How Do I Know Who's Right?

Making decisions in the world of the twenty-first century is hard. I am sure every generation has had the feeling that their time was the hardest of all times, and I am equally sure that there have always been the hucksters and con artists out there claiming that they have all the answers. In the twenty-first century, there are perhaps more vocal atheists than in recent times at least, and there is certainly a larger body of facts and theories to consider than ever before. The internet has provided a forum in America for the presentation of a huge range of views. It has also become a place to bash other views. This is not all bad if the proponents of a view are given ample opportunity to defend their position. Honesty is not always a dominant feature of the web, and many times it is the technologically advanced that tend to get their views heard more than those who are less astute with computers.

The bottom line for all of us, however, is that it is important for us to know why we believe what we believe. We cannot trust others--not even our parents or church leaders to do this for us. They can be useful, but they cannot be our sole source of information because they, like us, can be misguided or mislead. This journal and the articles that we write in it should never be taken as the last word by anyone. It is hoped that we will add a perspective and perhaps some data that will be helpful to those searching for answers and evolving in their understandings, but the bottom line is that we must "Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

The track record of both religion and atheism is very bad in these matters, and the bad decisions of people who have come from both of these belief systems have impacted people's lives in very major ways. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewaite, and others have misguided literally hundreds of people in religious choices. Lenin, Ayn Rand, Mao Tse Tung, and others have done the same with an atheist view that has brought disasters to even more.

In the twentyfirst century, a lot of the same old questions are being asked: Does God exist? Is the Bible true? Are there moral absolutes? Is the church right and relevant? Do we know for sure how to deal with abortion, euthanasia, marriage, homosexuality, mental illness, pornography, mental retardation, aging, etc.? We would like to suggest that there are some ways of coming to conclusions that you can be confident of. May we suggest some of these and encourage you to think about the methods suggested? These are practical common-sense suggestions, not deep philosophical methodological questions.

Function on the basis of evidence--not hearsay. The opinion of a human, no matter how educated he may be or what his credentials may be, does not make make his opinion true. Many so called experts are simply people with a great deal of charisma and/or arrogance and aggressiveness. What a person must do when getting an opinion on something is to make sure he knows what the person's opinion is based on. What are the facts? What is the evidence that he used in coming to his conclusion? Does the so-called expert have a financial interest in whatever it is he is talking about? Is there a personal issue as far as his reputation is concerned? Is there a selfish reason of any kind that could make him biased on the question being considered? There are very few things that people are concerned about where there is not evidence available that can help answer the question. When you make a decision about something you need to have access to that evidence.

Look at the evidence and do some common sense things to make sure the evidence is valid. If you know enough to question something, you must have some common sense understandings about the subject. Use that common sense to evaluate evidence when it is presented to you. Think about what is being said! Listen to the critics and naysayers on the subject at hand and how those presenting the evidence respond to them. When someone presents a lectureship or a talk on something and refuses to entertain questions on what he has said, there is good reason to have doubts about the credibility of what he has presented.

Consider the credentials of the presenter of the evidence and whether he has a vested interest in the evidence he is presenting. Many times someone who is famous for one thing attempts to become an expert in everything. The late Carl Sagan was an astronomer who was gifted in his communication skills and outstanding in his specialty areas in astronomy. Late in his career he began doing a considerable amount of work in anthropology and even wrote a book on the subject. Dr. Sagan had very little training in anthropology, and much of what he presented was rooted in his secular humanism views--so he had a vested interest in what he was saying. Many creationists have no training in the subjects that they write books about, and any reader should be skeptical about the quality of evidence when this is happening.

Ask yourself where the evidence takes you. Many times claims are made about a subject, and it is claimed that there is proof that some terrible thing is going to happen because of the evidence that is presented. End times people in religion do this, and supermarket tabloids thrive on it. Doomsday claims are usually exaggerated and frequently are simply concoctions. Claims of evidence need to have some positive applications--they need to tell us something. Evidence needs to intersect other fields so that there can be other kinds of verifications of what is claimed to be true. If the claimed evidence leads to predictions, gives positive things that can be checked, and if it is useful for practical questions then it may be worth considering carefully.

Illustrations and Applications

Let us now apply what we have said to some of the questions that we get on a regular basis. How would we investigate the question of whether the Bible is true? What many people do is go to an atheist site on the web or read a book by an atheist and decide on the basis of what is said that the Bible is false. A vast majority of people who attack our position on the Bible on our web site read only atheist sites. The problem here should be obvious. If a person's claimed religious view is that there is no God, then obviously the Bible can not be viewed as being the word of God by this person because the person has already declared that God does not exist! If you tell anyone something often enough and long enough, eventually they will believe it. The same kind of problem would come up in the opposite way if one were to read a book on the truth of the Bible written by a minister. We are not saying that you should not read books written by atheists and ministers. What we are saying is that you cannot stop there and be satisfied that the Bible is true or that it is false. To understand the answer to the question about the inspiration of the Bible by reading what people have said about it, you would need to read both viewpoints and also read how they answer the questions posed by people with conflicting views to theirs.

A more direct way to answer this question would be to explore the evidence for the truth of the Bible. Is the Bible accurate in its statements of a scientific nature? Are the principles of psychology used in the Bible practical and worthwhile? Is the Bible approach to human relations valid? Does the Bible, if followed, bring peace, harmony, unity, and positive things to human beings? The way to answer these questions is not to ask an atheist or a minister what he thinks about it, but to read the teachings of Jesus and ask yourself about these issues. If you want to listen to the objections of an atheist and then listen to a Christian apologist respond to those objections, that might be helpful; but the main thing would be to look at the evidence and ask questions yourself about what you are reading as you do so. Starting with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 will show you clearly the answers to these questions.

Another example that might be worth considering is the argument that we make in this program for the existence of God based on cosmological evidence. The argument is very simple. We ask three questions: Was there a beginning or not to the cosmos? If there was a beginning, was it caused or was it not caused? If it was caused what or who caused it? The evidence for each of the steps in this logical discussion about origins comes from a variety of sources. In the first question, we are able to look at evidence from cosmology--the fact that the cosmos is expanding strongly suggests that the expansion had a specific point in space and time from which it initiated. Any astronomy textbook will point this out. There is chemical evidence in space in terms of the fuel that powers the cosmos--hydrogen. If the cosmos had always been, there would be no hydrogen in the cosmos because it is the material of which all other materials are made, and fusion processors start with hydrogen. We also see evidence from physics in the form of the laws of thermodynamics. We know that, in closed systems, things tend to move toward a condition of disorder; and if the cosmos had always been, it would be totally disordered because, by definition, the cosmos is a closed system with no energy being added to it.

The point here is that evidence is coming from different fields. Experts in the fields of cosmology, physics, and chemistry have written about these processes. The evidence gives predictability to the cosmos and has many practical uses in space travel and astronomy. There is a wide range of support from a variety of areas for this argument.

Being confident about your beliefs cannot be rooted in what someone else told you or what is popular. There are always problems with any belief that has bias being passed on by others. New evidence should always be considered even when you have formed an opinion about something. The lesson of history on matters related to faith is that new discoveries just support and confirm faith in God and in His word. We do not have to be consumed by doubt and paralyzed by uncertainty. The Bible speaks confidently about the faith we can have, and we need to work to build a dynamic faith that allows us to meet the needs that we were put here to address.

The unbeliever then is without excuse, we can know there is a God... Romans 1:20

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, MayJun04.