MAGIC, MYSTERY, AND HEAVENLY TOURISTS A. Prentice All Scripture references are to the New International Version, UK edition, unless noted otherwise. __________________________ Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Job 8: 8, 9 ATHEISM AND STAGE MAGIC have one element in common: they each require a suspension of belief in the rational. Both attempt to trick the mind into believing that some amazing thing has occurred without apparent explanation. The audience for both these forms of prestidigitation willingly goes along with the trick. But the crowd that exits the theatre emerges into a world of cause-and-effect and implicit consequences, and leaves behind any lasting belief in wizardry. Atheists remain men- tally enclosed in an environment composed of wild improbabilities. The assertion that God does not exist is an ancient one. But today’s ‘new’ Atheism is different. It’s more muscular, drawing its arguments from science rather than philosophy. This approach is in tune with the times. Our modern style of life is made pos- sible by scientific knowledge and innovation. The gadgets and appliances with which we interact every day operate by com- puter circuitry. They are the products of complex manufacturing processes based on mathematical calculations and a deep knowledge of engineering, chemistry, and materials architecture. Sherlock Holmes, the detective given life by the nineteenth-century imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is legendary for his powers of deduction. By observing carefully and assembling obscure data he draws remarkably accurate conclusions about the perpetrators of one crime or another. ‘He stood,’ said Holmes, ‘to the left of the door – that is to say, further up the path than is necessary to reach the door?’ ‘Yes, he did.’ ‘And he is a man with a wooden leg?’ Something like fear sprang up in the young lady’s expressive black eyes. ‘Why, you are like a magician,’ said she. ‘How do you know that?’ She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes’ thin, eager face. – The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ assistant and biographer in the novels, records this exchange with the detective: I could not help laughing at the ease with which [Holmes] explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process.’ A Scandal in Bohemia The mental powers and range of knowledge demonstrated by this superb detective of fiction have captivated readers around the world, who probably imagined they were as clever as he. But as a phenomenon of the nineteenth century, Sherlock Holmes would be hard-pressed to find employment in the twenty-first. The rate at which knowledge has expanded since those foggy London days two centuries distant, has been at such a rate that no single mind, no matter how prodigious, can take it all in. And as the sphere of knowledge has ballooned, man’s intellect can touch only an ever-decreasing bit of it. The volume of data is now so vast that it must be processed in ultra-powerful computers, and many brains, across a wide spectrum of scientific dis- ciplines must collaborate in sorting it all out. There’s never been a better time to be an atheist. A number of related factors have matured which are conducive to the notion: (1) the prevailing mechanistic view of Evolution; (2) the ingrained tendency to interpret all data within the context of unbelief; and, (3) the decay of established social mores, especially in the first world nations, the traditional loci of modern science. (1) You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain, I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14: 13, 14). Since its formal introduction via Darwin and his advocates in the Victorian era, Evolution has gone from strength to strength, and will continue to do so. The doctrine, though widely disputed at its introduction, has always held within it the seed of unbe- lief. It is, after all, an alternative explanation not just for the progression of life on earth, but for the origin of life on earth. As such it has trumped the assertion in the Book of Genesis that all life was created by God. The two theories, seen in stark terms – life arising from Chance, and life Deliberately Made – are at loggerheads. Attempting to reconcile them, as many Christians do, by claiming that God set in motion the evolution of all forms of life, merely cedes a goal to the other side but wins no plaudits from their opponents. Atheists generally regard Christian believers as stupid, and assert that anyone with an ounce of intelligence or reason would adopt Atheism as the supremely logical position. Theories alter facts. A pre-conceived idea has a powerful influence on how data are interpreted. Once God is ruled out, almost anything else – as implausible as it may be – can be ruled in. I do not mean that all conclusions based on scientific observations are faulty, but significant elements may either be overlooked or mis-interpreted or ignored, simply because they do not fit the generally agreed-upon model. Just why is God left out of the picture? It’s not that most scientists cannot accept