Bell’s Quest to Atheism; Brian’s Quest to Christian Theism

To be honest, I was anticipating another topic to begin 2015. However, the story of Ryan Bell has captivated me. Ryan Bell is the former pastor of Seventh Day Adventist Church, former professor of Fuller Theological Seminary, and former professor of Azusa Pacific University. Bell is more popularly known as the pastor who took a year off from God. Unsurprisingly, Bell announced in the article “An End, and a New Beginning” on Patheos.com that he now identifies himself as a “humanist and an atheist…of the agnostic variety” (Bell 2014, “An End, and a New Beginning,” Patheos.com). In the article, Bell provides 3 in-depth reasons as to why he left Christian theism for agnosticism. Some reading this article may be surprised to find that this writer entered a similar quest. For seven years, I was out of the ministry due to unresolved questions and doubts pertaining to the faith. During this time, I was at times a quasi-agnostic. Yet, I came back to the Christian faith because of certain evidences that led me to a stronger faith. This article will briefly examine the reasons that Bell provided that led him away from faith, will provide rebuttals to Bell’s claims, and then will provide some of the reasons why this writer came back to faith.

Ryan-Bell-Headshot

Bell’s Reasons for Rejecting God

Science and Social Evolution the Way to Understand Religion?

First, Bell claims that he came from a “Christian tradition that flatly refuses to acknowledge the discoveries of science” (Bell 2014, Patheos). Perhaps the issue that Bell has is not so much with God, but the ideology of a particular strain of Christianity that distrusts science. However, this is certainly not true of the vast number of Christians who believe that faith and science are complementary (i.e. Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, William Lane Craig, etc.). Bell admits as much, but then goes on to claim that “I see no reason for this approach at this time” (Bell 2014, Patheos). But why? If this quest was about searching for the truth, it seems like a grand step to exorcise God while not considering all the options on the table. It seems as if Bell has proverbially “thrown out the baby with the bathwater.”

Bell goes on to claim that “biological evolution accounts for our present physical existence, the history of human social evolution is a much better way of understanding religion. The multitude of religious and spiritual beliefs…and the way that those ideas have changed over time convinces me that God has not created humanity. Humanity has created God” (Bell 2014, Patheos.com). He goes on to say that religion has “served a vital evolutionary purpose, uniting people around the common good” (Bell 2014, Patheos). However, how does this disprove God’s existence? Scientists have various ideas concerning how the universe came into existence, does this indicate that the universe never came into existence because there are various beliefs concerning the beginning? People have differing ideas on most everything. There are people who deny that the Holocaust did not occur. Does this indicate that the event never took place because there are various beliefs concerning the Holocaust? Or take science itself. There is an even deeper flaw to Bell’s reasoning. He claimed that not everyone accepted science, yet Bell beliefs in the authority of science. If there are various beliefs concerning science, does science lose its integrity, or worse yet, does that indicate that science is non-existent? Certainly not! Thus, Bell’s first evidence against God fails miserably.

Multiplicity of Religions; an Argument against Theism?

Bell’s second evidence greatly resembles the first that was given. Bell claims that since there are various beliefs pertaining to God that God must be a human invention and not a real entity. Again, this argument is fallacious. Bell desires consensus. Yet if the Bible is to be believed; from the very beginning of time Satan has tried to press people to ask “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1) this or that.[1] Thus, if Satan really exists; one would expect a montage of beliefs concerning God. Nevertheless, Bell’s desire for a global consensus is, in reality, a poor argument against God’s existence. For if a person required a global consensus to require the reality of something, then few things could ever be proven to exist, if anything at all. Yet, that the majority of people in history have believed in the divine counters Bell’s own argument. Bell does not favor the fact that many religions exist and that all of them cannot be correct. Yet, Bell has taken the position that all of them are incorrect, which does not escape Bell’s conundrum. In turn, Bell criticizes Christianity’s exclusive claim while holding to an exclusive claim that all theistic religions are incorrect. Do you see the philosophical problem?

