BY PHILIP VANDER ELST
In my early twenties, before my conversion to Christianity in 1976, I did not believe that our world offered entirely convincing and reliable evidence for the existence and goodness of God.1 The universe, I thought, might have always existed, without any need for an external cause to bring it into being,2 and the argument for God from ‘benevolent design’ seemed obviously flawed since it could not be reconciled with the existence of evil and suffering.
To quote Britain’s best known 20th century atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell: “it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience has been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku-Klux-Klan or the Fascists?”
That was said in 1927, in his lecture, “Why I am not a Christian’, to the South London Branch of the National Secular Society, but the same point could have been made in nearly every decade of recorded history. Poverty and tyranny, slavery and war, hatred and violence, have disfigured our world and blighted human life for millennia, and continue to do so. Even if we are lucky enough to live in relatively free, prosperous and peaceful societies, life for all too many is blighted by crime, family breakdown, drug addiction and mental illness. And to this cup of human suffering, of course, must be added disease, disability and death, as well as ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’. Indeed, for many of us, the suffering and death of animals – especially that of much loved family pets – is especially hard to bear, and seems to make a mockery of all religious claims that we live in a universe created and governed by a just and loving God.
My previously scornful attitude towards ‘religion’ and Christianity
Consequently, however much I hoped, at times, that there was a God, the problem of evil, including the bloody history of religious persecution, made me scornful of the claims of Christianity. I was strongly inclined to the belief that religious faith required the rejection of reason in favour of ‘revelation’, meaning by that, a ‘leap in the dark’ based on insufficient evidence or even fraud. Even after becoming a Christian, it took a while before I was able to shake off the embarrassment I felt about admitting to others my belief in God and the truthfulness of the Bible.
My emotional hostility to ‘religion’ in general, and Christianity in particular, was only overcome when I started reading the writings of C.S. Lewis, whose own journey from atheism to faith I could identify with, and about which I have written elsewhere. What impressed me most about Lewis’s advocacy of Christianity was his ability to engage with all the strongest and seemingly most insurmountable objections to religious faith, especially that arising from the problem of evil. That, for me, was extremely important, having experienced intense grief and shock when my father, whom I greatly loved, died completely unexpectedly when I was only 17.
As Lewis points out in the relevant passages of his book, Mere Christianity (and elsewhere), we cannot complain about evil and suffering, and disbelieve in God on that basis, unless we are first convinced that the moral standard by which we judge and condemn our world is an objective one. Just as a line is only ‘crooked’ when compared with a straight line, so an act, or person, or situation, can only be condemned as ‘unjust’ when measured against a prior standard of perfect justice from which it deviates. But if evil cannot even be defined as such except in relation to the goodness to which it is opposed, how does this truth affect the debate about God and the problem of evil?
The short answer is that it changes everything. To start with, where does our standard of goodness, truth and justice come from? If, as all too many people claim to believe, it is purely subjective, like our taste in food, clothing, or entertainment, we cannot use it to criticize others or justify our complaints about the universe. But in that case, of course, our moral argument against God’s existence and goodness, based on the problem of evil, collapses. If, on the other hand, we regard the moral standard ‘written on our hearts’ as an eternally true and objective insight into reality, justifying our conviction, for instance, that murder, theft and oppression are wrong, and love is better than hate, we again face the question: where does this objective insight into reality come from? From what or from who do we derive our sense of moral obligation, as well as our knowledge of Right and Wrong?
The self-destructive logic of atheism in relation to the problem of evil
It is in relation to this issue, about the ultimate source and origin of human consciousness and moral values, that atheism fails the test of credibility and truthfulness, something I first learned from the opening chapters of the revised 1960 edition of C.S. Lewis’s brilliantly argued book, Miracles, as well from his much simpler and more limited treatment of this issue, for a ‘popular’ audience, in Mere Christianity, his collected wartime radio broadcasts of the 1940s.
Let me therefore try and explain, in my own words, the nature of Lewis’s central argument against atheism, not only because it challenges us to think clearly about the problem of evil, but also because other philosophers have reached similar conclusions about the issues Lewis raises.3
If, as atheists insist, there is no God or Divine plan or purpose behind the universe, and humans are purely physical beings – biological machines without souls or spirits – the implications are logically self-destructive for atheism, especially for its rejection of God because of the ills of the world and the existence of pain and suffering.
