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A dialogue concerning natural religion

The cosmological and design arguments

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Othello: I was talking to my old tutor the other day about where science is at and he said that it doesn’t say anything to help prove God.

Figaro: What did you expect? The problem is that some scientists claim science has made religion either irrelevant or proved it wrong. Look at Richard Dawkins19 implying that religious education is morally wrong or Carl Sagan20 telling us the physical universe is all there is. I was trying to show that religion and science are not in conflict. I was not saying that they are the same.

Othello: But this means there really is no proof that God exists and I have no reason to believe it. I suppose I should modify my position to being a sceptical agnostic rather than a full-blooded atheist but the difference is academic.

Figaro: I can give you evidence for the existence of something which, for want of a better word, we could call God. Science provides us with evidence that we never really had before. You won’t get philosophical certitude but, as we have already discussed, we don’t get that from science either.

Othello: Anything beyond scientific fact is pure conjecture. You can’t show its true.

Figaro: It’s not science, certainly, but we might feel that some conjectures are more likely than others are. What we must not do is dress our ideas up as science. That would be intellectually dishonest and is a charge that could reasonably be levelled at a number of popular science authors.

Othello: Okay, show me some scientific evidence for God.

Figaro: I can give you evidence from science which is a rather different thing. Let’s start at the beginning. You accept that the universe exists?

Othello: Yes.

Figaro: And that it started to exist with the Big Bang. I know there are ideas floating around to try and get around this idea of starting but in the sense we understand it I think we can agree that the universe, including space and time, began.

Othello: Yes.

Figaro: Now for the universe to start it must either have brought itself into existence – acting after the event – or it must have been brought into existence by an agency of some kind. The former seems unlikely as we do not tend to view things as wholly uncaused.

Othello: Isn’t the idea that the universe began in the aftermath of the end of another universe. Eventually it will crush back into itself and another big bang can occur.

Figaro: The problem with that idea, the concertina effect as it is sometimes called, is that it flies in the face of all the scientific evidence available. All the experimental data points toward a universe continuing to expand forever. You can ignore that evidence if you like but you are no longer arguing from science.

Othello: But what created the creator?

Figaro: The million-dollar question! Time and space started when the universe did so it hardly makes sense to talk about things happening in order. Any creator would have to be outside time, as we understand it. This means that we can easily postulate an eternal being whom neither needs to be caused or created. Anyway, ten seconds ago you were advocating a cycle of expanding and contracting universes that continued back in time forever.

Islamic thinkers came up with something called the Kalam argument21 to show an infinite regression of events is impossible. That is, to prove philosophically that the universe had to have a start and couldn’t have always existed. I’ve never found it very convinced and nor have a lot of others. Atheists used to be very happy with the idea that the universe had always existed and that matter was eternal22. Conceptually I can’t argue with it. My point is based on the empirical fact that the universe actually did have a beginning.

Astronomers quickly realised that this had serious metaphysical implications. The eminent atheist astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle devoted a lot of time to refuting the big bang specifically because he couldn’t except the idea of the universe starting. His steady state theory of 1948 had considerable appeal but ultimately failed to deal with the experimental facts.

Nowadays the ultimate cause that is usually suggested by atheist physicists, for example Victor Stenger23 of the University of Hawaii, is a quantum vacuum fluctuation. Here the universe can appear because Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal allows it to pop into existence. I have yet to see very much explanation of this or how it is possible at all. What we would call a vacuum is just empty space-time so not quite ‘nothing’ at all. The analogy with the start of the universe therefore does not apply. It is hard to see how we can use the laws of physics to describe something happening before the laws of physics existed.

Othello: Postulating God is no more founded than a vacuum fluctuation. People can think what they like.

Figaro: They can believe what they like but they must resist the temptation to dress up their speculations as scientific theories. It is hard to escape the conclusion that any idea that avoided the divine would be preferable for Dr Stenger no matter how much it contradicted common sense. He has to either get something from nothing or show there has always been something. The latter sounds preferable and I am calling the something that has always been ‘God’. Anyway, there is more to the case for God than just the brute fact that the universe began. Let’s twist the old terminology a bit and call what we have been discussing the ‘Cosmological Argument’. I don’t claim it as proof but ask that it be lodged as evidence.

Othello: It seems like a non-argument to me. The universe just is. We can never know about anything outside of it and so it is pointless to even talk about it.

