A Message For Madalyn Murray O’Hair: Why I Believe in God
October 8, 1995
Forty years ago, Madalyn Murray O’Hair stood amid the lightning and driving rain of a Maryland thunderstorm, shook her fist at the heavens, and dared God to strike her dead. When it became clear that the Almighty was busy with more important matters, she cried out, “You see! You see! If God exists, he would surely have taken up my challenge. I’ve proved irrefutably that God does not exist.” Thus began the career of the world’s most famous atheist.
After a prolonged absence Madalyn is in the news again! It seems that she has not been seen in public for the last two months. Is she sick? Is she dead? No one seems to know. Her friends and family members have recently closed the American Center for Atheism in Austin, Texas. Rumor has it that if she is dying, the family doesn’t want word to leak out, following her wishes that Christians not use her impending death as an excuse to pray for her. They also want to squelch rumors of any last-second conversion to Christianity. Madalyn is determined to die as she lived, a convinced atheist dedicated to demolishing belief in God.
The Bible vs. Madalyn
Since I have no idea whether she is dead or alive, I can only say that for her sake, I hope she is not dead yet. Here is a woman filled with anger at all organized religion, who spent the best years of her life attacking the Christian faith. She was the organizing force behind the infamous Supreme Court decision that removed prayer from the public schools, a move that helped create the moral chaos we see all around us. She inspired (if that’s the right word) many other atheists and secularists to come out of the closet and proudly proclaim their unbelief.
The Bible says, “In the beginning God…” Genesis 1:1.
Madalyn says, “There is no God”
The Bible says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” Psalm 14:1.
Madalyn says, “It’s all superstition.”
Is belief in God nothing but superstition?
Who’s right? Madalyn Murray O’Hair or the Bible? Is belief in God nothing but superstition? The dictionary defines superstition as “a belief held despite evidence to the contrary.” That definition reminds us of how one little boy defined faith: “Faith is believing what you know isn’t true.” Seen in that light, I submit that atheism is based more on superstition because all the evidence points in the direction of God’s existence. In fact, I believe it takes far more faith to be an atheist than to be a believer in God.
In this message I want to tell you why belief in God is reasonable. Before jumping in, however, I must issue one disclaimer. I do not believe I can “prove” God’s existence in the absolute sense of that word. Either God exists or he doesn’t. If he does, then his existence ought to be the most obvious fact in the universe. If he doesn’t, then that too should be obvious. However, I realize that some people will choose not to believe no matter what the evidence says. Just as a jury may choose to ignore overwhelming evidence, even so some individuals may choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of God’s existence. The best any person can do is to answer the question, “Why do you believe in God?”
With that in mind, let’s consider some reasons for believing in God.
1. Reasons to Believe in God
Across the centuries theologians have developed various lines of argument regarding God’s existence. These arguments (called the “classical proofs”) generally start with the universe as we know it and argue from what we know to what we don’t know. They draw logical inferences in order to reach valid conclusions. Several of the arguments deserve our attention.
A. Argument from First Cause
This argument is sometimes called the “cosmological argument” or the argument from cause to effect. It begins with the simple observation that for everything that exists there must be a cause that brings it into being. We cannot conceive of an effect that does not have a preceding cause. Fruit grows because someone planted the seed, a gust of wind causes the sailboat to knife through the waves, the sunshine causes the fog to evaporate, the lapping waves on the seashore wash away the sand castles, a man hits a few buttons and a phone rings on the other side of the world. And so it goes. For every effect there must be a cause that made it happen.
Now consider this. The universe itself—all of it—exists as the ultimate effect. Where or how did the universe come into being? If everything in the universe has a cause, what caused the universe in the first place? Think about that question for a moment. If everything in the universe operates according to the Law of Cause and Effect, if there are no known exceptions to this law, then where did the universe come from? Who or what brought it into being? A few years ago many scientists dismissed this as a nonsense question because the prevailing theory suggested that the universe had always existed. However, the research of men such as Edwin Hubble have shown that the universe seems to be constantly expanding, which suggests that it once had a definite beginning at a particular point in time. Scientists call this the “Big Bang” theory.