the idea of ‘first cause’. After all, the Big Bang, which purportedly set the Universe in motion is, in reality, a first cause. No, it’s rather that athe- istic science cannot accept a First Cause with personality. This seems rather peculiar. Everyday life is full of first causes. In our daily experiences at work, at play, on the street, in the garden – hardly anything happens to us without someone having precipitated it (by design or neglect). Even accidents are usu- ally the unintended consequences of a series of events which, if traced back Sherlock-like, would reveal a mind at their root. An aeroplane may crash as the result of a number of causes, from pilot error to the failure of a crucial component badly de- signed or mechanically deficient, all factors indicative of human intervention at some point in the chain which led up to the tragedy. Atheism, firmly wedded to Evolution, asks the reasoning mind to accept that the birth of the Universe and the whole concaten- ation of events which followed – including life and intelligence – are nothing more than a series of anomalies, un-caused, un- planned, un-directed. The very notion underlying Evolution is that of progressive development or motion (change). This activity requires a driver. It is one thing to claim that the Big Bang, a theoretical sudden explosion of compressed matter formed the stars, planets, etc., and keeps them moving away from one another at great speeds – but it is quite another to assert that that initial momentum was converted into a biological motive force – that is, matter begetting life. Incidentally, this trend in academia is not unlike the generalised personal detachment between action and consequences, in- creasingly common in a consumer society accustomed to an abundant supply of goods. The methods by which foodstuffs ap- pear on the supermarket shelves, for example, can seem almost magical to a generation separated by urban conveniences from agricultural processes. In a broader sense, the bad consequences of selfish or immoral behaviour tend to be ignored in the in- terests of encouraging individuality and a sense of ‘self-worth’. In such an environment, godlessness thrives: the consequences of not having faith are dismissed as harmless. The drift toward unbelief is aided and abetted by the general failure of society and its arbiters – politicians, educators – to coax the citizenry toward any sense of righteousness. (2) The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure  those who carry their god in their hands (Job 12: 6). If atheistic scientists can accept the notion of spontaneous action in the Big Bang, why is it so hard for them to stretch their minds to accept the existence of a Causer? The degree of difficulty involved in such an admission would not seem to be greater than the position they hold now. The benefit derived from a recognition that a Supreme Being With A Mind lies behind the Universe would be reflected in the interpretation of the data. How large a difference such a presumption might make to the ad- vancement and cohesion of scientific understanding, one can only guess at. It’s never been done consistently and will probably not be attempted. Indeed, it may be that the trajectory of science is now so far off that the experiment could not be attempted. Such a revamping of underlying theories would surely require the dismantling of some cherished ideas, the inertia of which will resist U-turns. This is not to say that most Science is on a faulty footing – NASA could not have landed men on the moon without an exquisite understanding of propulsion, physics and astronomy. But given the acknowledged complexity of the known universal order it is unlikely that contemporary scientific knowledge is complete or omniscient. There may be a vast number of holes in Man’s un- derstanding of how and why things work the way they do. In short, any conscientious scientist must admit that he or she is scratching only at the surface of the truth. The trouble is that comparatively few of these highly intelligent individuals will admit that one of the holes may contain the notion of a Creator. Atheistic science rejects what it regards as the superstitious magic of ‘creation’. Instead, it has substituted its own magic of the Big Bang – an event so far back in any meaningful under- standing of chronology that it might as well be an eternity, and one before which there was . . . nothing? (3) He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders (Micah 5: 5). For most people, atheism will never fully supplant faith; the faculty for belief in a Supreme Being is deeply entrenched in human nature. But the structure and shape of the faith that people now hold has been profoundly altered by the effects of the alliance of Science with Atheism. In the West, especially in those nations which once formed the old Christendom, the effects of the promulgation of a culture of unbelief are dire, and will get worse. The tendency to reject faith in general and Christianity in particular, coincides with – and has been stimulated by – advances in scientific knowledge and the