By Wayne Allensworth
Read Part III here.
O Come, O come, Emmanuel.
…by their fruits, ye shall know them—Matthew 7:20
Believing a creator God was behind a teleological process that produced life doesn’t entail accepting the tenets of Christianity. For that, more is required, and credible evidence backing Christian belief is widely available. Reputable scholars have done the necessary spadework in uncovering evidence of the historicity[W1] of the Gospels, for instance. Anti-Christians have done their level best to attack the Gospels, attempting to undermine their credibility by comparing them with uncanonical writings (The Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, etc.), and even claiming that Jesus never existed. Those efforts have been handily refuted by the work of Christian scholars like Peter J. Williams of Tyndale House, one of the leading institutions for biblical research in the world (See his Can We Trust the Gospels, for example), and philosopher and New Testament scholar Gary Habermas (in numerous books, video interviews, and debates available online).
The New Testament, as it turns out, is quite credible, historically speaking, in regard to place names, locations, cultural authenticity, and a myriad of other details that both Williams and Habermas have ably documented. Both men have effectively countered the claims that the Gospels were simply fabricated by people writing much later than the events they describe, presenting convincing evidence that the Gospels are at least derived from eyewitness accounts, accounts that were first orally transmitted. The familiar story of Jesus’ life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection was already accepted by Christians in the first century. What’s more, we have as many ancient sources (the four Gospels) devoted to the life of Jesus of Nazareth as we have to the Emperor Tiberius, who reigned in Rome during the time of Jesus’ ministry. That’s apart from non-Christian references to Jesus made by Roman and Jewish sources. As both Williams and Habermas have noted, that’s quite a lot as ancient sources go.
Habermas was a longtime friend of Antony Flew, and the two publicly debated a number of times. In a 2003 discussion sponsored by the Veritas Forum, a discussion staged prior to Flew’s public announcement that he had changed his mind about the existence of a Creator, Habermas presented his arguments for trusting in the account of Christ’s death and resurrection as recorded in the Gospels. By the end of the exchange, Flew, without himself accepting those arguments, agreed that they could persuade a reasonable person.
There are good reasons to believe in a creator God, and it is not unreasonable to believe the Christian message.
As noted above, Flew’s “conversion” set off a firestorm among his atheist former brethren. The level of vitriol directed at Flew has long since become commonplace. The late Christopher Hitchens, for instance, who became one of the premier “new atheists” before his death in 2011, was famous for his frequently hateful comments directed at Christians. Our own Tom Piatak once noted that Hitchens had dismissed Pope John Paul II as “an elderly and querulous celibate, who had come too late and stayed too long.” When he wasn’t bashing the Pope, Hitchens was cursing Mother Teresa, saying he wished “there was a hell for that bitch to go to.” Hitchens also once voiced a wish for a civil war between his camp and the Christian Right (Hitchens said it would be “a great pleasure” to take part in such a war).
Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, has claimed that religion is “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” He once smugly asserted that religious faith was “the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” Dawkins has also succinctly encapsulated the militant atheist worldview by proclaiming that the universe is precisely what we should expect “if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” That, and the arrogance of Richard Dawkins and other “brights,” I would hasten to add.
If, in fact, as Stephen Hawking once put it, we are nothing more than “biological machines,” if free will is an illusion, if human thought and action are determined by physical laws, and the universe is without purpose, meaning, good or evil, then the bloviating of angry atheists is also bereft of meaning, their theories empty, as their validity could not be ascertained in any case. All of their utterances would amount to nothing more than a desperate howl into the void. So why bother? Thus, materialism deconstructs itself. That’s hardly a novel observation, as C. S. Lewis made the same point, and John Lennox and John Polkinghorne have stated similar views numerous times. So, who is it that is evading the need to think and evaluate evidence? Does Dawkins believe that his own mother was nothing but a “meat computer?”
If God does not exist, then how could the militant atheists be so enraged with Him?, for the depth and fury of their anger doesn’t seem to this observer to be directed solely at the believers they hold in contempt, believers who in our contemporary society wield less and less actual influence. None of them have behaved as if they actually believed any of their own nihilistic blather, as their actions indicate that they see themselves, at least, as exempt from those claims. Hawking and Hitchens took themselves and their ideas quite seriously, and Dawkins isn’t angry about nothing, no matter how many times he asserts that the world is essentially just that, a nullity. Militant “brights” display a narrow, laser-like focus on a rage against Creation. The whiff of sulfur and brimstone wafts about them.