This is so, because if atheism is true, it means that all our thoughts and values, and all our deepest convictions, including our belief in the validity of logical argument and the existence of mathematical and scientific truths, are simply an accidental by-product of our cerebral biochemistry and the mindless movement of atoms. We may think, therefore, that we have free will, and with it, that inner freedom to weigh evidence and judge between conflicting arguments without which there can be no successful pursuit of truth, or acquisition of knowledge, but we are deluding ourselves. In reality, because we are biological machines and the un-designed product of a godless, accidental and mechanical universe, all our reasoning and conclusions are nothing more than the unplanned end result of a long chain of entirely random non-rational physical causes over which we have no control. In other words, if we have no souls, and no spiritual connection to God as the ultimate source of reason and truth, it follows that our brains, and therefore all our mental activity, is imprisoned within a process of physical determinism that discredits all thinking. We cannot be sure that any of our thoughts correspond to reality, moral or scientific, since we are biologically conditioned to think them regardless of whether they are true or not. But by discrediting all thinking, including their own, atheists cut their own throats philosophically. Their view of ultimate reality is therefore self-refuting.
Another shorter and simpler way of summarizing Lewis’s argument against atheism is to point out that we do not accept the truthfulness of any statement or assertion if it can be shown to be the result of purely irrational causes, like a brain tumour or some emotional crisis. But if atheism is true, all our thoughts and chains of reasoning, including, again, our belief in the rules of logic, have a purely non-rational physical cause; therefore we have no reason to believe in their truthfulness, including that of atheism. The disbelievers in God have sawn off the branch on which they were sitting. Their conclusions are no more credible or meaningful than the print out from an un-programmed computer.
The damning admission of a prominent atheist and Marxist scientist
Ironically, enough, recognition of this central truth is not limited to Christian philosophers and thinkers like C.S. Lewis. Many years ago, J.B.S. Haldane, a Marxist scientist and one of Britain’s most prominent 20th century atheists, also recognized the logical difficulty of trying to provide a purely reductionist physical explanation of human consciousness and thought. Writing in 1928, he admitted: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”4
This admission, of course, radically undermines the philosophical credibility of the entire ‘worldview’ of scientific atheism. By that, I mean the idea that some unguided process of cosmic and biological ‘evolution’ can offer a complete and satisfactory explanation of the existence of life and the universe, as well as providing an objective basis for moral values. It cannot in fact do so, because all scientific experimentation and knowledge involves that very process of logical reasoning whose existence and reliability cannot be accounted for on atheistic assumptions. That is why it is a fallacy to argue, as so many atheists do, that the natural sciences – the systematic study of physical Nature – provide a truer and more objective source of knowledge about our world and our selves than ‘Religion’.
To ram this last point home, here is a relevant quote from a paper C.S. Lewis gave to the Oxford Socratic Club in 1944: “…those who ask me to believe this world picture [of scientific atheism] also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based…Granted that Reason [God] is prior to matter and that the light of that primal Reason illuminates finite minds, I can understand how men should come, by observation and inference, to know a lot about the universe they live in. If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology [of atheism] as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.” 5
And all this brings me back to the argument against God arising from the problem of evil.
If we are only the accidental inhabitants of a random and purposeless universe, and cannot therefore attach any ultimate meaning, truth, or significance to our thoughts and lives, how can we justify all our moral indignation about evil and suffering, and use that as a stick with which to beat religious faith?
You may protest, in response to this question, that whether or not we are created beings or just biological accidents, is beside the point, since we can simply choose to value life and attach meaning to our existence. Then, if we do that, the value of life, and respect for it, becomes an entirely objective non-religious foundation for our moral convictions and our hatred of evil. And this in turn means, you may argue, that it isn’t actually irrational for atheists to get angry about the pain and injustice they see all around them, and to reject belief in God on that basis.
