I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a long time, but somehow just never got around to it. I think a lot of people have never really taken the time to think about this. In today’s world, science’s place as the ultimate truth-finder in the modern world is taken as a given. I think this can have some dangerous and foolish consequences.
What does the Bible have to say about worldly wisdom? Here’s just one passage (1 Corinthians 1:18-25):
“19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
I was going to highlight or bold certain parts, but I think pretty much all of it sends a strong point across to the reader. Please take the time to digest it on your own, and maybe apply it to what we’re talking about here.
Before people start accusing me of “bashing” on science, let me make something clear. Science has made amazing contributions to this world, and I think that was an intentional part of God’s design when He decided to share dominion of Earth with us. I am all for taking medicines to help cure illnesses, and knowledge of the human body has helped doctors make proper treatments all across the board.
I am also relatively supportive of technology. I could not write this blog without it, nor enjoy many of the creature comforts I take for granted every day. AIR CONDITIONING! (Sorry, just had to get that in there.)
But what I’m talking about is a more specific realm of science; the part that purports to tell us about the universe and its past. I am talking about scientific “facts” such as naturalistic evolution, archeology that seemingly contradicts the Bible, and other such fields. Much of this science is based on theory and speculation rather than repeatable, testable results. I am not talking about science that we see and use on an everyday basis (and therefore can easily find faults with over time). A big bulk of science cannot be contained in a laboratory and “proved,” but this doesn’t stop people from swallowing these “truths” wholesale and allowing them to dictate their beliefs.
Here are three primary reasons I do not place science on the same pedestal as other people.
1. The scientific community is not as truth-driven or open-minded as some people assume.
In a perfect world, the scientific community’s sole purpose would be to find truth regardless of logistics, politics, and greed. But the fact of the matter is, real truth is often not the sole (or even primary) aim. There are often strong competing factors at play that cannot be ignored or brushed off as something on the fringes.
For instance, a lot of science is driven by the need and desire for funding. Where there is money, there the scientists will flock. Can we blame them? They need to pay their bills and make a living just like we do. This often means that they will do the kind of work that interests rich philanthropists or the public eye at the time. This also means results could be tweaked or pushed in a particular direction to keep the money flowing.
As C. W. Adams puts it: “In the real world, research is not the rational pursuit of knowledge many might imagine it to be. Rather, it is a system riddled with competitive forces; greed; profits; the pursuit of personal recognition; and quite simply, survival issues for the individual researcher.”
Furthermore, there is a strong pressure toward conformity in the scientific community to avoid being ostracized by one’s peers. Breaking from the mold requires a strong sense of purpose and conviction, for this is often considered to result in career suicide. C. W. Adams calls this “peer-control.”
“…it must be understood that the range of study, and the ability of these professors to travel outside the box, is also severely limited by the educational institutions that employ them. Maintaining job security in these institutions usually requires some sort of peer control process that research scientists undertake when determining hypotheses. Although speculation is obviously encouraged, the topics and range of speculation are thoroughly restricted.”
Remember that Satan is referred to as the “god of this world,” so wouldn’t you think that he’d do anything to keep the true God out of the picture as much as possible? Do you think he’d push the tides of academia toward biblical truth or away from it? You be the judge. Remember also that true scientific facts never contradict the Bible nor render God obsolete. They are simply observations of His creation at work, and His fingerprints remain on everything. For instance, learning how lightning forms does nothing to disprove the God who put those forces in place to begin with.
2. Science is continually changing and amending prior “certainties.”
Nietzsche once said that “madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.” This aptly describes why so many of the world’s brightest minds can often be in complete agreement on certain “truths” that later end up being completely (and sometimes hilariously) wrong. A scientific consensus is far from a sure thing, as history would teach us.
Carl Sagan once wrote: “Even a succession of professional scientists–including famous astronomers who had made other discoveries that are confirmed and now justly celebrated–can make serious, even profound errors in pattern recognition.”
The bottom line is that just because you throw more people into the mix doesn’t mean that you can prevent blindness. What often happens is a phenomenon that Yale psychologist Irving L. Janis terms as “the groupthink syndrome.” There are three main symptoms of this:
1. Overestimate of the group’s power and morality, including “an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their actions.” [emphasis added]
2. Closed-mindedness, including a refusal to consider alternative explanations and stereotyped negative views of those who aren’t part of the group’s consensus. The group takes on a “win-lose fighting stance” toward alternative views.
