Romans 1: Yes, You Can Take It Literally

Romans is St. Paul’s grand case for Christian theology. It’s a bulwark of logic and argument. Every great theologian has written extensively on Romans. Paul’s first chapter is fighting words:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts…

Notice the progression:

  • The power of God in the world is so obvious that no one has any excuse for not believing in it
  • People wish to do evil so they deny this
  • They give credit for the origin of the universe to some sort of idol – they “make up stuff” and label fanciful, speculative, untested ideas as wisdom
  • So God abandons them to their passions and desires – especially degrading sexual addictions

Today I want to focus on the bolded portion – where Paul says the power of God as creator of the world is obvious to all.

For a long time I wasn’t at all sure you could take that literally. Rather, I took it to mean God had perhaps inscribed some sort of knowledge on our hearts or in our conscience. But upon closer examination I had to admit that wasn’t what Paul was saying.

He was saying that people really do know.

I thought, if this is true, you ought to be able to quantify it. You should be able to demonstrate that the universe objectively has elements of design.

And I thought, if you can some how disprove design or order in the universe, then you’ve disproved Romans 1.

For atheist Richard Dawkins, Darwin’s theory of evolution was the ultimate vindication of non-belief. It made it possible for him to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Regarding the “obviousness” of a creator, he said “Evolution produces such a strong illusion of design it has fooled almost every human who ever lived.”

He countered that random mutation filtered by natural selection was all it took for the earth to be filled with millions of species of life. His colleague Daniel Dennett insisted all you need is replication, variation and selection and evolution is automatic.

Were they right?

Upon close examination, no. Neither is right.

Proof of this came from Genetic Algorithms and Dawkins’ own examples of computer generated evolution. Like his famous “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” software program.

Every single genetic algorithm that exists requires pre-programmed goals in order to work. None operate from pure randomness and undirected selection. They ALWAYS sneak in some form of design. Always.

Have you ever noticed that the software on your computer never gets better by itself?

Have you ever noticed that no software in history has ever gotten better by itself?

Nothing evolves before being programmed to do so.

Thus evolution itself makes the strongest case yet of a Grand Design.

At the beginning of my journey I was extremely skeptical that evolution itself was even valid. I distrusted the secular establishment and I thought a lot of the Intelligent Design arguments were pretty persuasive. But as I carefully investigated, I became persuaded: Evolution is for real. And it operates through six major mechanisms:

1. Horizontal Gene Transfer – cells exchange DNA with each other to get new code they need so they can adapt to their environment.
2. Transposition – cells re-arrange their own DNA, sometimes dramatically, to respond and adjust.
3. Symbiogenesis – separate organisms merge together and reproduce in lockstep, often becoming one organism.
4. Epigenetics – organisms switch genes on and off as necessary, passing learned traits to their offspring.
5. Genome Multiplication – DNA can “double its hard drive space” by doubling itself, paving the way for huge evolutionary changes in the future
6. DNA obeys a strict mathematical matrix similar to “checksums” in computer networks and programs. (Only much more elegant and sophisticated.) This reduces errors and creates a set of rails for evolution to run on.

All of these mechanisms have been reported in scientific books and journals for 10 to 100 years. Most of them have been extensively researched. None is random or accidental.

And for that matter, the genetic code itself powerfully implies design. There’s no such thing known to science as a naturally occurring code.

All available scientific evidence indicates that all codes are designed. DNA by inference is designed.

And all available scientific evidence also indicates that evolution is an engineered process. In engineering and computer science, evolution never happens by accident. It’s always the result of a deliberate act. A program that can self-evolve is always considered an engineering marvel.

Evolution itself and the genetic code are unambiguous evidence of a profoundly orderly, pre-programmed universe.

I have been debating this topic with atheists now for 7 years and nobody is able to punch a hole in these arguments. (Believe me, they’ve tried.)

Here is what I have observed about atheists and atheism:

Atheism has become a refuge of psychological denial for those who, for the most part, are disappointed that planet earth is a painful, screwed up place. The only God they might be willing to believe in would be one that made the world the way THEY wanted it to be. Not the way it is.

