I have always enjoyed the work of Alan Alda. Over the years he has often played humane and attractive characters. I was one of the 106m people who watched the last ever episode of M*A*S*H. If Arnold Vinick, the presidential candidate he played in The West Wing, were standing in the election, he’d get my vote!

Last week he spoke to the Guardian about his new film Marriage Story. In the course of the interview he made these comments about religion:

Alda relinquished the religion in which he was raised long ago. “I’m not any kind of Catholic,” he says. “I haven’t come across any evidence for God.” Instead, he says he finds the beauty and wonder of the universe sublime enough. Asked whether he thinks death is the end, he riffs on the ubiquity of microbes and how they made the world inhabitable for all living things, before adding that it is extraordinary “that we’re gonna die and it’s so amazing that most of us live as if that’s not gonna happen”.

The two claims he makes are both worthy of response:

“I haven’t come across any evidence for God”

I wonder what Alda would consider to be admissible and adequate evidence for God? Perhaps first-hand sight of a miracle or a personal experience of hearing God’s audible voice? The reality, however, is that Alda has come across multiple evidence for God in the course of his life. The problem is not a lack of evidence but that he is supressing the overwhelming evidence that is right before his eyes.

In the first place there is the creation itself. The very fact of the existence of our universe is evidence for the existence of a creator. The idea that the universe spontaneously emerged out of nothing is far less plausible and believable than that there was a creator, but it is convenient for those who want to resist the claims of God on their lives. The existence of an eternal all-powerful non-material being is a far more likely explanation for the existence of matter. Psalm 19v1 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God” and that there is no place one earth where their voice is not heard. Romans 1v19-23 remind us that “since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have bene clearly seen, being understood form what has been made so that people are without excuse.”

It is somewhat ironic that Alda appears to recognise the sublime beauty of the universe, and the amazing way that even the microbes make life possible, and yet fails to see any evidence for a creator. Why is a purposeless universe that is nothing more than the result of chance beautiful? How improbable that it is so fine-tuned as to support life and enable it to flourish. The evidence is staring him in the face.

Secondly there is the evidence of our human nature. As human beings we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1v27). He has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3v11), and we have an innate moral sense that recognises the realities of good and evil (Romans 2v14-15). We are by nature worshipping creatures. These “religious” faculties have been distorted by our fall from grace, but they have not been completely erased and a vestige remains. To be human is to live with constant evidence for the existence of God – evidence that we deny to evade our moral accountability to him.

Finally, and most importantly, there is the evidence of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we remember that God became flesh and stepped into our world (John 1v14-18). He was seen and touched. His glory was revealed in his resurrection. He has made the Father known. We cannot see Jesus for ourselves because he is reigning at God’s right hand in heaven, but we have the trustworthy testimony of those who did see him. Living in a Western context Alda cannot have escaped something of the Biblical testimony about Jesus, but he has clearly rejected or supressed it.

A couple of years ago I did jury service. It was a fascinating experience. Many of my fellow jurors had their expectations shaped by television crime dramas, with their emphasis on incontrovertible forensic evidence. In our case we had only verbal testimony. In practice you have to reach your verdict on the basis of the evidence that is actually available, not the evidence you wish was available. The evidence we had was more than enough to secure a conviction “beyond reasonable doubt,” even though it did was not scientific in character.

God has given ample compelling evidence for his existence, but most people refuse to accept or believe it. The problem is not with the lack of evidence but with their own spiritual blindness. We need to have confidence in evangelism that we have all the evidence that we need to enable people to come to faith in God and to trust that, as we ask them to consider it, he can open their blind eyes to the truth they have supressed.

“We’re gonna die and it’s so amazing that most of us live as if that’s not gonna happen”

Alda is surely correct that most people fail to face up to the inevitability of death. Just as they supress the truth about the evidence for God, they also suppress the truth about their mortality. However, I wonder what Alda considers a life should look like that is lived in the light of the inevitability of death?

If there is no God, and death is the end, then logically the only rational way to live is selfishly for your own pleasure. Make the most of your limited opportunity and have the best time that you can, even if that means harming other people along the way. It is only rational to be altruistic if that is a way that you bring pleasure to yourself.

Humanism would like to say that we should live a good life serving and caring for others, or at least not causing them any harm, but cannot provide a rational basis for denying yourself to benefit others. It requires a leap of faith against the evidence, which is more than can be said for evidence-based Christian faith.  As Tom Holland has congently argued in his recent book Dominion, the liberal humanistic ideology is an attempt to maintain Christian morality without Christian belief. The Marquis de Sade and Frederick Nietzsche showed this is utterly inconsistent.

The apostle Paul got it right 200 years ago. If death is the end, with nothing to come:

Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die (1 Corinthians 15v32)

It is ironic that the very fact that most people do not live as if they are going to die is itself evidence of the existence for God. They cannot bring themselves to live in accordance with their unbelief. They are essentially hypocrites, or apostates from the implications of their atheism.

What should it mean to live in the light of the inevitability of death? It ought to mean trusting Christ and serving Christ. Since we were created by God and for God death is not the end. We are intrinsically eternal, but the question is where we will spend eternity. We suppress the truth that death will be followed by eternal judgement, and that we deserve to be condemned to Hell because we have not lived the perfect lives that would qualify us to live forever in the presence of a Holy God. Our only hope is to trust in Christ, who died in our place to bear the punishment we deserve and receive his free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

If we have trusted Christ, we enjoy a secure and certain eternal hope and can be liberated from the fear of death. We can live sacrificial lives of service of others and refused to be cowed by threats of persecution and suffering. We ought to be passionate about evangelism, and sharing the gospel with others, so that they too can escape eternal death and enjoy eternal life.

I pray that God will open Alan Alda’s eyes to the truth and that he will come to faith in Christ. We should not fear the objections he raises to our faith. Instead we can have every confidence in Jesus Christ and the gospel about him we proclaim.