Philosopher AC Grayling has made it his mission to show why people have as little reason to believe in a deity as they do in the Tooth Fairy. Justin Brierley meets...
The Apologist: Faith not fairies
Christian apologists Simon Edwards and Heather Tomlinson respond to AC Grayling’s claims.
Is belief in God equivalent to believing in fairies?
God is a supernatural being and so are fairies, but that is where the similarities end. There are no good reasons to believe that fairies exist: the evidence is simply not there. When it comes to whether there is a creator-designer behind the existence of the universe, the evidence is all around us. The origin and nature of this universe requires an explanation. To think that it doesn’t is merely a refusal to think. The leading atheistic explanation, that the universe ‘just is’, is simply an assertion or claim: it is not an explanation.
Many great scientists, artists and humanitarians have said that they were inspired by God – but how many have been inspired by fairies? Large numbers of rational people claim to have experienced God; I know of none who have such personal evidence of fairies. There are a number of strong, rational arguments for the existence of God proposed by professors in great universities; there are none for fairies.
What are these rational arguments for God’s existence?
There are many. The way the universe is and how we experience it, points to the existence of God. Firstly, the best scientific evidence suggests that the universe appeared out of nothing (ex nihilo), which agrees with what Christians have been saying for centuries. Scientific laws and constants that govern our earth appear fine-tuned to exactly what’s needed for life to exist – even atheist and agnostic scientists have written books that question whether this fine-tuning points to the existence of God. Grayling’s response merely dodges the
Then there’s the fact that the universe is rational and that we can comprehend it – and we have the minds and intelligence needed to do so. Both indicate that there is something more than the material world. That there are moral values
that are universally and objectively true suggests the existence of God. And finally, human beings have desires for the transcendent and eternal, a desire to worship.
What about the evidence for Christian beliefs?
Christians argue that there is strong historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is a question of history, and history can be investigated.
Virtually every serious historian acknowledges the following basic facts about Jesus: that he died by crucifixion, that his disciples genuinely believed that he rose from the dead and that they had seen Jesus, and that the early Church exploded in numbers soon after Jesus’ death. Christian philosophers argue that the best explanation for these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead – unless of course your mind is closed to the idea of the miraculous.
What about Grayling’s idea that we might as well invoke ‘Fred’ as the author of the universe?
Some atheists argue that theists just insert the word ‘God’ for things which they cannot explain. It’s about as meaningful, atheists assert, as invoking ‘Fred’ (as Grayling says) or a ‘cosmic teapot’ (as Bertrand Russell said) to explain the universe’s origin. Naturally, theists reject this claim. Instead, they argue that the very nature and origin of the universe point to the existence of an intelligent creator, much like writing in the sand would point Robinson Crusoe to the existence of another person on the island.
Scientists tell us that the universe had a beginning and that nothing in the physical world exists without a cause. The universe, being made of physical matter, must therefore have a cause. Christian philosophers argue that the most rational argument for what caused the universe is God. Any cause must be non-physical; otherwise it too would require a cause. Whatever being that caused the universe to exist must also possess unlimited power and intelligence, given the spectacular nature of our universe.
The word ‘God’ is not therefore just a random word without meaning; it stands for a being that has the power to create a universe like ours. Christians also believe that this God loves us, and that we can know this love through Jesus Christ.
Can secular humanism deliver a better world without religion?
Secular humanism celebrates human reason and philosophical naturalism – the belief that the supernatural does not exist. Consequently, secular humanists reject religious doctrine and divine revelation as the basis of public morality and decision-making.
A big problem with secular humanism is that it attempts to develop a morality based on human reason, only using our understanding of the material world. As the atheist philosopher Nietzsche pointed out long ago, removing God from the
picture means there is no reference point for deciding what is right and what is wrong. ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted’, as Dostoyevsky wrote.
Of course, this does not mean that atheists can’t be moral in what they do and say. It’s just that they cannot justify their morality using their atheistic philosophy. The atheist Jean-Paul Sartre recognised the problem and proposed that the individual must independently create his own personal moral standards by which to live. If that is true, then there are no logical grounds upon which an individual or a minority can claim rights against the majority. This is the great Achilles’ heel of secular humanism, and there are potentially dangerous consequences.
The Nobel Prize-winning poet Czesław Miłosz, who suffered under both the Nazi and Soviet regimes, argued that it was not religion that was the root cause of these oppressive totalitarian regimes – it was that the Nazis and Communists denied that they were accountable in the sight of God.
Miłosz writes: ‘A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death, the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged. The opium of modernity is the belief that there is no God, so that humans are free to do precisely as they please.’
Nicholas Wolterstorff, political philosopher at Yale University, argues that all attempts to ground human rights in secular ideals will ultimately fail. It is no coincidence that the first liberal democratic state, the United States, was founded from within a Judeo-Christian, theistic worldview.
Like Christianity, secular humanism has many noble aspirations for human society, such as peace, justice and equality. However, unlike Christianity, it lacks the philosophical soil wherein such ideals can thrive.
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks