How Atheism Points to Jesus

The world’s favourite atheist Richard Dawkins has said that faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse not to think or evaluate evidence. He has also likened religion to a mental illness.

Atheism likes the spotlight. It’s had a pop-culture resurgence in the last decade, driven by bombastic books like The God Delusion and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. And today, an atheistic worldview rules the media and western universities.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our fear of other ideas. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from atheism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origin and Influence

There were scattered pockets of atheism long before the time of Jesus, but it began as a serious movement in 1700s Europe. Two intellectuals called Voltaire and Hume bravely criticised the institutional church. They questioned miracles, faith and God—shaking Europe to its foundations.

Their ideas spread from the cafes of Paris to the halls of power, and soon atheism had replaced Christianity in government, launching the French Revolution.

“They questioned miracles, faith and God—shaking Europe to its foundations.”

Later, two Germans took up the mantle and wrote many important books. Karl Marx, the founder of communism, famously called religion the opiate of the masses—and Friedrich Nietzsche declared the death of God.

In the 20th century, atheism peaked when dictators like Lenin and Stalin of Russia, Chairman Mao in China, and Cambodia’s Pol Pot applied it to modern politics, leading to the loss of 100 million lives. (There were other causes for these genocides too, but it would be dishonest to deny atheism’s influence on them).

It’s no surprise then that atheism has declined in popularity since last century. It now accounts for about 3% of the world’s population, mostly in Europe, Scandinavia, China, and North America. Including agnostics—those who are unsure if God exists—that number is about 7%.

The Case For God’s Existence

Simply, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of God. There are good arguments both for and against this position. Let’s look at three of each, beginning with the case for God’s existence.

1. The Cause Argument / The universe had a cause, therefore God must exist.

Things don’t just happen. Everything has a cause, from the weather, to buildings, to your choice of outfit today. If it’s true of small things, it must be true for something vast and complex like our universe. God is a good explanation for how it all began.

But then who created God? The God of the Bible calls himself I AM—he’s the great uncaused cause. He’s always existed, and he sits outside of time.

“God is a good explanation for how it all began.”

So why don’t we just say that the universe is the great uncaused cause, that it has always existed? Actually, science says this is impossible.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, we’re running out of heat energy. Soon every corner of the cosmos will be the same temperature, and no more energy will be exchanged. If you’re still breathing, that hasn’t happened yet—which means the universe had a beginning.

2. The Design Argument / Evidence of design is everywhere, therefore God must exist.

If you found a watch in the forest, you wouldn’t assume it came together by accident. The design of a watch makes it obvious that there was a watchmaker. In the same way, whether we look through microscopes or telescopes, the creation around us shouts that there is a Creator.

“Evidence of design is everywhere.”

Think about DNA. One pinhead of it has enough information to fill 500 stacks of books that reach the moon. DNA proteins even slightly out of order cause serious deformity or death. So in the past, could the right proteins have arranged themselves to form the first simple life? Honestly, it would be more likely for a tornado to assemble a functioning aircraft.

3. The Morality Argument / Objective morals exist, therefore God must exist.

We’d all agree that things like racism, child abuse and terrorism are evil. But to say this, we need something outside of ourselves to measure them against. According to the Bible, God is love—which makes him the transcendent measure of right and wrong.

“You know deep inside when something is evil or immoral.”

Without God, the worst we could say about injustice in the world is I don’t like it or it’s bad for society. But when you’ve been wronged, is that what you shout? You know deep inside when something is evil or immoral. In order for you to call it that, God must exist.

The Case Against God’s Existence

So a good case can be made for God’s existence. But how would atheists respond? What are the best arguments against the existence of God?

1. The Evolution Argument / Design in the universe is due to natural processes.

Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of the Species was a game-changer for atheism. Darwin had returned from Galapagos where he’d seen unfit species die, but the fit survive to pass on their genes and create new species. If this had been happening from the start, he realised it might explain the origin of all life without a Creator.

“A creative force is needed.”

Darwin called this process natural selection, and he was right about its mechanics. But what evolutionists have missed is that natural selection is a destructive force: it removes bad genes from the gene pool, but it doesn’t create new ones. In other words, it can explain the survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest.

