Only Genesis and Questions for Atheism

John C. Rankin (January 26, 2012)

As a biblically rooted Christian, I believe all people are equal in the sight of the universe, whether we acknowledge a Creator or not. I also believe that human nature yearns for the freedom to think and ask hard questions of anyone anywhere.

Yet too, I have never met a real atheist in the proactive or intellectual sense. Atheism is from two Greek roots a + theos, to be “without deity.” It is framed as a negative. Can it frame itself as a simple positive? Every atheist I have conversed with (a term here inclusive of secular humanists, agnostics, et al.), reveals some deep and very personal reasons for their embrace of atheism – as they ask important questions about the nature of good and evil.

Here, for any atheist friend who might be interested, I will seek to define some positive biblical assumptions that, in sum, prove attractive to all people of good will. As I define them, I will then pose open-ended questions of atheism proper.

In Genesis 1-3, the Bible sets forth the storyline defined by creation, sin and redemption, or to put it another way, goodness, descent into broken trust, and rescue. The order of creation is entirely good and trustworthy, and defined in Genesis 1-2, in what I call Only Genesis. In Genesis 3, the brokenness of this goodness and trust then enters by an act of the human will. Also in Genesis 3, the promise of redemption is given to restore the promises of Genesis 1-2, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus the Messiah. Jesus literally buys us back from the slavery of broken trust.

Thus, only when we understand the heights of the goodness of the order of creation, can we then understand the depths of the injustice and evil that breaks it. And only then can we grasp the height of being rescued from the depths, and receive the good promise of the resurrection.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism produce any storyline that addresses similar issues such as goodness, its brokenness and its reclamation?
  • Can atheism properly conceive of such issues, since it assumes a cold and purposeless cosmos that spits us forth and swallows us up without awareness of our humanity?

The original goodness of Only Genesis involves ten positive assumptions:

1]   Only Genesis has a positive view of the Creator’s nature. The Hebrew language for the one true Creator is Yahweh Elohim, and it uniquely defines the One who is greater than space, time and number. His power is unlimited, his nature is good and his purpose is to bless all people equally. In being greater than space and time, this means Yahweh Elohim is also great enough to come into our human world and relate to us. In being greater than number, Yahweh Elohim is not numerically restricted in himself, and this leads to the triune understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From this point, as manifest in human community, checks and balances on power are derived, in tripartite forms of government, e.g., co-equal branches of the executive, legislative and judicial. This equals diversity in service to unity, and thus a healthy social order.

Thus, three questions:

  • Can atheism conceive of any definition of a universal concept of the good?
  • Can atheism produce any understanding of that which is greater than space, time and number?
  • Can atheism provide checks and balances on political power?

2]   Only Genesis has a positive view of communication. The first words spoken by the Creator in Genesis are “Let there be light.” This is the nature of revelation or communication – where by definition, light reveals what is truly there. Part of Yahweh Elohim’s communication in the Bible is that it is a dialogue – he invites us to ask him questions as we learn his ways. Yahweh Elohim communicated this way with Abraham and all the biblical prophets, many others in the Bible, and likewise to the present through the Holy Spirit, in accord with what has been revealed in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declared himself to be the “I AM,” to be Yahweh Elohim, the one true Creator in human form, to communicate with us as the living Word, as the Light of the world. One of the names for Jesus in the Hebrew, Immanuel, means that Yahweh Elohim is “with us.”

Thus, two questions:

  • Does atheism satisfy the human soul since no communication with a cold and uncaring cosmos is possible?
  • Can atheism provide an ethic of communication that is transparent and honest?

3]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human nature. The whole structure of Only Genesis is designed to highlight the creation of man and woman as the image-bearers of the one true Creator, as Yahweh Elohim breathed the breath of life into Adam and Eve. The creation was made for us, and to bear his image means that in our finite nature we reflect the Creator’s infinite qualities of communication and creativity. We were made to govern the good creation and take care of it with satisfaction in building families and nations. Or as it declares in Psalm 8, we are “crowned” with “glory and honor” as the highest purpose of the creation. In other words, central to the greatness of Yahweh Elohim is his joy in making man and woman to share his glory.

Thus, one question:

  • Can atheism define any unique value to being human?

4]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human freedom. In fact, it is the only proactive definition of human freedom in history. The first words spoken by Yahweh Elohim to Adam in Genesis 2 are, in English translations, “You are free …” More dynamic is the Hebrew language itself, in a metaphor translated “in feasting you will continually feast” (akol tokel). In other words, an unlimited menu of good choices in all of life is presented, so long as the forbidden and poisonous fruit is not eaten. To eat the forbidden fruit means “in dying you will continually die” (moth tamuth in the Hebrew). Thus, feast on what is good, or eat poison and die – the sovereign Creator gives man and woman dignity and honor in giving us such a freedom to choose. Unless we are free to say no, we are not free to say yes. There is no coercion in the Gospel. We are free to choose between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, between life and death, between freedom and slavery. We will always reap what we sow.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism define any concept of human freedom that is entirely proactive in nature?
  • Can atheism proactively oppose coercion in all forms?

5]   Only Genesis has a positive view of hard questions. When Yahweh Elohim gave man and woman stewardship over creation, an endlessly delightful learning process was put in place. We were made to learn in his presence, a central part of which was asking questions. Even after the broken trust of sin, the power to pose hard questions in the presence of Yahweh Elohim and one another is seen dramatically, for example, in the persons of Abraham, Moses, Job, David, Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Paul, and supremely in Jesus as he modeled the rabbinic teaching method. No questions were ever prohibited. Yahweh Elohim allowed himself to be directly challenged, and Jesus also invited the same in the face of his plotting enemies.

