Compelling Morality

Are Christians better than everyone else? Are they more moral? Are they more likely to do the right thing, the good thing? Are people compelled to believe in God because Christians are moral people? The world may not find the moral performance of Christians to be compelling, but the fact of morality is compelling. The very fact that everyone can come up with an opinion on the above questions points to the existence of God. How so? Let’s take a look.

The Bible teaches that there is a moral lawgiver. Last week we looked at Psalm 19 and how the universe points to the existence of God. Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 19 is actually two Psalms because there is a sudden shift following verse 6 from speaking of planetary systems to speaking of morality:

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes; Psalms 19:4-8

But is it actually a shift?  We read about the sun following its course in verses 4-6. Though written, of course, from the perspective of the Psalmist standing on earth, we know from scientific discoveries that the planets and the sun are following the laws of physics. God created these laws so there could be a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe. Verse 7 then turns to another kind of law which is given by God for a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe; the moral law. When the sun and the planets follow God’s laws of physics, it works well for everyone. When we follow God’s moral law, life works well for everyone.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if the sun and earth did not follow the laws of physics. It would be catastrophic. We do not get very far into the Bible before we discover what happens when people do not follow the moral law. Had Cain kept to God’s moral law, it would have gone so much better for Abel. It would have gone so much better for Adam and Eve. It would have gone so much better for Cain also! Experience confirms what the Bible teaches; life just does not work well without morals. The vast majority of people know that morals are important and good for the well being of humanity, even if they do not like certain ones. The laws of physics point to a Creator. The laws of morality do also. As Psalm 19 points out, both are part of God’s life sustaining universe.

Philosophy confirms that there is a moral lawgiver. Consider that if we say there is no God, then we can not speak of objective morals existing either. You might not balk at that at first. After all, don’t different cultures have different moral standards? However, do you think there are certain things which would be wrong for all people in every place and time? Is murder on a whim ever okay? Most of us would think not. Either objective morality exists, or morals are just subjective and are determined by social norms and personal preference. Either murder on a whim is truly wrong, or we prefer it not happen so that society can function well. When ancient peoples conducted the practice of “exposing” a child, that is, leaving an unwanted infant to die, was that wrong? If God does not exist, if there is no lawgiver, then it was not objectively wrong. Some atheists are willing to admit that morality is subjective, a matter of preference from society to society, but not too many of us would go that far. If human rights are real, then so too is the existence of God. You can watch a short video that explains all this much better here.

Are Christians better than everyone else? Perhaps not. There are atheists who live very moral lives, and there are Christians who live very immoral lives. However, the very fact people have opinions on the question is compelling evidence that objective morality is real. It is therefore also compelling evidence that God is real. If you find the fact of morality compelling, then so too is God.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here).

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A Compelling Cosmos

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

You can imagine the Psalmist looking up to the stars in awe, praising God for all creation. But do the heaven’s still declare the glory of God in our day? Do the skies still proclaim the work of his hands to a people as sophisticated and learned as we are? The heavens would compel the ancients to glorify God as Creator. But are we compelled by them today?

It turns out that the heavens still speak. Philosophers and scientists do the talking, but through the study of “the heavens,” the cosmos, we can learn something about the existence and nature of God.

Let us look to three questions inspired by the heavens. Please note that this is all very introductory.

What is behind the beginning of the universe?

Beginning in the last century a majority of scientists have been won over to the view that our universe had a beginning. While some Christians balked at the “Big Bang” theory, others saw the implications for theology. After all, we people of the Jurdeo-Christian tradition have long been saying that the universe had a beginning. William Lane Craig lays out what he calls the Kalam Cosmological argument in this way:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Further, the cause “must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and powerful.” Sound like anyone you know? God, as revealed in the Bible, fits this cause of the universe perfectly. But then you might object with “who created God?” Consider the first premise, and then note that God does not begin to exist, therefore we do not need to consider what caused his existence. Again, this is all very introductory, but here is a short video from William Lane Craig which explains it in a much better way.

Why are the conditions just right at the beginning of the universe for it to be life permitting?

Scientists tell us that certain physical constants, like the force of gravity, are so very specific, that if they were just slightly different at the beginning, the universe would not exist as we know it. It would not be life permitting. This is commonly called the Fine Tuning Argument.