What Science Cannot Do
Dr. Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, and an agnostic, describes the matter this way:
Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same.
He then adds this fascinating comment:
Scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and energy. This is a kind of religion in science; every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause. Now science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, “What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the universe? And science cannot answer these questions.
This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. To which St. Augustine added, “Who can understand this mystery or explain it to others?”
If the universe is the ultimate “effect,” what “cause” could be great enough to account for the universe as we know it? Since the cause must be greater than the effect, the only explanation for the universe as we know it is that it was created by Someone of infinite power. That Someone is God.
God’s Calling Card
The universe is God’s calling card! Not just a part of the universe, but the universe as a whole speaks of God’s existence. This is what David meant when he proclaimed, “The heavens declare the Glory of God; the skies proclaim the word of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It’s also what Paul meant when he wrote these words in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” His words are entirely unambiguous. The key phrase is “clearly seen.” Paul means that the truth about God is so plain in nature that everyone sees it, everyone knows it, everyone understands several important facts simply by looking at creation:
1. There is a God.
2. He is a God of infinite power.
3. He is a God of creative design.
Everyone knows these things because God has put his personal stamp on every single portion of the universe. Only the willfully blind refuse to see it.
God—The Ultimate Cause
How do we account for the world as we know it? We know that the cause must be greater than the effect. Only an infinite God could have created a universe like this.
*The cause of endless time must be eternal.
*The cause of energy must be unlimited power.
*The cause of consciousness must be personal.
*The cause of emotions must have feelings.
*The cause of free will must be ultimate free will.
*The cause of righteousness must be holy.
*The cause of justice must have integrity.
*The cause of love must be infinite love.
*The cause of life must be eternal life.
The only way to rationally explain the universe as we know it is the existence of an All-Powerful, Infinite, Personal God—the God of the Bible.
B. The Argument from Design
This argument answers the question, “How do you account for the complexity of the universe?” It is sometimes called the “watchmaker” argument in honor of William Paley who several hundred years ago said that if you saw a watch by the side of the road, even if you didn’t know anything else, you would know that the watch didn’t assemble itself by chance. A watch demands a watchmaker. In the same way, the incredible complexity of our universe demands an Intelligent Designer who brought it all into being.
Suppose you visited Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and exclaimed, “What an amazing feat of nature this is. What a coincidence that water and wind eroded the face of the mountain until it looks just like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.” But when you pick up a brochure you discover that Mt. Rushmore is the work of a brilliant, visionary sculptor named Gutzon Borglum. When he looked at the uncut mountain he “saw” the four presidents there. From his vision came the monument we see today.
“Welcome to Florida”
As you enter Florida on Interstate 75 from Georgia, the first rest area has a group of flowers that spell out “Welcome to Florida.” Would a person looking at that say, “What a coincidence! Somehow those flowers just happened to grow in precisely the right places to spell out those words?” No, intelligent design demands an Intelligent Designer.
Dr. Paul Davies is the 1995 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He is not a theologian or a pastor, but a mathematical physicist and professor of natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He insists that the universe is not a random occurrence but a marvel of sublime order:
It is impossible to be a scientist, even an atheistic scientist, and not be struck by the awesome beauty, harmony and ingenuity of nature. What most impresses me is the presence of an underlying mathematical order. The rational basis implies that the world is not only ordered but ordered in an intelligible way.
You See It Or You Don’t!
When Dr. Candace Pert, noted Neuro-scientist was asked if she ever felt a sense of religious awe for the workings of the human brain, she replied, “No, I don’t feel awe for the brain. I feel an awe for God. I see in the brain all the beauty of the universe and its order—constant signs of God’s presence.”
You either see that or you don’t! That doesn’t prove God. But just as a watch points to a watchmaker, just as Mt. Rushmore points to a dedicated architect, just as The Old Man and the Sea points to Ernest Hemingway, the beauty and order and complexity of the universe points directly to Almighty God—the Ultimate Designer of all things.
