Many modern thinkers reject religion as a primitive attempt by early man to make sense of his world. Atheistic naturalism makes better sense for them. After all, hasn't science exploded many of the myths that religious people once clung to? Hasn’t science made our lives better in innumerable ways in the here and now? Why cling to superstition when it’s no longer… necessary?
People who raise this challenge don’t seem to realize the flaw in their reasoning. The first is that this line of thinking rests on a false dichotomy. The available options are not religion or science. Holding to a religious worldview does not require abandoning a scientific approach to problem solving, and being science-minded does not require that a person reject what cannot be “scientifically” proven. There is a middle ground, in which a person realizes the limitations of science – roughly put, it is simply a tool for the systematic acquisition of knowledge – and the need to be able to ground “knowledge” in something other than our individual minds. Which leads to the second problem: without being able to ground reality in something outside of ourselves, we can’t ultimately have any confidence that our thinking is valid. When I make use of mathematical equations, or attempt to manipulate the world around me by rearranging chemical structures, I have to first have confidence that these things – and the ideas I am using to make sense of them – are real and that “the rules” do not change. Science rests on the unproven assumption that general rules of nature apply. If these rules are simply a product of my individual imagination, they may be no more valid than a daydream in which I can fly. If man’s brain evolved as a result of purposeless change over time, and if there is indeed no God who grounds reality, then on what basis can one conclude that anything he perceives about the world is actually true? A “randomly” evolving mind could just as easily get things wrong, since concepts such as “right” or “true” have no meaning unless they are grounded somewhere outside the mind. In a universe without God, we can have no confidence in our conclusions because they don’t have to be true.
But, the challenger may argue, even if the brain (and mind) were designed by God, how does that help? Doesn't the theist simply assume that God wanted us to know the truth? How can we have confidence that what we think does correspond with reality? In other words, how do we know that God did not design our brains to “pull the proverbial wool over our eyes”? Doesn't the theist simply assume this, just as the atheist assumes that evolution also provides a means for “true” knowledge?
Yes, I suppose it is possible that God is deceiving us. It’s possible, but not reasonable, once one unpacks what deception entails. Why do people deceive one another? Why does the thief seek to gain the trust of his victim? Why does the straying spouse carefully cover his tracks? Why does the cheating student adamantly deny that his work is not his own? Whatever its ultimate purpose or manner of execution, all acts of deception have something in common: they are perpetrated by intelligent, but limited, beings who wish to obtain something that they otherwise cannot have: money or power, the “other woman,” top grades. But this can make no sense when applied to God. After all, he is an omnipotent being that created us from nothing. We possess nothing that he did not himself create. He can think us into or out of existence without effort. In short, he has no needs of any kind, and certainly none that would require deception in order to fulfill.
But he created us for a purpose, and that purpose – our ultimate destiny – involves relationship. He made us personal beings because he too is personal, and he wants us to eventually find relationship with him. That’s why relationship is so important to all of us. We were built that way for a reason. But relationships built on dishonesty and deception ultimately fail. “Love” that is built on lies does not flourish, because it cannot.
As a limitless being, God gains nothing from deceiving us. He is the source of all, and we have nothing that he wants – other than our free will freely directed toward, and not away, from him. He wants to allow us to share in the love that exists within him. To accomplish this end, he gave us both intelligence and free will. We use these gifts everyday in forming and maintaining relationships with others. Eventually, the day will come for each of us to decide how we will choose to respond to the one who created us. But for this choice to have any meaning, our intelligence and free will must be operating accurately.
This line of thinking leads me to conclude that a being possessing that much power – power without limitation - would not create minds for the simple purpose of deceiving them into thinking that what they perceive around them is actually the opposite of what it really is. Consequently, I have no reason to suspect that God is deceiving me. This is more than a mere assumption – it is a conclusion stemming from a logical argument: deception is only employed as a means to acquire a desired object or end; an infinite being has no need to acquire anything; therefore, an infinite being does not use deception.
That’s why we can have confidence that the mind, if created by God, can be reliable. If there is no God, by contrast, there is no basis to believe that anything is actually “true.” So the theist’s view of reality is coherent while the atheist’s is not. This, of course, does not make any particular believer’s religious views “correct.” Our minds may be led astray for many reasons, and we may simply get it wrong, or fail to fully understand what God has in mind.
But we should make the effort; we should endeavor to use our minds to reach out – and up – to God, because relationships always start with that first step of inquiry, of getting to know the other. A personal God is waiting for us to take it.