Making the Case for God

Eric Metaxas in 2014 penned an essay published in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”  It is a good introduction, in my opinion, to the larger issues about conditions that contemporary cosmology and biochemistry have come to realize are necessary for a planet or other celestial body to be hospitable for life.  However, judging from the commentary that has followed his essay, for those who are not disposed to even accept the possibility of God–namely DEVOTED atheists–arguments of the sort that Metaxas offers are not only not compelling, but are downright irritating to them.  I always find that kind of aggressive rejection of any intellectual support for even the possibility that believing in the existence of God is rationally justifiable to be intriguing.  It’s almost as though a devotion to atheism has become a religious orientation for many, ironically.  The are pious Anti-Theists.

In the Huffington Post, Geoffrey Mitleman has written a response to Metaxas–“Sorry, Science Doesn’t Make a Case for God, but That’s Ok“. His argument is that of a religious person (he’s a rabbi) and basically seems to be that Metaxas has made two mistakes: 1) not realizing that science is always developing and changing as new discoveries are made and theories are developed; 2) that religious understanding is different from scientific thought and bringing the two in relationship to each other is not a good idea.  He says, “Science is the best method we have for understanding how we got here. But religion isn’t science. It is not (or at least should not) be about provable or disprovable claims, because that’s not its purpose. Instead, it should be designed to help us improve ourselves and our world, here and now.”

Mitleman’s observations reflect the outlook of a good many people, namely that religious claims are much more like art or music than like science or even philosophy.  Even some honest and non-quasi-religious atheists can accept that.  The problem I have with that way of thinking is simple, however. If God is real and actually did create the universe; and if science has discovered that there is actual scientific reason to believe that  the universe came into being (that is what the Big Bang cosmology is really about), then for “religion” to step into the discussion about the origin of the universe and begin to suggest to people that the monotheistic religions’ teaching that a transcendent God is the source of the universe–and therefore the author of life–is not an attempt, as Mitleman claims, to “conflate” science and religion.  It does not claim that God is “provable” in any scientific sense of observation or calculation.  Rather, it suggests that God is a very credible inference to draw to explain why there is something rather than nothing.

Attempting to discuss in a rational manner my belief in God is something that I have done for a long time.  About 20 years ago, I was in a discussion with a philosopher who taught at the University of Tennessee.  I asked him in the midst of our debate, “Tell me, what are your chief objections to Christian beliefs?”  I was expecting a rather vigorous and daunting argument based upon the lack of empirical evidence or even the existence of evil in a world purported created by a benevolent deity.  Instead he looked me in the eye and said, “Well, there are many of us who simply cannot live with the idea that there is somebody or something somewhere who knows better how to live our lives than we do.”    His response reminded me of a confession made by one of the truly great American philosophers of the 20th century, Thomas Nagel:

“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind …. This is a somewhat ridiculous situation …. [I]t is just as irrational to be influenced in one’s beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist.”

Now, I don’t want to reduce all atheistic belief–and that is what it is, belief–to psychological categories, but honesty requires one to acknowledge that rejection of the very idea of God is not merely or simply an intellectual commitment.  It is a matter of the heart, as much as of the head.   Nevertheless, what those of us who believe in God should be asking ourselves is what makes the idea of God so objectionable to some people.

Few, if any of us, who believe not only in God but in Jesus Christ as the Son of God came to this belief by rigorous reflection or careful cogitation.  We were shaped into the ability to believe by many circumstances.  However, the atheist cannot point fingers and say, “aha, I knew you had no credible basis for your belief.”  It is not easily demonstrated by them that they have any “credible basis” for their unbelief.  We believers can agree with St. Augustine, whose journey to theistic faith and Christian conversion was a long intellectual trek, that we don’t believe because we came to understanding, but we seek understanding because we believe.  This is the kind of argument that Metaxas is making.  Once a person has come to realize that God is real, there are many arguments that can be brought to bear to under gird, sustain, strengthen, and underwrite that very belief. Yet, until the realization of God is achieved the very same arguments don’t really make sense to people.  But, what makes people open to the idea of God?

What I have come to realize, however, is this, namely that a multitude of very wonderful people I know who don’t believe in God, much less the Gospel of Christ, need more than mere philosophical, scientific or theological arguments if they are going to come to faith.  Of course, they need grace–as the Bible proclaims.  They need, as well, humility.  But, they also need a compelling witness to the beauty, the glory, the freedom, the wonder, and the love of the Gospel.  Remember, the Gospel is in Greek euangelion–Good (eu) message (angelion).  As good news, there ought to be a compelling evidence for belief.

The kind of evidence that will open people up to the truth of God’s reality and enable people to see the “proofs” or arguments that support belief in God are not, at the first, intellectual.  Even the Gospel lets us know that it is not the plan of God in Christ that intellectual arguments or even doctrinal proclamations are the first thing.  The first and foremost apologetic argument for the reality of God and of Jesus as the Son of God is simple this:  A life that is holy and reflects the goodness and love of God.  Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” 

Of course, living a faithful and godly life is not a guarantee that a person will be willing to believe in God.  Goodness and love can always be explained away by those who don’t want there to be a God.  However, apart from love and grace and goodness being seen in the lives of those who believe in God and Jesus Christ, our conversations with those who don’t want to believe will only be an intellectual exercise.  The God we believe in deserves more.

When my atheist colleague at the University of Tennessee told me he just didn’t like the idea that someone might know better how he should live his life than he did, I looked at him and said, “But what if that being loves you more than you do yourself and desires you to flourish and be happy more than you desire that for yourself.”  He looked at me and asked, “But, how would anyone know that?”

That is a great question for believers to ponder.

Maybe you and I are the answer (or at least we are meant to be). Remember, God as presented to us in Jesus Christ is not merely an idea.  God is personal and we are made in God’s image.  Therefore, the truth that God is in his divine essence is not merely a propositional truth.  God’s truth is not like 2+2=4.  God’s truth is something that is meant to be embodied in real lives.  God’s truth is transforming, when it is encountered.

This year…live a holy life, study to show yourself approved, manifest the grace and love of God. Do it for God’s glory, as a follower of Jesus.  And do it for those who need a reason to take God seriously. It might just be the best argument you can give for him.

Steve Blakemore, Ph.D
Steve Blakemore, Ph.D
Dr. Blakemore is President of the Board at JCW Center and the Professor of Christian Thought at Wesley Biblical Seminary.