Science: No Friend of Atheism

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”– Psalm 14:1

Jan_Matejko,_Stańczyk
Stańczyk, Jan Matejko, 1862.

We all hold to certain fundamental assumptions about reality. These assumptions act as a sort of lens through which we interpret our experience of reality. Collectively, these assumptions are known as our worldview.  Because we all hold a particular worldview, none of us can claim to be truly “neutral” in any regard. Understanding this concept is essential, and if you haven’t read my article on this topic yet, you should.

Since we presuppose fundamental ideas about knowledge before we even begin to interact with reason and evidence, how can we ever know which view of reality is true? Greg Bahnsen offers a solution: We are simply to ask the question “which worldview makes human experience intelligible?”(1) This means stepping into the shoes of both parties, looking through the lens of their worldview, and determining which worldview comports with our experience of reality. In a previous series, I outlined the failure of the atheist’s worldview to explain our experience of moral truth (part 1, part 2, and part 3). In this article, I will focus on another area of human experience: Scientific knowledge

Find ten people who are not Christians, and at least nine of them will cite “science” as a component of their rejection of Christian truth claims. Some see science as disproving the miraculous claims in the Bible, such as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Some see evolutionary theory or big bang cosmology as a contradiction of biblical claims. Others simply see science as superior epistemology. The individual arguments aren’t particularly important here. The point is that unbelievers frequently appeal to science when articulating their rejection of God.

Yet there is a fundamental irony to this that is nothing short of worldview-shattering for the unbeliever. The word “Universe” comes from the latin roots unus which means “one” and versus which means “to turn”. The Latin universus literally means “turned into one.”(2) That our universe is a collection of diverse parts, unified into an orderly, rational, predictable system is expressed in the etymology of the term itself.(3) This principal is known as the uniformity of nature, and it is the foundation upon which the scientific method is built.

Science itself is a systematic methodology of observing physical evidence and making inferences based on those observations.(4) This means that science depends entirely on the uniformity of nature. The principal of uniformity holds that material cause and effect relationships will produce the same results if all conditions remain the same. Bahnsen notes that our reasoning “tacitly assumes that the universe is such that uniformities are expected and exhibited in similar things even though they are separated by time and space – that the way things happen can be viewed as instances of general laws and what has occurred in the past is a reliable guide for predicting and thus adjusting to the future. (5)

For example, we know that the fundamental principals of physics that allow aircraft to fly will be the same tomorrow as they are today. We also know that the temperate required to produce chemical reactions in our body will be the same in both Canada and Africa. Without the principal of uniformity, scientific investigation would be impossible, as it relies entirely on an orderly, rational, coherent, and unified system. (6)

But we can take this further. As the Philosopher Bertrand Russell observed, “The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life” (my emphasis).(7)  In other words, we assume the uniformity of nature in everything we do. When we jump we expect gravity to bring us back to earth. When we talk we expect the sounds we make to reach the ear drums of the person we speak to. When we open the refrigerator, we expect to find food inside, not a black hole.

Try asking someone if he is skeptical about floating away from the surface of the earth when he gets up out of his chair. Any sane person would simply laugh at this suggestion. Why? Because we are strongly committed to the belief that the laws governing the universe are uniform through space and time. But where do we get this commitment, and is it rational? Here we must return to the original question posed in this article: Which worldview can make sense of our experience of reality?

For the Christian, uniformity of nature is to be expected. Scripture states that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). This means God is the author of the physical laws and constants of the universe. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul details the extent of God’s creation, writing

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:16-17)

The greek sunistemi in the phrase “hold together” is literally “to cause to stand together.” God is the unifying principal that brings harmony and order to the universe, and apart from his continuous sustaining activity, all would fall apart (Heb. 1:2-3).(8) Bahnsen also notes that because the universe was created “by him” and “for him,” The universe does not exist without reference to God. This means we can never expect to properly understand the universe apart from him. (9)

Thus the Christian has the word of the creator himself on which to ground his trust in the principle of uniformity. In fact, science as we know it was birthed in the cradle of Christianity (10). It was trust in God’s word that lead Christians to the belief that the universe was rational, orderly, and discoverable. Prior to the mid 1800’s, science was seen as a form of religious devotion, and it was religious faith that lead to the discoveries of men like Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and James Clerk Maxwell. (11)

In contrast, the atheist’s worldview can provide nothing to support his belief in the uniformity of nature. If we lived in an unguided and purposeless universe, we could simply marvel at the inexplicable uniformity of nature we experienced. We would also have no reason to think this uniformity extended to all places, or that it would continue to exist in the immediate future.

