Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Hiddenness of God

The famous mathematician and atheist, Bertrand Russell (co-founder of analytic philosophy), was asked about what he would say if he had to stand before God one day to give account for his unbelief. His answer:

"Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?"

In a survey of the top reasons that skeptics tend to reject God, in the top three, is the challenge embodied in Russell's complaint:

"God, if you are there, why are you so hard to find?"

 
In theological or philosophical terms, this dilemma is called The Hiddenness of God.

Perhaps the most quoted of all skeptics, Friedrich Nietzsche, also fired salvos against Judaism and Christianity with similar attacks. He wrote there should be "a Duty of God to be truthful towards mankind and clear in the manner of his communications." In other words, WHY isn't God more clear, more obvious, more open in His dealings with mankind?
With Nietzsche in the 19th century, and Russell in the 20th century, I would like to suggest a radical answer here at the outset of the 21st century (actually this answer goes back to the very beginning, at the origin of humanity).

Here goes:
God is not hidden, and if He were any more open, then belief in Him would border on coercion instead of free will.

Wow. Not only do I reject the premises of earlier skeptics, but I posit the opposite. That's a pretty significant gap between our positions. Where am I coming from? To put it simply: logic, science, history, and the Bible.



Imagine walking up to the famous painting of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. As you admire this incredible and mysterious work of art, you turn to the person standing next to you, and you say: "Isn't it amazing that no one painted that painting." With an incredulous stare, the person (and rightly so) turns to you and exclaims: "Excuse me?" "Yeah," you continue, "no one painted that. It is the result of random processes over vast ages of time, through well-known chemical and other natural processes." With raised eyebrows and head-shaking, the crowd around you would, no doubt, slowly disperse.



Why would you be rejected in your position? For several well-founded reasons, including:
(1) the complexity of the painting
(2) the form and function of the image
(3) testimony of historical sources confirming the origin of the painting
(4) comparison with other known works of man-made art 

(5) improbability of natural processes arriving at such a product.

What is my point in all of this regarding the supposed hiddenness of God? It is simply this: if something as simple as a (basically two dimensional) painting PROVES there was a painter, then surely an incomprehensibly complex and ordered universe demands that there is a transcendent creator, a God that made it and set its natural laws into motion.







Let's look at just ONE facet of creation: DNA.
The DNA in your cells contains the complete instruction manual of how to build and maintain---YOU. It defines organs, systems, and life-processes that make YOU possible. It is an unimaginably complex, encoded system of information storage, averaging over 3 billion bits of data.



Francis S. Collins is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Once an atheist, he looked into the evidence for God in nature and became a Christian. Concerning DNA, he said:

"When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind."

Werner Gitt, a professor of information systems, states:
"The coding system used for living beings is optimal from an engineering standpoint. This fact strengthens the argument that it was a case of purposeful design rather than a [lucky] chance".




Whether we look inward, to the very small and microscopic world of chemicals and DNA, or outward to the vastness of space and the beauties of the galactic landscape, we are confronted with the reality of not only a superintelligent God, but a super-creative God, a God of unimaginable power.



The late Sir Fred Hoyle, considered one of the greatest astronomers of the modern age, made this observation:
"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."


What conclusion was he speaking about as being "almost beyond question"? The conclusion that there is a super-intellect, a God who has designed the laws of nature. So, everytime we look at another person, or any living thing, or we look up into the heavens, and witness the sun, the moon, the stars, we are looking directly at the undeniable handiwork of God, the creator.



Hidden
? God is not hidden at all...perhaps only to those who would rather imagine that He doesn't exist. Perhaps the reason that some skeptics don't find God is the same reason most criminals don't "find" a policeman--they aren't looking for Him, and, in fact, have a great vested interest in NOT finding Him. Everything complex and beautiful in life and in nature is explained away almost as quickly as the sleight of hand of the skilled magician.



So, the next big question comes:
"Why doesn't God just say something, audibly, or write a message in the sky, or do something fantastic for all to see?" This is a common query. It supposes that just such an action would immediately satisfy every skeptical doubt, and move humanity into the "God" column. I was struck recently when I paid attention to the words of a song written by Carolyn Arends. She cries out:

"I was hoping you would write to me a message in the stars.
As if the stars themselves were not enough."


Do we hear the logic of her lyrics? How insensible and outrageous is it to imagine that "if only" God would arrange the 100-billion stars in each of the estimated 100-billion galaxies into the shape of some words, then, and finally then, we would have some type of proof of a powerful creator. How ridiculous. Instead of something arbitrary like patterns in the stars, consider the mind-boggling wisdom of God in designing the nuclear fusion process that takes multiple hydrogen atoms and fuses them into helium, with the by-product being incredible amounts of energy radiated out in the form of not only visible light, but all the electromagnetic spectrum, without which life would be impossible.