A creative force is needed. Evolutionists point to mutations, which rearrange existing DNA information. But it’s still a great mystery where all the information came from to turn fish into philosophers. The origin of reproduction, language and eyesight still seems very miraculous, even in an evolutionary worldview.

But miracles are exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

2. The Multiverse Argument / Our universe is one of many that just happens to be designed for life.

If you roll a dice enough times, you’ll eventually get the number you want. The same logic is behind the multiverse argument: if an infinite number of universes exist, then it was inevitable that a beautifully intricate one like this would exist. And so here we are.

This is an excellent argument—it solves every scientific problem imaginable. But there’s one small problem with the multiverse theory: there’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

“If an infinite number of universes exist, then it was inevitable that one like this would exist.”

Australian scientist Paul Davies wrote, “Invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.”

But faith is exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

3. The Evil Argument / God can’t exist because evil does.

How can a good God exist when there’s so much evil and suffering? This is without doubt the biggest challenge for Christianity. Disease and natural disasters are unspeakably horrible, and they give clear evidence that something is broken in the world.

“This is the biggest challenge for Christianity.”

But are they evidence that God doesn’t exist? If you stumbled upon a broken watch in the forest, would you assume there was no watchmaker? Of course not—you’d just know that something had gone wrong since he made it. That’s what Scripture says: all creation was subjected to God’s curse and has been groaning right up to the present time.

What about evil—the actions of terrorists and child abusers? This takes us back to the morality argument: if these things aren’t just preference—if evil really does exist—there has to be a God.

But God is exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

Atheism Points to Jesus

So not only do some of the best arguments for God’s existence point to God. Some of the best arguments for atheism do too. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

Scripture says that “People know the truth about God because he’s made it obvious to them. Through everything God has made, people can clearly see his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

“Some of the best arguments for atheism actually point to God.”

In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists. But he does love them incredibly. And through our conscience and his creation, he is continually calling every person back to himself.

This is good news. It means there’s more to life than shopping at Ikea, being tolerant, having a few lattes and then dying somewhere quietly. There’s more than just static and darkness to follow.

“God is with us even in our darkest times.”

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of this world’s mess, and it’s easier to give up on God. But at the very centre of history there is God, hanging on a cross, carrying the world’s evil and suffering.

Jesus’ death makes sense of our own pain and cynicism. It reminds us that God is with us even in our darkest times, and that he has defeated evil forever.

And that there is true and ultimate hope for us in this life—and in the next.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Geisler, Norman, and Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

It’s Time for Revolution

500th anniversaries don’t come around too often. This week, though, is a big deal for western civilisation—or at least it should be. Today marks the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation.

October 31st, 1517 was the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, unleashing a revolution that transformed Europe and helped usher in the modern world.

“This week is a big deal for western civilisation.”

So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of this event. Personal freedoms, universal education, modern scienceglobal languages, the nation state, and even democracy itself owe a massive debt to the reformers—radical followers of Jesus.

To us this sounds odd because we’ve been told that religion and reason are in conflict; that the world can only progress as faith retreats. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Today’s world is dizzyingly advanced. But as I’ve recently written, our Judeo-Christian heritage is being quickly abandoned, and rushing into the vacuum are anxieties, terrorism, widening inequality, slavery on a scale never seen in history, and alarming social polarisation.

“So much that we love and take for granted in the West is a legacy of the Reformation.”

It was also into a bleak situation (the Dark Ages no less) that the reformers spoke. Post tenebras lux—“After darkness, light”—was their rallying cry.

Three convictions drove them. These convictions turned their world upside down. I’m convinced they could do the same for ours. So what were they?

1. Sola Scriptura

In Luther’s day, a corrupt church was selling heaven’s forgiveness for cash. The construction of St. Peter’s Basilica was being bankrolled by gullible peasants.

Medieval superstition had devoured truth. God’s Word was hidden in monasteries, shrouded in tradition, and uttered only in Latin. The answer of the reformers was Sola Scriptura—back to the Word of God.

“It was into a bleak situation that the reformers spoke.”

