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The Debate Over Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?

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The Debate Over Life's Ultimate Question

Does God Exist?

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"The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global," says the popular British newsmagazine The Economist (April 21, 2007, p. 23). Citing reporters in Istanbul, Moscow and Rome, the magazine concluded that the current controversy over God's existence is spreading all over the world.

"A good year for religious conflict and atheism" is how columnist Gerard Baker of The Times of London summarized 2006 in the title of a Dec. 22 feature article. This trend has continued unabated well into 2007.

Across the Atlantic, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby commented: "You don't have to be especially religious to find this atheist zealotry alarming nor do you have to live in Europe. Though religion remains important in American life, anti-religious passion is surging here too" (Dec. 15, 2006).

A confusing world of contradictions

Our age is often contradictory when it comes to belief systems and how we choose to live. At the same time that militant atheists are spreading the message of evolution and the supposed nonexistence of God, we also find a resurgence in religion—especially in certain areas of the world. Witness the growth of both Islam and traditional Christianity in the developing world.

People today are presented with a confusing array of choices. One of the purposes of The Good News, a magazine of understanding, is to clarify important spiritual issues—making them plain to all having eyes to see. We seek to focus our readers' attention on trunk-of-the-tree biblical beliefs and values—and their application to current happenings.

Our teachings are based on what the apostle Paul described as "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Our doctrines are based on the entire Bible—"correctly teaching the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Why is this important? Because truth matters. What we believe about God and His Word will shape our thoughts, values, morals and how we choose to live. In the same way, rejection of God and His Word will likewise shape how we live.

Let us first consider the rise of militant atheism.

"The high priest of atheism"

Many things have been and are being written about Oxford professor Richard Dawkins' disbelief in God and open hostility toward Christianity. One of the world's foremost proponents of evolution, he is also perhaps one of the greatest advocates of atheism. One British historian even dubbed him "the ayatollah of atheism." Others have called him "the high priest of atheism."

John Preston, writing in Seven (the magazine supplement of The Sunday Telegraph, Dec. 17, 2006, p. 8), stated that Dawkins "is almost evangelical in telling Christians they are misguided in their faith."

Even those who vehemently oppose his views generally acknowledge that Professor Dawkins "has caused a sensation this year with the runaway success of his anti-religious book, The God Delusion" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 24, 2006, p. 2). This book has headed the nonfiction best-seller list in Britain, and it stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 14 weeks.

On a recent train and ferry trip from England to Northern Ireland and back, I saw at least two individuals reading The God Delusion intently. In one case I sat down opposite a businessman, and a conversation about Dawkins' book soon ensued. It turned out to be a friendly discussion in which I (hopefully tactfully and diplomatically) pointed out some of the flaws in the author's rationale.

Dawkins started his aggressive campaign with a two-part television documentary titled "The Root of All Evil?" And what was the "evil" as he saw it? Nothing less than religion in general and Christianity in particular.

But Professor Dawkins is not the only atheism spokesman who wants to see religion eradicated. "In London last month, leading British atheists squared off with defenders of faith in a public debate on the motion 'We'd be better off without religion' . . . The audience [of 2,000] declared the atheists the victors by a margin of 1,205 to 778" (The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007).

But does anyone seriously believe we'd be better off without religion? As London Times assistant editor Gerard Baker has pointed out: "The two great global conflicts of the 20th century were not truly religious at all . . . It was twisted ethnic, rather than religious, ideology that principally animated the Nazis. And it is worth noting that the narrowly avoided conflict which would have trumped even these tragedies—a nuclear war with the Soviet Union—would have been launched and prosecuted in the name of militant atheism" (The Times, Dec. 22, 2006).

In reality it was atheistic, antireligious communism that butchered tens of millions in Stalin's Soviet Union, in Mao Tse-tung's China and in Pol Pot's Cambodia—not counting millions more who were imprisoned and impoverished under this corrupt ideology, one of the most murderous and destructive ever known to mankind.

Believers in the Bible, on the other hand, have been in the forefront of efforts to eradicate slavery, poverty, hunger and disease around the world. Most hospitals in the Western world were started by religious organizations; the same is true for many of the world's well-known universities. Many prestigious Ivy League universities in the United States, for example, started as institutions to train Christian pastors.

As British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton summed it up, "Richard Dawkins believes that faith is an infectious disease which spreads intolerance and conflict. In fact, . . . it is our principal source of love and peace" (The Spectator, Jan. 14, 2006, p. 24).

Another writer, Alister McGrath, is a professor of historical theology at Oxford University but also holds a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics.

He notes that what Richard Dawkins actually attacks is "his own views of what religious people believe" rather than what the Bible actually teaches. "To put it bluntly," he explains, "Dawkins' engagement with theology is superficial and inaccurate, often amounting to little more than cheap point scoring" (Dawkins' God, 2005, p. 83, emphasis added throughout ).

