Category Archive Big Questions of Life

Conversation with a student about God

Pointers for God’s existence

In June I had a conversation with a student about the existence of God. The student studies “applied physics.” He thought that there is no evidence for God’s existence. However, he was open to change his mind if there is evidence. In this clip, I explain what happened in this conversation.

 

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Christian faith: It really makes sense

It really makes sense!

The author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” C.S.Lewis, once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” His point is clear: the Christian faith illuminates the landscape of reality and helps us see it as it is. As the sun rises we can see the landscape; we can see things as they really are.

The Christian faith is a worldview that adequately explains reality as it is, both the universe “outside” of us and our experience “inside” of us. In other words, it is a coherent whole that makes sense of reality as we observe it and experience it as human beings. I would say that the Christian faith has the capacity to explain things as they really are much better than other worldviews. But how can we show that this is really the case? This brings us to the question of methodology.

A reliable method and a toolbox

Let us start with “hypotheses testing.” This is a good way to form and test a theory or a worldview. In our case, we want to test the Christian worldview and find out if it makes sense. More than this, if it makes better sense than other worldviews. Moreover, we want to use some reliable criteria that can test a worldview. Our toolbox contains the following tools: hypotheses testing, criteria to test a worldview, principles of logic, understanding of truth and knowledge, and the scientific method. For now, that’s enough.

Two ways that show that the Christian faith makes sense

We can show that the Christian faith makes sense in two different ways. One complements the other.

  1. By showing there are good arguments and evidence for the Christian faith. (We will mention some of these.)
  2. By showing that the Christian faith makes more sense than alternative views. We will use a case study and compare two worldviews, Atheism and Christianity. This is the Two Story Idea. Ultimate purpose and fulfilment.

Pointers and evidence for the Christian faith

These arguments are better understood as pointers for the existence of God. We don’t use them in a rigorous mathematical way. Rather, we use them as reasonable and good explanations of reality.

There are many such pointers for God’s existence. I’ll mention two of them that are also supported by recent scientific discoveries.

A universe fine-tuned for life

The fine-tuning of the universe is one of these pointers. The astonishing thing is that the universe is fine-tuned with an amazing amount of precision to make life possible on planet earth. There are three options to explain this discovery: chance, necessity, or design.

The following clip from “Reasonable Faith” presents the fine-tuning argument in just about 6 minutes and it is worthwhile to watch. You can watch here. This argument, as presented in this clip, is a strong pointer towards the existence of God. What it does not do is prove in a rigorous mathematical way that a theistic God exists. But it does give the best explanation possible, an explanation that resonates with what we read in the Bible. David, one of the authors of the Bible said three thousand years ago “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

A universe that had a beginning

The Kalam cosmological argument is another pointer to the existence of a theistic God. The simple form of this argument goes like this. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. The cause of the universe is God. The strength of this argument is that it is supported by both philosophical reasoning and the scientific discovery of the big-bang theory. This theory makes the point that there was a beginning of the universe. This short four-minute clip is a good presentation of this argument. You can watch it here.

Again, this is a strong pointer towards a theistic God. It is an explanation that makes sense, and that is the point here. It is reasonable and points to what another biblical author mentioned three and a half thousand years ago, that the universe had a beginning. The first line of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Reliable historical documents

Furthermore, there is good historical evidence that the Christian faith is true. There are reliable historical sources, such as the writings of the New Testament. It is generally accepted that these writings are some of the most reliable ancient documents that exist. The gospels, the four books that speak about Jesus’ life and teaching, are indisputably accepted as authentic historical documents. It is supported by the science of textual criticism, a science that investigates the authenticity of ancient documents.

Christianity compared to other worldviews

Finally, let us open our toolbox again and compare two worldviews. Let us take the question of “is a fulfilling life possible without ultimate purpose?” Read here a short post I wrote about theism and atheism in relation to the question of purpose and fulfilment in life.

Conclusion

Christianity makes sense! That was our main point in the beginning. It better explains the universe and the human experience. In this blog, I present a way, a method, to investigate the belief of the Christian faith. I did not come up with this approach but have embraced it because it is helpful. It is an example that can be used to further search and hopefully come to a meaningful conclusion. What is your worldview? And, does it make sense? Is it helping you to live a “life worth living” in good and not so good times? Does it explain things as they really are? Leave your thoughts and I will be happy to reply.

 

Notes

  • Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath. The “two ways” I mentioned above are from McGrath’s book. His chapter on “Reasonableness of the Christian faith” is worthwhile to read the book.
  • Reasonable faith, Win Corduan
  • Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis
  • Reasonable Faith Animated Videos
  • Psalm 19:1, Genesis 1:1.
  • Proofreading, Dan Truitt

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What kind of relationships do I need to be truly happy?

