part 2 of a debate
by Bernard J Leikind
In his essay, my friendly dinner companion tells us his beliefs about the nature of science and of scientific knowledge. Some of these views differ from mine. I appreciate the opportunity that Fred Heeren has given me to discuss these ideas with him and with you.
Did the world come from nothing?
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The rest of Genesis tells what God did once he had the heaven and the earth. Genesis does not say that God started from nothing, nor does it say that he started from something. There is also no explanation for how he did it. All Genesis says is that God created the heaven and the earth. Later theologians argued the question, and some claimed that God created the heavens and the earth from nothing. The thoughts of these men became doctrine of the Church. Fred quotes Augustine on this matter, but the issue is not in Genesis one way or another.
Does the big bang theory offer support for the biblical story?
Fred believes that the scientific theory that time had a beginning confirms the Biblical story of creation. To believe that science confirms the Biblical story of creation, he ignores the scientific and logical howlers that populate the rest of Genesis. It embarrasses me to point these out so I will mention only one as an example. God created day and night three days before he created the sun and the moon. Even the Pope, thought by some to be a good Christian, said that the Bible is not a science text, but that it is a spiritual guide.
In his book, The Hidden Face of God, Professor Richard Elliot Friedman, a distinguished student of the Bible at the University of California at San Diego, discusses some recent books by scientists who claim that modern cosmology confirms the accounts in Genesis. A man of reason and of faith, Professor Friedman says that we must know what the authors of Genesis believed about the cosmos.
They imagined, he says, "an initial state of watery chaos, in which the deity creates a habitable bubble, in which humans and animals can live, by making a firm substance (the ‘firmament’ ...) which holds back the waters above. That is, the biblical picture of the cosmos, like the ancient Mesopotamian picture, reflected the understanding that the sky is blue because there is water up there. Thus in the biblical flood story, which comes a few chapters later, the waters pour in from above and below as the deity opens ‘the windows of the heavens’ and ‘the fountains of the deep.’’ This picture, which might have been a reasonable guess in its day, is not at all consistent with the ideas of the Big Bang theory. It is not even consistent with our knowledge of the earth and its surroundings.
Why does Fred find comfort in the fact that both the Big Bang theory and the Genesis story contain a beginning when they differ in every other respect? Professor Friedman says that "To claim that the Genesis creation account reflects Big Bang cosmology is ultimately a disservice to both the Bible and cosmology." I agree.
Is the goal of science to find a cause for every effect?
Fred believes that the great quest of science is to find a cause for every effect. I do not think that this is correct. The great quest of science is to find the relationships, if there are any, between the many phenomena of nature. Philosophers, both ancient and modern, have supposed that whether effects have causes is a matter of logic. Scientific thinkers consider this truth to be a generally useful hypothesis subject to experimental or observational tests.
We now know of two classes of events for which it does not make sense to say that certain effects have certain causes. For example, although we know all the governing laws for the weather, and although we can accurately predict the weather in a small area for a short time, chaos theory teaches us that it will never be possible to predict the weather one hundred years in the future. In this case causes produce effects in the near term, but we cannot know which causes produce which effects in the more distant future.
Another example, from the microscopic world governed by quantum mechanics, is radioactive decay. We know that the decay of a particular radioactive atom has no cause. The famed exponential curve of radioactivity is characteristic of random underlying laws. The discovery, in the 1920s and 1930s, that some aspects of nature had no cause surprised and even shocked some physicists. Some supposed that we just did not know the cause and that further research would uncover it. They demanded strong evidence that no cause existed. Once experimental physicists provided that evidence, the skeptics changed their views.
This is like the psychiatric patient who believed that he was dead. His doctor pricked the patient’s finger and asked, "Do dead men bleed?" "Well, I thought that they didn’t," the patient replied. "But evidently they do!" One of philosophy’s great quests, to know if all effects have causes, now has an unequivocal answer: Most of them do, but not all of them.
Does the universe have a cause?
Fred believes that the scientific view, from Aristotle to Einstein, was that the world had no beginning. Aristotle may have believed that the universe was eternal, but Fred misstates the opinion of scientists during most of that time. Of course there were no scientists until about the time of Galileo and Newton. The idea that the world should be our judge of truth did not arise until that time. Scientists before the nineteenth century generally believed, as did all educated people in the western world, that the Bible gave an accurate account of the history of the world. My hero, Isaac Newton, was one of these believers. I think that Newton believed that God offered his truths to us through his words in the Bible and through his works in nature. As both were God’s works, they must both be true.