Figaro: That is a point made by Bertrand Russell24 and has always seemed to me to show a lack of imagination. Coming from someone as willing to speculate as the noble Earl, it sounds even less convincing. FC Copleston’s25 reply to Russell was that if you want to claim there is no debate it is indeed hardly worth arguing about. If you won’t even sit down at the chessboard, you can never be checkmated. For me, it is inconceivable that we should give up and dismiss a question as meaningless or unknowable. It is as dogmatic as asserting that the earth is at the centre of the universe and refusing to even consider another point of view.

In my experience, this is usually the agnostic’s last line of defence and I am grateful to you for bringing it up at this point. Perhaps you might think it is slightly arrogant to claim that because you do not know the answer, it is unknowable.

Othello: I’ll let that rest for the moment. What further evidence can you provide?

Figaro: The next argument I want to put forward is the argument from design called the ‘Teleological Argument’ in the jargon of the philosopher’s trade. I think there are three kinds of design we can detect.

First, consider the basic laws of physics. These are remarkably orderly and can be understood by man. When you think about it, the fact that the universe runs along orderly lines at all is pretty odd. Even if we can accept that there ought to be something rather than nothing, there is no reason why the something should be anything other than total chaos. Order appears to be the rule rather than the exception everywhere we look.

Even physics conspires against this order. The second law of thermodynamics says that things naturally tend towards the chaotic. It is the scientific version of Sod’s Law. The entire universe is running down from its state of maximum order at the big bang. It’s like a watch that was wound up and then allowed to tick until the tension in its spring had gone.

Othello: The universe doesn’t seem very ordered to me. Stars and galaxies are scattered all over the place willy-nilly and the night sky looks very untidy. Surely perfect order means perfect homogeneity.

Figaro: Stars are arranged in galaxies and galaxies are arranged in clusters. Clusters are arranged in super-clusters. The universe is full of structures. If the universe winds down fully then there will be nothing left except a huge uniform sea of photons. That isn’t very ordered at all. It is certainly an environment where you would never expect to find anything resembling life.

If I have a pallet of paints with each colour as a distinct blob I might call that highly ordered. As I paint a picture, the different colours will tend to merge and get mixed up. In the end, I’ll just have a homogeneous brown mess. You are suggesting that this is a more ordered state but I expect most people would describe it as a dog’s dinner.

Othello: Surely if the universe had not been so ordered then we would not be here to ask the question? It is no use saying that it is highly improbable as we only have a sample of one. We can’t point to examples of the chaotic universes to contrast our own with.

Figaro: First, we can extrapolate the way our own universe is going. As we have no reason to expect it will not last forever, the brief period of a few trillion years until it has run down completely is inherently improbable. Your use of the weak anthropic principal is, as I know you recognise, a circular argument. But it can help you if you can show there are an enormous number of universes. In that case, you might expect some of them to be orderly and we are like lottery winners in the great cosmic game of chance.

In fact, most cosmologists admit that an infinite ensemble of universes would be necessary for this hypothesis to work, as the odds against order are so tiny. They also admit that we will never be able to detect any of these countless places or discover anything about them. Although inflation theory hints that there may be bubble universes it seems to suggest that they should all be like ours. As inflation is based on the laws of physics as we know them it is inconceivable that it could give rise to places where those laws don’t apply.

Othello: I still find it hard to imagine that things could have been so very different to the way they are. However, you mentioned three levels of design. What’s the next?

Figaro: After considering we have an intelligible universe at all it is worth asking how much flexibility there is for physics to be different to what it actually is and for us still to be here to talk about it. Let me take an example. The speed of light is 3 x 108 ms-1 and is usually denoted as ‘c’. Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2 gives the amount of energy, E, bound up in a given mass, m. The text book example of this is that heavy nuclei weigh more than the sum of their constituent parts because they have a higher binding energy. The point of nuclear power is that it unleashes that energy for good or ill.

Now you can see that if ‘c’ was half as large then the nuclear binding energy would be one quarter of what it actually is. This is unfortunate because many more elements would be radioactive and we could not exist. Now, it obviously isn’t that simple because we have no idea what knock on effects this different ‘c’ would have. We can’t point to one physical constant and say that if we change it then such and such is the result. However, we can easily recognise that physics does appear to have fallen out in just the way that it had to for us to be here to admire it. In the words of our atheist friend Sir Fred Hoyle26, ‘Someone appears to have monkeyed around with the laws of physics.’

Othello: I’m not a physicist so don’t fully understand the way it works. If this was true then how could a physicist remain an atheist?

