Welcome to “Let’s Talk About It.” Our gust today is the well known atheist and author Norman Rottweiler.
Host: It is good of you to grant this interview today. I appreciate your taking the time to talk about yourself and your atheist/naturalist view of the world.
Atheist: I was intrigued by your request. Why would you want to talk to an atheist?
Host: My listeners send me questions from time to time. They ask about how the world works, or why we are here in the first place. You write extensively on these issues and I think my readers will find your comments of interest.
Atheist: OK, that sounds reasonable.
Host: What is the hardest question for you as an naturalist to answer?
Atheist: There are a few hard ones. Well…I guess the hardest one is to face the fact that there is no good or evil in the world. Ask me what is good or what is evil and I have no real answer for you. You see we live in a natural world full of random processes. Those processes have no intention, no direction, no ultimate purpose. We just have to make do with that. Things happen to us that we don’t like, that are harmful or hurtful, but that is about the extent of our ability to discern good or evil. Nature is petty indifferent to our preference or our feelings.
Host: Don’t we have rights? Aren’t there things that are morally wrong?
Atheist: We have opinions about thing. We establish conventions and agree with one another to follow those conventions. We make judgments about possible outcomes from our actions and we try to minimize the harm to ourselves or to society. It is just foolish to run red lights if you value not getting hurt.
Host: Survival of the fittest…
Atheist: It boils down to that doesn’t it. Some reject the implication from Darwinism that there is no basis for objective morality and they try to construct some objective morality based on naturalism. I just find that they fail miserably. Atheists will point to science as a means for establishing what is good or evil. In all honesty, science just can’t test something that is immaterial. If objective moral values exist, they must be outside the material universe. You can’t smell them or touch them, so how can you test them. No, they can’t even exist. Only material things exist.
Host: But, numbers exist and logic exists. They are real things, but they are not material? We use logic and numbers to tell us about the world around us don’t we.
Atheist: On materialism, they must be an illusion, a trick of the brain. It is just the way our brain works, The way the neurons fire.
Host: If you go too far down that road, you will end up believing that I don’t exist, or that your own existence is an illusion.
Atheist: That is true.
Host: And that doesn’t bother you?
Atheist: It is just the way it is. I have to accept the nature of things.
Host: But doesn’t the universe tell us that there is more to it than just material objects?
Atheist: Are you talking about design?
Host: Design, and intentionality…I think there is clear evidence for both, don’t you.
Atheist: I did say there are hard questions I can’t answer easily. Those are two of them. I am aware of the fine tuning of the universe. It is well established that if the initial conditions of the universe were not finely turned we would not be here. Some atheists argue that there are many universes and that we are one of the few that survived because all the parameters were finely tuned for life.
Host: There are real problems with the multi-universe argument. What is your view?
Atheist: You are correct, the multi-universe theory has serious flaws. I don’t support that argument.
Report: Do you see intentionality in nature?
Atheist: Now you are talking about an attribute that can only belong to a mind. I reject that there is a god, so how can there be intention to any random processes.
Host: If the universe was finely tuned for life, doesn’t that show intention?
Atheist: Certainly, but it can’t in reality because that would require a creator mind. I reject such a mind.
Host: Your objection is a priori. You fix a position before you begin an argument and thus bias your argument.
Atheist: I think the condition is self evident. To think otherwise is just to fantastic and the consequences frightening to me.
Host: That is interesting. Let me move on then. Darwinism is under attack by the newest scientific evidence for intentionality combined with the need for complex DNA molecules required for life at the earliest stages of their appearance. Is Darwinism on a precipice?
Atheist: True, it seems that you mess with the DNA, or with developing cells and either the animal mutates into something not very useful or it dies. You cannot manipulate the process and produce a new species. A pig is a pig from the time the embryo is formed and nothing we do seems able to change that ping into a chicken. You are right, there is an intention that embryos of a certain species will always become that species. You are also correct that a finely tuned universe that produces life seems intentionally designed that way.
Host: How do you deal with that in view of your a priori position that denies the existence of a god, or a mind?
Atheist: Darwinism will have to be rethought. Perhaps it is past its prime. I just think that any discussion of intention is illusory. It can’t be real.