The geologists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who discovered the poetically named deep time, were surprised as they found that the rocky evidence totally and irrefutably contradicted the Biblical story of creation. They expected to find The Flood, but it was not there. Before their discoveries, I am sure, no one ever thought to apply the Bible’s poetry about God’s days being like a thousand years to the days of Creation. They believed that days were days.
It is common among Biblical apologists to take as literal passages that their authors meant metaphorically and to take as metaphorical passages that the authors meant literally. If the words are false, then change their meaning and proclaim them to be true. This elasticity of meaning arises from the preconceptions or wishes of the faithful reader. Scientists, of course, have preconceptions and wishes. Scientists, however, consider only the world’s evidence of the world as a reliable guide to truth. If the world fails to confirm their hopes they change their opinions, they do not change their results.
As to the initial moments of the world, many contemporary scientists speculate but none can be confident about what happened at the beginning and why. Fred would have you believe that scientists accept as a matter of faith that the world arose from nothing. I think that he misstates the nature of scientific belief in this matter. Most scientists would say that the evidence strongly supports the view that the world had a definite beginning in time and an origin in space. They would say that we do not yet know the proper way to think about this momentous event. None of them would say that other scientists or the public should believe any particular view. There are insufficient grounds for belief.
Fred’s argument boils down to the famous and venerable first cause argument for God’s existence. Theologically-minded philosophers have long argued that all events must have causes and that if there is not an infinite past then there must be a first uncaused cause. Having completed an airtight argument proving that all causes must have earlier causes, they perform mental backflips to explain why the uncaused cause does not require a cause.
Does the world exist for our benefit?
Fred’s second argument, based on another famous and venerable argument, the argument from design, takes as its scientific basis, the puzzling and amazing problem of the universe’s initial conditions. Fred poses what he takes to be an obvious choice: if there is no god, then science should be finding that history develops by random laws and that nature is arbitrary. Evidence for care and precision, "for our benefit," would suggest a god with a plan.
Paradoxically, I would have stated these questions in exactly the opposite fashion. An omnipotent God could create the universe any way he wishes and have it come out any way he wants. He would not have to follow natural law. In the Bible, God adjusts the course of nature as he pleases. He kills every first born in only Egyptian families. (For no good reason, I might add. In this case we know his reason because the Bible says what it is.) He parts the sea so that 600,000 men, their wives and children can walk along the muddy bottom. A big fish or a whale swallows a man who lives inside for a few days before emerging astonished but unhurt. He stops the sun to allow Joshua and his men to continue a wanton slaughter for a few extra hours. He changes a curious woman, sorrowful at leaving her home, into a pillar of salt. He fills a herd of pigs with demons, causing them to run over a cliff, which cures a possessed man but ruins the livelihood of some innocent swineherds who had been minding their own business. He raises Lazarus from the dead.
The god of the Bible has arbitrary power, and he uses it. A universe governed by natural law, I would say, is evidence against the literal existence of the Biblical God. As science has expanded the power and reach of natural law we have less need for a god to intervene in nature on our side or against us, and, perhaps, more need for a spiritual guide.
My friend, Fred Heeren, has studied the truths of science, which he accepts, I think, as the tools that God created to govern the universe. I think that he would not accept the Biblical miracles I mentioned as correct and accurate accounts of real events because they contradict the otherwise uniform operation of God’s natural laws. I agree that he is not subject to superstition and that he strives to guide his life with reason. Fred seeks for the meaning of his life in the most miraculous event of all, The Creation.
Does the fact that we exist in a universe with a particular set of initial conditions suggest that these initial conditions are "for our benefit?" In one of world literature’s greatest examples of dramatic irony, we know exactly why God afflicts Job, a man chosen to suffer because he is innocent and good. God and Satan have made a bet. Can Job be made to suffer enough that he will curse God? We know this, but Job does not know why his children are murdered, his wealth destroyed, and his health ruined. Zophar the Naamathite tried unsuccessfully to comfort his friend Job.
Canst thou find out the deep things of God?
Canst thou attain unto the purpose of the Almighty?
It is high as heaven; what canst thou do?
Deeper than the nether world; what canst thou know?
The measure thereof is longer than the earth,
And broader than the sea.