Relationships matter

Relationships are important because they define us as human beings. To be authentically human, someone said, is to exist in relationships. Happiness has to do with the knowledge of being loved. Relationships define our identity. Not any kind of relationships brings happiness. Only loving relationships bring happiness in our lives as nothing else can do.

A famous rock singer, Freddie Mercury, once said that success had brought him fame and lots of money. However, before his death, he confessed that he missed the one thing really needed, “a loving, ongoing relationship.” Not only loving but ongoing relationships make the difference. This involves commitment.

Evidence that relationships matter

A nearly 80-year-old study has proven that “embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.” The study revealed that “close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.” Furthermore, they discovered through this study that “loneliness kills. It is as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” And the key to healthy aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.”

This study resonates surprisingly with what we read in the Bible. From the repeated words in the creation narrative of everything being good we have a sudden break with the words “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God created human beings in his own image and likeness, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We are relational beings.

The reality of loneliness in our times

Loneliness is a real problem in our times. I asked a group of students in a university in Utrecht what could be a problem students are facing. They didn’t need much time to come with an answer. Loneliness and the need for loving relationships were on the top of their list. This generation has social media but still, it feels lonely. Business is a challenge for many people. Things go fast. Some struggle to catch up with things. Others have made it their aim to reach the top. A very successful novelist once was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. Here is what he said, “that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”

Relationships and true love

Love is important for good relationships. Our lives become meaningful when true love is part of our daily lives. The Beatles with their song “all we need is love” pointed to the brokenness of their generation which was struggling with racial tensions. The sad thing was that they ended up suing each other.

True love is more than a song that expresses an idea. Someone said that “love is not free” but it is the nature of love to bind itself.” This means that love is not selfish. To gratify our desires is not true love. For relationships to grow and become meaningful commitment is unavoidable. Relationships are messy. Relationships are complicated. But the one thing that can make relationships blossom and grow is true love.

Finding and experiencing true love

Jesus taught about love many times. But more than this he talked about his love relationship with his Father in heaven. In one occasion he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

According to Jesus true love can be experienced in a personal relationship with God. This relationship brings joy and leads us to loving, ongoing, meaningful relationships with others. It gives meaning to life. Here you can read more about this love. A good way to find out more about Jesus’ teaching about true love is to join the Alpha Course. I will be happy to answer questions you might have.

 

Notes

– This blog is a shortened version of a talk I gave at SEARCH, university mission in Utrecht in 2018. I also reworked it and used it at Grace Church on March 10th 2019. Here is the outline of the talk.

– Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics

– Harvard study of adult development

Bible Gateway. Online Bible in different versions. I used the NIV, New International Version in this blog.

Questions of Life: An Opportunity to Explore the Meaning of Life

– Ravi Zacharias, Can man live without God? 

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A fulfilling life without ultimate purpose

Life without purpose is difficult to imagine. But a fulfilling life without ultimate purpose is an impossibility. Of course, there are many people with purpose(s) in life. For instance, an athlete has a purpose. It is to win. To get a medal. To break a record. Also, a student has a purpose. It is to successfully complete her studies. To find a good job. To impact the world. Now, these purposes in life help us find direction and fulfillment at some real level. However, if we don’t succeed then these purposes can lead us to a life of resentment, a sense of failure, and total lack of fulfilment. Some times even to despair.

Therefore, university students in Utrecht asked me in 2018 to speak on the topic, “is a fulfilling life possible without ultimate purpose?” What follows is a summary of my talk. Worldviews present a comprehensive and total way of life and reality. Let us compare two of them as we try to answer this question of purpose and fulfillment.

A fulfilling life without “ultimate” purpose

From 1989 onwards many people from Eastern European countries were turning to God. A Chrisitan philosopher asked Andrei Grib, a known cosmologist, “How are we to explain this?” Andrei’s answer was short and to the point, “prove by the opposite.” He explained that “you can prove something is wrong by showing its opposite is false. Atheism didn’t work after being tried for 70 years. So everybody figured the opposite is true.” This was also my experience when I went to work in Albania in 1991. Many people were turning to God, a considerable number were young people. Albania was officially an atheistic country since 1967. But God would not go away!

Moreover, Nietzsche in “the madman” story makes the point that atheism would bring an age of nihilism. There would not be any meaning to life anymore, neither would there be value. This was insightful but also a sad conclusion. But he at least was consistent with his view of reality.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins, known as an atheist but who stated in a debate that he was more of an agnostic than an atheist, said that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but a blind pitiless indifference.” It is good that Dawkins admits that his “atheism” leads to a life without purpose. He also, like Nietzsche, is consistent in his view of reality. But what about existentially and empirically? Is his view of reality livable? Viability is one way to test a worldview. If a worldview is not livable then something important is missing.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig pointed to the practical impossibility of atheism, individually and socially. He said that it is impossible to live consistently and happily in the atheistic worldview, “if you live consistently, you will not be happy. If you live happily, you are not consistent.”

