Zondervan recently invited two atheist bloggers to read Chuck Colson's latest book The Faith and enter into a dialogue with Chuck about his book.
Below is part 3 of Chuck Colson's reply:
I’m writing because, in church this morning (August 15), I started thinking about your comment about my being so certain in my convictions that I came across as somewhat arrogant. I think you’re probably right. And the reason, I realized as I was thinking about it, is that I have spent much time over the years pondering this question rationally. If you would have read my book Born Again you would know that my resistance to the gospel was exactly what yours is. I didn’t want to do something out of emotion; I wanted to be able to reason it through. I wanted evidence. That’s why reading C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was such a help to me. I encountered in that book an intellect the match of anyone I’d known, and I found really solid reasons for believing.
Since that time, 35 years ago, I have read a great deal, listened to arguments both ways, and have tried to use my own mind to understand as much as I believe a mind is able to understand. I love to think. When I was a student, my IQ had never been tested, although I got very good grades whenever I worked hard. When I went into the Marine Corps it was tested and off the charts. I suddenly realized I did have a good ability to think. And ever since then I have really enjoyed the life of the mind. But I do apologize if I’ve come across as arrogant. I have nothing to be arrogant about; whatever good I have done is a gift from God.
Let me just walk you through the reasoning that I engage in periodically, just because it helps me, is comforting to my faith, and might help you. Start out with a premise, as I do in The Faith, that there are really only two choices in life, either God is, or He is not. (There’s actually a third in eastern religion, and that is that He’s an illusion.) For the Christian, Jew, Muslim, or theist, God spoke the universe into being. He is the ultimate source of reality. (Physicists are always trying to find the ultimate nature of reality in energy or matter, which we now know not to be matter as we’ve thought of it). The Christian believes there was a “big bang” (and now science with the Hubble Telescope gave us great reason to support this belief); and that this universe as we see it is an expanding gaseous mass. The explosion of the big bang was produced by an unfathomable amount of energy, which we believe is from God, the source of all energy, the ultimate reality.
The naturalist, that is, the one who accepts the presupposition God is not, argues either that the universe is all there is or ever was or will be (Carl Sagan), though this would seem to run counter to the big bang theory; or the naturalist can argue that life was spontaneously generated on Earth. Darwin’s theory extrapolated back to the beginning, suggesting that life was spontaneously produced out of some sort of primordial soup, with light rays refracting at a certain angle. But all efforts to replicate this have failed. This is why we have people like Stephen Hawking, and now even Dawkins, believing that life must have originated on another planet and gotten here somehow by traveling as space dust; Dawkins went so far at a meeting in Minneapolis recently, to acknowledge perhaps that there was some “God-force” which created this life once it hit our planet.
The important thing to note here is that both the theist and the naturalist proceed on faith assumptions. There is no solid science (though the Big Bang comes the closest) that really establishes what is the first cause, the ultimate source of matter or energy in the universe, and the way life began. So I believe, as I say in The Faith, that everybody has to make a faith assumption. That’s our basic presupposition. You’ve made one; I’ve made one.
The next question is, which is more rational? Whenever I look at the nature of human beings, I simply cannot accept a naturalist explanation. Where does the mind come from, where do our emotions come from? How does one explain the extraordinary complexity for example of the human eye (which Darwin said gave him doubts about his own theory). If it’s all been a random process over millions of years, how did we arrive at this remarkably perfected state, bodies filled with billions of cells which are programmed by their DNA? Bill Gates says the DNA is more complex than any software he’s ever developed. How does a random process produce the mathematical formulas that so many scientists have discovered explaining the universe, and now we’re beginning to discover the composition of humans as well? But no matter how far we go in being able to empirically validate the answers to these kinds of questions, we don’t even come close to understanding the mind, emotions, feelings, conscience, awareness of life and mortality.
I find the argument that altruism would not exist in a selection process that was driven by the survival of the fittest to be very compelling. I’ve read most of the Darwinian attempts to explain it, like Michael Shermer at Reason magazine; they simply fail. It’s not plausible in natural selection.
But third, let’s look at how these initial presuppositions work out in practice. I’ve spent the last 33 years working in prisons all around the world. I would have absolutely no motivation to do this if I didn’t believe that every single one of those prisoners is created in the image of God, and therefore has an inherent human dignity which must be respected. I would ignore the prisoners; they would be of no real value to our society. By any utilitarian calculus they’re the bottom of the pile, and thoroughly expendable. I haven’t been able to find a good argument by a naturalist that gives us a binding source of authority for human dignity in life.