The problem of induction, as this is known, was first discussed by the famous atheist philosopher David Hume, who reckoned it insolvable.(12) Because of his commitment to solving it in the context of an atheist worldview, he was quite right. The atheist has no choice but to simply assume induction leads to knowledge, without any rational justification for that belief. This is an attitude not of science, but of faith; a faith that is blind and unguided and contains no knowledge or foundation- It is simply asserted.(13)

The almost immediate response to this accusation is that we have every reason to believe the future will be like the past. After all, we have a lifetime of experience to show us that the laws of nature are consistent, and thus we can predict with something close to certainty that things will continue as they always have. The problem with this view is that it is a textbook example of the question-begging fallacy. I am not alone in this assessment. Bertrand Russell eloquently described the error in answering the problem of induction in this way:

“The inductive principle is equally incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience. Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards to the cases that have been already examined but as regards unexamined cases it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which on the basis of experience argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present assume the inductive principle. Hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question.” (my emphasis) (14)

This means that the unbeliever cannot claim to have scientific knowledge of any kind, as the foundational principal of induction (on which all scientific knowledge rests) is a baseless assumption; a question mark hanging in the air. Russell was consistent on this point, and conceded that the acceptance of the laws of physics as true was “a purely personal affair, not susceptible to argument.” In other words, consistent atheism leads to subjectivism.(15)

As with the problem of morality, we see that atheism taken to its logical conclusions is absurd. When discussing this topic with the unbeliever, you will find that he almost immediately recognizes the presence of absurdity in the discussion, but not its origin. He and will often laugh-off the notion that gravity might cease to exist tomorrow, or that turning the key in his car might suddenly cause a nuclear explosion. But this is the futility of the unbelieving mind in action. The Christian is not arguing that we should think these things. In fact, only an insane person would consider these absurdities possible. The point is that if the atheist was consistent with his worldview he must consider all of these absurdities possible.

And yet he does not. Like the Christian, the atheist assumes the future will be like the past, despite the irrationality of this belief given his atheism. Thus, when the atheist appeals to science in defense of his unbelief, he is borrowing capital from the Christian worldview in order to attack it. He is a walking contradiction.

This is why scripture says “The fool in his heart says ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). The term fool does not speak to the unbeliever’s intelligence, but to the futility of attempting to understand the world while simultaneously rejecting the God who created it. Scripture plainly states that the unbeliever already knows God, but suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness, leading to darkened and futile thinking (Rom 1:18-21). It is this noetic effect of man’s sinful nature that allows very intelligent atheists to hold to these irrational and contradictory views of reality (Prov 1:7; 2 Cor 3:7-16). Thus, it is God’s grace alone that will save the unbeliever from his sinful nature and the cognitive dissonance it leads to.

Trying to out-think this problem by turning to philosophy is like turning to liquor to deal with emotional pain. Nothing is solved, nothing goes away, but the alcohol dulls the immediate experience of the problem and its threat becomes tolerable. Only by placing faith in Christ,  who is himself the foundation of all truth (John 14:6), can the unbeliever be freed from this condition and saved from God’s wrath.

 

  1. Greg Bahnsen, The myth of neutrality, retrieved 2016-02-14.
  2. “Online Etymology Dictionary”http://www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  3.  Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 186.
  4. “Our definition of science – The Science Council”The Science Council. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  5.  “Atheism & Induction, Greg Bahnsen vs. Edward Tabash” (PDF). 1993-01-12. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  6. Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 187.
  7. “The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell”http://www.personal.kent.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  8.  Wenham, G.J.; Motyer, J.A.; Carson, D.A.; France, R.T., eds. (1994). New Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press. p. 1266.
  9. Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 185.
  10.  Oliphint, Scott (2013). Covenantal Apologetics: Principals & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. p. 210.
  11. “Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages : Soapbox Science”blogs.nature.com. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  12. Vickers, John (2016-01-01). Zalta, Edward N., ed. The Problem of Induction (Spring 2016 ed.).
  13. Oliphint, Scott (2013). Covenantal Apologetics: Principals & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. p. 120.
  14. Russell, Bertrand (2012-05-04). The Problems of Philosophy. Courier Corporation. p. 47.
  15. Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 185.
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10 thoughts on “Science: No Friend of Atheism

  1. I am confused how the athiest is browsing capital from Christianity to use science to defend atheism. The laws of physics have been around since the beginning. Man gave definition to the world around us with science and math. Humans created math to numericaly define the world around us. Much of it was discovered/invented ever before Abraham, and it was also created by people who never heard of or knew of the area the religions of Abraham came from. Basic concepts of science and math have been around before the creation of the god of Abraham.

