Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Universe is Fine-Tuned For Life to Exist on Earth: This Points To a Creator Who Cares For Us

 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him.[1]

The Bible tells us to study nature in order to learn about God. As Christians, we are supposed to participate in the activity of science and when we do, God’s attributes will be revealed to us! One of the attributes we see when we study nature is that the creator of the universe cares for us – so much in fact that the structure of the universe is perfectly fine-tuned and has been from the beginning so that advanced life can exist on our planet at this moment in time. The Psalm I read at the start, Psalm 8, describes this perfectly. Astrophysicist Luke Barnes puts it this way: “Fine-tuning suggests that, at the deepest level that physics has revealed, the Universe is well put-together. . . The whole system seems well thought out, something that someone planned and created.”


Through science we can detect the incredible planning and design of the universe, which shows us how much God cares about us. The more we learn about how fine-tuned the entire universe has to be for us to exist, the more we see the love that God has for us. Science confirms what Psalm 19 tells us:


The heavens declare the glory of God,

   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

   and night to night reveals knowledge.[2]


Again, the more we discover about the universe, the more we find that the laws and conditions are perfectly set up so that advanced life can exist and thrive on Earth at this moment. This is what we mean by “Fine-tuning” and it refers to the various features of the universe that are necessary for the existence of complex life such as us. These features of the universe that are fine-tuned for life include the initial conditions and “brute facts” of the universe as a whole, the laws of nature or more specifically the numerical constants present in those laws, as well as the structural features of the universe – things like a planet’s distance from its host star.


The basic idea of fine-tuning is that certain features must fall within a very narrow range of possible values for chemical-based advanced life to be possible. A good analogy is a key in a lock. A key will open a lock if it is fine-tuned to the correct shape and size. There is a narrow range of possible sizes for the key to be able to work. Too small or too big and the key won’t work. A key can be maybe 0.05 mm too large or too small and still open the lock. If the average key is 5 mm wide and can only vary by 0.05 mm to still open the lock, a key must be fine-tuned to 1 part out of 100 or 1 part in 102. Many of the constants I will talk about in this video must be astronomically more fine-tuned than this. Most beyond comprehension. Keep the key example and the next examples in mind when I present just how finely tuned the constants have to be. 1 part in 1010 is equivalent to 0.02 inches when compared to the distance from the earth to the sun. 1 part in 1020 is a distance smaller than an atom when compared to the distance from the earth to the sun. 1 part in 1040 is a distance smaller than an atom when compared to the distance across the entire universe.


This blog will focus on the fine-tuning of the cosmic constants, the initial conditions, and the brute facts present in the universe that are necessary for advanced life to exist.


Lets look at what Stephen Hawking has to say: 

“The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers [the constants of physics] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium or else they would not have exploded. . . Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty.” [3]


He then added that one could take this as evidence of a divine purpose in creation!


Paul Davies, physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University: “Scientists have long been aware that the universe seems strangely suited to life, but they mostly chose to ignore it. It was an embarrassment – it looked too much like the work of a Cosmic Designer.”[4]


What is it that we are finding that demonstrates that the universe was designed for life to exist: We will begin with the constants that we measure that determine the strengths of the fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force).


1.    Gravitational force constant.

This determines the strength of gravity – the large-scale attractive force that holds people on planets and holds planets, stars, and galaxies together. If it were too weak, then planets and stars could not form. If it were too strong, then stars would burn up too quickly. For life to exist in the universe, the gravitational force constant must be fine-tuned to 1 part in 1060To imagine what this means – one part in 1060 would be equivalent to one dimes worth of mass when compared to the mass of the entire universe.

2.    Electromagnetic force constant.

This determines the strength of attraction and repulsion between charged objects – the small scale attractive and repulsive force which holds atoms, electrons and nuclei together. If it were much stronger or weaker, we wouldn’t have stable chemical bonds. The electromagnetic force constant cannot vary by more than 4% for life to exist. The two most common forces that we experience on a daily basis are gravity and electromagnetism. Their strengths must be highly fine-tuned, but also how they compare to each other crucial to life. The ratio of the strengths of the electromagnetic force and the gravitational force needs to be very close to 1040 for life to exist.

3.    Strong nuclear force constant

This is the small-scale attractive force that holds nuclei of atoms together. Because of the electromagnetic force, positively charged protons should repel each other, but the strong nuclear force is able to overcome this repulsion to hold the nucleus together. If it were weaker, the universe would have far fewer stable chemical elements, eliminating several that are essential to life. Not only does it need to be fine-tuned within 0.4%, but the distance over which it operates is unusual and highly precise as well – operating only over tiny distances within the nucleus of an atom. The electromagnetic force and gravity both operate over huge distances. 

