I think that I always believed that God existed. However, secular education and evolution in particular made me think of God as the intelligence that imagined the universe and set the dominoes in place and then pushed over the first domino. I stopped considering God as a personal God that was active in my life or that cared how I behaved.
My lack of belief in a personal God, that created me, cares about me and wants me to know him, affected my life in a negative way. When I came back to God and accepted Jesus as my personal savior my life turned around.
The argument known as “Pascal’s Wager” is one of the most famous concepts in religious philosophy. Proposed by Blaise Pascal in his posthumously published Pensées (Thoughts), it goes like this: Every human being must bet with themselves whether God exists or doesn’t. If you live as though God does not exist, you may enjoy your mortal existence, but if when you die it turns out that He does, you’re going to Hell. If you live as though God does exist, and behave morally, you may lose out on a few material pleasures, but when you die, you go to Heaven. His argument, in effect, was that the prospect of infinite gains—as represented by eternal life in Heaven—versus infinite losses (eternal life in Hell) was better than the short-term gains one could make while one was alive, and that the “safe bet” was to act as if God does exist, even if it’s just to avoid the possibility of punishment upon death.
If you are going to make this wager, it is best to bet on the God of the Bible because in Christianity the only way to get to heaven is by faith. All of your sins have to be forgiven. One unforgiven sin will keep you out of heaven.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works,…”.
In virtually all other religions a balance of good deeds over bad deeds will assure you a better afterlife. In Hinduism, for example, whether you will reincarnate as a King or a rat is dependent on how you live your current life, not whether or not you believe in Hinduism. (See essay on: One Way to God)
I have a slightly different take on this idea—call it Thorsgard’s Wager. I argue that a rational person should live as though God exists, and seek to believe in God, if they don’t want their grandchildren to become Vikings or Nazis, or Zulus. Why your grandchildren? Because this is an essay about the effects of world views on individuals and your world views will affect your grandchildren. Why those groups? Because each of them represents a fundamentally flawed, but common, worldview. The Viking philosophy could be summed up as, Take everything you can get from other people, and do it now! The Nazi philosophy is, You and your group are the pinnacle of human evolution, and those beneath you should be exterminated before they do the same to you. The Zulu philosophy is one of retreat from modernity, one based on greed and jealousy—coveting thy neighbor’s’ goods, in the language of the Ten Commandments—and huddling together with your tribe to protect yourself from those very neighbors.
The movie Zulu was released in 1964; it’s a retelling of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, fought in 1879 as part of the Anglo-Zulu War. Short version: in the 1870s, the British colonized Zululand, in what is now South Africa, defeating the king, Cetshwayo kaMpande, and ultimately subjugating the people. The movie stars Stanley Baker and Michael Caine (in his first major role), and the part of Cetshwayo kaMpande is played by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the great-grandson of the real king and a future South African political leader. The story revolves around the attempt by a single company of British soldiers to defend a medical mission building against roughly four thousand Zulu warriors.
As I watched the movie, which I highly recommend, I was struck by the image of the British, with the most modern technology of the time on their side, nearly overrun by Zulu warriors with spears and leather shields. The Zulus had an overwhelming numerical advantage (SPOILER: the British ultimately win the battle), but the stark contrast between these two societies really made me think about human advancement—and why some civilizations progress, and others don’t.
We’re taught to think that humanity moves continually forward, increasing our knowledge and our understanding of the world. Once upon a time, Africa was the cradle of human civilization. The Egyptians made all sorts of mathematical and scientific discoveries—in their time, they were the world’s most advanced society, and some of their achievements are still mysteries to us today. Later, the ancient Greeks and Romans introduced new ideas of their own, spreading their knowledge throughout their empire, which included Africa. So how, by the 1800s, had these people regressed to the point where they had virtually no technology of any significance? What had kept these people in Africa from retaining, growing, and spreading knowledge?
I believe that the Bible is the word of God revealed to man. I believe that the Bible is true. I believe that at one point—likely immediately after the Flood, as described in the Old Testament—all the people of the Earth knew of and believed in God. But as time went on, this changed. People turned away from the one true God and invented their own new religions. These religions may have shared some core principles, like doing good to others, but they did not include things I believe are crucial, like giving their lives over to God in return for redemption, salvation, and a personal relationship with He who created them and everything else.
In Romans 1: 19-23, NLT Paul writes, “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols and invented false religions.
