Do explanations require more explanations? Sometimes atheists say yes, and sometimes they seem to say no.
As you begin to have more conversations about your Christian convictions with non-Christians, you’ll likely see some patterns emerge. For instance, many atheists won’t think that they actually have to defend the idea that they believe there is no God. They think the burden is totally on you, yet that is a claim they’ve made, and they should back it up with evidence and reasons.
But there are other types of trends that come along with this in similar conversations. Now, one of the good arguments for the existence of God is the cosmological argument. We’ve talked about this before, and it’s fairly simple. It says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause.
And we’ve discussed that the cause has some things we can know about it. That cause must be immaterial. It can’t be made of stuff, because all stuff came into existence at the big bang. It can’t have been, at least initially, in time. It needed to be timeless, because time came into existence with all matter at the big bang. It also would need to be personal, because it made a decision to create. It’s also very powerful, right? It created a whole universe. It’s also intelligent; this universe works very well. So, those are the five attributes we can know about the cause of the universe.
And that sure sounds a lot like God, right? A personal, timeless, immaterial, powerful, intelligent creator, or being—that sounds a lot like God. Now, that argument certainly doesn’t do enough, it doesn’t prove enough. But it is a helpful step on our journey to demonstrating the truthfulness of the Christian worldview.
However, some people will say, “Well, what created God?” And then you’ll say, “Well, that’s kind of the wrong question. Because God is uncreated.” “Oh well, can you explain how that works?” someone might say. And you might say, “No, actually, I can’t. I don’t understand how a being can be uncreated, but I know that God is.” And they’ll say, “Well, I can’t believe in a God where I can’t understand everything about them. If you can’t answer all my questions, I just can’t believe in that type of being.”
We’ve talked about this before, and I’ve pointed out that people don’t apply this standard in any other area of their lives. They’ll drive to the place where you’re having this conversation, not knowing how their internal combustion engine works, and you might ask them, “Do you believe you have an engine in your car that works?” “Well, yes.” “Can you tell me how it works?” “Uh well, no.” “Well, how do you believe in that? How are you justified, based on your standards, in believing that that engine works?” And they’ll say, “Uh, I don’t know.” And what you’ve pointed out is they’re being inconsistent. And I think realizing and being able to point out these inconsistencies in someone’s position, and doing so with grace, is an important way to get people to see that their objections to Christianity aren’t only intellectual. There’s a spiritual component to this where they don’t want it to be true. And so, they’re objecting in ways they wouldn’t in other areas of their life.
But if you just had to distill that conversation down, what the person is saying is: in order for me to believe your explanation, I need to understand all of the potential things you’re saying in your explanation. So, in other words, answering questions begets more questions that need answering, and I need to understand every point in the chain. Someone is saying in this example: I need to understand every proposed explanation. If I can’t understand it all, I’m not justified in believing any of it. And that’s interesting, because that’s what the atheists will say sometimes, not all of them, but some of them. But they only do that in this area, or at least in some areas.
So, let’s talk about two other examples where the atheist doesn’t behave like that. Morality. We’ve talked about before that moral laws require a moral law giver. You don’t get an obligation without someone who puts that obligation on you. So, why should I not murder? Just because society says? Why do I care what society says, unless there is a moral law giver above the society? I’m not bound by any type of moral law, because it’s not actually a law. So, we’ll make that point with the atheist and they’ll say, “Well, I don’t need God to be good.” And you may say, “Well, I didn’t say you needed God to be good.” “Well, I don’t need God in order to know right and wrong.” “Well, once again that’s not what we said. We said there’s no actual right and wrong unless God exists. That doesn’t mean you can’t know right and wrong even while denying that God exists.”
So, there’s a fancy philosophical way to say this, and we’re not going to spend much time on it. But the atheist has confused epistemology and ontology. They’ve confused what they know, with how things actually exist. (And that’s all I’m going to say about that with those two fancy words that don’t matter too much.)
But here’s the point, because this is important. You don’t have to know how something came to exist in order to know that it exists, and to actually know that thing. So, people can know right and wrong, and deny the fact that God is the grounding for morality. Now, they wouldn’t know right and wrong unless God was the grounding for morality, but they don’t have to affirm that in order to know right and wrong.
And so, I think we can leverage this. If you’re in a conversation and someone’s pointing out, “Well, I can’t believe in a God who’s uncreated because I don’t understand how that works.” And if you’re able at some other point to talk about morality, they’ll probably say, “I can be good without God.” “Well, you can know what is good, and do good things without believing in God, but nothing would actually be good if God didn’t exist.” And they’ll say, “Well, I don’t need to believe in it,” and you can walk them through that again and maybe they’ll see it.
You can use this question to point out the inconsistency: “Previously you said you couldn’t believe in a God unless you knew every single thing about Him and could understand every attribute. But why do you believe in morality if you don’t understand where it came from? You said you couldn’t believe in a God when you didn’t believe where he came from. Why do you believe morality exists if you don’t know where it comes from?” That’s an inconsistency.
Now, I think the fact they know morality exists is a strong evidence for God. The fact that we have these moral intuitions points to us having been created by God, and being created in His image. And I can leverage that.
There’s a point of contact here, where because we’re both created in the image of God, we have these same innate moral senses. And those don’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective, and I think we’ve talked about that before. But all of that to say, there’s an inconsistency. When it comes to God, they want to say, “You have to explain to me every link in the chain or I can’t believe a part of it.” And yet, when it comes to morality, “I don’t need God. I don’t need that idea of God to ground what’s good. I just know what’s good.” There’s an inconsistency.
