An Imaginary God

While on-line the other day, I saw a meme that I thought was interesting, thought provoking, and worthy of comment.

The picture was of an old American flag, and written across it was part of an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the years the pledge, like our Constitution, has been revised to one degree or another.

The caption below the picture read: “I want to challenge everyone to repost (sic) our country’s flag. With the Pledge of Allegiance as it was written.”

Conspicuously absent from this version of the Pledge of Allegiance was any mention of God. (“God” was added during the Eisenhower administration)

Someone added a comment to the post: “The original pledge made no reference to any imaginary being.” (Emphasis mine)

It’s clear that the person positing this particular viewpoint was philosophically apposed to the idea of the existence of God.  Their quick dismissal of  the existence of God belayed their lack of understanding and instead yielded only a personal opinion, which according to William Bullard “is the lowest form of human knowledge; as it requires no accountability, no understanding.”(1)

Sadly we live in a time where opinions often remain unchallenged and are instead  “caught and brought” by the average person without a second thought. Social networks and our society would rather shout down others rather than discuss differing perspectives maturely and intelligently.

It would appear that those whose primary tools are shaming and shouting  are also wholly lacking in the requisite skills of critical thinking. We should not then be surprised to see that God has been reduced to an “imaginary” being without so much as one thought as to why this might be so.

Still it is disturbing, because an opinion left unchallenged soon becomes accepted as reality, and our beliefs about reality, however erroneous they might be, ultimately drive our behaviors. In this instance the consequences are huge and eternal in nature.

Perhaps we might take a step back and engage our brains and do some critical thinking on this matter of an imaginary God.

Let’s look at the view that God is “imaginary.” We might propose a hypothesis to test. Perhaps our simple hypothesis is the statement: “God does not exist.”

To test our hypothesis we should start by defining several key words for purposes of clarity.

1. Imaginary: “having no real existence but existing in imagination”(2)

2. God: “The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe.” (3)

3. Natural Selection: That process initially described by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of The Species” in which organisms evolve by passing on beneficial mutations to their off-spring. Today we describe this as “Natural Selection” or “Naturalism.”

There are many evidences and proofs that have been written over the years that demonstrate reasonably that God is very real and does exist. Whole volumes of philosophical and scientific writings are available that point to the existence of God. So numerous are these that I could not possibly hope to cover them in this space, nor do I desire too. Rather I want you to explore and settle that question for yourself.

The balance of this essay will only tackle a couple of examples in a very brief summary form. I hope that these two basic topics will at a minimum cause you to think and possibly explore this topic in depth on your own.

In the end I fully recognize that it is not mine to change your mind, that I leave to God himself to do. Having said that, it is our responsibility to be certain of what it is we believe, as the stakes are high and the consequences for failing to do so are very serious.

Most of us have probably looked up into the night sky at one time or another and pondered the vastness and beauty of the heavens that surround us. The expanse before us is more than we are able to comprehend and goes on as far as we can see. It’s a humbling experience when one thinks about it.

Our universe has been around a long time, and its a dynamic place. It’s neither eternal nor existing in a static state.

It has a beginning.

This statement sounds like such a simple thought; but it’s a profound thought when one stops and seriously considers its implications.

Interestingly the idea of a beginning of time for our universe was not always so. Until relatively recently, scientists believed our universe to be in a steady state and that it has always existed. Scientists surmised that it had no beginning or end, it just is. In recent years the steady state view was challenged by new scientific evidence that points us to a different model of the universe, an expanding universe that came in to existence suddenly at a specific point in time.

Despite today’s evidence for a dynamic expanding universe, some scientists like Fred Hoyle, a well known English Astronomer, steadfastly rejected the notion that our universe came into existence suddenly and is expanding in all directions.

