Ravi Zacharias – Why I am Not an Atheist – Princeton University

Proponents of atheism have a more prominent voice than perhaps they would have in years past. Is there any validity to their logic? How can Christians answer the critiques? Ravi Zacharias explains why he is not an atheist to an audience at Princeton University.

VIDEO by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

Ravi Zacharias – Good and evil from back in the garden of Eden

RaviI’m a Christian apologist. Apologetics is a discipline that does two things:

  1. It clarifies truth claims
  2. It gives answers to the hard and the soft questions that people ask

So, we are surrounded, all around us in our ministry with questions. A few weeks ago I was doing an open forum at Princeton University, a gentleman stood up and he asked a very interesting question. And he said this, „What is the difference in the milieu, in the idea, in the original creation in the garden, over and against now?” I said, „Oh boy, that’s a long question, let me keep the answer brief.” I said 2 things:

  1. The presence of God
  2. If you remember, in the legal framework there was just one prohibition, and one temptation. Think about that. „You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Just one caution, one warning, one law to bear in mind. What happens? The enemy of our souls comes and what does he say? „Did God really say that?” Is this a propositional statement from God? And then the seduction, „In the day that you eat from it you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”

I take that to mean: In the day that you define the one mandate of God- not to defy good and evil- everything wrong will ensue. So, all that happened in that garden was simply  the denial of God’s prerogative to be the definer of good and evil.  And when you look at the world now, I said to the student, you tell me, „What does the world look like now, with thousands of laws, thousands of footnotes, and even when you get on to the plane, they don’t just tell you ‘don’t mess with the smoke detector’, they have to tell you not to tamper, touch, disable or destroy.” Because you can have each word dying the death of a thousand qualifications. What’s really happened, ladies and gentlemen, we are living in a time in cultural history where our definitions have gone.

Malcolm Muckridge talked about this years ago, in the seventies. He said, „It is difficult to resist the conclusion that 20th century man has decided to abolish himself. Tired of the struggle to be himself, he has created boredom out of his own affluence, impotence out of his own erotomania, and vulnerability out of his own strength. He himself blows the trumpet, that brings the walls of his own cities crashing down. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, having drugged and polluted himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.

You know, the truth of the matter is, that when our definitions are gone, the minefield and the quicksand through which we walk is horrendous. Now you may say that Muckridge was on the verge of his own spiritual journey beginning. He was a humanist like Aldous Huxley: We are living today, not in the delicious intoxication  of the early successes of science, rather in the grizzly morning after, where it has become quite apparent that what science may have actually done is to introduce us to improved means, in order to obtain hither to unimproved, or rather, deteriorated ends.

In Moscow, last week, I told them the story of Natan Sharansky , who was a political prisoner there for many years, and went on to his homeland in Israel and became the Justice Minister. When he returned to Rusisia for the first time, he asked if he could go back to the prison where they kept him for so long. As he was about to enter that little cell, he asked his wife if she would please allow him the privilege  of being there alone for a few minutes. He went back alone and he came back with tears running down his face. He said, „It was here that I really found myself.” And he asked for the privilege to go and lay a wreath at the tomb, at the grave of Andrei Sakharov, the great Russian physicist, who gave to the Soviet Union the atomic bomb. And he quoted Sakharov, and he said this, „Sakharov told me before he died, ‘I always thought the most powerful weapon in the world is the bomb.’ He said, „It is not. The most powerful weapon in the world is the truth.'” Winston Churchill said the truth is the most valuable thing in the world. So valuable, that it is often protected by a bodyguard of lies.

Where do we go from here? What do we do, when those in their punditry have told us years ago where we were headed? Where is America now? Listen to Chesterton: Under the smooth, legal surface of our time, there are already moving very lawless things. We are always near the breaking point when we care only for what is legal, and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions, with no rules, and there will be so many hard cases, that everything will go soft, unless we know the difference between what is lawful and what is legal. Where do we go?

I close with this thought: It was about 3 years ago, the first time I was given the awesome privilege of speaking at the opening day  of the United Nations, on the day of prayer. They asked me to speak on a very difficult subject: The finding of absolutes in a relativistic world. That’s tough on any given day. Even tougher for about 20 minutes at 7 o clock in the morning. What could you do when there is a plurality of worldviews sitting in front of you? So, I did this.I said, „We’re looking for absolutes in four areas.

  1. Evil, how to define evil.
  2. Justice, how do you define what is just.
  3. Love, how do you find the source of love and the absoluteness of love.
  4. and when we blow it, we look for the grounds of forgiveness.

