Belief in God provides a real sense of purpose, says Jeff Tallon.
A proposed bus advertisement campaign featured the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
I questioned the first sentence, suggesting that it was inconsistent with what we know about our fine-tuned physical and biological world.
True, there is just the faintest possibility that we are here by chance, although the odds are stacked hugely against it. Yet here we are. The conclusion is clear - if our world is unlikely to be the product of chance there is quite probably a creator.
But I also question the second sentence. It suggests that serious believers in God are racked with worry and do not enjoy life.
But is this really the case? One has only to visit any thriving church on a Sunday morning to witness the obvious joy of worship. The bands, singing and hand clapping may not suit everyone's taste but they hardly bring to mind gloom and anxiety.
It is like suggesting that St Francis of Assisi, regarded as the most joyful of all the saints, would have been even happier if he had given up his faith. On the contrary, the happiness he vainly sought as a young man came only when he committed to living with God.
The same can be said of St Augustine who wrote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
The Bible recommends cheerfulness. The words "joy", "joyful", "rejoice" and "glad" occur 550 times in the King James version.
Jesus said to his disciples: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Elsewhere he said: "I am come that you might have life, life in all its abundance."
Sadly, some people may have had bad experiences in the church. But statistically believers are found to be healthier, happier and live longer. They also give much more to charity, both of time and money, than non-believers do. At a meeting of atheist scientists two years ago, one speaker conceded that belief in God seems to motivate people to help others.
He referred to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when churches all over the United States sent people, money and supplies to help meet the need. He reflected that as far as he knew no atheist group had responded at all.
Clearly, religious people do not have a monopoly on acts of kindness, but statistically they steal the show.
Some years back our Government introduced a volunteer programme in prisons. It turns out that 86 per cent of the volunteers are motivated by belief in God.
At the same time the church-going population in New Zealand is only about 16 per cent. The bottom line is that belief in God motivates concern for others.
That is only to be expected. Compassion is a core teaching of the church.
The Jewish Bible repeatedly commands care for widows, orphans and the poor.
Aliens in the land were to be loved. On a regular cycle, slaves were to be set free, lands returned to original owners and debts released.
Here is what Isaiah had to say: "Let the oppressed go free; share your bread with the hungry; bring the homeless poor into your house. When you see the naked, cover him."
Christians believe that, as God's agents in a suffering world, their duty is not so much to enjoy life (as the bus advert instructs) but to make it possible for others to enjoy life. That will not always be easy.
The pain of others should make us worry. If we stop worrying (as the advert instructs) we begin to abandon moral imperatives and descend into the sterile pursuit of pleasure.
Einstein said: "In the teachings of Christ and the prophets, one has a pedagogy which is capable of healing all the ills of humankind."
Such an analysis is not to be dismissed lightly by ill-informed slogans on buses.
In short, faith in God opens a door to authentic happiness, sense of purpose and moral obligation.
But faith in God also has very real corporate and societal outcomes. Juergen Habermas, Professor of Philosophy at Frankfurt and self-described "methodological atheist", wrote in 2004: "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilisation.
"To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is post-modern chatter."
All in all a proposed bus slogan set up a man of straw. The suggestion that believers enjoy worrying and worry about enjoying is simply a propagandist stereotype.
And the primary claim that "there's probably no God" is demonstrably incorrect in the light of what we know about the world.
Perhaps the advert campaign could now be withdrawn on the basis of new evidence? Hopefully it will be widely seen for what it is - post-modern chatter.
* Dr Jeff Tallon is a physicist specialising in the fields of superconductivity and nanotechnology.