“Sunday Afternoon Sermon”
The Rise of Atheism Among Latter-day Saints
Proselyting atheists have recently become celebrities by attacking religion and the belief in God. They have appeared on television, radio, social media, and college campuses. They have written popular articles and best-selling books. They are articulate and persuasive.
Scores of LDS youths and young adults, including returned missionaries, have been converted to their cause. I have family members and friends who have been “converted.”
“Atheism has been on the rise in America… [T]he culture has become increasingly secular, and religious affiliation has declined among the population. Unfortunately, Latter-day Saints haven’t been immune to this trend. Many Mormons have concluded that God doesn’t exist and have left the Church ….” (Hyrum Lewis, “There is a God,” p. v)
“We live when the darkness of secularism is deepening around us. Belief in God is widely questioned, and even attacked in the name of political, social and even religious causes.” (Robert D. Hales, “Seeking to Know God,” Ensign, Nov. 2009)
This 7-part series is my response.
Who Has the Burden of Proof, the Believer or the Atheist?
In court, the outcome of a case often depends on who has the burden of proof. For example, in a criminal case, the prosecutor must overcome the “presumption of innocence” by proving the case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In the debate over the existence of God, who has the burden of proof? Is the burden on the believer to prove the existence of God? Or is the burden on the atheist to prove that God does not exist?
Even Bertrand Russell, the famous anti-religious British philosopher admitted, “I do not think there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. … I cannot prove that there is not a God.” (“Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?” (1947))
“Pascal’s Wager” – “Hedging Your Bet”
French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), came up with a practical formula for whether or not a person should believe in God. It is called “Pascal’s Wager,” To paraphrase:
- Either God exists or he doesn’t.
2. If God does NOT exist, then is does not matter whether you believe in him or not, because death is the end of existence for everyone.
3. If God DOES exist, and you do not believe in him, you may suffer severe consequence.
4. If God DOES exist, and you believe in him, you will receive heavenly eternal rewards.
5. Therefore, it is more prudent to believe in God and act accordingly.
“The challenge for believers is to explain the existence and evil and suffering. The challenge for atheists is to explain the existence of everything else.”
Nothing Can be Proved Without Assumptions
Philosophers and scientists agree: “Nothing can be proved without assumptions.”
A fellow student in my philosophy class challenged me to, “Prove that God exists without making any assumptions.” I replied, “I will prove that God exists without any assumptions, when you prove to me that YOU exist without making any assumptions.” He had no response.
Nothing can be proven to a stubborn skeptic.
Moreover, some philosophers and religions teach that our “reality” is just a dream or illusion. “We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world.” (Buddha)
Some modern philosophers and physicists believe that we live in a “holographic universe,” like the “Matrix” movies.
“The universe is itself a kind of giant, flowing hologram.” “The tangible reality of our everyday lives is really an illusion, a holographic image.” (Physicist David Bohm, contemporary of Einstein.)
“Physical objects and everything else we perceive in reality, are composed of interference patterns, a fact that has undeniable holographic implications.” (Michael Talbot, “The Holographic Universe.”)
In short, it is difficult to discuss the existence of God with people who don’t believe in the existence of anything, including reality and themselves.
Multiple Layers of “Proof” for the Existence of God
There are multiple layers of “proof” for the existence of God. I will focus on just six categories in upcoming articles:
- Divine Miracles and Heavenly Blessings
- Prophetic Revelation, Scripture, Prophecy
- Personal Revelation
- Complexity and Wonder of the Universe
- Complexity and Wonder of the Human Body
- Beyond Mere Physical Reality – Love, Self-Awareness, Free Will, Universal Conscience, Widespread Morality, Universal Yearning for Deity
Finally, C.S. Lewis cautions: “There have been men who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing better to do than exist!” (“The Great Divorce,” p. 71)