I believe that the atheist’s eyes are pre-programmed to see chaos and disorder everywhere he looks. And he will defend it whenever you try to tell him otherwise.

But when an atheist tells you that biology is random and purposeless, he’s not giving you a scientific fact. In science, everything is orderly. Everything obeys laws. (Except for human beings, that is.)

In science, it’s doubtful that true randomness even exists in the first place. In science, everything happens for a reason. Randomness only describes our inability to measure and predict things.

The atheist is not making a scientific statement at all, he’s emoting. He’s telling you how the whole world seems to him. “Look dude, shit happens. End of story. Stop your silly god-talk and just accept the naked facts.”

Hard core atheists – the really angry ones – often are those who at one time desperately wanted to believe that God was real. In concluding that God was not real, they made the ultimate sacrifice: They abandoned the notion that there is any sort of supreme source of love or comfort, that there is any kind of Grand Plan in the universe.

They hate people who believe that because they themselves wanted to believe that but they also decided that such a thing is impossible. That’s why they fight so hard. That’s why the venom and vitriol.

I also suspect that many embrace lifestyles that are not compatible with belief in God – as Paul said – and are loath to give certain things up. Let’s return to Romans 1:

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.

They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Harsh words, eh?

Sure. But is Paul right?

Nobody hurls more accusations than atheists. The standard atheist jingoism is: “More people have been killed in the name of religion than anything else. Most of the wars and prejudice in history have been started by religion….” blah blah blah. You know the drill.

Is this really true?

No. Most wars are about money and power. And politics and grudges. Religion is just the catalyst.

The truth is, nobody has murdered more people than atheists. In the 20th century, atheist governments butchered more than 120 million people.

All the religious wars in all of history have killed maybe 30 million people. Atheism has four times more blood on its hands than all religions combined.

“But atheism had nothing to do Lenin, Stalin, and Mao’s agenda,” the atheist retorts.

Oh really? That’s not what Lenin thought. Lenin said, “Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.“

Can you name even one major atheist website, blog or discussion forum that isn’t thick with insults, epithets, bigotry, prejudice, hatred and gratuitous name-calling by mostly anonymous people hiding behind screen names?

I can’t. Even the “friendly” website FriendlyAtheist.com has the word “idiot” on 732 different pages. Imagine, more than 10% of the pages on this website refer to someone as an idiot. I don’t think they’re referring to themselves. Do you?

Is it just a coincidence that the three cruelest tyrants in history – Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and Mao Tse Tung – were all flaming atheists?

You decide.

21st century atheism simmers with contempt for people of faith and if it continues unimpeded it will destroy everything around it.

St. Paul makes it very clear that God gives people the freedom to pursue what they desire. If you want to live a life of debauchery, He will not stop you. If you want to murder 40 million people… He sure didn’t stop Chairman Mao. If you want a life without God, He will hide from you and you will never find Him.

Nor will God stop you from noticing that atheist countries have the worst human rights records of all.

Paul hit the nine inch nail squarely on the head. Everybody knows the score. I have given you the facts, just as they are.

The facts are plain. Only you can decide whether to accept or reject them.

Perry Marshall

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9 Comments

jeromehoover says:

Perry,

What you say to someone who agreed that the universe displays intention, but can’t accept the picture Christianity (or perhaps any religion) paints as God?

My pastor said in a sermon recently that one can’t wait until they have all the answers to make a decision about Jesus. I would agree, particularly because each of my questions that I reach a conclusion on, countless others take it’s place. That said, I think I understand enough to grasp who Jesus claimed to be. And, if true, just how important that would be for everyone here.

Where does the imagination end, and god begin? Or perhaps a better way of looking at it, how would one know the difference between an authentic personal relationship with god, and a conversation with ourselves?

