From the From The President column of the Christian Research Newsletter,
Volume 3: Number 2, 1990
[Note: I have not sent a copy of this rebuttal to Mr. Hanegraaff. Like
Gerald Lund before him, I doubt that he would be interested in my arguments,
and I'm quite sure he doesn't want to hear them from me.]
Beyond a doubt, the most significant question to ever penetrate the human
mind is that of the existence of God. More consequences for humanity hinge on the denial or
affirmation of God's existence than any other issue.
I'm not really inclined to disagree here. The question of whether
there is a god and what that god expects of us does warrant some
Countless numbers of Christian families have sent their children
off to schools across America only to see them return as strangers
robbed of their faith in God and of the basis for morality and ethics.
Is this statement grossly oversimplified and biased? Check. Does it demonize alternative
worldviews? Check. Does it include an emotionally charged call to protect threatened
children? Check. This has all the makings of a good illogical rant.
Many of these children have attempted to fill the vacuum in their lives through
aberrant sex, drugs, and alcohol.
On the other hand, no one who REALLY believes in God will ever
have sex or use drugs and alcohol. Or if they do they'll have the
proper sense to feel suicide-level guilt about their vile acts.
Hypocrisy aside, I really question Hank's implicit assertion that
everyone has a "God-shaped hole" in them, just waiting to be filled.
Most people who believe they have one have been raised to believe
their lives cannot be meaningful without divine intervention.
Others have sought to fill this void with material success,
which can never satisfy the spiritual needs of one created
in the image of God.
Circular reasoning? Check! Hanegraaf's only evidence
that such ephemeral "spiritual needs" exist is that we are created in the image of
God, which is what his article ostensibly set out to prove.
"Is there really a God?" Though there are a variety of possible
responses to this question, there are three traditional responses
that predominate in Western society: (1) God does not exist --
atheism; (2) we cannot know whether God exists -- agnosticism;
and (3) a personal God does exist-- theism. This article will
demonstrate how, in witnessing to an atheist, one can move from
atheism to agnosticism, from agnosticism to theism, and from the
concept of an impersonal God to the personal God of Scripture.
Don't forget "apatheism" (the denial that the question is important). I would
also note that "theism" doesn't require belief in a personal god.
An impersonal one suits many people quite nicely.
To begin, atheism involves a logical fallacy known as a universal negative.
Simply stated, a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be
able to say "there is no God" from his own pool of knowledge. Only someone
capable of being in all places at the same time -- with a perfect knowledge
of all that is in the universe -- can make such a statement based on the facts.
In other words, a person would have to be God to say there is no God.
Hence, the assertion is logically indefensible.
Sorry, Hank, but thank you for playing. Though the conclusions
themselves are valid, this merely demonstrates
the absurdity of giving the atheist the burden of proving that
no god exists. Second, in order for
the argument to hold water, we must refrain from defining what
sort of god we're talking about. If we were to say it is impossible
to prove that there is no god who created the primordial fireball
and then spent the next 15 billion years hiding from everyone, we
would be entirely correct. But it would be wrong to say that we
cannot disprove a deity who, for example, loves all people equally,
yet chooses to put most of them in a deep pit to be tortured for
eternity. These attributes are contradictory, therefore no being
can have both attributes at the same time.
By using arguments like this, you will often find that an atheist
quickly converts to agnosticism and is thus making progress rapidly
in the right direction. This leads us to the second possible
response: agnosticism. In dealing with an open-minded agnostic, an
approach I have found effective is to point out that the universe is
an effect which requires a sufficient cause, and the only sufficient
cause is God.
Unfortunately, as long as you ignore the fact
that it is impossible to make such statements about the universe as a
whole, this argument almost makes sense.
But what are the alternatives to the
creation of the universe by an omnipotent power?
As I mentioned before, it is silly to
take "common-sense" notions like "every effect has to have a cause"
and try to apply them on a universal scale. This is a logical mistake
for two reasons. First, your experience only covers a limited sample
of knowledge, so it is impossible for a person to say for certain that
everything must have a cause. Quite the contrary, certain facets of
both chaos theory and quantum mechanics seem to point to the possibility
that some things have no deterministic cause. More importantly, the Universe as
a whole is a different class of object from that which we spend our
day-to-day lives observing, making our "intuition" irrelevant.
- 1) Creation by a less-than-omnipotent power (if the
universe is finite in extent, then the existence of such a universe
does not require an infinite power to create).
- 2) Creation by a tiny intelligent creative force. This is
analogous to a kid throwing a small rock off a cliff and starting a
massive landslide. The kid was able to cause the landslide not
because he is more powerful than the landslide, but because the raw
material (potential energy in the rocks) was already there for him to use.
- 3) Creation by committee. There could have been as many Gods as
you like involved in such an undertaking (in fact, according to the Mormon theology, there were). Even if, individually, they
didn't have the ability to create what we see today, together they
might have been able to.
- 4) The uncaused universe.
Hank leaves another important question unanswered: Why should
we assume that, while the universe requires a creator, the
creator of such a universe does not? The usual answer is that
"well, God exists outside of time." This answer is inadequate.
First, as best I can tell, the "outside of time" theory was invented
for the sole purpose of dodging the question of where God came from.