How about if God would write a message in the clouds? This ignores the fact that incredible engineering was required to create those clouds in the first place. Not realizing that amazing planning that went into utilizing solar radiation to heat the surface of the oceans, causing billions of tons of sea water (now purified from various salts and other pollutants) to rise into the air, and then to come into contact with the jet stream (itself a wonder caused by temperature gradients in the atmosphere) and carried over land where the cooling masses of vapor will descend to the ground with a substance that no living thing can live without. But, it does not end there, for that same water, first as puddles, then creeks, then mighty rivers, all flow back to those same oceans, completing the hydrologic cycle.


Let me restate my earlier premise: God is not hidden, and if He were any more open, then belief in Him would border on coercion instead of free will.

Those who continually challenge Christians to provide "substantial evidence" of God's existence (which, of course, conveniently overlooks small things like DNA, nuclear fusion, the hydrologic cycle, etc.) will always ask for things of God that simply will not prove anything. Let me give a few examples, and then demonstrate why they are completely inadequate, and how God has already provided everything necessary to establish His existence.


In my many debates with atheists and skeptics, I have often asked a simple question: "What evidence would you accept as conclusive proof of God's existence?" Almost immediately you will get one of the following "standards" of evidence:
1-God would do something supernaturally visible, like appear to them in the sky, etc.
2-God would speak to them audibly, perhaps announce that He is there and that He loves them.
3-God would give some physical object would supernatural abilities, and let us see it, touch it, use it.
4-God would do something medically impossible, maybe raise the dead, heal an amputation, etc.
I will show how each of these supposed "faith-clinchers" would do no such thing, at least, not for long.

1-God would do something supernaturally visible, like appear to them, or an angel, etc.
This would be impressive, but that is all. After a few minutes or hours, the "vision" would soon be explained away as fantasy, illusion, perhaps a hallucination caused by high fever. For those who could hold the zeal of the experience for a few days, they would first begin to question and then soon dismiss this event in the face of ridicule from their peers. After the seventh or eighth person saying to them: "Well, I didn't see it," or "You've been talking with too many crazy Christians!" or "Well, of course, we know that's impossible because God doesn't exist," the conviction of it's reality would evaporate into the air. A vision, like anything historical, is difficult to hold, and impossible to prove. What about if a group or a bunch of people saw the vision? Pretty much the same result, maybe with a bit longer period until rejection since you would have an instant support group. But, then again, maybe it was mass hysteria, group hypnosis, who knows?

2-God would speak to them audibly, perhaps announce that He is there and that He loves them.
This is very similar, if not the exact same, as number one above. Visions, voices, and feelings are all far too subjective to be retained or proven.

3-God would give some physical object with supernatural abilities, and let us see it, touch it, use it.
You know, like a healing stone, or a crown of thorns that glows in the dark, or a crystal that sees into the future. Interesting. Imagine if you could take a computer back in time, even only one hundred years ago. It would have been seen as supernatural, divine, etc. No doubt, if God were to give us some object with supernatural abilities, it would be relegated as a machine from the future, or perhaps left here by advanced aliens, anything except divine. People can rationalize anything away, rather than face the truth.


4-God would do something medically impossible, maybe raise the dead, cure cancer, etc.
This is an interesting, but predictable hypothesis. If someone were to be "raised from the dead" then the obvious conclusion would be that they weren't really dead in the first place, perhaps only in a deep coma. Healings would be almost identical, such as a cure from cancer. Critics would say that the person didn't really have the disease, a medical misdiagnosis, or incorrect test or lab results. Amputations or other outwardly visible types of healing would be dismissed as new medical technology, perhaps from stem cell technology or other genetic research.

The human mind is amazing in it's ability to reject anything that does not neatly fit into it's preconceived notions of reality. The story goes of a man in a mental hospital who continually assured everyone he met that he was indeed dead. Finally, a wise doctor asked him a simple question: "Do dead men bleed?" The patient thought for a moment, and then replied, "Absolutely not." The doctor then pricked the man with a small needle, and a trickle of blood began to ooze. The patient looked at the red rivulet on his finger and exclaimed: "Wow, dead men DO bleed!"



You see, it is not really about the evidence, it is usually more about the preconceived notions, in other words, the presuppositions that form the basis of our worldview. If we do not find God to be a logical concept, then nothing could ever convince a mind that has been set on not accepting His reality.

I had a friend several years back whose wife was unfaithful to him and was lying to him to explain away her behavior. One by one, his friends confronted him about her actions, giving him a long list of evidences and eyewitness accounts of her infidelity. One by one, he rejected all of our testimony, sadly causing many of his friends to turn away. It was only several years later, when she left him and abandoned her own children, that he woke up and realized what had been going on all along. But, at the time of his denial of the evidence, nothing could convince him. Her unfaithfulness seemed an impossibilty to him, it did not even appear as a possible reality on his moral radar screen.




Many skeptics are in that same condition, since they have already decided on the implausability of God's existence, no evidence can surmount their prior assumptions. Any evidence can be explained away, any proof can be rationalized away, and any logical argument can be dismissed as flawed...somehow, because, well, IT MUST BE.
As the late Carl Sagan once said, revealing his immovable prior assumptions:

"The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."