There’s lots you could say. I suggest browsing the many articles at http://www.coffeehousetheology.com for some ideas. A few larger points are the fact that modern science was birthed from Christian thought, as was our notion of modern equality and human rights. See the page on miracles. I also suggest Antony Flew’s excellent book “There is a God.” I suggest researching the evidence for the resurrection.

Better than all that is for him to simply sit down and read the book of John.

My experience is that with some patience, eventually God will show Himself to not be a part of our imagination but someone who actively works in our lives and does things that are completely unexplainable by chance.

John B says:

Hi Perry,
You have presented very interesting information (which proves intelligence:-)

My only problem is with the thought that God created & said it was all, “Good” & “Very good”
when, according to evolution, there was suffering & death going on. The bible, which I believe word for word, tells us that suffering & death came into the world as a result of the sin of one man, Adam. It does not say that suffering & death came into the world as a means of evolution.

I also believe that our Allpowerful, Allknowing, Everywhere Present Creator God, would not need millions or billions of years to do anything. Just because we don’t know all the facts, we should not assume that Jesus did not create time, space, matter & us in six, twenty four hour days with no gaps. I believe the bible says six real days.

We either believe what God tells us in His Word completely, or we make some of it up as we go. I think that as Christians, we need to be very careful to stick to a biblical world view. If Jesus were to sit for the hardest science & maths tests possible, how do you think He would go? He wrote the rules!

I love & agree with most of your logic brother, & I agree that the timing & method of creation do not impact on one’s salvation. However, “even the demons believe in God” & they are not ‘saved’.

People need to be brought to a realisation of their ‘sinful nature’. “We all fall short of the Glory of God” & “We have all gone astray, every one of us”. We have all broken at least some of His Laws & He said if we are guilty of one, we are guilty of all. He said the penalty was ‘death’ (not living with Him in heaven)

Our Lord Jesus lived the perfect life & payed the perfect price to set us free from the penalty for our sins. He also claimed to be God & I believe Him. He died for us. And He lives! Salvation is a free gift, but to recieve this gift we have to accept both it & the Giver.

One of the prophets said, “Today you have a choice, either life or death, choose life!”

Jesus loves us & wants us to choose Him…..”The Way, the Truth, the Life”

May God bless you & yours brother, in Jesus’ name I pray.
John B

kenkoskinen says:

The issue is not whether or not there is design in the universe but rather how did it & us get here. Some Christians, of course think they can prove it all stemmed from the male anthropomorphic creator god of the Bible. However there is not anyway to prove this. I could go on and on about biblical contradictions, failed and pseudo prophecies, the depiction of scientifically impossible events, mythical and contradictory creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 and so much more.

The life evolving attributes of our planet/solar system are not designed. Earth has rare qualities and we are searching for exo-planets around other stars and none are like ours. If planet was designed all god needed was one solar system and the earth or that every star would have an earth. This is not the case. We lucked out.

There are many imperfections in designs that one would not expect from an all knowing divine engineer. Why do some people suffer from genetic diseases, cancer etc. Why is the male prostrate gland subject to swelling and can block the flow of urine etc.

Also you cannot make a case on the basis of who as a group is or has been better behaved or killed less people. I have personally suffered much at the hands and mouths of Christian professing people. No doubt Perry also speaks from his experience with atheists. However the moral behavior of people has nothing to do with what is existentially real.

Paul’s comment expresses his faith and seeks to convert but little more.

kenkoskinen says:

Even though at one point Perry focused on the bolded verse (Rm. 1:20)he went on to others. One has to really read the entire section (Rm. 1:18-32) to understand what Paul was saying. It is not the same thing Perry is saying.

Paul continued in his tirade to clarify who those were, that he had earlier criticized. Sure these people rejected his god but they were also statue or idol worshippers (Rm. 1:22-23). Of them he claimed they were given to sexual immorality and in this he includes homosexuality (Rm. 1:26-28). He lumps these idol worshippers all together and claimed they were filled with all unrighteousness. He expands this with an incredible list of heinous and evil attributes (Rm. 1:29-32).