Humanity has a natural tendency toward rebellion. This has existed in man since the Fall. Man does not want to surrender his free will and accept God’s grace. This leads people to turn away from God and create their own false religions. (Again, See essay on: One Way to God) It leads people to convince themselves that as long as they try to do good deeds occasionally—“I recycle”; “I give to charity”; “I teach my kids not to be racist”—it makes up for the selfish things they do almost every minute of every day. But this rebellion doesn’t, usually, take place instantly. It’s often a slow process, like water wearing away a stone.
Similarly, the negative social effects of people’s rejection of God are slow to register. (see essay on: The Effect of World View on Culture and Society) I believe that in southern Africa, where the Zulu nation arose, people became more and more focused on themselves without the moral foundation provided by the Bible. Love of neighbor was lost, and ultimately the knowledge the people of that continent had once possessed disappeared, too. In their state of primitivism, people returned to their base nature.
Without a reason to love one another, people will do the opposite: they will attack and abuse their neighbors, huddling together in family or tribal groups for protection against outsiders. Life becomes a matter of survival, and nothing more, and ultimately people become so sick of living in fear that they submit to a strong leader—in this example, the king of the Zulus—instead of God.
Note that this is not a condition specific to 19th century Africa. I only used that example because the movie Zulu made it so vivid—this was a continent that had once been the center of human civilization, but had either remained static or regressed into primitivism. I believe that similar regressions are taking
place all over the world, thanks to a loss of knowledge of God and the wisdom and truth He offers. Right now, in North America and Europe, this knowledge is disappearing, and civilization is going with it.
I suspect that one reason many people have difficulty accepting the Bible as the word of God is that they think all religions are the product of human imagination. The Bible is frequently described on the internet (home of blabbermouths of all kinds), by blow hard atheists, as the largest collection of borrowed ideas ever committed to papyrus.
It’s safe to assume that anyone who expresses an opinion like that does not believe in the Bible or God. If one starts from that principle of unbelief, it follows that any similarities one sees between Biblical ideas and ideas from other religions which predate the writing of the Bible must therefore be borrowed. If, on the other hand, one believes in God as I do, and believes that the Bible is His inspired word, then it follows that other religions which predate the writing of the Bible would include ideas that reflect the existence of the one true God. However, man’s fallen nature and desire to “reign in hell rather than serve in heaven” produces religions that focus on good deeds as the way to achieve a better afterlife rather than submitting to the Creators will.
(see essay on: One Way to God)
The Bible brings the monotheistic, personal God, that was already known around since the ark, back and counters the false religions that man had created to avoid submitting to a personal God.
In the Bible God chose one man as the patriarch of a nation. Then God gives that nation His inspired word. God leads, trains and disciplines that nation so that they can know Him. In turn God uses that nation to reintroduce Himself to the world and execute his plan of redemption. In the process God corrects and reorients the ideas that have been corrupted and co-opted by other religions.
Believing in God is the first step toward spending eternity with Him, as opposed to spending eternity away from his sight, in Hell. But what difference does it make one way or the other? Some people claim that religion is primitive and unnecessary—that one can live a moral life, do good and be a benefit to humanity without having to believe in an invisible man looking over your shoulder, waiting to punish you if you break his rules. Are they right? Is religion optional, just one more choice we make in our own lives? And what difference does that choice actually make in our personal existence?
Religion is something that we cannot prove, but choose to believe anyhow. Even people who choose not to believe in God have a system of belief, a collection of moral and philosophical principles that guides them through their lives, and isn’t that a religion of a sort, too? Other than people who believe in “simulation theory” (short version: nothing is real, and we are all living in a simulation, like in the movie The Matrix), who are intuitively consider weird, most of us believe that we exist, that the people around us exist, and that everything else around us is real. Call this “consensus reality.” We exist because we assert that we exist, and agree to agree that other people exist too.
There are people who have trouble believing that we exist.
The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist in called Solipsism.
In his book Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World, Timothy Keller offers examples of such people.
“I once knew a young man who was a devoted philosophy student. Like his hero, the French philosopher René Descartes [who created the phrase “I think, therefore I am”], he started with the only certainty, namely, that he existed and could think… To his dismay, he discovered that he could get almost nowhere. He couldn’t prove that the universe wasn’t an optical illusion…He also couldn’t prove by what standard something was “proven.”
“When a Christian friend chastised her for not believing in God, she responded that it was hard enough to believe in her. “Believing in her, or even my family members for that matter, as independent minds, took all the effort I could muster.”
