My Answers to Questions about Christianity

Good questions are maybe more important than answers

A recent blogger posted the following challenge: Questions about Christianity, do you have answers? I am not sure I have all the right answers, but I feel compelled to respond, nevertheless. Good questions are maybe more important than answers. This blogger asks some good ones, so I will attempt some answers.

Question 1: The Christian religion portends God knows past, present, and future, and only a select group of people will go to heaven. The rest, whom he gave their own ability to think for themselves are condemned to hell for eternity. If God allows people to be born he ultimately already knows [sic] will reject Christianity and are destined for hell [sic] would this not preclude God’s love and benevolence?

I don’t like the word, religion. Growing up Catholic, I never felt good about religion. I didn’t feel comfortable in church, and I recoiled from dogmatism. I became a believer in college after reckless alcohol and drug use, becoming a seeker and exploring philosophy, literature, poetry and world religions. I still don’t feel comfortable with religion.

Religion is what people do and how people appear on the outside. Reality is on the inside. God sees the reality of people’s hearts; we don’t.

Religion, I believe, is too much of a man made construct. Not that there is no truth in religion; it’s just that religion is an effort at boxing in metaphysical reality that more or less defies the effort. The box (religion) often isn’t as flexible and resilient as it needs to be.

I think that God knowing past, present and future (from our perspective) flows out of who/what God must be. This gets into cosmological and other “arguments”. Simply, if the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. They cause of the universe could not possibly be the universe. The cause had to be something other than the universe.

The universe that came into being at the point of singularity (the so-called Big Bang) includes all of space/time and matter as we know it. Thus, the cause must be something other than space/time and matter. This basically means a cause that exists “outside” of space/time matter.

At this point, we don’t have the right words or perspective to flesh it out much further. Our perspective is subject to space/time and matter, so we naturally struggle describing something beyond it. The best conception we have is that God knows the past, present and future.

From our perspective, God did set the universe in motion “knowing” how it would play out. It sounds like you grew up in the Reformed tradition. I don’t understand that either. I don’t think God resigns some people to heaven and some people to hell, but what do I know?

I do think that will to choose is a necessity of love. If a man says he loves a woman but rapes her when she rebuffs his advances, no one would think that he loved her. Just the opposite. Love requires two freely willing entities. (Or it isn’t love.)

Did God know that some people would (or might) reject Him and go their own way? Yeah, I think we have to say He did. If He created a universe in which real love is possible, though, it has to be a universe in which there is real choice.

As for hell, I think it is a construct. It’s an attempt to define a particular reality that isn’t good. (Not all Christians believe in eternal flames.) It is the reality of not choosing or choosing not to love and embrace God. If God is love, rejecting or failing to choose God leaves a person without love (at a minimum).

I have come to conceive it kind of like gravity and other laws of physics. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know what hell really is. Some people say that people who reject or fail to choose God just cease to exist, and they have strong arguments from Scripture for that view. I really don’t know, and I am not willing to claim that I do.

CS Lewis, in the book, The Great Divorce, explores the idea of hell being an extension of our existence on earth (as is heaven) in which people are forever moving away from each other and fading into a shadowy existence. We choose the direction we go; and though we are free to choose otherwise, at some point, the inertia of our movement carries us along in the direction we have chosen. It’s not so much a single choice, but an untold number of small ones that can become reflexive over time.

CS Lewis also paints a picture in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia that gets at the idea that we don’t know what is in the heart of a person, but God does. For want of time and space, the whole world is lined up in front of the Lion (the Christ figure) and most walk past Him. As each person approaches, they are either drawn or repelled.

At that point, they have no more choice left. People have made their choices (the sum of all the choices they made during life). The surprising thing is that some of the people who are drawn and some of the people who are repelled are not what you would expect.

One last thought: the conversation between Jesus and the thief on the cross suggests that a person can make the choice at the very last minute. Despite all the choices or failing to choose during life, if a person turns to God, even at the last minute, God will accept them. This makes sense if God is, indeed, love as Scripture says.

There is so much more to explore here, but time and energy suggest that I more on. Continue reading “My Answers to Questions about Christianity”

Sy Garte: From Atheism to Agnosticism to Christianity

The assumptions of materialism he carried with him into the study of science were challenged by the science, itself

Sy Garte grew up in an atheist household. His ancestors for generations were atheists. His lateral relatives were atheists, and the people close to him in his life were atheists. He assumed atheism was normal. He didn’t question atheism or materialism as the basic assumptions of his life.

Sy Garte earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and BS in Chemistry from the City University of New York. He has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He has written over 200 scientific publications in genetics, molecular epidemiology, cancer research and other areas, and he is the author of five book, and numerous articles published in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) and God and Nature.  He retired from a senior administrative position at the National Institute of Health. (See his biography at Biologos)

Wait a minute… articles on science and Christian faith?

