Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen: The Christian Faith: It Adds Up! Part 2

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This is the second part of a two part series. Part one can be found here.

by Hendrik van der Breggen

Contrary to atheist bus ads stating THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD, we can set out a strong cumulative case for the Christian God based on science, history, and philosophy. Often these are intermingled. Earlier we made some preliminary clarifications: we know through intuition and reason. The evidence for our faith is strengthened by a collection of arguments. And we set out three arguments (the universe has an origin, is dependent, and reveals intelligent design). Let’s continue.

Success of Science

Intelligent design arguments can be strengthened by the success of science itself. The universe operates according to mathematical/rational principles. Our minds can understand many of these deep principles, a feat immensely beyond what’s needed for mere survival. These facts make good sense on the view that a rational Mind (Logos) created both the universe and us.

According to Einstein, “The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne adds: “Our ability to understand the physical world [e.g., the quantum realm] immensely exceeds anything that is required for the relatively banal purpose of survival.”

An objection might be that this can be explained by atheistic, unguided evolution. But this neglects the fact that unguided evolution merely secures mental capacities geared to foraging, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction, not discerning deep theoretical truths.

Objective Moral Values

Moral experience points to God. We know—intuit—real (objective) moral value. We know human beings have intrinsic value. Witness all the human rights declarations. We know sticking pins in babies’ eyes for fun is wrong. We know Joseph Fritzl was wrong. Fritzl locked his daughter in a basement bunker for 20 years, raped her repeatedly, bore children with her, and kept them in the bunker. This knowledge is well explained by the doctrine that people are made in God’s image, and evil well explained by the doctrine that people are prone to sin. This counts as evidence for God.

An objection is that this is mere subjective preference. In reply, we should ask firmly: Really? If so, then that you like chocolate and I like vanilla is equivalent to you like helping people and I like torturing them. Surely, this is false—and we know it.

Free Will and Consciousness

Our free will to make moral or immoral choices makes sense on the view that God gave us mental capacity to choose or reject the good. We are made in God’s image in the sense of being free and personal beings.

Objection: Freedom is an illusion. Reply: This just seems obviously false. Think about this the next time you decide to have dessert. We aren’t robots—we know this.

Also, consciousness is mysterious and difficult, if not impossible, to explain on a wholly physical account. But it makes sense if we’re creatures made in the likeness of a Conscious Being.

Evil

The existence of evil is often an objection to the Christian God. The idea is that evil logically precludes or renders improbable the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God.

But this objection falters. First, it’s logically possible for God to create creatures with freedom to love God (the Good) or not. Second, while evil (suffering) is apparently pointless to us, we are not in a position to know God doesn’t have good reasons for it.

Moreover, evil actually confirms the existence of the biblical God. According to the Bible, there has been a Fall—humans have rejected God. Thus on the Christian God view, evil is expected or predicted and this prediction is confirmed in reality. Hence, evil counts in favour of the Christian God view.

Moreover, to judge that evil is real, as the critic does, makes good sense only if God—The Good—exists. Evil is parasitic on the notion of goodness. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness. Evil is a violation of a design plan of what ought to be.

Miracle: Jesus’ Resurrection

Crucial evidence for the Christian God is Jesus’ bodily resurrection, which confirms His claims to be God. First, consider an important objection from philosopher David Hume.

Hume argues that miracle reports are never reasonable to believe. Why? Because miracles are highly improbable. Miracles allegedly violate a law of nature that dead men stay dead; the vast evidence of dead men staying dead counts against miracle reports to the contrary. Significantly, however, Hume begs the question: he assumes as established that which is at issue. The issue is this: Does a God who sometimes does miracles exist? Hume assumes the answer is no. But this is what only evidence can reveal. Miracles can’t be ruled out in advance.

Here is a “minimal facts” approach in which we look at some generally accepted historical evidence regarding Jesus’ resurrection. This comes in various forms from scholars Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, N. T. Wright, and popularized by Lee Strobel. The facts are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected.
  3. People were transformed into bold witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection in the face of social ostracism, extreme physical hardship, and death.
  4. James and Paul said Jesus appeared to them.
  5. Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty.

Because of what we know about dead bodies, a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused. This means that Jesus’ resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation. The result: Jesus’ miraculous—God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by the historical facts. It makes good sense.

Also, non-resurrection explanations have problems. That Jesus appeared to die and later was resuscitated (the swoon theory) is ruled out by the evidence for his death. Hallucinations would be required at various places and with different groups and individuals; these facts throw wrenches into the hallucination theory. Objections tend to beg the question, not look at the historical evidence.

Significantly, former atheist Antony Flew wrote a book, There is a God: How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind. It ended with an essay by respected New Testament scholar N.T. Wright who argues for Jesus’ resurrection. Even Flew, a hard-headed former atheist, is impressed with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection!

Subjective Experience

We can know that the Christian God exists apart from evidence. How? By direct revelation—personal, subjective knowing—through the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Objection: How do you know this burning in your heart isn’t just heartburn? In reply, it might be heartburn. But that it’s sometimes heartburn doesn’t mean it’s always heartburn. Sometimes deluded doesn’t mean always deluded. Also, a life of prayer and answers to prayer suggest too many coincidences.

God Exists—and Jesus is Lord

In sum, we have a strong cumulative case for believing the Christian God exists. The positive reasons are strong and the objections weak.

index

Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen

At this point, one might object: So what? In reply, we can say this: The case allows us to take seriously as true Jesus’ claims about Himself as God and His good news that He loves us and has taken the punishment for our sins on the cross. In other words, we have good reasons to put our faith in Jesus and follow Him. He is God—and He exists!

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba.

Recommended readings
Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom
William Lane Craig, On Guard
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed.
Antony Flew, There is a God
Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity

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