Modern Disbelief—Should the Search Continue?
“God is no longer a habitual concern for human beings. Less and less do they call him to mind as they go through their days or make their decisions. . . . God has been replaced by other values: income and productivity. He may once have been regarded as the source of meaning for all human activities, but today he has been relegated to the secret dungeons of history. . . . God has disappeared from the consciousness of human beings.”—The Sources of Modern Atheism.
1. (Include introduction.) (a) How does the book The Sources of Modern Atheism describe belief in God among people today? (b) How is modern disbelief in sharp contrast with conditions not many years ago?
IT WAS not many years ago that God was very much a part of the lives of people of the Western world. To be socially acceptable, one had to give evidence of faith in God, even if not everyone earnestly practiced what he professed to believe. Any doubts and uncertainties were discreetly kept to oneself. To express them in public would be shocking and perhaps even lay one open to censure.
2. (a) Why have many people stopped searching for God? (b) What questions must be asked?
2 Today, however, the tables are turned. To have any strong religious conviction is considered by many to be narrow-minded, dogmatic, even fanatic. In many lands, we see a prevailing indifference toward, or lack of interest in, God and religion. Most people no longer search for God because they either do not believe he exists or are unsure about it. In fact, some have used the term “post-Christian” to describe our era. Some questions, therefore, must be asked: How did the idea of God become so far removed from people’s life? What were the forces that gave rise to this change? Are there sound reasons for continuing the search for God?
Backlash of the Reformation
3. What was one outcome of the Protestant Reformation?
3 As we saw in Chapter 13, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century brought about a marked change in the way people viewed authority, religious or otherwise. Self-assertion and freedom of expression took the place of conformity and submission. While most people remained within the framework of traditional religion, some moved along more radical lines, calling into question the dogmas and fundamental teachings of the established churches. Still others, noting the role religion had played in the wars, sufferings, and injustices throughout history, became skeptical of religion altogether.
4. (a) How did contemporary records describe the extent of atheism in England and France in the 16th and 17th centuries? (b) Who came out into the open as a result of the efforts made during the Reformation to throw off the papal yoke?
4 As early as 1572, a report entitled Discourse on the Present State of England noted: “The realm is divided into three parties, the Papists, the Atheists, and the Protestants. All three are alike favoured: the first and second because, being many, we dare not displease them.” Another estimate gave the figure of 50,000 as the number of atheists in Paris in 1623, although the term was used rather loosely. In any case, it is clear that the Reformation, in its effort to throw off the domination of papal authority, had also brought into the open those who challenged the position of the established religions. As Will and Ariel Durant put it in The Story of Civilization: Part VII—The Age of Reason Begins: “The thinkers of Europe—the vanguard of the European mind—were no longer discussing the authority of the pope; they were debating the existence of God.”
The Assault by Science and Philosophy
5. What forces hastened the rise of disbelief in God?
5 In addition to the fragmenting of Christendom itself, there were other forces at work that further weakened its position. Science, philosophy, secularism, and materialism played their roles in raising doubts and fostering skepticism about God and religion.
6. (a) How did the expansion of scientific knowledge affect many of the church’s teachings? (b) What did some do who considered themselves up-to-date?
6 The expansion of scientific knowledge called into question many of the church’s teachings that were based on erroneous interpretation of Bible passages. For example, astronomical discoveries by men like Copernicus and Galileo posed a direct challenge to the church’s geocentric doctrine, that the earth is the center of the universe. Furthermore, understanding of the natural laws that govern the operations of the physical world made it no longer necessary to attribute hitherto mysterious phenomena, such as thunder and lightning or even the appearance of certain stars and comets, to the hand of God or Providence. “Miracles” and “divine intervention” in human affairs also came under suspicion. All of a sudden, God and religion seemed outdated to many, and some of those who considered themselves up-to-date quickly turned their back on God and flocked to the worship of the sacred cow of science.
7. (a) What was no doubt the severest blow to religion? (b) What was the response of the churches to Darwinism?
7 The severest blow to religion, no doubt, was the theory of evolution. In 1859 the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) published his Origin of Species and presented a direct challenge to the Bible’s teaching of creation by God. What was the response of the churches? At first the clergy in England and elsewhere denounced the theory. But opposition soon faded. It seemed that Darwin’s speculations were just the excuse sought by many clergymen who were entertaining doubts in secret. Thus, within Darwin’s lifetime, “most thoughtful and articulate clergy had worked their way to the conclusion that evolution was wholly compatible with an enlightened understanding of scripture,” says The Encyclopedia of Religion. Rather than come to the defense of the Bible, Christendom yielded to the pressure of scientific opinion and played along with what was popular. In so doing, it undermined faith in God.—2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
8. (a) What did 19th-century critics of religion call into question? (b) What were some popular theories proposed by critics of religion? (c) Why did many people quickly embrace the antireligious ideas?
