The Reason Behind Faith

Is God dead? Members of an influential and almost militant anti-religion group known as the New Atheists would like us to believe that science and reason has killed the possibility of God, but they are in for a surprise of biblical proportions.Kneel Crucifix

It is man’s nature to search for meaning and truth. It is not enough for us to know what or how – we must also know why. Members of the New Atheist movement such as Richard Dawkins say the question of “why” is meaningless and a waste of time. He has his right to that opinion but it doesn’t automatically make him correct.

The scientific discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries have brought us to a point where many don’t see much need for God anymore. We can cure diseases that at one time meant certain death. We have discovered the genetic code. We have found evidence of common ancestors of humans and animals, supporting the Theory of Evolution. Many people believe that we have simply outgrown God. Have we?

It is an arguably rational response to doubt the existence of a higher power when we see more and more discoveries that seem to steer us away from religion in favor of pure science. But although science has led to many wonderful solutions to mysteries that once seemed impossible to understand, it still cannot answer those deep-rooted questions to which humans, by our very nature, must have answers.

Science is the study of the natural world. In science, that which cannot be observed, cannot be studied. This in no way impugns science. To argue against the validity and necessity of scientific research would be delusional. That being said, science is but half the equation.

Although there are a number of people in the scientific community – many of whom are the most formidable advocates for “New Atheism” and its war on religion – who dismiss the notion of a spiritual or metaphysical realm, they are arguing against thousands of years of philosophy. Before man knew the Earth was round and orbited the Sun, there was a search for meaning. Ultimately that search was for God – and God was searching back.

Many people, Christians included, assert that the Bible tells the story of man’s search for God. To the contrary, what the Bible records is God’s search for man. Time and again God lifts mankind up – but over and over again mankind fails. God, the ever-loving Father, always returns with open arms and another chance for His children. The Bible tells the greatest love story in the history of the world: God’s eternal and unbreakable love for human beings. It does not, however, tell a story about science or historical geology.

Christians discussing the creation of the world and the origin of life with scientists and atheists would do well to realize and acknowledge that the Bible – and specifically the Book of Genesis – is not a scientific text.

Christian apologists and strict creationists walk themselves into a trap when they argue against a position for which there is overwhelming evidence. We know the Earth was not created in six days; we also know it is far older than the 6,000 years that has been calculated based upon the biblical timeline. What many of these well-meaning debaters fail to understand is that if they would abandon the illogical arguments that are clearly refuted by evidence, the case for God is not weakened – it is virtually proven.

Most atheists credit Charles Darwin with debunking the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story, but the Catholic Church was far ahead of him. Indeed it was Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre who first suggested the Big Bang Theory.

As early as the fourth century, St. Augustine of Hippo was writing that the creation story, as it is told in Genesis, was impossible – and was never intended by the author – to be taken literally. I refer you to Augustine’s The Literal Meaning ofGenesis, written sometime between the years 395 and 420 A.D.

The Book of Genesis was revealed by God and written for people with an almost non-existent knowledge of science. It is a very basic summation of how we got here and, more importantly, why. The Israelites did not need – nor would they have been able to comprehend – a detailed historical documentation of the trillions of events and processes involved in the creation of the universe and the life within it.  They got the crux of the story: God exists eternally, God created the Heavens and the Earth, God created mankind in His image, mankind failed and God has worked to restore us ever since.

The most important message in The Book of Genesis is that God loves us. Even after we betrayed Him in favor of our own ambition, He still took care of us and provided what we needed.

Now, even after the issues surrounding the creation of the universe have been put to bed (they haven’t), there are still a myriad of arguments against religion that each require a response. I cannot tackle them all here so instead, I will offer a case for the reasonability of the Christian faith.

This article cannot be concerned with the arguments levied by atheists at any other religion. As a non-believer in those faiths, I am simply unqualified to do so. I defer to members of those faiths to address the specific attacks on the reasonability of their beliefs. I am only qualified (a description I use here quite loosely) to mount a defense of Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism.

Before one can begin to speak on a specific religion, the question of whether there is any evidence for the existence of God at all must be tackled. Christianity, Islam and Judaism would all fall flat if science could prove without a shadow of a doubt that there is no God – but it can’t. It is admittedly asking science to prove a negative, here, but as science (or some version of it) is the tool most often used by the New Atheists to attack the foundation of religion, it must be done. Science cannot prove there is no God.

Quite fairly, the burden of proof would ordinarily fall on those of us who assert that God does exist, as we are the ones making the statement. However, the fact noted above, that New Atheists use the so-called lack of scientific evidence for God as a major weapon in their speeches and writings against religion, the burden has shifted to their shoulders. But they don’t really want a true scientific discussion on God’s existence to proceed. Why not? Because science, when combined with reason and logic, demonstrably suggests the existence of a creative intelligence.