“I will cause a boy who drives a plow to know more of the Scriptures than the pope,” said men like Tyndale. And true to their word, they translated the Bible into the languages of the people, reawakening the hearts and minds of a continent.

Today truth has been swallowed by relativism. Now, for example, we’re told that something can be true for you but not for me; that absolute truth doesn’t exist; and that we should question everything.

But why do so few stop to question this? Or to ask if such nonsense is absolutely true? It’s time we stood up and said relativism isn’t true for me even if the befuddled intelligentsia believe it.

“Today truth has been swallowed by relativism.”

Little wonder superstition has returned. Mysticism is in full flower once more in western nations. People are desperate for something real to anchor their lives to. And in this truth vacuum, too many are satisfied with the horoscopes of human speculation, and gimmick-spirituality imported for mass markets.

Today the Bible is more available than ever, but it’s out of fashion and soiled by centuries of slung mud. Still it speaks. God is there, and he is not silent. He has spoken, and his Word remains a sure foundation we can build our lives on.

2. The Priesthood of All Believers

The reformers also rediscovered the priesthood of all believers: we no longer need priests to stand between us and God, mediating forgiveness and blessing. Jesus has opened the way for each of us to be priests, to know God for ourselves and relate to him personally. And that is possible because every person is made in his image.

Today we enjoy individual liberty and human rights, and they arose from these distinctly Christian beliefs. Now everyone cries “equality!” But do they know where this idea came from? More to the point, do they actually mean it?

Many preach tolerance, but only tolerate views they agree with. They tell us don’t judge the morality of others, but condemn anyone too puritanical for their liking. They say that all ethnicities, genders and orientations are equal, but then divide and rank us by who feels the most offended and deserves the biggest megaphone. That’s not equality—and it’s sowing division, not unity.

“Individual liberty and human rights arose from distinctly Christian beliefs.”

Here’s the awkward truth: in our heads, we think of evolution as true and Genesis as a myth. So survival of the fittest must be largely to blame for the racial and gender inequality we have today.

But in our hearts we can’t accept that. No one admits it in polite company, but deep down we still want to believe Genesis and the reformers: that male and female were made equally in God’s image; that no tribe or nation is any less qualified as priests unto God.

If our hearts and heads remain divided as they are, the door stays open to manipulation. When it’s convenient, the culture-makers will preach equality. But when they don’t get their way, they’ll act like some people are more equal than others, and oppress anyone who dares dissent.

It’s time to clear away the dust. The dignity and equality of every person is truly true—but only if the reformers were right. Can we, unashamed, share their convictions once more? Or are we on our way back to tyranny?

3. Sola Fide

Luther’s greatest discovery, the core idea that drove his revolution, was Sola Fide—by faith alone. God’s approval doesn’t come to us through good deeds or religious observance. Jesus won our forgiveness and freedom at the cross. Now it’s a free gift for everyone who believes.

This is dangerous. Fear and control, which religious leaders relied on for millennia to coerce good behaviour, are now powerless. The individual conscience is subject to God alone, and now we must trust that good deeds flow from hearts of gratitude to him, not external threats of judgment.

“God’s approval doesn’t come through good deeds or religious observance.”

It’s also offensive. In every religious system, humans ascend to God through strict obedience, sage insights, or single-minded devotion, and so we get the glory. In the gospel, people contribute nothing. God descends to us, clothes himself in flesh, and achieves salvation on our behalf. We get the gift, but God alone gets the glory.

Finally, it’s liberating—the most liberating news in the world. No longer are we haunted by guilt, bound by addiction, or straining for perfection. God meets us in our weakness, and covers every failure with his grace and everlasting love.

Sola Scriptura, The Priesthood of All Believers, and Sola Fide could change the world once more.

The time has come for another revolution.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Equality

equality

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Equality.

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Last year, two young women aged 15 and 23 were gang raped in a rural town and paraded naked through the main street. This was the “punishment” handed to them by an all-male, unelected village council. Their crime? Their brother eloped with a neighbouring girl who came from a higher caste than theirs.

Violence against women is a global epidemic, not just limited to India’s untouchables. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. 98% of those trafficked for sex are female. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls are demographically “missing”—they’ve been murdered or have died through mistreatment, and their story has been lost.