8 As the 19th century wore on, critics of religion became bolder in their attack. Not content with just pointing out the failings of the churches, they began to question the very foundation of religion. They raised questions such as: What is God? Why is there a need for God? How has belief in God affected human society? Men like Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche offered their arguments in philosophical, psychological, and sociological terms. Theories such as ‘God is nothing more than the projection of man’s imagination,’ ‘Religion is the opium of the people,’ and ‘God is dead’ all sounded so new and exciting compared with the dull and unintelligible dogmas and traditions of the churches. It seemed that finally many people had found an articulate way of expressing the doubts and suspicions that had been lurking in the back of their minds. They quickly and willingly embraced these ideas as the new gospel truth.
The Great Compromise
9. (a) What did the churches do when under assault by science and philosophy? (b) What were the results of the churches’ compromise?
9 Under assault and scrutiny by science and philosophy, what did the churches do? Instead of taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, they gave in to the pressures and compromised even on such fundamental articles of faith as creation by God and the authenticity of the Bible. The result? Christendom’s churches began to lose credibility, and many people began to lose faith. The failure of the churches to come to their own defense left the door wide open for the masses to march out. To many people, religion became no more than a sociological relic, something to mark the high points in one’s life—birth, marriage, death. Many all but gave up the search for the true God.
10. What urgent questions must be considered?
10 In the face of all of this, it is logical to ask: Have science and philosophy really signed the death warrant of belief in God? Does the failure of the churches mean the failure of what they claim to teach, namely, the Bible? Indeed, should the search for God continue? Let us examine these issues briefly.
Basis for Belief in God
11. (a) What two books have long been the basis for belief in God? (b) How have these books affected people?
11 It has been said that there are two books that tell us about the existence of God—the “book” of creation, or nature around us, and the Bible. They have been the basis for belief for millions of people past and present. For example, a king of the 11th century B.C.E., impressed by what he observed in the starry heavens, exclaimed poetically: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling.” (Psalm 19:1) In the 20th century, an astronaut, looking at the spectacular view of the earth from his spacecraft as it circled the moon, was moved to recite: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”—Genesis 1:1, KJ.
12. How have the book of creation and the Bible been under attack?
12 These two books, however, are under attack by those who claim no belief in God. They say that scientific investigation of the world around us has proved that life came into existence not by intelligent creation but by blind chance and the haphazard process of evolution. They argue, therefore, that there was no Creator and that it follows that the question of God is superfluous. Furthermore, many of them believe that the Bible is simply out-of-date and illogical, hence, not worthy of belief. Consequently, for them, there is no longer any basis for belief in the existence of God. Is all of this true? What do the facts show?
By Chance or by Design?
13. What would have had to take place for life to have come about by chance?
13 If there was no Creator, then life must have started spontaneously by chance. For life to have come about, somehow the right chemicals would have had to come together in the right quantities, under the right temperature and pressure and other controlling factors, and all would have had to be maintained for the correct length of time. Furthermore, for life to have begun and been sustained on earth, these chance events would have had to be repeated thousands of times. But how likely is it for even one such event to take place?
14. (a) How remote is the probability that one simple protein molecule will be formed by chance? (b) How do mathematical calculations affect the idea of life’s originating spontaneously?
14 Evolutionists admit that the probability of the right atoms and molecules falling into place to form just one simple protein molecule is 1 in 10113, or 1 followed by 113 zeros. That number is larger than the estimated total number of atoms in the universe! Mathematicians dismiss as never taking place anything that has a probability of occurring of less than 1 in 1050. But far more than one simple protein molecule is needed for life. Some 2,000 different proteins are needed just for a cell to maintain its activity, and the chance that all of them will occur at random is 1 in 1040,000! “If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated [spontaneously] on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court,” says astronomer Fred Hoyle.
15. (a) What have scientists discovered in their study of the physical world? (b) What did a professor of physics say about the laws in nature?
15 On the other hand, by studying the physical world, from the minute subatomic particles to the vast galaxies, scientists have discovered that all known natural phenomena appear to follow certain basic laws. In other words, they have discovered logic and order in everything that is taking place in the universe, and they have been able to express this logic and order in simple mathematical terms. “Few scientists can fail to be impressed by the almost unreasonable simplicity and elegance of these laws,” writes a professor of physics, Paul Davies, in the magazine New Scientist.
