This is the next question in Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. Anyone who has read my posts over the years will know that my answer to this question is a resounding no. Rebecca agrees and runs through a number of arguments. I’ll take some of her points, but approach the question from a slightly different angle.
First, what is the essence of Christianity? The Apostle’s Creed (see below) is a good starting point. There is absolutely nothing in the Creed that is disproved, or even addressed by science. Nothing here about the age of the earth or the shape creation took. The virgin birth and the resurrection are specific acts of God, and thus not anything that science can address. They are not ‘normal’ and repeatable, but both Christians and atheists agree here. Our future hope is for a new creation. Again not something addressed by science.
We have learned through the years that some human ideas about the nature of creation are wrong. The earth isn’t flat. It is easier to describe heavy objects moving around light ones than vice versa, the cosmos is unfathomably large and old. Humans are connected to other animals. There are not storehouses of hail above the firmament. But nothing here challenges the essence of Christianity.
The scientist believes that the ‘laws’ that govern the universe are rational and can be determined using reason, observation, mathematics, logic. The world makes sense. The Christian believes that the world makes sense because God is the creator. This belief played a role in the foundation of modern science. It hasn’t always played out as was anticipated (the earth is old, not the center of the solar system etc.), but this doesn’t challenge the underlying idea. The atheist has another ground for this belief.
Rebecca quotes William Phillips, a Nobel prize winning physicist (you can see his article Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?):
I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a universe that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason for why the universe should not have been different. Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties.
Many other equally good scientists are nevertheless atheists. Both conclusions are positions of faith. (p. 129)
The creed itself doesn’t address how the “I believe” should influence our actions, but the New Testament has a great deal to say about this as I outlined in the post last Thursday. Science can’t tell us whether such an ethic is right or wrong. Rebecca looks at the question of ‘rape’ – forced sexual attention. The practice is rather common among primates, something we observe but don’t generally label as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ When it comes to humans the situation is different.
Christians ground human uniqueness on the biblical claim that we are made in the image of God … and charged with moral responsibility. To maintain their beliefs about goodness, fairness, justice, and so forth, a secular humanist too must hold that humans are moral beings, distinct from other primates. The question is, on what grounds? And ultimately the answer cannot be scientific. Science can tell us how things are. It can explain why, for instance, a man might have the drive to commit sexual assault as an effective means of propagating his genes. But it cannot tell us why he would be wrong to succumb to that drive. … But to call rape wrong, we need a narrative about human identity that goes beyond what science or sociology can tell us. (p. 123)
As Phillips concluded about the orderliness of the cosmos, both are positions of faith. We can’t get away from some kind of overarching view of the way things are and/or should be that rests on faith or experience rather than cold logical deduction.
Religious faith, Christian faith in particular, faces a significant challenge in the Western world because scientific materialism and secular humanism has become the default faith for many. But science has not and cannot disprove Christian faith.
What other arguments would you add?
What would you challenge?
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I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.