Tag Archives: Atheists

The importance of having a narrative when confronting the assumption of naturalism

Apologetics and the progress of science
Apologetics and the progress of science

How do you present theism as a rational belief to a person who thinks that the progress of science has removed the need for God?

Canadian science writer Denyse O’Leary writes about the history of cosmology at Evolution News.


What help has materialism been in understanding the universe’s beginnings?

Many in cosmology have never made any secret of their dislike of the Big Bang, the generally accepted start to our universe first suggested by Belgian priest Georges Lemaître (1894-1966).

On the face of it, that is odd. The theory accounts well enough for the evidence. Nothing ever completely accounts for all the evidence, of course, because evidence is always changing a bit. But the Big Bang has enabled accurate prediction.

In which case, its hostile reception might surprise you. British astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) gave the theory its name in one of his papers — as a joke. Another noted astronomer, Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), exclaimed in 1933, “I feel almost an indignation that anyone should believe in it — except myself.” Why? Because “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”

One team of astrophysicists (1973) opined that it “involves a certain metaphysical aspect which may be either appealing or revolting.” Robert Jastrow (1925-2008), head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, initially remarked, “On both scientific and philosophical grounds, the concept of an eternal Universe seems more acceptable than the concept of a transient Universe that springs into being suddenly, and then fades slowly into darkness.” And Templeton Prize winner (2011) Martin Rees recalls his mentor Dennis Sciama’s dogged commitment to an eternal universe, no-Big Bang model:

For him, as for its inventors, it had a deep philosophical appeal — the universe existed, from everlasting to everlasting, in a uniquely self-consistent state. When conflicting evidence emerged, Sciama therefore sought a loophole (even an unlikely seeming one) rather as a defense lawyer clutches at any argument to rebut the prosecution case.

Evidence forced theorists to abandon their preferred eternal-universe model. From the mid 1940s, Hoyle attempted to disprove the theory he named. Until 1964, when his preferred theory, the Steady State, lost an evidence test.

Here is a quick summary of some of the experimental evidence that emerged in the last few decades that caused naturalists to abandon the eternal universe that they loved so much when they were younger.

The importance of having a narrative

Now I want to make a very, very important point about Christianity and the progress of science. And that point is that it is very important that Christians present the evidence in exactly the way that Denyse presented it in that article – in its historical context, featuring the conflict between naturalists and the experimental evidence.

All Christians should be familiar with the following basic pieces of evidence which fit the war between science and naturalism narrative:

  1. The origin of the universe
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life (biological information)
  4. The sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla
  5. The habitability/observability correlation

When you talk about these evidences as a Christian theist to non-Christians, you have to have cultivated a genuine interest in reconciling your beliefs with science. You have to accept that there are two books that reveal God’s character and attributes. The book of nature, and the book of Scripture. And you need to be flexible about getting these two books to fit together. The book of nature gives us natural theology (see Romans 1). It tells us that God is Creator and Designer. The book of Scripture tells us that God stepped into history as a man to save us by taking the punishment for our headlong rush away from God, which the Bible calls sin. Science is one way that humans can recover some of basic knowledge about God. Knowledge that is only possible because God created and designed the universe (and us) in such a way that we are capable of making discoveries, and that the universe is capable of being explored and understood.

It’s very important to present these five basic evidences to non-Christians in the historical context. And here is the story you must tell: “In the beginning, there was the naturalism, and the naturalism tried to argue from ignorance that God was not Creator and God was not Designer. And then came the science, and now people have to give up their naturalism in order to not be crazy and irrational”. That’s the narrative you use when talking to non-Christians about science.

In the beginning was the naturalism:

  1. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the universe was eternal
  2. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that a life-permitting universe was as likely as a life-prohibiting universe
  3. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the cell was a simple blob of jello that could spontaneously emerge in some warm pond
  4. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that the sudden origin of the Cambrian phyla would be explained by subsequent fossil discoveries
  5. In pre-scientific times, atheists maintained that there was nothing special about our galaxy, solar system, planet or moon

But then science progressed by doing experiments and making observations:

  1. Scientists discovered redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation (evidence for a cosmic beginning) and more!
  2. Scientists discovered the fine-tuning of gravity and of the cosmological constant and more!
  3. Scientists discovered protein sequencing and exposed the myth of “junk DNA” and more!
  4. Scientists discovered an even shorter Cambrian explosion period and the absence of precursor fossils and more!
  5. Scientists discovered galactic habitable zones and circumstellar habitable zones and more!

And now rational people – people who want to have true beliefs about reality – need to abandon a false religion (naturalism).