16. (a) What are some fundamental constants in the laws of nature? (b) What would happen if the values of these constants were changed even slightly? (c) What did a professor of physics conclude about the universe and our existence?
16 A most intriguing fact about these laws, however, is that in them there are certain factors whose values must be fixed precisely for the universe, as we know it, to exist. Among these fundamental constants are the unit of electric charge on the proton, the masses of certain fundamental particles, and Newton’s universal constant of gravitation, commonly denoted by the letter G. On this, Professor Davies continues: “Even minute variations in the values of some of them would drastically alter the appearance of the Universe. For example, Freeman Dyson has pointed out that if the force between nucleons (protons and neutrons) were only a few per cent stronger, the Universe would be devoid of hydrogen. Stars like the Sun, not to mention water, could not exist. Life, at least as we know it, would be impossible. Brandon Carter has shown that very much smaller changes in G would turn all stars into blue giants or red dwarfs, with equally dire consequences for life.” Thus, Davies concludes: “In this case it is conceivable that there might be only one possible Universe. If that is so, it is a remarkable thought that our own existence as conscious beings is an inescapable consequence of logic.”—Italics ours.
17. (a) What do the design and purpose in the universe clearly indicate? (b) How is this confirmed in the Bible?
17 What can we deduce from all of this? First of all, if the universe is governed by laws, then there must be an intelligent lawmaker who formulated or established the laws. Furthermore, since the laws governing the operation of the universe appear to be made in anticipation of life and conditions favorable to its sustenance, purpose is clearly involved. Design and purpose—these are not characteristics of blind chance; they are precisely what an intelligent Creator would manifest. And that is just what the Bible indicates when it declares: “What may be known about God is manifest among them, for God made it manifest to them. For his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.”—Romans 1:19, 20; Isaiah 45:18; Jeremiah 10:12.
Abundant Evidence Around Us
18. (a) In what else can design and purpose be seen? (b) What familiar examples of intelligent design can you give?
18 Of course, design and purpose are seen not only in the orderly workings of the universe but also in the way living creatures, simple and complex, carry on their daily activities, as well as in the way they interact with one another and with the environment. For example, almost every part of our human body—the brain, the eye, the ear, the hand—shows design so intricate that modern science cannot fully explain it. Then there are the animal and plant worlds. The annual migration of certain birds over thousands of miles of land and sea, the process of photosynthesis in plants, the development of one fertilized egg into a complex organism with millions of differentiated cells with specialized functions—just to give a few examples—are all outstanding evidence of intelligent design.*
19. (a) Does a scientific explanation of how some things work prove that there is no intelligent design or designer? (b) What can we learn by studying the world around us?
19 Some argue, however, that increased knowledge of science has provided explanations for many of these feats. True, science has explained, to a certain extent, many things that were once a mystery. But a child’s discovery of how a watch works does not prove that the watch was not designed and made by someone. Likewise, our understanding the marvelous ways in which many of the things in the physical world function does not prove that there is no intelligent designer behind them. On the contrary, the more we know about the world around us, the more evidence we have for the existence of an intelligent Creator, God. Thus, with an open mind, we can agree with the psalmist as he acknowledged: “How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.”—Psalm 104:24.
The Bible—Can You Believe It?
20. What shows that belief in God is not enough to move one to search for him?
20 Belief in the existence of God, however, is not enough to move people to search for him. Today there are millions of people who have not totally rejected belief in God, but that has not moved them to search for God. American pollster George Gallup, Jr., observes that “you really don’t find much difference between the churched and unchurched in terms of cheating, tax evasion, and pilferage, largely because there is a lot of social religion.” He adds that “many are just putting a religion together that is comfortable for them and titillates them and is not necessarily challenging. Somebody called it religion à la carte. That’s the central weakness of Christianity in this country [U.S.A.] today: There is not a sturdiness of belief.”
21, 22. (a) What makes the Bible an outstanding book? (b) What is the basic evidence of the Bible’s authenticity? Explain.
21 That “central weakness” is largely the result of lack of knowledge and faith in the Bible. But what basis is there for believing the Bible? First of all, it should be noted that down through the ages, probably no other book has been more unjustly criticized, abused, hated, and attacked than the Bible. Yet, it has survived all of that and turned out to be the most widely translated and circulated book on record. That in itself makes the Bible an outstanding book. But there is abundant proof, convincing evidence, that the Bible is a book inspired of God and worthy of our belief.—See box, pages 340-1.
