October 16, 2012

Barriers to Faith: Doubting God's Existence Part 1

Around 1700 a new way of thinking developed that many of us now take for granted. Advances in science, philosophy, and political caused an upheaval in people’s thinking that changed the course of history. Galileo demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun. Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon revised the scientific method. Isaac Newton, creator of the delicious Fig Newton, revolutionized and created the world of Physics. By the end of the Enlightenment, Science had taken its place as King over all.

Science could now explain so much of what was once thought to be controlled directly by the hand of God or the gods. Rain was determined by different environmental things...not whether you appeased the proper deity or danced the appropriate jig. The earth was round and revolved around a ball of gaseous fire...not the blazing deity Sol.

Because of these changes, many thought religion would simply fade into the background as people became more educated about the world around them. Science would displace the need for our dependence on a god to explain the unknowns of our world. It would, in fact, eventually explain everything removing the need for God completely.

Despite all the doom and gloom predictions...belief in a god has not faded. In a recent study from Rice University, over sixty percent of natural scientists—people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology—said they believe in God. A separate study from the University of Chicago revealed that 76 percent of doctors believed in God.

A major part of the problem is that so many people buy into the atheist mantra that only people with double-digit IQ’s believe in God. If you believe in a God or you are religious...you are one step away from sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth, and drooling on yourself.

The logic generally works like this. Intelligent people know that science has or will explain everything. Since science explains everything there is no need for God. Therefore intelligent people don’t believe in God.

Somehow they overlook scientists like Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, and Planck (the father of quantum theory).

Add in brilliant authors like Dante, Shakespeare, Dafoe, Bronte, Hugo, Longfellow, Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Swift, Wordsworth, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O'Connor…and even, uh, John Grisham.

Or artists who believed in God like, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Cezanne, Delacroix, Renoir, Blake, and Matisse.

And brilliant musicians and composers like Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky…not to mention bands like the Fray, Red, Switchfoot, the Civil Wars, Mutemath and Mumford and Sons.

Or brilliant philosophers like Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Barth, Platinga and Dallas Willard?

While all of these don’t necessarily hold our particular view of God, they believe that God is not just for the unintelligent. The existence of God make sense to them.

Francis Collins is a very intelligent person. He heads the Human Genome Project which mapped 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. So when we see that model of DNA that looks like a twisted ladder...that is what he did. Listen to Francis Collins talk about coming to faith in God.

Belief in God is not as sign of being unintelligent or stupid. But that doesn’t mean the proofs for God are beyond a shadow of a doubt. They aren’t. There is no way to prove the existence of God with mathematical certainty.

So doubt can still creep into our thoughts.

Some of you may never have doubted the existence of God. For you, faith comes naturally. There has never been a time when you didn’t believe in God. In fact, you find it difficult to understand how anyone could ever doubt God’s existence.

But there are some for whom doubt creeps into your life on a regular basis. Some are naturally skeptical about things. You want to test and try everything. You take nothing at face value. Others can’t explain where the doubt comes from it just happens.

I am one for whom faith has always required work. I test and evaluate everything. I question and take nothing at face value. I have had many experiences of the presence of God. I have seen the spiritual at work in our world. I have carried on conversations with God, but doubt still creeps in from time to time.

It sometimes feels like watching a football game on television with Lori in the room. Guys, you know what I mean. You are watching the game, she wants to talk, so she stands right in front of the television. You are trying to both listen to her, because you know what happens if you don’t, but also not miss the big play. You have to lean and work to see the game around her.

It is easy for those with honest questions and doubts to be misunderstood. Especially by those for whom faith comes easy. It is hard to understand where someone is coming from that struggles from time to time with doubt. But you will one day meet someone either inside the faith or outside of it that is wrestling with doubt.
"Doubt in and of itself isn’t toxic. It’s unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic." 
So people need to be able to talk about it, and we want to be a church where people are safe to ask the tough questions and get honest answers. We want to be people where others feel safe enough to express their doubts and struggles and know they are going to get honest answers.

So what do we do when doubts are present? Since there really is no way to prove God’s existence beyond all shadow of doubt, how do we speak with people outside the faith who are wrestling with God’s existence? How do we, who are inside the faith, remind ourselves that belief in God is reasonable when the doubts come?

While there is no way to prove God’s existence beyond the shadow of a doubt there are explanations or proofs that add up. They demonstrate that God’s existence is the most reasonable explanation of things. Christianity is not just blind faith. You do not need to check your brain at the door. You do not need to set up a battle between faith and science and reason.