Just how specific must these constants be? The web resource godandscience.org quotes Dr. Hugh Ross from his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, on one such constant, the ratio of electrons to protons:

One part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize. The following analogy might help: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles . . . Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. (p. 115)

Did this degree of fine tuning happen by necessity, chance, or by design? Design can be shown to be the most reasonable alternative. I am only scratching the surface, but here is another short video from William Lane Craig to give you a better handle on the fine tuning argument.

Why does anything exist at all?

Looking up to the heavens above on a starry night, we might ask not just how this all began, or how it ended up being so delicately balanced for life, but why is there anything at all? Gottfried Leibniz asked “why is there something rather than nothing?”. He then went on to show how God is the answer. William Lane Craig has formulated Leibniz’s thinking using the following premises:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This can be a tricky one to wrap our minds around, but basically the idea is that the universe is contingent, that is, something else was required for its existence. We experience this in daily life as we see that all things have some cause behind them. There is a computer here in front of me because someone built it, and I bought it. This computer did not need to exist, nor did I have to buy it. Its existence and placement is contingent on many things. However, God exists necessarily. Nothing caused God to exist. The only way a contingent universe could exist is if something which existed necessarily caused it to exist. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Here is one more short video from William Lane Craig to help you better understand the Leibniz contingency argument.

Some observations.

  • Some might wonder why not just read the Bible and not concern ourselves with such philosophical pursuits. However, the Bible itself says “The heavens declare the glory of God,” therefore it is worth hearing what the heavens declare. We do this through science and philosophy.
  • The fact that science and philosophy can be found to be in sync with theology reminds us that we need neither leave our brains at the door of the church, nor leave our faith in the parking lot of the university. This in itself is something compelling about Christianity. Many of us would find an “everything you know from anywhere else is wrong” kind of attitude to be off-putting.
  • Each of these arguments from philosophy and science are not a knock down argument for Christianity on their own. However, they are part of a larger cumulative case for the truth of Christianity which goes well beyond thinking about the cosmos.
  • You may feel like you can’t wrap your head around these arguments. As J. Warner Wallace points out, jurors in murder cases make decisions that affect the future of an individual in drastic ways, yet they don’t need to be experts. The jurors listen to the testimony of expert witnesses and consider all the evidence without becoming experts in any one part.

It is compelling that what was written so long ago in the Bible should provide answers consistent with what is being learned in our day. Christianity provides compelling answers to philosophical questions inspired by the cosmos, but far more than that, it speaks about God who loves! May you have confidence that Christianity is true. May you have confidence that God loves you in Christ!

Investigating Jesus: Not Jumping to Conclusions.

Some people see the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus as a matter of faith, and by faith they mean “belief despite the lack of evidence.” However, is this really how we define faith? Consider the things we trust, like a chair when we sit, or a car when we depend on it to get us somewhere. We don’t give much thought to whether the chair or car will let us down because we have evidence; they don’t normally let us down. When they begin to show some wear and tear, then our trust may wane, but here again this distrust is due to evidence. Consider the people you trust and those you do not trust. They have have likely earned your trust or distrust and you can probably point to evidence as to why your trust or lack thereof is reasonable. So too, trust in Jesus is a reasonable step to take based on evidence. Back to Easter, is there any evidence that the resurrection of Jesus happened? Can we put our trust in Jesus, not despite the evidence, but rather based of it?

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist when he became a cold-case detective, so we can rely on him to be very capable in handling evidence and eyewitness testimony. Follow his works in print and online and you will discover that he came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, not despite the evidence, but based on it. In our current series we are going to lean upon Wallace as we investigate the evidence for Jesus. I encourage you to read his books for yourself, Cold Case Christianity, and God’s Crime Scene and visit his website. For local readers, his books are available at Searchlight Bookstore. For readers from our church family, our Sunday School children will be working their way through Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.

The first thing we learn from Wallace about conducting an investigation, is to never jump to conclusions. Let me give an example. Suppose you are a detective and you are called to the scene of a death. On the way you learn that it is me. Your first thought is “who would want to murder the pastor?” Knowing me well you think you know what happened. You arrive at my house, and, sure enough there I am at a table with all kinds of Easter chocolate wrappings. That confirms what you were thinking; Clarke has died from chocolate poisoning.  Additionally, there are no signs of the windows being tampered with. You conclude that this is not a murder scene and that your work here is done. You think you can explain the evidence by staying inside the room, there is no need to look outside for a murderer. Case closed.

