How can we persuade the secular world about God and faith?

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Q. “How can I speak with atheists about God and faith?”

A. “Just show them this YouTube clip of [discredited sensationalistic religious guy with zero scientific or academic credentials.] IT’S UNDENIABLE!!11”

This is actual, bona fide advice religious people give when confronted with the question of how to engage the secular world. And it’s terribly ineffective.

How can we impact people outside our religious niche? How should we live so as to reflect Messiah well to the increasingly secular world?

I discuss this on the Conversations with the Bible podcast below:

Host Ryan White and I chat about:

  • Relaxing our religious stringency that everything in the Bible must be literal and historical. (e.g. parables are not historical; nor many of the Psalms literal.)
  • How the Bible uses narratives, both historical and fictional, to change minds.
  • How to speak to people on their level, in their terminology, about God and faith. Exemplified by Billy Graham.
  • How loving your neighbor has a lifelong impact on the recipients of that love.
  • Human evil, why the Bible’s book of Revelation encourages believers to stand up to evil, and why many of the worst atrocities in human history are committed by atheists with absolute power. (Corollary: why a disproportionally high number of dissidents in totalitarian societies have been believers in God.)

There’s so much I wanted to get to in this podcast that we didn’t have time for. I wanted to talk about general apologetics. How there’s a wealth of evidence in favor of divine origins: the Big Bang, the Cambrian explosion, the origins of life, the fine-tuning of the universe. Why the story of the resurrection of Jesus is real and historical and explains why disciples went from disbanded and depressed group of people fearing for their lives, to boldly announcing the reality of Messiah to the ends of known world, even under pain of torture and death.

Perhaps we’ll get to these next time. They’re most certainly worthy of a post or two as well.

Fearing God produces moral courage, undermines atheist dictatorships

“The midwives of the Hebrews, fearing God, refused to do as Pharaoh had commanded; they let the Hebrew boys live.”

-Exodus 1

Image result for dennis prager rational bibleFear of God is necessary to make a society of moral individuals. Of course there are moral atheists, just as there are moral pagans, and moral individuals in even the worst cultures. But you cannot build a good world with a handful of individuals who happen to be good people. You need a universal moral code from a universal God Who is the source of that moral code, and this God must judge all people accordingly. Consequently, “fear of God” is as inevitable as it is necessary. If God judges how moral we are, of course there will be a fear of Him – just as there is of a human judge. Conversely, if God does not judge people, there is no reason to fear Him.

In our time, many people invoke the commandment to love God but ignore or even disparage the commandment to fear God. While many God-believers will engage in heroic self-sacrifice out of love of God, most God-believers are moral on a day-to-day basis because they believe they will be judged by God. That’s why, for example, in traditional Western societies, the finest people were routinely described as “God-fearing,” not “God-loving”

This fear is what gave the midwives [of the Hebrews in Egypt] the strength to carry out what is, as far as we know, the first recorded act of civil disobedience in history. Indeed, fear of God explains why a disproportionately high number of dissidents in totalitarian societies have been believers in God. When I visited the Soviet Union in 1969, I smuggled out a Soviet Jewish dissident song whose lyrics included the words: “I fear no one except God, the only one” (“Nye byusa nikovo krome boga odnavo”).

Those words were all the more remarkable in that the vast majority of Soviet Jewish dissidents were not religious. But they understood the simple moral and logical fact that if one “fears no one except God,” one can muster the courage not to fear a totalitarian state.  And these simple words also explain why totalitarian states like the Soviet Union so feared and fought against belief in God. Because belief in God posits there is something higher than Party, it constitutes a fatal threat to secular totalitarian societies. It’s why North Koreans have been horribly punished for owning a Bible.”

-Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Exodus image

The universe had a beginning. Here’s how we know, and why it matters.

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“All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”

-Alexander Vilenkin
Theoretical physicist
Director of the Institute of Cosmology, Tufts University

I recently spoke with a sharp young person who suggested that perhaps the universe has always existed – no need, then, for a Creator if the created thing has always existed. That’s a fair question.

A century ago, many scientists believed precisely that. The early 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell agreed with this premise, saying, “The universe is just there. And that’s all.” In the 1940s, British astronomer Fred Hoyle suggested the universe stretched infinitely into the past and future.

But in the decades since, new scientific evidence has swayed physicists into a consensus that the universe had a beginning. 

Why does that matter?

If the universe had a beginning, it means that the universe came into existence; it was created.

Vilenkin, quoted above, states the unease at which secular scientists affirm a created universe:

For many physicists, the beginning of the universe is uncomfortable, because it suggests that something must have caused the beginning, that there should be some cause outside the universe.”

-Alexander Vilenkin

Secular scientific publication New Scientist describes this as the Genesis Problem:

The big bang is now part of the furniture of modern cosmology, but [cosmologist Fred] Hoyle’s unease has not gone away. Many physicists have been fighting a rearguard action against it for decades, largely because of its theological overtones. If you have an instant of creation, don’t you need a creator?

-New Scientist

(Armed with that bit of information, one might make the delicious observation that all secular physicists are creationists; they just disagree about how and why.)

If the universe had a beginning, it was created.

That creation event, for many physicists, is the Big Bang: all material matter suddenly exploded into existence with great energy and speed, scattering outward and forming planets, stars, and entire galaxies.

The late Stephen Hawking acknowledged that the evidence indeed points to a universe with a beginning:

imageAll the evidence seems to indicate that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted.

-Stephen Hawking, physicist

How do we know the universe had a beginning?

Hawking says this is a discovery of modern cosmology. What was discovered? What new scientific evidence changed minds?

  • Galaxy movement: newer and higher quality observations of distant galaxies shows that the further away a galaxy is, the faster it is receding from us. This allows us to measure and extrapolate: if we could reverse time, we’d see all the galaxies converging at a single point in space. This single point is the location of the Big Bang Singularity, ground zero for the creation of the universe.
  • Cosmic microwave radiation. Physicists predicted that if the universe had a beginning, we’d hear evidence of it in the form of background radiation in space: a humming sound echoing from the initial creation of the universe. This was observed and confirmed to exist in 1964 by astronomers Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, who later received the Nobel Prize. Today, their discovery is referred to as the Big Bang Echo.

These new discoveries, coupled with dozens of other minor discoveries persuaded physicists to come to a consensus that the universe indeed had a beginning.

So if the universe had a beginning, what caused it to begin?

Modern cosmologists have felt unease at this question because it implies a creator; God.

Scientists have come up with some alternate hypotheses, but even these hypotheses often end up requiring the existence of something eternal and outside of the universe; a divine origin. We’ll examine some of these hypotheses in the next post.