3. Pressure toward uniformity, including “a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view”; “direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes”; and “the emergence of self-appointed mind-guards … who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”
Think about some of the failed assumptions and certainties of the past: the world is flat (bogus); the atom is the smallest building block of matter (false); the universe is necessarily infinite (now we know of the Big Bang)…the list goes on and on.
Did you know that there have been a large number of prominent scientists and experts who have published material “proving” that the Bible wasn’t factual? That certain people-groups mentioned in scripture never existed? And usually what happens is that years or decades later, some archeologist will unearth new evidence to validate the claims of the Bible, not those ever-sure experts.
If science ever seems to run counter to what God’s unchanging and eternal Word says, I’m hitching my wagon to the source of truth that has never been proved wrong.
3. Scientists are made up of faulty and biased people just like you and me.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “scientist,” I am not immediately struck with reverence and awe. Respect, sure…many of them work very hard and are gifted with relatively bright minds. But at the basic core, they are people just like us who deal with insecurities, fight against stubbornness and pride, and are shaped by the influences around them.
I suspect that people who look up to scientists as the end-all-be-all have never really known a scientist (or at least one from a “respectable” school). Guess what? They range from academic hermits to clumsy goof balls. Many of them, due to their narrow focus on studying, lack common sense in important areas that some of us take for granted. They are sometimes unsuccessful in love due to a basic misunderstanding of human interaction. Sometimes they are great at it. I would no sooner take advice from someone who works in the sciences than a trusted friend.
(Be honest: don’t we all laugh at Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory because we can relate to the brilliant-at-something guy who is seriously lacking in other common areas? I alluded to his difficulty in grasping sarcasm in an earlier post.)
The point is, they are no more reliable as finders of the truth than the average reasonable adult. It is easy to see how these people could be swept away in a cool and exciting new idea, rather than putting on the brakes of common sense…especially if being at the forefront of this thinking puts them in a superior intellectual position.
* * *
The point of this post was not to bash on science or scientists, but rather to give a reminder/reality check that man is just man. We are fallible creatures and our systems are bound to be flawed as well. To be sure, we have been given great power and authority over this world, but there is always One who is supremely higher. Let’s not make the mistake of getting so full of ourselves that we miss the fact that we are His creation. The creation cannot be greater than the Creator, can it?
And that very thought was what drove Satan to rebel in the first place…isn’t it funny how it all naturally fits into this world, his current domain?
Just a quickie entry, but I thought this video was enlightening and funny:
It’s basically an answer to a question John Piper received.
A woman has been accused by other Christians for not relying on God enough because she takes antidepressants. I love how Piper addresses this issue by pointing out that God has “ordained” physical things to be useful and practical. God made the physical world, so why should we just ignore and denigrate it?
Heck, even as I’m reading the Old Testament, I’m constantly seeing the ways in which God chooses to solve problems via practical means, rather than just whipping up a miracle every time (though He sometimes does). God told Noah to build an ark; He didn’t just levitate Noah’s family above the flood waters. God told Joseph that Egypt should store up grains during their seven years of bountiful harvest in order to survive through the subsequent seven-year famine.
So yea, please don’t be judgmental toward other Christians or people in general for making use of modern medicine and technology. It’s not faithless to do so, and it all falls under God’s creation and domain anyway.
There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?
Update, 08/17/11: I’m actually getting a head start on some of my seminary reading (starts Monday the 22nd) and what do you know? The first essay we’re assigned to read and analyze talks about the age of the world and creation. There are definitely some theories and concepts I was unaware of, so I’m going to have to update this entry with these new findings shortly.
Ah, the good ol’ age-of-the-world problem. This is a very common objection to Christianity: the claim that science has already proved wrong the creation account found in Genesis 1. Scientific methods have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, and the earth is probably around 4.5 billion years old by their estimations. The traditional view found in Genesis seems to suggest that the world is only about 6,000-10,000 years old. Obviously, something is amiss.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area by any means. I’m only about to share what I’ve looked into so far and what others have found. Honestly, I think this is a subject we can never be sure about, and our conclusions are probably going to change a few more times over the years. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and that there is room for flexibility.