Figaro: Many aren’t, of course. But even atheist physicists are usually willing to accept that they cannot know the answer and then forget about it. After all, they can follow no less a thinker than Bertrand Russell on this question. Others present infinite universe theories. The problem is that if you have created an atheistic paradigm for yourself it is very hard to get out of it.

Othello: The same can be said of a theistic worldview.

Figaro: True, but I’m a physicist who has gone from one to another. I could not accept a random and consequently meaningless universe. I also found that when I asked my tutors how much the particular values of e, m0, G, h and all the rest mattered, they had no idea. They had accepted that they were what they were and that was the end of it. It hardly mattered what would happen if the physical constants were something else as that situation did not arise.

All we can know is that if the constants were either not constant or too far from what they are then the universe would have been very different to what we see. Indeed, we wouldn’t be here to see it.

Othello: Hang on a moment, though. E = mc2 only works because of the way we’ve defined all the amounts. I mean, if you’d measured ‘m’ in pounds instead of kilograms the formula wouldn’t work. The speed of light is only 3 x 108 ms-1 if you work in metres and seconds. But that means its all man-made.

Figaro: You’re right that we have defined the units we use to keep formulas as simple as possible. But whatever units you use, the ratios between the constants are fixed. If we define some constants as ‘1’ in the system of measurement we’re using we find another constant that cannot be ‘1’ at all but is instead 6.6 x 10-34. You cannot define away nature’s fundamentals because as you fix one the others all change.

Anyway, the last possible level of design relates to life on earth and this is, unsurprisingly, its oldest manifestation. It was put forward most famously by William Paley27 at the beginning of the nineteenth century when he pointed out that if you found a watch you would expect that somewhere there was a watchmaker. He drew an analogy with living things being well adapted to their environment. His choice was unfortunate because Darwin has since given us a good explanation of natural adaptation.

The fact that Paley remains the most famous proponent even if his version is 150 years out of date has something to do with the fact that atheists still feel the need to argue against it. The reason for that is the advent of Creationism28. This is far from a historical hangover from the pre-Darwinian age but actually has its origins in the 1960s. I suppose it is best seen as a revolt against the scientific orthodoxy that seems to be laying claim to so much of our lives. Whatever is motivating Creationists, mainstream scientists do seem to find them ridiculously threatening. On the other hand, atheists have also found it useful to be able to tar everyone who questions them with the brush of religious fundamentalism.

Othello: You don’t think that God created the world in six days?

Figaro: No.

Othello: So you don’t believe the Bible is infallible?

Figaro: Of course not. I’m not an evangelical. The Bible has to be looked at as an ancient document that contains history, philosophy and a whole lot of other things. Anyway, even if I were an evangelical I’d point out that the word translated as ‘day’ in Genesis is really an indeterminate amount of time. Given the sun wasn’t created until ‘day’ four, its hard to see how you could call ‘days’ one, two and three days at all. I can assure you that there are much more promising avenues of attack on the Bible.

Othello: Okay, so why does life suggest design when we have evolution to explain how it developed?

Figaro: Firstly, we have to consider how unlikely it is that a random planet would have suitable and stable conditions for the billions of years that development has taken. Evolution is nothing, if not slow. Now, I’ve seen guesses of this chance between 0.001%29 and 10-4030 . I’m happy to admit both of these numbers are pretty arbitrary and influenced by the worldview of their authors. But I am inclined to go for a very small chance because of the sheer number of imponderables. Given the universe contains at most 1020 stars, the chance of an earth like planet occurring at random could be 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times greater than the smaller estimate above and we would still expect to be alone.

Othello: The universe is so huge and so old we must expect loads of different places where life could exist. Surely, it’s terribly arrogant just to assume that we are the cleverest creatures in the universe and that in all that space we are completely unique.

Figaro: The size of the universe does have a beneficial effect on human egos and I have speculated that may be exactly why it is so big. But it is not big enough for anything to happen in it. It is about 15 billion years old and 30 billion light years across. The probabilities being bandied around for the natural generation and maintenance of life are so huge as to make them technically meaningless even within the context of the entire universe. A mechanism is required that shows how these things happen and that the universe could be expected to produce life. These explanations do not exist.