Peter Hitchens, Christopher’s Christian brother, wrote about the motivations of the militant atheists in The Rage Against God. He noted ideological reasons for their rage, motivations he traced back to utopian revolutions of the past. Traditional social and religious structures and beliefs obstructed the path to the revolutionaries’ imagined utopias. The concepts of sin, conscience, and an unalterable law whose source is God, remain, as Peter Hitchens wrote, “the ultimate defense” against the utopian belief that “the ends justify the means,” acting as “safeguards against the worship of human power,” and, I would add, a defense against pride, pride that led to the expulsion of Lucifer and his angels from Paradise and to the fall of man. In the Serpent’s parlance, Ye shall be as gods. The revolutionary atheists wished to be gods, and their epigones still do.
It is, therefore, difficult to believe that enraged atheists don’t think God exists. Your observer senses that in their hearts, they do, in fact, possess a natural knowledge of God, one manifested by humanity throughout history. When they say they do not believe in Him, they may actually be saying they do not trust in Him, and wish to rebel against Him, and the restraints of His moral law, like a child resisting the strictures of an exacting, but loving parent. Peter Hitchens has observed that many people simply do not want there to be a God. They fear and resent the idea of God, likely because of “the annoying and lingering possibility of divine punishment for unexpiated wrongdoing.”
There are other reasons for rejecting God that are more difficult to dismiss. Your observer, for example, once had a friend who nursed a lingering anger with the Almighty, an anger fueled by the most terrible thing a parent can contemplate, the death of a child. We will not here recount arguments Christians have used to deal with this most difficult problem, the problem of evil, of suffering, and pain. For those who have experienced a personal loss, C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain might do as a start. What we believers do have as an assurance of God’s love and empathy, of His not having abandoned us, is the Incarnation. We believe that God in the person of Jesus Christ came into this world, shared in human joy and human sorrow, was tempted, and died a terrible death as a man. His resurrection is our hope, a hope that is the core of Christianity.
Make no mistake, the God the militant atheists rebel against is the God of the Bible. They rebel especially against Him because He is their God, and Christianity the religion of our civilization. As Peter Hitchens has pointed out, the atheists may despise other religions, but those other religions do not represent the patrimony they are rebelling against. For that very reason, they take special delight in enumerating the failures of Christians, and they project their own intolerance onto us, for we must understand, again, as Peter Hitchens has noted, that the record of atheism in power has demonstrated that “atheism is a license for ruthlessness, and it appeals to the ruthless.” Utopia, as demonstrated by massacres of an unprecedented scale perpetrated by godless, utopian regimes in the 20th century, “can only ever be approached across a sea of blood.” When the atheists enumerate crimes committed by nominal Christians (and often overlook or makes excuses for the crimes of Communist regimes), they are forgetting an important point—when Christians behave cruelly, they are acting against the teachings of their God and Savior. When godless revolutionaries have murdered and tortured and destroyed all they can of what is right and true, far surpassing crimes committed by Christians, they have acted in accordance with their convictions, and in furtherance of their goals, goals stated forthrightly by the leaders of revolutionary movements.
By their fruits, we know them. The actions of the godless, the sheer insanity of what they had wrought, the ugliness and sterility they envisioned for the future, those were the critical factors in convincing that young man mentioned at the beginning of these reflections that he did not have the kind of faith it took to be an atheist. The results of a decline of Christianity and traditional morality were plain to see, as plain as the snarling visage of Old Scratch. That was the initial evidence that turned the tide. But there was more, and your humble servant has attempted to at least give some partial accounting of it.
Man has a deep longing for transcendence, and if the militant atheists won’t have God, they’ll manufacture their own idols, zealously adhering to their godless faith. They will insist that their militant brand of atheism is not a secularized religion, as they deny the “supernatural.” Really? These are the same people who are prepared to believe in an infinite number of universes that we cannot know, that have been created no one knows how. The same people who believe that life was produced no one knows how from lifeless matter. They are people who replace God and angels with extraterrestrial beings (who they practically always attribute with advanced intelligence and creative powers; Think 2001: A Space Odyssey or Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and claim that aliens may have made us. They understand that there are unseen corners of reality that function in ways no one could have predicted, yet they tell us the God hypothesis is untenable.
What breathes fire into the equations? The world is a wondrous place, a miraculous creation, one of quarks and quasars, of man and beast, of mind and spirit, one into which God has breathed the breath of life.
Wayne Allensworth is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.