This is what happens when people try to explain “who Jesus really was” or try to “get back to the historical Jesus” from a  purely naturalistic viewpoint. There are many books, documentaries and other media that do this. They evaluate the evidence but only allow for explanations that don’t include the possibility of any kind of supernatural occurrence or “Anyone out there”. Evaluating the evidence for Jesus without allowing a supernatural explanation  is to begin the investigation with a conclusion. Beginning with a conclusion is not a good way to discover truth.

The policewoman who was first on the scene asks you what you think about the gunshot wound. Oops, you missed some evidence. She also points out that no gun was found and the front door was unlocked. When I said you were a detective, I didn’t say you were a very good one! The evidence is pointing “outside the room” for an explanation. This is now a murder scene and someone out there is responsible.

Is there “Someone out there” when it comes to Jesus? Should the truth seeking person consider all the explanations for the resurrection of Jesus including the supernatural one? But we all know dead people don’t rise from the dead, you say. Yes, that is true, but when you understand the story of God as related in the documents that make up the Bible, then you will know that we should not expect to see people raised from the dead to a new kind of life in past history except for this one time. Can we rule out the supernatural? Can we rule out God’s involvement? Can we rule out God’s existence?

J. Warner Wallace has written a second book where he writes about the evidence for the supernatural, and indeed not just for the supernatural, but for the existence of a personal God. I encourage you to read the book for yourself, as I cannot explain adequately here the eight lines of evidence pointing to the existence of God. All I can do is whet your appetite:

  1. Science and philosophy point to a beginning and if there is a beginning – then something or Someone caused it.
  2. The universe gives the appearance of being “fine-tuned” for life. So many different circumstances are “just right” for life to be possible on earth.
  3. Life had a beginning, and a lot of information is involved with proteins and DNA. The existence of God as creator is the best explanation for the beginning of life.
  4. There are signs of design in biology with living creatures and even the smallest of cells demonstrating complexity, intricacy, and purpose. This points to a Designer.
  5. We have an experience of consciousness. How do we get from brain matter to mental states? No one has been able to figure out the relationship between the two, however this is not a quandary for God.
  6. We experience free will. Purely naturalistic explanations do not allow for free will. This does not fit with our experience, or our legal system.
  7. We appeal to moral absolutes. Moral truth is grounded in the reflection of the nature of a perfect Being.
  8. We experience evil. Evil can only exist if there is a Divine Being who is Good.

All this evidence found within the universe points to a Being outside the universe. And what’s more, each of these add to our understanding of that Being as Wallace relates:

The evidence we’ve identified in the universe is best explained by an external suspect, and given the nature of this evidence, our suspect is clearly nonspatial, atemporal, nonmaterial, and uncaused. Our suspect is also powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe and purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life. Our suspect is intelligent and communicative, creative and resourceful. As a conscious Mind, our suspect is there personal source of moral truth and obligation and the standard of goodness. (J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene)

This is what we understand from looking at the universe. Please note that we have not even cracked open a Bible yet! That being said, does the description fit with Someone you may have heard about?

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.Genesis 1:1-3 (NRSV)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .Romans 1:19-22 (NRSV)

Since studying what we find in the universe points us to the supernatural, we should not be ruling out the possibility of a supernatural explanation for Jesus, his teaching, his miracles, and his resurrection. Even more precisely, what we see by looking the evidence in the universe points us not just to the “supernatural” but to a Supreme Being that fits the description of God in the Bible. Therefore, when that grand story of the Bible includes the resurrection of one man from the dead, we will want to pay particular attention to the possibility of the supernatural in his case. You might acquiesce with “I suppose anything is possible, but it is still not probable.” Hold onto that thought for now and allow the possibility. Next week we will begin looking at the proposed explanations of the resurrection of Jesus and start thinking about what we may consider to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Please don’t assume that the only way I could die would be by chocolate poisoning. And please do not assume that nothing supernatural ever happens and Jesus is not risen. Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly!