innovation and fitness for purpose. ‘Design’ is merely a practical arrangement of discrete parts assembled by the interaction of mindless forces. Under this view of things, religion is meaningless, belief in absolute morality a delusion. This would leave us with little more than a secular humanitarianism, dependent for our long-term survival on the common sense of humanity and a good-will consensus toward courteous, civil behaviour, death the terminus.

 

The exploration of space is spurred on by the belief that life on this planet is not unique and that if enough money and energy is expended Science will one day find answers to the origin of life by discovering it on other planets. Life on earth, so the theory goes, was an accident, a long-shot that succeeded, a by-product of the Big Bang, the output of physics and chemistry in action. We perceive our existence as unique in the universe because we are subject to the so-called ‘anthropic principle’: the argument that because we are here we were meant to be here; much like reasoning that because many settlements were sited along rivers that the purpose of rivers is to have settlements built next to them.

 

The Genesis Days

The Genesis account of creation (Chapter 1) is economical in its description of the processes required to prepare the earth for life. It is a summary of the process of creation of, not the universe, but of planet earth, which had by then probably existed for millions or thousands of millions of years. The various phases — styled ‘days’ — may have spanned aeons. The creation of species and sub-species no doubt allowed for a subsequent variation and alteration within each group.

 

Geology is most likely correct in its assignment of a long age to our planet. We should not claim more than the Bible record demands.[FN3] Science, properly understood, will corroborate and support the Biblical testimony. And while we need not — should not — reinterpret Biblical testimony every time a contrary set of scientific data is released, we must recognise that as God is the creator of the world, it is His science at work. Interpretation of the data is another matter entirely, and is prone to ambiguity and elaboration over time.

 

The Science in Evolution

The theory of Evolution contains within it evidences of God’s creative power; we do not need to contend against microevolution —adaptations over short periods of time. It is quite apparent that alterations in form and behaviour are necessary as conditions change. That God would have foreseen, and provided for, such contingencies is not surprising.

As reasonable as the principle of adaptation and development of fauna and flora may be, the same is not true of the human species. Man was a direct, one-off creation, as shown in Genesis, though assembled from the existing elements of the earth.

A rejection of the Genesis account is, in effect, a repudiation of the Bible itself, since its veracity rests on the story of the fall of man into sin, a necessary precursor to the ransom-sacrifice of Christ (Romans 5: 18; 1 Corinthians 15: 22).

 

Hold Your Breath

It is not surprising to find similarities in anatomical structure of the lower animals and humans. This is hinted at in Scripture when, as to the creation of man, it is stated that God breathed into him the ‘breath of life’, the same life-force that is common to other air-breathing animals. Compare Genesis 2: 7 with 7: 22.

It is not unusual for proponents of human evolution to cite certain defective or inefficient structures in the human body (the digestive system, the eye) to bolster their argument that the human anatomy could not have been intelligently designed; that it was merely cobbled together by a brainless process of adaptation. (Noticeably, these antagonists rarely draw the opposite conclusion when confronted with examples which they readily admit are fine models of efficiency and design in nature, such as the complex physics of light.)

At his creation, Adam was the image of God and made for eternal life (Genesis 1: 27; 2: 17). After his fall into sin the prototype was lost. In some way not explained to us the process of decay and dying was introduced into man’s genes. For several centuries after the expulsion from Eden the average life span was enormous, reflecting residual vitality. After the Flood, it fell steadily, settling in, on average, to the approximate length we recognise today, 70-80 (Psalm 90: 10).

This corruption in the human DNA, combined with harsh living conditions to which Adam and Eve and their offspring were exposed, has no doubt altered the human physique and overall constitution. Further, the curse has had a deleterious impact on earth’s biosphere. 'Cursed is the ground because of you’ (Genesis 3: 17-19, NIV). Climatic and seismic disturbances are not the intended expression of God’s benign care for humanity, so faith invites a more satisfactory explanation.

 

The Problem of Faith

Unlike that of nature, the Biblical revelation is not easily comprehended by any who do not have faith. Were nature our sole revelation, faith would be spurious. The structure and regulation of the universe and of our planet within that larger system tells us a great deal about the Creator’s knowledge and power, but little about His disposition. If there is a personal, benign Creator, interested in our welfare it is, perhaps, reasonable to assume that He would tell us about Himself. It is equally unlikely that He would supply indisputable evidence with which to refute His existence.