I cannot deny that they never will. Nor can I give any definite answers myself. I can only present an alternative hypothesis - that of design - to explain why these things came about. The universe looks like it was designed for life to arise within in it.  You can reject that hypothesis if you like. However, the mark of a good hypothesis is that it is found to explain more than just what it was originally put forward for. I think that God does that. He gives us a handle on other ideas and helps us comprehend mysteries every bit as opaque as the origin of the universe.

The problem of evil

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Othello: Since we last met, I’ve looked up a couple of scientist friends and asked them about what you said. They admitted you had a point but insisted that the Creator suggested by natural theology had nothing to do with the God of Christianity. One explained that he was a ‘deist’ which means that he doesn’t think that God interferes with the universe after creating it. He couldn’t accept a loving God because there was so much pain and suffering in the world. Any deity would have to be completely uncaring and amoral to let it happen.

Now, I’m not saying I concede God existing. But if He has just abandoned us in the vastness of the cosmos, He hardly warrants worshipping. How can you be a Christian when there is so much evil in the world?

Figaro: What do you mean by evil?

Othello: That’s not the point. You’re trying to attack my question so you don’t have to give an answer. Even though we cannot define evil in a definite way, we both know what we mean by it. That common understanding is what allows us to communicate. We both know what the colour red is even if analysing it can prove difficult.

Figaro: You may right about colours. Wittgenstein31 told us there could be no such thing as a private language and in that he was probably right. But regarding evil, I don’t agree. It is possible to explain where colour comes from, how properties at an atomic level give rise to the phenomena that we call ‘red’. With evil, that sort of explanation is a non-starter. Thinkers far greater than you or I have attempted to find out what it is but only the theologians think they know.

Anyway, we agree on what’s red and what’s not. However, we might not agree on what evil is. If I remember from years back, you are, in principle, in favour of the death penalty for the most serious of crimes subject to various safeguards. For me, capital punishment, no matter what the conditions or justifications, is one of the clearest examples of evil available to us. Under no circumstances is it anything less than an abomination.  If we called in witnesses from other periods of history, we could find those who believe slavery to be acceptable, or torture or child abuse. I must continue to assert that you can only claim they are wrong about evil if there is a measure against which to set what we think and what they think.

Othello: The standard definition of good given by a Christian is that it is what God says it is. Now, if I admit that evil is only what I happen not to like, that is no more arbitrary than claiming it is what gets up God’s nose.

Figaro: A God-centred definition of good and evil does have an advantage over an Othello-centred one. The feeling that we have that evil is not just a human invention is catered for. We might also say that God’s opinion is probably more reliable than yours. In fact, many theologians would claim that good is just the way that God naturally behaves. It isn’t a matter of His choice or opinions, it’s just the way He is. Likewise ‘natural law’ is not a set of detailed rules and regulations handed down by God so we know how to behave. Instead, it is the way we would automatically behave if we were completely free of sin. Morality can be as deterministic as science. Ethical dilemmas are a function of our own imperfections and those of the world around us.

Othello: I can’t subscribe to this as I don’t believe in your God.

Figaro: True. Although, perhaps you can accept that someone who does so believe can be quite explicit about evil even if we can’t always identify it in practice. I don’t think you can do better than something along the lines of A. J. Ayer’s32 emotivism. Enough of this.  Let's get back to your initial question on how a good God can allow pain and suffering to occur. There are two separate problems here. The first is the about evil and the second natural suffering. The one deals with Hitler and other with cancer. Let me look at them in order.

Ultimately people have a choice. That choice may be highly restricted so that they can justly claim that they couldn’t help doing what they did. But the people we admire tend to be those who didn’t follow the herd and took a stand. At Nuremberg, it was decided that ‘following orders’ was not to be an acceptable defence for a charge of crimes against humanity. At that point, we declared that people must decide for themselves at some point and not doing so involves culpability rather than neutrality.

I recognise that humans do have freedom. Whenever we declare we are trapped in a job or situation, there are people who show that it doesn’t have to be so. Often the problem is of our own making such as taking out a loan we can’t afford. Denying that people do have freedom also denies that they have responsibility. This is a recipe for disaster in any society however good it might make the guilt-stricken intelligentsia feel.

Othello: In other words, we all have to be right wing and refuse to recognise society has huge inequalities. Money buys you freedom but most people living day-to-day lives are simply trying to hold things together.

Figaro: In the first place, using left wing and right wing labels in theology is utterly pointless. In America the left is attacking the religious right while in the UK, Christianity is seen as an overwhelmingly left wing force. Certainly, almost all members of the clergy vote Labour. Religion transcends politics but can be used for political ends by both sides.