The transcendence of the Moral Law and its religious implications
But this objection simply misses the point by evading the following dilemma. Should valuing and respecting life be regarded as a self-evident moral obligation, a ‘truth’ everyone must acknowledge and a ‘law’ everyone should obey? Or is it just a subjective expression of our feelings? If it is the former, as most people rightly believe, surely that does suggest that our minds and thoughts have a connection with some spiritual Reality outside ourselves and the material universe, otherwise there is no escape, as we have seen, from the physically deterministic self-destructive logic of atheism. In other words, you cannot demonstrate the ‘wrongness’ of any evil thought or act unless the moral standard to which you appeal when making that judgment has an eternal and objective character whose presence in our lives cannot really be accounted for if nothing exists except physical matter, space, and time.
Let me try and explain in more detail my reasons for making this assertion, because it is so important to understand, and lies at the core of the moral argument for God’s existence and goodness.
If you think about it, an eternal standard of right and wrong, and the sense of moral obligation it generates, has a strangely transcendent quality, because it is independent of time, place, culture, social class, and even physical existence. For example, it remains somehow eternally true, does it not, that raping a woman, torturing a child, or enslaving another human being, are evil acts deserving punishment, whether we are rich or poor, live or die, and regardless of where we come from and what culture we are part of. Even if our universe and all its forms of life came to an end tomorrow, the ‘truthfulness’ of these moral assertions would remain unchanged, their moral ‘light’ undimmed. ‘Truth’ would still somehow remain Truth, and ‘Justice’ Justice, even if nobody were left alive to acknowledge it.
Consequently, if we are to take our moral convictions seriously, and therefore justify our passionate indignation about the sad and evil state of so much of our world, we must first recognize that ‘Truth’ and ‘Goodness’ are permanent, unchanging and ultimate categories to which we somehow owe unconditional allegiance, as Plato famously believed. But if this is the case, their eternal, transcendent, and imperative character suggests that the Moral Law ‘written on our hearts’ is in some sense Divine. And this brings me to the final step in my argument from morality to God, from atheistic indignation to religious (and in my case, Christian) faith.
It is obvious, is it not, that our awareness of truth and goodness, right and wrong, is inseparably connected with our minds and wills, since we ‘grasp’ these concepts and respond to them with our intellect. Given that fact, it seems reasonable to conclude that the apparently divine character and status of the Moral Law is also related in some sense to an eternal Divine Intelligence. In other words, truth and goodness are rooted in God and express His essential and changeless Nature. Or to put it another way, God is not just our Creator, but also goodness, truth, love, (and beauty) personified, and therefore the eternal and objective source of all that is precious in the world and in human existence.
The liberating truth: our hatred of evil implies God’s existence
In the end, then, we discover the wonderful and liberating truth that we need not despair when our minds are overwhelmed, and our hearts sickened, by the sight of all the evil and suffering there is in the world. The very fact that we react so strongly and passionately against cruelty, lies, and injustice, and wish to heal the sick, protect the innocent, and comfort the bereaved, is powerful evidence that we are not, after all, biological robots adrift without hope in a meaningless universe. Rather, the certainty of our convictions and the intensity of our feelings reveal the presence within us of an Inner Light that not only illuminates our minds and softens our hearts, but also challenges us to acknowledge its Divine Source and co-operate in the struggle to put our world to rights, starting with our own selves.
To quote C.S. Lewis again: “The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant. The fact that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that at some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still.” 6
Reading the works of C.S. Lewis not only revealed to me the shallowness and superficiality of atheism as a response to the problem of evil. It also removed the blind spot that had previously prevented me from properly appreciating the strength and validity of the argument for God from intelligent design.7
Influenced by Bertrand Russell, I too readily assumed that the existence of evil and suffering simply cancelled out the evidence for intelligent and benevolent design commonly presented by Christian philosophers. End of discussion! But why should it? At the risk of stating the obvious, does the fact that badly designed buildings exist prove that there are no good architects, or that the materials from which such buildings are made self-assembled? Does the presence of cruelty and hate in our world suggest the non-existence of kindness and love, somehow nullifying its reality? Of course, it doesn’t. How, then, should we view the apparent conflict between two apparently equally compelling sets of evidence about the possible relationship between God and our universe?
Well, before trying to answer that question, it is worth noting first of all just how extensive and compelling is the evidence of intelligent and benevolent design in Nature. It is in fact everywhere if we care to look at what is under our very noses. Bees making honey, the organisational activity of ants, birds building nests, sexual reproduction, the immune systems of human beings and animals, our digestive systems, the biological information software of DNA, the incredibly complex structure of even the simplest cell – the list is endless. Indeed, the very existence and progress of modern empirical science has been based on the assumption, confirmed by experience, that we inhabit an ordered cosmos whose ‘laws’ and structures can be described and discussed in the language of mathematics. That is why all or most of the great ‘founding fathers’ of modern science believed in God, and had a healthy respect for the Bible.8
How, then, to return to our central conundrum, should we regard the apparently conflicting ‘messages’ about God that we receive from both the evidence of benevolent design and the distressing reality that we live in a world disfigured by evil and suffering?
Since these apparently opposing sets of evidence do not, as I have argued, cancel each other out, the first obvious point to make is that both of them must somehow fit together like the different pieces making up one overall pattern or ‘puzzle’. So what kind of pattern or ‘puzzle’ might that be?
Conflict between intelligent design and existence of evil reconciled
Until I read Lewis, it never occurred to me to give serious consideration to one possible answer to this question, namely, the Biblical one: that our world was created by God, and was originally ‘good’, but has been spoiled. Something has gone wrong.
Like most people who’ve grown up in our secularised post-Christian culture, I used to accept, completely uncritically, the idea that modern science had somehow discredited the Bible, especially the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, with its apparently fanciful story of creation followed by the disobedience and resulting ‘Fall’ of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Its tale of a lost Paradise, of a fall into sin from a state of original innocence and goodness, seemed impossible to reconcile with the Darwinian notion of humankind’s evolutionary progress from prehistoric ‘savagery’ towards ‘civilisation’. In any case I disliked the message the story in Genesis seemed to convey. It was a typical example, I thought, of the hostility of ‘religion’ to freedom and knowledge, since it seemed to present God as a cosmic tyrant determined to keep men and women in a permanently retarded state of childish ignorance and blind obedience to ‘Authority’. That, at any rate, was the picture presented to my mind and imagination by my reading of atheist thinkers like Ayn Rand and Bertrand Russell, and it erected a wall of prejudice in my heart against Christianity.
Reading C.S. Lewis, by contrast, soon brought that wall of incomprehension and prejudice crashing down. As he pointed out in his book, The Problem of Pain (1940), because prehistoric man is only known to us by the crude material objects he made, people too readily and falsely assume that our earliest ancestors were intellectually and morally inferior to us, and for that reason alone we ought to reject the Biblical explanation of the origin of evil. But this makes the mistake of confusing technological advance with moral and intellectual progress, when in fact there is no necessary connection between them. Nazi Germany, after all, was a more technologically advanced society than 19th century Britain, but nobody would suggest that it was a freer or more civilised one!
To go back to Lewis, and to quote him: “The whole modern estimate of primitive man is based upon that idolatry of artefacts which is a great corporate sin of our own civilisation. We forget that our prehistoric ancestors made all the useful discoveries, except that of chloroform, which have ever been made. To them we owe language, the family, clothing, the use of fire, the domestication of animals, the wheel, the ship, poetry and agriculture. Science, then, has nothing to say for or against the doctrine of the Fall.”9
Not only, then, has science nothing to say for or against the Biblical story of the Fall, but there are also at least two good reasons for taking it seriously and believing in its veracity.
The evidence that the ‘Fall of Man’ was a real historical event
The first is the curious fact that we human beings appear to possess an inner moral code we cannot shake off yet seem strangely unable to obey. We denounce evil and complain passionately about its existence, yet we too are stained by it. We are angered by the bad behaviour, by the unkind thoughts and actions of others, yet we too fail to ‘love our neighbour’ as we should, and misbehave in similar ways. Worst of all, the better we are, the more we feel the full force of the Moral Law pressing down upon our consciences, the more we become aware of our own constant failure to live up to its demands. Does all this not suggest that some process of deterioration has taken place within the minds and hearts of humankind? What better explanation is there of this strange dichotomy?
