If there is any one thing that I have learned in 30 years of giving lectures designed to convince people that they can logically and intelligently believe in God, it has been the importance of assumptions. No one comes to a discussion about an issue like the existence of God with a blank slate. Some people come not only with a belief system, but with the assumption that they already know the answer to any question anyone can ask. Others come with a total disbelief in any concept that is not mechanically explainable, and with the assumption that none who believes in God could possibly be very intelligent or able to think. The only problem with having these two groups at a lecture series is that they usually end up shouting at each other making it difficult for anyone to learn anything or participate in any meaningful discussion of the issues of our day. We sort of chuckle at these two extreme positions, but in fact we all struggle with the problem of allowing our assumptions to interfere with our understandings.
Atheists and believers alike frequently struggle with the question of who created God. Christians will generally say that God has always been, and atheists will ask why it is anymore reasonable to believe that God has always been than it is to believe that matter has always been. When I am asked to explain who created God, I frequently ask the questioner to take a pencil and a piece of paper and draw me a four-sided triangle. The honest questioner will say, "That can't be done, your question is wrong." My response is that I agree that my request is bad because I made an assumption about triangles that is not true. I assumed that a triangle has four sides which of course it does not. When someone asks, "Who created God?" they also made a bad assumption. They assumed that there was a time when God did not exist! God created time! God began the beginning. 1 Corinthians 2:7 talks about things that happened before time began, and2 Peter 3:10 talks about things that will happen after time has ended! That is why we read biblical verses like, "I am the alpha and the omega--the beginning and the end."
Another area where assumptions create an impasse for many of us is in dealing with the problem of pain and suffering. Both atheists and believers have had a terrible tendency to assume things about God in this area that are untrue. Some have assumed God caused the problem. Some have assumed that for God to allow the problem to exist reflects negatively on God's nature and/or power. Virtually all of us tend to assume at least to some degree that God looks at our existence and at pain and suffering in a human way. Whether we are an atheist or a believer when we put God in a box and paint him with a human paintbrush, we create a paradox that blocks our understanding.
When Jesus wept at the death of Lazurus he made it clear that God is pained with our losses and problems. The story of Job (chapters 1 and 2) tell us that there is a fundamental struggle going on between good and evil and passages like Ephesians 6:12 leave no doubt. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
We have a reason to exist that is the whole purpose of our creation, and to make or allow any other purpose or assumption to be the basis of our thinking makes it impossible to deal with the problem of pain and suffering. Statements like "This is God's will," or "God is testing us" are not only destructive but they are based on a wrong assumption.
A third area where assumptions cloud our understandings is in the area of evolution and creation, and again the opponents in this area of discussion are both guilty. One of the assumptions that both sides seem to make is that science and the Bible are antagonists. There is rarely a day that goes by that we do not receive an article by someone who maintains that there is an unsolveable war going on and the other side needs to be destroyed. The only difference in the vocabulary of the two opposing views is that the creationist side attacks scientists as Godless immoral reprobates determined to destroy humanity by their selfishness and greed, and the atheistic scientists attacking religion as exploitive ignorant greedy hypocrites looking after their own pocketbooks and stopping the solutions science makes of man's ills and problems.
I had this attitude driven home to me by two of my students last year. I had two young men in my AP physics class who were excellent students. Both of them did well in my class, demonstrated great intelligence and creative thinking, and were gifted with great scientific aptitude. I grew to appreciate their talents and encouraged both of them to go on to major in science in college and use their talents to address the needs of mankind. The last day of school I had both young men come into my classroom to say good-bye. Both of them expressed their enjoyment of my class, and both of them told me they were sorry but they had decided not to go on with their education in the sciences. The first young man said that his parents would not let him major in science because they believed that science was Godless and immoral and they did not want him to lose his faith, but stay active in the church. I called the parents and discovered that this was in fact their belief. The second young man informed me that he had received a full ride scholarship to a church sponsored school. He indicated that he and his atheistic parents did not believe that a church-sponsored school could provide a good science education so he was going to work full time instead of continuing his education. No amount of discussion about the great scientists that have been produced by church affiliated schools would change this family's assumption that being a believer in God means accepting bad science.
Many of our readers may feel that these are extreme cases, but they are very common. Over the years we have had many church members who would not come to our lectureship programs because they felt science and faith were exclusive of one another, and there was nothing I could present that would aid their spiritual walk. I have also had scientifically trained people who refuse to discuss an issue because I am a believer in God and therefore, in their opinion, do not have anything to contribute that is worthy of their consideration. The fact is that some of the most productive scientists that have ever lived have been men and women who were believers in God. From Isaac Newton to Werner von Braun, we have had believers who made huge contributions to the progress of man, and to cut off a person's capacity to contribute to scientific understanding simply because of their religious orientation is a bigotry that can only be destructive. By the same token, if a religious person believes that God created the cosmos and that He told us about what He did in the Bible, there cannot possibly be a contradiction between what we observe and what we read because they have the same author. If there is an apparent contradiction, we either have bad science or bad theology or both.
It is politically correct these days to be totally innocent of any kind of intolerance. Racial prejudice, sexual bias, ethnic favoritism, and age discrimination are all things decried in the media and recognized as being incredibly destructive. To make assumptions in our approach to belief in God and in the Bible that preclude understanding and communication not only robs us of knowledge and alienates us from many people we need to be associated with, but it also is incredibly destructive in its affect on young people and those seeking answers to questions about their own beliefs and directions in life.
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Mar/Apr98.