So without further ado, let’s move onto some observations.
The evidence seems to point toward an old-earth theory.
By current dating methods, scientists are able to conclude on a fairly consistent basis that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Geology looks at rock strata, estimates the time in between each layer, and can pretty much count up the number of years. They know that such formations are slow and take a long time, making the young-earth view implausible.
There is also the method of carbon or radiometric dating, by which scientists can calculate the age of various fossils and other substances they find. They do this by knowing the half-life of a certain element, such as carbon-14, and judging by how much is remaining, they calculate how much has decayed and how long it took to get there.
Finally, an argument for the old-earth theory is that evolution could not have taken place to form the wide variety of complex organisms we see today in mere thousands of years. (They have enough trouble as it is trying to figure out how it could have happened to this degree in billions of years without divine intervention.) **Big side note: Do I believe fully in evolution? Well, it depends on how you’re defining it. But that’s a whole can of worms I won’t open quite yet!
That is the dumbest, quickest, crudest explanation of old-earth dating you will ever see.
Does the Bible contradict what science has shown us?
The answer is no. You’ve all probably heard the popular answer to this, which is the day-age theory: the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis can be interpreted in numerous ways. It literally means a 12-hour period OR a 24-hour period OR a long, indeterminate amount of time. How do we know which one to use? Beats me, but I think comparing the usage of “yom” in other books of the Bible is ill-advised here since the creation account is a different animal altogether. Needless to say, we need to be flexible on its usage.
So if the duration of one “day” (“yom”) to another is indefinite, what can we glean from the scriptures that is actually useful in the context of comparing to science? The order by which things are formed. It is here that we find striking congruity between the Bible and what modern science has found. Tellingly, the Bible happens to be the only “holy book” in the world that got it right, even thousands of years before such knowledge was known by the scholars of the day.
(Click here for a fairly detailed breakdown: http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail or regurgitate too much, but one important point to note is that in Genesis 1:1-2, it is clear that certain things were created BEFORE the first yom. What were those things? Well, it just happened to be the “heavens and the earth” (“heavens” obviously means space and the rest of the universe, as it is separate from earth, which contains our notion of “sky”). Not only that, but there were waters over which the Holy Spirit was hovering. All this before the first creation day.
Going back to cosmology for a second, we know that the very first instant of time is when the big bang occurred. It is when time, space, and matter literally came into being. Before this happened, there was no such thing as time, only a singularity, so it makes sense to call this moment of creation “in the beginning.”
Obviously, if God is eternal, there was no beginning for Him. So Genesis 1:1 is starting from the instant of the big bang.
This kind of consistency with modern science is definitely a plus, though perhaps not a must (as science is fallible and is prone to correction from generation to generation). Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, shares this in his testimony:
I found the Bible noticeably different. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed at the quantity of historical and scientific (i.e., testable) material it included and at the detail of this material. The first page of the Bible caught my attention. Not only did its author correctly describe the major events in the creation of life on earth, but he placed those events in the scientifically correct order and properly identified the earth’s initial conditions.
(Also read a detailed breakdown of why old-earth creationism may be the more accurate biblical view, not just scientific: http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/animal-death-before-adam/introduction-creation-date-debate.)
Some may wonder at this point, well what took God so long? Remember that God doesn’t operate on our timetable, and he is a being who can exist outside of time. Plus, God seems to like putting systems and natural laws in place and letting things take their course. Why wouldn’t he? He is the author of all things. One example of this would be after Noah’s flood where it took 150 days for the waters to finally subside. Could God have made the water disappear instantly? Sure. But why not let “nature,” His created system, handle things naturally?
What about Adam and Eve? Were they literal?
In my opinion, Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were literal human beings. Why? Because Jesus Christ himself spoke about them as if they were literal, and to my knowledge, everything rises and falls with the perfect knowledge and divinity of Christ.
How does this gel with the old-earth view? Well, quite simply, Adam and Eve were probably the first human beings according to God’s definition. They were the first ones created in God’s image, and therefore were the first soul-bearing creatures. There may have been human-like creatures before this, possibly walking erect and resembling us, but this is where the spiritual element of man was born. To God, this is where the story gets interesting.
Remember that the Bible does not include every superfluous detail, nor is it meant to explain science to us. It is simply to point us toward God and to teach us about things that are spiritually relevant.
