Keep the Faith Tony!
No matter how much a pastor has studied in the past at a Bible College or Seminary, I think it is always a good thing for him to seek to sharpen his skills. Scripture commands us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you..." (1 Peter 3:15) To give a defense is to give a reasoned explanation for the things we believe, which is the ministry of apologetics. In learning there was an apologetics course taking place in a Bible College locally, I signed up for the class, not to gain credit, but for the practical benefits of the study. The course was a very enriching experience for me. Though in many ways it was similar to one I took 20 years before, I gained far more from the course this time through. Perhaps that's because my experience as a pastor allows me to now understand just how relevant the material is to help reach people in our day.
One of the tasks we as students had was to imagine someone who had sat under our ministry for some time who had now gone to a secular College or University, and was now feeling fragile in their faith after reading Bertrand Russell's book, "Why I am not a Christian." Our first task was to actually read Russell's book and then respond to an imaginary letter from this person who was now questioning the claims of Christ.
I chose the name Tony for this man... here's what I wrote:
It was a pleasure to hear from you and I am glad that things are going well for you in your studies.
I would like to respond to you regarding your very real concerns about your Christian faith after reading Bertrand Russellâ€™s essay, â€œWhy I Am Not a Christian.â€ You said that you felt your faith had been â€œseriously violatedâ€ and was very much â€œunder fire.â€
Since talking to you, I have read through Russellâ€™s essay a number of times. Russell had undoubted intelligence, but I do have to say that I found his arguments, upon close examination, to have very little weight. Let me explain.
The first thing I would point out is Russellâ€™s obvious bias against Christianity. I was amazed to read his statement, â€œHistorically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him.â€ To make this statement, Russell portrays a predisposition against the facts, or in other words, a great bias. He dismisses, in one breath, the entirety of the New Testament Gospels, which were written by eye witnesses concerning the events they described. These eye witnesses were also willing to die for the truths they professed. Though many men have died for things that were in fact untrue, I donâ€™t know of anyone who was prepared to die for what they knew to be untrue. Yet these men faced death because of their testimony, but preached the Gospel anyway. (Of course, Luke wrote after ascertaining the facts from eye witnesses â€“ Luke 1:1-4).
Even if we were to ignore the sure testimony of scripture, outside sources certainly establish the historicity of Jesus. As you know Tony, I did an entire lecture on the references to Christ found outside the New Testament, while you were part of the youth group here at Faith Community Church. You remember Tony how in that lecture, I also taught that the Gospels were written within a relatively short time span after the time of Jesusâ€™ earthly life, and I am sure you remember that there are so many copies of them still in existence, which adds much weight to the reliability of the texts themselves. The reliability of the New Testament far exceeds any other ancient document.
My charge of Russell being biased is fueled by his statement that he found the very existence of Jesus Christ â€œquite doubtful.â€ To take this view, logically, he would also have to doubt every fact we know about ancient history, because there is far greater evidence for the existence of Christ than just about any other person in the ancient world. Russell shows great inconsistency here. I am left to just ponder the obvious bias that Russell had in writing what he did. Russell had a great disdain for religion, especially Christianity.
That said, I do need to respond to Russellâ€™s arguments themselves. Russell had a history of going from one idea to another in his earlier life concerning the nature of reality. It is important to state this to assess the intellectual â€œplatformâ€ that Russell stood on to make his boasts. It is also important to point out that Russell provided no real alternative to the truths he was attacking and died disillusioned, never having achieved what he hoped he could do - establishing a philosophical mathematical world-view that is internally consistent and not circular (i.e. does not require presuppositions).
Russell claimed that Christ was wrong about the timing of His Second Coming into the world. Of course, to answer each of the points he makes in this section of his essay â€œDefects in Christâ€™s Teachingâ€ would require a book in itself. Certain background information is foundational to our thinking before we can build a case defending Christâ€™s words here. Fortunately such a book has been written, and before you left for University I gave you a copy. It is Dr. R.C. Sproulâ€™s book, â€œThe Last Days According to Jesus.â€ I believe you will find the points Russell brings up answered in this fine volume from page 12 onwards, in the section, â€œRussellâ€™s Rejection of Christ.â€ Sproulâ€™s response to Russell here takes on a partial preterist view concerning eschatology; however, whether or not you and I go all the way with Sproul in this, I do believe that Sproul is at least honest in dealing with the objections that Russell raised. Let me know what you make of Sproulâ€™s defense of Christ here.
