German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once told the following parable to discuss the possibility of belief in God. His madman echoes the tragedy of a world in which we have lost belief in God but are unable to find something more worthy to take God’s place, leaving us orphaned in the universe
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. “Has God got lost?” asked one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” asked another. “Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?” Thus they yelled and laughed
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Where is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him, you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us, for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history before.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?”
Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125
On the fifteenth of May, 1950, a group of students from Oxford University gathered for their weekly debate between atheists and Christians. Huddled inside the Junior Common Room at St Hilda’s College the meeting was chaired by CS Lewis. A young philosophy student named Antony Flew presented a case for atheism. His speech was titled “Theology and Falsification”. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it became the most widely published philosophical paper of the 20th century and Antony Flew went on to became one of the leading atheist thinkers of the 20th century. It has been said that “within the last hundred years, no mainstream philosopher has developed the kind of systematic, comprehensive, original, and influential exposition of atheism that is to be found in Antony Flew’s fifty years of…writing”. (Roy Varghese, Preface to There is a God).
In 2004 Flew dropped a bombshell – he declared he had changed his mind. He had not had a Damascus Road conversion experience. He had not had a personal encounter with God. He simply believed that the evidence from science and philosophy now pointed to the existence of a God. “I have followed the argument where it has led me” he said, ”And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent and omniscient Being.” (Flew, There is a God)
There’s a story told about a Professor of biology who was an atheist. Every year he began his lectures on evolution by asking if any of the students were religious. When they identified themselves he boasted that by the end of his course they’d all know evolution was the truth and would have become atheists. Over the years many a student lost their faith during his course.
One day our atheist professor was walking through the forest, marvelling at the wonderful world evolution has given us. His wondering was interrupted by a loud growl. He turned to see a large, hungry and cranky grizzly bear charging towards him. The professor began to run, but it was no use, the bear was too fast. The professor tripped and next thing he knew the grizzly was standing above him, one foot on his chest, his paw ready to strike. With terror in his eyes the atheist professor realised he was about to experience survival of the fittest first hand.
At that point he cried out “God help me!”
Time stopped! The bear froze. The forest was silent. A bright light shone down upon the atheist and a voice boomed from the heavens, “You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”
The atheist professor looked up into the light, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now…but perhaps could you make the bear a Christian?”
“Very well,” the voice said.
The light went out and the sounds of the forest resumed. And then the bear dropped its right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”
During the time of Napoleon there was a brilliant French mathematician by the name of Pierre Simon de Laplace. Laplace was convinced that the universe operated like a giant machine and that if we had enough knowledge we could predict everything that would happen in the future. He expressed this belief in a book called Philosophical Essays on Probabilities and presented it to Napoleon. Napoleon said to him, “M. Laplace, they tell me that you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never mentioned its Creator” to which Laplace replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”
Source: Story and citation found in Bryan Appleyard, Understanding the Present and Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion
Karl Kruszenicki is well known to many Australian’s as master of the weird and wonderful in science. Beyond radio and TV appearances, Dr Karl has written a number of books on the weirdest and greatest moments in science. He can tell you why maggots can be good for you, whether people named Smith weigh more than people named Taylor, and why navel lint has a bluish tint.
But there’s also a serious side to Karl Kruszenicki. Karl’s parents were both survivors of Nazi concentration camps. His mother had been in Auschwitz. Karl only found this out towards the end of his parent’s lives, but the news was highly impacting.
Added to this is his experience growing up in a very Anglo-Saxon part of Wollongong, Australia as someone with an ethnic heritage. He recalls walking to school in the rain during his primary school days. Not many people had cars in those days, but those parents who did formed a car pool to ferry the children to school when it rained. Karl was the only one left out. He recalls his feelings of alienation because he didn’t embrace the sporting pursuits of the mainstream Anglo culture.
According to Karl those childhood experiences shaped his spirituality. He says, “I find it difficult to believe in a God that is in any way concerned about us but I’m prepared to believe in a God who doesn’t give a stuff. I’ve been to Salt Lake City and at the Mormons’ centre there are these sweet 16-year-old girls who give you guided tours. One of them said she believed in God because he does things for her all the time, like the other day she was coming to work and she needed a parking spot and God gave her one. And I remember thinking there are millions of kids in Third World countries dying of AIDS. Why doesn’t God help them?”
In this statement Dr Karl has expressed the problem of evil for us. Why doesn’t God solve the problems of the world? He has also raised a problem Christians have whenever we speak of a God who is personally involved with our lives. What makes us think God would find us a car spot while allowing AIDS stricken children to die? Perhaps part of the answer is that God is known only through us human beings, we who are to be his image here on earth.
Source: Scott Higgins. Information on Karl Kruszelnicki found in Sunday Life magazine , Sun Herald, June 10, 2001
God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”
God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”
The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.
“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.”