Let’s indulge this idea, and see where it goes. Try this: You exist, but nothing else around you does, including me. You are a solitary intelligence, alone in the void. You are dreaming your surroundings, and dreaming this essay. No one has written the words on this page—there is no page, it is all your dream. Your entire life is and has been a dream. You are discussing this idea with yourself, convincing yourself that it is possible—even probable—that no one else exists and nothing is real. You are coming to the realization that you have believed the world around you to be real, because of the evidence of your senses. You can see the world and all the people and creatures in it; you can hear sounds; you can smell odors, good or bad (ever ridden the subway?); you can taste things you put in your mouth; you can reach out and touch things. When you step on a Lego brick in the dark, it hurts. Reality.
But what if none of that is true? All your senses are filtered and interpreted by your mind. Your taste buds don’t make value judgments—it’s your brain that says “ice cream—yay!” or “Sour milk—ugh!” So…what if your brain has in fact been cutting out the middleman and creating the sensations it was supposedly interpreting?
Right now, virtual reality is pretty cheesy and bad. The visuals aren’t great; the haptics (the parts that give you a sense of touch) are worse. And there’s no way to compensate for the input of smell or taste. But in the future, inventors and video game designers may be able to send signals directly into your brain, at which point all those senses will be accessible to them…and none of it will be “real.” You will be able to “live” video games and movies, and it will seem as real as reality, because your brain will have been short-circuited and deceived. It will not know the difference between a “true” signal it’s receiving from your eyes/ears/nose/tongue/fingertips and one it’s getting because you plugged a cable into your temple and flipped a switch, sending pre-created information straight into your mind.
You can’t know. It is impossible to prove or disprove reality. Therefore, you must choose to believe. This brings us back to Pascal. You can’t know if God exists or not. So isn’t it better to believe that He does? Believing in reality is no different than believing in God—it is an act of faith, choosing to embrace an idea that you cannot prove one way or the other. Science is no more useful in proving the existence of reality, as we perceive it, than it is in proving the existence of God. If someone believes reality and they have faith that God does not exist and ascribe supreme importance to that faith then they have religion.
Having said this, I need more than Pascal’s Wager to believe in God.
Assuming, though, that one does not believe in God, where do the moral principles that govern human behavior come from? Are they innate, hard-wired into us as a species? It’s clear from even a momentary glance at human history that they are not. There’s a scene in the movie Men In Black where Will Smith’s character, J, argues with Tommy Lee Jones’s character, K, that humans should be told that there are alien beings on Earth. “People are smart,” he says, “they can handle it.” K looks at him incredulously and says, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it!” Similarly, it’s easy to pretend that people believe in peace and freedom and loving their neighbors…and the thousands of years of war, slavery, torture and violence are aberrations, rather than the norm.
The fact is, morality must be externally imposed. God has to lay down the rules for us, because if He doesn’t, we will either kill everyone within range, or set up extremely narrow, tribal justifications for sparing a few people and killing everyone else. There is an old Bedouin saying: “I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” How has that worked out in the Middle East?
Let us return to the idea that reality is an illusion, a construct. How would you act if you truly believed, without any doubt, that everything and everyone around you was the product of your imagination? If you had total command of your environment and could not hurt anyone else, because they did not exist? You could take anything you wanted, without hurting anyone. You could possess whoever you wanted, because you had conjured them up out of your own mind. You could say or do anything you wanted—all the people around you had only the feelings you imagined for them.
If there were absolutely no rules governing your behavior; if all the people around you, including your parents, siblings, spouse and children, were figments of your imagination; what would you do? Don’t answer right away. Really think about it. Would you live the same moral life you are living right now…or would your life be more like the video game Grand Theft Auto?
I believe that if I knew, with no doubt whatsoever, that only I was real, and everything and everyone around me was imaginary, I would live like an emperor. My most perverse and violent whims would become law, and everyone and everything around me would be there for my pleasure. I also believe that if I knew, if I were absolutely convinced with no doubt whatsoever, that there was no God, that reality was real but without any greater purpose or meaning, I would act the same way. And I bet you would, too, if you acted according to what you believed. Fortunately, I know God exists, because He revealed Himself to me and I accepted Jesus as my personal savior.