The second reason for resisting the temptation to dismiss the Biblical account of the origin of evil is an anthropological one. It is, for instance, an interesting and surely significant fact that a number of ancient peoples and cultures, including the Greeks, Romans, Scandinavians and Chinese, have some kind of tradition of a lost Paradise in the dim and distant past.10
The great Roman historian, Tacitus (c. 55-120 A.D.), for example, wrote that “The first race of men, free as yet from every depraved passion, lived without guile and crime, and therefore without chastisements; nor was there need of rewards, when of themselves they followed righteousness.”11
Similarly, seven centuries earlier, the great ancient Greek poet Hesiod (c.735 B.C.) sang of a past golden age when “The immortals formed a golden race on earth.”12
Is this not remarkable? Is it just a coincidence that we find traditions of a lost Paradise outside the Bible? Or does this fact not suggest that some kind of ‘Fall’ or dramatic deterioration in the human condition did actually occur, the confused and fragmented memory of which has left its historic imprint on the human imagination – in poetry, legend, and song.
Having made the journey from atheism to Christianity, and become convinced by a great deal of evidence of the historical truthfulness of the Bible,13 I see no reason to disbelieve in the existence of Adam and Eve or to doubt the details of the story of their testing, disobedience, and expulsion from the Garden of Eden.14 This conviction, moreover, is reinforced in my mind by the knowledge that Jesus himself affirmed the historical reality of their existence and fall from grace.15 And since I believe, on good evidence, that Jesus was and is God the Son Incarnate,16 His testimony about Adam and Eve is, for me, authoritative.
So, drawing all the different threads of evidence together, I have every confidence that the story in Genesis describing the entrance of evil into our world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a true one. The ‘Fall of Man’ was a real historical event, not as I used to believe, a primitive folk tale.
The philosophical credibility of the Biblical view of the origin of evil
What, apart from the moral, cultural, and historical evidence, I find so convincing about the Biblical explanation of the origin of evil and suffering, is its inherent philosophical credibility. And here, in my next paragraph, I can only repeat what I’ve already written in my personal testimony about my journey from atheism to Christian faith.
As C.S. Lewis and other Christian thinkers have pointed out down the centuries, true love involves a voluntary union of free individuals giving themselves to each other for their mutual delight and enjoyment of life and all its blessings. Consequently, when God created the first human beings, He gave them the gift of free will. He did so in order that they and all their descendants might share His life, His love, His joy and His beauty, with Him and with each other. As part of this gift of free will, God also gave human beings creativity and intelligence in order that they might be good stewards of the world in which he had placed them, sharing its joys and adding to its wonders and beauty. But the problem with free will is that it can be corrupted and misused. Our inner freedom to relate to God and other people in harmony and love can be turned on its head. We can choose, instead, to reject our Creator and live only for ourselves. And that, sadly, is what has happened to the human race. It is what lies behind that Biblical story of the ‘Fall of Man’ in the Garden of Eden to which I’ve been drawing your attention. Our ancestors disobeyed God, with deadly consequences for themselves and posterity.
To understand exactly how and why this happened, we need to look more closely at the actual details of the story in Genesis of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve.
The key fact upon which we need to focus here was the nature of the original commandment given by God and subsequently broken by them. According to Genesis 2:16-17 that commandment was that “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
The first question to ask is why, in an originally perfect environment, did God confront the first human couple with a prohibition whose rationale they couldn’t possibly have understood, given their original state of perfect innocence and bliss? Since God’s original creation was wholly ‘good’, according to the Bible, the word ‘evil’ would have held no meaning for Adam and Eve, and the word ‘death’ would have been equally incomprehensible. Why, then, give them a commandment whose rationale was not transparent to their reason? What was God’s purpose in doing this?
It was not, as I originally and angrily thought, because God wants human beings to remain ignorant children robotically obedient to His every whim and commandment. Note, in this regard, that the prohibition given in the Garden of Eden refers to the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, not knowledge in the wider sense – like scientific knowledge, or the kind of ‘knowledge’ involved in the development and enjoyment of art, music and literature. No, as Lewis helped me to understand, God’s main purpose in giving this famous commandment in the Garden of Eden was to test the free will of His newly created children in order to perfect their character and relationship with Him.17
Let me try and explain what I mean by this, because the truth I’m trying to convey here is so vital to any proper understanding of both the nature of God and the moral and spiritual challenge His existence and goodness poses for each one of us.
The moral and spiritual challenge God’s existence poses for all of us
Since God is both our Creator and Goodness personified, the eternal Source of all life and truth and love, we owe Him and ought to give Him our unconditional and joyful love, trust and obedience. We should not only do this out of gratitude for the gift of life and of Himself, but also because questioning and doubting God’s wisdom and motives represents, if you think about it, the highest form of irrationality. As our Creator, God is the ultimate source of our very ability to reason. He is Truth as well as Love and Goodness personified, so how can we ever be justified in thinking that we know better than He does what is good for us and makes for our true happiness? How can we have the presumption to believe that we, looking at life and the universe from our own very limited perspective in time and space, are in a position to judge the actions and commandments of our all-wise, all-knowing and all-powerful Maker – the One who, to quote the Bible, dwells in eternity and ‘sees the end from the beginning’?
For morally imperfect fallen creatures like ourselves, living as we do now in a damaged and suffering world, loving and trusting God as we should is often difficult and painful, especially when we are faced with having to trust Him in trials and situations that perplex us because we cannot make sense of them or detect either His Presence or purpose in them. For Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, by contrast, living in harmony with God in a perfect environment, joyfully trusting in God, and obeying His seemingly strange commandment, did not necessitate or involve any kind of suffering. That is why their act of rebellion was so heinous and so tragic. And that brings me, finally, to the other key truth we need to grasp about this tragic story.
The reason why the tree from which Adam and Eve ate is described in Genesis as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, should, on reflection, be obvious, and it is this. The only way in which, in a perfect environment, our innocent and morally uncorrupt ancestors could obtain any kind of ‘knowledge of evil’ – and therefore of its contrast with good – would be by bringing it into existence themselves and then experiencing its effects. In other words, God’s warning and commandment in the Garden of Eden was not simply a necessary test of free will, but also an infinitely loving injunction given for the protection and wellbeing of His newly created children.
To fully appreciate this last point, and the reasons why turning away from God had (and always has) such catastrophic consequences, you need to understand, again, what, as created beings, we owe to God, our Maker.
As C.S. Lewis tells us most eloquently in his book The Problem of Pain, a creature rebelling against its Creator is like a plant refusing to grow towards the sunlight. It necessarily results in a broken relationship and therefore the separation of that creature from the eternal source of all life, love, truth and happiness. It was thus inevitable that when the human race separated itself from God through that original act of disobedience long ago, in the Garden of Eden, hatred, disease and death came into the world.
Supernatural evil and its role in our world: the Serpent in Eden
Is this all there is to say about the origin and problem of evil? Not quite. The presence of the Serpent (Eve’s tempter) in the Garden of Eden clearly implies that according to the Bible, the ‘Fall of Man’ was preceded by a similar rebellion against God in the angelic realm, which introduces into the picture and our discussion the person of Satan, or the Devil. To some or perhaps many of my readers, the Biblical revelation of Satan’s existence and destructive role in our world, may be hard to accept in this so-called ‘scientific age’, but such a reaction would be irrational. If God exists, as so much evidence indicates, then it follows that the ‘supernatural’ is real, and therefore there is no reason to reject automatically the notion that our universe may contain purely spiritual beings (angels), more intelligent, beautiful and powerful than ourselves, originally created by God, but now in open rebellion against His rule and good purposes for humankind. In any case, the very fact that there is so much evil and suffering in our world, surely offers strong circumstantial evidence for the existence and activity of Satan and his angels, even if one ignores or disbelieves the personal testimonies of many who have dabbled in the occult or been involved in helping its victims.
Funnily enough, Bertrand Russell himself, in the course of his above-mentioned lecture, made the semi-humorous suggestion that he was tempted to agree with those Gnostic thinkers who asserted that our world had been made by the Devil when God wasn’t looking, so the point I’m trying to make merits serious consideration!
Some creationist scientists and theologians believe that the ‘Fall of Man’ damaged the whole of God’s originally perfect creation (as described in the first two chapters of Genesis), introducing death and disorder into the animal kingdom and the natural world. Others argue that even before the ‘Fall of Man’ the natural environment had already been damaged by that rebellion against God in the angelic realm, led by Satan, to which I have just referred. But whatever you may think about this particular and controversial question, one thing seems crystal clear and makes perfect sense to me: separation from our Creator is inevitably self-destructive, so if we want to avoid that fate and get back on the road to Life and to true and lasting joy, we need to reconnect with Him.