4.    Weak nuclear force constant 

This force governs radioactive decay. If it were much stronger or weaker, life-essential stars could not form. Astronomer Martin Rees estimated that a change in the strength of the weak nuclear force by about 1 part in at least 10,000 relative to the strength of the strong force would have prevented supernova explosions which allow heavier elements to find their way to planets. Without these supernova explosions key heavy elements would be unavailable for life. 


The current theory for how our elements formed is that they are created during the fusion that takes place in stars. The heavier elements are only formed when stars explode. We think that the elements we currently observe needed at least three generations of stars to form, experience fusion for hundreds of thousands to billions of years, and then either explode or collapse to form neutron stars to create the heavier elements. Only in super nova explosions and in colliding & exploding neutrons stars do the heavier atoms get created. The explosions also distribute the elements throughout the universe. This is all connected to the weak nuclear force because a fine-tuned weak force is necessary for supernova explosions to take place. A related brute fact regarding the weak nuclear force is that it is different from the other forces. The weak force is involved with a particle called a neutrino and this neutrino makes the weak force asymmetric – this is different from the other three forces, which are all symmetrical. This strange asymmetric property of the weak force is necessary for life to exist in the universe.


Along with the fine-tuning of the four fundamental forces, the rate at which the universe expands must also be extraordinarily fine-tuned.


The Cosmological constant controls the expansion speed of the universe. It refers to the balance of the attractive force of gravity with a hypothesized repulsive force of space observable only at very large size scales. It must be very close to zero, that is, these two forces must be nearly perfectly balanced. To get the right balance, physicist now commonly agree that the cosmological constant must be fine-tuned to something like 1 part in 1090. If it were just slightly more positive, the universe would fly apart; slightly negative, and the universe would collapse. The cosmological constant has to do with two crucial conditions necessary for life. The thermal connectedness of the universe and the flat geometry of the universe. Both of these factors affect the how “clumpy” the universe is. If it is too clumpy, if large amounts of mass are too close together, then there are too many gravitational perturbations and too much radiation and both are deadly for life! If all the mass is too spread out, then there won’t be enough of the heavy elements necessary for life. If the geometry of the universe was not flat, the universe would have either collapsed back in on itself or it would have expanded too quickly for life to form.


Another fundamental feature; a brute fact of the universe necessary for life is the mass of the up quark. The mass of the up quark must be fine-tuned to 1 part in 1023relative to all the possible masses that quark could have. If the mass of an up quark were this tiny fraction larger or this tiny fraction less, there would be no carbon and therefore no life.


Other brute facts of the universe necessary for life to exist include the ratio of masses for protons and electronsthe velocity of light, and the mass excess of the neutron over the proton. If this ratio of the mass of the proton compared to the electron were slightly different, building blocks for life such as DNA could not be formed. If light was faster, stars would be too luminous. If it were slower, stars would not be luminous enough. If the neutron was a bit heavier than it is when compared to the proton, there would be too few heavy elements for life. If the mass of the neutron was closer to the proton, stars would quickly collapse as neutron stars or black holes.


In addition to the physical constants and fundamental features, there are initial or boundary conditions, which describe the conditions present at the beginning of the universe. Initial conditions are independent of the physical constants and the masses of particles. One way of summarizing the initial conditions is to speak of the extremely low entropy (that is, a highly ordered) initial state of the universe. This refers to the initial distribution of mass energy. Physicist Roger Penrose estimates that the odds of the initial low entropy state of our universe occurring by chance alone are on the order of 1 in 10 10(123). This ratio is vastly beyond our powers of comprehension and begs for an explanation as to how it can be so precisely fine-tuned.


There are also a number of striking effects of fine-tuning “downstream” from basic physics that also illustrate just how profoundly fine-tuned our universe is for life to exist. I will mention two of these effects: the current distribution of structures in the universe, and the amount of hydrogen and helium present in the early universe. These “effects” are not independent parameters like the constants I previously mentioned, but they do help illustrate the idea of fine-tuning.


Life is only possible right now – with the universe at its current size and age. The initial conditions and constants dictate this size and dispersion of structures in the universe. Stars are currently separated by an average of about 400 light years. To put this in perspective, image that a star shrunk down to the size of a cherry. If stars were this size, then the average distance between stars would be 13,000 miles. This has not always been the case, so only at this precise moment can advanced life exist. If stars were closer, gravitational disturbances and stellar radiation would make advanced life impossible. If stars were more widely dispersed, planets wouldn’t have the necessary heavy elements for life. Two specific heavy elements, uranium and thorium – both of which are necessary for advanced life – are only present on earth at the correct concentration for life because our solar system just happened to form at the time when uranium and thorium concentrations where at their maximum - when the universe was slightly more than 9 billion years old.