Psalm 8:3 says, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” God has left his fingerprints on the universe. Every rock, every tree, every river, every ocean, every star in the sky—they all bear the Divine DNA that points back to the God who created all things.
C. The Argument from Man’s Religious Nature
Man is incurably religious! Anthropologists tell us that even among the remotest tribes, no matter how primitive, there is a belief in God, a universal spirit, or some form of higher power.
But what about modern man? Surely he has progressed to the point where belief in God is unnecessary. Hardly. A recent poll by the Chicago Sun-Times reveals just the opposite. An overwhelming 94% of Chicagoans answered yes to the question, “Do you believe in God?” That figure is consistent with results from around the country. Despite years of secularization in the public media and the rise of an active humanist movement, the vast majority of Americans still believe in God. Even people who rarely or never attend church believe in God. Some atheists even pray regularly, apparently hedging their bets!
Where does this near-universal belief in God come from? Who put it inside the human heart? Is it only superstition, the product of generations of religious training? Is it a quirk of uncompleted evolution that so many people still believe in? No!!!!
The Pope Was Right
Paul tells us the answer in Romans 2:14-15, “When Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature the things required in the law, they are a law for themselves, … since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, the consciences also bearing witness.” This explains why people have an innate sense of right and wrong. Even in societies without the Ten Commandments, most people know by nature that “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” They may not say it in those precise words, but they instinctively know that murder is wrong. The same is true of the other commandments, such as the law against stealing, against lying, against adultery, and the commandment to honor your parents. Atheists have no logical explanation for the existence of the moral conscience in every person’s heart.
This week, Pope John Paul II made his fourth trip to America, which he calls “God’s playground.” As part of his trip, he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. During his speech he appealed for human rights around the world on the basis of the “universal moral law” common to every nation. Afterwards the Secretary General called it, “A speech for the 21st century.” How do we know that murder is wrong? That rape is wrong? That lying is wrong? That stealing is wrong? That compassion is good? That love is good? That integrity is better than dishonesty? God put that inside every human heart.
Russia Returns to God
For most of this century the communists tried to outlaw God. As part of their program, they confiscated most of the Orthodox churches in Russia, turning some of them into factories, some into schools, and others into state-run museums. Several years ago I visited St. Petersburg with John and Helen Sergey. John told me about a beautiful Orthodox church that the communists had converted into a Museum of Atheism. Now the communists are gone and the museum has been turned back into a church! In fact, all across Russia, now that the heavy hand of communism has been lifted, thousands of people have turned to Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Albania, which for many years claimed to be the world’s first Atheistic state. For 45 years following World War II, Albania could claim to be most closed nation on earth. Its rulers did all they could to stamp out every vestige of belief in God. About four years ago, the communists fell from power and the country suddenly opened up. Now Albanians by the thousands are flocking into churches to hear the gospel. That’s why we commissioned Deneen Banker as a missionary to Albania six weeks ago. The door is wide open!
It’s Hard to Be a Good Atheist
Atheism is the most unnatural philosophy in all the world! It’s hard to be a good atheist. Consider these words of C. S. Lewis, who converted from atheism to Christianity and became the foremost apologist of this century:
A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—Bible laid open, millions of surprises, as George Herbert says, “Fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
Blaise Pascal spoke about the “God-shaped vacuum” inside every human heart. Over 1500 years ago, St. Augustine said, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” King Solomon summarized the human condition with these words, “He (meaning God) has set eternity in the hearts of men.” There is an emptiness and a longing for God inside every human heart. Only God can fill that emptiness and satisfy that longing.
2. Why Atheism Is Wrong
Having set forth briefly some reasons to believe in God, let me suggest five reasons why atheism is wrong.
A. It is unnatural and demands suppression of the truth everywhere evident about God.
This explains why so few true atheists may be found. Atheism may be satisfying to the dilettantes who love to sit around drinking imported coffee and discussing the latest philosophical speculation, but it holds no appeal for the common man or woman. They see it for what it is—an empty philosophy devoid of meaning or purpose. Since atheism is fundamentally unnatural, we should not be surprised to hear that once the yoke of communism was removed, millions of people began searching for the truth about God.