An invitation to follow me in my journey from atheism to God
So, as you can see, moving from the atheistic mental universe of Bertrand Russell to a Biblical view of the origin and problem of evil, has been, for me, quite a journey, one of the heart as well as of the mind, and I can only hope that my sharing of it with you so far has aroused your interest and been helpful as well as interesting. If you want to find out more about my journey from atheism to Christianity, and what I believe God has done to reconnect us with Him, please read my personal testimony.
Copyright 2018 © Philip Vander Elst
- From Atheism to Christianity: a personal journey, available at https://www.bethinking.org/author/philip-vander-elst/page/all
- See my personal testimony, I failed to understand the cosmological argument for God, whose truthfulness I now recognize and is explored in my paper Does science contradict religion?, available, again, at https://www.bethinking.org/author/philip-vander-elst/page/all
- For a detailed forensic philosophical restatement and defence of C.S. Lewis’s argument, see, for instance, Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defence of the Argument from Reason, (InterVarsity Press, USA, 2003).
- J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964), Professor of Biometry at University College, London, in Possible Worlds (1928), p.220.
- C.S. Lewis, ‘Is Theology Poetry?’, paper read to the Oxford Socratic Club (1944), one of a collection of Lewis essays and sermons entitled, Screwtape Proposes a Toast (Fontana Books, Collins, 1974), pp.57-58.
- C.S. Lewis, ‘De Futilitate’ [On Futility], an address given at Magdalen College, Oxford during the Second World War, Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces, (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p.680.
- See, for example, Dr John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2007) for a comprehensive and intellectually powerful presentation of the logical and scientific evidence for intelligent design and its connection with God, written by a brilliant Oxford mathematician and scientist. View also his more recent Harvard University lecture, ‘Is it irrational to believe in the supernatural’, currently posted on his personal website at http://www.johnlennox.org/video/belief-in-supernatural/
- For more information, see Dr John Lennox, op cit, and my own above-mentioned paper, Does science contradict religion?
- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain,(London: Collins Fount, 1977), pp.58-59.
- For more information, see my paper: Philip Vander Elst, Archaeological and anthropological evidence for the truth of Genesis, (available from the author as a pdf), pp.3-6. See also: Henry Morris, The Long War Against God, (Baker Books, USA, 1997), pp.291-296; also: Nelson, Broadberry & Chock, God’s Promise to the Chinese, (Read Books, USA, 1997).
- Philip Vander Elst, op cit, p.4.
- See my personal testimony, From atheism to Christianity: a personal journey and Philip Vander Elst, op cit, pp.7-10; also: Henry M. Morris, Many Infallible Proofs, (USA: Master Books, 2002).
- See: Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics,(USA: Baker Books, 2012), ‘Adam, Historicity of’, pp.12-13.
- See: Philip Vander Elst, op cit, p.10.
- See Philip Vander Elst, From atheism to Christianity: a personal journey, and Henry M. Morris, op cit, pp.63-105.
- C.S. Lewis explored this issue in great depth and with great imaginative power in his famous ‘science fiction’ novel, Voyage to Venus or Perelandra (to give its alternative title) – a gripping story first published in 1953 about an averted ‘Fall’ in a beautiful and newly created world.
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Philip Vander Elst, is a British freelance writer, lecturer and C.S. Lewis scholar. After graduating from Oxford in 1973, with a degree in politics and philosophy, he spent more than 30 years in politics and journalism, serving in free market think-tanks like the Centre for Policy Studies and the Institute of Economic Affairs, and writing for conservative and libertarian papers on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Daily Telegraph, the Spectator, Human Events, the American Spectator, and the Freeman. Since 2003 he has become increasingly engaged in Christian apologetics, having made his own journey from atheism to faith during the 1970s. He is the author of many and varied publications including: C.S. Lewis: a short introduction (Continuum 2005), Is There No God? the improbability of atheism (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, bethinking.org 2010), Can we be free without God? (bethinking.org 2010), From atheism to Christianity: a personal journey (bethinking,org 2011), Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (The Moral Liberal/Self-Educated American 2012), and The Principles of British Foreign Policy (Bruges Group 2008). An experienced speaker and former officer of the prestigious Oxford Union Debating Society, Philip has completed nine lecture tours of the United States since 1975, speaking in many American universities and colleges, including Mary Baldwin, the University of Richmond, the University of Colorado, Washington and Lee, Georgetown University, the University of Alabama, George Mason University, the University of Virginia, West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.