Host: You have used the word “illusion” a number of times. Atheist accuse theists of relying on the “god of the gaps” to fill in their lack of knowledge. Isn’t your using “illusion” a way to fill the gaps of your ignorance. Isn’t it just a copout? You are avoiding the evidence for something beyond a material world.
Atheist: Look, I am an atheist. I reject a god or a mind, or a soul. They are unreal. They are not material. They are the product of the random molecular activity in our brains. I am not filling gaps by referring to illusion. I am just pointing out that there are limits to what these processes can produce, thus limits to our ability to know what is real.
Host: So you live in an illusion.
Atheist: My brain is the functioning of molecules and chemicals that behave randomly. My brain is the result of a long process of evolution that is itself a random process. What I think, feel, see, taste all are the product of those random processes. Of course it is all an illusion. That is all that random processes can ever produce.
Host: But you admit to evidence that goes beyond the material.
Atheist: To deal with that I would have to admit to a mind, to a god, to a designer. I refuse to believe in a god or mind like that.
Host: What would be the harm? I would think that would open up your world to something real, to something that is not an illusion.
Atheist: If a god existed, I would have to answer to such a god. He would establish what was good, moral or real. I don’t want to live under that authority.
Host: Despite the evidence that you admit you cannot explain.
Atheist: You don’t get it. That evidence is just as much an illusion as god is an illusion.
Atheist: God does not exist.
Host: On what basis do you say he does not exist?
Atheist: On the basis that I say so. It is my view shaped by my understanding of the material world.
Host: Which you admit is an illusion.
Host: You place a great deal of faith on the idea that god does not exist. I wish we could explore that more but we are out of time and must end our discussion. Again I appreciate your taking the time.
Atheist: So we are done. I hope your listeners will be informed and that they will join me in rejecting the myth that god exists.
Host: I think your very frank answers might have just the opposite effect. We really must end now.
Comment: The above is total fiction. Our Truthful Atheist does not exist. But it is true that Atheism at heart is simply a rejection of God. It is no more sophisticated than that. Once a person goes down that road they do indeed live in an illusion. The underpinning of logic, and reason are no longer present. Their beloved science no longer has a foundation. Their ability to make sense of evil, or to even know what that evil exists disappears. The Atheist cannot tell us why we are here, nor what we are here for. Surprisingly, Atheist’s cannot provide reasonable, persuasive arguments for their assertion that God does not exist. Atheism starts and ends with a visceral attack on God himself. It is couched often in lofty terms, but pry a little and soon the true nature of the atheist’s stand is revealed.
What is real and true is grounded in God. Apart from Him we have no access to what is real. Everything becomes an illusion.
I am going to get more crowns in heaven than you are. See I work harder at my faith and God puts a lot of value on my good works. When I stand before Jesus he is just going to give me all five of those golden things and put them on my head and I will just shine compared to all of you who probably will get just one if you are lucky. See I can suffer better than most of you, I can teach well, and I have been responsible for some people being saved. It is only fair that I am properly rewarded for all my effort. Scripture says so.
Now that I have gotten all that sarcasm out of my system, I must tell you why the above is such a travesty. We are dealing with “crowns.” We are talking about rewards that that our doctrine tells us some will receive for special service when they arrive before the Lord on Judgment day. If you do a search on the internet, you will find, with few exceptions, this doctrine of Christian rewards/crowns in Heaven for various good works that we perform on earth. Some will receive the crown and others will not.
This is an amazing doctrine to me. As I have written and Scripture attests, human hands and all our works will not serve God. Christ is our everything. He is our source for all things good in our lives. He is our motivation and our accomplishment. Where is there room for human reward? The Glory is all Christ’s not ours. What is the Scriptural basis for this doctrine? Does it support the concept of rewards for the select, for those who serve the Lord in some special way? We will take a look at the verses and see if we can build the doctrine.
There are a number of verses in Scripture that refer to crowns. I will select only those that apply to the Crowns that are earned by believers. This is not an exhaustive list, but I think the point will be made. I am using the ESV.
1Co 9:23-26 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (24) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. (25) Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (26) So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
Paul has made himself a servant so that he can teach the Gospel. That is his calling. That is what God empowers him to do. He wants to share in the blessings of the Gospel and he uses an analogy to show his focus. This is about Paul who encourages others to win the imperishable crown. Paul is focused on his hearers receiving the prize of his teaching and that prize is eternal life as they receive the Gospel of Christ. Notice carefully that this is not a real crown and that every person who receives Christ obtains that crown. I will note that it is not good practice to build theology on analogies.