B. It is an egocentric philosophy that puts man at the center of the universe.
Most atheists would readily concede this point. Since God does not exist in their thinking, who else but man could ever be at the center of the universe?
C. It produces intellectual arrogance because no one knows enough to say conclusively, “I can prove that God does not exist.”
Here are two simple questions to ask anyone who claims that God does not exist.
1) What percentage of knowledge of the universe do you possess?
If they are honest, they must reply that their knowledge of the universe is extremely limited—it’s a micron of a proton of a molecule of a sliver of a tiny fraction of one-millionth of 1% of all the knowledge available in the entire universe.
2) Is it possible that God might exist outside your tiny sliver of knowledge?
Again, if they are honest, they must answer yes. When you think about it, our knowledge is so limited that no one knows enough to say with certainty that God does not exist. In fact, you’d have to be God in order to deny his existence!
D. It is a negative philosophy that produces nothing positive.
Atheism doesn’t build hospitals or universities. It doesn’t provide a meaningful system of morality or ethics. It doesn’t appeal to the hearts of men and women. It has nothing to offer to the hurting people of this world. As an essentially self-centered philosophy, it cannot inspire people to great acts of heroism and sacrifice for the benefit of others. Atheism doesn’t produce a way out of the gutter or off skid row. It can’t change the human heart or relieve the deep burden of sin.
E. It has no answer for the deepest questions of life.
Everyone who comes into the world must eventually grapple with three fundamental questions:
1. Where did I come from?
2. Why am I here?
3. Where am I going?
The first is the question of origins—and the atheist has no idea where he comes from. To him, life is nothing more than random chance. He is here as the result of millions of years of blind chance and mechanistic evolution. His life has no particular meaning.
The second is the question of purpose—and since the atheist doesn’t believe in God, his life has no purpose unless he himself gives it one.
The third is the question of destiny—and it is here that atheism is revealed in all its sad tragedy. For him, this life is all there is. We live, we die, we show up, we disappear, that’s all there is. No life after death, no heaven, no hell, no rewards, no punishment, just drifting off into oblivion.
An Unbeliever’s Testimony
What does an unbeliever have to offer? W. O. Saunders, writing in American Magazine, tells us with heartbreaking honesty:
I would like to introduce you to one of the lonesomest and unhappiest individuals on earth. I am talking about the man who does not believe in God. I can introduce you to such a man because I myself am one, and in introducing myself, you shall have an introduction to the agnostic or skeptic in your own neighborhood, for he is everywhere in the land. You will be surprised to learn that the agnostic envies your faith in God, your settled belief in heaven after life, and your blessed assurance that you will meet your loved ones in an afterlife where there will be neither sadness nor pain. He would give anything to be able to embrace that faith and be comforted by it. For him there is only the grave and the persistence of matter. After the grave all he can see is the disintegration of the protoplasm and the psychoplasm of which my body and personality are composed. But in this materialist view, I find neither ecstasy nor happiness.
The agnostic may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he is not happy. He stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, knowing not whence he came nor why.… For him, this earth is but a tricky raft adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in sight. His heart aches for every precious life upon the raft—drifting, drifting, drifting, whither no one knows.
3. The Best Argument For God’s Existence
When all is said and done, I believe the best argument for God’s existence is found in the person of Jesus Christ. While the classical proofs have their place in providing logical arguments for God, the ultimate proof of God is Jesus Christ. Here is where the truth of the Christian faith must either stand or fall. When you consider the amazing prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold every major detail of his life and death, when you consider the record of his ministry, the stories he told, the miracles he performed, and the exemplary life he lived, you must conclude that he was more than a man—he was the Son of God.
I would also submit that the ultimate proof of God centers around the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when talking with an atheist I recommend that you not spend much time on the classical proofs. Focus on Jesus Christ. Who was he? How do you account for him?
