According to Scripture, God provides clues of his existence in what he has created. Paul observes in Romans 1:18-20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (emphases mine)
Paul tells us that God made himself evident through “what has been made.” When we marvel at the vastness of the universe under a clear night sky, we’re admiring God’s handiwork. When granite giants steal our breath while standing in a valley floor, we’re in awe of God’s sovereignty.
Romans 1:18-20 also suggests that when we look at ourselves, we’re seeing evidence of God’s creative work. According to Paul, God made himself “evident within“ us. We bear God’s image despite our impulse to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” We deliberately reject the evidence of God’s existence, though we see it every day in the mirror.
Have you ever tried to swim a volleyball or a basketball to the bottom of a pool? It requires an immense amount of effort to keep it under water. The moment you let go, it rockets toward the surface. Likewise, Paul says we must deliberately and actively suppress this revelation because it’s so clear.
Let’s take a look at a few areas which contain clues of God’s creative work in humans.
Virtually every person we meet goes through what some have called “moral motions.” When a man on the bus gives up his seat for an elderly woman, you’re seeing moral motions. When you feel moral indignation towards a car filled with teenagers purposely splashing Ohio State students walking on High Street after a heavy rain, you’re seeing moral motions. When someone confronts their significant other for cheating, they’re displaying moral motions.
Naturalistic view of morality
When you ask a naturalist how they define morality, they would tell you that morality is a product of evolution. Morality represents a complex mechanism that functions to preserve our species and aid reproduction.
The diversity of moral codes that we find in each culture comes from evolutionary processes that took place within multiple isolated sites at the same time. Cultural norms that led to cooperation, worked as a survival strategy. Over time, these norms hardened into cultural mores.
So, a naturalist would explain that morality comes from cultural conditioning. You can make a moral pronouncement within your own culture, but you can’t go any further than that.
Naturalism doesn’t furnish us with the ability to make moral pronouncements upon another culture’s practices. For instance, how can we say that cannibalism among tribal cultures or bull fighting in Spain are wrong? After all, we’re trying to impose our cultural mores upon another culture.
According to the naturalistic view, the most we can say would be, “In my culture that would be wrong.” After all, whatever we mean by “wrong” cannot possibly mean anything more than, “My cultural conditioning tells me that’s morally wrong.” And yet, we long for our words to mean more. When we make a moral pronouncement upon the practice of female genital mutilation, we mean “It’s objectively and universally wrong to force this upon women.” And yet, naturalism leaves us with no way to make these sorts of pronouncements.
If the universe represents a closed system of cause-and-effect, then what room does it leave for things like right and wrong? There’s nothing moral about chemical reactions and physical laws acting on matter and energy. Without appealing to something outside the physical realm, we’re simply unable to say that something is morally wrong in the ultimate sense.
Alvin Plantinga, a Christian philosopher at Notre Dame, raises this question.
Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way that rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…. A [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly, if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (…and not just an illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful…argument for the reality of God].”
I remember talking to a guy after a home church meeting who identified himself as an atheist. We sat and talked about the existence of God. During the conversation, we broached the subject of morality.
He was a thoughtful atheist, so he explained that morality was simply a cultural construct, a mechanism of natural selection. I pointed out to him that the naturalist view robs us of our ability to make moral judgments about heinous acts of violence and evil in the world. He said, “We just can’t say that another culture’s practices are wrong if they think those practices are right.”
I said, “Take for example, the Nazi extermination of the Jews. The Nazis believed they were doing the world good by ridding it of the Jewish people through state-sponsored extermination. They blamed the Jewish people for Marxism and view the Jews as a blight upon society. The Nazis believed they were doing the world good. Are you suggesting they were right to do this because their society believed it was right?” He said, “Yeah I guess.” The absurdity of his position made it clear he wasn’t being honest.
What to conclude?
If you deny the existence of a personal, creator God, you put yourself in a position where you can’t make universal pronouncements about right and wrong. In one area after another, we will find that it’s impossible to live consistently with worldviews that deny an infinite, personal God.
By way of contrast, Christians believe in a morality that stems from belief in a God who happens to be moral and created us in his image. This explains why you see humans go through moral motions. It’s because God has created humans with this sense of morality.
Now this doesn’t mean that Christians always live morally. Christians are often as sinful as people who don’t believe in God. The difference lies in our ability to say that something is either right or wrong because it happens to be right or wrong. And our ability to make these pronouncements have nothing to do with whether we believe it’s true.
OUR MIND’S ABILITY TO OBTAIN TRUE BELIEFS
We have no basis to believe that we can obtain truth reliably without God. In a candid letter to his friend, Charles Darwin expressed this doubt. He says:
With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind...?
Natural selection doesn’t account for our ability to obtain true beliefs.
Since we are the product of natural selection, we can’t completely trust our own senses. After all, evolution only preserves behavior aimed at adaption and reproduction, not true belief. Alvin Plantinga, quoting Patricia Churchland in his paper “Naturalism Defeated?” writes,
Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive… Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.
If we can’t trust our cognitive faculties to tell us the truth, why should we trust them to tell us the truth about anything, including naturalistic evolution? If our cognitive faculties only tell us what we need to survive and reproduce (not what’s actually true) why trust them about anything at all?
Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, points out the flaw in seeing the mind contained within a closed system.
[A naturalist] portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else…. Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.
If our minds arose out of naturalistic evolution, then paranoid false beliefs are often more adaptive than accurate ones. In other words, we can only trust evolution to give us cognitive faculties that help us live and reproduce, not to provide ones that give us an accurate picture of the world. Patricia Churchland puts it like this:
The principle chore of [brains] is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it…enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.
If natural selection chooses for adaptations that increase survival; it’s unlikely that it would produce mental faculties that accurately perceive reality.
Julian Barnes (a prolific English author) finds himself deeply moved by certain works of art that convey a spiritual message —even though he doesn’t belief in God. For example, Mozart’s Requiem relies on the Christian understanding of death, judgment and afterlife. Yet, Barnes rejects these ideas. He believes that nothing follows after death, but extinction. Nevertheless, the Requiem moves him and not merely the arrangements of notes, but the words. “It is one of the haunting hypotheticals for the nonbeliever…What would it be like ‘if [the Requiem] were true’[?]”
Leonard Bernstein (an American composer and conductor) famously admitted that when he heard great music and great beauty he sensed “Heaven.”
[Beethoven] has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.”
If we are the product of accidental natural forces, then what we call “beauty” is nothing but a neurological hardwired response.
You only find certain scenery beautiful because you had ancestors who knew you would find food there and they survived because of that neurological feature. Now we have it too. In the same way, though music feels significant, that significance is an illusion.
HUMAN VALUE AND SIGNIFICANCE
Another area to check is human dignity and value. Again, taking the atheistic perspective, what value is there in human life –in the ultimate sense?
How many of us ever killed a fly? How many of us ever picked an apple off of a tree and took a bite out of it? How many of us felt morally compromised when we did these things? Of course, most people have no problem with doing these things.
And yet, if we’re nothing more than material beings, then why are we reluctant to kick people in the face or take a life? What’s the difference? If we’re merely composed of matter, then the ultimate value of human life seems no greater than that of a fly or an apple. Let’s take this further.
In our day, people are tolerant of just about anything, but intolerance. Theists and atheists alike would say that all men and women are equal. But in what sense are we equal? Take for example these comparisons.
A white male millionaire from Manhattan and a Mexican-American woman from East LA – Clearly, a white male millionaire living in Manhattan has greater resources and opportunities available to him compared to a Mexican American woman living in a poor neighborhood in East LA. In what sense are these two equal? The man living in Manhattan clearly has money and resources that puts him at a socio-economic advantage over the woman living in East LA.
Rohingya people and the ethnic majority in Myanmar – Or take for instance the Rohingya people of Myanmar. Myanmar’s government doesn’t recognize them as one of the eight indigenous races. Therefore, they’re restricted from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs. Myanmar has driven nearly half of the Rohingya population out of the country. The United Nations has described the Rohingya’s persecution as “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity.” In what sense are the Rohingya equal to the ethnic majority in Myanmar? They’re certainly not equal in terms of their political power. They’re certainly no match militarily, compared to Myanmar’s government.
1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger and a 70-year-old woman – A few weeks ago, fitness buffs and body builders descended upon the Columbus Convention Center for the Arnold Classic. I would venture to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his prime) is physically stronger than every woman, child and elderly person on earth. In what sense is 1980s Arnold equal to a 70-year-old woman?
A child with Down Syndrome and a professor of economics at MIT – Finally, in what sense is a person with Down Syndrome equal to a brilliant professor of economics at MIT? Clearly, the professor possesses a greater intellectual capacity compared to someone with Down Syndrome. Do you see where I’m going with this?
The concept of equality hinges upon the concept of human significance. All men and women are equal, regardless of race, class or cognitive ability because we view human beings as valuable. How do you derive human value from naturalism? How does equality fit within the overall landscape of naturalism?
Some might say, “Although human history is fraught with inequality, a certain level of cooperation was necessary for survival and reproduction.” So maybe we can trace our impulse for equality back to our ancestors cooperating to survive.
