by Jeyan Anketell
from Signs of the Times No. 47 - Oct 2012
The focus of this book is on the reasons why people believe in God. It is concerned with how to justify that belief, rather than to defend one account of God against others; although the author draws on Christian resources because he is most familiar with them. It is easy to read - eight chapters, each about thirteen pages long, plus an Introduction and Conclusion. It makes sense!
The first chapter describes how we got into our present situation where militant atheism and religious dogmatism have fed on each other, denouncing each other while dismissing more liberal religious traditions as watered-down inauthentic versions. The rest of the book is concerned with exploring the reasons why people do believe in God, and how well they can be justified.
The second chapter looks at the common impression that the world around us has been intentionally designed. None of the traditional arguments proves intentional design. This does not mean that the world is undesigned, but that it could be. Science only notes observed regularities, what we call the laws of nature; it never establishes causal forces. To deny intentional design is to deny that there is any explanation for the existence of the world or the way it works. It also empties the world of the values which give our lives significance, and this is the theme of the third chapter. Atheism has no way to account for values as meaningful features of our lives; either all our values are pure error, or we create our own. Self-created values, however, can never do what we expect values to do. They can never reveal to us what is worth doing and what is worth avoiding, because they can only reveal to us what we have told them to reveal. Values only work when they relate our lives to something bigger than ourselves, something which makes our lives worthwhile; if they relate to something bigger and more valuable than we can understand.
The following chapter continues the theme, with a focus on morality. Again, Atheism has no way to account for moral truths except as human inventions. However, if there are no moral truths embedded in reality independently of the human mind, our self-created moral truths cannot do what we normally understand morality to do. They are unlikely to tell us that we ought not to do what we want to do, because we have programmed them to tell us what we want them to tell us. The only kind of morality which can have authority to pass judgement on what we want is a morality located in a mind more authoritative than ours.
The fifth chapter describes personal religious experiences. Large numbers of people are convinced that they have been in the presence of some kind of greater being, distinguish these experiences quite sharply from the effects of drugs or epilepsy, consider them authentic and afterwards remember them as major life-changing effects. Atheists deny the reality of these experiences because they are not of the usual empirical type, they are not repeatable under controlled conditions, and they are not as reliable as the usual type of science experiment, although some experiments with some kind of control do confirm aspects of these experiences.
The next three chapters examine more theoretical issues. Chapter six explores the case for a necessary being, God, first based on the definition of God (the ontological argument); and then based on the idea of a first mover in the universe (the cosmological argument). Chapter seven describes how the world came to be seen as ordered; and argues that this order will need to have been established by a particular kind of god, in order to make science seem credible (the argument from intelligibility). Neither of these actually prove that there is a god, but they should certainly provide the unbiased enquirer with food for thought.
Chapter eight considers further the argument from intelligibility. All our knowledge depends on three presuppositions that we cannot prove: we perceive a physical universe, we can see that it is ordered in a deterministic way, but we still believe that the human mind can think undetermined thoughts. Many atheists found these hypotheses too difficult to reconcile with each other: but if we do not believe them all, we know nothing. Today Atheists generally offer an evolutionary answer. The ability to work out what is true would have given us an evolutionary advantage at some stage in our history. This could well be the case with regard to intelligibility, but I personally think this could also be the case with regard to values and morality as well. The author points out that there is nothing specifically atheistic about this argument; for the believer it is the best available account of how God gave free thought to humans. There should be no antipathy, but a friendship between scientists and believers.