The amount of hydrogen and helium present in the early stages of the universe was crucial to life. 24% of the hydrogen by mass fused into helium during the first few minutes of the universe’s existence. This determined the type of stars and therefore also the type of elements that could be produced by those stars. Life on earth requires highly specified abundances of elements and that depended on the number and types of stars in the universe which in turn depended on the amount of hydrogen and helium in the first few minutes of the universe.


As I have demonstrated, the universe is extraordinarily fine-tuned – beyond our comprehension - for advanced life to exist. “Why?” is a question that needs to be answered. Especially since we are discovering at every time and at every location, that the universe is finetuned for the existence of advanced life on earth.


As we learn more about our universe it becomes increasingly clear that everything was set up and designed for advanced life to exist on earth. This, of course, doesn’t prove that a cosmic creator exists, but it certainly is compelling evidence for a mind that planned and designed the universe for our benefit. 


“For his [God’s] attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20) 

The Bible tells us to study nature to learn about God and when we do, we can see God’s incredible power – his ability to design and set up the entire universe for us to exist on earth. The entire universe has been set up from the very beginning for us – for you – to exist on earth at this moment in time. The Christian worldview has an explanation for this. Remember I opened this blog with Psalm 8 “When I look at the universe I wonder – what is man that you are mindful of him?” God cares about us and because he loves us he provided a home for us where we can live and thrive. The fine-tuning we find at every level, at every location and at every time in the universe demonstrates God’s care for his people. Psalm 136 connects God creating with his love for us.


Psalm 136 says:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, 

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

Give thanks to the God of gods, 

for his steadfast love endures forever,

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

to him who alone does great wonders,

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

to him who by understanding made the heavens,

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

to him who spread out the earth above the waters,

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

to him who made the great lights,

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

the sun to rule over the day, 

for his steadfast love endures forever, 

the moon and stars to rule over the night,

for his steadfast love endures forever. . .


God’s steadfast love and his reasons for creating the universe and creating us culminated in the person of Jesus. Jesus came to Earth to mend the fractured relationship between us and God. Because we constantly break God’s law, we are separated from God. So, God provided a way to repair this relationship through the person of Jesus. God, the creator of the universe, wants a relationship with you and you can have that relationship through the person of Jesus.


The universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for life – for us – to exist.  As Stephen Hawking pointed out, this can point us to the person of God and demonstrates how much he cares about us. He cares about you so much that He wants to have a relationship with you and you can have that through the person of Jesus.




Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, Regnery, 2004.

Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine- tuning of the Cosmos,” Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Blackwell Pub., 2009.

John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, 1986..

Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, Vintage, 2007.

Paul Davies, The Accidental Universe, Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, Basic Books, 2000.

Hugh Ross, Designed to the Core, Reasons to Believe, 2022.

[1] Psalm 8:3 ESV

[2] Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV

[3] Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, 1988.

[4] Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right For Life?, (Boston: First Mariner Books, 2008)

Friday, February 17, 2023

Acts 17:16—34. Paul’s Speech in Athens: Using Science to Preach the Gospel


Matthew records Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations.”[1] Luke quotes Jesus’ teaching that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”[2] and “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[3] The disciples were asked to preach about Jesus to several different people groups, including the Gentiles. This would obviously require the ability to present the gospel in a variety of ways. Jesus’ disciples had been raised Jewish and knew the Hebrew scriptures, so they would be equipped to witness to other Jews using their prophecies that pointed to Jesus. Most Gentiles, however, had never heard about Yahweh, the Mosaic Law, or the Jewish prophets. How do Jews witness to people without background or knowledge of the one true God? The answer: Paul and science. Paul’s speech in Athens during his second missionary journey, found in Acts 17:16-34, provides us with the formula for witnessing to a Gentile people group with little or no previous experience of the one true God. This blueprint is applicable today to show Jesus to those who may doubt or just have no experience with the Christian message.

People intuitively are aware of a creator. Paul teaches in Romans that knowledge of God is universal: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”[4] Paul goes on to say that this knowledge leaves everyone without an excuse; they know God but do not honor or give thanks to him.[5] While everyone is aware of God, many people have not connected this awareness to the God presented in the Bible. In the first century, Paul was chosen to connect the Gentile’s inherent natural awareness of a god to the knowledge of the one true God, Yahweh.

Paul used science as the starting point for preaching to educated, philosophical Gentiles without connections to the synagogue. Our present society has a special reverence for science, so we can use Paul’s method today as a template for reaching people for Christ.