“In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe.”

This is all part of a bigger picture of inequality. Across the globe, people are being abused and marginalised based purely on their culture, ethnicity, beliefs, political allegiance, gender or sexual expression. It’s enough to overwhelm us.

Aren’t we all for equality? Don’t we all stand for universal human rights?

The sobering, even shocking, answer to these questions is actually no.

In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe. We yearn for it, our civilisation sets the pace for it, and when we as westerners are treated unfairly, we appeal to equality as a fixed, universal axiom. But strange as this may sound, the idea that every human being has equal and inherent value is entirely foreign to many we share the planet with.

“If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering.”

The village justice described above is a case in point. While Ghandi fought for reform of the caste system, ancient Hindu beliefs don’t disappear overnight.

Much of Indian society is still built on the conviction that people have been created precisely unequal, and that your caste was determined by your actions in a previous life. Untouchables are so inferior to the other five castes, says Hindu tradition, that cows, monkeys and rats have greater dignity.

To us this is unthinkable, and must be challenged. But for many in Indian society, to challenge this or to dream otherwise is to rebel against karma. In fact, even to help the poor is to curse them further by preventing them from paying off their karmic debt.

“Inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history.”

Such inequality isn’t unique to India. The epicentre of child marriage, death penalties for homosexuals, and forced female genital mutilation is the Middle-East and North Africa—the heartland of Islam.

If your blood has started to boil, I trust that it’s because of the injustices I’ve described, not my geographical honesty. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Am I promoting inequality by making these observations? In fact I am—if we’re discussing the equality of worldviews. Let me be clear: not all beliefs are created equal.

But all people are created equal. And it is exactly this conviction that compels me. I must blow the whistle on any worldview that denies basic human equality and thereby fosters oppression.

The simple reality is that inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history. Mesopotamian creation myths held that the king was created in the image of the primary god, while the poor and the slaves were created in the image of an inferior god.

The ancient Greco-Roman world knew nothing of equality. Infanticide was commonplace. Plato had extremely elitist—even fascist—political views. Aristotle believed in natural slaves. In fact in the ancient world it was slaves that enabled the elite to pursue philosophy at all.

“If the world’s ‘races’ are descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal.”

Equality is a modern idea that came to us through the Renaissance. And while Renaissance writers are famous for quoting ancient Greeks and Romans, there was only one place they could go to establish a high view of humanity. And that place was Jesus.

From his parable of the ninety-nine sheep abandoned while one was searched for, to his teachings about the Creator knowing the number of hairs on our heads, to his charge for costly, practical love to “the least of these,” this peasant carpenter from Galilee stubbornly insisted that every life matters.

Jesus inspired his fanatic disciple Paul to write that “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male now female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, even a priest-class that’s closer to God must be a defunct concept if “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.”

“Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.”

If the world’s “races” are variously descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal. If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering. If truth is relative, then tomorrow some of us might wake up more equal than others.

But if God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe. In fact if God became one of us, far from violating his majesty (as Islam teaches) the incarnation would be the ultimate affirmation of our value and worth as humans.

The second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this is not true. All people are created equal—yes! But this is not a self-evident truth, if we take historical and contemporary facts seriously. Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.

“If God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe.”

It came from Jesus. This conviction that each of us possess inherent worth, share equal value, and deserve unprejudiced treatment has birthed the human rights movement, shaped national constitutions, and utterly transformed Western ethics.

Long may it drive us to keep fighting for equality where it does not yet exist. God knows, around the world there is much still to be done. But may we never forget or disdain its origin. After all, there is no ground more level than at the foot of the cross.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Morality.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Education

education

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Education.

* * *

Peeling glad wrap from Anzac biscuits, ruling a thousand margins, tying soggy shoelaces with frozen fingers, counting down the seconds to the final bell. Like many kids, I often wondered when school would ever end and life would begin.

I now have another perspective. (I must have if I’ve since become a teacher myself). My life has been transformed because I have an education.

“Turn the clock back only 150 years and 80% of the earth’s inhabitants were unable to read or write.”