Isn’t this day-age/old-earth theory just a modern retreat in light of science?
Fair question, but the answer seems to be no. Even Saint Augustine, in the 5th century, postulated that the word “yom” could mean something other than literal days. This was well before the world had any concept of an old earth. If you read the Genesis 1 account carefully, there are certain events that clearly seem to take longer than a regular 24-hour day.
Are young-earth (6,000–10,000 years) creationists crazy?
Well, perhaps. Organizations like Answers in Genesis don’t seem to have a ton of street cred in the scientific community. But I’m going to admit right now that there are times when I’m tempted with this view.
I know that it goes against my usual philosophy of “going where the evidence points,” but I sometimes can’t shake the sneaking suspicion that the age of the world is one of those “earth is flat” type of things. One day, maybe we’ll look back and laugh, saying, “I can’t believe we used to think the earth was 4.5 billion years old!” I know, I’m destroying any credibility I have with each sentence I write here.
What possible support could there be for the young-earth view? Well, first there is the “simple” reading of the Bible. True, “yom” can literally mean both a regular 24-hour day or a long era—nothing figurative about it. But perhaps it’s just my conception of God and his timetable. This is a completely unreliable way to think, by the way, as the Bible clearly states that to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (meaning time is not felt by God in the same way as people).
But second, I also find a lot of little curiosities that individually, don’t amount to anything, but together are striking (to me anyway). We don’t have any written, recorded history before about 2,500 BC. Everything we know of seems to have happened in an amazingly minuscule amount of time. Think about it: from the earliest recorded history to today, only thousands of years have elapsed…yet we have gone from using primitive tools and walking in the dirt to flying jets and broadband internet. If the 4.5 billion year age of the earth is correct, we’ve gone from primitive to very advanced in literally one-millionth (1/1,000,000) of the time the world has existed. There are a lot of little things that nag at me like this. Then again, perhaps it is because humans—as image bearers of God—have only existed for thousands of years, and it has nothing to do with the age of everything else.
I also think that dating procedures could be prone to unseen error. I know I’m going out of my element here, but what if the half-lives of certain elements were not always at equilibrium? What if 6,000 years ago, the half-life of carbon-14 was totally different, changing a constant in the equation and affecting the outcome drastically? So anything we found that is actually 7,000 years old might be calculated completely wrong?
The biggest unknown variable in all of this, to me, is Noah’s flood. If it literally happened, which I believe wholeheartedly, there is no way to anticipate the way it could affect our dating methods. This wasn’t a simple rainstorm or flood as we know it today. This was a worldwide, biblical, supernatural event where the mountaintops were covered in water. The flood waters actually come from above AND below from within the earth, and who knows what minerals came up with it? How can we possibly attempt to simulate the effect this kind of catastrophic event would have on the earth and it’s rock layers? Is this perhaps why we have so many fossils preserved where animals seem to have suddenly died? (Why aren’t we forming fossils today, but instead, animal carcasses and bones simply decay into the earth?)
Finally, I think that it’s possible (though maybe not probable) that in creating the universe, God stretched and placed things in such a way that life could be supported. Perhaps this process gives everything the appearance of age, if we’re measuring by distances and such. To me, this is a big fat “who knows?”
I’m not saying I’m a young-earth creationist or that it’s even preferable in any way. Believe what you want; theologically, it makes little difference. But I think it’s prudent to at least acknowledge different possibilities, especially when we’re dealing in an area that can’t be fully confirmed in a laboratory.
If I were a betting man, I’d probably go with old-earth, but I don’t feel qualified to take a firm stand either way.
In the last 100 years, archaeology has uncovered a multitude of artifacts and writings, verifying the truth of what the Bible says. Science itself, with the Big Bang theory showing a definite starting point for our universe, has strengthened the argument for God.
This isn’t enough to necessarily lead people to faith, but it certainly helps to have some support for the Bible’s claims. In fact, many former skeptics (such as Sir William Ramsey, or more recently, Lee Strobel) have made it their mission in the past to disprove or scrutinize the Bible, only to become more convinced of its veracity. To them, the world’s evidence pushed them strongly in the direction of Christian faith. These stories are numerous and uplifting.