The Historical and Cultural Background


Paul was born a Roman citizen in the Cilician city of Tarsus, a hub of Greco-Roman commerce and a center of intellectual thought.[6] Because he was raised in an academic setting, he was perfectly suited to appeal to other intellectuals.[7] Being raised in a Greco-Roman environment also means that Paul would have known the Greek traditions, poets, and gods. He probably read, and maybe even memorized, the Greek poets such as Aratus, Cleanthes, and Epimenides of Crete. Paul’s father was a Pharisee, so he was also part of a strict Jewish family.[8] He was sent to Jerusalem at age twelve to study under Gamaliel, a respected Pharisee teacher.[9] Hebrew teaching, such as in Isaiah 65 and Deuteronomy 9, emphasizes that immorality and idolatry go together, so Paul’s Jewish education would have made him extra sensitive to what he observed in Athens.

Paul’s conversion, recorded in Acts 9, was supernatural.[10] His presence in Athens was just as miraculous. Before his arrival in Athens, during his second missionary journey in 50—52 AD, Paul tried to go to Asia and then Bithynia. However, both of those destinations were not allowed “by the Spirit of Jesus.” [11] Through a subsequent vision, he was called to go to Macedonia, and ended up getting arrested in Philippi.[12] Paul’s arrival in Macedonia was the beginning of the last phase of Jesus’ command to bring the gospel to all the Earth, preaching for the first time in a Western Gentile nation.[13] After miraculously being set free from jail in Philippi, Paul traveled to Thessalonica, where turmoil caused him to be sent to Berea.[14] When the Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul was still teaching the gospel, they traveled to Berea and continued to cause trouble.[15] This sent Paul serendipitously to Athens where he initially intended only to wait for Silas and Timothy.[16] God chose Paul and supernaturally sent him to be his representative to the Gentile nations.[17] As a perfect representation of a non-Jewish nation, Athens was also chosen by God to be the climax of the mission to the Gentiles.[18]

Athens in 50 AD

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”[19]

Athens in 50—52 AD was an exhibition of Greek culture; statues, temples, and monuments filled the city. Paul would have observed a statue of the former Emperor Augustus Tiberius, several statues of Roman military commanders, and the incomplete temple of Zeus, whom the Athenians worshipped as the god of the universe. Paul also would have seen columns along the main street with the head of the Roman god Hermes on top and an erect male sexual organ at the bottom.[20] This type of phallic representation was believed to bring fertility as a symbol of nature’s regenerating powers.[21] This Hermes pillar perfectly demonstrates the Athenians’ confusion about nature and God. Paul would have also seen several temples dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. She was the patron saint of the city and personified the emphasis on thought and knowledge in Athens.[22]

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”[23]

The marketplace in Athens was the place where people would go to get the news, hold public meetings and debate the issues. Like any marketplace, it was also a site for commerce and employment. Because of Paul’s extensive Jewish training, it was appropriate for Paul to discuss religious issues with Jews in the synagogue. The marketplace, however, was the place to discuss the gospel with non-Jews.

Epicureans & Stoics

“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him.”[24]

Athens had several philosophical schools of thought: some followed Aristotle, some Plato, and some Socrates. However, the educated class in Athens centered around two main philosophies: Epicureanism and Stoicism. Both schools of thought insisted that the chief aim in life was happiness, and to be happy meant to be free from anxiety and fear. Both philosophies taught that ignorance of the causes of natural phenomena would create irrational fears. Therefore, the primary motive for investigating nature was to obtain peace of mind. Both schools understood that knowledge of the true nature of the gods could come from a study of nature.[25]

Epicurus started his school in Athens about 300 BC. His philosophical and ethical worldview was based on the materialistic atomic theory of Democritus. This philosophy rejected superstition and mythology, dictating that even the gods had to be made, in essence, by something material. [26] The Epicurean gods were absent and took no interest in the affairs of humans. Creation for the Epicureans was the result of the deterministic collisions of atoms, starting when one of the atoms, all traveling in the same direction from eternity, for some reason “swerved” and started a chain reaction of deterministic collisions.[27]

The god of the Stoics was made of highly refined matter and was a divine, rational ordering essence in all things, called the pneuma. This impersonal and material deity structured the entire universe.[28] Stoics would therefore agree with the notion of a creator.[29]  The Stoic philosophy was founded by Zeno also in about 300 BC.[30] He taught his disciples that a man’s happiness consisted of ignoring all external circumstances to come into harmony with the fate determined by the divine ordering in nature.[31]

“And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ ”[32]

After discussions with Paul in the marketplace, some thought he was providing little sayings of knowledge, philosophy, or religious ideas, none of which merited attention. We can infer from this that Paul must have been discussing ideas that were foreign to the Epicureans and the Stoics. The word translated here as “babbler” referred to a speaker of little sayings, similar to a bird picking up and dropping random seeds. It was a derogatory term applied to someone who threw out scraps of knowledge and was only pretending to be a teacher.[33]

“Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”[34]

While the babbler complaint was disparaging, this second complaint was dangerous. The charge of being a herald of foreign divinities in the city of Athens is the same complaint that led to the execution of Socrates 400 years earlier. The plural form of the word “divinities” may have been used by Luke because of a misunderstanding of what Paul was saying. The idea of someone rising from the dead was unheard of in Greek culture, so it is possible that when Paul said “Jesus and the resurrection,” they assumed he was using a name. They took “resurrection” to be referring to a second deity and not as an event or a concept.[35]

The Areopagus


“And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”[36]

Paul’s teaching about “foreign divinities,” along with the possibility that the Roman Emperor Claudius had recently expelled the Jews from Rome for disturbances surrounding the preaching of Christ, created a dangerous situation for Paul.[37] There is disagreement as to whether this interaction was congenial (just the Athenians being curious) or whether Paul was taken by force to the Areopagus. Acts records several instances of Paul being brought before the authorities to answer charges, so it would not have been out of the question for him to be compelled to appear before the Athens council.

There is also disagreement over whether Paul was on Mars Hill or simply appearing before the Areopagus, basically the city council, in some other location within Athens. One school of thought is that, while not on trial, Paul was appearing before an initial hearing. If the Athenians thought he was attempting to introduce new foreign gods and wanted to add these new deities into the Athenian pantheon, then the Areopagus is where Paul would have needed to present his case.[38] There is evidence that, in the first century, the Areopagus functioned as the council that would decide if the proposed new deity would be welcome.[39] Acts 17:19 could then be read as the council telling Paul that they have the authority to judge if this new teaching is acceptable.[40]

The Speech

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.’ ”[41]

“Standing in the midst” would fit with an adversarial situation. These words support the idea that Paul must defend his teaching in the middle of a city council. The greeting, “Men of Athens,” also implies that others were present and listening, not just the council.[42] Paul begins with a compliment, using the name of the city. This helps to connect everyone to Athena, the god of thought and intellect, and recognizes everyone present as a thoughtful intellectual.

“ ‘For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ ”[43]

While the Athenians worship several things, Paul uses something familiar to provide context by pointing out their nebulous idea that maybe there is another god. They do not know or are simply unable to properly acknowledge the one true God. Archaeological evidence does seem to establish that there were altars to unknown gods (plural) in Athens. While not ruling out a singular inscription, it is most probable that it was either written in the plural, or there were several inscriptions to different unknown gods.[44] Paul may have changed it to the singular on purpose to represent the one true God, Yahweh.

“ ‘The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.’ ”[45]

After pointing out that they are actually aware of the one true God, Paul shows the Athenians how they know him as the Creator. Both the Epicureans and Stoics would have agreed with several things from this statement. Their god is the creator and master of the creation, their god is infinite and independent, their god is the source who gives everything to humans, and their god can be investigated by studying nature.[46] Stoics often equate the creator with Zeus, the supreme god who acted as the first cause and ruler of the universe and joined together the world and other gods. In addition, the topic of humans serving gods would have been familiar to the Athenians, for according to Plato, Socrates had similar discussions in the city of Athens.[47]

Paul’s use of the triad “life and breath and everything” is another point of context. The word that is translated as “life” was connected to the name of the supreme God, Zeus.[48] It is possible that Paul was pointing out that Yahweh is the source of life, not Zeus. The Stoics would have been struck by Paul’s use of the word “breath,” which was similar to their concept of pneuma. Again, Paul points out that “life and breath and everything” comes from the one true God but isnot the same as the one true God. Paul redeems these terms for Christianity, clarifying that the pneuma is not God.

All the Greco-Roman gods had a beginning. The Epicureans and the Stoics could not discriminate between their gods and the materialistic world, so none of the philosophies in Athens had a proper conception of creation; their whole system combined the gods with nature.[49] At this point in Paul’s speech, we see a major philosophical foundation of modern science introduced to the Western world: that God is separate and distinct from nature. The fact that nature has an external designer is why the Athenians would have had an inkling of the one true God; it is the same way we can detect that a painting must have a painter or a sculpture has a sculptor. When we study nature, we are not studying the gods directly. Instead, when we do science, we study the creation of God.

Paul also denies that he is proposing a new deity by demonstrating that the Athenians already worship Him without knowing His name. If Paul is not introducing a new deity, then Aeropagus approval would be unnecessary. There would be no need to build an altar or a temple or set up a new sacrificial system.[50] This may be the reason the council let him go when he finished his speech.[51] The one true God is not material, and He does not need anything from humans.