Recently I read about a headline in the Parrot Daily News. "Titanic sinks," it said. "No parrots injured." I wonder if Fred has not confused his interests, which naturally focus on us, with God’s interests. What exactly in the universe as it exists today was the Creator’s purpose? That the world today is the unlikely outcome of billions of years of development impresses Fred. I think that Fred mistakes the fact that someone must win the lottery for the fact that some particular person was intended to win the lottery. Every bridge hand is a random event. Each possible arrangement of cards among the four hands is random and, at the same time, in conformance to all natural laws. Of course, most deals result in unremarkable games while a few allow the declarer to win seven spades doubled and redoubled. Did someone arrange that deal for his or her benefit? Let us hope not!
We now know that all life, not just humanity, is the present result of billions of years of evolutionary development. The local conditions at each moment determine which creatures are more likely to survive. As the local conditions change the surviving creatures change. The entire process plays for short term advantage. Governed by the laws of nature, nature’s undirected changes produce undirected adaptations. There is no possibility of long term planning. Every creature alive today is the last tiny twig on a particular path through the bush of evolution leading back to some initial remarkable molecule, just barely different from every other dead molecule. Bacteria, sponge, tree, flower, shark, clam, opossum, bird, even Bill and Hillary, all have equally long evolutionary histories. For which one was all of this created?
The laws of nature at their deepest level, as we understand them today, are symmetries. The conservation of energy arises from the symmetry of time. Conservation of momentum arises from the symmetry of space. The unsymmetric rule that entropy can never decrease in a closed system arises from the symmetrical nature of all possible arrangements of the system’s components. Other, more abstract, symmetries of nature freeze out to produce the various forces that operate in the world today.
Just as a pencil balanced on its tip in a symmetric gravitational field will eventually fall in one direction, so the particular solutions to the equations that embody these symmetric laws are not necessarily symmetric or even predictable. They work their way, nevertheless, to a particular universe. The laws of the universe must allow for our existence, because here we are. No one will disagree with that. This, however, is very different from the claim that the Creator made these laws just to produce us.
Does Scientific Belief Require Faith?
Fred asks which takes more faith, to believe that a powerful and beneficent Creator made the Universe, or that the Universe appeared, uncaused, from nothing. No scientist would ask someone to accept a matter of fact or theory on faith. When scientists suggest that some fact or theory is true, they will present the evidence from the world that persuades them. You are free to believe or not as you wish. If it turns out that scientists eventually propose that the Universe came from nothing they will tell you the grounds for their beliefs. You may believe on faith that they experimented, calculated, or observed and that the results were as they claim. But this would not be necessary. If you wish you may ask the world for yourself. To believe in the scientific way of thinking requires much less faith than any other system of thought.
by Fred Heeren
The God of the gaps
To sum up the theme of my worthy opponent’s first article: our need for God is diminished as our understanding of nature grows. Like a marksman picking off tin cans along a fence, one by one the scientist has solved the mysteries of the origin of humanity, the origin of life, and "[w]hen science finally solves the origin of the universe, the last reason for belief in the supernatural will vanish...." Then the theist will be left with no more gaps in scientific knowledge and thus no more reasons to believe in God.
I’d like to take most of my allotted space to explore whether the aim of these scientific marksmen is true – or if Bernard has assumed that these tin cans have been toppled merely because he heard the shots. But first I need to address Bernard’s assumption that the believer’s God resides solely in these scientific gaps. This is a natural assumption in a debate in which the issue is the scientific evidence for God – and I’m left with no one but myself to blame for setting up such a debate.
However, the actual concept Christians like me have of God – the concept of a personal Creator to whom we are personally accountable, who is the source of morality, who dispenses both justice and mercy, who holds our eternal destinies in His hands, who cares about us and searches our hearts – this is a concept that cannot be fully examined without examining the condition of our own hearts. Perhaps it should not be surprising that atheists so seldom spend time considering this Christian concept of God – this God who demands that we examine ourselves as well as Him – preferring instead to respond to the God of the "literal six-day creationists" – or the God of the gaps.
The fact that atheists talk so much about a God of the gaps may be indicative of their own anxiety until these gaps are finally closed. "Aha," they say, "another gap in our knowledge has been closed. Thus we know that natural law, being the result of random process, explains everything there is to know about this phenomenon. And we will surely close more gaps, just as we have this one, until God is no longer required to explain anything."
The atheist’s faith
Of course, the non-theist does not know everything about a phenomenon merely by knowing about the rule it obeys, nor does he know that this rule has been put in place by random processes. His belief is obviously based on his own presuppositions, and these may be more questionable than those of people who more forthrightly use the word faith.
