By Elaine Knudtson
“. . . Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, . . . “ Gen. 1:2
Beginnings: formless, empty, dark.
Infinite, random possibilities.
One wrong move and I could cut myself off from ultimately winning the game of life.
Every choice limits outcomes until I’m left with the consequences of being the master of my own universe.
Eliminate God from the equation and this is all we are left with.
My daughter had a dialogue with my husband that illustrated this point. She had been listening to an atheist speak about the freedom of seeing the universe as random. Hence illness and suffering were simply inexplicable events devoid of meaning.
I heard an author speak about the randomness and probabilities of life. He is talking about how people want to make meaning in life, actually it is just very random. I think that our search for meaning has to do with our search for God. What do you think?
I agree with you. I think our longing for meaning is itself telling. Human longings may correspond to the object of our desires, just as physical desires correspond to that which satisfies these desires (C. S. Lewis). It seems to me that if randomness and purposelessness define all that is, then life is totally absurd and tragic.
The gospel affirms a good and joyous message which addresses the deepest longings of humans. Atheistic materialism faces profound problems of its own. Popular atheists have not been honest and upfront about the essentially tragic and gloomy character of their worldview. As I see it, it does not provide the basis for fundamental and enduring happiness and joy.
Exactly. If there is nothing more than random moments, why bother living?
Genesis 1 without God.
At the beginning of a new year, I renew my understanding of grace as revealed in scripture:
Creation – Extravagant love
The Fall – Brokenness and Alienation
The Promise – God will make it right
Christ – God with us: birth, death and resurrection
The Future – Return to the Garden
I choose to begin the new year by including God in Genesis 1.
“If we really trust God, we don’t have a care in the world.” (Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.)
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. . . And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. . . What then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. . . For I am convinced that neither death or life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:22-23, 28, 31-32, 35, 38)
This is not mindless optimism. There are good and sufficient reasons to believe in God.
Arguments with Materialism by Paul R. Knudtson, Ph.D.
It seems to me that contemporary atheists are generally materialists; that is, they typically define reality in purely material terms. For them, nothing exists outside of the material realm; only that which is material, that is that can be perceived with the senses (or technical instruments of some kind), can be said to exist. There is nothing besides matter (“stuff”) in the universe. The existence of a spiritual realm—including God—that can be distinguished from the physical, material realm is denied.
But as I understand it, materialists (atheists) have difficulty accounting for the following:
- Human thought and consciousness (including self-consciousness). Though there is obviously a direct connection between what is happening in the brain (neurons and synapses) and thought, human thought and especially consciousness transcend material categories. The human mind (and brain) differs in this regard from a computer. A computer is not conscious, and does not perceive itself as an “I” (a person), while humans are conscious of themselves as individual persons who have thoughts, desires, self-awareness, memories, feelings, and certain unique traits, and so forth.
- Human will and the ability to make decisions. Materialists (like Richard Dawkins) tend to embrace a deterministic view of human decision making. That is, according to these materialists, what appears to be a freely made decision is actually the result of minute chemical and electrical events in the brain that determine what a person will do or think. But again, it would seem to me that humans really do make decisions and can even exercise a degree of free will. This challenges a materialistic worldview which seeks to understand everything in a material and mechanistic fashion.
- Good and evil. How can materialists (atheists) legitimately classify human behaviors as good or evil? “Good” and “evil” are non-material concepts. And I would argue that these terms accurately describe reality, and that “good” and “evil” are more than individual judgments or social conventions. For example, I think it is self-evidently true that the holocaust was an evil event in human history and that such a characterization is not simply a personal opinion or the opinion of many people, but that this event is rightly and properly and necessarily described in this way. For example, the holocaust really was evil. It is as if we appeal to some non-material, objective category when we say that something like this was “evil.” But on what basis can a materialist say that Adolf Hitler’s attempt to exterminate all European Jews—men, women, and children—was morally wrong, that it was really and essentially and undeniably evil? How can a materialist/atheist argue about what “should” or “should not” have been done? Is not the claim that something is “good” or “evil” a claim that uses non-material categories?
And if the theory of evolution is based on the reality that the stronger survive, does this not suggest that “might makes right,” that whatever the strong are able to do to the weak is simply the way things are and therefore legitimate? Yet, even modern people, in line with the ethic of Jesus and the prophets, sense that it is wrong to disregard or abuse those who are weak and lowly in society, the widows, orphans, and foreigners. How can materialists (atheists) make a convincing case regarding the full equality of all people—without regard for their gender, intelligence, or ethnicity? On what basis can a materialistic atheist say that what Hitler did was morally wrong, or that it is ever wrong for the powerful to oppress the weak? On what basis can a materialist say that such action is “wrong”? “Right” and “wrong,” it would seem to me, are non-material categories.
- Beauty is another non-material category that catches my attention and seems to call into question materialistic assumptions, as do human emotions like love or sadness or joy. Nature continues to evoke feelings of wonder and awe in us, reactions which are difficult to reduce to merely material categories.
- The Anthropic Principle: the laws of nature (constants, such as gravity) provide exactly the right conditions for the emergence of life. The anthropic principle has been described by people such as John Polkinghorn (see below*) as a kind of “Goldilocks Principle” such that conditions are “just right” in our universe for the kinds of biological and human life that thrive on earth. Dawkins and company appeal to the idea of a multiverse in order to explain how it is that our particular universe has evidently been hospitable to biological life. Since it is unlikely that any single universe should just happen to provide the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life, it is reasonable to think that there were many universes (thousands? millions?) in which at least one provided the precise conditions necessary for the emergence of life. But such an idea—for which there is no empirical evidence as far as I am aware—seems to me like grasping at straws. The anthropic character of the universe (and especially of our world) implies design, a category that transcends what materialism will allow.
The items listed and described above (1-5) are intended to challenge or raise questions regarding the worldview known as “materialism.” Clearly this matter has great significance for those who believe in God. If materialism is right and there is indeed nothing more to reality than physical, material stuff, then there is no God. Now it is not necessarily the case that the alternative is true; that is, it is not necessarily the case that if one can speak of a non-material dimension to reality that God (or, a god) necessarily exists. But if one allows for any kind of non-material aspect to what is, then one has at least opened the door to a spiritual dimension that may include God.
What I have written here should be considered in relation to such scriptural passages that indicate that God’s reality has been made known through creation. See, for example, Romans 1:19-21 and Acts 14:15-17.