The reason I mention this is that Perry picked out a few verses out of context and applied them to modern day atheists and claimed he had many unpleasant experiences with these people. However the rest of the text indicates Paul had a very specific group of his contemporaries (who worshipped idols) in mind.

Further there are Christians who are actively gay just as there are modern atheists who are married, have families and are heterosexual and loyally monogamous. None of Paul’s claims in Romans, necessarily follows. Believing in God/Christ or being an atheist does not always have a bearing on one’s sexual behavior. Nor does it mean that modern atheists (even though they do not worship idols) will have all the evil traits Paul listed. Far from it, there are many fine atheists of good character.

Everyone who does not worship God is an idol worshipper, that is if they ever attempt to explain the existence of anything. Modern people only worship more sophisticated idols. Richard Dawkins worships the amazing power of “Natural Selection.”

His comments describe the general pattern of all humanity, not some specific band of idol worshippers. I don’t see him naming any specific group of people here, do you? Christian theologians throughout history have always understood this passage to describe humanity in general. Why? Paul says it right here:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (that looks pretty comprehensive to me), who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world (this means no one in history is immune), in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Neither Bertrand Russel nor any other atheist will be able to stand under the judgment of God and say that they did not know that the world was created by something or someone magnificent and transcendent. You and Bertrand Russell and everyone else knows that the order and harmony of living things constantly pushes against the tendency towards entropy and disorder. You see beauty all around you and you know that all art requires an artist.

It is no secret that we live in a wicked, corrupted world. No one knows this better than the bitter atheist who insists that a benevolent God would never create a world such as the one we are in now.

kenkoskinen says:

Gee, Perry I thought you also agree with natural selection. I thought your issue with evolution goes to random mutations creating beneficial and new traits? Still to say Dawkins worships the power of natural selection is an exageration and that is a little off key … don’t you think?

Well yes … Rms. 1:18 does have a general tone. However you have to read the rest in context. Rms. 1:22 – 32 speaks to the idol worshippers of earlier periods and those up to his day. Paul is clearly speaking to his experience just as you do yours. In the process Paul’s application of his listing of their (idol worshippers) evils is unreal and exagerated; just as your extrapolation of the text is.

I do not think we live in a wicked, corrupted world. Sure it’s not perfect, but look around at all the beauty you speak to. Explore the marvels and mysteries of how things work and viewpoints about how we arrived. I think we hit the jack pot and/or are blessed to be alive. One does not have to think of it in the same way as you, to be taken back by it all.

I have also suffered greatly at the hand and mouths of Christians but I do not paint them all with the same brush. I have also known some really good Christians. The problem is you condemn people who differ from you. And in the end, you have not nor cannot prove your biblical god exists, However you are entitled to your beliefs as nutty as they sound to me. You are even entitled to promote them, but why not try telling people the truth? You are arguing for or finding reasons for your beliefs. You have not proven anything that you have claimed.

kenkoskinen says:

Perry, in my final analysis … you can NOT take Romans 1 literally. Paul was very specific and spoke to his own experience. You have to take his statements and read them in context. You certainly cannot take it all and project it onto all modern atheists. You are making an “all-ness” projection error. All atheists are not the same. However you could cite Romans 1 and state that some of it by analogy or similarity applies to some atheists you have had unpleasant experiences with.

You have to realize, there is not a cause and effect relationship here. Paul overstated his case and was wrong and so are you. You are taking Paul’s statements and by projection misapplying them to your experiences with modern atheists.

Taking or reading biblical verses out of context and reading in and/or imagining unwarranted conclusions is an error you have made before. I also pointed this out in your mistaken analysis of Genesis 1.

omer says:

Hi Perry,

I like your website very much….the article on Godel and its implication on God was breathtaking. Praise God.

I am a Muslim. We have a lot in common.

Did you ever read the Qur’an with an open mind….I realize that you believe in Christianity and I am not asking you to let go of that before you read the Qur’an. But do you think you will ever give the Qur’an a decent try? It is not too long….it is a little smaller than the New Testament.

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