The Theory of Evolution describes how natural selection played a significant role in the history and survival of living beings on Earth, but as detailed as it is it leaves several holes, and it never attempts to answer the question of how life began. It merely reveals an incredibly ordered and logical process by which life has advanced from the very simple to the complex.

Scientists studying the origin of life have many theories but the most prevalent – and admittedly logical – theory of how life first began is called abiogenesis. This theory is based upon the second law of thermodynamics: The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.”

In layman’s terms the connection proponents of abiogenesis propose is that all matter eventually breaks down releasing energy, thus the hypothesis proceeds that billions of years ago inorganic matter broke down, energy was dispersed and as a result of countless chemical and physical reactions, incredibly simple life forms were created.[1]

Whether true or not, these ideas about the origins and evolution of life do not eliminate the idea of a controlling hand in the process. God still exists, even in the most prevalent scientific theories – and it is the author’s humble opinion that He always will.

Without God, abiogenesis and evolution are both incredible and highly unlikely strokes of fortune. The probability of the process of abiogenesis occurring spontaneously is less than 1 in 10 to the 40,000 power.[2] The probability of each successive gene mutation necessary for the evolution of a single-celled organism to the modern human being is mind boggling. And the real-world odds of the specific gene code surviving countless natural threats as it moved through the millennia in various species that were most likely prey for larger and stronger creatures are astronomical. Contrary to what is probably expected by the reader, I submit these probabilities not to prove these theories false – but that they are indeed true.

The most logical hypothesis for the miracle that we know as life on Earth is that it did indeed evolve, but that there was a guiding hand at every stage of this evolution, watching and faithfully keeping each of the billions of unlikely events on track. Who could do that but God?

I am not a biologist and must therefore be terse when discussing biological and chemical processes – and other apologists for faith would do well to follow suit. There is no need to argue with science. Nothing offered by science even remotely contradicts God – it merely sheds some light on how He has worked in the universe.

Now that we have clarified two of the popular arguments that are often used against the existence of God, it is time to explore the reasoning behind a logical belief in His existence. Furthermore, I will present why the Gospel account of the life, teachings and traditions of Jesus Christ that have been preserved, protected and defended for 2000 years by the Roman Catholic Church, are the true account of God’s ultimate gift to mankind.

The atheist question begs: how can one be asked to believe in a God who allowed human beings to live and struggle on this planet for an estimated 200,000 years and only choose to reveal himself after roughly 194,000 years to the small people who would become Israel and then waited until just 2000 years ago to fulfill His great plan of salvation for mankind.

Furthermore, how can this God possibly love human beings when those who inhabited the pre-revelation Earth must have lived incredibly harsh lives: barbaric fights for food and land, pain and death in childbirth and remarkably low average life expectancies? How indeed?

The answer, I submit to you, dwells in the title by which every faithful Christian knows God: Father. We can all agree that the human being continues to evolve, becoming wiser as the generations proceed. God’s timing is perfect. A parent does not put a five-year-old child into advanced chemistry or philosophy – they put them in kindergarten, where the child will learn the most basic of letters and numbers, before moving on to more complex subjects.

As He is truly the Father of mankind, God allowed humans to grow without His direct influence – for what seems to us like an eternity of time – to succeed and indeed to stumble. Only when the time and circumstances were exactly right, God stepped in and revealed Himself to His children. Finally, after thousands of years of building a relationship with Israel (and Israel repeatedly failing), Jesus Christ came down from Heaven to fulfill the Law in a manner human beings could not and he saved all mankind from the dreadful fate it had unwittingly earned for itself.

It’s a wonderful story – but where is the reason in it? A multitude of religions throughout human history have had interesting and creative stories. But being interesting or making one feel good is not the measure of a story’s validity. True belief in this tale requires more, otherwise Christianity – and indeed Jesus Christ Himself – will one day inevitably take their rightful place alongside Zeus and Apollo, or Odin and Thor. But there is more – a lot more.

If we first accept that the timing of God’s revelation was perfect and that it could only come after man had stumbled through almost 200,000 years of learning and evolution, we must next move on and investigate whether there is any identifiable logic in the story. Can the story be true, to the modern educated person?

Too many people, seasoned theologians even, consider the Bible a book but it’s not. The word bible comes from the Greek word biblia, meaning books, in the plural. The Bible is a collection of books. 73 to be exact (66 in the Protestant versions). The Bible is constantly criticized by non-Christians as having been corrupted throughout the centuries by everyone from popes and kings to one very well-known ex-Catholic priest. But is that corruption evident in the many versions of the Bible we have today?

The Bible is 73 books written by an estimated 35-40 authors over the course of 1400 years in various lands and multiple languages. We have in our possession ancient manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic Syriac and Aramaic. Yet the reason so many people mistake the collection of books and letters for just one book is because in this incredibly diverse group of writings there is but one theme running throughout: God’s tireless and unbreakable love for mankind and His relentless quest for communion with us.

Though the versions of the Bible are many, the theme is the same. And we ascribe this unity of thought to the power and influence of the Holy Spirit working through the various authors and inspiring their words.  

And what of Jesus? How do we know what we read is the truth? Was He the Son of God, or a simple teacher who got in over his head? Did He even exist? What proof do we have? These are all questions that will undoubtedly arise in any spirited debate of Christianity with a non-Christian. And to both defend our faith – and understand the reason behind a confident belief in it – we must have the answers to these fundamental objections.

There are still some who say there is no evidence that Jesus actually existed but that could not be further from the truth. There is a world of evidence that, not only did Jesus exist, but the New Testament accounts of Him are completely accurate.

Non-Christian sources make references to Jesus in the same manner as they did any other semi-prominent figure in those days (though no others are as highly scrutinized).

Jewish philosopher Flavius Josephus – born just three or four years after Christ’s crucifixion – is one extra-biblical source that not only points to Jesus’ existence, but also confirms that the first Christians did indeed believe that He is the Son of God. In his Antiquities 18, Josephus speaks of Jesus and in one passage confirms the early belief in the Resurrection:

“They [Jesus’ followers] reported that on the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvels about him.”[3]

Josephus was an observant Jew who became a Roman citizen after the war – not exactly someone who had much to gain by including the beliefs of the small band of followers of an obscure Galilean rabbi. His very mention of Jesus and His reported resurrection leads into the next reason to believe the story.

As it has now been established that belief in Jesus as the Messiah does date all the way back to His followers, we must also accept that these people truly believed what they preached – because so many of them paid a huge human price for doing so. Roman persecution of Christians was brutal. All but two of the Apostles (John and Judas) suffered horrendously gruesome deaths for their refusal to deny the divinity of Jesus. And thousands of first century Christians suffered persecution including torture and execution for their faith.

It is one thing to die for a belief in something one was taught by a charismatic teacher; it is something quite different to suffer and die for something one states they witnessed first-hand. If Jesus had performed no miracles or failed to rise from the dead, it is a logical fallacy to suggest that so many eyewitnesses to these events would hold fast in their testimonies of these events all the way to torture and death.

The legitimacy of these early Christian testimonies established, we now move on to the direct link between those first Christians and us: the Catholic Church. Jesus clearly stated His intention to establish a church and gave the authority of shepherding it to Peter.[4]

Through the centuries, the Catholic Church has preserved and passed on the original teachings of Jesus. There is reason to put faith in the Church, because it teaches the same message as was taught by Jesus to the Apostles. Pope Francis is the latest in a direct line of men who have shepherded Christ’s Church on Earth that began with Peter.

Jesus told His followers that the modern times in which we now live would come to pass – a time in which many would hate God and those who are faithful to Him.[5] Is that a fair characterization of the new power class’ attitude toward Christianity? Oh I believe it is.

Christians today are the only religious group in the world that can be insulted, degraded and demonized with impunity. Any doubts about that are easily dispelled by the fact that, in today’s label-obsessed culture, there is not a term for hatred directed at Christians. Demonize Jews and you are rightly labeled an Anti-Semite; demonize Muslims you are indeed an Islamophobe. Demonize Christians and you will hear only crickets.

However, because Jesus foretold it would happen, this is not a reason for Christians to be dismayed or angry. It is simply more credibility – albeit abstract – that the promises Jesus made were true and can be believed. None of the statements Jesus made have ever been credibly refuted.

Not science, history nor logic has debunked the story of Jesus that is told in the bible and taught by the Church, and that is reason to believe. Jesus established His Church on Earth to be a beacon of light to all who are in darkness. So we Catholics must stand up proudly in the world and shine Christ’s light wherever darkness reigns – because right now the world so desperately needs it.

References:

[1] Jolene Creighton, Abiogenesis: A Theory on The Origins of Life; December 15, 2014 https://futurism.com/abiogenesis-theory-origins-life/

[2] Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution From Space; J.M. Dent & Sons, 1981

[3] Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3, 63, 93 A.D.

[4] Matthew 16:18-19

[5] Matthew 10:22

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