Somehow, school seems to just happen in Australia. I’ve been privileged to teach in other settings, where I’m reminded that for many communities, education is won by blood, sweat and tears. In such places, frequent failures in electricity and transport, bone-dry funding, civil unrest and isolation from the rest of the world make schooling feel like a pioneering project every day of the week.

But remarkably through such efforts, today over 4/5 of the world’s adult population is literate. Turn the clock back only 150 years and that statistic was reversed, with 80% of the earth’s inhabitants unable to read or write.

What caused this revolution?

The answer begins in the Middle Ages. Thanks to monks who preserved Greek and Roman classics, learning survived in Europe.

“Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education.”

Augustine had taught that every science was helpful in studying Scripture, so monks learned every subject they could, sharpening their minds as they discussed the Bible’s grammar, language, theology and history. And being written in three languages by dozens of authors over thousands of years, the Bible was itself a library, whose hopeful storyline captured their imagination for centuries.

Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education. It would be Christians in Europe, keen to study the Bible, who would transform monasteries and cathedral schools into the university.

It is without coincidence (but generally forgotten) that Oxford, Paris, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard—and almost all of the world’s leading universities that helped build Western civilisation—were established to teach the Bible.

Even as universities blossomed in Europe, literacy still wasn’t mainstream. The Reformation would provide the impetus for this. Infuriated by a corrupt church hierarchy, Luther and other reformers knew that spiritual revival was possible if the Bible was available in the heart languages of Europe’s people.

“Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education.”

But mass literacy was too monumental a project for cathedral schools and even universities. So the reformers turned to the state, convincing governments that education was their responsibility. An unshakeable desire to read the Bible kept fuelling the fire for a more literate society in Europe.

As education spread in the modern era, three people deserve special mention. John Comenius (1592—1670), a Czech bishop, wrote nearly ninety books on education and founded the world’s first modern university, earning him the title the father of modern education.

A priest in Paris, Charles-Michel de l’Épée (1712—1789) founded the world’s first public deaf school, having developed a sign language for the hearing impaired that has since given rise to sign languages around the world.

“Christians point to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image.”

Louis Braille (1809—1852), a blind church organist, developed a dotted lettering system from the early Christian tradition of using raised wooden letter to teach reading to the sight impaired. Braille is now used worldwide.

Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education. This shouldn’t be surprising. While in the ancient world, blind children were often used as slaves or prostitutes, and while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” hasn’t and couldn’t inspire us to bring dignity to the disabled, Christians have pointed to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image. For them, education was simply another means to this end.

So much for Europe. What made education a global phenomenon?

Well-known for his lifelong campaign to abolish slavery, William Wilberforce also spent decades convincing the British parliament that it was immoral for India to be left in the hands of traders and soldiers, and that Britain had a role to play in dismantling the superstitions that lead to widow burning, untouchability, temple prostitution, and other evils.

“Western missionaries upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma.”

So in 1813, after a twenty-year fight, Britain allowed missionaries in India. Like many of his Christian contemporaries, Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.

For the next two hundred years, with Jesus as their motivation, Western missionaries would upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma. They put their neck on the line so that education could be multiplied throughout the non-Western world. Today we look back, and in their wake see universities by the hundreds, colleges by the thousands, and schools beyond number established, financed and nurtured by Christians.

“Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.”

In time, governments have played their part too, but mass education was both birthed and globalised by the church, leading to the education of millions and the transforming of nations. In the words of Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi,

“Neither colonialism nor commerce spread modern education around the world. Soldiers and merchants do not educate. Education was a Christian missionary enterprise. The Reformation, born in European universities, took education out of the cloister and spread it around the globe.”

Did Europe export education because westerners are smarter? Not in the slightest. The holy men of the east were at least as brilliant as their counterparts in Christendom. It’s beliefs that shape culture.

“By his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.”

If the West believed that enlightenment comes by lying on beds of nails or taking drugs, history would tell a different story. But Christians were committed to the idea of university: unity in diversity. They held that by his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.

Postmodernism has all but dismantled this. For many, drug-taking and nail beds are back in vogue. I’m deeply thankful for my tertiary education. But it’s clear from my time at university that while we still have diversity, unity is lost and now searched for in vain.