Look also at the way these two presuppositions play out in our existence day by day. Every day I awaken, filled with the love of God. That doesn’t mean I bounce out of bed and everything’s wonderful in life. I deal with all the problems everybody else deals with; the Bible tells us it rains on the just and the unjust alike. But I have a sense that I can trust God, that He directs me, that I have a purpose. Actually I believe every day I’ve got something that can be accomplished, which is to advance God’s kingdom. I can’t imagine waking up in the morning and thinking about nothing, or that I’m the product of a chance process and it just happened to produce me. Jonathan Edwards, the great colonial theologian, once argued that nothingness is what sleeping rocks dream about. I think it’s impossible for human beings to contemplate nothingness, or to believe that some void provides the basis for their existence. If I really believed this, then the only way I could be happy is to live a totally hedonistic life, thoroughly self-centered.
I am sure that you are a good person, that you help others, that you have a real concern for human beings, and probably a strong social conscience. You couldn’t live in Austin if you didn’t! My only question to you is, why do you?
Further look at the creative capacities that are unleashed by people who believe in a transcendent source of authority and a Creator who endows us with creative gifts. I mentioned before Rodney Stark’s wonderful book The Victory of Reason. He makes a very valid argument for human creativity being the basis of human progress, as humans apply reason, God’s gift, to deal with questions of life and producing cultures which provide for human flourishing.
Why is it that we are made to want to connect to other people, as a recent study at Dartmouth showed, as humans have known from the beginning of history? Why is it that when Charlie Chaplin was told that there was no life found anywhere in the universe he said, “I feel so lonely.” We cannot live in a meaningless world where we are not joined to others with some idea of what we should be doing and why we should be doing it. I don’t think we can live in a world that has no basis for love other than erotic pleasures. Humans know there must be a purpose.
This subject, the question of ultimate meaning, purpose, and reality, absolutely fascinates me. I realize that you can take any of my books and pick them apart if you are looking for holes in the reasoning. I know you can also find all the examples you want in history where Christians have done evil things instead of the good things that they’re taught they should do. But despite all of the weaknesses of those who profess to follow God—and they are legion—the fundamental case for the existence of God as ultimate reality is, in my mind, more rational and livable than the alternative.
I mean no offense by this, but I sense in reading your posting that you really have more confidence in science than in the possibility of God, in other words, until something is scientifically validated you have no reason to really trust it. But this is making science God; this is Scientism, which is a very distinct worldview. The one thing of course it can never do is tell you what you ought to do. It may be able to examine and empirically validate what you are, but not what you ought to be, which his why I’ve argued that the only logical, ethical prescription in a naturalistic world is utilitarianism.
Let me just deal with one more question. I frequently hear this from naturalists, ‘if God is really God, why hasn’t He explained Himself?’ As I mentioned before, He has no obligation to do so. But I take that a step further, and say if He is God, a personal source of creative power that brought everything we know into existence, it would be contrary to His very nature to give us that kind of intimate knowledge. This is what the Jew and Christian believes was the original temptation in the Garden of Eden; the individual wants to be like God, in other words we want to be able to know Him completely. But if we did, He wouldn’t be God. Let me mention once more, because it’s so thought-provoking to me, St. Anselm’s famous ontological argument. God is that which is greater than that which we can know. It’s almost by very definition what we mean when we say God. And if we could know Him, we wouldn’t love Him. Faith is required for a relationship between the Creator and His creatures.
These may seem like rambling thoughts to you, but I’ve spent much time throughout my life working them through in my mind, I hope honestly. The one thing I’ve discovered over the years which has been very humbling is that while I thought I had all the answers, I really had very few. I keep learning day by day.
Please forgive me if I sound triumphalistic; I will acknowledge I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t imagine not believing. The fact of the matter is, however, that I’ve been evangelizing prisoners for so long that I don’t think I’ve ever lost my awe of how God works, or my real hunger to see other people come to know Him.
God bless you.
To learn more about The Faith by Chuck Colson and Harold Fickett, visit www.Zondervan.com/TheFaith. To read the first atheist blogger post by Chuck Colson, click here. To read the second atheist blogger post by Chuck Colson, click here.