“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”
In the year 1609 a man looked through a telescope and unleashed a revolution that would change the world forever. His name was Galileo Galilei. But how did this simple act of looking through a telescope unleash a revolution? Because Galileo Galilee was looking at the surface of the moon, and saw that it was full of craters and mountains. To you and I this is old news, but to Galileo and the people of his day it was a terrifying revolution. Galileo had grown up learning what everyone in his day “knew” to be “fact”. The earth was the changeable, imperfect, impure centre of an unchangeable, perfect and pure universe. And this universe spoke powerfully of God and humanity’s place in it. The earth was placed at the centre of the universe because humankind was at the centre of God’s concern. The various elements of the universe – the sun, moon and stars, existed for our benefit and ours alone. We were the focus of God’s unfathomable love. The heavens, being the creation of a pure, perfect and unchangeable God, were likewise pure, perfect and unchangeable. All that is, except the earth, which had become impure, imperfect and changeable as a result of human sin. Being at the centre of God’s concerns God had sent Christ to atone for our sin and reconcile us to himself.
But with one glance through his telescope Galileo’s view of the world was changed forever. The heavens were not perfect, pure and unchangeable and the earth was not the centre of the universe. Rather, the earth was a ball of mud floating through the vast, dark expanse of space. And so it raised the question. If we were not the physical centre of the universe, were we the centre of God’s love and purposes?
In the year Galileo died another great scientist, Isaac Newtown was born. Newton was the towering genius of his day, who demonstrated that the earth was part of an infinite universe governed by a variety of laws. These operated with mathematical certainty. If we knew those laws and the precise details of each circumstance we could accurately predict every event that would happen. Not just some events like the appearance of comets, but every event of the future. This seemed to make a miracle working, involved God impossible. God was removed from the ever-present helper to the Divine Watchmaker, who made the clock, then wound it up and let it go.
All however was not lost. Though we came to discover we were floating on a ball of mud through an infinite expanse of space governed by unmovable laws of nature, we take comfort that we human beings were created by God in 4004BC and created distinct from the animals to occupy a special place in his creation. But the comfort was ever so brief. For hot on the heels of Newtown came the geologist James Hutton and his argument that the earth’s shape was the result of tiny but continual changes taking place over aeons of time. Now we were not only a speck in space but a speck in time. Then came the final, dizzying blow to our sense of place, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. We were not the special, unique creation of God but the distant descendents of prehistoric microbes and the cousin of the ape.
This has become the dominant story of our culture, the mental map by which we navigate life. We see the world around us that we can see and touch as what is truly real. We pursue the only logical goal in such a world – individual happiness – and believe we’ll find it solely in what we can see and touch – possessions, relationships, work, leisure.
Source: Scott Higgins
Gabrielle Carey is an Australian author most widely known for co-authoring Puberty Blues. In a later book, In My Father’s House Carey relates an incident that led to her conversion to Christ. Carey was raised in an atheist humanist household. Her father was a university lecturer with a passionate commitment to the left side of politics. Throughout her upbringing he railed against oppression, capitalism and was a key figure in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years. He also railed against God and the church, finding it impossible to believe in a God when the world was full of so much suffering.
But that left Gabrielle tremendously burdened. In her book In My Father’s House she writes, “One of the hardest aspects of growing up as the daughter of a humanist was the worry of having to live up to incredibly high intellectual and moral standards. And worse, what happened when it was discovered that you hadn’t? Would you be given a second chance? Could you confess your weaknesses? Would you ever be forgiven? What would my father say if he found out that I was just another brainless, mind-moulded, media-manipulated failure to humanity?”
It was this burden of guilt Gabrielle found lifted when she converted to Christian faith. “Perhaps what I liked most about Catholicism” she writes, “or at the least the Catholicism the abbot had introduced to me, was knowing I could be wrong, knowing I could behave badly, awfully in fact, and that I would still be loved. That all I needed to do was own up and I’d be forgiven…At least with a Catholic God and father you could fail without feeling that it was the end of all hope. And that was such a relief.”
Source: Scott Higgins, based on Carey’s In My Father’s House (Pan McMillan, 1992)
Is it possible to believe in miracles? The famous philosopher David Hume didn’t think so. He believed that miracles were so improbable that it was impossible to believe in them. To believe a miracle had occurred would require the testimony of people of such great learning that they could not possibly be deceived, of such good character that they could not possibly be deceitful, of such high reputation that the loss of face if they were found to be deceitful would be overwhelming, and with the miracle performed publicly in a celebrated part of the world that detection of fraud would be uncovered. In Hume’s view these criteria could never be satisfied. Hume even admits that he knew of miracles in France which “were immediately proved upon the spot before judges of unquestionable integrity, attested by witnesses of credit and distinction, in a learned age, and on the most eminent theater that is now in the world.” This would seem to meet his criteria, but still he rejects the miracles on the grounds of “the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the events which they relate.”
Source: Adapted from C. Brown, History and Faith (IVP, 1987). The Hume quotes are taken from Brown, citing Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding.