One of the most frequently asked questions in my lectureships concerns whether there really is such a thing as an atheist. Are there reasons why atheism makes sense? Somehow, many people seem to believe that there is no such thing as a real atheist. We hear catchy sayings like “There are no atheists in foxholes.” That suggests atheists are actually hypocrites who, for various reasons, pretend not to believe in God even though they do.
Having been an atheist for many years, I know that such suggestions are not valid. Many people genuinely believe that there is no God. There can be many reasons for a person denying the existence of God. We want to share some of them with you from our own experience:
REASON 1. The lesson of history has been that religion has consistently opposed science and human advancement. As we look back to Galileo, Copernicus, Pasteur, and virtually every great scientist of the past we can see religionists opposing their ideas. History tells the stories of scientists who were persecuted and sometimes killed because their theories conflicted with the traditional religious views of the day. Even today religious opposition frequently works to stop scientific advancement. A percentage of college-educated atheists are atheists because they view religion as a stumbling block to human progress. For them, that is why atheism makes sense.
RESPONSE. In the past religion has at times blocked science when men followed tradition, not the Bible. Even today, however, we have Christians who oppose science because of traditional beliefs or because of human religious teaching. The atheist certainly has a valid complaint here. The only problem with his argument is that he fails to realize where modern science started and that it cannot stand alone.
First, look at where modern science started. It began with the recognition that if God conceived the creation, it must display intelligence with logical and understandable order and design. If we believe that nature is a product of blind, random chance, then we could expect it to be random and chaotic and incapable of being understood. Science began when humans realized that the creation and its design could be understood and studied.
Secondly, what we mean by “science can’t stand alone” is that it cannot determine the uses humans should make of its discoveries. Many times religious concerns about the moral implications of a scientific discovery are construed as attempts to stop science when they are actually an attempt to give science intelligent and productive direction.
ADVICE. We who believe in God need to make sure that if we oppose a scientific effort, our opposition is based on Christian principles from the Bible and not on tradition. We also need to be sure that we do not rely on pseudo-science and false science to back up our efforts to reach the skeptic. We must urge ourselves and others to think and examine, not accept and follow.
Every generation has a technology challenge that causes parental anxiety and threatens their relationship with their kids. For boys today the challenge is the video game Fortnite: Battle Royale.
When I was a kid in the 1950s, the technology challenge was television. I remember seeing my first television. When the wealthy neighbors got a color TV, my parents complained that I was gone all the time to watch their color TV. When shows came on that seemed risqué to my parents, there was a crisis. I wanted to watch rock and roll which my parents felt was a “tool of the devil,” even though they were atheists. There was also the development of games. Every store had a pinball machine, and as kids, we found ways to win free games. I missed one whole afternoon of school because I hit the jackpot during my lunch hour that gave me 50 free games.
Todays’ new technology is computers, and the challenge they present is video games. The game getting the most attention now is Fortnite: Battle Royale which is produced by a North Carolina company called Epic and partially owned by Disney. It’s an attractive mix of game design with a persuasive technology designed to shape the behavior of its users. This is mass-market gaming, and it has been the most watched game on Amazon.com’s Twitch network for the past year. Last November people spent 108.9 million hours watching other people play Fortnite. The company makes money by selling costumes called skins and dances called emotes for their avatars to perform. Embellishments sell from $2 to $20. Players buy them with virtual currency called V-Bucks which are sold in packages priced from $9.99 to $99.99.
Since its launch in July of 2017 Fortnite has made more than $2 billion from the sales of virtual goods. Fortnite: Battle Royale is a killing game that is hair raising but earns a “T” rating (meaning okay for Teens) by not showing visible spilled blood or dismembered body parts. Psychologists have identified some 200 persuasive design tricks to make a game addictive. Fortnite: Battle Royale uses a high percentage of those elements in combinations. We old folks may remember how addictive the games were in the past. Games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, or Frogger did not compare with the far more addictive techniques in the toolbag of Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Scientists are researching whether involvement with video games is connected to substance abuse or compulsive behavior. Gunfights constitute a significant part of Fortnite, and the heavy use of violence concerns many scientists. Parents should be aware of the game and its potential risks. Restricting playing time, and having activities the child likes that pulls him or her away from the game are essential.
