August 11, 1991

IGNORING THE OBVIOUS

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Betrand Russell was a brilliant mathematician and philosopher, and he said there is no God.  Russell wrote, “The whole conception of God is a conception quite unworthy of free men.”  Sigmund Freud was a brilliant psychiatrist, and he said there is no God.  He believed that God is just a figment of human imagination, produced by deep fears and unfulfilled desires.  Carl Sagan is a brilliant astronomer, and he says there is no God.  Sagan says, “The cosmos is all that was, that is, or that ever will be.”  Richard Dawkins is a brilliant biologist, and he says there is no God.  Dawkins says, “Charles Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

I could add Karl Marx, Simone DeBeauvoire, and a host of other brilliant intellectuals to my list of people who say there is no God, but you get the picture.  For these people, it makes as much sense to believe in God as it does to believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  It’s okay for little children, but thinking adults should know better.  If you are intelligent and well-informed, you will find it impossible to believe in God.  Somewhere between kindergarten and graduate school, God should disappear from your mind.  He belongs to the world of fantasy, not the world of fact.  If you’re smart, you’ll be an atheist. The genius says in his heart, “There is no God.”

There is, of course, another way of looking at this situation.  According to the Bible in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”  That seems like an outrageous statement when we see how many atheists are actually very brilliant.  These godless people aren’t fools–they’re geniuses.  How can the Bible call them fools?  Well, the Bible doesn’t repeat many things word for word, but it does repeat this.  Psalm 14:1 is repeated exactly in Psalm 53:1:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”  It’s as though God is saying, “Read my lips:  You’ve got to be a fool not to believe in me.”

Why is it so foolish not to believe in God?  Because you have to avoid overwhelming evidence and suppress plain facts in order not to acknowledge God.  Romans 1:18-23 describes it this way:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised.  Amen.

To put it in a nutshell, you have to be a fool not to recognize God’s power and majesty when you look at creation.  Although you claim to be wise, you become a fool.  The evidence is right there in front of you.  As the Bible says in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God;  the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech;  night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).  The mystery and the majesty of the universe point clearly to the God who made everything.

The more you study the universe, the more you become convinced of the amazing design that is everywhere present.  The beauty and vastness of the galaxies inspire awe.  And yet all of this matter and energy seems to follow certain orderly patterns.

Our own planet is a marvel.  The earth is about 93 million miles away from the sun.  If it were much closer, we would all fry, and if it were further away, we would freeze.  The earth spins around once every 24 hours.  But what if it took more than 5,000 hours for each rotation, as it does on some other planets?  No living thing could survive.  The days would be so long and hot that all moisture on the planet would boil away.  The nights would be so cold that if anything had survived the day, it would certainly freeze to death during the night.  Fortunately for us, however, the earth is 93 million miles from the sun, and it does in fact rotate once every 24 hours.  Otherwise, this planet would be completely lifeless.

When we study plants and animals, we are amazed at the complexity of each part of the body, and how all the parts work together.  The more scientific facts we discover, the more we are impressed with the order and complexity of our universe.

What do we make of the beauty and the orderly patterns that we see in the world?  If you look at a carefully crafted watch, you conclude that a very skilled person designed it.  So what should we conclude when we see the evidence of design in the universe?  Well, amazingly enough, some people conclude that there is no designer.  Listen to what Richard Dawkins, the brilliant biologist I quoted earlier, writes in his book, The Blind Watchmaker:

All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.  A true watchmaker has foresight:  he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye.  Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind.  It has no mind and no mind’s eye.  It does not plan for the future.  It has no vision, no foresight, not sight at all.  If it can be said to play the role of a watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.

I don’t want you to miss some of the phrases that Dawkins uses.  He says “all appearances to the contrary.”  He refers to the “apparently purposeful form of all life.”   But for Dawkins, seeing is not believing.  Although the design seems obvious, he says, there is in fact no design and no designer, except the workings of pure chance, what he calls “the blind watchmaker.”  Now, let me just ask you, who do you think is blind here, the watchmaker or the one looking at the watch?  Dawkins examines the design, and then declares confidently that there is no designer.

That reminds me of the story about the deranged man who thought he was dead.  Nobody could convince him that he was really alive.  Finally, a friend told him, “Do you agree that if someone is dead, his heart isn’t pumping, and he won’t bleed?”  The man agreed–dead men don’t bleed.  His friend then poked him with a pin, and some blood began to trickle out.  The man took one look and said, “Well, what do you know?  Dead men do bleed!”

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  What else can you say about a scientist who devotes his life to explaining the design of the universe, and still claims there is no designer?  What would it take to convince atheists that God is in fact real, if they won’t believe the evidence in front of them?  They see pattern and design, yet deny the existence of a designer.  They see a planet populated by living creatures, and have never yet see a living thing come from non-living matter;  yet they believe that life emerged by chance from dead matter, rather than acknowledging God as the Creator of life.

Meanwhile, scientists keep working for the day when they can produce a living cell from non-living material.  The atheists involved in this research hope to prove that life could have emerged by chance under the proper conditions.  But even if they finally succeed in producing a living cell, what would that prove?  That life has no creator?  Far from it!  It would only prove that some highly creative and intelligent beings had finally figured out how to produce a simple life form from non-living material.  That would hardly be proof that life has no intelligent creator.  Meanwhile, of course, no such experiment has in fact succeeded.  Now, if so many brilliant scientists, after years of research and experimentation, still have failed to produce even the simplest life form, isn’t it safe to conclude that it would take someone powerful and intelligent beyond our imagination to create the fantastically complex forms of life that we see on our planet?

Not only the origin of life from non-living matter, but also the complexity of life points to God.  Richard Dawkins believes that Charles Darwin has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.  He thinks that Darwin’s theory–random genetic mutation and natural selection which results in the survival of the fittest–can account for the design that we see.  But how likely is it that random chance could produce the complex life forms that exist today?

Let’s look for a moment at just one part of God’s creation:  the eye.  This incredibly complex instrument has a wide variety of components which resemble a telescope of the highest quality:  a lens, an adjustable focus, and a variable diaphragm which controls the amount of light.

Now, if we believe in random evolution, we must begin by imagining a primitive creature with no eyes.  Over long generations, this eyeless creature’s descendants accidently evolve into something with a retina.  But a retina is useless unless the other components of the eye are also present.  There would be no natural selection for creatures with only some parts of the eye.  These creatures would have no adaptive advantage over their relatives, since the eye is useless unless all the components are present and perfectly coordinated.  So the retina, the lens, the iris, the rods and cones, the optic nerve, and every other component of the eye would have to evolve by accident at approximately the same time, and they would accidentally begin to work in perfect coordination with each other and with the appropriate parts of the brain.

Now, according to Dawkins and others like him, Darwin’s theory explains all this.  Of course, they never give a precise explanation of what actually happened in the development of the eye or of any other organ, probably because it would be too preposterous.  Darwin himself wrote, “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances … could have been formed by natural selection seems absurd in the highest degree.”  He said, “When I think of the eye, I shudder.”  So perhaps it isn’t so easy to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, even with help from Darwin’s theories.

It’s one thing to observe from the fossil record that more complex life forms appeared over the passage of time.  It’s quite another thing to claim that this must have happened by pure accident.  The Bible itself says plants came first, then fish and birds, then land animals, and then human beings.  All of this happened through God’s creative word, not by accident.

For some reason, however, many people who look at God’s creation refuse to believe in the Creator.  They study the eye and the complexities of vision, and then conclude that the ability to see is a product of blind chance.  They say that the human mind is the accidental result of a mindless process (and I’m tempted to agree that their thinking, at least, does sometimes seem to be the accidental result of a mindless process!)  They say that living things emerged from dead matter.  They say that the laws of nature have no lawmaker.  And, claiming to be wise, they become fools.

Why is this?  If God’s power and divine nature are so obvious in what he has made, why do so many people, including some very brilliant ones, refuse to believe?

British author John Young tells a parable about a community of mice.  These mice lived in a place that opened into a music room with a grand piano.  Sometimes, through the door of their home, they could hear beautiful music coming from the piano.  They sighed in amazement at the beauty of the music.  Soon, however, they got into a disagreement.

Some of the mice said, “There couldn’t be music like that unless there was a musician.”  But some of the other mice said, “Nonsense.  There is no musician.”  Still others were agnostics:  “We’ll never know whether there is a musician or not.  Now get on with sharing the cheese.”

One day, when the music began to play, a particularly bold and curious mouse decided to venture into the music room and see for himself.  He scurried across the floor and scrambled up the shiny black leg of the grand piano.  He peered into the piano for a few moments, and then hustled back home to the other mice, breathless with excitement at his discovery.

“I have seen how music is made.  I saw many tiny hammers striking tight wires.  But I saw no musician.”

The atheist mice nodded and smiled with satisfaction.  The agnostics shrugged and continued eating their cheese.  Those who had believed in a musician were disappointed.  At least they knew the truth now, but life seemed a lot less interesting.

Sometimes we jump to conclusions that don’t really follow from our scientific discoveries.  We must never forget that science can only examine the inside of the piano, and talk about the workings of the tiny hammers and the wires.  But that only explains how the piano makes music.  It says nothing about why it works in that fashion, or who is playing the tune.  Although we claim to be wise, we will become fools unless we remember the limits of what we have actually discovered.

For example, baby mammals are born with a desire to suck, and without this sucking instinct, they would not take nourishment from their mothers.  We can observe this and call it “the sucking instinct”–but that doesn’t explain where this vital instinct comes from.

We realize that what goes up must come down, and we can calculate the force of gravity, but we have no idea why matter is attracted to matter in the first place.  It just is–and yet we sometimes think we understand it just because we’ve given it a label and calculated a formula.

People who make new discoveries are always in danger.  They discover a new aspect of the truth, and they think they understand the whole truth.  They know more than they did, and begin to think they know it all.  They become experts on how the creation works, and forget how little they know about why it works that way.

And so they fall into the trap described in Romans 1.  The power and divine nature of the invisible God is very plain in the things he has made, but they would rather not believe in God.  Claiming to be wise, they become fools.  They think that the cosmos is all that was, or is, or ever will be.  They exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator.

Exactly what has science actually discovered about the origin of the universe?  One noted scientist, Robert Jastrow, puts it this way:  “The world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces we cannot discover…  At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation.  For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountains of ignorance;  he is about to conquer the highest peak;  as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

We live in one great universe which is designed, created, and maintained by one great God.  This God is not only active in the aspects of the world that we cannot understand, but he is also active in the everyday continuation of the laws of nature.  Every new discovery should impress us even more with the power and divine nature of God.  There are aspects of life on this planet that are deeply flawed by our sin and mistakes, but the amazing work of God is still very plain in the things he has made.

Well, suppose I get my facts straight, and agree that God made the world?  Then what?  I live in this world, and I’m glad somebody made it, but what difference does it make if I know about God or not?  I also know that Thomas Edison invented the first light bulb, and that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  I believe these facts, but knowing them doesn’t really change anything for me, except give me the answer to some trivia questions.  I could turn on a light or dial a telephone just as well even if I knew absolutely nothing about Edison or Bell.  So why does it matter whether I know who made the universe?  It’s here whether I know who made it or not.  Even if I believe that God made it, what difference does it make?

Romans 1 answers that question very clearly.  Creation doesn’t just show that God exists; it reveals God’s power and divine nature.  We must adore and worship the Lord who gives us a glimpse of his splendor in the things he has made.  We must acknowledge that everything we have comes from him.  Every breath we take, everything we have, is a gift from the hand of God.  Our lives must be filled with gratitude to the Lord, for we owe him everything.  So we can’t simply believe that there is a God out there, and leave it at that.  We must glorify him as God and give him thanks.

What happens if we know about God but don’t glorify him or thank him?  In Romans 1, Paul says:  “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  When we turn from God and live life on our own, sin clouds our minds and ruins our lives.  Paul describes how, when people reject God, the Lord hands them over to the consequences of their sins.  We wallow in sexual perversions, cruelty to each other, and a host of other evils.  When we don’t have a personal relationship of awe and thanksgiving with our Creator, things go from bad to worse.  We become completely foolish, both in our intellectual theories and in the way we live.  When we ignore our Creator, we destroy ourselves.

Once we’ve offended God, there’s just one way back to him, and we won’t find that way just by studying the creation.  The creation can help us to take the reality of God seriously, but only the Bible can show us a fuller picture of what this powerful, magnificent God is actually like.  The Bible tells us that everything created was made through Jesus Christ and in him all things hold together.  Through our sin, we have damaged ourselves and God’s creation, and so the only could rescue God’s people and restore his creation is the one through whom everything was made.  God’s Son, the source of all creation, became a creature, a human being.  He died on the cross to break the grip of sin, and he arose from the dead to crush the power of death and decay.

So only Jesus can give you a personal relationship with the God who created you, and only Jesus can restore God’s creation to perfection when he returns to earth.  When you trust in Jesus, God adopts you as his child.  His Spirit opens your ears to hear what his creation is saying.  You will hear of God’s power and majesty and love wherever you go.  The fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” but the Christian sings, “This is my Father’s world.”

PRAYER

Father, thank you for speaking to us through your amazing creation.  We worship your majesty and thank you for your goodness to us.  We praise you that, through our Lord Jesus Christ, you are still the ruler of this world.  Thank you, Jesus, for rescuing us from sin, and for making us part of your plan to restore your creation.  Keep speaking to us, and help us to keep listening.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.