The fact that most scientists lean toward evolution and atheism is not surprising. Faith is not easy to come by. The written revelation of God, the Bible, is not designed to convince everyone. The Scriptures are presented in such a way as to obfuscate the Truth for those who do not have the right heart’s attitude. Jesus spoke in parables to hide the Truth from the unworthy and uttered ‘hard sayings’ which caused many to turn from Him (Matthew 13: 10-15; John 6: 60-66).

It is a mistake to assume that the Bible’s precepts and rules are intended for all mankind. As God’s select people, the nation of Israel were given custody of the teachings of God — the body of law and precepts, including the prophecies, which were intended to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. Jesus introduced a new dispensation, the Gospel Age, during which His followers, drawn from the Jewish people and the Gentiles, took the Truth abroad in order to build up His Church. Their job was not to establish civic law and order, though the Christian faith has without question shaped those societies who subscribed to it.

Faith is the filter which screens out the unworthy. Which is not to say that those without faith are damned to some sort of torturous eternity (a pernicious and un-Godly doctrine[FN4]). No, it is not yet God’s time to deal with unbelievers — that day is future. Right now, God’s invitation is to those who are able to comprehend, by faith, those things which are not apparent to the natural senses.

 

The Permission of Evil

Christians often hold too censorious an opinion of unbelievers. It is not surprising that many honest people are unbelievers — often they have been repulsed by the evil that abounds in the world, not all of it solely attributable to mankind’s behaviour. And Christians often do an inadequate job of representing God and His plan of salvation. The problem of evil interposes itself between the expectation of the human mind for justice and fairness and the reality of the situation. To dismiss this objection is to overlook one of the main causes of unbelief.

Evil in all its forms (moral and calamitous) is not caused by God, but permitted. There is a world of difference between these two concepts. Once we understand the why, we move closer to understanding the wisdom and justice and power and love of God.[FN5]

 

The Kingdom to Come

Christ’s mission in His First Advent was to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 16: 16). This Kingdom was to be made up of two parts — one heavenly, one earthly. The heavenly promises were to those who, by faith, accepted the teachings of Christ and gave their hearts and minds to doing God’s will. The earthly Kingdom is yet to come, and will be for the blessing of all mankind (agnostics and atheists included!)[FN6] (Matthew 6: 10; Micah 4: 1-5).

The permission of evil has been a necessary phase to prepare the hearts and minds of humanity in general to receive the blessings which God has in view for them. That kingdom will be a day of restoration, the righting of wrongs, and the clearing up of the confusion on religious matters which prevails at present.

Thy Kingdom come, O God;

    Thy rule, O Christ, begin;

Break with thine iron rod,

    The tyrannies of sin.

        — L. Hensley, Hymns Ancient and Modern

Footnotes

[FN1] Richard Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University (since 1995).

[FN2] Unique attributes of human nature also beg for explanation, such as consciousness and self-awareness. If the human brain alone possesses these qualities, the Biblical claim that man is a stand-apart creation by God is plausible. The ‘self-evaluating’ mind poses a problem for the advocates of a purely mechanistic evolution.

[FN3] Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 6, “The New Creation”, p. 35, para. 3 (Editor and Publisher, Paul S.L. Johnson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1937).

[FN4] The teaching of Hell, as eternal torment, is one of the worst perversions of Biblical teaching, and has done incalculable damage to the authority and credibility of the Scriptures, and drawn down unnecessary (but deserved) criticism from unbelievers. An understanding of the Biblical teaching on the Resurrection is essential to grasp the truth about the real meaning of Hell — the grave. See The Resurrection — Is it Incredible?, on this site.

[FN5] See Peace on Earth, How?, on this site.

[FN6] This is not universal salvation to eternal life. But the Scriptures do teach one full, fair opportunity to gain eternal life for all. Most have not yet had this opportunity. See Is There A Second Chance For Anyone?, on this site.

Scripture references (for those not quoted in the article)

Genesis 3: 5, 22, NIV: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil’. . . .”

Romans 5: 18; 1 Corinthians 15: 22, NIV: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Genesis 2: 7; 7: 22, NIV: “[T]he Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” “Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.”

Genesis 1: 27; 2: 17, NIV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” “[B]ut you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Psalm 90: 10, NIV: “The length of our days is seventy years — or eighty, if we have the strength . . . .”

Matthew 13: 10-15; John 6: 60-66, NIV: “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving, For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching, Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Luke 16: 16, NIV: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”

Matthew 6: 10; Micah 4: 1-5, NIV: “[Y]our kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

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