Cliff's Edge

Cliff Goldstein

is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His next book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity has just been released by Pacific Press.

Cliff's Edge–The Irrationality of Doubt

Historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is so compelling, so rational, that its rejection, not acceptance, is what requires leaps of irrational faith.

“Do you,” my good friend Erv Taylor asked, “ever doubt your faith?”

“Not really,” I mumbled, then shrugged. “Not much anymore, and if I do I quickly dismiss it as irrational.”

Irrational?” he asked (emphasis on the first syllable).

“Yeah,” I responded, “because considering what I believe, and the experiences that I have had, doubt is the most irrational thing I could do.”

Back to the Beginning

Let’s start big: the existence of God. In Conjuring the Universe, atheist Peter Atkins claims that the universe arose from nothing. And to be sure that we know what he means by nothing (in contrast to those whose universe-creating “nothings” such as false vacuum patches, or quantum fluctuations, or gravity), he explains: “From now on, by nothing I shall mean absolutely nothing. I shall mean less than empty space . . . . This Nothing has no space and no time. This Nothing is absolutely nothing. A void devoid of space and time. Utter emptiness. Emptiness beyond emptiness. All that it has, is a name.” And from here he annunciates his cosmogonic goal: “I want to show that Nothing is the foundation of everything.”

Atkins denies the existence of God; thus the everything-from-nothing theory remains his only logical recourse. Why?

Because whatever physical formula—no matter how primal or brutally factual—is theorized as the cause of everything, as the explanation of all created existence, the question remains: Why this formula instead of another? Whatever explains that specific formula (which means it wasn’t the most brute fact, after all) must be explained by something before it, and on and on. “When everything is explained by an x that is not itself explained,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard, “then in the end nothing is explained at all.”

Only two options (it seems) save us from the endless vortex of infinite regress: an eternally existent God who needs no explanation because He always existed; or nothing, which needs no explanation either (after all, it’s nothing). But because Atkins rules out a deity of any kind, it means that nothing, a “void devoid of space and time. Utter emptiness. Emptiness beyond emptiness,” created the universe and everything in it. But to label that theory even as “irrational” is to give it more credence than it deserves, which is why God as the Creator is the only logical option.

And because this God created space, time, matter, energy, and all the natural laws that govern them, He must be greater than those laws, not bound by them, but beyond and transcendent to them. Thus no logical problem exists with the miracles depicted in Scripture. The virgin birth, the dead resurrected, Jesus walking on water, fire from heaven . . . these are examples of God, having created natural law, temporarily acting outside that law, which logic—though not demanding that He do it—demands only that He could.

Meanwhile some scientists, backed up by peer-reviewed papers (as well as laboratory experiment and field work), assure us that all the astounding beauty and complexity in nature, though obviously intelligently designed, are really neither. But logic and reason say, no, they are designed, and intelligently, too. An iPhone, designed (obviously), isn’t as intricate or complicated as a rose bush (what iPhone is alive and able to reproduce?), yet we’re assured that the rose bush isn’t designed even if it obviously is.

So raw in-your-face logic and reason, which scream design, or human speculation about events supposedly millions, even billions of years beyond our reach based on a theory as illogical as the universe arising “from absolutely nothing”?

Prophecy as Proof

Then there’s biblical prophecy. Daniel 2 alone presents a logical foundation for faith as broad and wide as world history itself, and as immutable and unmovable as the past. Even with the bogus attempt to denude Daniel of its prophetic power by dating it centuries after Daniel himself dated it (Come on, how could a guy writing, supposedly a century and a half before Christ, so accurately depict modern Europe today [see Daniel 2: 41-43]?)—only someone determined not to believe could reject the rational evidence Daniel 2 provides not only for God’s existence but also for His control of the future.

Talking with His disciples before the cross, when the Christian Church was nothing but a handful of His ragtag followers, Jesus predicted: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Knowing an event a day, a week, or a month before it unfolds is hard enough. But your reading of these words uttered 2,000 years ago—when, by human standards, Christ and His motley crew should have evaporated into oblivion—is, at the moment you read them,another fulfillment of an astonishing biblical prophecy, which gives us even more rational reasons for faith.