Challenges to parenting aren’t new. Parents have always had to be careful about how they react to the difficulties of raising a child. The Bible’s instructions for parents are more needed than ever before. You can’t “train up a child in the way he should go” if the actual chief trainer is a violent video game.
In yesterday’s discussion on cannibalism, we pointed out that there is no passage in the Bible where people are told to practice cannibalism. We also said that in the New Testament the body is portrayed in passages like 1 Corinthians 3:16 as the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. The next question that logically would arise is whether the same passages and logic condemn instances of suicide in the Bible.
In Old Testament times there was a thing known as royal suicide. A king or military leader who failed was expected to retain his honor by killing himself. We find suicide in the Bible in 1 Samuel 31:1-6 where Saul falls on his own sword. In the New Testament, Judas committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5), and a prison keeper attempted to (Acts 16:25-28). As is the case with cannibalism, these instances of suicide in the Bible are merely reports that these things happened. They are not things that were commanded or approved by God. The reality is that the jailer was forgiven, and Judas could have been forgiven had he sought forgiveness. Peter found forgiveness for denying Christ, but Judas was so hardened that destruction was all he could understand.
The first point we need to make is that suicide is wrong on all levels. God created us and promised through Jesus that He will be with us and help us find answers to our problems and struggles. Not allowing God to do that is wrong. Suicide is also wrong because of what it does to those who are left behind. I have personally seen the devastation a suicide has brought to parents, children, close friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Suicide is a selfish act that does incredible damage to others.
God has built into us a strong desire to live. Our very design causes us to keep going when things get tough. As a public school teacher, I have seen severe mental illness cause a number of students to kill themselves. I am talking about those who sincerely intend to die by their own hand. Some people commit a pseudo-suicide. They do something that they know won’t kill them, but which will allow them to write a desperate note to those who have conflicted with them. It is a cry for help but not a real suicide.
People who are suicidal need help. The burden is on those of us who love them to do a better job of letting them know how much we love them. We must make sure they find help both in the Church and through medical experts who can provide counsel and medications.
Atheists and skeptics often take passages out of context as evidence that the Bible is merely the opinions of people and not the teachings of God. One such claim that we have seen in recent articles is the suggestion that the Bible endorses and encourages cannibalism. It is true that there are historical reports of cannibalism in the Bible. Second Kings 6:28-29 is the most commonly used passage where cannibalism takes place. Other passages are Deuteronomy 28:53, Isaiah 9:20, Jeremiah 19:9, and Lamentations 2:20 and 4:10.
It is essential in any question about the Bible to look at who wrote the passage in question, what the purpose of the writing was, to whom it was written, and how people of the time in which it was written would have understood it. This passage and all of the others cited above are merely a report of history. If you read the front page of a modern newspaper about a murder, do you assume that the person who wrote the article is the one who committed the crime? Of course not. A news reporter reports the news. They don’t do the event on which they are reporting. The fact that there are reports of cannibalism in the Bible does not mean that it endorses the practice.
The passage in 2 Kings 6:24-29 tells about King Benhadad who was the King of Syria invading Samaria. The people in Samaria ran out of food, and we are told that “an asses head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver.” Two women who were starving to death agreed to kill their two sons and eat them. The first son was killed and eaten and the second woman reneged on allowing her son to be killed and eaten. This is a news report, not ordered or sanctioned by God. The report is made to demonstrate how severe the starvation was.
There is no report of cannibalism in the Bible where it is approved, but the Bible does accurately record history. In the New Testament, the body is considered to be the temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Human life is sacred in the New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus are teachings of love, forgiveness, compassion, and care. Tomorrow we will discuss suicide in light of these teachings of Christ.
In today’s world, prison ministries get very little attention. DOES GOD EXIST? has had prison work as a part of its program from the beginning. In 1968 we did our first program in a prison although I had previously worked in prisons in the South Bend area with a sister in Christ named Helen Richards. I worked in prisons and with teenagers because no one else wanted to do it. Even my background as an atheist didn’t seem to bother either one of those populations.
I have stayed involved with both youth and prison ministries for over 50 years now. The need for Christians to get involved with prison ministries continues to grow. Arrests for drug possession have increased to such an extent that the United States has the world’s largest population of people in prison. Why do most congregations have no active prison ministries and no interest in spending time and money to start one?
The answer to that question is quite complex. Many congregations lack interest because converting a prisoner doesn’t bring any numerical increase in attendance, finance, or solutions to problems. Frequently people who are in prison are not the easiest people to deal with. They are depressed, frustrated, suspicious, and in need. Many have experienced violence in one way or the other. In spite of that, the Bible is full of examples of how prisoners should be treated. You can’t read the New Testament without finding a reference to prison work. (See Hebrews 13:3, Philemon 10, Philippians 1: 12-14, Acts 16:22-40; 24:23, Matthew 25:39, 44-45).
You don’t find atheists, humanists, naturalists, or evolutionists doing much work in prisons. What I do find is that many of the 3800 students taking our apologetic course are prisoners. They are also people who had lost their faith in God and the Bible and were living a “survival of the fittest” belief system that didn’t work. Disillusioned with secular humanism, atheism, and naturalism there are many prisoners desperately wanting evidence to rekindle their faith in God. We have donated our DVD series to over 100 prisons throughout the country and have found huge acceptance to them among prisoners. We frequently do single session workshops in prisons and find that the prisoners are hungry to learn and anxious to build a working faith.
The big problem with many prisons is that gangs run the prison system. Prisoners are moved from prison to prison to break up the gangs, but in some prisons the gangs have control. Education is a primary tool for addressing this problem. It is vital that prisoners know where to find help, and our materials are available without cost. Kings Crossing Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, has materials available to help anyone who wishes to make a difference in the lives of men and women who desperately want to return to living a life of faith.
One thing that confuses both atheists and fundamentalists is understanding the evolution of language. Atheists like to point out “mistakes” in the King James Version, and fundamentalists sometimes say it is the only accurate translation. The English language is continually evolving, and the Hebrew language evolved also.
In the early history of Hebrew, words were not written with the vowels we see today. Over time, vowels were added. That means there are variant spellings in the texts translators use. The word “Jerusalem,” for example, appears 660 times in the Hebrew Bible. Five times the spelling includes an extra vowel (Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 1 Chronicles 3:5,2 Chronicles 25: 1 and 32:9). Those books were written later than other passages where the vowel “yod” is not present. The difference is between the older “Yerushalem” and the later “Yerushalayim.” Today in Israel the city’s name is “Yerushalayim.”
On October 9, 2018, archaeologists at the Israel Museum unveiled a recently discovered stone column with a Hebrew inscription. The inscription is around 2000 years old, and it shows that Jerusalem in Hebrew was spelled and pronounced “Yerushalayim” in the time of Christ. That is the spelling used in those five instances in the Old Testament.
Biblical Archaeological Review reported this discovery in their January/February 2019 issue on page 6. The ancient inscription deals only with the spelling of Jerusalem, but other Hebrew words have changed over the centuries by adding vowels to make reading easier. All of this is of no consequence for you and I casually reading our Bibles. However, when we get into discussions of translations of the Bible and the meaning of words going all of the way back to the Genesis account, we have to dig a little deeper. Just like English, the Hebrew language evolved.
By the way, here is an example of the evolution of English. The “yod” vowel is only a small mark. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 5:18. The King James translators transliterated it into a new English word. We still use that word today to refer to a small mark or something written quickly. The word is “jot.”
On a clear night look around to find the brightest star. (Don’t get confused with planets which sometimes are more brilliant than stars.) The brightest star in the sky is Sirius.
The name comes from an ancient Greek word which means “glowing.” It’s in the constellation Canis Major which means “big dog.” Sirius is at the base of the dog’s neck. It looks bright because it’s 25 times more luminous than the Sun and is “only” 8.6 light-years away. Other stars are more luminous, but they don’t appear as bright because they are farther away from the Earth.
We see Sirius as a single star, but it’s more than that. It is actually a binary star consisting of Sirius A and Sirius B. A binary star is two stars orbiting around a central point. There are star systems composed of 2, 3, 4, or more stars orbiting each other which look like a single star to us. Astronomers estimate that half or more of the stars we see in the night sky are actually multiple star systems.