I must say Tony that I found Russellâ€™s thinking to be very contradictory on a number of issues. For instance, he suggests that our values are not objective, but relative and very fleeting. Yet, Russell presents his values (that we gain autonomously) within a universe that he claims is without values. In other words, he wants us to act as if his arguments actually mean something; that we are to value his values though values do not exist! Yet he does this believing that his values are the absolute evaluation concerning Christ Himself and of Christians! In attacking the claims of Christ, I have to ask the question â€œupon what moral basis does Russell do so?â€ In his universe without values, he is giving us his evaluation of Christ!
Tony, I hope you can see that if Russell was consistent he would have to say that his own values were fleeting and doomed to oblivion as well as anyone elseâ€™s. He would also have to argue that since values are temporary and have no place in objectivity, there is no need to listen to anything he had to say. Yet, of course, thatâ€™s not what he says at all. He certainly wanted us to listen to his values and arguments; indeed he wanted us to adopt them. Here then is inconsistency personified.
It seemed that Russell had a limited time to deal with many issues under the topic at hand. However, he did say enough to make me alarmed. He made definite claims that need to be scrutinized. The first one is that the Roman Catholic Church is wrong to say that we can prove the existence of God by â€œunaided reason.â€ He then went on to try to defeat these same argumentsâ€¦ but Tony, isnâ€™t it amazing that Russell tries to destroy these arguments based on unaided reason, by using his own unaided reason? Again, I would have to say that this is bias in the extreme. Russell simply takes it for granted that autonomous reason enables man to know things. But how does he know that? How does he know anything about the â€œlawsâ€ of science, for example?
He makes a great deal of assumptions without any objective criticism of his own paradigm. If this is a chance universe (as Russell claims) what is the basis for saying that anything in the universe is uniform. In other words, how do we know that science can teach us anything? Russell has no basis, within his own thinking structure to believe that science will continue to bring uniform results. I might mention here that the skeptic David Hume made a devastating critique of this, showing this very point.
Let me give you an example of what I am saying Tony. Though water may have boiled at 100 C in the past, there is no basis whatsoever for Russell to believe that it will do so today or in the future, in this chance driven universe. Yet it is obvious that he would take this (water boiling at 100 C) as a given - a known fact â€“ but my point is that he has no rational basis for doing so within his epistemological system. Though pigs may not have flown in the past, they may well do so if we test one today. The result may be very different today. Who is to say that something random canâ€™t happen right now that changes everything? With this philosophy or world view, it is impossible to have a true knowledge of anything. Though oranges are usually orange in color, they may be green with red spots tomorrow. The point is that in Russellâ€™s random/chance driven universe, nothing can be known with any degree of certainty.
Russell tries to argue based upon the laws of logic. Thatâ€™s all well and good, but we must understand that these laws are not observable to the senses. Russell needs to face the fact that either these laws are universal, binding and unchanging (as they are in reality), or else they are merely preferences based upon relativism. Russell cannot rationally account for the laws of logic, yet desires to base his arguments upon them. It is only in a universe created and sustained by God that we can account for such things as the laws of logic or science. Russellâ€™s very use of logic presupposes a God who set up those laws, and it is here that we need to press Russell to admit that.
I have to say Tony that although it is obvious that Russell was a brilliant man, he articulated a quite foolish notion. In fact, not only is this argumentation foolish on Russellâ€™s part, it is sinful. Russell has to use something for which he can give no reason or foundation for existing (the laws of logic) to try to argue that the only logical â€œreasonâ€ for their being in existence, God Himself, does not in fact exist. God does exist because of the impossibility of the contrary. Let me explain.
Science declares that the universe is here, and that it is definitely something, and that it had a definite beginning. Though science affirms that there was a time or a point in space (big bang theory) when we canâ€™t go back any further and predicate anything, it still affirms that the universe had a beginning. What was the universe before it had a beginning? Well, it is hard to say scientifically, except that there was a time when it was not. Yet even so, I think we must all conclude that there was a time when this universe was not, before it came into being. Science tries to steer as far away from the idea of an Eternal Universe, as much as is possible because all the evidence points to a time when it came into being i.e. a beginning. So both the atheist and the Christian needs to have a rational explanation as to why there is in fact something, and not nothing.