Meanwhile historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is so compelling, so rational, that its rejection, not acceptance, is what requires leaps of irrational faith. Just one example (others are more farfetched). Jesus had been crucified, yes; but (the argument goes) He survived, and His post-cross appearances eventually became the resurrection story.  In other words, though Jesus had been beaten, crucified, speared, then wrapped in linen and lodged in a cave with a large rock covering it—three days later He wiggled out of the linen wraps, moved the boulder, and slipped past Roman guards. Then, despite holes in His hand, holes in His feet, a hole in His side, He walked miles on the road to Emmaus with two men while expounding “to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27)?

“After suffering such horrible abuse,” wrote Lee Strobel, “with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, Jesus would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health. It’s preposterous to think that if he had appeared to them in that awful state, His followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like His.”

If an eternally existing God (as opposed to nothing) created the universe and the natural laws that govern it, then this God would, of logical necessity, not be bound by those laws. Thus no rational reason justifies rejecting at least the potentiality of the resurrection. And because so much historical confirmation and evidence for the resurrection of Jesus exist that it requires such irrational leaps of faith (as above) in order to argue against it—belief in His resurrection becomes the most, if not only, logical move.

Personal Experience

As I told my friend Erv, besides the things I believe, the experiences I’ve had also make doubt irrational, including (but not limited to) the one that almost 40 years ago helped free me from the dogmatism of a naturalistic and materialistic only worldview.

I was 23-years-old, walking down a street in Paris when I cried out, God, if you are there, if you exist, you need to reveal yourself to me. I need a miraculous sign! (Having never read the New Testament, little did I know that “Jews demand signs” [1 Cor. 1:22]). Well, within a few weeks I met a guy about my age named Clifford Goldstein. Clifford Goldstein came from Miami Beach, where I came from. He was living on the same Kibbutz in Israel that I had once lived in for a year while writing a book. He was also staying in the room that I had lived in, even slept in the same bed (there were two). As I sat in a chair talking to Clifford Goldstein, I looked up and saw on the bookshelf above the bed my old books right where I had left them, including a volume of poetry (Ariel, by Sylvia Plath) that had impacted me more than anything else I had read when in Israel.

“Hey, Cliff,” I asked, “you like my books?”

“What are you talking about?” he replied. “Those are all my books.”

“No way,” I said, standing up and reaching for Ariel. Same author, same title, same edition, only it was his book, not mine.

I sat down, looked at Clifford Goldstein, and said, “Cliff, are you a writer?”

“Yes,” he said, “and I came to Israel to write”—exactly why I had come to Israel.

Then moments later a girl came into the room whom I had never seen before. It was his girlfriend, a blonde Dane named Tine. When on the Kibbutz, I had a blonde Danish girlfriend. Her name was, yes, Tine, too.

Coincidence?

“Come on, Cliff,” a Christian said to me right after. “You were asking God for signs. What more do you want? The Lord is calling you by name!”

Besides meeting my double, which made me think, Hmmm, there might be more to reality than I had been led to believe in high school science class, I started having occult experiences, and decided to delve into the occult and spiritualism. On my way to the library to get a book on the occult, I met a man who, warning me that the occult was demonic, gave me a book. So within 15 minutes I had in one hand, for the first time in my life, a book on the occult, which I was going to study; and in the other hand, for the first time in my life, the book that the man had just given me.

The book? The Great Controversy.

Two nights later I sat down in my room to continue writing on a novel that, for two and half years, had consumed my existence. Nothing mattered but this novel, which had controlled my life more than I controlled the lives of the characters within it. Then that night, in the fall of 1979, the Lord Jesus spoke to me in the room, saying, Cliff, you have been playing with Me long enough. If you want me tonight, burn your novel. Though, much more happened than I can write now, I burned the novel, became a born-again believer in Jesus, and eventually a Seventh-day Adventist (and once I was born again those occult experiences never returned).

These were my own personal experiences, of course, rather intense (I admit), but they were part of the process that led me to faith. Between these experiences, and the reasons above (and others), belief in Jesus is my only logical and rational option.

Sure the word “faith” itself leaves room for doubt, which is normal, which we all confront from time to time. But as I said to Erv, considering what I believe, and the experiences that I have had—doubt is, yes, the most irrational thing that I could do.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.


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