    Science was being studied in the world(the west) by those of Christianity before the 19th century, because the only access to educations as that provided by the church. So if a person was interested in science they had to study it within the confines of the church. Galileo is one of the best examples of a man who spoke against what the church said was true, who had scientific fact and observation, but yet the church still excommunicated him, because we all know the sun and stars move around the earth.

    Religion is not a basis for science, science is repeatable measurable and quantifiable. You can’t recreate the miracles from the bible, measure or quantify them. Science and religion are separate and should remain separate. Science doesn’t try to make religion fit with what works for it, while religion constantly tries to fit in science where it works.

    I don’t have to build straw man arguments to defend science, if it’s good science it defends itself. Yet the only defense of faith is faith.

    I also went back and read parts 2/3, I had already read part 1, on morality. I don’t believe in objective morality. We really do live in a purposeless universe driven by blind physical forces. Moral inclinations in humans exist because they are evolutionary advantageous traits. Helping one another helps us survive and reproduce. This is why many other species are also moral. Humans just have a more sophisticated sense of morality. This just means we have to create our own purpose and our own morality. We are never going to all agree on what is moral.

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    1. Joe, the fact that men who reject God can make scientific discoveries and describe the uniformity of nature with mathematics is not in question. The problem for the atheist is in accounting for this uniformity in nature, and accounting for the belief that the future will be like the past.You seem to have missed this central point of my argument. If reject God you have rejected the only basis for which science can be possible.

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  2. You seemed to have missed his point as well:
    “The laws of physics have been around since the beginning. Man gave definition to the world around us with science and math. Humans created math to numericaly define the world around us. Much of it was discovered/invented ever before Abraham, and it was also created by people who never heard of or knew of the area the religions of Abraham came from. Basic concepts of science and math have been around before the creation of the god of Abraham.”

    I would really be interested in your reply to this, as long as its not dodging and you are able to confront it head on without circling back to a benign paradox.

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    1. I didn’t respond to this because I didn’t need to. I agree that humans have been able to describe the uniformity of nature rationally, through mathematics, since humans began to exist. The assumption here is that the Christians God cannot be the guarantor of the uniformity of nature because he didn’t exist prior to 2500 BC. I don’t agree with this because I don’t assume atheism.

      The problem that no one has been able to solve historically (much less in the comments of this blog) is that an atheist worldview cannot supply justification for the belief that the future will be like the past. We both agree that we are rational to think that it will, which means that my worldview leads to rational consistency and yours leads to irrational self-contradiction.

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  3. There is not uniformity in nature. The atom has electrons which appear randomly around a fixed orbit around the nucleus of the atom. Randomallity does not suggest uniformity. The universe it self follows particular sets of laws but space is quite chaotic, with very little uniformity. Even on earth, nature is quite chaotic where man has not interfered.

    “…an atheists world view cannot supply justification for the belief that the future will be like the past.” Based upon observation I can assume the sun will rise in the east tomorrow and set in the west. Based upon observation I can infer that most likely there will be a tomorrow and a tomorrow after that and so on. I have no observations or reason to believe there will not be a future.

    I don’t really acutally ever think about the possibility of there not being a future. It’s an assumption I make that there will be a future at least enough of one to make it through my lifetime. When I ceased to exist, I will no longer have a future but hopefully others will. There is 13 billion years of evidence that the universe is going.

    Russell this is my biggest point I may have missed with my original comments, the universe is about 13 billion years old, why or what caused the Big Bang and the universe to start expanding, I don’t know but it did. About 4.5 billion years ago are solar system forms. About 200,000-150,000 years ago humans start appear on earth. Around 15,000 years ago there is evidence of man starting to live in agriculture based communities.(this is also some of the earliest known evidence of writing and math very simple math but still) 5000 BCE the Egyptians start building the pyramids. Around 2800 bce we have found some of the earliest evidence of Judaism. The laws of physics excisted well before Abraham and continue to exist. On our tiny rock in a unimaginable tiny area of the universe, humans are nothing more than animals. I think people forget this because we have the power to change the world around us, and modify it to fit our needs. We are the product of millions of years of evolution and we are still evolving. Humans invented gods to give meaning to that which they did not understand, set up societies to worship those gods, and probably to control a populace. By being a voice of God(s), and knowing the will of God is pretty benifitical to a person in charge. My point with all this is, that had humans not come into existance earth would still be floating here in space with other animals living here.