Psychology and Religion

The third evidence presented by Bell is the strongest, and most telling, of the three. Bell claims that psychology provides the greatest problem for belief in God. According to Bell, “We fear nothing more than our own mortality. But what if we could live forever…What if the reward for a life well lived is eternal life in paradise? Such a reward could be used to keep the masses in line and consolidate power in the hands of those that hold the secrets to immortality” (Bell 2014, Patheos.com). The problem with Bell’s argument is that he really does not consider any evidence that the afterlife could really exist. A great deal of evidence for the afterlife exists from the mounting evidence of near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences. (See the works of Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland in this area). Furthermore, Bell does not consider the great evidence that exists for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus really rose from the dead on the third day, an event which was at one time central to Bell’s faith, as it is central to all Christians’ faith, then humanity has been given clear evidence that life exists beyond the scope of this mere mortal life. In reality, one must ask what the real value of life could be if one only lives a few years and drifts into eternal nothingness, never to be remembered after a generation has passed. Does anything hold lasting value? Some will claim that love is a lasting virtue. But in reality, without God, nothing including love holds any value. How could anything hold value without God?

brian chilton

Brian’s Reasons for Accepting God

I have many more reasons for accepting the existence of God, as a cumulative case brought me back to faith. However, I will limit my reasons to four.

The Existence of Anything

The fact that anything exists demands God’s existence. Some will argue, “Well, where did God come from?” But, to ask such a question is a categorical mistake. The creation as we know it is finite. Creation had an absolute beginning, as demonstrated by the Big Bang Theory, the BVG Theorem, and the laws of thermodynamics. At the beginning of our universe, no physical laws existed or anything of the like. However, our universe is here. Some will point to the physical attributes of the beginning of the universe as the only answer that suffices. However, those physical attributes require an explanation for their existence. Eventually, if one is honest, one is forced to deal with the conundrum that either an eternal universe exists or an eternal God. Since physical things are finite, the only logical conclusion one could hold is that an eternal God exists. In fact, if an eternal God created the finite universe, one would expect to find conditions favorable for a universe to come into being. Thus, that the atheist claims that the universe could pop into being is only possible if an eternal God in fact brought the universe into being. Therefore, the atheist’s argument is null and void in this regard.

The Functionality of Everything

Many atheists will claim that evolution is the answer to all things. Yet, if evolution is true, then such a process demands an explanation. Why is there such a process? Why would such a process be prone to provide life? If one is to be honest; all physical laws, functions, and the like require an explanation for their existence. The multiple cosmological constants found in the universe demonstrate great design. In fact, the world and the universe operate with great functionality. Such functionality demonstrates the necessity of God’s existence.

The Transformational Power of God

One cannot deny the transformational power that God has had on generations of individuals. Many have experienced the miraculous. Others have experienced a complete transformation in their lives. In fact, my wife can tell the days when I have taken an appropriate amount of time with God from the days that I haven’t. She has noted that my disposition is much better when I have had time with God. In addition, lives have been transformed by dreams, visions, NDEs, and experiences with God which cannot be simply tossed away as one’s imagination. Lives have been saved from suicide because of the transformative power of God. Have there been those who have wrongfully attributed something to God for political and/or personal gain? Sure! But, that does not negate the multiple authentic experiences throughout history that people have had with God. So while the image of Christ in someone’s pudding may not be attributed to a miraculous working of God, one could not say that such miracles never happen. (See Craig Keener’s two volume work entitled Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts for more on this issue).

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth stands as a grand example of the power of God. If Jesus of Nazareth really raised from the dead as the early Christians confessed, then humanity has clear cut evidence not only that God exists, but that God is a very personal and relational God. I will not provide all the evidences that exist for the resurrection of Jesus, as I have provided those evidences elsewhere. But if one examines the evidence, one will be greatly surprised at the amount of positive evidence that suggests that Jesus of Nazareth really did walk out of that tomb on the first Easter Sunday. (See Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus for more information).