Now naturally, science is in a state of flux and things change. But you have to look at the trend of discoveries, and those trends are clearly going against naturalism, and in favor of Christian theism. No one is arguing for a deductive proof here, we are simply looking at the evidence we have today and proportioning our belief to the concrete evidence we have today. People who are guided by reason should not seek to construct a worldview by leveraging speculations about future discoveries and mere possibilities. We should instead believe what is more probable than not. That’s what a rational seeker of truth ought to do. Proportion belief to probabilities based on current, concrete knowledge.

Atheism, as a worldview, is not rooted in an honest assessment about what science tells us about reality. Atheism is rooted in a religion: naturalism. And the troubling thing we learn from looking at the history of science is that this religion of naturalism is insulated from correction from the progress of science. Nothing that science reveals about nature seems to be able to put a dent in the religion of naturalism, at least for most atheists.

It falls to us Christian theists, then, to hold them accountable for their abuse and misrepresentation of science. And that means telling the story of the progress of science accurately, and accurately calling out the religion of naturalism for what it is – a religion rooted in blind faith and ignorance that has been repeatedly and convincingly falsified by the progress of science in the modern era.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Wuhan virus: communist China destroyed samples, silenced doctors, and disappeared critics

The Wuhan Virus started in China
The Wuhan Virus started in China

I’m not a big fan of National Review these days, but I wanted to link to this article because it quoted a bunch of pay-walled articles to make some good points about how we got the Wuhan virus. Not only is China to blame for the Wuhan virus, but they are actually trying to cover it up now, and shift the blame to the countries that they are damaging.

Here are the main points of the article:

  • China destroyed samples and suppressed information about the Wuhan Virus since December 2019, leaving other nations in the dark and unprepared
  • Chinese doctors who warned about patients with the Wuhan virus were silenced by the communist regime in China
  • In January, Chinese authorities denied that the Wuhan virus could be spread between people, and allowed huge gatherings of people in Wuhan
  • The President of China knew about the Wuhan virus for weeks but refused to tell anyone about it
  • The communist China government let 5 million people leave Wuhan without screening them
  • Critics of China’s handling of the Wuhan virus – even rich businessmen – are disappearing

I love the article, because it links to articles behind paywalls from the UK Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc.

Here’s the UK Times:

Chinese laboratories identified a mystery virus as a highly infectious new pathogen by late December last year, but they were ordered to stop tests, destroy samples and suppress the news, a Chinese media outlet has revealed.

A regional health official in Wuhan, centre of the outbreak, demanded the destruction of the lab samples that established the cause of unexplained viral pneumonia on January 1. China did not acknowledge there was human-to-human transmission until more than three weeks later.

The detailed revelations by Caixin Global, a respected independent publication, provide the clearest evidence yet of the scale of the cover-up in the crucial early weeks when the opportunity was lost to control the outbreak.

And here’s the Washington Post:

As word of a mysterious virus mounted, Li Wenliang shared suspicions in a private chat with his fellow medical school graduates.

The doctor said that seven people seemed to have contracted SARS — the respiratory illness that spread from China to more than two dozen countries and left hundreds dead in the early 2000s. One patient was quarantined at his hospital in Wuhan, China, Li said. He urged people to be careful.

Li and seven other doctors were quickly summoned by Chinese authorities for propagating “rumors” about SARS-like cases in the area — but their warnings were prescient. Soon, health officials worldwide would be scrambling to combat a novel virus with a striking genetic resemblance to SARS.

Here is something else I found on the Daily Wire – the response of the atheistic communist Chinese regime to being caught:

The National Security Council blasted the Chinese Communist Party on Tuesday for expelling journalists from the country and spreading false information about the origin of the virus instead of focusing on stopping the virus, which originated in China.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s decision to expel journalists from China and Hong Kong is yet another step toward depriving the Chinese people and the world of access to true information about China,” the NSC said in a statement. “The United States calls on China’s leaders to refocus their efforts from expelling journalists and spreading disinformation to joining all nations in stopping the Wuhan coronavirus.”

The statement from the NSC comes after China announced it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

“It also demanded that those outlets, as well as the Voice of America and Time magazine, provide the Chinese government with detailed information about their operations,” The New York Times reported. “The announcement went on to say that the American journalists now working in mainland China ‘will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.’ The two territories are semiautonomous and in theory have greater press freedoms than the mainland.”