You can be a thinking, reasonable, intelligent person and find credible reasons to believe in the Christian message. Philosphers and apologists have dozens upon dozens of proofs to support an understanding of the existence of God. This morning we are going to look at a few of those.

Proof from Creation

Psalm 19:1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

King David asserts in that no matter where you are from there is evidence of God found in creation all around you. Even if you are part of a tribe completely cut off from all civilization, without a Bible or a missionary, you are able to pick up that a personal God exists. “The heavens declare the glory of God!”

Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician, philosopher and atheist, once said, “Man should be understood as a kind of unfortunate accident, a sideshow in the material universe, a curious accident in the backwater of the galaxies.” Over the past few years, many would have us believe that we are simply an accident in this world.

Far from being an accident, the universe we live in seems to be holding out a welcome mat for human beings.

In scientific terms, there is what’s called the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle says that all the arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics have one thing in common.  They are aligned so precisely precisely their values are exactly what is needed to have a universe capable of producing life. All of the many laws of physics have been finely tuned to sustain human life.

Let me give you an example. Isaac Newton, who had the apple fall on his head, calculate a formula for the Gravitational Constant. It determines the amount of force at any given circumstance.

Scientists tell us that gravity has to be so fine-tuned that if we we are just slightly off the entire universe falls apart. If you created a radio dial with 10,000 billion, billion, billion, billion tick marks, you would have to hit a very particular tick mark in order for it all to work. Not the one to the right. Not the one to the left. That is how precise this has to be?

That seems a little too precise to just be an accident.

Let’s look at another one. Scientists say that if the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in ten to the 60th power the universe would have either collapsed back in on itself, or expanded to rapidly for stars to form.  If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in 10 to the 60th power, there would be no stars, no universe, no Planet Earth and no human beings.  One scientist said, “You know what 10 to the 60 power is?  It could be compared to firing a bullet at a one inch target at the other side of the universe twenty billion light years away and hitting the target.”

That is not all there are several other dials that must be precisely tuned for this all to work. Let’ s imagine there was a universe where the gravity dial was right, but you have the Amino Acid dial off...no life. Let imagine a universe where the gravity dial is right and the amino acid dial is right, but the sun is just fractionally closer or farther away from the earth...no life.

We live in a world that while natural processes dictate how it functions and works...we live in a world that indicates there is a God at work. There is a designer who has put this whole thing together in such a precise way that it works.

And yet many still resist.

Imagine you are hiking through the middle of a wooded area. You are lost. Wandering around. Then you stumble across an open field, and at the other end of the field there is a cabin. But rather than think, “I’m saved! There must be someone around!” You think, “Isn’t that amazing how those trees just happened to fall in that precise way to create a structure that looks like a house! How fortunate and amazing and random that is!”

Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness...”

The reason that atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett are able to resist is because they are not unbiased. It is always interesting to note how often past hurts and disillusionments with the church and with Christians have overshadowed and biased the evidence in the minds of those who reject.

So often we allow our biases to get in the way of the evidence. We see only what we want to see because we have already decided what is true. We all do it. It is so easy to do with prayer. We ask God for something, and then when we receive it...we chalk it up to coincidence. It was fortunate for that to happen...and we forget to praise God.

Proof from Morality

Leviticus 19:1-2, “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

All the moral commands of the Old and New Testaments are based on one thing...God is holy God and requires that those who follow him demonstrate his character in the world around them. Our morality or call to live a “good, moral life” is rooted in God’s character.

God loves the poor...so we should love the poor.

God loves the widows and orphans...so we should love the widow and orphans.

Our morality is rooted in God. But what happens when there is no God? When all moral requirements of a god are removed? On what basis does morality exists?

The Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky said, “If God does not exist, then everything is permissible.”

Now this is not saying that someone who is atheist or agnostic is not a moral person. There are some atheists who are more loving, forgiving, and moral than some who claim to follow Christ.

What this means is that when God is removed there is no objective grounds on which to base morality. If there is no God then no binding moral law exists.

Why is murder wrong? If there is no God, then there is no universally binding principle that says that murder is wrong.

Why is it wrong to abuse a child? Or rape a woman? Or do away with an “inferior race” of people? Why should we care about those who are hurting and broken?

Some might say because we share a similar human condition. We should put ourselves in their shoes and understand that we would not want it to happen to us. If abused they will grow up and wreak havoc on our society. But there is still nothing, no objective standard by which we can say, “That is wrong!”

The Bible introduces a completely different line of reasoning. The Bible introduced the idea that human beings have inherent worth.

Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

According to the Bible a person’s worth is rooted in the fact that each and every person is created in the image of God. They have worth because each person is someone for whom Christ died. If our world is simply an accident and there is no God then the worth of a human life is based solely on its value to the rest of society. If a person is weak and unproductive then they are of no value ultimately.

But the Bible places worth on an individual based on the fact that they are made in the image of God. Psalm 8:4-5 says, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.”

Why is it wrong to take someones life? Why is it wrong to assist and elderly person commit suicide? Why is it wrong to take the life of the unborn? Why should we care for the mental challenged, the poor, the broken, the widow, the orphan? Because these are people who infinite worth in the eyes of God. Worth that is not based on what they can do for society. Worth that was worthy of Jesus love and His death.

Proof from Longing

Isaiah 55:1-2 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

John 7:37-38, “On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Within everyone of us is a longing. Some express it as a longing for meaning and purpose. Some have a nagging lack of fulfillment. Some describe it as a need for happiness. But we all seem to have what Plato calls, “a distinctive hunger, or emptiness” that “nothing earthly satisfies...”

So we go searching for something that will fulfill us. Some seek fame and fortune. Some collect things. Some resort to substance abuse...drugs or alcohol. And what happens when we go searching for pleasure and fulfillment outside of God is what drug addicts are particular aware of. The first use of a drug is an amazing experience, but over time you need more and more and more of the drug to get the same level of experience that you had the first time.

But the same is true in many other areas of our lives. We end up needing more success in order to feel good about ourselves. We need more things to feel good about ourselves. We need more sexual experiences...we need more in order to have the same feelings we had at the beginning.

So we have to ask ourselves, “Is there anything out there that will ever satisfy this hunger? That will satisfy my heart and my searching?”

C.S. Lewis said,
“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic.  But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes from a race that repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where edible substances exist.  In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it is a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.”
There very fact that we have a deep-seated desire, a longing for God should indicate to us that God might exist. We have hunger pangs that are fulfilled by food. We have thirst that is fulfilled by water. We have loneliness that is fulfilled by relationship. If there is no God then this desire for His presence, this longing for the eternal would be the only longing in human experience that doesn’t have a fulfillment.

We search and strive and work to get and have more to fill our longings, and no material thing will ever fulfill it!

Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Maybe you have been searching and striving and trying to fill the void with everything else. You are dissatisfied and what you need in order to fill that voice is to come to Jesus and drink.


All of this begs us to ask What difference does faith make?

You see, you can read every book ever written for and against belief in God. You can even come to the conclusion that yes, God exists...but that will not change anything. It is not enough to simply believe that God exists. It is not enough to believe God is a possibility.

You have to one day ask yourself, “If God exists then what does that mean for my life?”

When we look at the proofs of creation and morality and longing...we realize we have a deeper need than to just accept that God exists. We have been created by God with infinite worth. There is an established morality that we can neither explain away nor bypass. And when we weigh ourselves against God’s expectations we find we are sinful people. When we acknowledge that deep down there is an unfulfilled longing that we have never been able to satisfy...we realize that what we need is not just a knowledge of God existence, we need a Savior.

I found the Bible’s explanation of our world and its problems and its needs was the best explanation around. I didn’t need a self-help improvement class. I didn’t need some goody-too shoes religious program...I was broken and sinful and I needed the presence of God at work in my life through Jesus Christ.

God promises forgiveness to anyone who turns to him, but if we never turn toward Him that knowledge does nothing for us.

In the book God is Good, God is Great: Why Belief in God is Reasonable and Responsible, one of the authors says this:

You can nod your head in agreement that God is great and that God is good and so is Jesus.  You can even admit that you’re unlike him, that you fall short of his standards.  That’s an important first step.  But faith is more than nodding your head, or acknowledging certain truths.  It includes those things, we have to understand and agree with right ideas. But then we need to respond to them.

Think of it in terms of flying. It is not enough to just believe in aviation, to spend time in airports, to affirm the skills of airline pilots.  No, that will not get you to California.  You need to act on those beliefs by actually climbing on board an airplane. That’s real faith, and it alone can get you where you want to go.

There comes a point where you have to get on board and fly. Take into all the proofs, the reasonable explanation, the emptiness and dissatisfaction you have had...spend time in thoughtful reflection and study...and in order for that all to reach its final destination, there comes a point where you have to turn to Jesus and accept his work of forgiveness and surrender your life to Him.

[For this message series I am using messages adapted from the Cincinnati Vineyard and the Columbus Vineyard.]

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