But there’s another one here too when it comes to the universe. And this one is interesting to me. Remember, we started out with the cosmological argument (whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause.) And we said that cause was God. It fits the attributes of God. And they might say, “Yeah, but remember we can’t understand everything about God, so we’re not justified in believing Him.”
Well, what about the universe? Where did the universe come from? I would put the burden back on them. “Explain to me where the universe came from? Do you believe there’s a universe? Doesn’t it work really well? Doesn’t it have these consistent laws that speak to order? And probably not something that came about randomly. So, where did that come from?” “Well, I don’t know.” “Well, how are you justified in believing there’s a universe?” you could ask.
Isn’t this the same problem we just saw with God. They want us to say “Unless you can explain where God came from, I’m not justified in believing in God.” “Well, can you explain to me, Mr. Atheist, where the universe came from?” “Well, I can’t.” “How are you justified in believing in the universe?” And what they’ll probably point to is they have good reasons, good evidence for believing the universe is here. And I’m going to say, “Yeah, that’s exactly my point when it comes to the existence of God. There are good reasons, there are good evidences to believe that God exists.” I don’t have to understand everything about it, or Him, in order to believe He exists. Just like you don’t have to believe and understand everything about the universe to be justified in believing that the universe exists.
And gravity’s the same way. You could ask someone, “Do you believe gravity exists?” and they’ll probably give you an odd look, right? Because you’re both like firmly planted to your chairs or the ground while you ask this question. You’re not floating away, “So yes, I believe gravity exists,” they’ll probably say. “Can you explain to me how it works?” you could ask. And there’ll probably be a silence, because modern science doesn’t understand why gravity exists. We have formulaic descriptions of the law of gravity, but no one can actually tell you why. Why does gravity work? It’s a mystery. And yet, we’re all justified in believing it, right? Because we have good evidence for it. We don’t float away when we deny the existence of gravity. It’s existence is not dependent on what we think about it. We can see the evidences of gravity’s existence in the world, and not understand how it works. This is key: we can still be justified in believing that gravity exists. Just like I can see the evidences of God, and have good reasons for God; and not understand everything about Him, but still be justified in believing He exists.
And I want to link this last universe example back with where we started, and you’ll see how we’ve come full circle. The atheist is going to say, “I don’t need God to understand that the universe and believe that the universe exists.” And I’m going to say, “That’s true, but isn’t that inconsistent? And since you believe that the universe exists, and since science points to the fact that the universe began to exist at the big bang, you’re left with a question, why?”
And then I’m going to ask, “Why does your curiosity suddenly stop with the why question when it comes to the universe’s existence? Your curiosity was peaked when it came to God, and asking ‘Well, how does he exist in an uncreated way?’ But why is your curiosity not peaked when it comes to the universe coming into existence?” And I’m going to say, “Okay, so modern science says the universe began to exist, what was the cause of that? Does saying it had no cause make sense?” For the person who wants to say, “If I can’t understand how God is uncaused, I can’t believe in Him” that’s demanding a burden of proof, a high burden of proof. So, why would such a person accept the idea that the universe was uncaused? Hopefully, they wouldn’t. I’m going to point that out to them. “You surely don’t believe everything can come from nothing with no cause for no purpose?” Right? That’s sounds like intellectual suicide.
And so if you take the uncaused nature of the universe off the table, that means the universe had to have a cause. Well, could everything that’s material be caused by something material? No, that’s circular, because you would have had to have material before there was material. So, the cause of the universe needed to be immaterial. “Do you believe that?” you could ask. “Do you believe that the universe had an immaterial, a non-natural cause?” And if they say no, well say, “You’ve only got two options. Either it was a material cause, in that case material had to exist. Where did it come from?” Science says all material came into existence with the big bang. So, where was the material before that? Well, it didn’t exist. So, what caused the universe? And we’re going to get stuck in a loop here, because what this person is probably going to see, and not want to admit to is that in order for all material to come into existence, it has to be caused by something not made of stuff. It has to be caused by something immaterial, or it has to have no cause. And that’s just intellectually silly, I would say. Though, I wouldn’t say it like that to them.
And so, all of this to say, to wrap up here, that we can use the atheist’s curiosity and desire to know more and more when it comes to the existence of God to push them on the fact that they don’t apply that standard when it comes to morality. “You don’t have to believe in God to know right and wrong, but why do you know right and wrong?” When it came to God, they said they weren’t justified in believing in Him unless they understood everything about Him. But they don’t understand everything about morality, so there’s a double standard. When it comes to the universe, they can’t explain where it comes from. They don’t ask those questions. They won’t go there, even if logically that’s the most consistent place to end up.
So, I hope you’re a little more equipped to navigate these types of conversations, where the atheists push you for answers, but isn’t necessarily willing to apply his own standard equally. We can point that out with a question, and I hope this leads to more fruitful conversations. Because really, believing in God is a rational choice. Now, there’s a large spiritual component, right? The reason people don’t believe in God is not for lack of evidence, it’s because of hardness of hearts. But we do our job to present evidences, present the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit is the one who changes hearts. And we work together in that way. And so, we should also be prayerful in how we do apologetics, how we have these conversations, that we would display the grace of Christ when we have them. And that the Holy Spirit would change hearts as we’re faithful to present the truth that we know and we have come to learn.