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    1. You just said “there is not uniformity in nature”, and then one sentence later said “the universe itself follows particular sets of laws…”

      You’re not only contradicting yourself in your first paragraph, but your own daily life assumes uniformity in nature at every turn. Do you consider each step you take an experiment to see if the principal of inertia endures? Do you legitimately consider the possibility that you won’t be able to stop moving once you start? Of course not, because you recognize that the basic laws of physics will continue, unchanged, into the future. Atheism provides no justification for this assumption.

      Next you try to provide one,

      “Based upon observation I can assume the sun will rise in the east tomorrow and set in the west. Based upon observation I can infer that most likely there will be a tomorrow and a tomorrow after that and so on. I have no observations or reason to believe there will not be a future.”

      This is narrowly circular reasoning. Refer to my quote from Bertrand Russell, who points out that appealing to past futures as justification for how future futures will be is begging the question.

      Atheism is a part of a worldview that assumes certain things about reality. So is Christianity. The only way we can being to determine which of these worldview is correct is to see which comports with our experience of reality. If you’re going to assume atheism, you should be consistent with the logical consequences of it. These include abandoning any claim to having real scientific knowledge.

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  4. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. I tend to me more of agnostic as I believe with 99% certainty there is no God but I don’t know what existed before the Big Bang, the cause of the Big Bang or why the laws of physics are what they are. Maybe a supreme being set it all in motion, maybe we are just part of a computer program, or maybe there are an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of possibilities. What I do know is I do not need a faith in a God for is the belief there will be a second after the next second and so on and so forth. There is nothing to suggest there will not be another second, according to my atheistic world view.

    Atheist can have a claim to real scientific knowledge because the science we use is or at least should be the same as a Christian scientist. We all live in the same universe with the same sets of physical laws. Why are there this particular set of laws, we don’t know. We do know that at the atomic level these observable laws change, along with the very large they change. We don’t know why.(or I should say that I at least don’t know why we have hit my edge of personal knowledge.) If we both went to space and threw a ball we would both propel the ball into space and our selves at an opposite terrectory as the ball for infinite distance and time unless some out side force acted upon us. As we flew through space we could both observe this and with different world views make the oberservation that an object in motion stays in motion. We could replicate Medels pea experiment, and arrive at the same out comes. You can say that it happened because God allowed for it to, and I because it’s how nature works.(you would probably then claim it’s because God created nature) We are both studing science and making a claim to it. You claim the reason for science and the universe is that there is most definitely a god and because of this God it is why. I make no claims about knowing a why but I do claim that through study and experiment we can find a why. If through studing this why we discover a god than I am wrong and there is an all powerful being controlling the universe than we have we have the why. Until then I will continue beilieving there is no God.

    In full disclosure, I believe in the possibility of a god, when I say there is no God I am meaning man made gods, the God of Abraham, Buddhism, Hinduism, ect.. To claim that all is possible through Jesus is fantastic if that what helps you make it through your day and makes you a better person(isn’t that frightining to you that in order to be a good “moral” person you need a higher power constantly watching over your shoulder to make sure your doing good and you don’t just do it out of kindness and niceness to others.)

    My belief/faith in science is in no way tied to a belief/faith in a higher power. I can claim to have real scientific knowledge just as much as a person of faith can. Your augment is very similar to that of 10,000 yearers, who claim science doesn’t know if time moved at the same rate before man. We can’t know for certain that it didn’t, but we can safely assume that time has moved at a consistent rate. We don’t know if dinasours actually walked the earth millions of years ago but because of fossil records we can assume they did.

    Neither of us can make a claim to have real sciencetific knowledge, but we shouldn’t ever stop looking for answers even if those answers may contradict something we believe. Good science doesn’t need the approval of a higher power or belief in a higher power for it to be true, but it needs people to defend the good science and keep the bad science out.

    Completely off topic, but does a degree in math mean I can claim I have real scientific knowledge, a real university gave it to me. I forget the name of that fallicy but claiming something because you are or know someone who is knowledgeable about a topic so it’s right, I have avoided it. But math is a science, and I do have a piece of paper claiming I know science yet I also claim I am an atheist. Does that also mean that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Neil Tyson, Lawrence Krauss and countless others don’t have real scientific knowledge because they are all non-believers?

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    1. I mean this with all due respect, but in that very long response you said nothing that can solve the problem I’ve outlined in this article. I’m not even sure how to respond to you because you’ve very seriously contradicted yourself.