However, we must be careful not to place evidence and arguments as central pillars of our faith. Once we receive the Holy Spirit—in a genuine conversion experience—he is stand-alone, sufficient evidence to convict us of the Bible’s truth. The rest is extra support for something that is sturdy enough to stand the test of time anyway. For the true believer, additional worldly evidence can cause us to rejoice, possibly increase our zeal, and allow us to more effectively share with nonbelievers. But for our own faith, it is ultimately extraneous.
This is why William Lane Craig states in his book, Reasonable Faith, that even if arguments and evidence would fail to support Christianity (which they certainly do not), he would still wholeheartedly be a believer. This statement, found early in his book, has brought mockery and condescension upon him from his atheist opponents. I can see why, as it seems to demonstrate that yet another Christian seems to be wholly irrational in his beliefs and immune to reason and persuasion—even a top-flight philosopher, debater, and logical thinker such as Dr. Craig. But as Dr. Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame has written in his work, belief in Christ can be just as “properly basic” as our belief in the external world, which we experience with the five senses. The Holy Spirit is that compelling.
I am not trying to say that we should all stop trying to seek the truth or welcome new evidence into the arena of debate. This post is more for the already-converted believers out there. The world’s evidence is subject to the truth of the Bible, not the other way around. The main point of this post is this: Evidence can help lead us to faith, but it shouldn’t be what’s keeping us in it.
What happens when the evidence turns against us?
This is really the heart of the issue. Ask yourself, as a believer, what you would do if there were some discovery tomorrow that seemed to directly disprove some part of the Bible. What if there were a dry spell where no able and well-informed apologists could successfully hold the skeptics at bay? Would you cease to follow Christ? Would you exalt human reasoning and deem Christianity as fool’s gold?
While this would seem the “rational” response to such developments, consider the following thoughts.
– The scientific community as a whole believed that the world was eternal, with no beginning, until the Big Bang theory became widely accepted.
– People have doubted the age of biblical books for centuries, which cast doubt on chronology and fulfilled prophecies. Only in 1947 (until 1956) were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, putting to rest many of those doubts.
– Most of ancient history—whether religious or not—is lost forever, and early Christianity was only a small movement at that time within the world. The fact that we have as much as we do today is purely by the grace of God.
Depending on when people lived and died, there is a chance they may have had insufficient worldly evidence to buttress their faith in Christ. I pity the man—if he existed—who read Isaiah or Daniel and thought the proof of prophecy of Jesus’ life and death was strong, but then was dissuaded in 1946 by some scholar who claimed, “No one knows for sure when those books were written anyway. The Christians probably went back and altered the text of those OT books to fit the details of Jesus’ life.”
I believe much has been discovered so recently because God saw our dwindling faith, our “enlightened” minds refusing to believe apart from evidence, and he graciously offered us some. There is no guarantee He will continue to do so. (It is also a theory of mine that in His divine foreknowledge, He might withhold some evidence from those that would reject him regardless of the circumstances. This is done in order to spare these people some of his wrath. Ignorance may mitigate the severity of punishment, according to Luke 12:47-48.)
Right now, in 2011, I believe the arguments and evidence favor Christianity. But my advice is to not get too cozy in this, and to strengthen your faith with the Holy Spirit as your foundation. My guess is, if this world goes for another 100+ years, people will seriously start to question the human existence of Jesus Christ altogether. Science will come up with some novel, clever way of describing the beginning of the universe apart from God…until a better theory arises later.
Timothy Keller, in Reason for God, offers up strong arguments for God and some deep insights. I highly recommend his book for people of all spiritual walks. But in an honest way that I respect, he also admits that it is possible to reason your way out of any argument. There is no airtight proof.
Attending law school and completing the moot court requirement taught me that this is true. I remember, for the first go-around, we had to take either the side of the prosecution or that of the defense. We not only found ways to support our position, but we grew invested in it, fully convinced we were on the right side. The next semester/round, we swapped. It was amazing (and alarming) to me how easy it was to switch and find convincing evidence to support whatever we put our minds to.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Job 5:13: “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”
We simply cannot rely on such fickle things when it comes to our eternal destiny. The world’s knowledge is subject to constant change and revision. If there is an absolute, unchanging truth out there—such as the Bible—there are going to be periods of history where the world and the word of God butt heads. It’s up to you to place your faith in the unchanging truth of God.
