The Search For God: Facts or Feelings?


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It was the eminent 20th Century philosopher Debbie Boone who once said,

“It can’t be wrong when it feels so right!”

Let’s face it, when it comes to the current debate in our culture concerning the existence of God, most of us would think that believers would have the market cornered on the triumph of emotion over reason.

Atheists, we’ve been lead to believe, offer the voice of cold reason as a cure for the “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” feelings fueled fantasy land of the faithful.

You might believe that.

But you would be wrong.

Last night Biola University hosted a debate on the existence of God.

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Representing belief was author and philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig.

In the opposite corner was the author of  “God Is Not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything”, Christopher Hitchens.

According to reviewer Doug TenNapel, Dr. Craig articulated five arguments for belief in God.

1. The Cosmological Argument; Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. God is the best explanation for that cause.

2. The Teleological Argument; The fine-tuning of the universe is so improbable that law or chance aren’t adequate explanations. God is the best explanation.

3. The Moral Argument; If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Rape isn’t just culturally unacceptable, it’s actually wrong.

4. The Resurrection of Jesus; The vast majority of historians generally agree that the tomb was empty. Separately, the vast majority of historians generally agree that Jesus appeared to people post-mortem. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.

5. The Immediate Experience of God; Belief that God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded in argument.

He also challenged his opponent to present positive arguments for his own atheism.

Hitchens, on the other hand, took a different tack.

Christopher Hitchens opened with an argument that Dr. Craig had the obligation to prove God exists with some amount of certainty. The burden isn’t on the atheist in the debate to show God doesn’t exist. His position is simply that of a skeptic. Given the idea that God either does exist or does not exist, Hitch thinks doubt is the better position. He alluded that it is also the more humble position.

Hitch doesn’t claim knowledge that there is no God. He claims ignorance, though he avoids calling himself an agnostic. Because he doesn’t know and Dr. Craig claims to know that God exists, the disadvantage goes to the one who says, “I know.” He says that given the stakes are so extra-ordinary (ie judgment, Heaven and hell, dying for one’s faith, killing in the name of God) the evidence provided by Dr. Craig wasn’t extra-ordinary enough to prove a God exists.

The most common argument made by Hitchens was that the world contained so much cruelty and brutality for most living creatures across most of existence that a good God didn’t seem likely, and that if He did exist that He had a lot of bloodshed to answer for. He gave examples of the pre-Christ and even pre-Jewish people who died without ever knowing the one true God. That their lives were lost in ignorance and that only recently does God come on the scene to save some. Hitch returned to this line of reasoning so many times that I’d say it was his core reason for disbelieving God.

Sounds like interesting stuff doesn’t it?

But the most interesting aspect of the debate to me was TenNapel’s take on who won, and why.

..in my opinion, though Dr. Craig won the argument (he was the only one who even presented a formal argument), Hitchens won the debate. It’s not the argument of the debaters, it’s the condition of the audience that wins the day. While few of Dr. Craig’s arguments are dispersed through culture, even religious culture, I’ve been raised on most of Hitchens’ arguments. Dr. Craig’s arguments are true and well-reasoned by difficult to comprehend on a first hearing. Hitchens’ arguments are what we’ll find spoken against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I’ve even heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens’ argument by default. And it’s easier to claim the skeptic’s nothing than affirm the something of God…even when I think the most robust argument is self evident to all of us…we’re here.

I think if there were atheists in the audience on the brink of salvation that Dr. Craig’s well-argued positions would find little purchase. Opposite that, the room of Christians would likely have a large segment of doubters, and the cultural arguments against God presented by Hitchens would likely change more minds in my opinion.

The bottom line?

Dr. Craig’s arguments were far superior – rationally.

But Christopher Hitchens’ arguments (or more accurately, argument) were more familiar – emotionally.

We’ve been so bombarded by them through popular culture and the media they play in the back of our minds like an annoying commercial jingle you heard as a child.

Dr. Craig challenged his audience to think.

Christopher Hitchens had no positive argument for his own position  – he only wanted his audience to feel.

Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is why so few engage in it.”

Interestingly, Hitchens confesses that his atheism wasn’t the result of a deep intellectual search. He claims that his denial of God simply came to him one day when he was a child.

Like some kind of anti-conversion experience.

He wasn’t convinced that pure naturalism was the best explanation for reality.

He simply decided he didn’t like God – and that felt right to him.

And when your core belief concerning ultimate reality is built on such a shaky foundation, you are far more close to Debbie-Boone-ism than you would like to admit.

And so you don’t want to talk about evidence for your own position.

Let’s not discuss the awe inspiring complexity and design features of even the simplest cell.

Who would want to defend the idea that explosions in print shops make encyclopedias, anyway?

You want to change the subject.

You major on a single perceived weakness in a Biblical world view and dig in like a tick.

You also, inadvertantly become a shining example of the Bible’s explanation of why humanity rejects the true and living God.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things  (Romans 1:18-23).

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