Secondly, normal people are not being asked to find a cure for cancer or invent a perpetual motion machine. All they have to do is decide to do good rather than ill when the choice arises. Society should make sure they know the difference, of course.

As far as God is concerned, he allows us the freedom to make the wrong choice. If he didn’t, we would not be free. Christianity claims the point of life is to love God and love our fellow man. One necessarily follows from the other. Leave aside how much success Christians actually enjoy trying to do this. Love by definition has to be freely given and so man must be free to do it. As this is the whole point of our existence everything else is secondary and God cannot interfere with our freedom.

Othello: Surely, He could easily have made us into slightly better creatures without compromising our freedom. He could have made us more inclined to be nice to each other. He’s supposed to be omnipotent after all.

Figaro: I would suggest that we are inclined to be good. But even an omnipotent God can’t force us. We don’t believe that He can do something that is logically impossible like make a square circle or a weight too heavy for Him to lift. I think technically omnipotence means God can do anything that it is in His nature to do. This also precludes committing suicide or sinning. Of course, if He could do the logically absurd, He would have created a world where we were all perfectly free and perfectly good. This rather proves he can do nothing of the sort.

Othello: But surely, He could have arranged for Hitler to have had a heart attack in 1930 and dropped dead?

Figaro: Historians are usually very reluctant to allow one man to be the cause of events whatever the popular view of these matters is. A trivial point - but in one Second World War game the German player finds his fortunes considerably improve if he manages to have Hitler assassinated. Perhaps, given the chain of events set off by the botched Peace of Versailles, having the Germans led by a one-bollocked paranoid corporal was the best thing that could have happened.

Othello: What about the Holocaust?

Figaro: The Holocaust was not the first example of genocide, only the first time it was industrialised. It is very hard to see how it wouldn’t have happened somewhere to someone. Hitler didn’t invent racism and nor did he murder those six million people on his own.

You may very well not accept that our freedom is worth the price that others pay for it. The calculation would have to be made regardless of whether you believe in God. And at least if you do, there is the possibility of a reckoning where the wounded will be healed and the weary can rest.

Let me move on to natural suffering. I first want to state that I do not believe that animal suffering forms part of the equation. I don’t think we can look at the natural world and say that because lions eat zebras, God is cruel. I do not believe animals are conscious and tend to view that the animal rights movement is engaged in nonsense. Human beings have duties towards animals and should treat those we use well. But those duties are a function of our humanity and not the implied rights of the animal. An animal has no rights because it has no freedom and hence it has no responsibility.

Othello: How can you possibly say that? How do you know? Is it not the height of arrogance to claim humans are unique?

Figaro: But we are unique. Do animals talk? Do animals have language? No. Are animals rational? No. Do animals bury their dead? No. Do animals have religion? No. Can animals do sums? No. I fully appreciate that in a world where we are just made of molecules we must be nothing more than big-brained apes. But I reject that worldview. If you want to claim that animals think, feel and are conscious then the ball is in your court. Show me the evidence. You cannot make a claim just because you have a philosophy that says it must be true.

Othello: There is evidence of pigs counting and chimps learning sign language33.

Figaro: No, the interpretation of that work is entirely subjective. Other scientists see these responses as simply the result of human-induced conditioning. Believe me, if we proved there were animals we could meaningfully communicate with it would be the biggest scientific story since an apple fell on Newton’s head.

Let me finish my point on natural suffering. It is tied to what I said earlier about how fine-tuned the universe is. If we are to be free then the universe has to run itself. You need physical laws. Otherwise, God would have to personally move every atom himself. Now, I don’t doubt he can do that. But if he does, we are no longer free to make things happen for ourselves. All we are doing is thinking something and watching God do it for us. Worse, if we chose to act in an evil way God would have to carry that act out. He would have to sin. To the Christian this is impossible.

Given the universe is so fine-tuned, it is very hard to thing of a way that it could be improved. Consider earthquakes. These cause enormous suffering even if we are partly to blame by building our cities over known fault lines. Now, think about what would happen if we didn’t have them. There would be no plate tectonics and so the Earth could not loose its internal energy. It would be stored up inside until the whole planet was turned literally inside out. Obviously, this would destroy all life on Earth. We know that this would happen because of studies of Venus. It has a solid crust that is completely torn apart by internal forces every 500 million years or so. Unless you are a creationist, that means that we would not be here.