Rather than admit responsibility, apologize and make restitution, they are responding by throwing out the journalists who criticize them. And you can bet those journalists would be murdered in secret if they were not American citizens. After all, the communist Chinese regime has been credibly accused of a massive organ harvesting operation – including harvesting the organs of living victims as they are being killed:

Last week, the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China issued its final report concluding that China engages in the systematic human-rights atrocity of killing political and other prisoners and harvesting their organs.

[…]The Judgment convincingly concludes that China is guilty as charged. According to the report, beginning at page 415, there are four methods by which China kills prisoners and harvests their organs.

  1. Organ harvesting from prisoners incompletely executed by shooting;

  2. Organ harvesting from prisoners after lethal injection;

  3. Execution by organ explanation (killing by organ harvesting);

  4. Organ harvesting under the pretext of brain death (taking organs from people not really dead).

The United States is not alone in suffering major economic and public safety consequences because of the decisions of the communist Chinese government. There is even talk of demanding reparations. We are already in a bear market, and there is likely to be a recession because of their suppression of the evidence. And I also think that there is a lesson there for our election in November – this is what people on the secular left always do when they fail to deliver on their promises. They deny responsibility and silence or destroy those who warned them. It’s standard operating procedure for communists. Communism requires atheism. And without God, any immorality you can imagine is possible.

The worst mistake you can make when defending the Christian worldview

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.

Should Christian men expect a wife / mother candidate to know how to defend the Christian worldview?

Is the Christian worldview an accurate picture of the world?
Is the Christian worldview true? Can we know that it is true?

A while back, I was debating some Christian feminists about what men want from a wife and mother. At one point, I asserted that Christian women ought to have some knowledge of how to defend their faith using scientific and historical evidence. Some women asked me: “are you joking?” In this post,  I’ll explain why I’m serious, and then I’ll ask them some questions of my own.

Let’s start with Jesus. Jesus set an example by showing the importance of knowing how to answer questions and challenges from skeptics in the New Testament. His favorite way to answer a challenge was by using evidence to support his truth claims.

So, take this story that’s in Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26. This story is accepted even by skeptical historians because it’s in three different books, and one of them is early (Mark).

In each version of the story, there are 4 steps:

  1. Jesus forgives the sins of a paralyzed man
  2. The Pharisees say that he doesn’t have authority to forgive sins
  3. Jesus miraculously heals the paralyzed man
  4. Jesus explains the evidence of the healing supports his claim that he has authority to forgive sins

And this is an example that you will find repeated in many places in the life of Jesus. You can see it in the Old Testament as well, where God performs miracles so that people who don’t believe in his existence or respect the Scriptures can still be convinced.

Christian apologetics is the skill of being able to give a defense for the Christian worldview when presented with a challenge from a non-Christian.

So, who has to be ready with a defense?

Look at 1 Peter 3:15-16:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

This passage applies to every one who claims to be a disciple of Jesus, whether they like to prepare a defense or not. How much work must you put into it? It depends on the sophistication of the challenges you get. In the mountains of Pakistan, you don’t need to know much because there might not be a sophisticated challenge. In an American society filled with college graduates, the challenges are more difficult. So you will need to prepare a lot more, because the challenges will be a lot harder.

Those who take this passage seriously are doing something difficult, and time-consuming, in order to serve Christ. Buying books costs money. Reading books takes time. Debating with non-Christians can make you look bad to others. But the Bible commands us to be ready with answers for the people around us. Sometimes, doing what the Bible says makes us feel bad, or look bad to others. But we have do what the Bible says anyway. Part of being a real Christian is being obedient even if it feels bad or makes you look bad.

William Lane Craig on apologetics and the culture
William Lane Craig on apologetics and the culture

What’s in an apologetics book?

So, with that said, let’s look at the table of contents of my favorite introduction to Christian apologetics, which is “Is God Just a Human Invention?” written by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow.

In that book, you will find 18 topics.