crude social trends to- ward a liberal, humanistic philosophy in many areas of thought. These changes have been boosted by the natural tendency of each generation to discard the mores and outlook of the preceding generation, and to express itself in radically different forms of music, sexual behaviour, and so on. All in all, society must cope with a radically altered social landscape compared with pre- vious generations. In addition, the thirst for information and modernity is, by its nature, secular. Scientific inquiry, having already ruled out God, is not a friend to faith; and a modern style of living which smirks at self-control or the development of a godly character does not bode well for Christianity. Atheism and Science, being now essentially fused together as one, exude certainty, conveying the impression that by merely explaining Nature they hold a commanding claim to it. The conscientious Christian has no such luxury, being frequently troubled by doubt over what he or she has been taught to believe about the Bible, the character of God or, in low moods, to question even His existence. Don’t be surprised by such trials. Faith grows out of the struggles with doubt: ‘Help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9: 24). These are hard times to be a believer in the Bible. It’s important to remember that atheists, no matter how clever their arguments may seem, are not as conversant with the Bible or its overall philosophy as they pretend to be. Like passengers disembarking from a cruise ship at the latest port of call on an exotic island, possessing only a nodding acquaintance with local culture, most unbelievers spend little time worrying about the daily implications of the Christian faith or the consequences of losing it. Attempting to indict God with phony arguments, they are transient tourists, dipping in and out of the heavenly environment just long enough to find something wrong with it. They do not care if they destroy your faith. So don’t be overawed or intimidated by their approach. At the same time, don’t fall back on blind dogma; engage in an intelligent, inquisitive, rational study of the Bible. The Christian woman or man who rests by faith in the finished work of Christ as Saviour and King is a forgiven child, beloved by God, the Maker and Sustainer of All Things. And though we may wage long and severe mental battles against doubt, we will at length come through, scarred and battered, but victorious. ______________ 2011
MAGIC, MYSTERY, AND HEAVENLY TOURISTS A. Prentice All Scripture references are to the New International Version, UK edition, unless noted otherwise. __________________________ Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Job 8: 8, 9 ATHEISM AND STAGE MAGIC have one element in com- mon: they each require a suspension of belief in the rational. Both attempt to trick the mind into believing that some amaz- ing thing has occurred without apparent explanation. The audi- ence for both these forms of prestidigitation willingly goes along with the trick. But the crowd that exits the theatre emerges into a world of cause-and-effect and implicit con- sequences, and leaves behind any lasting belief in wizardry. Atheists remain mentally enclosed in an environment com- posed of wild improbabilities. The assertion that God does not exist is an ancient one. But today’s ‘new’ Atheism is different. It’s more muscular, draw- ing its arguments from science rather than philosophy. This ap- proach is in tune with the times. Our modern style of life is made possible by scientific knowledge and innovation. The gadgets and appliances with which we interact every day oper- ate by computer circuitry. They are the products of complex manufacturing processes based on mathematical calculations and a deep knowledge of engineering, chemistry, and materials architecture. Sherlock Holmes, the detective given life by the nineteenth- century imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is legendary for his powers of deduction. By observing carefully and as- sembling obscure data he draws remarkably accurate conclu- sions about the perpetrators of one crime or another. ‘He stood,’ said Holmes, ‘to the left of the door – that is to say, further up the path than is ne- cessary to reach the door?’ ‘Yes, he did.’ ‘And he is a man with a wooden leg?’ Something like fear sprang up in the young lady’s expressive black eyes. ‘Why, you are like a magician,’ said she. ‘How do you know that?’ She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes’ thin, eager face. – The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ assistant and biographer in the nov- els, records this exchange with the detective: I could not help laughing at the ease with which [Holmes] explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I re- marked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process.’ – A Scandal in Bohemia The mental powers and range of knowledge demonstrated by this superb detective of fiction have captivated readers around the world, who probably imagined they were as clever as he. But as a phenomenon of the nineteenth century, Sherlock Holmes would be hard-pressed to find employment in the twenty-first. The rate at which knowledge has expanded since those foggy London days two centuries distant, has been at such a rate that no single mind, no matter how prodigious, can take it all in. And as the sphere of knowledge has ballooned, man’s intellect can touch only an ever-decreasing bit of it. The volume of data is now so vast that it must be processed in ultra-powerful computers, and many brains, across a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines must collaborate in sorting it all out. There’s never been a better time to be an atheist. A number of related factors have matured which are conducive to the no- tion: (1) the prevailing mechanistic view of Evolution; (2) the ingrained tendency to interpret all data within the context of unbelief; and, (3) the decay of established social mores, espe- cially in the first world nations, the traditional loci of modern science. (1) You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain, I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14: 13, 14). Since its formal introduction via Darwin and his advocates in the Victorian era, Evolution has gone from strength to strength, and will continue to do so. The doctrine, though widely disputed at its introduction, has always held within it the seed of unbelief. It is, after all, an alternative explanation not just for the progression of life on earth, but for the origin  of life on earth. As such it has trumped the assertion in the Book of Genesis that all life was created by God. The two the- ories, seen in stark terms – life arising from Chance, and life Deliberately Made – are at loggerheads. Attempting to recon- cile them, as many Christians do, by claiming that God set in motion the evolution of all forms of life, merely cedes a goal to the other side but wins no plaudits from their opponents. Atheists generally regard Christian believers as stupid, and as- sert that anyone with an ounce of intelligence or reason would adopt Atheism as the supremely logical position. Theories alter facts. A pre-conceived idea has a powerful influ- ence on how data are interpreted. Once God is ruled out, al- most anything else – as implausible as it may be – can be ruled in. I do not mean that all conclusions based on scientific ob- servations are faulty, but significant elements may either be overlooked or mis-interpreted or ignored, simply because they do not fit the generally agreed-upon model. Just why is God left out of the picture? It’s not that most scientists cannot ac- cept the idea of ‘first cause’. After all, the Big Bang, which purportedly set the Universe in motion is, in reality, a first cause. No, it’s rather that atheistic science cannot accept a First Cause with personality. This seems rather peculiar. Everyday life is full of first causes. In our daily experiences at work, at play, on the street, in the garden – hardly anything happens to us without someone hav- ing precipitated it (by design or neglect). Even accidents are usually the unintended consequences of a series of events which, if traced back Sherlock-like, would reveal a mind at their root. An aeroplane may crash as the result of a number of causes, from pilot error to the failure of a crucial component badly designed or mechanically deficient, all factors indicative of human intervention at some point in the chain which led up to the tragedy. Atheism, firmly wedded to Evolution, asks the reasoning mind to accept that the birth of the Universe and the whole concat- enation of events which followed – including life and intelli- gence – are nothing more than a series of anomalies, un- caused, un-planned, un-directed. The very notion underlying Evolution is that of progressive development or motion  (change). This activity requires a driver. It is one thing to claim that the Big Bang, a theoretical sudden explosion of compressed matter formed the stars, planets, etc., and keeps them moving away from one another at great speeds – but it is quite another to assert that that initial momentum was conver- ted into a biological motive force – that is, matter begetting life. Incidentally, this trend in academia is not unlike the general- ised personal detachment between action and consequences, increasingly common in a consumer society accustomed to an abundant supply of goods. The methods by which foodstuffs appear on the supermarket shelves, for example, can seem al- most magical to a generation separated by urban conveniences from agricultural processes. In a broader sense, the bad con- sequences of selfish or immoral behaviour tend to be ignored in the interests of encouraging individuality and a sense of ‘self-worth’. In such an environment, godlessness thrives: the consequences of not having faith are dismissed as harmless. The drift toward unbelief is aided and abetted by the general failure of society and its arbiters – politicians, educators – to coax the citizenry toward any sense of righteousness. (2) The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure  those who carry their