You can huff and puff but you can’t blow this house down. Christianity is a system bolted down to reality.
The other night a friend was telling me about a friend of hers who was quite disdainful of Christianity. It reminded me of a whole raft of people who are dismissive of theism generally and Christianity specifically. Nowadays, they’re not dismissive in a passive kind of way, but people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett the new wave of atheists are taking shots at Christianity and are doing so quite aggressively. This is one of the big obstacles facing us, in the U.S. at least, as we represent Christ as ambassadors.
We have the so-called “new atheists”—no new argument, really, just a lot of new attitude. We also have the situation with Islam, and the concern with postmodernism and the emerging church; all areas that we need to address as a church. STR is taking a particular look at these worldviews. We want to be a place to come to for answers about these things.
Here’s a reflection on the so-called new atheists. Some people have this idea that theism, in general, and Christianity, in particular, is just a house of cards. They are utterly dismissive. As Bill Maher says, “If you believe in religion, it’s a mass psychosis. You’re out of your mind! You’re crazy!” Richard Dawkins has essentially said that people shouldn’t be allowed to believe crazy things. Sam Harris has the same disdain.
Their arguments are quite shallow, though. Often they attack what people who claim to be Christians do, they over blow the significance of that, and then dismiss the Christianity these people say they represent. The critics never ask the question of whether these people who do these evil or unpleasant things are actually representing the thing they’re rejecting, Biblical Christianity, the teachings of Jesus, the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Christianity can’t be dismissed that easily. It just isn’t going to go away. You can’t find just one questionable thing in the Bible and then have the freedom to completely disregard all of it. It’s not going away. It doesn’t have durability because there are a bunch of idiots who believe it and they don’t go away. There are a lot of idiots who believe stupid things that aren’t going away, and those things are still stupid, but they keep them going. That’s not the issue with Christianity. Christianity is not a house of cards; it’s a big, giant, complex, durable worldview. It’s a way of thinking; it’s an ideology; it’s an explanation of the world that is bolted to reality.
There’s a house across the street from me that burned down a year or so ago that is being rebuilt now. You can see inside that there are big, metal things attached to the studs. There are big, metal things with bolts and other stuff that will be hidden later that secure this house to make it safe from earthquakes. The whole house is bolted down to the ground in many different ways.
The same thing is true of Christianity. It’s not a flimsy structure that someone has sunk a couple of nails in and the first guy to come by who can huff n’ puff real strong is going to blow it away. Christianity is a system bolted down to reality.
Now I’m using these terms advisedly because for a thing to be true in a classical sense you have to have a point of view that fits the way the world really is. When the world is the way you think it is, that’s a classical understanding of the word true. It’s true that I’m on this radio show right now because here I sit. So my statement fits the way the world really is. When it comes to the particulars of Christianity there are so many ways that the Christian worldview, properly understood, is bolted down to reality that it is going to be very hard to shake it free.
I understand that there are some problems with it and questions that people raise. But we just didn’t make this up overnight. We’re not just simply emoting. There are a lot of Christians that are just emoting, but those who understand Christianity as we’ve received it for over 2,000 years and comprehend its deep structure, know that it can be defended apart from one’s feelings, or fantasies or wishful thinking.
Frankly, there are many things about Christianity I wouldn’t wish up, nor would you. It’s counter to what natural man would come up with. If we were just going on our own devices we wouldn’t want a God who watches everything, keeping account of our sin. More likely, we’d dream up a God who grades on a curve. But our intuitions are such that we believe in justice and that no crime should go unpunished. There is also mercy in the midst of this far-reaching and thorough-going justice and that’s part of the message of Christianity, too.
My conviction is that the foundational principles of Christianity resonate with our deepest intuitions. That’s why I can go into a philosophy class and say, “Let me give you five or six foundational elements of a Christian worldview and I think you’ll have a hard time arguing against these ideas taken individually. These are the things that make up the foundation and the basic superstructure of the view we call Christianity.”
Some people might want to fuss about the window-dressing. Okay, fine. But they’re not going to be able to find too many things wrong with the foundation. Take this simple example. One of the foundational, cosmological questions is why something exists, rather than nothing. Why is anything here at all? We know through science that the universe wasn’t always here. We’ve got the Second Law of Thermodynamics saying that things are running down. That means they must have been run up at some time. If they’d been running down forever, they’d be dead right now. The universe would have stopped long ago. No, the universe is not infinite. This is the view of secular science, not my religious wishful thinking. That means the whole physical universe came into being at some point, before which nothing existed.
What caused this kind of thing? To suggest that someone outside of the physical system caused it someone, by the way, not some thing is completely reasonable. In fact, it seems to be the inescapable conclusion of modern physics. Could I be wrong? Maybe. But it’s not nothing is the point that I’m making. You can’t just make God go away because you don’t like Him looking over your shoulder.
It turns out that Christianity explains what it means to explain. It is adequate to do the job. It explains how we got here, how everything got here. Evolution doesn’t answer the question of how everything got here to begin with. It only explains, or purports to explain, how it developed. Atheist Richard Dawkins said that the biological world is a complex world that gives every appearance of having been designed for a purpose. But he’s quick to add that you shouldn’t be misled by appearances. His explanation is that the apparent watchmaker design was really the blind watchmaker of natural selection and genetic mutations, i.e., neo-Darwinian evolution. That’s what he holds. But notice that he says it sure looks designed.
I think there are real problems with Darwinism. But even if I were willing to grant that it is a possible way of explaining design, maybe another possible, legitimate, reasonable, rational way of explaining design is through design. Maybe the world looks designed because it is designed. Is that outlandish? Not at all.
So the Christian worldview has one big bolt to reality. We can explain the non-physical source of all physical things.
We can explain it in terms of something we already understand. It’s called “agency” or agent causation. We know that agents can start things from nothing. How do we know that? Because we do it all the time. We initiate action. We are not just a domino in a string of dominoes, doing what the domino before us forced us to do. We have freedom. This is why we condemn criminals and punish them, and reward people who do good. In both cases they deserve it because they are morally free creatures. To be free means you can start actions.
Agents start things. Things don’t start things. They just react to things before them. But agents can start things. If the whole physical universe was started, it seems reasonable that some non-physical agent did so, who himself was not started by something else. I’m not trying to persuade you that it happened. I’m trying to show you that it’s a reasonable explanation. It’s imminently reasonable.
Cosmology and design teleology are just two of many examples that are solid bolts to reality for the Christian worldview.