These are the areas that govern our lives, for which we want definitions: evil, justice, love, and forgiveness. I said, „Ladies and Gentlemen, can I ask you this: Do you know of the one place in history where these 4 converge? The one place in history, where evil, justice, love and forgiveness come down to the end of that funnel – there is in the Christian worldview, it happened on a hill called Calvary. The evil that is in the heart of man, the justice that God has,  the love that He portrayed to the very end- ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’, the forgiveness that we found.” At the age of 17, I was on a bed of suicide in New Delhi, India, having lost all hope. Total failure. When a man brought me a Bible in my hospital room, something I had never opened in my own life, and he opened it to John chapter 14, I won’t go into details. He gave it to my mother, whose English was not that good, reading from the King James version cause he had to leave. Jesus said to Thomas, „Because  I live, you also shall live.I committed my life to Jesus Christ, and the Grand Weaver has drawn a great pattern in the life of somebody who had lost all hope, lost meaning, lost purpose.

You see, when you find your definitions in God, you find the very purpose for which you were created. „You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Him.” Can I close with this quote? In 1939, the world was on the brink of a lot of darkness. King George VI went to speak to the world, and he said, „I said to the man at the gate of the year”Give me a light, that I may walk into the unknown.” He said to me, „Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. It shall be to you better than the light, and safer than the known.” Graduates, you’re going out into a pretty dark world. Put your hand into God’s hand. Know His absolutes, demonstrate His love, present His truth and the message of redemption, and transformation will take hold. The story is to be told to many. And the experience and joy of transformation is unique. The Gospel alone has that story.

Ravi Zacharias at Princeton University April 4,2013: Why I am not an atheist + Princeton University Open Forum Q&A

Zacharias ravi

Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale spoke an overflow crowd at Princeton University titled, „Why I’m Not An Atheist.” Video from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

Questions and Answer Session at Princeton


  1. 00:00 Have you had doubts and how have you been able to get through that?
  2. 08:15 Theism vs. Deism, can you also talk about a personal God? (questioner cites Bishop John Shelby Spong‘s rejection of theism)Ravi: The difference between atheism and this new spirituality is the process, but they end up with the conclusion being the same. In atheism there is no God, and in the new spirituality there is no God.
  3. 13:10 Belief vs. Doubt. During your entire talk, you gave reasons for belief which were instrumental, for example: This is the good that would happen if you believe. But you didn’t argue that it is truth, nor did you address the strongest argument that there is no god- the existence of evil.Ravi: If evil is real, and not just a construct in our mind, and something to be shunned,and is morally deviant, then there is no way to sustain that without a moral being who is the Creator of this universe.
  4. 26:10 A question on the problem of evil from the Christian world view. It seems like Alvin Plantinga has given a good response on the problem of moral evil, but is there a good response when it comes to natural evil, apart from the free will decisions that moral creatures make?
  5. 31:40 You say that heartless egregious acts, like the Holocaust, are brought about by people without a moral reference point in God.But, how do you explain all the death and destruction that has been done in God’s name, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, suicide bombings and christianizing the ‘savage’?
  6. 40:55 If the essence of God is to create, and to realize the infinite potential for Creation, as that is His identity. And yet, as He created the world, He desired His children to continue His work, would not the act of Creation be an act of vanity?
  7. 48:55 When you say that atheists have no basis for morals, it seems that you’re ignoring most of the existence of mankind. And we can look at the world and see that peace leads to prosperity in nations, and trust and safety in communities allow art, science, and technology to prosper. You attack atheists like Hitler, and the rich, but it seems a bit of a stretch to say that all atheists search for happiness in murder, power, and cutthroat business. It looks like you’re attacking the weak nihilist, who looks at the universe and sees that there is no ultimate moral authority, and leaves it at that. But, you’re ignoring the strong nihilists, who look at the universe and see no moral authority and say, „This is an opportunity for us to use our reason, to use our experience to create morals, to create the society that can best further us, that can create the happiest society. So 2 questions: (1) Is it fair to ignore these strong nihilists? (2)Isn’t it more noble to use our own reason and experiences to form morals, than put blind faith in an old outdated text?

Related posts from the last 12 months

  1. Ravi Zacharias – How do you know that Christianity is the one true worldview?
  2. Ravi Zacharias VIDEO from UCLA January 2013 – Is Tolerance Intolerant? Pursuing the Climate of Acceptance and Inclusion
  3. Ravi Zacharias on the Dichotomy of Good and Evil
  4. Ravi Zacharias – How Do We Challenge This Generation?
  5. Ravi Zacharias and Friends
  6. Ravi Zacharias – Absolute truth in relative terms
  7. Ravi Zacharias – The discipline of a Godly man
  8. Ravi Zacharias – What does it mean to be human
  9. Ravi Zacharias – A Lesson in History: A tale of two men
  10. Ravi Zacharias – Is America abandoning God?
  11. Ravi Zacharias – “If the foundations be destroyed…” at Trinity International University Feb. 9, 2012
  12. Ravi Zacharias Lecture in Leuven 31 January, 2012
  13. Ravi Zacharias on Moody Radio October 12,2012
  14. Dr.R.C.Sproul,Dr. Albert Mohler and Ravi Zacharias – Is Evolution Compatible with Christianity?
  15. Ligonier interviews Ravi Zacharias

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