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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

If there is a God...

... then why are there atheists? RC Sproul wrote a book by that title and, though I haven't read that book, I studied and preached on Romans 1:18-21 last Sunday which talks about unbelievers "suppressing" the truth in unrighteousness and says that there is absolutely no excuse for unbelief.

Paul's point is that the reasons for unbelief are not intellectual but moral and spiritual. People love their autonomy and pride and do not want admit their need of Jesus' death and resurrection, nor submit to God's rulership over their lives.

Ask your unbelieving friend: "If I could show you that the evidence supports Jesus' claims, would you bow down before Him, accept His salvation and submit your life fully to Him?"

It is because they do not want to do that that they manufacture reasons for not believing in God. People believe what they want to believe. When confronted by reality they do not want to accept they go into denial.

I've witnessed to people who raise objections faster than I can respond; often they don't even wait for my response before going on to the next objection. They don't want to know if their objections are sound, they just want to show me that they can generate objections faster than I can answer them so that I'll stop talking to them about Jesus.


JLundell said...

"People believe what they want to believe. When confronted by reality they do not want to accept they go into denial."

Hey, a point of agreement, more or less.

I'm curious, though, what you mean by "evidence". Rom 1:18-21 seems a bit circular to me.

Anonymous said...

"It is because they do not want to do that that they manufacture reasons for not believing in God." Likewise, you could argue that many believers manufacture reasons to believe in god. Additionally, it is incorrect to disassociate intellectualism with a non-belief in god. Statistically, it is a fact. Science and Spirituality don't work together.

Mark Swanson said...


Yes, the statement you quoted is true of everyone to some degree, not just unbelievers. As for the evidence. Rom 1:18-21 is just a declarative statement, it isn't meant to be an argument.

I'd be happy to discuss the nature of the evidence with you, but it can't be done in brief emails or comments. I could suggest a couple books to read (and you could suggest a couple for me) and I could come down to the Bay area in a month or two and we could discuss it.

Most of our exchanges in the past have been arguments, rather than explorations; I'd be willing to take a different approach if you are. Best wishes.

Mark Swanson said...


Your second sentence is true. It can cut both ways. The issue of God's existence can't be settled by psychology, though many, many people have argued to me that believers are simply engaged in wish-fulfillment, as if that settled the argument.

There are deep psychological reasons for everyone to be both drawn to God and repulsed by Him. The issue is: Does He exist and is He knowable?

"It is incorrect to disassociate intellectualism with a non-belief in god." I'm trying to parse through that triple negative but I'm just getting twisted in knots. Say what?

Statistically, what is a fact? You lost me again, what does your "it" refer to?. Your previous statement doesn't seem to say anything (whatever it says) that can be verified or disproven by statistics. Please clarify.

Science and Spirituality work together just fine for millions of scientists, both famous and, like you, anonymous.

jlundell said...

I'll go first: William James, Varieties of Religious Experience.

I'm struck by a few of the words you've used in recent posts, in particular "evidence", "proves", and "rational".

Rationality is a useful, though perhaps overrated, faculty. In my understanding, though, which grows out of a mathematico-philosophical background, a rational proof proceeds from premises which we have already established to be true, or from "self-evident" (or at least mutually agreed) premises.

I'm sympathetic to the Cartesian program of looking for undeniable premises as a starting point, though not, of course, with the additional more questionable premises he sneaks in to cut his way out of the resulting bag o' solipsism.

Mark Swanson said...

Hi Jonathan,

I wouldn't have guessed you'd pick James. Read it for a seminary class. It's good to understand why people have certain beliefs (to the extent it's possible) but doesn't solve any epistemological questions.

But I am comfortable with your epistemological approach, as I understand it, and basically agree with your last two paragraphs.

As for books, Rumours by Phillip Yancey and Long Journey Home by Os Guinness would probably appeal to your style of thinking.

Supplementally, given your scholarly bent toward biblical studies, NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God addresses Christological studies.

JLundell said...

Rumours by Phillip Yancey and Long Journey Home by Os Guinness would probably appeal to your style of thinking.

Not to yours, though, I'd guess, Yancey in particular.

As for James, Varieties represents a transitional period (it seems to me) between James the (mainly) psychologist and James the (mainly) philosopher. James's epistemology is pragmatic/pluralist/empirical, as opposed to absolute or rationalistic. Experience is at the core of his epistemology, and in that sense Varieties is epistemological to its core.

What little Yancey I've read (in the last hour or so, mainly interviews) reminds of a more cheerful new-age Walker Percy.

But to my question: You're talking about rationality and showing evidence and (maybe, maybe not) proof. Which of the books you recommended takes on that challenge? My impression is that it's not the Yancey, but then I haven't read it.

(Oddly, when I mentioned Varieties, I was thinking of saying, and will say now, "reading it in school doesn't count.")

Mark Swanson said...

No, I like both books- a lot. I'm not much for the in-your-face style when it comes to such things (though I'll use it in email political debates to try to cut through verbiage and get to the point).

I mentioned "rationality", "evidence" and such, but I didn't say that the empirical approach is the way to go. I'm not terribly impressed by the classical "proofs" for God (whether valid or not, they just don't speak to me), and empiricism has it's limits when you are dealing with an invisible spirit.

My approach would be hinted at by my earlier post ("Anthropic Principle", but the part that isn't about the anthropic principle), developed a little more by my sermon from Jan 13 ( and much more developed in Yancey and Guinness (and, in a different form, by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity).

If you really want the rational approach, the best place is to start is with Alvin Plantinga, "Warranted Christian Belief".

BTW: anytime I try to email anything to the rant, or even to zombierunner it gets rejected as undeliverable.

JLundell said...

Send me a copy of the rejection notice, please.