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Dialogue with Atheist: Are Christians “Unscientific”? 2

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- Would you say that rationality and science are at the foundation, or are essential, to your epistemology as a Christian? If they are, then I totally get that you’d be irked when your commitment to rationality and science are called into question. At that point, disagreement would be over how well one side is using rationality or science.

If they are not, however – if they are supplemental, ancillary to something else that is primary – like faith (when construed as something that does not rely on evidence) – then I think one could fairly be labeled anti-science, etc., at least in regards to the epistemology of whatever it is one has that faith in.

Excellent questions. Most Christians through history (including myself) have believed that reason / science and faith / theology are perfectly harmonious and complementary (therefore part of our overall epistemology). It was pretty much St. Thomas Aquinas’ life-work to make exactly this point. His task was to synthesize Aristotle and Christianity. And he is widely considered the greatest systematic theologian of all time and one of the greatest Christian philosophers.

That’s not to say that the Bible is some sort of scientific or philosophical textbook. The Old Testament is definitely neither (though it is a font of many kinds of wisdom to an extent that most folks, including atheists, have little clue of). The New Testament (especially Paul), on the other hand, shows at least an awareness of philosophy, and to some extent, science (such as it existed then). It is thought that Paul was very well-acquainted with the philosophical ideas and schools of his time (Tarsus was quite the cosmopolitan Greek city). My point is that a thought-out Christianity can be and is harmonious with good philosophy and science, and we need not fear either as “threatening” to our worldview in the least.

There are tiny strains of fundamentalism which are indeed “anti-science” and anti-intellectual, and with little or no concern with philosophy at all. These should never be extrapolated to the whole of Christianity. But it’s done all the time by the anti-theist type of atheists: largely because (here’s my experience again) so many of them were themselves formerly fundamentalists, and so they mistakenly think that adequately represents Christianity, and biblical exegesis. It does not.

As I often say: fundamentalism is a tiny fringe portion of a minority (evangelicalism) of a minority (Protestantism) of Christianity.

- I agree that Christianity could be rational and scientific and yet parts of the Bible need not be a science or logic textbook.

However, I’m not sure you answered my question about the epistemology of Christian theology. Is it founded on rationality and science? Is that where the conclusions of Christian theology about the nature of reality (God exists, etc.) come from, or does it come from another place (internal revelatory experience, or faith [only construed as not relying on evidence])? Or something else?

Perhaps this gets to the heart of one atheist complaint against Christians. Either Christians, in the atheist opinion, are using rationality and science to drive their epistemology and their theology, in which case atheist disagreement would be merely “you’re not doing it right, or well enough,” or Christians base their epistemology and their theology on something besides rationality and/or science, so the atheist disagreement would be “you should be basing your conclusions on rationality and science.”

Which is it?

Theology and faith themselves are neither science nor philosophy. They are different “species.” My point was that they are in harmony with those things (and not necessarily in disharmony), rightly understood.

The question you raise now gets into extremely deep waters. Briefly put, I would say that the Bible and many (if not most) thinking Christians hold that knowledge of God’s existence is innate. Romans 1 states this outright. The Bible assumes that most if not all people know that God exists. Disbelievers, then, are largely categorized as rebels who know God is there and simply reject Him. But (every rule has an exception) there is a lot of room for honest agnosticism or lack of knowledge as well. 


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