Atheists often claim that morality is self-evident—that, for example, everyone simply knows that murder is wrong. But when has that ever been true? Vikings butchered people everywhere their raiding ships landed. The Aztec and Maya sacrificed living humans to their gods. The Nazis fed millions into ovens and gas chambers. Radical Muslim terrorists have killed thousands, in countries all across the world.
Sometimes murder isn’t simply tolerated—it’s actively encouraged by society. Once we as a society decide a person or a class of people needs to die for the benefit of the larger group, we come up with a reason why that’s not just okay, but necessary. In many cases, that justification is rooted in science, giving murder the patina of rationality.
Think of the eugenics and “human potential” movements of the early 20th century, which led people to advocate for the sterilization of socially undesirable or genetically inferior groups, like the mentally handicapped. These beliefs lost public support after World War II, when the world learned what the Nazis had done to the Jews, as well as other groups they declared undesirable, in the Holocaust. References to eugenics and the like were removed from school textbooks. But just by learning about Darwinism and the “survival of the fittest,” it’s easy to make the mental leaps yourself.
In 1926 John T. Scopes was famously tried under Tennessee law for teaching evolution. Few people remember, however, that the textbook Scopes used, Civic Biology by George Hunter, taught not only evolution but also argued that science dictated we should sterilize or even kill those classes of people who weakened the human gene pool by spreading “disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country.” This was typical of scientific textbooks of the time. It was the horrors of World War II, not science, that discredited eugenics… “eugenics and race science were not pseudosciences in the . . . Progressive Era.
However, the death camps aroused the moral intuition that EUGENICS WHILE PERHAPS SCIENTIFICALLY EFFICIENT is evil. Yet if you believe that it is, you must find support for your conviction in some source beyond science…”-(8)
Why were people upset about the textbook Civic Biology by George Hunter? Because at the time Democrats were still segregationists. The dispute was not just religious it was also political. Abolitionists had won the moral struggle against slavery on Biblical grounds. Darwinism provided the segregationists scientific support for segregation that countered the Biblical moral view of racial equality.
So, if Pascal’s Wager is not enough to overcome my selfish desire to be my own God,
what arguments for God’s existence do I find convincing?
First and most importantly, there is the cosmological argument: that there must be a first cause that was not caused. Something must have kick-started the universe, and that something has to be outside of it—supernatural and independent of time and space. Then there is the intelligent design argument, which posits that the complexity of the universe, and all the life forms within it, is prima facie evidence of a creator. (See essay on revelation) But perhaps most important of all, from my perspective, are the significance argument and the moral argument.
The significance argument is that people live their lives as if they are significant. Why? Because we have consciousness, and with consciousness comes a sense of purpose. Animals lack this consciousness, and consequently lack a sense of purpose. A dog does not believe that its life has larger meaning. A dog wants to eat. It wants to mate with other dogs. It wants to run outside and roll in the grass on a sunny day. People are capable of enjoying these same things, rooted in base physical pleasure, but we have a greater perspective. We envision a future beyond our next meal, and we strive to create a better world not only for ourselves, but for our children and others’ children. Dogs take the world as it is. They will run away from a bad situation, but are incapable of planning to make the situation better. This requires a sense of purpose, and the Creator has not instilled that in them. But He has given it to us.
Because atheists believe that there is no God, and that therefore human evolution is a series of lucky accidents, they are disinclined to accept the idea of significance or purpose in human existence. Some atheists take this idea of meaninglessness to a radical extreme. Think of the character of Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConnaughey in the show True Detective. In one episode, he says, “I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self…programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody.”
If you take this point of view, no matter how much value you may grant yourself and your desires, you are of no value to the universe as a whole. Most people who think this way aren’t happy about it, mind you. The writer H.P. Lovecraft is seen as the father of “cosmic horror,” in which the fear comes not so much from the idea that there are aliens and creatures from other dimensions, but from the idea that the universe does not care whether humanity survives or not. Still, if you are the most important thing in the universe to yourself, you may be driven to make the rest of the universe—or as much of it as is accessible to you—serve you in every way possible. You may strive to manipulate your environment and those around you, even if you “know” that your existence is both temporary and meaningless.
If, on the other hand, you believe as I do that you were created by God with a purpose, your life instantly has both meaning and value. But (and this is crucial) you are not more valuable than anyone else. Every human soul has value. This is where the concept of equality comes from—it is God’s will. The Declaration of Independence, which announced what would eventually become the United States of America, calls it “self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and the document’s authors assumed that we were all created by the God of the Bible. The fact that God created each of us as individuals conveys an equality that no human authority can take away.