  1. Is Faith Irrational? (Commentary by: Gregory Koukl)
  2. Are Science and Christianity at Odds? (Commentary by: John Warwick Montgomery)
  3. Are Miracles Possible? (Commentary by: Gary R. Habermas)
  4. Is Darwinian Evolution the Only Game in Town? (Commentary by: William A. Dembski)
  5. How Did the Universe Begin? (Commentary by: R. Douglas Geivett)
  6. How Did Life Begin? (Commentary by: Fazale R. Rana)
  7. Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Commentary by: Jay W. Richards)
  8. Has Science Shown There Is No Soul? (Commentary by: Dale Fincher and Jonalyn Fincher)
  9. Is God Just a Human Invention? (Commentary by: Garry DeWeese)
  10. Is Religion Dangerous? (Commentary by: Douglas Groothuis)
  11. Does God Intend for Us to Keep Slaves? (Commentary by: Paul Copan)
  12. Is Hell a Divine Torture Chamber? (Commentary by: Frank Turek)
  13. Is God a Genocidal Bully? (Commentary by: Clay Jones)
  14. Is Christianity the Cause of Dangerous Sexual Repression? (Commentary by: Kerby Anderson)
  15. Can People Be Good Without God? (Commentary by: Mark D. Linville)
  16. Is Evil Only a Problem for Christians? (Commentary by: Randy Alcorn)
  17. What Good Is Christianity? (Commentary by: Glenn S. Sunshine)
  18. Why Jesus Instead of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (Commentary by: Darrell L. Bock)

Prominent atheist scholars are quoted in each chapter to introduce the challenges, and then scholarly arguments and evidence are presented to defend the Christian worldview. The language is simple enough, but the material is solid enough to use in a real debate. I would say that introductory books like this one are more than enough to equip you for everyone who will challenge you.

Why are these 18 topics important? Because these are the questions that atheists ask. These are the questions that cause Christians to leave the faith. These are the questions that your children will face in high school and college, which might cause them to leave the faith.

Let’s start with chapter one. One of the most prominent arguments by atheists is that faith is irrational. This chapter allows you to define faith using the Bible’s definition of faith, which relies on logic and evidence.

Atheists also say that Christianity is at war with science. In chapter 2, they discuss the history of science and how Christianity provided the framework that allowed scientific method to take root and flourish.

Atheists like to claim that miracles are impossible. Chapter 3 defends the view that God, if he exists, is capable of interacting with his created world.

Atheists love to put forward Darwinism as means to deny that God is the designer of life. Chapter 4 explains the concept of intelligent design, and why intelligent design is a better explanation for the history of life.

Atheists love to talk about how the universe has always existed, and there’s no need for a Creator. Chapter 5 contains a philosophical argument that is supported by mainstream science to argue that the universe had a beginning, just like the Bible says.

Atheists love to argue that life can emerge from non-life, and the process is simple. Chapter 6 is written by a biochemist, and it takes a look at the real complexity of the simplest living cell.

Atheists like to argue that the universe itself is just an accident, and there is no need for a Designer. Chapter 7 introduces the scientific evidence for fine-tuning and habitability.

Atheists like to say that there is no soul and no afterlife. Chapter 8 gives some arguments for the existence of the soul.

Atheists like to argue that Christians invent God because God makes them feel good. But chapter 9 explains that having an all-powerful God who can hold humans accountable is the last thing any human would want to invent.

Atheists like to talk about how religion, with it’s habit of teaching to believe in things that can’t be tested, causes religious people to do a lot of harm. Chapter 10 takes a look at the real record of Christianity as a force for good in the world.

Atheists like to talk about slavery in the Bible. Chapter 11 talks about what the Bible really says, and provides some rational responses to the accusation.

Atheists like to talk about eternal punishment in Hell isn’t a just punishment for just getting a few questions wrong on a theology exam. Chapter 12 provides an explanation and defense of the concept of Hell.

Atheists love to talk about how God commanded the Israelites to attack their enemies in the Bible. Chapter 13 explains who their enemies really were, and what was really happening in those wars.

Atheists feel that unrestricted sexual activity is very healthy and normal, and that the Biblical prohibitions outside of male-female marriage are repressive and unhealthy.  Chapter 14 explains why God has these rules in place, and supports his rules with evidence.

Atheists love to assert that they don’t need God, because they can behave morally on their own. Chapter 15 explains how to answer this claim by talking about how well atheism grounds objective moral values, objective moral duties, free will and moral accountability: the minimum requirements for objective morality.

Atheists think that the mere existence of natural disasters and human immorality are incompatible with the God of the Bible. Chapter 16 explains why this argument doesn’t work, and why even the concept of evil requires God to exist.

I had an atheist co-worker who couldn’t really defeat the scientific arguments for God’s existence, but he would say that even if God exists, why would that matter to my life? Chapter 17 explains what difference Christianity makes in a person’s life.

Atheists think that the life of Jesus has no relevance to their life, and that he has nothing to offer them anyway. Chapter 18 explains the uniqueness of Jesus and explains why his resurrection is relevant to our lives today.

I guess that many people think that reading a Christian book means reading Christian fiction or Christian devotions – things that are entertaining or produce feelings. But fiction and devotions do not equip you to answer realistic questions from non-Christians.

