Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Arguing Against Atheism

'Let’s say the consensus is that our species, we, being the higher primates, homo sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Richard Dawkins thinks perhaps a quarter of a million, but I’ll take a hundred thousand.

In order to be Christian, you have to believe that, for 98,000 years our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25, dying of bad teeth, famine, struggle, vicious war, suffering, misery... all of that for 98,000 years, heaven watching with complete indifference and then 2000 years ago thinks, “That’s enough of that, it’s time to intervene. The best way to do this would be to condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate part of the Middle East. Let’s not appear to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization; let’s go to the desert and have another revelation...”

This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.' Christopher Hitchens

I was challenged with this argument over Christmas when having a discussion with somebody about the existence of God. I had a feeling at the time that it sounded like Hitchens or Dawkins and then recently read this and realised that this person must have read some New Atheist stuff.

What I find fascinating about this line of argument is the assumption that we know how humanity felt 100,000 years ago in light of the suffering that they were experiencing. As people who live in the West in the 21st Century who have access to medicine, health care, clean water, central heating, clothes, plenty of food etc etc, we make assumptions about how humanity behaved and responded and felt 100,000 years ago, yet how can we really know what people thought or felt? Their time and culture is so removed from ours, so different, that we cannot really know how people responded to the suffering they were experiencing.

The other point to make is that this line of thinking from Hitchens is poor theology. The Bible makes it very clear that since the dawn of creation God has been intimately involved with all that he has created and that humanity is extremely loved and treasured to God. The idea that heaven was watching with complete indifference is an idea that has not fully understood or grappled with the concept of the Christian God as revealed in Christ. God has always been involved with humanity, always sharing in their pain and suffering, always seeking to redeem and heal humanity from its 'sin-sickness'.

The suffering that humanity experienced 100,000 years ago was felt by God. And God responded to their suffering in light of the culture and the time in which they suffered. He continues to do the same today. It is astounding when people make assumptions about a time and culture based on our own time and culture.

There is an assumption here in that in pain and suffering people feel abandoned or God-forsaken. Yet we have no idea that this is how those people felt. When I was in India we met many people who were suffering because of floods, disease and poverty, yet never once did we hear that they felt God-forsaken or abandoned, but rather they felt that and knew that God was with them in the midst of their suffering.

The reality of Christ's coming was that, at just the right time, his life, death and resurrection brings about healing and redemption that all of creation has been waiting for. John 1 says that the Word was made flesh and came into the darkness, yet the darkness has not overcome the Light, who is Christ. Colossians 1 speaks of Christ holding all things in heaven and earth together and reconciling everything to Himself. So creation has darkness that needs dissolving. Creation is dislocated and fractured and needs reconciling. Jesus comes to bring about that transformation.

Someone said to me that if they said a golden teapot circled the earth I'd think they were nuts, so how is belief in God any different (this is a Dawkins argument again)? Yet Christianity is not based on fanciful thinking or irrational thought. Christianity is a faith of history and story that continues to journey and flourish in light of all those who have gone before. The first disciples saw, met with and witnessed the Risen Jesus. They then went and told others all that they had seen and heard. Christianity is a faith of proven history, personal experience and the reality of the person of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.

Faith is not what you believe but what you do, and those first disciples were convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah and Redeemer, and in their actions affirmed this belief. They were willing to die, be abused and rejected because they were certain of who Jesus is. And it is this Jesus who fully reveals God to us and as a thinking person I am assured of the claims of Jesus.

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