Thus, one question:

  • Can atheism profile an unlimited freedom for man and woman to pose their toughest questions of the universe and one another?

6]   Only Genesis has a positive view of human sexuality. The structures and trajectories of both Genesis 1 and 2 focus on man and woman as full equals and complements, as image-bearers of the Creator. They are joint stewards of the creation, and joint heirs of eternal life. Healthy human sexuality is defined by chastity outside of marriage, and fidelity within the marriage of one man and one woman for one lifetime. It is within this covenant of faithful marriage that trust is first learned, between man and woman, then modeled for their children, then to the extended family and local communities, and then to the nations.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism treat women as the full equals and complements of men?
  • Can atheism define any sexual ethic that sets boundaries to behavior?

7]   Only Genesis has a positive view of science and the scientific method. In Genesis 1, the sun, moon and stars are treated as inanimate objects, as opposed to being deities as in pagan religion. From there on the Bible views creation as it is, setting the table for honest scientific observation of the universe in which we live. The Law of Moses also provides the ethical basis for the scientific method, the principle of falsification, where 100 percent accuracy is required of Hebrew prophets. If there is one mistake, then the prophet is not a true prophet. In science, if an experiment to prove a theory produces the same result 1,000 times, then a different result the next time, it has been falsified, and must be reviewed to find the error. This is science’s most exacting standard, coming from the Bible’s most exacting standard. Thus, the historical, geographical and observational claims of the Bible are relentlessly confirmed by the discipline of archeology and other sciences, from the Garden of Eden, located at the headwaters of the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates rivers in ancient Mesopotamia, through ancient Israel and the capitol of Jerusalem, to the apostle John on the island of Patmos.

Thus, three questions:

  • Can atheism name any original source other than Only Genesis for science and the scientific method?
  • Can atheism embrace scientific inquiry when it presses the bounds of the temporal, e.g., what precedes and provides for the reality of cause and effect?
  • Can atheism have any intrinsic moral code for maintaining the principle of falsification?

8]   Only Genesis has a positive view of verifiable history. Beginning with Adam and Eve, the biblical revelation is always ratified by multiple eye-witnesses, rooted in the Law of Moses, all the way to Jesus, along with very detailed genealogies; then from Jesus to the end of the New Testament. Indeed, when Jesus appeared, he did so in accordance with millennia worth of recorded history rooted in multiple eye-witness checks and balances to certify truth. This commitment to verifiable history has informed all Hebrew, Jewish and Christian scholarship across the millennia.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism name any original source other than Only Genesis for verifiable history?
  • Can atheism produce within itself the necessary value of verifiable history?

9]   Only Genesis has a positive view of covenantal law. Here, Yahweh Elohim first holds himself accountable to being just, fair and loving, before he requires man and woman to obey his laws. The original covenant in the Garden of Eden was one of freedom, and all subsequent covenants aimed to restore such freedom, finally fulfilled in the Messiah. Covenantal law on this basis is a bulwark against human despotic governments. Then, central to this biblical witness is the reality that the covenantal people are held to higher standards than are the pagans. The prophets Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos and Habakkuk, among others, first held Israel and Judah accountable for their sins; as did Jesus; as did the apostles Paul and Peter for the church.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism define a basis for law that prevents despotic governments?
  • Can atheism define a high moral legal standard that it first requires of itself before it does so for others?

10]   Only Genesis has a positive view of unalienable rights. Yahweh Elohim gives the gifts of life, liberty and property (stewardship of the creation) to all people equally in Genesis 1-2. “Unalienable” refers to rights given by the Creator, rights that cannot be alienated, rights that are above the power of human government to define, give or take away. These unalienable rights are simply to be honored. The unalienable right of liberty means religious, political and economic freedom for all people, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs. Biblically faithful Jews and Christians celebrate these liberties for all people equally, including atheists, under the rule of law.

Thus, two questions:

  • Can atheism define any concept of original and unalienable rights that are higher than the claims of human government?
  • Only Genesis begins with the assumption that all things in creation are made good (tov). The “Gospel” of Jesus the Messiah comes from a word meaning “Good News” (euangelion). At the ethical level of how we treat one another, does atheism sees these biblical ethics as attractive in any fashion?

Here is a summary of what I call The Six Pillars of Honest Politics, which are rooted in the prior Six Pillars of Biblical Power (written about elsewhere). But for here, it can be asked: To what extent would atheists like to see these pillars in governments? The inclusion of the Creator here does not require any assent, only recognition of its historical reality in the Declaration of Independence, unless atheism can produce a different historical source. The first four pillars are drawn from Only Genesis, and the last two are drawn from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – he who restores the promises of Only Genesis.

  1. The power to give affirms that the unalienable rights given by the Creator belong to all people equally, and leaders in human government should serve such a gift.
  2. The power to live in the light means leaders in human government at every level should be as fully transparent as possible.
  3. The power of informed choice is rooted in an honest definition of terms in political debate, providing a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, apart from which political freedom is not possible.
  4. The power to love hard questions is in place when political leaders honor and answer those who pose them the toughest questions.
  5. The power to love enemies recognizes that even the harshest of political opponents share a common humanity and are to be treated with respect.
  6. The power to forgive recognizes the need to address our individual and societal transgressions against one another, and to work toward justice and reconciliation.

My agenda is to see such political ethics advanced in every nation, and for all peoples – regardless of our differences in tribe, professed religion or professed irreligion.