Wow. Now there's an open mind.





This may seem to be a strange turn, but stay with me. What if one of NASA's rovers on the surface of Mars found a circular pattern of perfect arrowheads in the Martian soil? Every newspaper across the globe would herald the find on their front pages:

PROOF OF LIFE ON MARS
,
or, WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT ALONE, or, MAN ISN'T THE ONLY INTELLIGENCE IN THE UNIVERSE.


You could easily write the headline.


But let me ask you, what is an arrowhead? It is a rock that has been shaped by an intelligence to have form and function, usually symetrical down the long axis. So, if the finding of an arrowhead on Mars would PROVE that there was intelligent life on Mars that had to make the arrowheads, then how do you explain things infinitely more complex than arrowheads here on earth, like DNA, the human brain, cellular mitosis, symbiotic relationships, genetic transcriptioning, photosynthesis, autoimmune systems, migration patterns, multicellular organization, etc?
Look at your hand. So, it requires an intelligence to make an arrowhead, but no intelligence is required to design the HAND that makes the arrowhead? The smallest cell in your hand is infinitely more complex than the most intricate and elaborate of arrowheads, but the simpler one (the arrowhead) is intelligently designed, and the complex one (the hand) is the process of millions of years of random chemical events?



The leap of faith and the denial of logic required to accept this is staggering, almost to the point of being funny if it weren't so sad, and so prevalent.

So, is God hidden? Absolutely not. His handiwork and proofs of His intelligence, design, and care are everywhere we look. The fact that we can intelligently discuss this intelligent matter proves prior intelligence in the Universe. Think about it.

Perhaps it is not that He is hidden, as much as it is that we are biased in our search, with many skeptical presuppositions that form the boundaries of what we will accept. If we erect walls of unbelief, and surround ourselves only with those of a similar pre-disposition, then it is no wonder that we see and find only what we expect to see and find.


Beware of that jaded state of mind that looks at significant evidence and says: "Wow, dead men DO bleed." Don't laugh at that as being ridiculous, it happens everyday. It is happening right now, all over the world.

2 comments:

  1. I have two posts as one, one pro the other anti.

    If God appeared, he would be confined to that spot and moment in space and time. If God doesn't appear he can be in any aka every moment and place simultaneously. His waveform will not collapse unless observed. He is therefore all powerful and omnipresent if and only if he does not show himself.

    The Post I have heard against this is, isn't the infinite complexity more than a single being could ever hope to manage and create, let alone rule over? Whereas an analysis of "self organizing systems" shows the if left to their own devices systems can autonomously generate amazingly complex outputs. Also given 13,000,000,000 years there is plenty of time for complexity to emerge, especially if coupled with selective forces removing non-effective elements. How do you deal with these issues?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Boom--
    Thank you for your observations. Let's take a look at the two different issues you raised.
    (1) You said: "If God appeared, he would be confined to that spot and moment in space and time." This is not true, even in the natural world. Let me illustrate with a simple concept: Television Broadcast Waves (electromagnetic spectrum). There are multiplied trillions of these waves passing through the air all around you. If you turn on a TV (and it has an antenna), you will "pick up" these signals, and they will "appear" -- yet those waves are not, in any way, limited to just appearing on your TV set...they are nearly ubiquitous in the environment.

    Also, since God is outside of space-time, when He chooses to "appear" it could be just a divine manipulation of either (1) light-sound, or even (2) mental images on the mind of the viewer. If He "appears" it does not mean that somehow ALL of God has to be delimited to that area of space-time.

    Looking at the second point you raised, there is a simple and often overlooked flaw in the presupposition posited. You referenced an "analysis of "self organizing systems" shows the if left to their own devices systems can autonomously generate amazingly complex output". The basic error in this logic is that those systems analyzed were created by man intelligently to have the ability to correct, modify, and improve themselves. There was careful programming (which requires a "transcendent" designer (man, in this case)) that gave those devices that innate ability. Go to any junkyard of random devices and observe them over time...no self-organizing principles at work there, only decay and entropy.

    Regardless if one estimates the age of the Universe at 13 billion plus years, or 13 trillion years, time can never be the hero of a plot that cannot ever occur without intelligence. Also, you referenced that the Universe is "infinitely complex"----which according to logical mathematics--an "actual infinite number of physical things is impossible." But the basic premise that the Universe is so finely-tuned and almost unimaginably complex is further proof of a transcendent Creator who is powerful and intelligent.

    Please visit my blog entry here:
    http://god-and-logic.blogspot.com/2011/01/refuting-pure-naturalist.html

    Thanks for your comment!

    ReplyDelete

Due to the number of requests, I have enabled commenting for this blog. All submissions must be approved. Please be patient during the review process.

If you have questions or challenges concerning the reasonableness of the Christian faith, CLICK HERE to submit the question.