“ ‘And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,’ ”[52]

Paul was making his speech in the shadow of the Parthenon, which symbolized the economic and cultural superiority of Athens. Paul is confronting the geographical and racial pride directly; the notion of ethnic exclusivity of the Greeks and the Romans.[53] The concept of all humans connected throughout history would have been a new and unique concept to the Athenians and is a continuation of the universalism taught by Luke in his gospel and in Acts.[54]

God determining the time and places and boundaries would directly counter the Epicurean concept of an absent god, teaching instead that God is directly involved in human affairs. The Stoics, however, would have been intrigued by Paul’s statement that all men are equal. They believed that all humans must conform to universal laws because we are all part of the universe and cannot be separate from those universal laws. Since the pneuma (breath) deity infiltrates the entire universe, the Stoics believed that humanity is bound together in cooperation with others and should constantly work toward unity and harmony.[55]

“ ‘[T]hat they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,’ ”[56]

The city of Athens was dedicated to knowledge; the highest level one could reach for the Epicureans was special knowledge, so this teaching that God is beyond knowledge would have been unique. The focus on idols and pure knowledge is perhaps what kept the Athenians from finding the real God. Paul portrays the Athenians as people who have been feeling their way through the darkness to find God while, at the same time, God remained near to them. In other words, God is available for those who want more than just knowledge of Him. He is available to everyone who wants to find him and have union with Him.[57] This nearness of God would again contradict the absent god of the Epicureans. The one true God is near, and He is involved.

“ ‘[F]or ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ ’ ”[58]

Paul again relates his teaching to familiar ideas, quoting two different authors that the Athenians would know, to reinforce the point that God is the source of life and power for all activities. Paul communicates an idea that Plato would have accepted: humans depend on this one God for their very being and all they do.[59] The first quote may be from a poem to Zeus, attributed to Epimenides of Crete. Paul quotes another part of this poem in his letter to Titus.[60] Old Testament Professor C. John Collins explains:

The argument of the poem goes like this: the people of Crete have built a tomb for Zeus (God, as the Stoics saw) and show it to visitors; but Zeus cannot be dead, since our living depends on him. That is, since we are alive, that must mean he is, too, since without him we would not be.[61]


The second quote is by the poet Aratus from about 250 BC.  It may have reminded the listeners of the Hymn to Zeus, which happened to be written by Cleanthes, Zeno’s successor as the leader of the Stoics.[62] Again, Zeus is portrayed by the Stoic poets as the materialistic, impersonal organizing force that animates all things, the pneuma.[63] Paul redeems it and makes it personal; God instead acts as an intelligent mind on nature, but from outside of nature. Paul may have memorized this passage during his education in Tarsus, as Aratus also was from the province of Cilicia.[64]

To support his point, Paul uses quotes from authors recognizable to his audience. It would have done Paul no good to quote the Hebrew scriptures to the Aeropagus. He instead makes his arguments more persuasive by providing familiar context.[65]

“ ‘Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.’ ”[66]

The divine is not material. Paul makes this point with obvious context to the city’s expensively adorned temples and monuments. 

“ ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,’ ”[67]

Paul is emphasizing again that the Athenians had gone astray in their search for deities, but up to this moment in time, the one true God has excused this mistake. He now demands that all people change their minds and instead believe in Yahweh due to Christ’s death and resurrection.[68]

“ ‘[B]ecause he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ ”[69]

This demand for humanity is now made in view of the fact that God has determined a day of judgment for everyone. Jesus is finally mentioned, though not by name, as the reason their ignorance will no longer be ignored and by whom the judgment will occur. God has offered proof of this by raising Jesus from the dead, something none of the Athenian gods or heroes had done.

According to the Epicureans, resurrection from the dead was impossible because the body and material soul were annihilated together upon death. The Stoics also had no concept of resurrection; they believed the material soul separated from the body at death and only existed for a limited time.[70] Paul was again countering the impersonal god of the Epicureans by pointing to the personal God who will judge humanity.[71] In an ironic twist, the Areopagus intended to judge Paul, but instead, Paul informed them of their judgment by God.

Overview and Effectiveness of The Speech

            “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”[72]

Paul presented the case for Christ using ideas and philosophies the Athenians would understand.[73] He used their own “unknown god” and their knowledge of the natural world to introduce them to the one true God. Paul demonstrated that God is a person, not an impersonal force or a material object. The argument is concluded with the resurrection and person of Jesus. Paul left the most challenging ideas for the end of his speech but supported them first with contextualized ideas and arguments.[74]

We are told the names of only two people who, as a result of the speech, believed what Paul was preaching. We know nothing about Damaris except that she was a woman. Luke may have mentioned her to reinforce the continuing point from his gospel and from Acts that Christ is for everyone. The other person, Dionysius, was a member of the Areopagus. Christian tradition says he was martyred after serving as the first bishop of Athens.[75]

Not everyone who heard Paul’s message became a Christian. Even the greatest evangelist in history cannot convince everyone of the truth. In fact, you can infer from the text that most of the people who heard Paul’s speech did not believe, but Luke takes the time to point out two who did. This can be an encouragement for us today. It is a reminder that no matter how well we present Christ, many people will still not believe. We need to instead focus on the fact that some will.