22 Even though many people have more or less assumed that the Bible is unscientific, contradictory, and out-of-date, the facts show otherwise. Its unique authorship, its historical and scientific accuracy, and its unerring prophecies all point to one inevitable conclusion: The Bible is the inspired Word of God. As the apostle Paul put it: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
Meeting the Challenge of Disbelief
23. What can we conclude regarding the Bible when we look at the facts?
23 Having considered the evidence from the book of creation and the Bible, what can we conclude? Simply, that these books are as valid today as they have always been. When we are willing to look at the matter objectively rather than be swayed by preconceived ideas, we find that any objections can be overcome in a reasonable manner. The answers are there, if only we are willing to search for them. Jesus said, “Keep on seeking, and you will find.”—Matthew 7:7; Acts 17:11.
24. (a) Why have many given up in their search for God? (b) In what can we take comfort? (c) What will be considered in the remainder of this book?
24 In the final analysis, most people who have given up in the search for God have not done so because they have carefully examined the evidence for themselves and found the Bible to be untrue. Rather, many of them have been turned away by Christendom’s failure to present the true God of the Bible. As the French writer P. Valadier stated: “It was the Christian tradition that produced atheism as its fruit; it led to the murder of God in the consciences of men because it presented them with an unbelievable God.” Be that as it may, we can take comfort in the words of the apostle Paul: “What, then, is the case? If some did not express faith, will their lack of faith perhaps make the faithfulness of God without effect? Never may that happen! But let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” (Romans 3:3, 4) Yes, there is every reason to continue the search for the true God. In the remaining chapters of this book, we will see how the search has been taken to a successful completion and what the future holds for mankind.
For a detailed explanation of these proofs of God’s existence, see the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985, pages 142-78.
[Box on page 340, 341]
Evidence of the Bible’s Authenticity
Unique Authorship: From its first book, Genesis, to its last, Revelation, the Bible is composed of 66 books written by some 40 writers of vastly different social, educational, and professional backgrounds. The writing was done over a period of 16 centuries, from 1513 B.C.E. to 98 C.E. Yet, the end result is a book harmonious and coherent, outlining the logical development of a prominent theme—the vindication of God and his purpose through the Messianic Kingdom.—See box, page 241.
Historical Accuracy: Events recorded in the Bible are in full harmony with proved historical facts. The book A Lawyer Examines the Bible remarks: “While romances, legends and false testimony are careful to place the events related in some distant place and some indefinite time, . . . the Bible narratives give us the date and place of the things related with the utmost precision.” (Ezekiel 1:1-3) And The New Bible Dictionary states: “[The writer of Acts] sets his narrative in the framework of contemporary history; his pages are full of references to city magistrates, provincial governors, client kings, and the like, and these references time after time prove to be just right for the place and time in question.”—Acts 4:5, 6; 18:12; 23:26.
Scientific Accuracy: Laws on quarantine and hygiene were given to the Israelites in the book of Leviticus when the surrounding nations knew nothing about such practices. The cycle of rain and evaporation from the ocean, unknown in ancient times, is described at Ecclesiastes 1:7. That the earth is spherical and suspended in space, not confirmed by science until the 16th century, is stated at Isaiah 40:22 and Job 26:7. More than 2,200 years before William Harvey published his findings about the circulation of the blood, Proverbs 4:23 pointed out the role of the human heart. Thus, while the Bible is not a science textbook, where it touches on matters relating to science, it displays a depth of understanding far in advance of its time.
Unerring Prophecies: The destruction of ancient Tyre, the fall of Babylon, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the rise and fall of the kings of Medo-Persia and Greece were foretold in such detail that critics charged, in vain, that they were written after the fact. (Isaiah 13:17-19; 44:27–45:1; Ezekiel 26:3-7; Daniel 8:1-7, 20-22) Prophecies about Jesus that were made centuries before his birth were fulfilled in detail. (See box, page 245.) Jesus’ own prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem were accurately fulfilled. (Luke 19:41-44; 21:20, 21) Prophecies about the last days given by Jesus and the apostle Paul are being fulfilled in our own time. (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) Yet, the Bible attributes all the prophecies to one Source, Jehovah God.—2 Peter 1:20, 21.
[Pictures on page 333]
Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and others proposed theories that undermined faith in God
[Pictures on page 335]
The “book” of creation and the Bible give the basis for belief in God
[Pictures on page 338]
The more we know about the world around us, the more evidence we have of an intelligent Creator
[Diagram/Picture on page 337]
Life and the universe would be impossible if certain design factors were off by even a small fraction
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HYDROGEN ATOM COMPONENTS
Proton + Nucleus