Given the question of this debate, we’re both compelled to consider the scientific evidences. But where Bernard assumes that rational people will only believe in God so long as scientific alternatives aren’t available, my first piece concludes instead that rational people have the freedom to choose from three broad options – and that each requires faith.
In the real world, I believe that much more enters into this choice than purely rational factors, even for those who consider themselves most rational. On the negative side, most people feel the tug of the tradition they were raised in or the lifestyle they wish to maintain more strongly than the urge to seek ultimate truth; they are more keenly influenced by laziness and fear of discomfort than by any desire to get to the bottom of life’s big questions.
Society conditions us to seek power, prestige, or at least comfort, not to hunt for God. Even the Bible tells us, "There is none who seeks for God" (Romans 3:11). As long as this situation persists – as long as the traditionally religious person goes through the motions of his parent’s faith without a personal experience, or as long as the irreligious person lives in denial of life’s spiritual dimension – there is no hope of finding truth.
On the positive side, hope arrives when God moves us through circumstances or restlessness of spirit so that truth becomes more important to us than animal needs and desires. Only then do we transcend the animal world and rise above the popular notions of a race whose highest reason for being is simply to survive. People throughout the ages have lived lives that have taught them their need for God. Obviously, life itself has this power, not just the fact that we’re missing scientific explanations for parts of the natural world.
My friend Bernard assumes that growth in scientific understanding of natural law has "reduced the kingdom of supernatural powers." But why should it? How does our knowing more about a person’s work make him less powerful? Rather, if what we learn about that person’s work shows him to be a good workman, we admire him all the more.
The discovery that the natural world obeys harmoniously-working laws takes nothing away from God. Does the fact that God may sustain and hold all things together through laws rather than irrational magic make Him less real?
An involved God
My friend believes that God’s personal intervention in a universe with laws and natural processes is absurd. Does he believe that God’s intervention in a universe without such laws would be less absurd? Which points better to an involved God, a universe without sense or pattern, or a universe filled with predictable patterns, such as this one?
I see no good reason why the Creator might not involve Himself with the people He created. In fact, the anthropic principle leads us to expect that the Fine-Tuner behind the universe’s fine-tuning should be very interested in the creatures for whom He did all this fine-tuning.
The alternative, a God whose sole job is just to exist, seems to me more absurd. Would such a Grand Thinker show no forethought regarding the problem of evil and suffering in a world inhabited by free-willed beings? Would a God who displays such power be impotent to help his needy creatures? Would the one who created us with such a need to know Him and to find meaning beyond temporal, animal life, leave us with these pathetic desires and no way to fulfill them? And would any purely "rational" person ever be so confident of "yes" answers to all these questions that he would stake his eternal destiny on it?
All the world’s a stage
Bernard observes an orderly universe and believes it necessarily follows that God cannot intervene in it. I observe an orderly universe with all its physical laws and natural processes as the necessary stage upon which we persons act. We should not marvel at the Producer-Director’s lack of further intervention with the set and props after the actors have made their entrance. Once in place, there may be little further need for the Director to change the painted flats and lifeless backdrops.
The actors, however, have a contribution of their own to make, which a good Director wants to influence. In the same way, the human heart, being the one thing that is ours to give back to our Creator, may be infinitely more interesting to Him than the setting He has made in which free will can play.
I suppose that as long as one refuses to consider the possibility that we conscious beings may be more than mere props on this universal stage, we will have difficulty in seeing how a Director could have any interest in interacting with us. But if the Creator of love is Himself loving (which is not a logical stretch), and if, because of this, He has willed to personally involve Himself with us in the greatest way possible – through the incarnation of Jesus – then why shouldn’t He enter a world of order, governed by rational laws? Indeed, had He entered a world of unknowable or magical underpinnings, we would have no "normal" context for His miracles, which serve as his divine credentials (John 10:38, 14:11).
According to Bernard: "When science finally solves the origin of the universe, the last reason for belief in the supernatural will vanish, but the mystery will remain." Notice that he is still stuck with a mystery.
It’s interesting that, in order to support our differing conclusions, we both ended up discussing the evidence for a universal creation event. I, of course, stressed that it was a finely tuned creation event, a fact that my friend studiously avoids. But the main difference between us stems from the implications we each find in that creation event. Bernard sees a brute fact without cause. I see evidence for a cause beyond our universe, the work of a purposeful agent.