No cancer? Well, if cells couldn’t mutate then evolution wouldn’t have happened and once again, we wouldn’t be here. I appreciate I am indulging in unsupported speculation. I cannot show we are in the best possible universe and that even God couldn’t do any better. But I do think that we might be. And if we are the problem of pain is solved. This is, I must emphasise, the single biggest difficulty with theism. I do not know the answer but I can imagine what it might look like.

Othello: Even after all this ‘evidence’ and even without evil, we are still a million miles from Christianity. How on earth did you manage to end up being a Catholic?

Figaro: If there is a divine creator then I would expect Him to make Himself known. Actually, I would expect him to do it quite a few times. The New Testament is a record of one of these occurrences. The Koran may be another. There may have been times when no one really took any notice. Once you accept that the supernatural is possible the most likely explanation for the New Testament is that it actually happened. And if that is the case then Christianity is true.

The subject of the historical reliability of the Gospels is a rigorously debated one. The trouble is that almost everyone involved has a set of preconceptions that hopelessly bias their arguments.

In the blue corner is the evangelical scholar. He (because they are nearly always men) takes, as their starting point, the inerrancy of the Bible. To compare it to science, this is like insisting that Newton’s Laws always apply. No amount of evidence of quantum mechanics or special relativity will convince him otherwise. Because the evangelical must assert that everything that looks odd is actually literally true, he is hamstrung. All that he says will be a rationalisation and not an explanation. Even if he happens to be right, it will be by good fortune and not from rational enquiry.

In the red corner is the sceptic. He is every bit as guilty of prejudice as the evangelical because he disbelieves in anything supernatural. This means that the Bible cannot be remotely accurate about anything because the supernatural is what it is all about. If the Gospels are a priori unreliable because they contain miracle stories the case for historical accuracy is already over.

The sceptic, too, is reduced to rationalising about how these documents came to be if they are manifestly untrue. Thus, he puts forward some odd theories about Jesus never existing or being a pagan construct. He can do this because he believes he has carte blanche to think up what he likes – the Gospels are untrue so the field is vacant.

The centre ground tends to contain historians and theologians that are more liberal. They are the people you should read if you are interested. Two are worth mentioning and both assert that we know a great deal about what Jesus said and did. Robin Lane Fox34 is an agnostic classicist who looks on the Gospel of John and parts of Acts of the Apostles as being first hand descriptions. Craig Blomberg35 is a theologian who examines the main problems of the Gospels in enormous detail.

The evidence is there. The question is then whether or not you believe it. Fox doesn’t and Blomberg does. Whatever the sceptics might say you do not need to commit intellectual suicide to be a Christian.

Othello: Perhaps I will feel that I need God in the way I was once assured that I did. For the moment, though, I feel I am getting on just fine on my own. If God were really interested in me He’d realise I was sceptic and give me a sign I couldn’t ignore. Whatever you say, the whole idea of religion seems so far removed from every day life. You watch the news, do your job, go to bed, eat your food and enjoy a drink with your mates. Where is God in all of that? Why can’t He be more bloody obvious?

Figaro: Most Christians would claim he is bloody obvious, it’s just you are too blinded by the modern world to see it. Despite all the discoveries of science, we are still free humans and not machines. And that is still a miracle.

Othello: But when I was losing my faith I begged for a sign and to believe again. It never happened. There was no one there, just a huge silence and emptiness.

Figaro: I’ve been there and faced that silence. But before I could face God, I had to face myself. I was thinking, I’m a decent bloke, not really a bad sort of chap. Surely, I am the sort that God is interested in talking to. But that is the biggest mistake we can ever make. Compared to God’s greatness I am not a good bloke but so insignificant it would be insulting to Him for me to consider He’d even care.

I looked at my swollen pride, the countless times daily I look down on people and put myself first. I was indeed just getting on with life in a blinkered and careless way. God doesn’t get a look in because, as you say, that sort of life has nothing to do with Him. This is why the atheist talks about the Christian being guilt-ridden and having no dignity. He says we need to invent a crime so we can indulge in self-flagellation. Invent a crime? Look at the newspapers! Modern society has started to believe that human beings are not sinful and that sin is something Christians invented. Well, we didn’t invent sin.  We just realise we suffer from it. When I recognised this, I was not begging God for a sign but for mercy.

If you still need to ask, he’ll give you a sign too. But be careful what you ask for because it will come true.

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© James Hannam 1999.
Last revised: 29 May 2013.