Apologetics: What's At Stake?
In His book, Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith contrasted the worldview that believes God is the ultimate reality with the view of secular materialism that believes there is no reality (no God) beyond the physical universe—the physical laws of nature and the chemical properties of matter. Smith says, “How seriously we should regard the evidence for or against [either view] . . . depends on how much is at stake.” He continues, “How much is at stake! I repeat that phrase because . . . the stakes are high” (40).
I too am concerned with the issue of what is at stake in the ongoing clash of worldviews, especially the above two views of theism and anti-theism, which is materialism. I affirm that truly serious minded people—those concerned about evidence—will recognize the importance of thinking about the implications of these two major worldviews. Furthermore, I affirm that the opening chapter of The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, contained in the New Testament, not only answers the question concerning what is at stake, but this chapter (Romans 1:18-32) is as great a statement about this issue that is available to humans.
The late Dr. Thomas B. Warren summarized the content of these powerful verses (Romans 1:18ff) in his 1978 debate on the existence of God with philosophy professor Wallace Matson of the University of California (Berkeley). Warren said, “In Romans 1:18 and following, after Paul made clear that the evidence of God is right before the eyes of everyone . . . [he] then showed, in regard to those who turned away from God, three times in that chapter . . . ‘God gave them up’ in giving a list of the terrible and heinous crimes that were committed (cf. Warren-Matson Debate 310, 312). The loss of God from the mind of man—“. . .[T]hey refused to have God in their knowledge . . .” (Romans 1:28)—results in “the loss of God in the life of man” (Robertson,Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. 4, 331).
A 21st century parallel to Paul’s first century description of a mind that denies God is seen in the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, an atheist, who has written about his “fear of religion.” Nagel says, “I want atheism to be true. . . . I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God. I don’t want this universe to be like that . . .” (The Last Word 130). Paul wrote, “. . .[T]heir foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). Foolish is the Greek word asunetos—an adjective derived from the verb, suniemi. The noun (sunesis) refers to “putting together the facts and information and drawing conclusions and seeing relationships” (Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament 460). Robertson says they were “not able to put together the manifest evidence about God” (329). Lard states that they either argued from false premises or “conducted the process amiss” (i.e. invalid argumentation) and either, or both, results in “unwarrantable conclusions. . . . [T]hey became foolish. This could not have happened had their reasonings been sound” (Romans 54).
A monumental blunder of the worldview that denies God as Creator is the conclusion that thought and reason are merely the product of a purposeless cosmic accident. C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are all sorts of reasons for believing in God. . . . I’ll mention only one. . . . Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. . . . [W]hen the atoms inside my skull shall happen for physical or chemical reasons to arrange themselves in a certain way, this give me, as a bye-product, the sensation I call thought. But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk-jug and hoping the way the splash arranges will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God” (The Case for Christianity 32).
Some today claim that the belief that God is the ultimate creator of all things is detrimental to human society and the advance of science. Former NASA scientist, Dr. Nobie Stone, disagrees. He argues in a recent book that this is really not about science. It is about this battle between faith in science (scientism) and faith in God (theism). Stone says, “The difference is critical. It is the difference between a Christian society and a godless society. It is the difference between a life of purpose and hope, and a life of emptiness and despair.”
Stone, whose experimental research with certain aspects of orbiting space crafts is internationally recognized, writes: “Those who embrace a materialistic worldview claim . . . this understanding somehow liberates us and enriches our lives. Yet, ironically, the very claims they make undermine any purpose or value of life. . . . [I]f man was not created on purpose, then he has no purpose. If we are here as the result of a grand and complex accident then, by definition, we are not here on purpose and life has no inherent value or meaning. This is the ultimate conclusion if materialism is true, and this distorted view is having a tragic effect on society. It is ironic, but telling, that in such an affluent and free society that offers almost unlimited opportunity, one of the highest causes of death among its young people is suicide” (Genesis 1 and Lessons from Space: Faith, Reason, and Nature xiii-xiv).
Yes! The stakes are very high. Romans 1:18-32 makes this obvious. The present effect that materialism is having on society just makes it more obvious. Moral collapse follows spiritual collapse.