The most extraordinary letter received here in 2021 (or perhaps in the last five years) was a response to an email of mine on colleges’ appointing atheist chaplains. The letter (edited to protect the writer) went as follows:
The appointment of an atheist as a chaplain doesn’t seem to me to be, by itself, a calamity for civilization. Over here, we have a long and respectable tradition of Anglican atheism. My wife’s tutor at university was perfectly willing to admit to being an atheist, on the grounds that his own values coincided so closely with the church’s doctrine.
When I was in boarding school, I realized that I really didn’t believe some of what I was being told in confirmation class and wondered if I should proceed anyway. So I confided to my housemaster, who replied, “Of course, you must go ahead, my dear boy: the church needs your support.”
Then, to my astonishment, he revealed to me that he had never actually believed in God. However, he said, the church, alongside the monarchy, was the most important institution in the country.
Subsequently, he was elevated to a far more august position in the church, and attended chapel for many years in full processional vestment, at least eight times a week during term.
And do not forget the Non-Believing Bishops. I’m not sure how many there have been over the years, but there were at least three prominent ones: Richard Holloway (Edinburgh), David Jenkins (York), and Shelby Spong (Newark, New Jersey). If the church can put up with atheist bishops in its own hierarchy, an atheist chaplain in a university doesn’t look that threatening.
Surely what matters is not what these clerics believe (or don’t believe), but what they say and what they teach when doing their jobs.
If you’ve been wondering why Western civilization is collapsing, now you know. The bishops and who knows how many clerics have been lying for years.
And make no mistake: the bishops were lying. At the ceremony of the consecration of a bishop, the candidate is asked, “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach or maintain nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same?” He answers, “I am so persuaded and determined, by God’s grace.”
The letter writer may think the lyin’ bishops were doing their jobs teaching, and the tutors too. A better guess is that their pupils saw right through them.
One survey last year showed that by 2018, only 12 percent of the national population of Great Britain identified as belonging to the Church of England or its sister churches in Scotland and Wales. In addition, surveys show that as few as 1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds now identify as Anglicans. What else would you expect from a “respectable tradition of Anglican atheism”?
A few years ago, in Norwich, England, they built a 15-meter amusement slide in the middle of the cathedral; Rochester Cathedral, just outside London, installed a mini-golf course inside the building for a month; in 2016, Gloucester Cathedral transformed its 1,300-year-old building into a skate park for a skate festival; and Blackburn Cathedral has its own brand of gin — all done, of course, to attract people who probably saw right through the lyin’ bishops and tutors. To repeat: what else would you expect from a “respectable tradition of Anglican atheism”?
So, then, how do those respectable Anglicans think life on Earth began? How do they think we humans got here? On the back of a lyin’ bishop? And what was he standing on? Another lyin’ bishop? And that one? For them, is it lyin’ bishops all the way down?
Belief in God may be only a matter of faith today. But someday, and perhaps soon — maybe in only the next hundred years — the existence of God may be so obvious that only a moron, or an Anglican bishop, will be able to doubt it.
In 2009, this column reviewed Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Meyer’s essential premise was that there are times when we see something so improbable we say, “Somebody did that.” If you’re at a casino and the ball lands on 16 red 10 times in a row, you know someone’s cheating. You know that because for the ball to land on 16 red more than a (very) few times in a row is so improbable that “someone” (i.e., an intelligence, e.g., a crooked croupier) must be making it happen.
Meyer said we should bring that same skepticism to the idea that life developed by chance. Some people think that life on Earth had an eternity to develop. Not true. The Earth has only been cool enough for life to exist for a relatively few years (maybe four billion). Meyer says that in that relatively short time, all the necessary proteins needed to service a minimally complex cell would have to have developed. The odds of that having happened, he says, are about 1 in 1041,000 (that’s 10 with 41,000 zeros after it). So, yes, that could have happened “by chance,” but we should bring the same skepticism (actually, a whole lot more) to its having happened by chance that we would bring to the behavior of the monotonous roulette wheel.
And now there’s more. In his book Miracles, Eric Metaxas describes some other facts that, if they were just ever so slightly different, would mean that life on Earth couldn’t exist. Here are only three: If our planet were just a little larger, its gravitational force would be stronger, and it would pull all the methane and ammonia down to Earth, and life couldn’t exist. But if Earth were just a little smaller, water vapor, essential to life, would dissipate into the atmosphere, and life couldn’t exist.
If the Earth rotated just a little more slowly, the days would be too hot and the nights too cold for life to exist. But if it rotated just a little faster, the rotation would produce winds sufficiently high to make life impossible.
And a sine qua non for life on Earth is Jupiter, our solar system’s vacuum cleaner. Because Jupiter is so huge (318 times the mass of Earth), most of the comets flying around our solar system get diverted from crashing into Earth by Jupiter’s gravitational pull.
There are, according to Metaxas, hundreds of these variables essential to human life. What are the odds that they all — every single one — are just the way they are by chance?
Zero! That we exist is, in a word, a miracle.
But there’s more. Metaxas says the fine-tuning required for life to exist is nothing compared to what is needed for the universe to exist. He writes that astrophysicists now know that the “values of the four fundamental forces — gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ nuclear forces — were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang…. Alter one value, and the universe could not exist.” The odds, he continues, are a bit like “tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.” Forget about the roulette wheel.
St. John’s Gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word … ” “Logos” is the Greek word for “word,” but it also means “reason” or “order.”
So, in the beginning was the ordering of, for example (as Metaxas says), the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force, which, if it had been off by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion), would have prevented stars from ever forming at all.
So, yes: in the beginning was the Word.
And then, 2,021 years ago, the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of the Education and Research Institute and a Director of Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.
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