      You said: “Atheist can have a claim to real scientific knowledge because the science we use is or at least should be the same as a Christian scientist.”

      Then you said: “Neither of us can make a claim to have real sciencetific knowledge”

      The fact is we both know scientific knowledge is possible. We are both capable of making observations in daily life and then inferring that those observations are part of a rational, ordered universe and can be expected to repeat. The law of gravity, for example, tells us a bowling ball dropped off the top of the Eiffel Tower will fall to earth.

      But have you actually been to France and tried this experiment? I doubt it, yet I bet you assume the results based on the uniformity in nature. But because you also believe in an unguided, purposeless universe, you have no justification for this inference that isn’t viciously circular.

      We both know it’s dumb to think we would need to actually test out this Eiffel Tower experiment before we could be sure gravity works the same way there. We both know it’s absurd to walk around in fear that gravity might suddenly cease to exist. The problem is, if you were consistent with your atheism you would have to have these doubts. Your lack of such concern shows you are borrowing capital from the Christian worldview, which has rational justification for believing gravity is uniform in both space and time.

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  5. “Science itself is a systematic methodology of observing physical evidence and making inferences based on those observations.(4) This means that science depends entirely on the uniformity of nature. The principal of uniformity holds that material cause and effect relationships will produce the same results if all conditions remain the same.”

    This science that you appeal to is no friend to Christianity. Science gives us our best understanding of our natural laws and presupposes uniformity in nature. This means our natural laws have never been violated and never will be violated. This is in direct contradiction with Christianity’s belief in miracles, which is the suspension of our natural laws. You can claim that God can violate these laws since he is the arbiter of them but that would preclude you from appealing to science and uniformity to prove His existence. In fact, science presupposes uniformitarianism, which presupposes that miracles don’t exist, meaning science presupposes the non-existence of a god who can perform/allow miracles.

    Regarding Bertrand Russell and the problem of induction, I have not studied Bertrand Russell yet nor am I familiar with this problem. I say that to admit that I’m ignorant of his quote above and the implications on the current discussion. Reading about it from your essay alone, I am willing to grant that “…we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question.” But the scientific method, and therefore “science”, isn’t exclusively inductive. Others here and on Facebook have tried to point this out to you.

    http://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html

    However, for you to say that, “For the atheist [to] assume that the future will be like the past is a blind leap of faith at best.”, and “You have nothing but blind, irrational faith to justify your belief that the future will be like the past.” (quotes from fb) is more than frivolous. It is hardly a blind leap of faith nor is it irrational to assume that gravity will exist tomorrow. What is more irrational, that gravity exists (proved through science) or that God exists (disproved through science, see above)?

    Lastly, please explain to me how God reveals himself to everyone. Please don’t take this as a red herring. I only bring it up because you say “Scripture plainly states that the unbeliever already knows God, but suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness, leading to darkened and futile thinking (Rom 1:18-21).” And from fb, ” ‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.’ (Romans 1:18-20)”

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    1. Jes,

      There is no contradiction between believing in miracles and assuming the uniformity of nature. In fact, the definition of a miracle, being God’s suspension of the laws of nature, assumes that these laws of nature are otherwise uniform. This is inexplicable unless God, who both sustains these laws and is free to suspend them, exists.

      Next, you are correct that deductive inferences are also part of science, but this is no help to the atheist. Where induction begins with single observations and infers general principals, deduction begins by assuming general principals and attempts to predict observation. As you will quickly see, both assume the uniformity of nature in regards to physical laws, constants, and quantities. Atheism provides no justification for the assumption that these general principals will endure in time or space.

      The believer’s faith that gravity will endure tomorrow rests on the fact that the creator of the universe has stated he sustains and upholds natural laws. Though you disagree with the truth of this claim, it is perfectly valid reasoning. What does the atheist have to explain his faith that gravity will endure tomorrow? From what I can tell, nothing but blind circular reasoning.

      As for explaining God’s revelation to mankind, you’ve got the same source text I do. As scripture states “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

      I would argue that we are all without excuse as to God’s existence because of the absurdity of the contrary. I’ve already laid out how atheism makes all ethical claims subjective, and now I’m pointing out that scientific knowledge is impossible on an atheistic worldview. Yet you clearly have moral and scientific knowledge, just as I do. This completely contradicts your atheism, a fact that I believe takes a tremendous amount of effort to ignore. God is telling us that we are going to be held accountable for the lengths we are willing to go to in order to suppress the truth.

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