In today’s increasingly secular world, attempts to reach people with the good news of Christianity are often met with a yawn. Religion really isn’t very interesting, many think, and in fact it has brought more harm than good. But aren’t they afraid of what might await them once they die?
It’s not hard to find the skeptics’ answer, like this one I saw online:
“If something like a divine creator exists, why would an atheist fear that? Such a being would very likely not concern themselves with the details of my existence (the notion that such a being would be intimately concerned with the details of our lives seems like massive egocentric hubris). If it were, I have no fears of being judged. I cannot see how such a powerful being would fault a mere human for being logical and evidence-based. I don’t see why such a being would demand something as irrational as faith, and punish people for not being irrational.”
What jumps out from such a comment is the utter disdain that the writer has for religious belief. Without ever making the case, the writer concludes that God, if he does exist, would reward “reason” and view such things as “faith” as irrational and not worthy of “logical and evidence-based thinking.” “Reason,” of course, is what the skeptic thinks it is. In sum, the argument relies heavily on ridicule, as it belittles the believer as superstitious and irrational.
But this skeptic’s position doesn’t bear close scrutiny. He says he doesn’t fear being “judged” because a powerful creator would want human beings to be “logical.” The skeptic appears to be equating reason and logic with right or moral behavior. But where did get such an idea? Deciding to kill one’s competitor to advance one’s business prospects is a “logical” thought sequence. If doing so will likely go undetected and will, say, double his income, the decision could also be considered evidence-based. But this tells me nothing about the quality of the act, because logic does not provide us with rules of morality. Logic only helps us to apply or navigate them once they are known. Morality is a message to us about how we should act when we would rather act in a different – usually selfish – way. We use logic and reason to assess the message – the rules. Reason and logic cannot provide them.
The challenger may protest that everyone knows killing is wrong, so I’m stating the obvious. But a slight change in the example will highlight the point. Imagine an American abortion doctor migrates to a new land and sets up shop there. Determining that there are no abortion doctors in his area, he quickly corners the market, advertising his services to all in need. Because American law views this as the legitimate expression of a “privacy” right, he feels quite logical and evidence-based in deciding to provide his grisly product in his new home. But the host country uses a different set of laws. It sees no privacy right in the destruction of pre-born human beings; the law of that land finds the taking of innocent human life to be not only immoral but also illegal, and it doesn’t draw arbitrary lines regarding the age of the human life in question. The doctor may have based his decision on reason, but what he should have done was determine who set the laws in his new land and, more importantly, what that law provides. Then reason may have led him to a better conclusion.
The writer’s mention of “egocentric hubris” is quite apt, but it applies to his own view. What arrogance underlies the assumption that one has a corner on reason and logic? That one can simply do as he pleases without any concern about how the sovereign – the governing authority – might rule?
This mistake leads to his mistaken conclusion – that such a being would very likely not concern themselves with the details of my existence. Perhaps this would be true if – and this is an important if – the person in question is completely keeping the law. For the most part, the United States government does not involve itself in the details of the lives of its hundreds of millions of inhabitants. But the law of the land applies to all of the inhabitants, and if the governing authorities determine that any one individual has violated the law, it tends to turn its attention on that person – to become concerned about the details of his existence. Indeed, in America, we as a people are beginning to grow concerned about the level of government interest in us as the technology available increases.
But God is not merely a sovereign nation. He does not have limited resources that he must conserve and allot. He does not have difficulty “tracking” his creations. He is a perfect being, capable of perfect and complete knowledge. That means that it’s really no trouble for him to monitor the minutest details of every person’s life. And we’re not ants that happen to be occupying space with him, alive but largely irrelevant. We’re moral actors – imbued by him with free will – and we have used that free will to rebel against him, to engage in the very kind of willful defiance that brings wrongdoers to the attention of the police and the courts.
The skeptic hasn’t spent enough time considering what the attributes of a perfect Creator would include. If he did, he might realize that such a being would embody perfect justice. That’s a problem, even for “evidence based” and “reasonable” people, because the issue isn’t whether what they’re doing makes sense to them, but whether it violates his law. In short, he would have every right to communicate rules to us, rules that he actually expects us to follow. The good news of Christianity is that God also provides the solution to our problem – and that solution has little to do with “irrational faith” and a lot to do with placing our trust in him and assenting to the work he is prepared to do in us. Saying yes to that process is actually the most rational thing a person can choose, because so much hangs in the balance.
The skeptic’s final mistake is to conclude, without attempting to prove, that faith is irrational. I’ll address that error in my next post.
Posted by Al Serrato