Conclusion

We have evaluated the claims of Ryan Bell. I, for one, have found Bell’s evidences against God wanting. But, it is in my estimation that Bell has suffered some personal tragedies or perhaps has entered into a stage of rebellion. I had reasons for leaving the ministry which were probably somewhat similar to Bell’s departure. Hypocritical Christians angered me then…as they still do now. At the time I left the ministry, I was angry that God had not answered particular requests that I had given. I had entered into a time of loneliness and needed a godly wife…a request that God ironically answered during the time I was out of the ministry (it was through my godly wife that I became more open to the claims of Christ…God certainly has a sense of humor). My reasons for rejecting Christianity had little to do with God and Christ, but had more to do with my problems with Christians and unanswered prayers. I suspect that Bell’s rejection is based upon much of the same. I end this article with a plea. If Ryan Bell reads this article, I plead with him to give Christianity another hearing. I would suggest that he take the time to read the works of great Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, J.P. Moreland, Greg Koukl, Kenneth Samples, Josh McDowell, and on and on and on. Many of his questions are answered in their works. But, I would also plead with you the reader to take the time to give Christianity a fair hearing. Maybe you are already a Christian. You will want to know why you believe what you believe. Maybe like Bell, you are a skeptic. A great deal of positive evidence is available to demonstrate the rationality of God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christianity. In giving Christianity a chance, you might just be compelled to become a Christian. If you do, click the “How to Know Jesus” link on this website.

Blessings,

Pastor Brian

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2015.

Bibliography

 Bell, Ryan. “An End, and a New Beginning.” Patheos.com (December 31, 2014). Accessed January 2, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/12/31/an-end-and-a-new-beginning/

Scripture used, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

____________________________________________________

[1] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Bell’s Quest to Atheism; Brian’s Quest to Christian Theism”

  1. I respectfully submit that your four reasons for accepting the existence of God actually come down to just one reason: the authority of scripture. It’s only because of your reliance on (your interpretation of) Christian scripture that: (1) God’s existence is “the only logical conclusion,” (2) everything in the universe, and the very existence of the universe itself, has a specific purpose, (3) the only transformations worth mentioning are those involving Christian belief, and (4) Jesus rose from the dead, so Christians can have eternity in heaven. The thing you don’t seem to get about Bell and other agnostic atheists is simply this: scripture has no special authority, and the claims you make that are based solely on scripture have the same validity as guesswork and speculation.

    Yours is not the only scripture in existence, and like all other scriptures, it is a product of fallible human authors and translators with limited knowledge and only partial understanding. Your own claims that the Bible is divinely inspired or “God-breathed” carry no more intrinsic truth than similar claims for the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or countless other texts purporting to describe supernatural entities, events or states.

    The only true, honest answer to how and why the universe exists is “We don’t know.” (And I really mean: I don’t know, and in actual fact, you don’t either.) Likewise for the question of what happens to each of us after we die. There are many forms of profound transformation apart from those attested by Christians – including the inspiration, beauty and fulfillment to be found in a reality-based understanding of humanity, of the world in which we evolved, and of the universe in which such a world is possible. Please try to accept this: the absence of a personalized God in such an understanding does not diminish the awe and wonder we experience, nor does it damage the sense of ethics and purpose we hold as human beings.

    Just realizing that we are able to recognize mistakes in our understanding, and can use objective evidence to make reliable corrections yielding a better understanding – that’s a transformation far more powerful than the subjective, emotional high induced by rituals prescribed thousands of years ago.

    1. Actually, if you examine my responses, you will find no reference to Scripture outside of the use to one of my rebuttals to Bell. The existence of God can be demonstrated without the use of the Bible, which I have done. But if one uses that argument, it could also be argued that Bell and the atheist’s arguments could be summarized in a rejection of the Christian Scripture. But such an argument fails on both sides because the truth claims if the Christian Scriptures are not evaluated. You are correct in saying that all holy books make certain claims. However, those claims must be evaluated. What I have demonstrated is that the claims of the Bible, at least the core essentials, hold up when given a fair hearing. In my journey back to faith, I found that the core claims of the Bible are supported, which is for some is the most scandalous of all realities.

