Those who like to think that they are rational often go back to repeat David Hume’s essay against miracles, written in 1748. Here Hume wrote: ‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.’ This is then used as an argument against God’s being the creator of the world. Philosophically speaking, Hume’s statement contains as much assertion as argument, and is certainly vulnerable at a number of points. In any case, it seems that the atheist has to postulate quite a number of miracles of his own.
First, he has to explain the origin of the world. The Nobel Laureate, George Wald, claimed that over millions of years the impossible becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. His conclusion is that ‘One has only to wait; time itself performs miracles.’ Presumably no one has ever actually seen time performing miracles. All our experience of life and knowledge of how it works is against it.
Lawrence Krauss tried to say that everything came from nothing, or from a quantum vacuum. To believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth is apparently superstition, but to believe that somehow time or a quantum vacuum created the universe is passed off as science. Maria in the Sound of Music sings: ‘Nothing comes from nothing,/ Nothing ever could’. Wald and Krauss could have learnt some science from that unlikely source. The universe has all the hallmarks of having been brought into being by an omnipotent Creator. When I was at university in the 1970s, Antony Flew was the resident philosophical atheist, but he finally came to recognise the obvious, and admit that the complexities are needed to produce life are so pronounced that divine intelligence must have been involved. For this confession, he was virtually excommunicated by Richard Dawkins, and treated as if dementia had taken over his thinking.
Secondly, he has to explain the order of the world. Richard Dawkins tries to mock God as ‘the blind watchmaker’. Rather desperately, he argues that there is no intelligent design and order in the world. Yet Ben Stein drew him out of his atheistic cocoon to acknowledge that there is evidence of design in the world, only it did not come from God, but perhaps from aliens. Here, he only manages to narrow the gap between science and science fiction.
There is order everywhere in the world. We could not live without it: ‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’ (Gen.8:22). The complexities are indeed impressive, and overwhelming, but our eyes work so that we can see, our food intake gives us energy, the air we breathe is necessary for our lives, the warmth from the sun sustains us but is not meant to fry us, our legs enable us to move from one place to another, and so the order goes on and on. Life itself is a miracle.
Thirdly, he has to explain meaning in the world. Dawkins once commented: ‘What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question.’ I daresay it is if one does not believe that human beings are created in the image of God (Gen.1:26-28) with the law of God written on their hearts (Rom.2:14-16). In fact, it is impossible to derive any kind of morality from a Big Bang.
Professor Michael Archer of the University of NSW, contends that the internet is undermining Christian faith because ‘When you give people access to actual information, superstitions struggle to survive.’ The reality is rather different, for the atheist has to postulate miracle after miracle without a transcendent and sovereign God. Take away the abuse, and the angry atheist has little to offer except his own version of atheistic miracles. To Richard Dawkins, ‘Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.’ On the contrary, the Christian faith comes from the God who calls on us to reason together (Isa.1:18). In God, we see how the world was created, how it has order, and how it has meaning. Without God, we cannot see anything, but we still have to believe in miracles!
Rev Dr Peter Barnes is currently the pastor at Revesby Presbyterian Church and Church History lecturer at Christ College, Sydney.