Hardwired to believe?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachIn The Message, Eugene Peterson has a wonderful way of highlighting the nuances in Scripture that may be missed in other Bible translations. Here is his take on Psalm 8:1-2:

God, brilliant Lord,     
yours is a household name.
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;     
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,     
and silence atheist babble.

Can’t you just hear atheists sniggering at that? They consider the songs of preschoolers to be where belief in God belongs. For them, the only smart choice in a sophisticated, educated modern world, is a materialistic worldview where there is no room for belief in God or in the supernatural.

But not so fast! Recently I came across an article that presents research showing how humans may be “hardwired” to believe, and that even hard-core atheists can’t avoid an inbuilt bias towards metaphysical beliefs. According to journalist Nury Vittachi…

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged. While this idea may seem outlandish—after all, it seems easy to decide not to believe in God—evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone. [1]

Vittachi goes on to quote atheist Graham Lawton, who admitted that, “Atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think.” Vittachi continues:

These findings may go a long way to explaining a series of puzzles in recent social science studies. In the United States, 38% of people who identified themselves as atheist or agnostic went on to claim to believe in a God or a Higher Power (Pew Forum, “Religion and the Unaffiliated”, 2012). While the UK is often defined as an irreligious place, a recent survey by Theos, a think tank, found that very few people—only 13 per cent of adults—agreed with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”. For the vast majority of us, unseen realities are very present…. The implication is that we all believe in a not dissimilar range of tangible and intangible realities. Whether a particular brand of higher consciousness is included in that list (“I believe in God”, “I believe in some sort of higher force”, “I believe in no higher consciousness”) is little more than a detail. [1]

The more we learn about the cosmos, the more we realize that there is much more to it—and to us—than what meets the eye. Not all scientists are atheists by any means. Many on the cutting edge of scientific discovery know that a purely materialistic view of the cosmos does not fit the facts. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center poll, “Just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.”

Of course, some scientists are atheists and argue that metaphysical beliefs are just in our heads—the result of impersonal, unintelligent evolutionary processes and so not to be trusted. But new discoveries are giving us deeper insight into the reality of the creation as God actually made it, not as we might assume it to be. And though we must admit that scientific research can never prove that the God of the Bible exists, and that he has created and redeemed us in Christ, we should expect that whatever is discovered about creation will be compatible with the revelation of the creator God given to us in and through Jesus Christ.

There is nothing irrational or unscientific about trusting in the claims of revelation as given to us by prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture and as further confirmed through personal experience. Also, there is no threat to God in scientific discovery. After all, God is the one who made whatever is discovered. One leading physicist even suggested wryly that in the decades ahead, we may learn more about God from science than from theology. I don’t mean to imply that scientists will be “preaching the gospel.” That’s our job. The job of science is to study created reality, and God is not a created physical object. But scientists are discovering that what is “real” in creation leaves plenty of room for rationally affirming metaphysical claims such as the reality and existence of a transcendent and personal God who has the intelligence, power and motivation to make himself known.

As some of the ideas now shaping scientific thought become better known, and as the limits of science become more widely recognized, I suspect that an atheistic worldview will be seen more and more for what it is: a metaphysical assertion that cannot be justified on the basis of the growing scientific knowledge of the universe. I think that more and more people (including scientists) will find themselves in the same position as David who, having come to know God through the prophets and the history of Israel, looked up at the majesty of creation and proclaimed these words (Psalm 8:3-4, The Message):

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?

God created us in his image to know and to trust him. To that end Jesus dedicated his life and ministry: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). We may not believe him, but placing ourselves absolutely beyond the reach of Jesus’ ministry is not an option that God has given us. Some people are drawn to Christ willingly, while others put up fierce resistance. But whatever the case, it’s Jesus’ ongoing ministry (which was decided before creation and is now being carried out by the Spirit) to confront all people with the reality of his existence and the reality of God’s gracious gift of salvation. Sooner or later, all must come to terms with it.

Some may think that the arrogant claims of militant atheists are more rational and scientific than the claims of faith from those who have come to know God through the witness of historical revelation gathered up and passed down through the centuries. But the unbelief of atheists has made them hard of hearing—deaf to the evidence. They should listen more carefully when “nursing infants” sing their praises to God (Psalm 8:2).

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. Recently I participated in the last of the 2014 U.S. regional conferences in Orlando, Florida, and the annual Canadian national conference in Edmonton, Alberta. The presentations in both locations were well received and the fellowship was outstanding.

Wendy Moore ordination
Left to right: Joseph Tkach, Gary and Wendy Moore, Cathy and Gary Deddo.

Following the Canadian conference, we held the annual general meeting of the GCI Canada board and the Edmonton congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary.

While in Canada I had the joy of sharing in ordaining Wendy Moore (wife of GCI-Canada director Gary Moore—see the picture at right) and Mark Kuberski (who serves the Edmonton congregation). Congratulations to both!

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[1] “Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke,” Science 2.0, http://tinyurl.com/lbljujh.

3 thoughts on “Hardwired to believe?”

  1. Thanks for the column on believing. As a retired physics teacher, I was just writing about believing (a column or just personal study or even part of a chapter of a book). I took a break before lunch by checking my e-mail and there you were – giving me some relevant new material!

  2. A fundamental question concerning this and other theological topics is who is meant by the term “God”. There is the Calvinist God, the Arminian God, the Trinitarian God and the Lutheran God to name a few. Froese and Bader identified four different concepts of God that Americans believe in. A friend of mine who is a member of GCI still believes in the anthropomorphic God associated with the history of the organization. “God” is a term surcharged with meaning imparted to it by each person who hears the word. Many times it is necessary to sort out the meaning of this term before constructive discussion can be pursued. An inclination to believe can impel us in many different directions.

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