"Reeducating" the public

Professor Dawkins has stated that "there is a strong correlation between religion and education: the more educated people are, the less religious" (Financial Times, Dec. 16/17, 2006, p. 16).

While true, this isn't surprising considering the pervasive secular and materialistic foundations of the education offered by most modern colleges and universities. But, we would ask, can anyone be truly educated without fully examining the overwhelming evidence for the reality of a personal Creator God?

In spite of the success of evolutionary education, Professor Dawkins is not at all satisfied with education in even elementary schools that mostly emphasize secularism. A recent report stated that "the Oxford professor and campaigning atheist is planning to take his fight against God into the classroom by flooding schools with anti-religious literature" (The Sunday Times, Nov. 19, 2006, p. 5).

Dawkins plans to set up a charity that "will subsidise books, pamphlets and DVDs attacking the 'educational scandal' of theories such as creationism while promoting rational and scientific thought" (ibid.).

Similarly, evolutionists in America fight vigorously to maintain their monopoly on school science curricula at all levels—rejecting any mention of such concepts as intelligent design lest the many flaws of evolutionary theory be exposed.

Yet how is that approach impartial or consistent with the accepted scientific method of subjecting theories to scrutiny from all sides?

These evolutionists want to maintain their monopoly on what goes into students' minds and not allow that to even be questioned. Where material undermining evolution has made it into the schools, evolutionists have typically fought in the courts rather than through the democratic process where they might be answerable to parents' wishes.

Teaching children belief a "ludicrous obscenity"

In terms of reeducating the American public, Stanford philosophy graduate Sam Harris' atheistic Letter to a Christian Nation is on the nonfiction bestseller list in the United States. In it he says that "raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish" is a "ludicrous obscenity" (2006, p. 88).

Deriding Americans' belief in God and the Bible, Harris writes: "Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying" (p. xi).

In his conclusion, Harris states that he is "dumbstruck" by Christians' "denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your attachment to an imaginary God" (p. 91).

Harris' earlier book is titled The End of Faith. In it he tells us that "every religion teaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable" (2006, p. 23). But are these assertions true?

Far too many erroneously believe that religion is chiefly responsible for every human wrong in the world. Gerard Baker helps counter this false notion with the thought that "you don't have to be religious to have a dangerous inclination to bend others to your own views. Professor Richard Dawkins provided a timely reminder that belligerent intolerance of the beliefs of others is by no means the preserve of the faithful" (The Times, Dec. 22, 2006).

Atheists seize the pulpit

According to an April 20, 2007, Wall Street Journal article, "Passive indifference to faith has left Europe's churches mostly empty. But debate over religion is more intense and strident than it has been in many decades." The author, Andrew Higgins, headlined this article, "As Religious Strife Grows, Europe's Atheists Seize Pulpit."

Historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto recently assessed the general state of British religious interest. He stated: "Sermons are [now] about society, not salvation. Alastair Campbell spoke for England when he said we don't do God. The British now respond to religion with the embarrassment once provoked only by sex" (The Independent, Dec. 24, 2006).

British educational authorities like Chris Woodhead, England's chief inspector of schools from 1994 until 2000, have argued that religious education lessons "are badly taught and fail to instill faith and tolerance. They should be axed" (The Sunday Times, July 24, 2005, p. 11).

Even the Jewish community in Britain has adherents in the atheist/agnostic camp, while still claiming to hold to some aspects of Judaism. For instance, one couple gave their twin sons a "faith-free" bar mitzvah. The two are quoted by The Jewish Chronicle as saying, "You can be Jewish without praying to a God you don't believe in" (Dec. 22, 2006, p. 20).

According to Harvard professor and author Niall Ferguson, "The Gallup Millennium Survey of Religious Attitudes shows that barely 20 per cent of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week, compared with 47 per cent of North Americans and 82 per cent of West Africans.

"Less than half of Western Europeans say that God is a 'very important' part of their lives, as against 83 per cent of Americans and virtually all West Africans. And fully 15 per cent of Western Europeans deny that there is any kind of 'spirit, God or life force'" (The Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2005).

America's religious beliefs

Atheist Sam Harris writes about America's religious beliefs as well. "Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book . . . According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe.

"Another 48 percent believe that it is the 'inspired' word of the same—still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text . . ." (The End of Faith, 2004,
pp. 13, 17).

Actually 17 percent, though small by comparison, is quite a large figure, given the American population of 300 million people. Also, a substantial percentage of the 48 percent category that Harris mentions often consider many crucial portions of the Bible, such as the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, figurative or metaphorical. (If you would like to understand why the Bible is the written Word of a Creator God, request or download our free booklets Is the Bible True? and How to Understand the Bible.)