If our Sun had been part of a multiple star system, we wouldn’t be here. Imagine being on a planet orbiting a star which is orbiting one or more other stars. Gravitational forces would pull the planetary orbit apart. Days and seasons and years would be completely chaotic. Life would not be possible.
Genesis 1:14 tells us that God established the Sun and Moon to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s no coincidence that we are orbiting a single star to light the day, and we are orbited by a moon to light the night. Together it is an unusual and extraordinary system. It is a gift from God.
We take for granted many things that God has built into the Earth so that we can survive. Among those are trees. World Ark magazine for the spring of 2019 published some interesting data that demonstrate the benefits of trees:
One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide in a year. That is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
One acre of forest produces six tons of oxygen a year. That is also enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
A single average-sized tree produces 260 pounds of oxygen a year, which is enough for two people.
Large areas of asphalt or cement attract and retain the Sun’s heat artificially boosting local temperatures. Trees are the only cure for this overheating.
Trees are the most efficient way to reduce urban noise.
Planting a tree on the west side of your house can block enough of the Sun’s heat to save $25 on your air conditioning bill every year. Trees also serve as natural windbreakers to reduce your heating bill in winter.
Some trees, such as apple trees, attract birds which eat invasive caterpillars.
Property values are increased up to 15% by having trees in yards and throughout neighborhoods.
Joyce Kilmer’s wrote, “I think I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.” That is even more true when we realize the multiple hidden benefits of trees.
“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself after its kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:12).
One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.
In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.
There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.
We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.
The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.
When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 she says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth was.” The vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”
One of the interesting characteristics of the people of the first century was the fact that they allowed mob psychology to control what they believed and what they did. We see this happening in the accounts described in the book of Acts.
A good example is an incident at Lystra in Acts 14:8-20. The story begins with Paul healing a man who was born with a physical deformity that made it impossible for him to walk. The crowd saw that an indisputable miracle had taken place. They cried out that Paul and Barnabas were gods who had come to Earth in the form of men. They called Barnabas Zeus and Paul they called Hermes (the god of speech). The local priest brought garlands and oxen for sacrifice.
When Paul and Barnabas realized what was going on, they rushed into the crowd and proclaimed that they were not gods, but just ordinary men. They seized upon the opportunity to tell the people about Jesus. Verse 18 tells us that “even by saying words like these it was all they could do to keep the crowds from sacrificing to them.” Almost immediately opponents of Christianity showed up and “turned the minds of the crowd against Paul.” The same crowd that wanted to make Paul a god now stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead. This is an amazing change of belief among the crowd, and it shows mob psychology at work.
The classic example of mob psychology is the crowd that demanded the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In spite of the evidence and the best effort of Pilate, the mob demanded the freeing of a known criminal and the crucifixion of the obviously innocent Jesus.
People today are no different when it comes to mob psychology. I have spoken to groups of atheists in public venues in which they summarily rejected anything I said, even though it was obviously true. I have spoken in other venues sponsored by a local religious group where I could say anything, and the crowd would approve it. Having a debate is no way to come to an understanding of truth. That is because what the crowd believes is what they came into the debate believing and no amount of evidence will change their minds.
Unfortunately, mob psychology applies in politics where our political figures, for the most part, regurgitate what their political party has decided to be true. No matter what the evidence is, they refuse to consider other options. We have seen that clearly in recent years in the inability of Congress to accomplish anything of substance. Public evangelists frequently “seed” some people in a crowd to come forward during an invitation, because they are trying to invoke mob psychology to move people.
When you study conversions in the New Testament, you see people sitting down in a one-on-one relationship and considering the evidence. Deciding what to believe is most fruitfully done in rational one-on-one discussions. We live in a wonderful time in which people can consider the evidence in the privacy of their own homes. The “Does God Exist?” ministry attempts to reach people in that way. We strive to be intellectually honest by presenting, in a personal way, what the evidence is and how we should react to it.
We have many websites designed to reach people on a personal level. It is not our desire to stampede anyone into a belief they don’t understand or to move anyone to make an emotional decision. Jesus reasoned with people, and Paul presented evidence. It is up to you to decide what you will believe, but we hope you will base that decision on a careful study of the evidence.