Implications For Us Today

Acts 17 records an evangelistic speech by Paul to a primarily Gentile audience. Chapter 14 of Acts reports a similar situation. Here, Paul was speaking to the people in Lystra who had tried to make him and Barnabas into the gods Hermes and Zeus. Paul, of course, told them that he and Barnabas are just men, but added, “…you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”  Paul then went on to say that nature can testify to this God.[76] Collins explains:

Here in Acts 14, however, we find the first recorded evangelistic message to an audience with no background in Judaism at all. So, it’s no surprise that Paul doesn’t start to talk about the way Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (unlike Acts 10:43)! Paul tells them that the natural world is God’s testimony of his goodness and his interest in them.  That is, he appeals to natural revelation, not to special revelation.[77]


God has given us the pages of the book of nature as a revelation of Himself to the world outside Israel. Paul understood this and therefore began his witness to the group of Gentiles in Lystra and also in Athens by using science to reveal the true Creator. 

Paul pointed the Athenians to an “unknown god,” something they believed in but did not really know. Science is the “unknown god” of today. The most common statement heard during the years surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic was, “follow the science.” People in our society today are wired to believe in evidence-based theories obtained by observation and experimentation. The problem is that most people are ignorant of what our observations and theories about the universe demonstrate. Just like the Athenians, they simply have an inscription. They have not spent time seeking and finding the real thing. 

The “unknown god” of science is really pointing to the creator of the universe and all of life. The order and fine-tuning in the universe points to a designer. Cosmology points to a beginner. Information in the genome points to a mind. Origin of life studies point to a master engineer. A person is the only thing we know of that has a mind, can create something new, can design, and can engineer. Science is discovering that personhood is primary in the universe, and this person has been planning and working since before the beginning of the universe so that we can be alive on Earth at this moment. This is the “unknown god” that can be the common ground to contextualize our witness about Jesus. Just like Paul, we can then progress the argument by continuing to contextualize God in terms of other desires our society longs for: relationship, freedom, and equity.[78]

If Paul gave his speech today, it would go as follows: 

1.     “I can see that you are all are very scientific.” Science points us to the person of God who cares for us. 

2.     God demonstrated this by the care He took designing and creating the universe. 

3.     This demonstration of His care was finalized in the person of Jesus and in His resurrection from the dead. 

4.     Jesus’ sacrifice provides a way for us to participate in that relationship, which is offered to everyone regardless of race or gender. 

5.     We need to change our minds and believe in the one true God. 

6.     Through Christ, we can all have freedom, we can all be declared equal, and we can all have a relationship with the person who created us.

The blueprint Paul used for his speech in Athens can be used today to help reach our world for Christ.




Collins, John C. Science & Faith, Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.

Engberg-Pederson, Troels. “A Stoic Understanding of the Pneuma and Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.” Pages 8—38 In Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Split, February, 2010. Accessed on July 31, 2022 from

Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. Manners & customs of the Bible (pp. 529–530). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998.

Ganssle, Gregory E. Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2012. 

Hutchinson, John. Acts, Parts 1—5 and Paul’s Missionary Journeys, Parts 1—2, videos for CSSR 520, Week 3 Videos. New Testament Survey, Summer 2022, Biola University.

______. Matthew – Revelation, TTBE 520 Course Pack. CSSR 520, New Testament Survey, Summer 2022, Biola University. Pages 13—16.

Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 201–203). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc, 1997.

Joseph, Kensy. “To An Unknown God: How Religion Proclaims What Science Worships.” The Way 59, no. 2 (April 2020): 51—54.

Kanagaraj, Jey J. “From Eco-theology to Christology: Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Missionary Speech in Athens.” Swedish Missiological Themes, 99, no. 3 (2011): 295—316.

Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (pp. 321–333). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Lloyd, G. E. R. Greek Science After Aristotle. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973.

Tenney, Merrill C. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1985.

Tsiamis, Costas, Effie Poulakou-Rebelakou, and L. Rempelakos. “Penile Representation on Ancient Greek Art.” Archivos espanoles de urologia 66, no. 10 (December 2013): 911-916. 

Sutejo, Bonaventura Priyo, R.F. Bhanu Viktorahadi. “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities in Athens to the Preaching of the Church Based on Acts 17:16—34.” Khazanah Sosial 4, no. 1 (2022): 145—160. DOI: 10.15575/ks.v4i1.17141.