god in their hands (Job 12: 6). If atheistic scientists can accept the notion of spontaneous ac- tion in the Big Bang, why is it so hard for them to stretch their minds to accept the existence of a Causer? The degree of diffi- culty involved in such an admission would not seem to be greater than the position they hold now. The benefit derived from a recognition that a Supreme Being With A Mind lies be- hind the Universe would be reflected in the interpretation of the data. How large a difference such a presumption might make to the advancement and cohesion of scientific under- standing, one can only guess at. It’s never been done consist- ently and will probably not be attempted. Indeed, it may be that the trajectory of science is now so far off that the experi- ment could not be attempted. Such a revamping of underlying theories would surely require the dismantling of some cher- ished ideas, the inertia of which will resist U-turns. This is not to say that most Science is on a faulty footing – NASA could not have landed men on the moon without an ex- quisite understanding of propulsion, physics and astronomy. But given the acknowledged complexity of the known univer- sal order it is unlikely that contemporary scientific knowledge is complete or omniscient. There may be a vast number of holes in Man’s understanding of how and why things work the way they do. In short, any conscientious scientist must admit that he or she is scratching only at the surface of the truth. The trouble is that comparatively few of these highly intelligent in- dividuals will admit that one of the holes may contain the no- tion of a Creator. Atheistic science rejects what it regards as the superstitious magic of ‘creation’. Instead, it has substituted its own magic of the Big Bang – an event so far back in any meaningful understanding of chronology that it might as well be an eternity, and one before which there was . . . nothing? (3) He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders (Micah 5: 5). For most people, atheism will never fully supplant faith; the faculty for belief in a Supreme Being is deeply entrenched in human nature. But the structure and shape of the faith that people now hold has been profoundly altered by the effects of the alliance of Science with Atheism. In the West, especially in those nations which once formed the old Christendom, the ef- fects of the promulgation of a culture of unbelief are dire, and will get worse. The tendency to reject faith in general and Christianity in particular, coincides with – and has been stimu- lated by – advances in scientific knowledge and the crude so- cial trends toward a liberal, humanistic philosophy in many areas of thought. These changes have been boosted by the nat- ural tendency of each generation to discard the mores and out- look of the preceding generation, and to express itself in radically different forms of music, sexual behaviour, and so on. All in all, society must cope with a radically altered social landscape compared with previous generations. In addition, the thirst for information and modernity is, by its nature, secu- lar. Scientific inquiry, having already ruled out God, is not a friend to faith; and a modern style of living which smirks at self-control or the development of a godly character does not bode well for Christianity. Atheism and Science, being now essentially fused together as one, exude certainty, conveying the impression that by merely explaining Nature they hold a commanding claim to it. The conscientious Christian has no such luxury, being frequently troubled by doubt over what he or she has been taught to be- lieve about the Bible, the character of God or, in low moods, to question even His existence. Don’t be surprised by such tri- als. Faith grows out of the struggles with doubt: ‘Help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9: 24). These are hard times to be a believer in the Bible. It’s important to remember that atheists, no matter how clever their arguments may seem, are not as conversant with the Bible or its overall philosophy as they pretend to be. Like pas- sengers disembarking from a cruise ship at the latest port of call on an exotic island, possessing only a nodding acquaint- ance with local culture, most unbelievers spend little time wor- rying about the daily implications of the Christian faith or the consequences of losing it. Attempting to indict God with phony arguments, they are transient tourists, dipping in and out of the heavenly environment just long enough to find something wrong with it. They do not care if they destroy your faith. So don’t be overawed or intimidated by their approach. At the same time, don’t fall back on blind dogma; engage in an intelligent, inquisitive, rational study of the Bible. The Christian woman or man who rests by faith in the finished work of Christ as Saviour and King is a forgiven child, be- loved by God, the Maker and Sustainer of All Things. And though we may wage long and severe mental battles against doubt, we will at length come through, scarred and battered, but victorious. ______________ 2011