Php 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
1Th 2:17-19 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, (18) because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us. (19) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?
Not a lot of comment needed. Paul’s brothers in faith are his joy and crown. This does not advance the doctrine.
2Ti 1:8-12 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, (9) who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (10) and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (11) for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, (12) which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
2Ti 2:3-5 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (4) No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. (5) An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Paul has a calling and an empowering to preach the gospel for which he pays a price in his suffering. He encourages Timothy to soldier with him and to stay focused on who has called him. He uses the analogy of an athlete performing within the rules to receive his crown. It is that focus that Timothy is called to. We are dealing with another analogy. No strong argument here for the rewards doctrine.
2Ti 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Well at last that exclusive crown of righteousness that only some believers will receive when they get to heaven. Sorry, I was carried away wasn’t I. Do you love the Lord and are you more than grateful for his appearing. Of course and you will receive the crown of righteousness through Christ on that day that you stand before the Lord. There is no exclusionary crown or special reward on view here. This doctrine cannot get any traction anywhere.
Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Is there a theme here? You love the Lord. I know you do and you will have eternal life when you get to heaven. Once more, there is no support for the rewards doctrine.
1Pe 5:1-4 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
I guess the elders get special treatment and a crown of glory. Most believers are not elders so this does not apply to most believers. What does apply is Paul’s statement “Christ in you the hope of glory.” So perhaps we have some kind of doctrine of reward for elders. It is rather limited and unsupported by other verses and we all receive Christ’s glory.
Well there you have it. I have not exhausted every verse referring to crowns, but I have covered the major ones and what do we have at the end. There is certainly not the case for crowns that a few will receive and others will not. The crowns seem to come with the territory; they are a part of our Christian experience. The word crown is often used as an analogy to something else. In those cases the crown is not even a real crown. Glory, faith, righteousness, life, incorruptibility are qualities all believers share in and will have when they stand before the Lord on that wonderful day. The doctrine of rewards just cannot find traction in Scripture yet it is universally accepted throughout Christendom.
I have a few final words. Paul asserts that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Can you imagine standing before the Lord and watching people coming before Him and the condemnation one would feel if they received no crown. I can not imagine such a humiliating process before our loving Lord.
The doctrine of rewards diminishes the work of the Cross. Jesus paid the price for all our sins, for all our failure to walk to God’s standard. Christ has become our measure, our accomplishment, our everything needed for our good standing before God. That fact alone should call into question the doctrine of crowns/rewards.
The doorbell rings and you leave what you are doing and answer it.
Your child asks for lunch and you make a sandwich for the both of you and enjoy a short break in a busy day.
The boss sends you a note to attend a meeting and you get there on time and prepared.
A neighbor calls you and asks if you can pick up something from the store for them. You say yes.
You say to your dog come and he comes wagging his tail.
Tax time comes and you fill out the forms as best you can and you pay the tax due.
Jesus says come follow me and you do.
We cannot live our lives without being obedient. The neat thing is that most of our obedient acts are unconscious. We are hardly aware of them. We do not do them to earn anything, or to prove our worthiness, or as a source of pride, or some act of self improvement. We just do them because that is what life demands.
When we live our lives, we are not aware of the rules that we obey. We do not carry a list of requirements with us that we check after every act to see if we have properly complied. When we play sports, we just play, the rules have become a part of us, and we comply because the game is more fun that way. As we play the game, we are unconscious of our obedience.
Our obedience is imperfect. Life is hard. We tire, or we rebel and say enough is enough. The doorbell rings and we sit there expecting someone else to answer it for us. We know that our obedience never matches that of Christ. It never will and it never can.
There are far lesser things in life than dying on the Cross that I am unwilling to do. I know I should do certain things, but the willingness to be willing is just not there. Our obedience will never meet the standard Christ has set. In fact, the only thing that makes our feeble obedience acceptable to God is His Son living in and through us. Our trust in Him, our obedience of faith, is the only thing that makes us acceptable before God. We do not place any trust in our obedience, we place all our trust in Christ.
Rom 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations,
Rom 16:26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
Obedience is part of our new life in Christ. It comes with the territory. It is in our new nature to obey. One of the words for obedience in the New Testament is hupakouo. The word means to listen under. An old word that has the same meaning is to hearken. It is a response to something heard. The doorbell rings and you answer it. Obedience is a simple concept. There is nothing extraordinary or difficult about it.
We have within us God’s Spirit. He speaks to our spirit continually and we obey. This process goes on deep within us and we are hardly aware. We obey because God is at work in us, a function of our new life in Christ.
“ Some people are full of talk against legal doctrines, legal preaching and the legal spirit. Yet they may understand very little of what they are talking against. A legal spirit is far more subtle than they imagine…as long as a man is not emptied of himself and of his own righteousness and goodness, he will have a legal spirit. A spirit of pride in one’s own righteousness, morality, holiness, experience or any other goodness is a legal spirit…. It is even possible to have a self-righteous spirit about one’s own humility.” Jonathan Edwards
When we become conscious of our own obedience, we step into a legal quagmire. When we try to improve our obedience, or we think our obedience weak, we have stepped into the arena of standards, rules, and measurements that mean nothing to God. Our determination to be obedient reeks of human effort and the sweat of our brow. Our pride swells or falls based on some human measure of our obedience. This has nothing to do with the Christian life.
“Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3,NKJV).
When you become conscious of your obedience, ask yourself what you are being obedient to? To what are you listening and responding? What will your emotional response be if you fail to obey, or if you succeed? You might find that you are listening to a human voice or worse Satin’s voice and not the voice of God’s Spirit in you. You may be on a road to experiencing pride, or shame. God’s love and mercy and grace has nothing to do with that false voice.
Rest in Christ. Be still and know that He is God and that He is at work to will and to do deep within your very being. God wants us to live life fully and with much joy. Obedience will be there when you need it.
"Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so."
We learn our theology very early in life. Even if we didn’t grow up in a Christian home we develope some view of God early on, even if it was for some a vague understanding that God didn’t exist. For those of us who grew up with some Church experience we learned to trust the Bible, to love Jesus, that He loved us and something about our sin and God’s forgiveness. The older we got, the deeper our indoctrination became. Most of us received that indoctrination unquestioned. At some point our doctrine became our badge. It marked us as Christian and it defined what kind of Christian we were. As adults we congregate with like minded people who wear the same badge we do. At some point we begin to defend our badge against the onslaught from those wearing a different badge from ours. This division is sometimes subtle but often flagrant. Christianity is divided along denominational and theological lines and those lines are defended fiercely.
Very serious theological thought goes into whether we dunk or sprinkle; whether we pray for healing or exercize spiritual authority over disease; whether we are reborn before or after we have saving faith. We have battles over the meaning of the cross and Christ’s suffering. Do we have free will or don’t we? What is the meaning of "dead in our sins." Libraries are filled with books about our theological differences.
We can not live without struggling to understand who God is, what Scripture truly means, what our standing is before God and on and on. God, I believe, wants us to seek to understand Him. He would not have spoken to us otherwise. But, our differences aught to tell us something about our efforts to understand God. God is greater than our understanding. Our efforts to seek truth and to codify it is a human effort full of prejudices, biases, agendas, worldly influences, differences in the way we approach God’s Word and on and on. Our theology is opinion, Jesus is truth.
Should the faith be defended. Yes it should, but with a great deal of humility. Those defending the faith often do so with ranker and personal attack. There is no love in their language which says more about their theology then then they intend.
Jesus is the Truth. Jesus aught to be defended. Any theology that diminishes all that Jesus is, is flawed. Any theology that distorts the Gospel is flawed. Those two things should stand out most clearly in Scripture. Disagreements on these two subjects are very important and should be treated with the utmost caution.
We do ourselves a favor when we look dispassionately at our theological badges. Read about the men who formulated your point of view. Look at their humanity, the influences in their lives that drove them to certain conclusions. Look at the completeness or incompleteness of their doctrine. Look at their lives and their behavior. Look at their times. Look at what we have learned over the years from those days when their doctrine was set in stone. You will find that theology is opinion and like most opinions they are supported by strong internal logic. Theology is powerful stuff. It has been around for a while, stood the test of time, and has received the approval of men. How can we argue with that.