However, we cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ In other words, natural selection is a description what happens in the living world, it cannot tell us how we ought to behave. It certainly doesn’t give humans intrinsic value.
In what way do our lives contain meaning and significance? If we are just chemicals and matter, what is the meaning of life in the ultimate sense? Some would say, “Meaning in life is what you make it.” But in reality, if we have a short period of time to live and we lose our personhood, then what ultimate value does our life have? If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit there is no meaning to life in the ultimate sense if we embrace atheism.
James Wood (Harvard professor and New Yorker contributor), tells of how his friend (an analytic philosopher and convinced atheist) sometimes wakes in the middle of the night haunted by a visceral angst:
[My friend wakes in the middle of the night asking] How can it be that this world is the result of an accidental big bang? How could there be no design, no metaphysical purpose? Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?
Wood, himself either an agnostic or atheist, admits:
As one gets older, and parents and peers begin to die, and the obituaries in the newspaper are no longer missives from a faraway place but local letters, and one’s own projects seem ever more pointless and ephemeral, such moments of terror and incomprehension seem more frequent and more piercing, and, I find, as likely to arise in the middle of the day as the night.”
Jean Paul Sartre articulates this best and his diagnosis of our problem is terminal. He says,
Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal…One always dies too soon or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are –your life, and nothing else.”
From the biblical view, what makes all men equal? What makes human life valuable? According to the Bible, God created all men and women in his image. This makes humans inherently valuable no matter their race, gender, socio-economic standing or sexual preference. God expects for us to treat people equally because humans bear his image.
If the universe consists of a closed system of cause-and-effect, then our minds are determined. Therefore, things like freewill are merely an illusion. Stephen Hawking (famous astrophysicist):
The molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets... so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”
Leonid Perlovsky (former professor at NYU), says,
Most people, including many philosophers and scientists, refuse to accept that their decisions are governed by the same laws of nature as a piece of rock by the road wayside or a leaf flown by the wind…Yet, the reconciliation of scientific causality and free will remains an unsolved problem.
For example, we can predict chemical reactions such as the mixture of vinegar and baking soda. You can even determine the amount of carbon dioxide it will produce. We can repeat this experiment over and over again and the results will be the same each time. Likewise, if our minds are simply governed by chemical processes (even complex ones) in what sense are we free?
Human responsibility depends upon freewill.
Again, Leonid Perlovsky comments: “Free will, however, has a fundamental position in many cultures. Morality and judicial systems are based on free will. Denying free will threatens to destroy the entire social fabric of the society…” And yet, the logical conclusion of naturalism leads us to absolve people of their moral responsibility. After all, they were not making a free will choice.
The edge.org is a website that brings the smartest people in the world together to answer important questions. Each year, they put out an annual question for these thinkers to answer. In 2006, the question was: What is your dangerous idea? They asked Richard Dawkins this question and he contributed an article entitled “Let's all stop beating Basil's car.” He states:
Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give "satisfaction' to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as "atonement' for "sin'.
Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component.
Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell…was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted…He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality.
Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem…Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? …Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?
But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on…conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?
Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world…My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car.
In other words, human responsibility and justice is a joke because we are just material beings governed by the laws of physics, nothing more. Now, this seems ridiculous to most. But Dawkins arrives at the logical conclusion of his naturalistic atheism. However, he admits that even he cannot live consistently with this. In the final line of his short essay, he writes: “But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.” Others have.
One author concludes:
It would be impossible to find a fox which has a kindly and protective disposition towards geese, just as no cat exists which has a friendly disposition towards mice. That is why the struggle between the various species does not arise from a feeling of [hostility] but rather from hunger…In both cases Nature looks on calmly and is even pleased with what happens. There cannot be a separate law for mankind in a world in which planets and suns follow their orbits, where moons and planets trace their destined paths…
–Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 144.
 Alvin Plantinga, “A Christian Life Partly Lived,” Philosophers Who Believe, ed. Kelly James Clark (IVP, 1993), 73
 Charles Darwin Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), Volume 1, pp. 315-316
 Plantinga “Naturalism Defeated?”
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. (London: Penguin Publishing Group), 137-138.
 Wieseltier’s review, “The God Genome,” appeared in the New York Times, February 19, 2006.
 Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World (pp. 16-17). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Leonard Bernstein, The Joy of Music (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 105.
 Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God (pp. 133-134). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 James Wood, “Is That All There Is? Secularism and Its Discontents,” New Yorker, August 14, 2011.
 Stephen Hawkin, The Grand Design, (NY: Bantam, 2010) 32.
 Leonid Perlovsky, “Free Will and Advances in Cognitive Science” http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1012/1012.3957.pdf