Breakfast With An Atheist
Not long ago I had breakfast with an atheist. It turned out to be a most enlightening experience. Although we were meeting for the first time, I immediately came to appreciate his many positive qualities. He was charming, friendly, positive, talkative, and obviously very well-educated. He was raised Catholic, attended a Catholic high school and two excellent Catholic universities. Sometime during his college years, he abandoned not only the Christian faith but his belief in God. He actually converted from Christianity to atheism. He truly believes there is no God. As we talked, he kept emphasizing that only this life has meaning. Since there is no life after death, what we do now becomes vitally important. Heaven for him is just a myth that religious people use to comfort themselves in times of trouble. We had a long talk and I learned a great deal from him. It’s always useful to see yourself as others see you.
I came away from our time together with three fundamental observations:
1. How difficult it is to be an atheist.
2. How hard you must work to keep your faith.
3. How careful you must be lest you start believing in God.
“We’d Have a Problem, Wouldn’t We?”
Toward the end of our time together, I asked him what he thought about Jesus Christ. He seemed a bit surprised by that question, as if it had no relevance to the question of God’s existence. It was my turn to be surprised when he told me that he hadn’t thought about Jesus very much one way or the other. He then ventured to say that Jesus was probably a great man, and a learned teacher. But he probably never meant to start a religion. That happened after he died and his followers wanted to honor his memory.
Upon hearing that, I decided to press the point. What about his resurrection? What if he really did rise from the dead? My friend stopped for a moment, thought a bit, and then a smile crossed his face. “Well, we’d have a problem then, wouldn’t we?” Exactly! If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then He really is the Son of God and God really does exist.
That’s what I mean when I say that Jesus is the best proof of God’s existence. In our witnessing we should bring people back again and again to Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate argument for God because he was in fact God in human flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14).
A businessman named Bill grew up in a home hostile to the very idea of God’s existence. His mother told him, “I don’t care if you become a drug addict or a bank robber or if you bring home a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend. There’s just one thing I don’t want you to do in life—become a Christian.” So Bill adopted a lifestyle consistent with his atheism. He lived a life of sexual conquests and suffered the consequences of broken marriages and destroyed relationships. He drank heavily, used drugs, and became a workaholic.
One day Bill looked at his life and cried out to the God he had rejected. “Please get me out of this mess!” He went to an all-night bookstore and underneath a pile of pornographic magazines he found a Bible! All his life he had criticized it but had never read it. That very night he began to read it. The more he read, the more he was convinced that Jesus was and is who he claimed to be. Suddenly it hit him. It’s true. There is a God and Jesus Christ is his Son. After three decades of the hollowness of atheism, he admitted his sin and asked Jesus to save him.
Jesus changed Bill’s life radically. He broke free from alcohol and drugs and rebuilt his life. He began to share Christ with others. He even learned to love his mother who still hated God.
Bill’s full name is William J. Murray. He is Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s oldest son. His autobiography is called My Life Without God. It tells how an atheist found God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
What happened to him can happen to you. Are you ready to turn to God? Or are you still running away as fast as you can?
I close with this simple statement: Not only does it make sense to believe in God, it makes no sense not to!
—No fact is so obvious as the fact of God’s existence.
—You must deny reality itself in order to deny God’s existence!
—The atheist must stand on ground God created in order to deny God!
I submit to you this morning that the evidence for God’s existence is overwhelming!
But it still demands a choice! In one of his books Anthony Campolo tells how he shares the gospel with secular-minded university students who ask him why he believes the Bible. “Because I decided to,” he replies. Then he asks the student, “Why is it that you don’t believe the Bible?” The answer is almost always the same: “I guess because I decided not to.”
After all the arguments on both sides are finished, you still have to decide for yourself. You still have to choose. What choice have you made?
I believe in God because without him nothing in this universe makes sense. God exists—he is real and Jesus Christ is His Son. He knows you and he loves you and he gave his only begotten Son that you might be saved. I believe in God! What about you?