The implications I draw are straightforward and follow directly from the evidence. Logic tells us that when we see an effect, there is a cause behind it. Reason also tells us that a phenomenon that exists against odds of 1060 has an intelligent cause behind it. The implication that Bernard draws from the creation event – that it is causeless – is not so straightforward. The reader may judge for himself which of us is depending more heavily upon his presuppositions. Engaging in what he calls "informed speculation," he wonders if perhaps spacetime popped into existence from nothingness in a way analogous to the way quantum particles pop in and out of spacetime. The analogy is a false one because something coming from something else is in a decidedly different category from something coming from absolutely nothing.
As I pointed out in my first piece, there’s a big difference between absolute nothingness and the "nothingness" of space within our spacetime, in which quantum particles fluctuate. The "nothingness" within our spacetime is called a false vacuum and is not truly nothing; it contains the properties of field and it’s loaded with fluctuating quantum particles. This false vacuum, being something, still demands a cause.
Also, these particles always come in pairs; no particle can pop into existence unless another particle pops out. But if Bernard is saying that the whole universe popped into existence while another universe popped out of existence, then where did that out-popping universe come from? So the analogy doesn’t work for two reasons. And for a third, the universe should not only pop into existence, but back out of existence within the tiniest fraction of a second, known as a Planck time (10-43 second). According to the rule we observe, what pops in must pop out. Instead, our universe has survived, not only past Planck time, but past trillions and trillions of Planck times, beating the quantum odds against such staying power many trillions of times each second throughout the history of the universe.
For something to come from "absolute nothingness" in any natural way remains an absurdity. Such an idea is mystical, not scientific. Yet, after proposing this popular speculation for the origin of our cosmos, Bernard says that "unlike revelation, these ideas are subject to critical tests – experimental and observational confirmation." Really? To test the idea of a universe coming into existence from absolutely nothing, a scientist would need to find a way to observe something coming into existence from absolute nothingness (outside our spacetime). Obviously, no such experiment or observation is possible.
My friend makes a very unscientific leap of faith when he says that new universes are constantly being spawned by black holes. In so leaping, he has jumped onto the bandwagon of many who now make this conjecture in order to come up with a mechanism to produce many universes – and to find something other than God that might solve the fine tuning problem. This finely tuned universe, they reason, may be one of many, or even an infinite number of universes, in which case everything possible happens – including this universe which so perfectly mimics intelligent design.
Renowned British cosmologist Paul Davies assesses the idea thus: "To postulate an infinity of unseen and unseeable universes just to explain the one we do see seems like a case of excess baggage carried to the extreme. It is simpler to postulate one unseen God."
Because atheists have a knack for choosing evidence that is unobservable and untestable, they cannot be proven wrong. However, neither can they prove that their ideas have scientific merit. Bernard looks for his non-God explanation for the universe’s origin in the not-yet-understood realm where physicists are trying to find a way to combine quantum mechanics and general relativity. My friend thus puts his faith in what he doesn’t know. And he accuses the theists of arguing their case from gaps in scientific knowledge!
One bit of knowledge we all ought to have (including Bernard) is the truth that all events have causes, including quantum events. Bernard says that one of his quantum relativistic bubble universes would have no cause, because quantum events do not have causes. Actually, the experiments he refers to show the opposite – that quantum events have no independent existence, but are dependent upon a conscious observer. Bernard’s scenario brings up the problem of explaining who was present to observe his quantum universe come into existence at the beginning. Such a necessary, conscious observer begins to sound like a transcendent God.
He mentions experiments first done in France as proof, but these experiments actually proved something quite different from what he claims. When instantaneous communication occurred between distant quantum particles that were shot in opposite directions, Alain Aspect’s experiments did indeed show that Neils Bohr was correct and that Einstein was wrong. Einstein had hoped that "hidden variables" might explain the phenomena. But when I asked physicist Robert Gange about the meaning of these experiments, he told me:
"The elimination of hidden variables as the explanation for simultaneous communication of two different parts of the universe does not prove the absence of causality – it’s quite the contrary: It is causality that produced the existence of the two things that are independently and simultaneously communicating. What it has proven is that there is an aspect of reality that centers in human consciousness, not that there is no causality."
The origin of life
Regarding life’s origin, Bernard speaks of how the "lack of evidence hampers us, and it may be that our evidence of this imperceptible and distant event will never be sufficient to eliminate all but one theory." Actually, the situation is worse than that. Not only do we lack the evidence from which to make a choice between theories for abiogenesis – we lack a theory. A scientific theory must account for known phenomena with a coherent series of sufficient mechanisms.
