Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Religion Explained?

British comedian and avowed atheist Ricky Gervais offers a concise albeit cynical explanation of religion.He argues that early childhood conditioning accounts for widespread faith in God and is comparable to believing in Santa Claus and fairies. “I think there would be more atheists and less faithful,” Gervais opines, “if you weren’t allowed to teach anything, you weren’t allowed to mention any gods or any beliefs or atheism until they were 20.” He reasons, as the myth of God is ingrained in impressionable minds, “if you’re born in India you’re probably a Hindu, if you’re born in America you’re probably a Christian, if you’re born in Pakistan you’re probably a Muslim. That’s a coincidence, isn’t itthat you’re always born into the right god … into the right religion?” He thinks it strange that people still hold onto the medieval belief that God made the universe, so he asks, “Who made God?” If the assumption is that God has always been, then Gervais responds, “Let’s just say the universe has then. Let’s just cut out the middle-man; it saves time.”

An Eternal Universe?

This overly simplistic scenario generates more questions than answers. Gervais is merely repeating what astronomer Carl Sagan said back in the 1970s about a timeless universe,2 one of the most unscientific assertions that can be made! The very year Sagan died, renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking affirmed: All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning …. probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology.”3

If the ultimate cause of the universe is God, where did God come from? The question assumes our limited naturalistic environment can adequately explain an unlimited supernatural creative force, even though the evidence points to a source of the natural world beyond nature itself.It was at the beginning of the cosmos that time, space, matter, and finite energy all came into being. The ultimate cause of the physical world is thus outside of time (eternal), outside of space (omnipresent), outside of matter (immaterial), and outside of finite energy (omnipotent). The God of the Bible is the infinite, independent, supernatural primal cause of the finite, dependent, natural world (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 3:4).

Childhood Conditioning?

Where one is born and the environment in which one is raised may account for nominal faith (including atheism), but this ignores so many factors inexplicable from a purely naturalistic worldview. Childhood conditioning does not explain why adult atheists become believers, like William J. Murray, son of militant atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, or Oxford professor C. S. Lewis, biochemist Alister McGrath, geneticists Francis Collins and George R. Price, astrophysicist Hugh Ross, astronomer Allan Sandage, philosopher Nina Karin Monsen, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, journalist Lee Strobel, MIT professor Rosalind Picard, et al.Apparently how the evidence is interpreted and the conclusions drawn therefrom are not simply a matter of the mind but of the will.

Christianity originated in the Middle East, yet there are followers of Christ not only in America, but in Pakistan, India, and all around the globe. The Christian movement emerged in a hostile Jewish environment and spread throughout a resistant polytheistic world. These early believers did not choose their religion because it was familiar and popular. They embraced the Christian faith as true, irrespective of cultural conditioning and geographic location.

The sarcastic characterization of one conveniently “born into the right god … into the right religion” is a straw-man argument that miserably fails. Former atheist turned Christian apologist, Forest Antemesaris, reasons that if 1,000 people stole his identity and claimed to be Forest Antemesaris, this would surely not prove his nonexistence. “If the God of Christianity exists, the claim of other gods existing does not affect His existence.”6

J. Warner Wallace, the son of a devout atheist, was not raised in a Christian home. In his mid-30s, having examined a wide range of philosophical and religious worldviews, he began an investigation of God’s existence and the claims of Christianity. He writes, “Like so many others, I came to believe Christianity is true, not because of my surrounding influences, but on the strength of the case itself.”Wallace notes further that Christians continue to be the most persecuted religious movement worldwide, especially in Islamic and communist nations. “These suffering believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their region or culture.”

Wissam Al-Aethawi, a former Iraqi soldier and engineer who grew up in Baghdad, was disillusioned by a religion that taught hate. He purchased a Bible, was convicted by its message, and obeyed the gospel. He now works with Arab immigrants in the USA, using the New Testament to teach them English, large numbers of whom are experiencing religious freedom for the first time and coming to faith in Christ. You can read Wissam’s story here: <Link>.

Conclusion

Michael Patton observes, “Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.”The Christian movement began and flourished, not in a vacuum, but among real people in the first century world who could readily test its claims (cf. Acts 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:6). The credibility and tenacity of the Christian faith, void of violent threats and coercion, better explains why it continues to thrive worldwide.

The geographical location of one’s birth and cultural environment of one’s upbringing is a weak rationale for religion in general and Christianity in particular. Since the creation of the world the evidence of God has not been hidden, and to stubbornly ignore it is inexcusable (Romans 1:18-22). May the entire human creation hear the words of God's revelatory vessel: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges himthe word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     Ricky Gervais, “Religion Explained in 2 Minutes,” YouTube video clip posted by Mike Panagopoulos (25 March 2018), <Link>.
     Carl Sagan, “On God and Creation,” YouTube video clip posted by angryatheistdotnet (13 Dec. 2009), <Link>. For a good response to this question, see Kent Hovind’s reply to Reinhold Schlieter, <Link>.
     Stephen Hawking, “The Beginning of Time,” 1996 lecture, <Link>.
     See K. L. Moore, Are You Sure About God? Part 1 and appended links. 
     This extensive list would also include Emory professor Mark Bauerlein, biologist Alexis Carrel, physicist Russell Humphreys, Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf, et al. Though certainly not exhaustive, for the names of other prominent figures, see “List of former atheists and agnostics” <Link>.
     Forest Antemesaris, “Five Bad Reasons to Reject Christianity,” Apologia Institute (21 May 2018), <Link>.
     J. Warner Wallace, “Am I a Christian Simply Because I Was Raised in a Christian Culture?” Cold Case Christianity (31 Jan. 2018), <Link>.
     Michael Patton, “Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion,” credohouse.org (07-08-2013), <Link>.


Image credit: https://www.on-magazine.co.uk/arts/comedy/live-review/ricky-gervais-sheffield-city-hall-humanity/

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