The Atheist’s Prison

These are my halcyon days
when fruit has never been so sweet;
these days of happy harvest,
of gifts I did not earn.

I give my thanks to Him
who opened up my eyes to see;
the Giver of the blessings
which overflow my cup.

The Father gives us life;
the structure and the beauty
of all creation bears
his perfect finger prints.

The only sadness I can feel
is of hardened hearts
in dark, self-made prisons
choosing blindness.

Utter sadness –
Light is shining just outside,
the Door is in their reach –
but darkness is proven by the blind.

Still, some blind eyes have opened;
some prisoners set free.
And so I join with steadfast Job:
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

– Michael D. Day  2012

In a comment to my article, “The Authority For Faith” an atheist countered my statement, “Atheists and skeptics insist that “Science” should be the authority for everything” by saying, “What Atheists and skeptics simply point out is that if you make an extraordinary claim, then your evidence to support the premise must also be extraordinary.”

It is a biased value judgement that believing in God or the supernatural is an “extraordinary claim”.  This person’s name-dropping of Bertrand Russell without even the briefest of explanation as to why his analogy is even relevant to the issue of authority for faith, made it necessary for me to find out for myself.

Bertrand Russell made a defensive argument that skeptics shouldn’t have to disprove religious claims, but rather, the onus is on the religious to prove God exists.  His issue was that an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence.  His biased premise that belief in God is extraordinary is reflected in his analogy choice: a teapot orbiting the Sun.  This is all very interesting, but doesn’t really address the point of my article. which was the authority for faith.  I find the analogy irrelevant.  Proof and authority are two different issues.

Why would he believe that faith in God is making an extraordinary claim?  Because the fundamental concept of an atheist’s reality is that it must be subject to scientific examination.  Since faith does not fit into that concept of reality, the atheist considers it to be “extraordinary”.  A neat little package, wouldn’t you say?

Faith in God is common, normal and ordinary.  It is a basic element of the human condition.  The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”  This is not an extraordinary claim.  The fact that God exists is self-evident, not “superstition”, as atheists label it, and certainly not irrational.

We read in Romans 1:19-20, “…what is known about God is plain to them.  For ever since the creation of the universe his invisible qualities — both his eternal power and his divine nature — have been clearly seen, because they can be understood from what he has made.” (CJB, emphasis added).  Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world.” (NIV)  God’s creation is constantly revealing God to us, but you have to want to listen if you hope to hear.

The atheist continued commenting, “the burden of proof is upon the person first making the claim.”  Notice the way in which he is framing his issue.  My article addressed the authority for faith.  He begins with the premise that faith is making an extraordinary claim, which is therefore subject to proof by way of extraordinary evidence.  What I find fascinating is how atheists and other skeptics have decided that they have the authority to determine standards of evidence for something they don’t even consider real.

Belief in God makes no extraordinary claim.  But shutting one’s eyes to the existence of God is quite extraordinary, as it makes the presumption that all authority is subject to the judgement of human understanding.  We humans are finite and temporal, while God is infinite and eternal.  That is a humbling realization.  Disbelief in God is extraordinary because the finite assumes authority over the infinite; the temporal over the eternal.

My article was about authority, something few in today’s society seem to grasp.  We live in an Age when it’s chic to reject the authority of law or tradition.  Each person is his own authority with his own set of standards.  Rules are for sheep.  If you can afford a good enough lawyer, you may even beat a murder rap.  So, the atheist presumes his standards to be authoritative and expects the whole world, including people of faith to conform to them.

But authority, by definition, does not require a “burden of proof”.  Authority is maintained on the basis of power.  One may either accept or reject authority, but when authority is rejected, there will eventually be a price to be paid.  The fact that some reject or deny God and his authority does not validate their claim that God is not real and has no authority over them.  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  God gives everyone many opportunities to “find” him.  He is very patient, but not forever (2 Peter 3:8-10).

The “burden of proof” is a legal term which has to do with determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime.  Even though atheists are repulsed by faith in God, it is not a crime and does not require any “burden of proof”.  That the existence of God requires proof is simply a “claim” made by skeptics, based on their own non-belief.  Frankly, such a claim is extraordinary.  Other than their skepticism and their intolerant disgust for all things supernatural, they have failed to present the extraordinary evidence they need to prove their extraordinary claim.

Atheist thinking focuses on the concept of “proof”, most commonly invoking “science” or the scientific method.  But the “burden of proof” applies to law, not science or faith.  “Proving” someone guilty in a court of law is different from proving a scientific fact.  Yes, evidence is presented, but rhetorically, not clinically.  The interpretation of evidence requires judgment, which sometimes is faulty, as witnessed by verdicts which are overturned on appeal.  Nevertheless, the authority of a court decision stands, unless and until it is overturned by a higher court.

Legal standards for determining guilt vary.  We’ve all heard the phrase, “beyond the shadow of a doubt”.  But the actual standard in law is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. “Reasonable” certainly isn’t scientific.  Another legal standard is “by the preponderance of the evidence”.  In all cases — whether by judge or jury — verdicts are determined by “weighing” the evidence and making a judgement.