This seems disengenuous at best. Secondly, it smacks of Calvinist
predestination. All the choices you will ever make have already been
made, and there is nothing you can do to change them. Your salvation
or damnation was set before you were ever created.
As Scripture says, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the
skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Ps. 19:1).
The scriptures also declare that snails melt as they move and
that bats are "a type of bird (Deuteronomy 14:11-18)." Until
the Bible is shown as worthy of my trust, the "openminded
agnostic" need not take it at its word.
It is helpful to clarify that there are only four possible
explanations for how the universe came to be. The first is
that the universe is an illusion. This ultimately reduces
to solipsism -- the theory that "self" is the only reality,
that "I alone exist." This view is unacceptable in an age of
scientific enlightenment. (Even a full-blown solipsist looks
both ways before crossing the street.)
I would tend to agree. Then again, it is also possible to be a
simulationist. The basic premise is that we are all living in a
giant computer. This premise would maintain the fact that the
universe was an illusion without necessitating solipsism.
The second possibility is that the universe is eternal. This possibility
flies in the face of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that
everything in the universe is running inexorably downhill from order to
disorder, from complexity to chaos. If the universe was eternally old, it
would have died a heat-loss death an eternity ago.
Again, but with diminished enthusiasm, I'll break out Hank's own
"infinite knowledge" argument. In order to make the statements he
has, and know for certain of their correctness, Hank would have to
know for a fact that no violations of the second law have ever or
could ever occur. This means he would either have to know the past
and future with perfect certainty, or know with certitude what
scientific principles govern the universe.
This is why I don't like using this argument. It's too easy, and
flies in the face of the principles of "burden of proof." Here,
I think, Hank has a point. I don't believe the universe is
infinitely old, though Eric Lehrner (author of "The Big Bang Never
The third "possibility" is that the universe emerged from nothing. Little needs to be said
about the absurdity of this option. Reason tells us that out of nothing comes nothing.
Please refer to what I said earlier about trying to apply such down-to-earth assumptions to
the universe as a whole.
This position militates against the first law of thermodynamics, which says
that energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only change forms.
I'll give Hank this: He loves his thermodynamics (misapplied as
they might be). Modern quantum mechanics seems to demand the
existence of "virtual particles," which are created in pairs of
antiparticles, which pop into existence and destroy themselves in an
instant. Unless Hank understands quantum mechanics better than those
working at the cutting edge of physics, then his assertion of the impossibility of
"creation ex nihilo sans God" is only his assertion, and his "expert opinion" can
To say an effect can exist without a cause, one must deny the basis for all scientific
investigation and rational thought.
Not necessarily. Again, quantum mechanics seems to be throwing
rational thought for a loop, but nobody has given up on studying these phenomena.
The fourth (and only tenable) possibility is that the universe was created by God.
Clearly, theism -- the belief in a personal God who is the Creator and Ruler of the
universe -- is the only viable option on the question of God's existence.
Can someone explain how he got from "God created the universe" to "this God is also
a personal God who rules the universe today and takes a keen interest in human
affairs?" It looks to me like Mr. Hanegraaf is trying to cross a chasm in two jumps.
Once this is established, it can be pointed out that only a
personal God can account for human personality, thought, and morality.
How? Evolutionary theory seems to account for thought and morality quite
nicely. For example, we may have evolved morals because acting in certain
ways that allowed for cooperation between groups of people provided an
advantage over those groups who were entirely unable to cooperate.
Furthermore, this personal God has manifested Himself in the person
of Jesus Christ, who demonstrated His deity through the undeniable fact
of the Resurrection.
[snicker]. . . So sorry. . . [contorts face until it looks almost
somber again] . . . [choke!] BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! I'm sorry for the outburst.
While I have difficulty dignifying this absurd and unsupported leap with a
response, I will do my best. The "fact" of the resurrection is far from
undeniable. The only evidence we have for it, in fact, are the four Gospels
and several epistles, all of which are so completely contradictory as to the
events surrounding the Resurrection as to discredit themselves. It would be
pointless to do
a more comprehensive survey of the "facts" here.
Additionally, God has provided His written Word which can be
shown to be divine rather than human in origin.
As demonstrated by Michael Drosnin, in his scholarly work, entitled "The Bible
Code." Sorry, but I've read all too many such demonstrations of the Bible's
supernatural origin, and none of them have held water. Right when he gets to
the Christian assertions which need the most support, he begins to use argument
from authority -- his own authority.
Although we cannot talk atheists and agnostics into the Kingdom of God, God
can use our answers to open their hearts to receive the gospel. Scripture
therefore exhorts us to "always be prepared to give to every man an answer"
(1 Pet. 3:15).
Basically, this paragraph is giving Hank's readers permission to stop the
conversation if their target makes any objection to the arguments.
Since argumentation alone cannot force someone to accept the Christian message,
the reader who is faced with objections now has permission to presume that
the heart of the objector just
isn't open. As for 1 Peter 3:15, I plan to break it out any time an opponent
dodges a question.
(For further insight, my tape "Objections Overruled" and Personal Witness Training: Your Handle on the Great Commission are available from CRI.)
Thanks, Hank, but I don't think my stomach can take much more laughing.