Yet our theologies leave us bankrupt, empty, uncomfortable with our faith. All theology is flawed at some point. Seeing those flaws can free us. Theology is not inspired. Scripture is inspired. Our theological differences should drive us back to God’s word. The more we approach Scripture with an open heart the better we can discern what is true and what is not about our doctrine. Scripture can refocus our understanding and can act as a sieve to strain out the distortions from man’s psychology, philosophy, logic, science, etc.
Look hard at your theology. Is it robbing you of joy? Are you set free or are you bound by your doctrine? Are you living by law or are you living by the Spirit? Are you trying to please God by some effort of will that you believe your theology demands?
Theology is not inspired. Focus on the Truth, focus on Jesus and let the theological cards fall where they may. We are truly one in Christ.
We just spent a wonderful two weeks at a Christian run Resort Cottage Hotel in Bermuda called Willowbank. Wonderful views of the ocean and a wonderful staff that prays for their guests. All are welcomed and all are made to feel at home. Bermuda still has some great British sensibilities including disciplined kids, shirts and shoes required on public transportation and of course four o’clock tea time. It is a wonderful place to celebrate and get in touch with God’s creation.
Let’s talk about jet air travel a bit. Coming into Bermuda we hit some very high winds at the airport. The plane was tossed back and forth as it tried to align with the runway and then when we had touched down we swerved down the runway like a drunken sailor. Exciting beginning to a wonderful vacation. I asked the pilot if it was an unusual landing. His reply was that it was "dumb luck". There is a confidence builder.
Well I never thought that little tale would be topped, but on our leaving we topped it. A hundred miles out from Bermuda on our return flight to Atlanta our left engine made a loud bang followed by an unpleasant noise and vibration. The engine was shut down and we returned to Bermuda. The airport was shut down for our arrival fearing that we might not be able to stop on the runway with one engine. The landing turned out to be better than the one for our arrival. We got off the plane with the pilot telling us that the engine was un-reparable and had a few holes in its tail. The fire engines around our plane also bolstered our confidence.
The story goes on…with a return flight to Boston then to Atlanta with an over night stay of about six hours and then our return home on a commuter flight the next morning. Through it all we kept having these wonderful encounters with people who we would never have met…Christians all.
There was much prayer as we learned what was happening with our plane. There was surprising peace through out. On our return we went forward at Church to express our praise to God for his mercy and hand on our lives.
God delights in making Himself known to us from time to time in rather striking ways. I am grateful to a God who makes our future certain no matter what comes our way in this earthly life. Grace is always on hand when we need it until we are with the Lord in heaven. His peace is very real.
Luther has said:
“Law, you want to ascend into the realm of conscience and rule there. You want to denounce its sin and take away from the joy of my heart, which I have through faith in Christ. . . . Stay within your limits. . . . You shall not touch my conscience. . . Through the Gospel I have been called to a fellowship of righteousness and eternal life. . . in which my conscience is at peace, where there is no Law but only the forgiveness of sins, peace, quiet, happiness, salvation, and eternal life. . . . In my conscience not the Law will reign, that hard tyrant and cruel disciplinarian, but Christ. . . the King of peace and righteousness, the sweet Savior and Mediator. He will preserve my conscience happy and peaceful . . . in the knowledge of this passive righteousness" (27:11).
Just as what is offered to us is neither the Law nor any of its works but Christ alone, so what is required of us is nothing but faith, which takes hold of Christ and believes that my sin and death are damned and abolished in the death of Christ (26:160).
Jesus says that He is the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. It is a very exclusive club we belong to. Christianity points to the only true God and to the only true path by which we can be in relationship with God. Christianity by its nature rejects the truth of all other attempts to approach God. This would be an absurd claim if it weren’t for the fact that this is what God has established. God has made this fact clear by providing to us His word, the Bible.
We hear a lot today about diversity. Yet Scripture calls us to be one in Christ. Our differences fade to nothing in His presence and with His life in us.
In Christ we have a light that shines in the darkness that surrounds us.
The Christian exclusive club is open to all who would come to Jesus. At the cross we are all sinners saved by Grace. In Him we are one people, His Body, living to His glory.
Get out of the diversity trap. Come join the club.