      1. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I expect you understand that there is no independent confirmation – there are only the claims contained in the New Testament – that a human named Jesus was raised from the dead and physically resurrected; and even within the NT itself, the details of that “event” are scant and inconsistent from one gospel to the next. For that matter, there is no manifest evidence for the particular God you refer to – just statements in the Abrahamic scriptures. It doesn’t matter that your original post in this thread didn’t cite specific Bible passages as “proof” – if not for that scripture, you’d have no notion resembling this God you refer to.

        Your “demonstration” succeeds only for those who choose to take your word for it, just as you have taken other people’s word for it, who in turn have taken it on faith from yet others, all the way back to the first century. That’s a long chain of people being convinced without confirming evidence, but for most of that time, the belief was mandated by intensive coercion and strict, often violent enforcement.

        You are partly right about this: Bell’s and atheists’ arguments can indeed be summarized as a rejection of Christian Scripture. It’s not that we reject everything that is written in the Bible – there are parts, especially in the NT, that are consistent with sensible, sustainable concepts of empathy, compassion and collaboration, and with systems of ethics based on these human qualities. But for many of us, notions like “original sin”, “vicarious redemption” and “eternal conscious torment for non-believers” are nonsensical, conflicting with other notions (like “God’s omni-benevolence”) to the point of being repugnant. The very idea that Jesus was talking about the same deity who orchestrated Joshua’s campaign of genocide is, all by itself, an irredeemable self-contradiction – just one among many. Rejection of these inconsistencies, and with magical stories touted as “history”, should come as no surprise.

      2. You deliver a lot in your post. As far as “independent confirmation” in the New Testament, one must understand that the Bible is not a single work. It is comprised of multiple manuscripts written by different persons at different points in time. Within the New Testament, one finds at least five independent resources for the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew’s sources, Mark’s source from Peter, Luke’s independent sources, John’s source, and Paul’s source). In addition, within the New Testament there are multiple ancient creeds, hymns, and formulations that date to the earliest church (1 Corinthians 15:3-9, Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 10:9, etc.). Thus, the New Testament provides at least 5 independent sources. However, there are many more sources that exist outside the New Testament. One must consider the early church fathers who had direct links to the earliest church. Clement of Rome writes in the first century. The historicity of Jesus is strong. Watch the response that Bart Ehrman gave to a “Jesus Myther” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4q3WlM9rCI.

        Concerning the God presented in the Bible, only the Bible presents a personal, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent Creator. Thus, one would find a God much like the one presented in the Bible.

        Concerning manifest evidence, many have had a personal encounter with the God described in the Bible, including myself. Many Muslims, Hindus, and others have had encounters with Jesus, only to become Christians. Nabeel Qureshi is a prime example. See his work “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.” So faith is not a matter of taking someone’s word for something, but rather it is a personal experience that one has with the Divine. But, I would most certainly agree with you that no belief should be demanded or violently enforced. One could force someone to accept Christian doctrines, but that would not mean that the person actually was a Christian, as true Christianity demands a personal relationship with the Creator.

        Concerning evidence, one will never have 100% certainty on anything. Philosophically speaking, one can not be 100% certain that he or she even exists. Yet, one must build a cumulative case to see where the evidence leads.

        Lastly, while I hold to biblical inerrancy, such a view is not necessary to accept the existence of God nor the person and work of Jesus. It could be that the Bible was wrong about certain things, but right about other things. Personally, I believe the Bible is correct and that many of the contradictions can be solved by interpretation, but that is neither here nor there. The supposed “contradictions” should be handled on a case by case basis.

        Let me conclude by challenging you to be skeptical of your skepticism. Pressed far enough, a person’s skepticism can lead them into a realm where nothing is accepted. It would be impossible to truly know anything about anything in such a case.

