It’s James Beverley week on the Faith Today blog. We will be featuring some of our favourite columns from a writer who has informed and challenged Faith Today readers for years. We have a copy of Mormon Crisis: Anatomy of a Failing Religion to give away to the blog reader who can answer this question correctly: What does James Beverley teach at Tyndale?
by James A. Beverley
The great essayist Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his books that “God does not sign his sunsets.” Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister born in 1926, has struggled most of his life with doubt and depression. Buechner’s life was forever altered by the suicide of his father when Fred was just ten years old. It is no surprise that themes of loss and darkness pervade his sermons and novels – but amazingly there is an even greater recognition of the signs of God’s presence. Given a God who does not sign His sunsets, many people legitimately ask where to find signs of His existence and care.
Of the classical signs for God, my personal favourite is the teleological argument, the proof from design. Atheists often brag this age-old proof has been disproven by Darwin and modern evolutionary theory, but they’re not even close to being right. Yes, William Paley’s famous argument from the watch to the watchmaker has had to be refined, but the evidence for the fine tuning and extravagant complexity of our bodies, our planet and the universe has become overwhelming.
To get a sense of the power of design, let me ask you to find out for yourself the answer to three questions: How fast do hair cells in your inner ear vibrate? How many capillaries are there in the human body and how long are they if stretched out? How many nerve fibers in the human optic nerve?
We can hear, breathe, and see because God has done breathtaking feats of engineering design in the hair cell, capillary and optic nerve. The fine tuning of the human body confirms the Psalmist’s declaration that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The same holds true if we look wider to the fine tuning needed for human life to be sustained. On these matters some great guides include John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician, Stephen Meyer (see his Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, HarperOne, 2009), Alister McGrath (A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), and Francis Collins (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Christians are divided on the topic of evolution, and I will leave that important debate to another column. But for now we can say the argument from design is shared by all Christians, whether young-Earth creationists (Ken Ham and Kurt Wise), old-Earth advocates (Hugh Ross), intelligent design theorists (Meyer, Phillip E. Johnson and Michael Behe) or theistic evolutionists (McGrath, Collins and Denis Lamoureux).
The common ground here is the necessity of God as source, whether on the origin of life, the evolutionary processes at either a micro or macro level, or life’s meaning. Atheistic evolution has no ultimate explanatory power, a fact that led the famous cosmologist Allan Sandage to Christian faith.
Beyond the creation order God also shows up in our experiences. Granted, some of life’s darkest moments can suggest the reality of Satan and demonic powers. However, that is not the whole story since God appears in the delightful dramas of our lived experiences. His Spirit brings us into peace, meaning, happiness and joy – the last of these being the theme of C. S. Lewis’s famous autobiography.
Stories of dramatic conversions point to God. One person recently told me of a dream that instantly led her to Christ. Another mentioned an experience of speaking in tongues that was absolutely liberating. God answers prayer, brings healing to broken bodies and spirits, offers grace to sinners and even gives strength to endure life’s unbearable tragedies.
One example of God’s grace is in the life of Dawn Smith Jordan. If you saw a picture of her, you would assume this former Miss South Carolina has it all made. However, Jordan’s path to beauty queen came after the kidnapping and murder of her sister Shari in 1985. God was with Shari in her last moments and with her sister and family as they endured her loss.
Buechner’s most celebrated fictional character is Leo Bebb, a bumbling evangelist of sorts. Bebb is not known for his academic skills, so when asked about the ontological, cosmological or teleological arguments for God, he is reluctant to comment. Bebb does say, “Well, Jesus believed in God. That’s good enough for me.”
Buechner knew full well that God’s best sign is given in Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, the heavens and the earth declare God’s glory, and our experiences are signs of God’s presence, but the ultimate sign from God was given in the manger, by the Sea of Galilee, on a cross and at an empty tomb.
James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. This article first appeared as a column in Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine. Read more of his columns here.