A fulfilling life with “ultimate” purpose

Christianity consistently has pointed to the reality of the ultimate purpose of life. Jesus talking to a huge crowd once said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Another time, Jesus talking to a woman who was exploited and seen as an outcast in her society, said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Many people have said to this woman “go!” But Jesus says to this woman and to all of us “come to me and drink!”

Augustine, a Christian writer, talking to God said, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Others have pointed to the idea of a “God-shaped gap” in the human heart. Pascal once said, “this infinite abyss can only be filled with something that is infinite and unchanging — in other words, by God himself. God alone is our true good.” Someone said that “Life with God illuminates human nature, it interprets the widespread human experience of longing and helplessness.” Life with God, therefore, makes sense of the experience of life itself. Furthermore, it allows this human experience to be transformed. A fulfilling life is possible with God!

Finally, the well-known author of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S.Lewis, used the “argument from desire” as a pointer for God’s existence. Every natural desire has its corresponding object. We have a natural desire for transcendent fulfillment. Nothing in the present world can help us experience this transcendent fulfillment. It can be satisfied only with something beyond the present world.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Leave a message and I will be happy to reply.

 

Notes

– On Guard, William Lane Craig

– Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath

– NIV translation of the Bible

 

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Faith is just a fantasy and a crutch for the weak

The main issue is not faith itself

Some say that faith in God is just a fantasy. This means then that a few billions of people are led astray. Moreover, faith is something we all use to make sense out of life. Human rights, for instance, is a value based on faith. I cannot prove human rights to be objectively true. The issue then is not so much, is faith part of my life, but, rather, is my faith “justified belief?” Can I support my faith with reason and evidence? More importantly, will I follow the evidence wherever it leads? That’s the main issue.

Things that keep people from faith

What keeps people from believing in God? Many times it is not a rational but more a psychological barrier. Will your academic environment reject you? Your colleagues may think that faith is irrational. Will my colleagues write me off because I believe in God? Besides, I may need to change my lifestyle if faith in God is real. This may not be convenient at all. I may not want to change my lifestyle. It is not easy to give up some pleasures and commit our lives to God. Therefore, atheism or agnosticism may be a good policy. I can live my life without external restrains. I can keep my autonomy and do what I want.

Faith is a crutch for the weak

Sigmund Freud said that religious beliefs are just “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.” People feel helpless and therefore are looking for a father figure to protect them. There is nothing more to faith in God than this. But are people right in saying this? Let us have a closer look.

Faith is not a crutch for the weak

First, not many used the father figure for God before the coming of Jesus. In this sense, Jesus was the first to make this concept a central part of his teaching.

Moreover, you can turn the argument around. People don’t want to lose their autonomy. Therefore, they might project the idea that faith in God is just a fantasy, a crutch for the weak.

Furthermore, this confuses the “origin of a belief with its epistemological warrant.” This is the genetic fallacy, “faulting the belief because of its origin.” For instance, 2×2=4, but my teacher is an evil person. Therefore, I am not so certain that 2×2=4.

Someone rightly said that the God of the Bible would not be a good candidate for a father figure that provides protection. This is a holy and just God. He calls people to follow his ways. Also, many Christians have to suffer more because of their faith instead of less. In many places, there is hostility against Christians. Why should someone follow a God that will make life more difficult?

Finally, some people really wish that there is no God. Thomas Nagel once said, “I want atheism to be true … I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

An honest way forward

One of the most famous atheists of the 20th century was Antony Flew. For Flew, “to follow where the evidence leads” was very important! Admittedly, he never became a Christian. But he came to the conclusion that there was enough evidence that there is a theistic God. He said, “the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries.” He was impressed with the intelligent design argument. An honest person would follow Flew’s advice and “follow where the evidence leads.”

Evidence for the existence of God

It is worthwhile to look at some pointers for the existence of God. Let me name a few. The fine-tuning of the universe is appealing to many people. The universe is fine-tuned so that life is made possible on planet earth. Here is a short clip that explains in more detail the amazing precision with which this universe is functioning. Here is a link with more pointers for the existence of God.

There is also good historical evidence that God exists and that the Christian faith makes good sense.  Jesus was a real historical person. He claimed to be the son of God and predicted his resurrection from the dead. This practically means that God showed up in history in the person of Jesus. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a well established historical fact. It is based on the New Testament documents. These documents are some of the most reliable ancient documents we have.

Finally, faith in God explains better many things we observe around us and within us. The power of the Christian faith to explain the universe, in particular, makes it very attractive to me personally.

Leave a comment or ask a question. I will be happy to respond and share my thoughts with you.

 

Notes

– A place for truth. ed. Dallas Willard

– Scaling the secular city. J.P. Moreland

– Reasonable Faith animated videos

– Is Christianity a psychological crutch? Daniel Rodger

– Christian Apologetics. Douglas Groothuis

 

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