Our Scripture passage for today is Romans 1:18-20:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;
--Revised Standard Version, emphasis added
The first thing to note here is that this passage is not myth, allegory, esoteric mystical symbolism, parable, or any other sort of exotic genre of literature not meant to be taken literally. It's a straight-up claim about the nature of directly-perceptible reality. It makes no appeal to the spiritual experiences of holy sages, or sacred Mysteries revealed only to chosen Initiates, or revelations vouchsafed only to the faithful, the humble, or the credulous. To the contrary, it asserts, in no uncertain terms, that the proof of Paul's hypothesis should be plain
and clearly perceived.
Obvious to the point of self-evident, such that skeptics are "without excuse." Paul has left absolutely no wiggle room for any of the usual dodges Christians employ. "Free will?" No excuse. "Yahweh is hiding himself?" No excuse. "Gotta have faith?" No excuse. "It only works if you pray really, really, really
hard asking Yahweh to reveal himself to you?" No excuse. "Yahweh only reveals himself to the Chosen?" No excuse.
The second thing to note is that Paul never bothers to specify any of this allegedly obvious proof. Maybe we're supposed to look up at the night sky and say, "Ooooh! Preeetty! Therefore, [Paul's] god!" Since he veers straight off into a spittle-flecked rant about the "wickedness" of everybody who doesn't believe as he does instead of actually developing his argument, we'll never know.
The third thing to note is that this testable claim
applies not only to the level of knowledge Paul could have had access to, but to everything we have discovered since. If it is so that Yahweh revealed "his invisible nature" in the natural world, we could anticipate that as people started exploring the world, cataloging life forms, digging up fossils and geological formations, discovering the equations that modeled the workings of physics, building space telescopes and launching probes across the solar system and beyond, that we would have found ever larger volumes of proof for the existence and nature of the Christian deity. If it was so obvious to Paul, who was not even a naturalist on a par with Aristotle, then given the orders-of-magnitude increase in knowledge about Universe humanity has gained since his time, the evidence for the existence of Paul's god ought to be utterly, anviliciously,
inescapable. "Christian apologist" should be the very easiest job in the whole world. Given the nature of Paul's claim, it shouldn't be hard for Christians to find natural "demonstrations" of Christian doctrines, like the Trinity (an important aspect of Yahweh's "invisible nature," surely), and the basic tenets of Christian morality. Without excuse, remember.
So what have
we found? Does the corpus of scientific discovery support Paul's claim? The answer to this is precisely as self-evident and inescapable as Paul asserts--in the negative. Christians know this and don't even try to dispute it. "But of course God can't be proven with science or logic!" they say with one voice, then turn to attacking science, logic, and the very idea of validating anything at all. In terms of both space (size) and time (age), the Cosmos is self-evidently not "all about the humans" in any sense. Human history is less than an eyeblink of the 14 billion years of Cosmic history, our whole world a sub-microscopic speck lost in one of at least a hundred billion galaxies. No one exposed only to what science has shown us about the Cosmos and humanity would conclude, "All of this was made in order to secure the obedience and praises of the humans on that one itty bitty planet in that tiny little galaxy over there."
Even when we get closer to home, Paul finds no help. He spends the next several verses raging about "wicked" sexual practices. Though Paul doesn't specify, given the importance of sexual rules to Paul and Christianity in general, it seems that his "no excuse" claim ought to extend to revelation of those rules. If it is true that the natural world was created by an entity for whom there is One Proper Sort of Sexual Relationship, with all others representing execrable "wickedness," surely this "plain" and "clearly seen" revelation of Yahweh's "invisible nature" ought to include, or at the very least, be consistent with, his moral predilections. The One, True Sexual Relationship according to most Christians is: lifelong heterosexual marriage between a single man and a single woman, with the man dominant. Does the natural world provide us, over and over again, the moral lesson that this is the only way that mating ought to take place? To the contrary, we get a dizzying array of reproductive options, from sexless division, to transgenderism (certain fish and amphibians that change their sex from male to female or vice versa), random spraying of gametes with no "relationship" whatsoever (e.g. oysters), mating via other species (plants pollinating one another through the agency of bees and butterflies), hermaphrodites (e.g. earthworms), pairings so matriarchal that the female eats
her husband on their honeymoon (mantises, Black Widow spiders)... On, and on, and on it goes: Yahweh's precious "rules" brutally squashed wherever we look.
So, it's all very straightforward. Paul, putative author of more than half of the New Testament and for all practical intents and purposes the real founder of Christianity, makes a plainly-stated claim of anticipated consequences: if Christianity is true, the ordinary, visible, tangible things of "the created order" ought to plainly, obviously, inescapably reveal and provide conclusive evidence for Yahweh's existence and (at the very least) the key attributes of his invisible nature, and do this so clearly
that nobody has any excuse to believe in any other deity or no deity. In order for the "no excuse" part to hold up, this demonstration of invisible attributes has to be specific enough to exclude similar but outside-the-pale versions of "God," such as the "God" of Greek philosophy and the "God" of Islam. There's just no way out of this claim. Paul leaves...well...no excuse
. That reality fails to match Paul's claim is every bit as "plain," as "clearly seen," as self-evident as he expected its truth to be. For any "Bible-believing" Christian, there is no excuse. Christianity is false, period.
That leaves the non-"Bible-believing" Christians, the ones who can say, "Well, sure, Paul said that, but so what? He was mistaken. He was just a man, as fallible as anybody else, and so are his writings." We never seem to get that sort of Christian around here, but if one does show up, I'd love to ask them, "Well, OK, then what truth-claims do
you make for your Christianity? If you don't have the Bible, or Church authority (as in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions) as a basis or 'source-code' for your beliefs, then what do
you have?" If Protestant fundamentalists saw off the limb they're sitting on by cutting themselves off from the authority of the Catholic/Orthodox Church (which is what created "the Bible" and decreed it to be "canon") the liberals saw it off a little closer to their bums by rejecting both Church tradition and
the "Scripture" it created.
Edit: to fix a quote mark.