Why is that? Well try for a moment to imagine nothing. Now I grant you that it is very hard to think of nothing, because nothing is not a thing â€“ it is no-thing. But go with me in your imagination to the time when there was nothing.
What would happen if it (nothing) was left alone for 10 minutes? How about 10 years? How about a few billion? Would nothing change into something given enough time to do so?
No, of course not. It doesnâ€™t really matter how long nothing is left to be by itself - nothing cannot change into something, no matter how long it is left to become something. If there ever was a time when there was nothing, all there would be today would be nothing, for â€œout of nothing, nothing comes.â€
How does the atheist explain this something (everything around us), when science today affirms there was a time when there was nothing? Well lets look at a mathematical formula. The atheist would have to believe that:
Nothing + No One = Everything
This is absurdity in the extreme, I am sure you will agree Tony.
So what formula does the Christian propose?
The opening declaration of the Bible is that â€œIn the beginning (when there was nothing), God created the heavens and the earth.â€ This is creation ex nihilo or â€œout of nothing.â€ God has always existed, and so when we speak of a time when there was nothing, I am referring to the physical material realm. God is a Spiritual Being, who existed eternally before anything came into being. What would this look like as a mathematical formula? It is a proposition that is both rational and satisfying. The Christian believes that:
Nothing + God = Everything
When we add God to the formula it makes this a valid and rational argumentation. God, being God, can obviously make something out of nothing. When there was no light, God said, â€œLight be!â€ and light was. Again, God created everything, out of nothing.
The clear teaching of the Bible in Romans 1 is that mankind is made in the image of God and knows of Godâ€™s existence but suppresses (holds under) that knowledge. The fact that Russell knows anything at all is due to his unacknowledged dependence upon the suppressed truth about God within him. The truth is that no one is morally neutral before God. Men are culpable because Godâ€™s existence, His power and Godhead are clearly seen and understood. Scripture declares that this knowledge of God â€œis manifest in them for God has shown it to them.â€ Therefore, all of mankind, including Bertrand Russell is â€œwithout excuse,â€ or literally â€œwithout an apologeticâ€ as they rationalize the clear evidence within them and all around them. All argumentation against the knowledge of God then is pure and simple rebellion. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and despite his brilliance, Russell has not started in the realm of true knowledge, because it begins in dependence and the fear of the Lord.
I find it fascinating that instead of honoring the Creator, Russell propagated the worship of creation, just the very thing Romans 1 says happens when suppression of Godâ€™s truth takes place. He entreats men to â€œworship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chanceâ€¦â€ (Why I am not a Christian; p. 115,116)
I am sure Tony that you noticed, when reading Russellâ€™s essay that he resorted to arguing ad hominem (against the man) as he directed everyoneâ€™s attention to the personal character flaws of Christians. Even if these charges were accurate, which I do not believe they are, the fact would remain that he resorted to arguing against a truth claim on the basis of the defects of the person/s that held that claim. For a person of Russellâ€™s intellectual prowess, this is not acceptable at all, and I am sure Russell would be upset at any person who would try to do such a thing himself. He simply should have known better.
He attacked the Christians for their cruelty, for the wars they have waged, for the inquisitions, etc. but isnâ€™t it amazing that Russell didnâ€™t even stop to acknowledge the atrocities perpetrated by those who have not made a profession of faith in Christ. Russell didnâ€™t mention the atrocities of Stalin or Genghis Khan, for example. No, these things were just swept under the carpet. Of course, he didnâ€™t mention the great good done by Christians â€“ the schools and hospitals built by Christians, and the care they have shown for the poor, etc.
There are other holes in Russellâ€™s arguments. One obvious one is that he presumed to know the motivation of someone in becoming a Christian â€“ even the motivation of all Christians, including those who lived in ages past. He did this based on a miniscule sampling of his own experiences with them. Then Russell goes on to use double standards in his arguments against the Christians. Russell tried to show that there was an emotional factor in a person becoming a Christian.
It is here, that I would have to acknowledge that Christians do have emotional reasons for accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I accept that one motivation would be the fear of not doing so â€“ the result being an eternal punishment in hell. I would have to agree with him that there is dread, and dread alone, awaiting those who do not believe in Christ. With Christ there is an endless hope, without Him, there is a hopeless end!