This sudden appearance of our universe has became known colloquially as the “Big Bang Theory.”  Hoyle worked diligently to support his “Steady State Theory to avoid the conclusion of a Creator.  Years later, Hoyle would ultimately conclude that given ‘the incredible complexity of even the simplest forms of life necessitate a Creator.’ Having calculated that the chances for first life emerging without intelligent intervention at 1 in 1040,000, Hoyle acknowledges a Creator of life.”(4)

The Big Bang Theory, held by most scientists today, offers the best evidence for a universe that has a beginning point in time and is expanding outwards in all directions from a central source or origin.

To date no viable scientific alternatives have been proffered  that offer a better explanatory statement about the start of our universe than the Big Bang Theory.

Even Robert Jastrow, both an agnostic and an astronomer,  concluded in his book “God and the Astronomers,” that “three lines of evidence—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars—pointed to one conclusion: all indicated that the Universe had a beginning” (5)

But if the universe had a beginning, and the evidence is overwhelming in this regard, then one would have to explain the origin of matter itself. At some point before the advent of our universe there was no matter or energy. Just nothingness.

Physicists and astronomers alike have concluded that matter cannot simply come into existence from nothing. Yet for our universe to have a beginning necessitates exactly that event. Thus the effect of matter being created must ultimately be rooted in a cause. Given no known scientific evidence to assert the creation of matter from nothing via any known natural cause mechanism, one can reasonably conclude that the creation of matter from nothing likely falls into the purview of the supernatural.

British astronomer Stephen Hawking summed it up well: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.”(6)  Jastrow said that “there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact”(6) The only known source of supernatural power that has the express ability to create matter from nothing is God.

The universe is a tough topic to wrap our minds around when evaluating evidence for the existence of a Creator. Alternatively we could also look closer to home for additional evidences that God in not simply a product of an over active imagination. Examining biological life itself strongly suggests an intentional, powerful, and intelligent element in the origins of life.

Natural Selection, a theory popularized by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of the Species,” suggested that life came about and exists today as a result of a series of gradual unguided processes that depends upon the transmission of advantageous random mutations from generation to the next.

Darwinian Natural Selection Theory has failed to adequately explain the complexity of life as we know it today.  In 1859 Darwin had no idea about the inner workings of a cell, DNA, molecular biology etc.

There are many complexities about life that scientists are only just now starting to grapple with, particularly with respect to Natural Selection. In his book “Darwin’s Black Box,” Biochemist Michael Behe observed that certain cell structures have many interdependent components that are reliant upon one another so that a cell might function and survive. Should any one of these components fail to exist or operate properly, the entire organism would cease to function or would never have come into being in the first place.

He described this observation as “irreducibly complex” and defined this state as a “single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”(8)

He observed that such systems would have to have all their components produced simultaneously in order for the organism to survive and carry any beneficial trait into subsequent generations. His observation of the existence of such systems in life are in direct conflict with the well versed theory of Natural Selection, which  depends upon individual changes happening in a series of successive and gradual generation to generation modifications over time.

To illustrate irreducible complexity in a simple way; think of an old fashioned  mousetrap as a simple system that is irreducibly complex. A basic mousetrap has a spring, the metal mouse whacker that actually dispatches the mouse, a small bar to hold the metal whacker, a trigger, a staple to hold the metal bar in place, and of course a piece of square wood that would be sized to fit the above mentioned components.

In this example, if any one of the components did not exist or failed to function properly, the mousetrap could not “survive,” if we define survival as a functioning mousetrap.

Individually these parts have no capacity to carry out the function of trapping mice. In fact there is no “advantage” of  survival to the mousetrap organism in having one or two of these individual parts. It’s only when they come together simultaneously that the trap will function properly and survive.

Behe points to several specific biological examples of this type of irreducible complexity that defy a naturalistic explanation in living organisms. There are many, but a few he mentions include vision, the blood clotting cascade, antibodies, bacterial flagellum, cilium, and many other complex biochemical processes that are too numerous to elucidate here.

The massive advancement of science and knowledge since Darwin’s publication in 1859 have demonstrated many areas of biology that cannot be adequately explained by the simple model of  natural selection alone.