        Blessings to you on your quest for truth,

        Pastor Brian

  2. What made me leave my faith was population genetics. It shows that humanity did not descend from Adam & Eve. If this is the case then sin did not enter the world. If sin did not enter then there is no need for a saviour. This means that Jesus’ death was just that, a death and nothing more. I have come to the conclusion that there is no good or evil in the world. Just whatever the species needs to do or not do at any given time or place in order to survive.

    1. Thanks for your post Luis. To be honest, I don’t know much about population genetics so I cannot say anything positive or negative either way. That being said, it would seem to me that there would have to be two first Homo sapiens who could in turn be Adam and Eve. Some could postulate that Adam and Eve were the first representatives of humankind. Nevertheless, they serve as examples of how sin entered the world. What concerns me even more is your rejection of good and evil. Laws are established in a nation or land based upon those things which are objectively agreed to be good for a person/people. Objective morals are important to know the standard of anything. Hence, everyone (in their right mind) would agree that rape is wrong. In fact, without a standard of good, nothing could be morally gauged nor could any appropriation of a standard be given or enforced. I would about bet that if someone stole your wallet, you would claim that a wrong had been committed to you.

      But going back to Adam and Eve, I believe in a historical Adam and Eve. But even if they were metaphorical or representatives of the human race, there are ways to accept the truths in Genesis without dismissing one’s entire faith. Even still, the historicity, or lack thereof, has no bearing on the existence of God. I will research population genetics and will see what I can find. Blessings.

      Pastor Brian

  3. Have you looked into population genetics and how they refute a literal Adam & Eve yet? Even William Lane Craig is struggling to reconcile this scientific find to christianity. He should save himself the time because it can be reconciled. This conclusively falsifies christianity. No original pair, no original sin, no fall, no saviour.

    Concerning morality, it is subjective based on what one needs to survive at that time and at that place. I’m under no obligation to follow the land of the land if it hinders my own survival advantage. Likewise, I expect no less from anyone else. We are animals and when push comes to shove, we will act like them.

    I believe that Nihilism best reflects reality.

    1. Hey Luis, thank you for your comment. I am actually looking into population genetics as I have time. However, I must say that population genetics does not necessarily falsify Christianity. For, it could have been that God could have chosen the first two homo sapiens to have become a couple to be representative of the entire human race. Even if there were hominids that existed before Adam and Eve, there is nothing to say that a literal Adam and Eve couldn’t have been chosen to do just that. If you grant for a moment the existence of God, this brings up what exactly the “imagio dei” (image of God) represents. Many modern theologians do not believe that the imagio dei represents anything of special consequence pertaining to the human body (although it is a marvelous invention, full of wonder and beauty), but rather points to consciousness, moral awareness, and spiritual ability of the human being. Going back to the previous point, it is entirely possible that Adam and Eve represented the first two, fully conscious, and spiritually aware individuals. If this is the case, then it would still fit perfectly with the Christian construct, because it is understood in orthodox Christianity that Christ is the advocate of redemption for all humanity. It could be said that Adam fits in the same paradigm. While I have not seen anything as of yet that causes me to reject the notion that Adam and Eve were the first two literal human beings, even if it were shown that there were in fact other homo sapiens before them, it could be said that Adam and Eve were the first two human beings to carry the triune nature of body, soul, and spirit.

      Concerning your second point point pertaining to morality and your third point pertaining to nihilism, let me say that I appreciate your candid honesty. For true atheism lends itself towards nihilism. Since the morality and nihilism are intertwined to a degree, let me focus in on nihilism. If nihilism were true, could one even accept that there is such a thing as reality? If one’s life has no purpose and one’s brain has no purpose, which would lend itself to claim that one’s mind and soul (if one accepts the notion) has no purpose, then how could anything be known with any certainty at all? Everything could in fact be a grand delusion. However, one finds purpose in things. You found enough purpose in this article to post your opinion, which I appreciate that you did. So, if you found enough purpose in the article to respond, that must mean that you hold that some things hold purpose or value. The trouble with nihilism is that nothing can be maintained with that view. Laws are implemented because people hold value. Your life matters, therefore it is wrong for anyone to steal something from you. I am sure if someone stole your wallet, you would want the perpetrator caught. But why? If nihilism true, then nothing matters even if someone stole your wallet. Nihilism leads to dead ends. The great news is that there are good reasons to believe in God’s existence. I would like for you to check out an article that I wrote titled “30 Arguments for the Existence of God” right here on the website. If you have any trouble finding it, let me know and I will send you the link. I would say that I believe your life does indeed matter, because there is a God, and that God loves you. Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, ESV).

      Blessings to you on your journey…and I still believe that there IS a purpose for your life,

      Pastor Brian

  4. Even if god chose two homo sapiens to represent humanity, you still have a problem. Where did cain get his wife, for example? if adam & eve were the only two ensouled with god’s image then that means cain was commiting beastiality. Also, wht happened to the other homo sapiens? Did they sin and how were they effected by the fall of adam? The lower animals also have some kind of moral law that governs them but that doesn’t mean that they are ensouled. It’s an evolutionary adaptation. The other sapiens were not before them but with them. The population that humans came out of was 10,000. It is impossible for us to come out of just two people even if we were special creations because the human genome can’t evolve to the level of diversity that we see with only two people.

    It’s true that nihilism can’t account for truth but niether can christianity. You can’t tell me that christianity conclusively knows the truth. You just prefer that it does. Also, if christianity does have the truth then why are there so many denominations? You may agree on the central cliams but diasgree on everything else. You would have an argument for truth if all christians were united on all fronts. Is it old earth or young, hell or annihilationism, Body or spirit ressurection, creation or evolution, mircales or no miracles, literal or metaphor, errancy or innerrancy, preterism or dispensationalism, local or global flood, lose salvation or not, tirnitarian or unitarian? I know that these are not issues of salvation but they do cause divison which is ironic considering that the bible is suppose to unify.

    Christianity can’t discern the truth anymore than nihilism can.

    1. Luis, you have given me great ideas for future articles. You have dealt with a lot in a very brief post. Let me say first off that you have provided honest and fair challenges pertaining to the issue of Adam and Eve.

      To answer the ordeal of Cain and his wife, one must remember that the Bible does not provide all the details of every event. In fact, many scholars have noted that when it comes to the genealogies in the Bible, it may be that one’s great-grandson was mentioned. In other words, those of notoriety were mentioned in the genealogy. Nevertheless, whether it is Cain or previous generations, it would eventually have to be that one took a half-sister or sister as a wife until the families extended far enough out. It could have been that there were a few generations that had passed since the time of Adam and Eve until the time of Cain. Or, it may have been that Adam and Eve had many more children than only those mentioned in the Bible. There is evidence that Abraham had other children than just Isaac and Ishmael. But going back to the challenge in that evidence demonstrates that humanity started with a population of 10,000, it seems to me that this assessment has challenges. For in order to have a population of 10,000, logic dictates that those 10,000 must have come from somewhere. 10,000 human beings did not magically pop out of the sky from nowhere or nothing. They had to possess a singularity much as the universe did. Therefore, this becomes an issue of “which came first the chicken or the egg.” For it would seem that a singularity of humanity is necessary. The first two homo sapiens (Adam and Eve) represent that singularity.

      Now considering the great differences among Christians, this should be of no surprise. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not always an easy book to interpret. It is incredibly easy to interpret the Bible as it pertains to the fundamental beliefs that it purports (God exists, incarnation of Christ, salvation through Christ, resurrection, and etc.). However, it is often difficult to interpret as it relates to the details. However, to turn the tables, one must admit that scientists often disagree in many areas, yet the scientific method unites them. In like manner, Christians disagree in many areas, but the fundamental truths hold them together.

      Blessings,

      Pastor Brian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s