In his book godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, Dan Barker has a chapter entitled "Dear Theologian." It is written as though it were a letter from God addressed to theologians, and in it Mr. Barker raises questions about what he evidently considers to be the major conundrums of theology. It is a clever literary device, but as a piece of argumentation it leaves much to be desired.
We will not presume to speak on behalf of God – Mr. Barker's attempt to do so is frankly sacrilegious. But since we do have an acquaintance with the Bible and Christian theology, we will venture to reply on behalf of the theologians. As Mr. Barker's chapter is divided into three main sections, each revolving around a principle question, we will attempt to address each question in a separate blog post. Today we begin with:
Where did I come from?
Dear Mr. Barker,
We read your letter addressed to us, and it goes without saying that we were hardly amused. You are ever the Sophist – witty, urbane and cultured, but skilled at dancing around a question. The issues you raise, however, are important, and merit consideration more serious than you gave them.
In the first section of your chapter you challenged the argument from design. You insisted that if the appearance of design in nature calls for a designer, then the Designer Himself must also have been designed, since He would be a rational being Himself, and therefore would also have the appearance of design. At one point you imagine God telling theologians "If you say that everything needs a designer and then say that not everything (Me) needs a designer, aren't you contradicting yourself?" (p. 146).
|Caspar David Friedrich, The Stages of Life
The problem with your argument is that it is based on a false analogy between the temporal and eternal, between the human and divine. As human beings we are conscious of the limitations and variability of temporal existence. ". . . from dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." We are each aware of having had a specific beginning, and we know that we shall each have a definite end. In between all is change and flux. And if everything in nature has a beginning, it must have had a cause which brought it into existence. Order does not spontaneously arise out of chaos, and life is not spontaneously generated in inanimate objects. What, then, is the source of it all? Nature points to something outside of itself, some superior Being from which it derives its structure and energy.
How did life begin? Why does anything exist at all? If you think about it for a few minutes, it becomes apparent that there are only a few possible answers. One possibility is that matter and energy have always existed – that there is an infinite regression of natural causes. But that still doesn't account for the rational order in the universe, nor does it explain the origin of life or of intelligence. Moreover, many scientists now believe that the universe started with a "Big Bang." In other words, the universe had a definite beginning. But what caused the "Bang"?
Another suggestion that has been made is that reality is self-creating. But this is palpable nonsense. If something does not exist, it lacks the power to do anything, let alone bring itself into existence. This hypothesis is a plunge into the bath of irrationality.
That leaves us with one other possibility: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This hypothesis satisfactorily explains what we can actually observe in the universe: rational order, life, and human intelligence. When one sees a garden, one naturally assumes the existence of a gardener.
You then objected that you don't know what it meant to be "eternally existent," that you did not understand why something eternal is greater than something temporal, and you said "I don't see how being eternal solves the problem" (p. 147). Admittedly the concept of eternity is a difficult one for us to wrap our minds around, but that does not make the concept itself invalid. May we point out to you that if God is eternal He has no beginning? Nothing was required to bring Him into existence, and He is not dependent upon anything outside of Himself. So you ask the question, why does nature require a designer but not God? The answer is that it is the difference between having a finite, temporal existence and being eternal, uncreated and self-existent. It is the difference between being a part of nature and being the Creator of nature. God is Lord of heaven and earth.