With all of this in mind, it’s perplexing to think that one could dismiss out of hand the idea of a Creator. From a cosmological view we are dealing with a power so fantastic that it could create matter from nothing, and in a moment in time our entire universe was brought into existence. The magnitude and enormity of  that moment cannot possibly be grasped. Not only did our universe come into existence, it did so in a way that defies all known laws of physics.

From a biological view, how can the simplicity of natural selection, a theory based upon the scientific knowledge of 1859, explain the design and complexity of biological life as we know it to be today? How do we explain design in living systems? After all, the only known  source for design is intelligence. Design does not originate from any other known cause. The complexity of life could not happen in an unguided, random chance process as proposed by those that believe in a naturalistic view of life.

There are of course many other evidences for the existence of God and I would encourage you to explore these in detail.

These include but are not limited to:

1. The Anthropic Principle
2. Information Theory and DNA
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
4. The Thomist Cosmological Argument
5. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
6. The Moral Argument

In the end each of us must weigh the data and decide for ourselves. The stakes are high, in fact they are eternally high. This is not a simple philosophical and intellectual debate for which there are no consequences. Don’t allow peer pressure, social media, or political correctness to stand in the way of applying the raw intellect that each of you poses to resolve this for yourselves.

In the end all roads lead to a choice, and each of  you will make a choice and live with the eternal consequences, either positive or negative. The fork in the road will be in the person of Jesus Christ. The choice is either to accept Him or to reject Him; its that simple.

For each of us our decision will be a willful and intentional one.  God will judge each of us solely on the question of his Son when we stand before him one day. Our ability to enter Heaven or to be condemned to eternal separation from God, will hinge on the entirety of God’s grace and your personal decision regarding Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

=================Notes===============================
1. https://themindsjournal.com/tag/bill-bullard/ , viewed Feb 22, 2017.

2. Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

3. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noel Webster, Foundation for American Christian Education; Facsimile of 1st edition (June 1, 1967)

4. Frederick Hoyle. The Intelligent Universe. London: Michael Joseph, 1983.

5. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.111

6. S. Hawking. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

7. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.15, 18

8. Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 306.

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

 

 

Spiritual Identity Theft

In our home we have a nice file cabinet where we file away our receipts from bills we pay each month. We retain this level of detail for a few years and then once a year we dispose of an entire year’s worth of old receipts. For security reasons we don’t just toss these documents in the trash, they’re shredded first. Shredding paper is not exactly a speedy task and I really don’t like to spend my day doing it. Fortunately my son loves to watch the paper get shredded and when he was old enough, he wanted to do the shredding for me. With that in mind I have learned to call upon him when its time to get rid of a bunch of old files.

This year as he was shredding some old records, we were talking about why we have to shred all these papers. Our conversation lead me to think about an incident that occurred a few years ago.

One day while driving to work, I took a few minutes to stop at a local service station near my home to buy some gas. After pulling up to the pump, I got out of my car, located my debit card, and inserted it into the card reader to start the purchase process. Instead of the normal prompts the reader came back and informed me that my card was declined.

“How could that be,” I thought to myself. “There’s plenty of money in the account, I wonder what’s going on?”

I ended up using my credit card to complete my purchase. After arriving at work, I took out my debit card and called the 800 number on the back to speak with my bank and find out what was going on with my debit card.

After several minutes of proving who I was, they informed me that the bank’s anti-fraud software had determined that my debit card had been compromised in the early morning hours.

My card had been used in another city at several locations where I had never visited before. I was told my card had actually been physically duplicated by a special counterfeit machine that can make cards from data that identity thieves are able obtain in any number of ways. In most cases these thieves never actually need to see your card to duplicate it and use it fraudulently, they only need the number that’s printed on the card. Typically they can obtain these numbers from anyone that handles cards and are willing to commit a crime to sell the numbers to identity thieves. (Today’s cards have embedded chips which greatly reduce the ability to duplicate credit or debit cards in this manner.)

In the end the bank issued me a new card and informed me that I would not be liable for the fraudulent charges that had been incurred.

As I learned more about identity theft and fraud, it turned out I was one of the lucky few. Many people have had it much worse, loosing a great deal financially.

In 2015 there were 13.1 million victims of identity fraud. Over the past six years fraudsters have reportedly stolen $112 billion, that’s about $35,600 per minute in fraudulent transactions. An absolutely staggering figure!

With the right personal information, fraudsters can wreak havoc on the lives of their victims. All of this has made detecting fraud a multi-billion dollar business unto itself.

Businesses and government agencies are constantly tasked with determining if the identity of the person in front of them is valid and trustworthy.

As believers we too have an important task in front of us. Protecting our own spiritual identity. Our spiritual identity is under constant attack by the one of the greatest fraudsters of all times: Satan himself.

Jesus described Satan as the “Father of all lies” and as one who’s native language is the lie. (John 8:44)

 It turns out that one of the greatest and most ingenious acts of deception ever foisted upon humanity is the belief that Satan does not exist.

A nationwide survey conducted by the Barna Group and published on April 13, 2009, revealed that 40% of individuals who profess to be Christians believe that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” (Barna Group, 4/13/09)

The fact that such a lie has managed permeate mainstream Christianity is a testament to its deceptive power.

What’s even more interesting is that the same study reported that about “half (47%) of the Christians who believed that Satan is merely a symbol of evil nevertheless agreed that a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces such as demons.” (Barna Group)

These are disturbing statistics and they suggest that God’s people and the church body have failed to take steps to prepare themselves adequately against this most fundamental level of spiritual identity theft.

Max Anders, author of the “Holman New Testament Commentary,” shared that we as believers need to be able to recognize when deception is at play in our spiritual lives.

He suggested that in some ways we need to follow the model of the banking industry. Anders shared that banks often train employees to recognize a counterfeit bank note by having them only study real bank notes. They never study counterfeit currency. This approach trains their minds to easily spot the counterfeit when it shows up.

It follows then that believers need to study God’s word, and meditate on His word with such frequency that they will easily be able to identify and address erroneous statements, viewpoints, opinions, or worldviews.

Of course facts themselves are not enough to ensure adequate protection against spiritual identity theft. We must also be in a close relationship with Jesus. We worship a God that invests Himself personally in our lives. (John 3:16) Relationships take work to be successful. We need to have such a close relationship with God that we are able to quickly hear and know his voice when we hear it. Jesus said; “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

It’s important that we be able to hear and be able to discern God’s voice with confidence when He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, scriptures, prayer, fellow believers, and through life circumstances.

In the end our true spiritual identity is rooted in the fact that God created people to live in fellowship with Him.

The scriptures share that when God created humanity, he did so by creating us in His own image.(Gen 1:26) In this way we are inextricably linked to our creator.

Our challenge then is to not allow anyone to steal that which God desires for us. Protecting our spiritual identity is not without work and investment on our part. We need to become so familiar with scripture and God’s very character and nature, that we will immediately recognize when Satan is floating a fraudulent concept past us.

There are at least five things we can do to protect our spiritual identity:

1. Read the Bible daily: Pick a reading plan of some sort or use one of the many “read through the Bible in a year” resources that are available.

2. Study the Bible: It’s one thing to simply read the Bible, but another thing to study it. There are numerous resources available, many through local bible based churches. Dedicate a once a week deep dive study session for yourself.

3. Pray daily: Prayer is a time to connect with God in real time. A time to speak and to listen to God.

4. Connect with a church: Plug into a local church family where their foundation for faith is based upon the Bible.

5. Participate in Bible studies: Engage with a small group Bible study group or Sunday school group.

These are only a few ways in which you can deepen your relationship with Christ and your understanding of God’s word.

It is my prayer that at a minimum you would take the above ideas to heart, and overtime become mature enough to be able to discern for yourself those instances where ideas and proposals are in opposition to God’s very nature. And in so doing, protect your spiritual identity.