The moral argument for God’s existence proceeds directly from the significance argument. All human cultures have moral codes, many of which were based initially on their environmental conditions—for example, in a land defined by resource scarcity, sharing becomes a moral value. Over time, these moral values expand and refine, governing more aspects of life. Some are common to almost all societies, like those forbidding incest or killing one’s family, friends and neighbors. However, very few cultures had moral codes or taboos that forbade killing strangers, or even neighbors if they were in competition with you for scarce resources. Most cultures’ moral codes also included hierarchies—your enemies were not your equals, and there were even caste systems within tribal or societal groups.
The Bible is the only text from ancient times that teaches that all people are equal, not just those of one’s own tribe but strangers and people from other cultures as well. This was emphasized in the words of Christ, as in Matthew 25:40, when he says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Today, the moral values espoused in the Bible have spread across the world, even among non-believers. Many people have internalized them, even though they do not know where they originated. Atheist philosophers have attempted to assert that moral values, because they are universal, can exist in the absence of God. In fact, Friedrich Nietzsche went so far in The Anti-Christ as to write that religion was a corruption of morality:
What does ‘moral world-order’ mean? That there exists once and for all a will of God as to what man is to do and what he is not to do; that the value of a nation, of an individual is to be measured by how much or how little obedience is accorded the will of God; that the ruling power of the will of God, expressed as punishment and reward according to the degree of obedience, is demonstrated in the destiny of a nation, of an individual.
From now on all things of life are so ordered that the priest is everywhere indispensable; at all the natural events of life, at birth, marriage, sickness, death, not to speak of ‘sacrifice’ (meal-times), there appears the holy parasite to denaturalize them – in his language to ‘sanctify’ them… For one must grasp this: every natural custom, every natural institution (state, administration of justice, marriage, tending of the sick and poor), every requirement presented by the instinct for life, in short everything valuable in itself, becomes utterly valueless, inimical to value through the parasitism of the priest (or the ‘moral world-order’): a sanction is subsequently required – a value-bestowing power is needed which denies the natural quality in these things and only by doing so is able to create a value…
Nietzsche goes on to argue that religion gives names like “sin” to things that any sensible person would already know were wrong. It seems ironic that a writer often viewed as extremely cynical about humanity is in fact so optimistic about mankind’s better nature, that he can get along just fine without God, without anyone looking over his shoulder. Do you believe that? I don’t.
What would you do if your moral code was not being reinforced externally, and reified by the society around you? What would you do if nobody was looking? I can speak only for myself. My secular education, and the doubt it inspired in me regarding the existence of God, did not prepare me for life in a godless universe. Whatever it may say about me as a young man, it’s true—I was not able to justify conventional morality to myself. I was not able to justify equality, or love for my neighbor.
Even the atheist Voltaire famously stated, “I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because it means that I shall be cheated and robbed and cuckolded less often. . . . If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”-(2)
Eventually, events occurred in my life which brought me back to a belief in God. Those events were what convinced me that He existed, and showed me that I wanted—truly wanted, not because of external pressure but because of an internal desire implanted in me by my Creator—to be a moral man. The only way I could justify being a moral person, though, was by believing in God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Moral codes passed down through human societies held a certain power, but not enough. They were not based on absolute truth. Anything man-made is ultimately arbitrary, and therefore unreliable, if the universe does in fact turn out to be a random series of accidental chemical and physical reactions. I needed more.
This essay is largely about why I have to believe in God. In my other essays I go into more detail of the evidence of God.
In my essay on creation I ask secular scientists to at least consider the possibility that God exists. However, I do understand how one’s worldview or paradigm affects one’s foundational assumptions.
Because I now have to believe that God exists as much as I have to believe in reality itself, asking me to believe that God does not exist is like asking me to believe that you don’t exist.
I needed a God that created me deliberately, and for a reason. I needed a God that would judge me, but was simultaneously willing to sacrifice His only son for me, and would establish a personal relationship with me before asking me to submit to His laws. I needed a God that would provide a path for me to return to a proper relationship with Him. I have all these things now. I have placed my wager, and I am all in. And furthermore, I believe that any society that does not take a similar bet is one doomed to failure and self-destruction. (essay on: The Effect of World Views on Society)
Now we return to the stories that, together with my lumber heist story, illustrate my rebellion and loss of faith.