He was an atheist and a scientist. So, what happened?

Well, Dr. Sy Garte has written a book about “what happened” – The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith. I haven’t read the book (yet, I just ordered it), but I listened to an interview that I have embedded below, and it’s a pretty interesting story. I also added an interview of Sy Garte hosted by a once professed Christian turned hardcore atheist (the kind who isn’t content to allow other people to remain Christians).

Continue reading “Sy Garte: From Atheism to Agnosticism to Christianity”

The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument

The fact is that all scientists are filling in the gaps with a model of reality they believe best those gaps in light of the knowledge they have. 

Most people who have entertained ultimate questions seriously abut whether God exists are familiar with the “God of the Gaps argument” that is made against the existence of God. It goes something like this: In the past, people couldn’t explain the rain, so they concluded that God must be crying. People couldn’t explain an earthquake, so they thought God must be mad at something they did. People invoked a divine perspective to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how the world works.

From that observation (which is factually true as a simplistic statement), they add in the equally true observation that the progression of science over the centuries has been filling in the gaps and providing knowledge and understanding of natural processes that explain the things we didn’t know without having to resort to the conclusion that “God does it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations… and stop believing in God.

Scientists realized they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world, and so the scientific consensus has concluded over recent centuries that divine explanations are not only not necessary, but not appropriate. Divine explanations are viewed today as anti-scientific. Many who are concerned with the purity of science would deem divine explanations as heretical.

The God of the gaps argument (an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. There is an order to the natural world that we can study and know, but that order doesn’t preclude the existence of a super (other than natural) Being behind it all.

If we resign ourselves to nothing but the study of the natural world, how do we expect to know anything about the possibility of reality beyond it?  If we limit ourselves to naturalistic explanations, we have foreclosed any other possibility.

Frankly, there is a big gap between the fact that the natural world has order that we can study and the question whether anything beyond the natural world exists. I can turn the argument around and accuse the atheist of filling the gap with the conclusion that no God exists.

But all of this really misses the important point. Hugh Ross addresses the God of the gaps argument in a recent interview with Kahldoun Sweis. He says, “In science, there are always gaps. We will never learn everything. We are limited human beings.” However, when we “push back the frontiers of science”, we have to ask ourselves whether the gaps in our knowledge are getting bigger and more problematic? Or are they getting smaller and less problematic?”

Continue reading “The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument”

An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross

When we try to rely on science, alone, to answer the big questions, we can’t do it without sneaking philosophy into the equation.

In this age in which fake news seems to dominate the public domain, how do we know what is really true? How can we trust any news? That is a legitimate question today, one that people in my generation didn’t ask as often as we have to ask now.

Skepticism that was once the esoteric tool of elite, fringe intellectuals is now, perhaps, as a hammer in the intellectual toolkit of the common person. What years of intellectualism was not able to accomplish has been achieved in less than a generation by the constant barrage of biased and untrustworthy “news outlets” in the Internet age.

Such an atmosphere of skepticism might cause despair of ever knowing, or being able to know, what is really true. Perhaps, the only thing we can trust is skepticism itself.

Many people have retreated to science and what can be known about the world that we observe with our five senses. It’s kind of a last bastion of truth in a world that can’t be trusted without concrete evidence.

Some people even hold to a position that science is the only way we can know the world: the five senses are the only way to know truth. These people discount philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology and “soft” sciences.

The people who take the position that science is the only way of knowing truth are actually proposing a philosophical position – one that can’t be proven by science – in making that statement. Not even science, then, is the safe harbor we wish it was.

Frankly, mathematics might be the only certain way of knowing things, if the truth be told, but mathematics doesn’t tell us anything about the most important questions that people ask. Why are we here? Where does life come from? Whether life is good? How to treat our fellow humankind, animals and the planet?

We try to rely on science, alone, to answer these big questions, but we can’t do that without sneaking philosophy, or theology or other “soft” sciences into the equation. What we observe with our five senses can’t answer those questions without help.

That leaves us with the more difficult talk of synthesizing and harmonizing all the ways we analyze truth and reality, including science, philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, etc. It would be more convenient, and may seem like an easier task, to eliminate one of more of those disciplines from the mix, but we would be missing nuances of truth and reality in the process.

In the end, the best we can do is strive for honesty, integrity, objectivity, knowledge, understanding and humility in our efforts to understand the nature of reality and truth. Humility is important because it recognizes and factors into the equation the fact that we are finite creates with limited perspective and capacity.

With that introduction, I am providing a link to an interview with Dr. Hugh Ross who has spent his life trying to synthesize and harmonize what he knows about science, which is a lot, with philosophy and theology. I like him because of his humility and commitment to science, logic and understanding.

Continue reading “An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross”

Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.

Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

Continue reading “Free Will and Free Won’t”