I really like this candid interview with Dr. Craig. He says it better than I can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ.
This video with Francis Chan, while not entirely on topic with this post, is also helpful (especially the first couple of minutes where he talks about the potter and the clay): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnrJVTSYLr8.
I leave you with some more scripture to mull over:
1 Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.'”
Psalms 81:11-12: ““But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.”
Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”
Isaiah 44:18: “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”
Isaiah 65:2: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations–”
1 Corinthians 1:20: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher (NASB: “debater”) of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
One very insightful and helpful blogger, Allie, pointed me to a link that showcases the best atheist and theist debaters of our day: http://www.debategod.org/members/debategod. I encourage anyone with an informed, impartial mind to take a look into these matters directly. (I hesitate to recommend doing so for everyone—especially young, impressionable people who can be too easily taken in by the sexy allure of surface-level objections to faith.)
I was amused, but not altogether surprised, by the inclusion of Christopher Hitchens’ picture among the “Master Debaters” collage. He is a very popular atheist with a well-known, outspoken book. He is an accomplished journalist and a master rhetorician. I don’t know if he’s still married or not, but I’d imagine that when he argues with her, she’s left wondering why she apologized when he was clearly in the wrong.
However, he is not a good formal debater, and this is evident to anyone interested in logic and sound reasoning. He masks his ignorance with wittiness and confusing, roundabout explanations…but ultimately, he’s blowing hot air and nothing more. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise since he is not formally trained as a historian, philosopher, scientist, or a theologian. Words by themselves do not make good arguments.
A concise essay debate between Hitchens and Kenneth Miller (a prominent evolutionary biologist who is also a devout Catholic) demonstrates this well. In my view, Miller completely owns Hitchens with clear and informed arguments, while Hitchens resorts to personal attacks and good-sounding witticisms. Honestly, this is one of Hitchens’ better performances, and he still fails. By contrast, his debate with William Lane Craig—most atheists and theists will agree—was an embarrassment.
There are good atheist debaters out there, but Hitchens belongs in the same pile as Dawkins and other polemicists (sometimes dubbed “The Four Horsemen”). Aside from their confidence and enjoyable diction, these people offer little insight into this important topic.
Please don’t be offended by the title of this post. This is not to boast or to bash, but to take a practical look at what I believe sets Christianity apart from the other major world religions. I am going to try to leave the substantive merits of each religion’s theology out of the picture. For the sake of discussion, I will assume (rather than try to prove) the following two things:
a) God probably does exist.
b) Based on the fact that God created us and endowed us with the ability/inclination to ponder His existence and character, the truth about God has probably been revealed to us in some form.
Now let’s compare Christianity to its alternatives. I’ll break it down into three very basic categories:
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
I could discuss more or break it down further into more specific areas, but I think these three summarize some of the practical differences well. By the end, I hope it will become clear why thinking Christians believe their religion to the best candidate for God’s revelation to mankind, even apart from the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
All other major religions have a founder who is now dead and in the grave. Muhammad enjoyed some success in his lifetime, but then he passed away. Buddha and Confucius left their mark then succumbed to death. Hinduism doesn’t really have a founder, but rather centers on worshiping a huge multitude of unseen and unmet deities. Joseph Smith died while firing a gun that had been smuggled into prison.
Christianity claims to have a founder who is the savior God, and with Jesus Christ, there was no dead body left behind to rot and decay. Christians claim that Jesus moved about with us, died, then rose again…only to continue revealing himself for some further time to over 500 people. Then, He ascended to heaven in plain view of many followers, leaving nothing behind to bury. We believe that our founder was God in the flesh, not a mere man or even a messenger.
This means that Jesus, as God, is the only founder of a major religion that claimed to be perfect and sinless. Buddha never made such a claim, and even Muhammad admitted he was in need of forgiveness (in addition to the obvious faults he had). Joseph Smith? Don’t get me started. With regard to Jesus, other than heresy, there were no charges levied against him throughout his lifetime. Of course, if Jesus really was God, then even the heresy charge is false. Now, would you trust the teachings of God, or an imperfect man who has shortcomings, ulterior motives, or both?
(Of course, this is all dependent on the credibility of the founder himself, but we’ll get to that later.)