Still, a recent ABC News poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans believe God created the earth in six days.

The other side of the debate

As Winston Churchill once articulated, human life in fact has a great God-given purpose. He said in a speech to both houses of the U.S. Congress, "He must be a blind soul indeed that cannot see that a great purpose is being worked out here below."

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips pointed out that "religion lies at the heart of our society's greatest achievements because it enables the human spirit to soar . . . It is also this Judeo-Christian heritage that has given us values that . . . secularists prize, such as human rights and tolerance.

"Religion gives us a code to live by which helps make us better people . . . The value we in the West place on every individual and on the principle of equality is based on our foundation religious doctrine that we are all created equal in the image of God" (Daily Mail, Dec. 19, 2005).

Columnist Jeff Jacoby articulated the fact that "without God the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective" (International Herald Tribune, Dec. 15, 2006).

At least a few scientists also ask some searching questions relevant to life's ultimate question. For instance, Martin Rees, president of Britain's Royal Society, stated: "The pre-eminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations, and actualised them in a real cosmos. Such questions lie beyond science, however; they are the province of philosophers and theologians" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 24, 2006).

An article in the Nov. 29, 2004, issue of Time magazine titled "Cosmic Conundrum" stated: "The universe seems uncannily well suited to the existence of life. Could that really be an accident?"

In yet another piece from Time, Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Research Institute, states, "For me the fundamental answers about the meaning of life come not from science, but from a consideration of the origins of our uniquely human sense of right and wrong and from the historical record of Christ's life on earth" (Aug. 15, 2005, p. 34).

Intelligent scientists and great leaders from all walks of life have expressed their belief in God and the Bible (see "Believers in God and the Bible" on page 5).

The testimony of a former atheist

Can an atheist be persuaded by a long look at the evidence before him?

It happens! About three years ago, "one of the most renowned atheists of the past half century . . . changed his mind and decided that there is a God after all. Antony Flew [now in his mid-80s], emeritus professor of philosophy at Reading University, whose arguments for atheism have influenced scholars the world over, has been converted to the view that some sort of deity created the universe" (The Sunday Times, Dec. 12, 2004).

To quote this long-believing atheist directly, Professor Flew stated, "I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinary creature" (ibid.).

Professor Flew came to recognize a basic scientific fact—life comes from life! The question is: Who possessed life before the creation? The Bible tells us that God has life within Himself (John 5:26).

During the first century the apostle Paul addressed the intelligentsia of his day in Athens, declaring the reality of the Creator God to the Greek philosophers (see Acts 17:16-28). This aspect of the gospel is also a part of the role of The Good News today.

We have written in detail about the many reasons we believe there is a personal Creator God who has always existed (request or download our free booklets Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?). Our "God, Science and the Bible" section regularly reports on scientific discoveries that substantiate God's existence and the truthfulness of the Bible.

Does it really matter what you believe?

Two opposing worldviews are pitted against each other in this crucial battle for people's minds. The first argues that human beings are nothing but a cosmic accident, the result of millions of years of random mutations and survival of the fittest. The bottom line here is that we should all look out for number one because this life is all there is.

This despairing outlook sums up the Darwinian worldview. In his weekly Spectator column, historian and author Paul Johnson analyzes the results:

"Much of the blame lies with Richard Dawkins, head of the Darwinian fundamentalists in this country [Britain], who has (it seems) indissolubly linked Darwin to the more extreme forms of atheism, and projected on to our senses a dismal world in which life has no purpose or meaning and a human being has no more significance than a piece of rock, being subject to the blind process of pitiless, unfeeling, unthinking nature" (Aug. 27, 2005, p. 25).

Indeed, Richard Dawkins has described the universe as being characterized by "no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference" (River Out of Eden, 1995, p. 133). Professor McGrath frankly stated that "evolutionary theory leads inexorably to a godless, purposeless world" (The Twilight of Atheism, 2004, p. 108).

Clearly the other much more sensible worldview is firmly based on life having a great divine purpose. In the vernacular it says, "It's not about me" —that is, this life is not about us seeking to please the self. Instead, it's meant to be about seeking and following the will of the Creator God.

More specifically, the proper worldview is a Christian one, with our life now to be focused on showing love to God and neighbor, striving to become more like the greatest Man who ever lived, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He showed us the ultimate example of love in giving His life for us so that we might eventually share the entire universe with Him (see Romans 8:16-23).

The stakes in this battle are high. The opposing worldviews shape our thinking (and that of our children) on everything—who we are, why we are here, where we are going, the root causes of our many problems and how, or whether, they can ever be solved.

Don't go into the battle unarmed. Educate yourself as to which is really true—the theory of evolution or the doctrine of creation, particularly as revealed in the Bible. Continue reading The Good News to be sure you understand the issues and what's at stake for both you and your loved ones! GN