Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Universe Was No Accident: What We Still and Will Believe

The Universe Was No Accident

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ Creed)

The vast majority of people throughout human history have believed that God (or a god or numerous gods or some kind of divine being) created all that exists. The mythologies and cosmologies have differed, but the prevailing worldviews in nearly every culture have agreed that, when we survey the earth or the heavens, what we’re looking at is a creation.

So, for most of the Christian era, when Christians have confessed from the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” non-Christian hearers have not found the concept of God as the creator incredible. Hardly anyone could have possibly conceived of the cosmos just popping into existence on its own. Some deity must have made all this.

Today, however, at least in some parts of the world, it’s a different story. Increasing numbers say they find our confession about creation ludicrous. They claim to believe the cosmos, and we inhabitants, came into existence without any divine initiative. And while not yet the stated personal worldview of the majority of individuals, atheistic or agnostic naturalism, with its God-less origin and end-times visions, has become the most influential worldview of the popular cultures in Europe, North America, and other regions. And it poses a formidable challenge to the Christian belief in God the Creator.

But for Christians, such a challenge is nothing new. In every era, we have been called to bear witness to — and confess before — an unbelieving world, whatever its prevailing worldview, that God the Creator is ultimate reality, that there is profound meaning in all he has made, and that he is directing the course of the future of his creation not toward extinction, but toward a new birth of freedom. And this calls for Christian courage, because our confession will sound foolish to those who claim otherwise.

Audacious Confession

To believe that God the Father is the Creator of heaven and earth is to believe that God is ultimate reality. It is to believe

  • that the rock-bottom truth is God’s self-revelation as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14), the self-existent One “from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6);
  • that God is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6) and “our Father . . . the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:2–3) for everyone who by faith is “in Christ” (Romans 8:1);
  • that this God is God, “and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22);
  • that not only is there no other god, but there is no absence of God, no ultimate nothing — that “in the beginning [there was] God” (Genesis 1:1). Period.

In a pluralistic world, this can seem like an audacious confession. And Christianity has only ever existed in a pluralistic world. It requires courage to stand in opposition to a dominant cultural worldview, and declare that ultimate reality is, in fact, radically different. And historically, Christians have often been called to confess the Trinitarian God as ultimate reality and the cosmos as his creation before cultures whose worldview is diametrically opposed (often with great hostility) to what we confess. It requires courage to be a confessing Christian.

For the most part, those other dominant worldviews have been fundamentally religious: animistic, pantheistic, polytheistic, or monotheistic. The debate has centered on which supernature is real.

But for most Christians in the West today, the most dominant alternative worldview in your culture is fundamentally nonreligious. Part of this is due to the way your nation is constitutionally constructed: to accommodate a plurality of worldviews, which, generally speaking, is good. But as we all know, it is also due to the influence of metaphysical naturalism (the denial of the supernatural). This belief has grown significantly over the last 150 years, largely as a result of inferences drawn from discoveries in various scientific fields, most famously Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Now the debate has centered on the very existence of the supernatural.

One significant reality at stake in the creation debate is whether or not the magnificent cosmos has any inherent meaning. And the implications of that question, in particular, are huge.

Hope of a Created Cosmos

When Christians confess that God the Father created the heavens and the earth, inherent in that belief are three truths: first, that God’s creation was originally “very good” (Genesis 1:31); second, that after the fall of mankind (Genesis 3), God subjected the creation to futility — in hope (Romans 8:20); third, that God so subjected it in hope “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

This means that what Christians see all around them (or should) is a creation, one that is infused with profound meaning. We see “heavens [that] declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and an “earth . . . full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Even in its futility and corruption, Christians see in creation God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature . . . in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). And the groaning of this corrupted creation, which we all keenly experience, increases (or should) our anticipation of “the [promised] freedom of the glory of the children of God,” when he will make the heavens and the earth completely new, and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:1, 4).

In other words, a cosmos created by “the God of hope” makes it possible for a Christian to be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, [and] by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . [to] abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

Despair of an Uncreated Cosmos

Metaphysical naturalism, on the other hand, holds out no such hope. Famous twentieth-century philosopher, mathematician, and metaphysical naturalist Bertrand Russell, in beautiful prose and brutal terms, made clear what it means to embrace a belief in a cosmos “void of meaning”:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (“A Free Man’s Worship”)

Putting it even more personally, toward the end of his life Russell said of his approaching death,

There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.

Reading Russell, I’m reminded of Chesterton’s comment regarding a certain metaphysical naturalist he knew: “He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding “(Orthodoxy, 18). And it’s eminently debatable that science conclusively validates such a worldview, as Russell claimed. A host of credible, rational scientists have, upon examination of the evidence, come to the belief that God the Father created the heavens and the earth.

But Russell nails this point: metaphysical naturalism is hopeless. “There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere.” This is, after all, a worldview built on “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” And herein lies a clue to the truth of what is ultimately real, one the human heart recognizes and longs for: hope.

Question We Can Answer

It can be intimidating to confess God as Creator in the face of a worldview that has an arsenal of purported scientific assertions and objections to our creed. We think we must be able to capably answer them. While some of us are called and equipped to do this, many of us aren’t.

But all Christians have something every other person desperately needs and can’t help but seek: hope. That’s why Peter said, “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). He didn’t mean all of us should be prepared to dismantle and invalidate another’s worldview. He meant we all should be ready to explain our hope.

Hope is necessary for human life. Our souls need hope like our bodies need food — we can’t keep going without it. Which means, those who embrace Russell’s description of ultimate reality hold a belief in their heads that their hearts cannot really bear. A faith (which is what naturalism is) built on a foundation of unyielding despair is vulnerable to a faith built on the foundation of hope.

Christianity sounds like “folly” to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 1:18). God designed it that way. He has chosen “what is foolish in the world to shame [those who believe they are] wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). So, it should not surprise us when metaphysical naturalists call us kooky. But Christianity is abundantly rich in precisely what metaphysical naturalism is bankrupt of: hope. This can give us courage as we confess our audacious belief in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. For when we’re asked how “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3), we can be prepared to offer them what they most need: the God of hope.



from Desiring God http://rss.desiringgod.org/link/10732/14152489/the-universe-was-no-accident
via DG