No other religion would dare make these bold claims of a perfect, living founder. Why not? Because there’s no way such radical claims would survive long enough to not get laughed out of the courtroom of public opinion. Honestly, I’d love to see another religion try. Ancient religions and modern cults alike have not dared to do the impossible by tricking people with such obvious lies.
The words we live by were given to us by a perfect, living being who defeated death, thereby setting an example of what’s to come for us as well. While other religions may have been started by an imperfect and mortal man, we believe ours was started by an eternal person of the Trinity. This is a risky thing if Christianity is false, and uniquely powerful if it’s true.
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
I’ll start out by saying that the popularity of a view (or in this case, religion) does not necessarily make it true. I’m not going to argue that. What I’m going to show is that the wide popularity of Christianity—and the rapid rate at which it initially spread—is very difficult to explain practically unless it were true.
Consider Islam for a minute, the second-most popular religion and the fastest-growing. How did it get so popular? Well, first of all, it piggy-backed off of Christianity and took credit for all of its teachings and people. Abraham? A Muslim. Jesus Christ? An overrated Muslim prophet. Even Adam—that’s right, THAT Adam—was a Muslim, by their definition. This is how Muslims claim that their religion is the oldest in the world, when really it began about 600 years after Christianity. The foundation—largely based on Christianity/Judaism—was already in place, so there is a ring of truth to it.
Furthermore, Islam is characterized by a lot of violence and threats. Yes, there are peaceful parts of the Qur’an, but much of it speaks about killing infidels who will not proclaim Allah as the true God and Muhammad as His messenger. Early Islam was not spread with reason and love, but rather with military conquest and a “believe or die” approach. It’s not hard to see why early Muslims believed Muhammad was chosen by God, and therefore his words were truth. He was winning battles, and they figured that God wouldn’t allow this to happen if he were a fraud. But really, this is shabby proof for truth. Anyone can win military battles, religious or not. If anything, it’s a powerful motivational tool to teach that fearlessly dying for Allah will earn you 72 virgins in the afterlife.
Consider this criticism from a 13th century Jewish philosopher: “That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.”
In modern societies, my subjective view is that some groups of people around the world are already closed to the idea of accepting the so-called “white man’s religion”: Christianity. (This is kind of odd because Christianity didn’t originate in America or Europe anyway.) So they will naturally gravitate toward Islam. To be fair, I think that’s also why a lot of Americans have a bias against Islam. They are repelled from a religion that led to horrors like the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the same way, a huge chunk of the world is decidedly anti-American or anti-white, based on some of the evils perpetrated in the past, such as the atomic bomb. Islam is the much-welcomed alternative among the available flavors of religion.
What about something like Mormonism? Well, again, the piggy-back charge comes into play. The smart thing is, Joseph Smith knew that there were real flaws in the Christian church and perceived weaknesses in the Bible. So he used those chinks in the armor to convince people that there had to be a better truth out there, which incidentally, was revealed to him alone through golden plates. Simple people who were dissatisfied with what Christianity had to offer them assumed that this new guy knew what he was talking about since he shared some of their same complaints. The inerrancy of the Bible is still a hotly debated topic today, and it’s easy to see why doubt in its inerrancy would make some people gravitate toward new ideas or cults.
Christianity, however, sticks out like a sore thumb compared to these other religions. Here, you have a founder who appeared to be a mere carpenter—and not an especially attractive one at that. He didn’t win any military battles, and he was even mocked, beaten, and crucified. Jesus had nothing to gain if he was lying and even knew he was expediting his own death. His ministry only lasted three years. Most of the early proponents of the church were commoners without any position of authority from which to coerce. Paul—perhaps the greatest evangelist/missionary ever and the original apologist—spread the Word by logic, reason, and argumentation.
Early Christianity flourished in spite of severe persecution, martyrdom, and heavy Jewish bias against Christian teachings. In fact, Christianity flew in the face of many established norms of the time. Its teachings were not the kind that would easily resonate with people hearing them. I’d imagine it’s much harder to convince a wide group of people that you ARE God, rather than just hearing from Him!