Stephen Meyer’s article on this site, "The Message in the Microcosm," shows how no mechanisms for the origin of information in nucleotide sequencing has ever been found, and thus no conjecture for how life originated has ever reached anything like the status of a theory. Instead, wherever evidence is available, sequencing that results in information has always proved to be the product of intelligence. In light of this, Bernard’s position that "[o]ur problem is that we have too many good ideas" would appear extremely difficult to defend.
The origin of humans
When Bernard repeats the famous claim that "humans barely differ from chimpanzees" while also mentioning our prized cultural accomplishments, he actually helps the theist make his point. The smaller the physical differences between humans and apes, the greater our wonder at what it is about us that could set us so far apart.
America’s foremost philosopher, Mortimer Adler, writes that "only members of the human species have the conceptual powers that enable them to deal with the unperceived, the imperceptible, and the unimaginable.... The difference is one of kind rather than one of degree.... [M]an’s intellectual powers are not related to the action of the brain and nervous system in the same way that man’s sensory powers are.... The action of the brain is only a necessary, but not the sufficient, condition for the functioning of the human mind."
Many others now wonder at the many facets of human consciousness that cannot be explained by biological mechanisms alone. Fred Hoyle wondered how "chance mutations ... produce genes which were to prove capable of writing the symphonies of Beethoven and the plays of Shakespeare." Evolutionary biologist Susumu Ohno wondered how humans were endowed with genes that enabled them "to compose music of infinite complexity and write novels with profound meaning" long before they were called upon to use such abilities.
Even if biology can explain our body’s basic functions, what explains us? Who is this ghost in the machine, experiencing the beauty of a sunset, laughing at a good joke, and groaning at a bad one? Who makes the decision to be deceptive or honest, to forgive or to plot vengeance? Who is it, inside the machine, who contemplates the suffering of his fellows, his place in the universe, his relationship to the Creator of all?
Only humans have the burden of a true conscience, responding to guilt not by instinct but by moral imperative – justifying themselves, excusing themselves, repenting – all on the basis of high standards far beyond their ability to fulfill. What makes us search for love, for meaning, for something that lasts? Why do we desire so much more than we need for survival?
Is all this really a simple difference of degree? How can the survival of the fittest explain such developments? Is guilt an evolutionary development to aid the survival of psychiatrists?
Deeper reasons for faith
My faith is not based on science, but neither do I expect my faith to fly in the face of reality. I do find it interesting that modern science points most reasonably to a transcendent Creator. A century ago, neither cosmology (before the evidence for a beginning) nor biology (before our understanding of the cell’s specified complexity) would have been so helpful. Throughout history, people have managed to put their trust in God without needing Him merely to explain how the big bang’s fuse got lit or how the first life form appeared.
My own first reasons for faith have more to do with something within me that drives me to seek for the meaning and purpose that I find myself expecting. This expectation is a given that seems to be part of the unique experience of being human. I’m willing to explore the non-theist’s claims of finding meaning too, and I’m willing to consider his claims for finding alternative scientific explanations for life and for the universe we observe. But nothing has been so faith-strengthening for me than the examination of both these types of claims. Time after time, my skepticism leads me back to the God who made me with this inescapable desire, above all else, to know Him.
Having no God to whom he must give account of himself, Bernard closes by saying: "We are responsible to ourselves, to our peers, and to future generations for the consequences of our actions...." I applaud all who recognize these responsibilities. Atheists who take seriously their responsibility for their moral actions are bound to make better neighbors than nominal Christians who live selfish lives and use their religion as a tool toward selfish ends. The reason there are so many terrible things done by so-called Christians is that some of the most evil people have seen the advantage of using Christianity as a cover for their actions.
But not everyone who comes to non-theistic conclusions is likely to take responsibility for their actions so seriously. The biggest problem is people who have given little thought, either to the cause of humanism or to the cause of God, but who are consumed with self and with how to keep themselves gratified, regardless of the effects on others. Such people are only too happy to use Bernard’s conclusions to believe they can get away with anything. People are adept at rationalizing – using either a materialistic position or religion to justify themselves. Where Bernard and I differ, though, is that I believe the best remedy to this is the change Christ makes in the lives of those who are truly His.
Such people allow His Word to change them from selfish creatures into creatures with a higher purpose. Having experienced God’s love and forgiveness firsthand, these transformed creatures are motivated – neither by pride nor by compulsion, but by gratitude – "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8).
The Debate Will Continue ...