If atheists are truly genuine in their demand that believers present convincing evidence for their faith, then I refer them to Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict.  But I doubt that atheists really want to consider the evidence.  They’ve already made up their minds and are too busy thrilling themselves with analogies about orbiting teapots.

[UPDATE] 1/29/13:  Also, see The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel.

The atheist’s comment to my article continued, “there exists no authoritative source to validate the bible as true.”  This kind of thinking starts from nowhere and goes nowhere.  It rejects all authoritative sources that don’t conform to one’s own criteria because the individual is his own ultimate authority.  While he may cite his own “authoritative sources” he does so because, like books on a shelf, they may support his own outlook, but they hold no real authority over him.

I hold the Bible to be the authority for what I believe.  God “authored” the Bible.  Of course an atheist would deny any authoritative source to validate the Bible.  Again, authority does not require validation.  One may either accept it or reject it.  But the reality of that authority exists, and there will be consequences commensurate to accepting or rejecting it.  Just because the atheist says he doesn’t believe God exists and he doesn’t believe the authority of the Bible doesn’t put any burden on me to have to prove anything to him.  That’s his free choice.

Finally, the atheist touched on a subject that has been a stumbling block even to believers: charging the Bible with justifying “the killing of innocent life” on the part of God and God’s people.  What he said was, “According to the Bible, God killed all the first born (infanticide) in order to teach the Pharaoh a lesson. Morally, we understand this to be wrong on several levels. As the Bible is quite clear on this, it can only be translated into something good by twisting meanings or changing contexts.”  This was in response to my statement, “As for critics who claim the Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean, I say, “Prove it.”

No meanings need to be twisted, no contexts need to be changed to understand that the ten “plagues” of Exodus 11 that God heaped on Pharaoh and Egypt, culminating in the death of all first-born sons (some infants, some adults) was God’s judgement against Pharaoh and Egypt.  God’s judgement was to punish Pharaoh and Egypt for enslaving his people and refusing to let them go.  He was not trying to “teach the Pharaoh a lesson”, but to show him God makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Exodus 11:7).  Pharaoh treated Israel as if they were under him, but Israel belonged to God, who would no longer allow them to be oppressed in Egypt.

As harsh as God’s judgement has been in the past and will be in the future, and as difficult as that may be for us to accept, those who believe in God must accept God’s authority over them.  (I touched on the idea of perceiving God’s judgement as “cruel” or “immoral” in my article, “Michael Savage Is Wrong About The Bible”.  Scroll down to “NO SURVIVORS WERE LEFT”).  Human beings do not have the right to demand God’s adherence to human wisdom or standards of morality.  I question the coherency of the statement, “…we understand this to be wrong on several levels.”  What levels?  Society today tells us abortion is a woman’s right, even up to the time of birth (in partial birth abortions) and yet that the death penalty for capital crimes is immoral.  So it’s OK for us humans to pick and choose when we can kill, but not God?

The most accurate translation of the sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not “murder,” not Thou shalt not “kill”.  To a “moral” person, abortion is murder, while the death penalty and wartime killing are not.  Equally, when people are killed as a result of God’s judgement, it is not “immoral”.

The atheist assumes God must adhere to his idea of morality.  He does not accept that human beings are in no position to expect God to answer to any of our expectations.  Job tried that.  If you study Job, you find that he was a good man who did not deserve the calamities that happened to him (which God did not make happen — Satan did).  Job demanded that God hear his case and let him explain why he didn’t deserve the things that happened to him.  But God said in Job 38:2, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?… I will question you and you shall answer me.” (emphasis added).  Again, in Job 40:2, God says, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!”

In Job 40:8 God adds, “Would you discredit my justice?  Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”  In the end, Job repented for his pride of expecting God to answer to his standards, and for this act of faith, God blessed Job with twice the blessings he had known before.  You see, the point of the book of Job is that Satan thought he could show God that the only reason Job was a God-fearing man was because God had blessed him.  Take away his blessings, give him a life of troubles, and Satan was sure that Job would curse God.  But Satan’s ploy didn’t work, and in the end, Job’s attitude of faith glorified God.

Because atheists do not acknowledge God, they are in effect cursing God and glorifying Satan.  They do this with full reliance and confidence in demanding reality conform to their own standards of proof.  In so doing, they place themselves — not God — at the apex of their reality.  They put themselves in God’s place.  But their reality is not the “spacious place” of 2 Samuel 22:20, where there is room for freedom.  It is a confined space, a prison of their own thinking — limited to what their own minds can control.  Their world of proof is small, while faith in Christ offers infinite freedom.  Pray for them.

“You see,” said Aslan, “They will not let us help them.  They have chosen cunning instead of belief.  Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

– from “How the Dwarfs Refused To Be Taken In”, Chapter 13 of The Last Battle, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

About retiredday

I am Michael D. Day, a regular, everyday guy -- retired. I stand for God-given freedom, which means I think for myself. I believe in being civil, because the Bible teaches that we should love our enemies. But I also believe in saying it how I see it, and explaining just why I see it that way, sort of like 2 Timothy 4:2.
This entry was posted in Belief in God, Skepticism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Atheist’s Prison

  1. Gina Miller says:

    This is an excellent piece, Mike! As always, you nail it, and wrapping up with Aslan’s words from the Last Battle–perfect!

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