The atheist letters: The realities I cannot escape

by Don Hartness

“Many people will say that their times of deepest struggle became game-changers because of what they were forced to learn about God and life when put to the test. What was theory became belief. What was presumption became conviction. And they became new men.”

“I spent a long trying to come to grips with my doubts, when suddenly I realized that I had better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer to the reality of answers that I cannot escape…” – Dennis Rainey

Finding purpose does not remove pain. Pointing to one’s scars and describing why they were received does not remove the marks. Yes, suffering has a purpose, but removing this as an argument against the existence of God does not affirm theism. Hence, the question before me one early morning as I was driving was simple: why do I believe?

As I pondered the question, the majestic Rocky Mountains began to appear before me. As I gazed at the lovely mixture of hues and texture, I once again saw what is perhaps the best answer anybody can give.

Creation

All of creation testifies to a Creator. To pretend there is no order is to deny the very laws of physics. To pretend there is no intelligence to it is to deny the study of physics. All of creation testifies to the incredible precision and wisdom of its Creator. From the order of the ecosystem, to the complexity of the human brain, to the marvel of sight, and to the beautiful symmetry of a flower, everywhere you look, creation provides a testimony.

Even evolutionary theory should lead the student to a further appreciation of this fact. Organisms with the ability to adapt to unknown challenges is a remarkable thing. Why can’t evolutionary theory be the mechanism of a Creator’s choosing? Contrary to the belief of some atheists and agnostics, theism (or even a particular flavor of theism, such as Christianity) does not equate to creationism. One is scientific study, the other is a belief system  based on literature.

This is not a God of the gaps argument, but two observations. First, I see many scientists, across a range of disciplines, so involved in their particular study as to be unable to proverbially see the forest from the trees. Many of these individuals see belief in the existence of a God as a cover for the scope of human ignorance, even though a proper view would separate the existence of God from our understanding of Him/Her/It:

Not a God of the gaps argument

Belief in a God is not to be used as an intellectually lazy dodge for anything and everything we don’t know. To say that a miracle happened by “the grace of God” doesn’t exclude an understanding of the mechanisms used in bringing that miracle to pass.

The second observation relates to the first. Creation does not testify to the character of God; just the existence of God. All too often, theists from a particular religious or philosophical system introduce their individual interpretations of the evidence, instead of letting the evidence speak for itself. For example, the beauty cited in creation may hint towards a loving God (Christianity), but it is not proof, since a successful counter-argument includes the existence of natural disasters.

So overwhelming is this evidence for theism that if it doesn’t convince you, then our conversation is sadly ended. I can walk a mile in many shoes, but this is not a pair I can put on.

Of course, an argument based on creation does not begin to support a Christian world outlook. So why am I a Christian? Many subjective reasons aside, I see one objective reason that points to this path. The reason is rooted in the species Christianity addresses.

Human History

A common argument is that religion is responsible for much of the suffering in the world, including most wars (all, according to some). This is a facile argument. Consider the following list:

The Crusades, the Inquisition, Stalin and the Great Purge, Hitler and the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, Vlad of Romania, Pol Pot and the Cambodian Genocide, the Armenian Genocide,  Atila the Hun, Carthage, Genghis Kahn and the Mongolian hordes, Mao, Islamic Terrorism, the Slave Trade, the Trail of Tears, and the Rwandan Massacre.

What does the above list have in common? People. Regardless of religious, nationalistic, ideological, or economical rationalization motivation , each event contains a multitude of people, all mindlessly and slavishly obeying their master by pulling the levers, shooting the guns, or swinging the swords. Belief systems have little connection with barbarism.

I am an avid student of history, and when I study history, I see one of Christianity’s central themes,  portrayed over and over throughout the thread of history: the concept of sin. It’s a hackneyed word, and you may not agree with some of its connotations. Fine. Call it whatever you want, one thing is certain, and only the obstinate will deny it: in spite of some of our greatest achievements, both individually and collectively, there remains something pervasively wrong with our species.

Christianity is all about identifying the characteristics of this virus and presenting a solution. Anything else is just religion, including the use of said religion as cover for selfish motives. To put it another way, blaming religion for human behavior is like saying democracy leads to imperialism (over monarchy, oligarchy, despotism, or any other): it’s a non sequitur. The only connection is people.

Christianity doesn’t account for all the facts, but it goes further than anything else I’ve seen in presenting a macro world view. When I combine the world I see with human behavior, I see two strong pillars for at least investigating the Christian worldview.

But it’s not my strongest argument.

At least not in light of my experience. Like I’ve mentioned, this series is a long-running subjective argument for my belief. The two objective arguments presented above are merely those that are subjectively ironclad in light of my personal experience. Yet, when I looked back at my journey, one argument was an epiphany. I’ll write about this epiphany next.

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