I would add another emotional factor also â€“ that of a very strong desire for the claims of Christ and of the Bible to be true. I for example, as a Christian, want the claims I have embraced about Christ to be true, and I accept the fact that I want that desperately. I would be absolutely devastated if the claims of Christ were proven to be untrue. I would have no reason for living. But Tony, Russell is not being honest with us is he? Why? Because there is an equally obvious emotional factor behind atheism!
Why do I say this? Because as an atheist, speaking out publicly and in writing of the non-existence of God, isnâ€™t the very last thing that Russell wants - the existence of a righteous and holy God â€“ the existence of the God of the Bible? Isnâ€™t this the least desired, the most terrible thing conceivable for Bertrand Russell? Yes, the worst news Russell could imagine would be the confirmation that God does exist, and by the way, he is summoned to give an account of his life before Him on the Day of Judgment. Here is the motivation behind atheism â€“ the desire to live independent of a Holy and Righteous God.
Here, as I said, the double standard Russell uses is obvious. He appealed to feelings of pride, courage, freedom and self-worth as a basis for those listening to him to say no to Christianity, yet attacked the Christian for having feelings which drove them to accept the Lordship of Christ.
Tony, isnâ€™t it obvious that all of us need to admit that as to the existence of God, none of us is without bias. A Christian desperately wants Christâ€™s claims to be valid and true, and an Atheist desperately wants them to be invalid and untrue. Scripture leaves no room for neutrality in this regard. No one is neutral. Either we are God lovers or God haters. So to attack the Christian for his feelings in this shows double standard par excellence!
If Russell was honest, he would have to admit that both the atheist and the Christian possess a great deal of bias when it comes to this issue of Godâ€™s existence, but that doesnâ€™t mean that both propositions are wrong. The issue of course is not our feelings about Godâ€™s existence, but whether or not God actually exists in reality. If God does not exist, then all my feelings of love and empathy towards Him wonâ€™t conjure Him up! If He exists, then all of Russellâ€™s feelings against His existence wonâ€™t kill Him!
Russell has to stoop to obvious prejudice, to use logical fallacies in his argumentation, and shows no basis for his philosophical arguments. I am left with the Apostle Paul to conclude that Russell simply suppressed the truth he knew about God because he was desperate to avoid the God who really is. Even Russellâ€™s most ardent followers would have to admit that this essay is open to much criticism, and Tony, I have to conclude that his rejection of God in his thinking was not based upon any sound or intellectual basis at all but only on a prejudicial bias in the extreme.
I hope that these comments help you to see through the issues clearly. As I conclude, I would ask you to read a couple of passages of scripture to meditate upon. The first I have already mentioned in Romans 1:16-23; and the second is found in 1 Corinthians 1:18 â€“ 2:16. As you read these through, I believe that you can be very thankful to God for the wondrous and amazing grace He has given you in revealing His truth to you. It wasnâ€™t your wits or intelligence that caused you to see His truth, but the Sovereign gracious gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Though the message of the cross is foolishness to others, to the called, to those being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). In verse 19 Paul goes on to say that God will â€œdestroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.â€ I canâ€™t help but think of men like Bertrand Russell at this point.
As we read further in 1 Corinthians 1, we find a series of four questions posed to us.
1) Where is the wise?
2) Where is the scribe?
3) Where is the disputer of this age?
4) Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
The obvious point of these questions is to provoke us to answer that the worldâ€™s wisdom is not real wisdom at all, for it starts in the wrong place, without God.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.â€ (v. 20, 21)
Because you are part of the company called â€œthe calledâ€ you know that Christ is the power and wisdom of God. (v. 24)
God leaves the debaters to themselves, knowing that without acknowledging Him, they are sure to end up only in intellectual cul de sacs, never getting anywhere. However this same God is pleased to reveal the truth to those He calls. What grace!
As you reflect on these things Tony, I pray that your faith will be strengthened even after you have considered some of the main arguments of atheism and that you will be stronger in your faith because of it.
I will get this off in the mail to you and will wait a couple of days before calling you again. I am confident that after reading this, â€œyour faith might not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.â€ (1 Cor. 2:5).
If there is anything else I can help you with, or if I can clarify any of these things further, just let me know and Iâ€™ll be happy to try to answer any questions you have or else I can point you to resources that I think would be of help to you. I look forward to hearing good news about you when I call. Keep the faith Tony!
In the Perfect Savior,
Pastor John Samson