Dr. William Lane Craig says churches aren't preparing Christians to give an answer
Dr. W. L. Craig: churches don’t prepare Christians to answer skeptics

Wife candidates ought to know apologetics

So, back to my original point about how some Christian feminists responded when I said that during courtship, I ask women questions about how much preparation they have done to answer objections from atheists, like the ones answered in this book. Am I joking?

Well, I think the problem is that Christian feminists don’t understand how Christian men view marriage. Christian men are interested in marriage because they think that their marriage will be an enterprise that produces a return for God. They like the idea of having a clean, comfortable home to host debate viewings and discussions over dessert with skeptics. They like the idea of raising children who will be effective and influential. Men don’t see marriage a means of making us feel better, or having fun, or getting our peers to approve of us. We see it as a way to promote Jesus’ agenda in the world. Men are looking for a woman who think that Christianity is true, so that they will have a wife who will act like a Christian when it goes against her self-interest. Men want a wife who knows how to persuade others that Christianity is true – first the children, then others.

New study: belief in free will linked to ability to behave morally and to help others

Is it possible to choose to be moral if we are machines made out of meat?
Is it possible to choose to be moral if we are machines made out of meat?

A while back I finished reading “God’s Crime Scene”, the new book by J. Warner Wallace. I wanted to post something about some studies he mentioned in Chapter 6, on free will. This is one of the places where he found evidence in a surprising area.

Wallace says that free will makes more sense if theism is true, because we have non-material souls that interact with our bodies, but are not causally determined by them. On atheism, only matter exists, and you can’t get free will (or consciousness) from matter. So atheists like Sam Harris and Alex Rosenberg, for example, deny free will, because they are materialists and atheists.

Anyway, here’s what he writes on p. 256:

In 2008, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia conducted experiments highlighting the relationship between a belief in determinism and immoral behavior. They found students who were exposed to deterministic literature prior to taking a test were more likely to cheat on the test than students who were not exposed to literature advocating determinism. The researchers concluded those who deny free will are more inclined to believe their efforts to act morally are futile and are, therefore, less likely to do so.

In addition, a study conducted by researchers from Florida State University and the University of Kentucky found participants who were exposed to deterministic literature were more likely to act aggressively and less likely to be helpful toward others.” Even determinist Michael Gazzaniga conceded: “It seems that not only do we believe we control our actions, but it is good for everyone to believe it.”” The existence of free will is a common characteristic of our experience, and when we deny we have this sort of free agency, there are detrimental consequences.

I decided to look up these studies.

Here’s the abstract for first study: (2008)

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

And the abstract for the second study: (2009)

Laypersons’ belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.

So what to make of this?

If you’re an atheist, then you are a physical object. And like every other physical object in the universe, your behavior is determined by genetic programming (if you’re alive) and external inputs. Material objects do not have the ability to make free choices, including moral choices.

Here’s prominent atheist Jerry Coyne’s editorial in USA Today to explain why atheists can’t ground free will.


And that’s what neurobiology is telling us: Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output. Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.

Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.


If you don’t have free will, then you can’t make moral choices, and you can’t be held morally responsible. No free will means no morality. Can you imagine trying to get into any sort of enterprise with someone who has this view of moral choices? A marriage, or a business arrangement, etc? It would be crazy to expect them to behave morally, when they don’t even think that moral choices is possible. It just excuses all sorts of bad behavior, because no one is responsible for choosing to do the right thing.

Believers in materialism are going to struggle with prescriptive morality, including self-sacrificial care and concern for others. Their worldview undermines the rationality of the moral point of view. You might find atheists acting morally for their own purposes, but their worldview doesn’t rationally ground it. This is a big problem for people who can see objective morality woven into the universe – and themselves – because they have the awareness of objective right and wrong.

Choosing to do the right thing

I think what atheists like to say is “I can be moral, too”. That’s not interesting. What is interesting is whether it is rational for you to be moral when doing the right thing sets you back. When I look at the adultery of Dawkins, the polyamory of Carrier, the divorces of Shermer and Atkins, etc. I am not seeing anything that really wows me about their ability to do the right thing when it was hard for them to do it. They all deny free will of course, and think that trying to resist temptation is a waste of time.

Wallace explains how the awareness of free will and moral choices caused him to turn away from atheism, in this blog post.

He writes:

As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.

I think atheists who want to be honest about their own experience of first-person consciousness, free will, moral realism, etc. will do well to just accept that theism rationally grounds all of these things, and so you should accept theism. Theism is real. If you like morality, and want to be a virtuous person, then you should accept theism.