Witherington, Ben III. Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998. 


[1]Matthew 28:19 (English Standard Version).

[2] Luke 24:47 (ESV).

[3] Acts 1:8 (ESV).

[4] Romans 1:20 (ESV).

[5] Romans 1:20—21 (ESV).

[6] Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1985), 248.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Acts 23:6 (ESV).

[9] Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2012), 346.

[10] Acts 9:1—19 (ESV).

[11] Acts 16:6—8 (ESV).

[12] Acts 16:9—24 (ESV).

[13] John Hutchinson, Paul’s Missionary Journeys, Parts 1—2, videos for CSSR 520, Week 3 Videos, New Testament Survey, Summer 2022, Biola University: Paul’s Missionary Journey, Part 1.

[14] Acts 17:1—10 (ESV).

[15] John Hutchinson, Matthew – Revelation, TTBE 520 Course Pack, CSSR 520, New Testament Survey, Summer 2022, Biola University, 15.

[16] Acts 17:13—15 (ESV).

[17] Tenney, New Testament, 251.

[18] Bonaventura Priyo Sutejo, R.F. Bhanu Viktorahadi, “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities in Athens to the Preaching of the Church Based on Acts 17:16—34,” Khazanah Sosial 4, no. 1 (2022): 148.

[19] Acts 17:16 (ESV).

[20] Jey J. Kanagaraj, “From Eco-theology to Christology: Luke’s Portrayal of Paul’s Missionary Speech in Athens,” Swedish Missiological Themes 99, no. 3 (2011): 298.

[21] Costas Tsiamis, Effie Poulakou-Rebelakou, and L. Rempelakos, “Penile Representation on Ancient Greek Art,” Archivos espanoles de urologia 66, no. 10 (December 2013): 911—916.

[22] Hutchinson, Paul’s Missionary Journeys, Part 2.

[23] Acts 17:17 (ESV).

[24] Acts 17:18 (ESV).

[25] G. E. R. Lloyd, Greek Science After Aristotle, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1973): 21.

[26] Lloyd, Greek Science, 21—22.

[27] Ibid.23.

[28] Troels Engberg-Pederson, “A Stoic Understanding of the Pneuma and Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15,” in Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Split, Pages 8—38, (February, 2010), accessed on July 31, 2022 from

[29] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998): 528.

[30] J.M. Freeman and H. J. Chadwick, Manners & customs of the Bible, (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998): 529—530.

[31] R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and D. Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Vol. 2, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997): 202.

[32] Acts 17:18 (ESV).

[33] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 514—515.

[34] Acts 17:18 (ESV).

[35] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 515.

[36] Acts 17:19—21 (ESV).

[37] Hutchinson, Course Pack, 14.

[38] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 515.

[39] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary, 202.

[40] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 517.

[41] Acts 17:22 (ESV).

[42] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 519.

[43] Acts 17:23 (ESV).

[44] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 522.

[45] Acts 17:24—25 (ESV).

[46] Sutejo and Viktorahadi, “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities,” 151.

[47] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 525-526.

[48] Ibid.

[49] J. P. Lange, P. Schaff, V. L. Gotthard, C. Gerok, and C. F. Schaeffer, A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008): 327.

[50] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 519.

[51] Acts 17:33 (ESV).

[52] Acts 17:26 (ESV).

[53] Kanagaraj, “From Eco-theology to Christology,” 305.

[54] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 528.

[55] Sutejo and Viktorahadi, “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities,” 153; Lloyd, Greek Science, 29.

[56] Acts 17:27 (ESV).

[57] Sutejo and Viktorahadi, “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities,” 154.

[58] Acts 17:28 (ESV).

[59] Kanagaraj, “From Eco-theology to Christology,” 303.

[60] Titus 1:12 (ESV).

[61] Collins, Science & Faith, 193—194.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Sutejo and Viktorahadi, “The Relevance of Paul’s Preaching Activities,” 153.

[64] Lange, Schaff, Gotthard, et. al. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 325.

[65] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 529-530.

[66] Acts 17:29 (ESV).

[67] Acts 17:30 (ESV).

[68] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 531.

[69] Acts 17:31 (ESV).

[70] Troels Engberg-Pederson, “A Stoic Understanding,” 21.

[71] Tenney, New Testament, 288.

[72] Acts 17:32-34 (ESV).

[73] Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, 524.

[74] Ibid., 518.

[75] Lange, Schaff, Gotthard, et. al. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 326.

[76] Acts 14:15—17 (ESV).

[77] C. John Collins, Science & Faith, Friends or Foes? Crossway Books, 2003, page 190

[78] Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017, 33—41, 103—106.