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Is it Rational to Believe in God?
Skeptics often say, ‘It’s not rational to believe in God.’ They equate belief in the supernatural with childish delusions of belief in fairies, Santa Claus, and other make-believe fantasies. In their view, religious belief is for the weak-minded who cannot soberly face reality on its own terms but must adopt an illusion to get through life.
As this relatively short paper will demonstrate, an examination of the relevant issues shows that it is the God-centered view that makes the most sense of physical nature and human nature, and, by contrast, the secular, godless worldview reveals a tendency toward the irrational.
But, for someone who believes
only nature exists, there is no
rational basis for what we
observe in the cosmos
The World Around Us
Regarding physical nature, Psalm 19:1 states that the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of His hands. All of creation points to the need for creation and a Creator, design and a Designer. Secular scientists contend that the universe ‘appears’ designed, but is in fact the product of blind purposeless mechanism. They also presuppose a rational, ordered, predictable universe in order to make meaningful scientific observations and discoveries. But these assertions beg the question, is such an orderly universe made possible from random, mindless processes as a godless view proposes? Is science itself even possible without God? In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis declared the need for a transcendent, intelligent, powerful Mind in these endeavors. Drawing on the thought of Alfred North Whitehead, Lewis stated, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.” But, for someone who believes only nature exists, there is no rational basis for what we observe in the cosmos. They are compelled to admit the universe came from nothing by nothing for no reason. They cannot demystify why the universe is present, much less why it appears ordered or fine-tuned for life. They cannot account for the complex information and exquisite functioning of our DNA and the origins of life. They cannot unravel how life began from non-organic life, how consciousness arose from physical matter, how human beings are qualitatively different in kind from the rest of creation. Those inconvenient facts about reality are presumed, not adequately explained. Yet, within a God-centered and created universe, the cause is sufficient to the effect. These amazing realities can be adequately explained by the presence and purposes of a transcendent, powerful, intelligent, personal Creator who had us in mind.
The World Within Us
And what of human nature? Which view best explains who we are and what we experience as human beings? Are human beings special, qualitatively different from the rest of physical reality or are they the same in kind as everything else in nature? Are inherent human dignity, rights, capacities, and value merely illusions as those without a Godcentered view must admit? Within a naturalistic view, human beings are not qualitatively different from anything else in nature. Man’s very nature and value are decided upon by the individual or group in power, a precarious notion at best, a nefarious nightmare at worst. In this reality, humans simply become means to an end, devalued, dehumanized as objects toward selfish purposes of the few.
And what of right and wrong? In a godless paradigm, there is nothing that should or should not be, only what is. Declaring a ‘real’ good or evil becomes nonsensical and even impossible. This runs counter-intuitive to our basic intuitions that we know certain things are ‘really wrong’ no matter the time, place, or culture. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observed that this “Moral Law” that is inside of us points to “Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law,” and that the Moral Law itself shows us that “the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct.” We need a transcendent source whose character is by very nature the definition of good in order to know what good is. Moreover, from a naturalistic view, we have no capacity to choose our own actions. We merely respond to environment and instinct and have no free will to select toward virtue or vice. This, too, runs counter to our deepest human intuitions and experiences. It is irrational.
Even our own ability to think rationally becomes suspect without God. How can we trust our rational capacities when they are borne of “unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter,” when they are bent merely toward survival and not toward truth?
And finally, what of our deepest human longings for love, meaning, and purpose? In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” Our deepest human desires cry out for fulfillment and explanation. Only with God are we valued and purposed toward flourishing, meaning, belonging, and love that lasts. In Christ, we are given abundance of life that is truly life, eternal and full. The contrast could not be more palpable.
Is belief in God rational? The reductionism of a godless worldview leads to a low view of physical and human life, toward irrationality itself. It produces a cognitive and existential dissonance that is hard to resolve. Yet, the reality of the physical nature, human nature, and the revelation of God affirm a resounding yes that belief is rational. It provides an adequate explanation for what we observe in the cosmos and nature. It supports a high view of human rights, capacities, and purposes as real and not illusions. It grounds our basic values of right and wrong. It coheres with our basic intuitions regarding humans as exceptional and valuable with inherent dignity. It substantiates our basic experiences of love and free will as authentic.
Belief in God is rational. It is what makes most sense of our world and our lives.
Jana Harmon, Ph.D, is a Teaching Fellow for C.S. Lewis Institute Atlanta and serves on the Atlanta Advisory Board and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Cultural Apologetics at Biola University. Her doctoral research studied the religious conversion of atheists to Christianity looking at the perspectives and stories of 50 former Atheists. She views apologetics through a practical, evangelistic lens. She is the host of Side B Stories podcast for the C.S. Lewis Institute. Jana received her PhD from the University of Birmingham, England.