Thursday, October 27, 2005

Re: Atheism -> Christianity? Wrong direction, sir!

AN (copy, minus your personal identifying information, to my blog CED)

Further to my message yesterday, in which I stated that after more than a decade (1994-2005) of debating atheists like yourself and never having made the slightest difference to even one, I had decided in July to cease debating and terminated my list CED in favour of writing my book "Problems of Evolution" and posting to my blog CED. However, as I have done in the past, I have decided to answer your questions to my blog, after removing your personal identifying information, since that might be of interest to others. This is not a change of my mind about the futility of debating with atheists like yourself, so again please do not send me any more private messages.

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 9:05 PM
Subject: Atheism -
Christianity? Wrong direction, sir!

AN>Dear Stephen
>I came across your web site and was very interested to read how someone with a Biological sciences degree could possibly have moved from atheism to Christianity.
>You put it like this?
>`I was raised in a non-Christian home and in my early teens became an atheist. However, when I realised from reading Bertrand Russell 1 that the universe would inevitably grow too cold for life and it would one day be as though mankind had never existed, I became depressed about the meaninglessness of life and contemplated suicide. One night I looked up at the Milky Way and the feeling came over me that with all this order and beauty, there must be a God. So from that moment I was no longer an atheist, but what I now recognise is deism (God created the universe, but does not intervene in it). So I could not see how I could ever know anything more about God than that he was the Creator, so life still seemed meaningless.'
>So, after looking up at the Milky Way, a `feeling' came over you? Is that all? It strikes me as not being a very scientific response to abandon all your scientific education and just dump it all just because of a feeling. I've experienced lots of feelings and none has ever made me delude myself that some all powerful spirit is watching down on me. Is there something you're not telling us?

As I explained yesterday, it was when I was a teenager in the 1960's that I was an atheist, and then became a deist from the evidence of design in nature, eventually becoming a Christian in my early 20s. I completed my biology degree only last year at the age of 58. I have now clarified that part of my testimony.

My intuitive "feeling" in my mid-teens that the universe must be designed, and there must be a God, is no worse than you coming to believe at "the age of eight" that there was no God (see below). It is in fact similar to Darwin's "conviction" (which he even says is "connected with the reason and not with the feelings"), based on "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe ... as the result of blind chance or necessity":

"Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far back wards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man ; and I deserve to be called a Theist." (Darwin C.R., in Barlow N., ed., "The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: With Original Omissions Restored," [1958], W.W. Norton & Co: New York, 1969, reprint, pp.92-93)
AN>A number of questions:
>1) Exactly HOW did this `God' of yours create the universe?

The Bible says God simply commanded it to be:

Psalm 33:6,9 "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. ... For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm."

The Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne has theorised that God acts by what he calls "basic actions", i.e. an action that does not require any other actions to make it happen:

"A basic action is one which a person does intentionally just like that and not by doing any other intentional action. My going from Oxford to London is a non-basic action, because I do it by doing various other actions going to the station, getting on the train, etc. But squeezing my hand or moving my leg and even saying 'this' are basic actions. I just do them, not by doing any other intentional act. (True, certain events have to happen in my body my nerves have to transmit impulses if I am to perform the basic action. But these are not events which I bring about intentionally. They just happen I may not even know about them.) By a basic power I mean a power to perform a basic action. We humans have similar basic powers to each other. They are normally confined to powers of thought and powers over the small chunk of matter which each of us calls his or her body. I can only produce effects in the world outside my body by doing something intentional with my body. I can open a door by grasping the handle with my hand and pulling it towards me; or l can get you to know something by using my mouth to tell you something. When l produce some effect intentionally (e.g. the door being open) by doing some other action (e.g. pulling it towards me), doing the former is performing a nonbasic action. When I go to London, or write a book, or even put a screw into a wall, these are non-basic actions which I do by doing some basic actions. When I perform any intentional action, I seek thereby to achieve some purpose normally one beyond the mere performance of the action itself (I open a door in order to be able to leave the room), but sometime simply the performance of the action itself (as when I sing for its own sake). ... God's basic powers are supposed to be infinite: he can bring about as a basic action any event he chooses, and he does not need bones or muscles to operate in certain ways in order to do so. He can bring objects, including material objects, into existence and keep them in existence from moment to moment. We can imagine finding ourselves having a basic power not merely to move objects, but to create them instantaneously for example the power to make a pen or a rabbit come into existence; and to keep them in existence and then let them no longer exist. There is no contradiction in this supposition, but of course in fact no human has such a power. What the theist claims about God is that he does have a power to create, conserve, or annihilate anything, big or small. And he can also make objects move or do anything else. He can make them attract or repel each other, in the way that scientists have discovered that they do, and make them cause other objects to do or suffer various things: he can make the planets move in the way that Kepler discovered that they move, or make gunpowder explode when we set a match to it; or he can make planets move in quite different ways, and chemical substances explode or not explode under quite different conditions from those which now govern their behaviour. God is not limited by the laws of nature; he makes them and he can change or suspend them-if he chooses." (Swinburne R.G., "Is There a God?," Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, 1996, pp.5-6)

An example of this was where Jesus commanded a storm on a lake to be still and it instantly obeyed Him:

Mark 4:35-41 "That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

AN>2) If your `God' did create it, why does it (why do you assume it is a `he', by the way? - a bit sexist, isn't it?) NOT intervene?

The Bible uses the personal pronoun "He" of God. But it also says in Genesis 1:27 that man as "male and female" is "in the image of God":

Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

Therefore, I (along with evangelical theologians I have read) assume that God is both male and female, and the use of the male personal pronoun is a literary convention. Interestingly, your fellow atheist Richard Dawkins defends the literary convention of using the male personal pronoun when speaking of humans:

"I am distressed to find that some women friends (fortunately not many) treat the use of the impersonal masculine pronoun as if it showed intention to exclude them. If there were any excluding to be done (happily there isn't) I think I would sooner exclude men, but when I once tentatively tried referring to my abstract reader as 'she', a feminist denounced me for patronizing condescension: I ought to say 'he-or-she', and 'his-or-her'. That is easy to do if you don't care about language, but then if you don't care about language you don't deserve readers of either sex. Here, I have returned to the normal conventions of English pronouns. I may refer to the 'reader' as 'he', but I no more think of my readers as specifically male than a French speaker thinks of a table as female. As a matter of fact I believe I do, more often than not, think of my readers as female, but that is my personal affair and I'd hate to think that such considerations impinged on how I use my native language." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.xvi-xvii)

AN>3) If this `God' of yours created the universe, who or what created God?

The simple answer to this schoolboy question is, of course, that God is eternal and He created everything else. In fact the question is a category mistake:

"Some may also object that if we hold that all events need causes, then what caused God? But we can consistently hold that all events need causes and that God does not need a cause because God is not an event. Furthermore, the question `What or who made God?' is a pointless category fallacy, like the question `What color is the note C?' The question `what made X?' can only be asked of Xs that are by definition makeable. But God, if he exists at all, is a necessary being, the uncreated Creator of all else. This definition is what theists mean by `God,' even if it turns out that no God exists. Now, if that is what `God' means, that the question `What made God?' turns out to be `What made an entity, God, who is by definition unmakeable?" (Moreland J.P., ed., "The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1994, p.22)

There are in fact only three options: 1. the universe popped into existence from absolutely nothing; 2. the universe has always existed; or 3. the universe was created by something or someone who is not the universe and has always existed.

Few (if anyone) maintains 1., and in fact it is empirically indistinguishable from 3. Most (if not all) atheist (like yourself) maintain 2. Theists (like me) maintain 3. If the atheist thinks the question "who or what made God?" is a problem for theism, then if he is fair-minded (assuming that is not an oxymoron!), he should admit that the question "who or what made the universe?" is a problem for atheism. If the atheist answers, "no one - it has always existed", then he cannot object to the theist's same answer to the atheist's question "who or what made God?", "no one - He has always existed".

AN>4) As your idea of `God' is not the same as millions of other people who have all, independently, come up with their own, very different version over the millennia, doesn't it lead you to think that this phenomenon is just a function of the human mind? Isn't it rather obvious that `God' is a man made phenomenon, and not the other way round?

At this level of explanation, i.e. option 3., "my idea of `God'" is "the same as millions of other people". In fact it is the same as everyone's including atheists like yourself. As Christian theologian Clark Pinnock points out, "No-one can honestly say that he does not know what the term `God' refers to":

"Even though he is transcendent, God `has never left himself without witness' (Acts 14:17). No-one can honestly say that he does not know what the term `God' refers to. The Bible tells us that God's eternal power and deity can be clearly perceived in the things God made (Rom. 1:20)." (Pinnock C.H., "Revelation," in Ferguson S.B., Wright D.F. & Packer J.I., eds., "New Dictionary of Theology," Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, 1988, p.585. My emphasis).

Athiest since the age of eight.

Apart from the fact that a belief which one formed at "the age of eight" is no great recommendation of its validity (courts in most countries do not hold children accountable for acting on their beliefs until they are twice that age), I could suggest you learn how to spell your position, i.e. it is not "athiest" but "atheist" (Greek a = "no " + theos = "God", hence "no God"), but from your name, perhaps English is not your first language?

Finally, as for the subject line of your post: "Atheism -> Christianity? Wrong direction, sir!", I often answered atheists with my version of Pascal's Wager:

"Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. Which will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good; and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other. That is one point cleared up. But your happiness? Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing." (Pascal B., "Pensees," 418, [1670], Krailsheimer A.J., Transl., Penguin: London, Revised edition, 1966, p.123)

Which is, given that neither the atheist, nor the Christian, can absolutely prove his position is true, the consequences for the atheist and the Christian if either's position is true, can be worked out. That is, if atheism is true, then the atheist and Christian will die and neither will know that the atheist was right. On the other hand, if Christianity is true, then the atheist and Christian will die and both will know that the Christian was right. Morever, if the atheist was right, he would have gained nothing and the Christian would have lost nothing. But if the Christian was right, the atheist would have lost everythin and the Christian would have gained everything. The choice is yours.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"


Anonymous said...

Your last statement is wrong, there is a loss if you believe in christianty and it turns out to be wrong cause you would have dedicated your life to a false cause effecting other lives due to this false cause and living your life according to this false cause and not for what you want.

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Your last statement is wrong, there is a loss if you believe in christianty and it turns out to be wrong

Thanks for your comment.

>cause you would have dedicated your life to a false cause effecting other lives due to this false cause and living your life according to this false cause and not for what you want.

No, because if atheism were true, neither the Christian nor the atheist, being both non-existent after death, would know that the Christian had dedicated his life to a false cause.

But if Christianity were true, the atheist being existent after death in Hell would know that he had dedicated his life to a false cause, and the Christian in Heaven would know that he had dedicated his life to a true cause.

Stephen E. Jones