There must have been a compelling reason to believe and to force change upon centuries of ingrained customs and ideas. Jews were expecting a conquering king, not a crucified savior. Teachings like “turn the other cheek” instead of exacting revenge were considered offensive or cowardly. Yet Christianity somehow spread at an unprecedented rate with this most unlikely of styles. Something about Jesus was undeniable…
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
There is almost a universal pattern for creating and spreading world religions. Someone claims to have a vision, shares it with others in a convincing fashion, it sounds good enough to believe, then others follow suit. Even Hinduism, which doesn’t have an identified founder, probably came up with stories about their 300,000 gods from various people’s dreams, which have been passed down. Especially in ancient times, there was a tendency by people to misinterpret dreams as divine revelation. (I’m not ruling out supernatural dreams completely, but in the vast majority of cases, they are probably just our uninhibited imaginations running wild. I admit I am highly skeptical of dreams as visions, even when they come from Christians.)
Think about this for a moment. How can you disprove a person’s exclusive vision or dream? If I put my head under a bucket, shook around a little bit, then came out wide-eyed claiming to have seen the “truth,” how could you really prove me wrong?
Atheists always like to say, “The mark of a good argument is that it is falsifiable.” What we have in most religions are unfalsifiable stories and claimed truths. The main proof people are going to have for their faith, then, is that it feels right and makes sense to them. This is almost entirely subjective.
But what about Christianity? Well, our holy book happens to come with writings of real historical events that were being circulated within the lifetimes of the actual people involved. And these historical events are not merely peripheral issues that place things within some known context to give it the air of veracity…the MAIN EVENT is told as a historical event. Namely, a man named Jesus Christ walked upon this earth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at specific times and places and died under Roman law, leaving behind an empty tomb.
I think people who look into the issue themselves will agree with John Dickson when he says, “the beliefs and texts of Christianity become uniquely open to public scrutiny. It is as if Christianity places its neck on the chopping block of academic scrutiny and invites anyone who wishes to come and take a swing.” (Please see this excellent excerpt: http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10746/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx.)
In 2,000 years, NO ONE has been able to disprove the empty tomb, and only recently is there some effort by Christ-mythers to claim that Jesus never existed at all. (I’ve looked into these…move along people, there really is nothing of worth there.) There are a number of alternative theories bandied about, like the disciples stole the body, but they are woefully full of holes. Maybe I’ll address them in a later post.
Think about this: what could be the ultimate sign that Jesus was God in the flesh? Miracles? Sure, he did some of those. But then again, miracles have been recorded in other instances as well. Rising from the dead is the ultimate sign, and it just happens to be one the Roman government could not deny. They had every reason to parade Jesus’ body around town and squash Christianity immediately…but they couldn’t do it. Jesus really was gone and ascended.
By contrast, Muhammad won military battles, but so have countless other men who did not claim to have divine revelation from God. Muslims actually need to believe that Jesus was never crucified at all, but ascended beforehand (even they cannot deny that Jesus is not dead or buried). In other words, they need to deny one of the most obvious facts of ancient history, the crucifixion, to maintain their beliefs. Christianity, on the other hand, is completely in line with recorded history.
Buddha and Confucius may have been wise and thoughtful, but really, they’re just limited men trying to do their best. Joseph Smith? Even if he really did believe what he was preaching, there is no way to verify the truth of anything he said. In fact, there is ample reason not to trust him, considering his hypocrisy (he would fight, smoke, and drink, despite telling others not to do so).
Jesus can be trusted because of what he showed us: a perfect life without sin, power over the natural world, and even power over death. This person could not have been a mere wise teacher. It’s like C.S. Lewis famously said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
So historically, Christianity stands up to the test better than any other religion. What about science?
Well, again, I may need to address this further in a separate post. But very briefly, I’d say that for an ancient book (that was never intended to be about science), it shows itself to be surprisingly accurate. Don’t believe the hype about Genesis 1 contradicting modern science.
There are numerous prominent scientists who are Bible-believing Christians today. Some figures suggest the number is growing, as our knowledge expands. Consider this account of Dr. Hugh Ross, a man who started with no religious leanings whatsoever and actually came to be a Christian based on science:
Not all of Hugh’s discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and “holy books” and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious “ground zero” and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking evidence.
Now, this isn’t to say that visions or spiritual experiences are all invalid. In fact, the most important factor that leads most people to faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit, not proof or logic. But during the dry times and when our sin muffles the voice of the Holy Spirit, I’m thankful that we have history, science, and reasoning to back up our faith.