Investigation in progress

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good rebuttal to scientific arguments for theism?

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

7 thoughts on “Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good rebuttal to scientific arguments for theism?”

  1. As far as the title of this blog goes, you could try to recover from that “rebuttal” by redirecting the conversation toward our objective moral guilt. An answer to get the ball rolling again might be, “That depends on whether or not you are a career criminal. No just or loving judge would just let a career criminal go free to victimize the community and themselves.”
    I’m not saying a discussion of the evidence doesn’t matter; I’m simply offering another way to discuss the issue of thinking about the whole subject of God’s justice, forgiveness, and love that’s entailed in the “am I going to hell” bit.

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  2. It also exposes those that are true seekers that are open to witnessing, from those that basically are no different than a proof texting Christian.

    They have a desired end view and are willing to make all evidence bend to their view or leave it as something for later science to prove.

    An atheist that isn’t truly seeking is one I funnel to the bottom of a list. I will let then say their thing and if no one is around to be misinformed I spend little time on the matter. If others are there I will point out the ignorance of their view for the benefit of those around, so no one else will stumble over the silly atheist arguments

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  3. If they ignore the evidence and jump to “am I going to Hell?” I reply “Yes you are, and in the state you are in right now, you will be much happier there than in Heaven, even though you will be miserable there. Those of us going to Heaven will also be much happier that you, in your current state, are not going to be in Heaven also.”

    It would be very hateful to NOT warn them of Hell when they ask that question. And since we have excellent evidence for Hell – the Words and Assurance of Christ Himself plus the insatiable desire for Objective Moral Justice (speaking of CS Lewis) – we can be free to talk about Hell too. Even though 21st century “pastors” rarely do.

    I’ve actually had some of the more wicked atheists say that they were glad they were going to Hell so that they could be as far away from me and my God as possible, to which I reply “thy will be done!”

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  4. There are two obvious facts that everyone should know in their hearts and minds to be true:

    (1) Either the Cosmos or its Creator has always existed and it’s not the Cosmos. This usually requires some basic scientific knowledge of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the origin of space-time itself in the finite past, but even an ignorant caveman would understand that as his little fires die, so too must the “big fire in the sky.” Everything physical dies. Nothing physical is eternal.

    (2) Something is wrong with the Cosmos and we are all a part of the problem.

    The problem is primarily with (2). Whether it’s pride, prejudice or peer pressure, humans have a tendency to think of themselves as the solution rather than the problem: good enough if not better than others and ultimately self-righteous. Being good in their own eyes they see no need for being good in the eyes of their Creator. They would much prefer to judge God than to allow Him to judge them. If only they could change water into wine instead of urine.

    But what about Hell?

    God is love and He wants all to trust in His gift of eternal life on a New Earth where there will be no more suffering and death (Revelation 21).

    Hell is only for the self-righteous and those who have no desire to experience their Creator’s love, mercy and forgiveness. It is clearly self-inflicted and is actually against the will of God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 3:4).

    Liked by 1 person

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