Jesus shaped education. Could it be that when he is forgotten, we lose the one who makes this project called university a meaningful, integrated whole?

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Science.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

Evolution is Science. Creation is Religion.

DSCN9990

Creation and evolution—that hot potato. Congratulations for following the link here: you’re braver than most.

As Christians, which side do we take? If we’ve lingered in the majesty of Genesis 1, our instinct of course says creation. If we’ve conversed with the science-minded, it seems unthinkable to deny evolution.

In the characteristically blunt, but helpfully clear words of well-known evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

evolution n. the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.


So science has settled it: God must have created using evolution. Phew, that was an easy dodge. Science, theology and reputation intact. Right? Not so fast.

Remember the naturalists from my previous post—the ones who, before conducting their science, made the philosophical leap of faith that everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded? The ones who said, “even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic”?

They are evolution’s loudest proponents. And Christian, they find the phrase “God created using evolution” just as absurd, laughable and offensive with or without those two magical words on the end. If you’re hoping to impress them, it’s not working.* It can’t—they’re naturalists, remember?

Naturalism n. the philosophical belief that everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded.


That being the case, why not give yourself permission to consider “the impossible”: that they might be wrong not only about the universe’s first cause, but also about the course of its development.

Could it be that their prior commitment to a Godless universe—before a lab coat was even donned—left them with no choice but slow changes and vast eons to explain life’s origin and diversity? That these ideas don’t represent the findings of science, but rather the findings of naturalism? That in the words of geologist and close friend of Darwin, Charles Lyell, scientists advocating evolution in those heady days (and God forbid, in our day too) were in fact looking to “free science from Moses”?

No coincidence that it’s naturalists also leading the charge that “evolution is science while creation is religion”. I’m convinced this dichotomy is as cooked-up as the one that insists God retreats as science advances. For two reasons:

FIRST, “evolution is science while creation is religion” rests on a false division of science. That division looks like this:

Science.001

In this reckoning, science is logical, dealing with reality—while anti-science is illogical and deals with superstitious nonsense. Science is interested in things such as the study of gravity and the biochemistry of cells, whereas anti-science is interested in the Easter bunny and the fairies at the bottom of the garden. Science delivers smartphones and the space shuttle: anti-science gives us belief in a flat-earth and a return to the dark ages. The intent of this false division is of course to paint creation as a farce and its proponents as buffoons. Little wonder you ducked for cover.

A more honest division of science, as it pertains to evolution and creation, looks like this:

Science.002

Operational science deals with observed, repeatable experiments in the present, while historical science is dealing with unique, unobserved, unrepeatable events from the past—think CSI. It is in fact observational science that is interested in things such as the study of gravity and the biochemistry of cells, while historical science is interested in things like the relatedness of organic life and the formation of stars and planets. Observational science alone delivers smartphones and the space shuttle: historical science delivers hypotheses about the origins of the universe, earth, life and humans.

When a childish and manipulative division is replaced with a practical and realistic alternative, what we in fact see is that both creation and evolution are as scientific as one another. But they are a special breed of science, one bound to speculation (or revelation, in the case of Genesis) about singular, unrepeatable events of the distant past. If creation is dismissed as unscientific, by definition, evolution must be also. If evolution is scientific, so too creation. They stand or fall together. Let that sink in.

SECOND, “evolution is science while creation is religion” conceals the enormous scientific impossibilities of evolutionary theory. While theories of creation have their obstacles to overcome—such as how light can be seen from stars that are millions of lightyears away, and why radiometric dating gives vast ages for rocks and fossils—it is also time for evolutionary theory to have a long, hard look at itself.

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology.”—Stephen Jay Gould


The chance origin of the DNA code, novel biochemical pathways, sex, and even life itself are a complete mystery. Not in the sense that science is yet to discover them, but in the sense that the scientific data already available makes such ideas jaw-droppingly untenable. I know you mean well, but “God did it” can’t rescue the theory. Consider the following:

// The evolutionary family trees that adorn textbooks are based on imagination, not fossil evidence. The expected countless millions of transitional fossils, acknowledged by Charles Darwin as a significant weakness of his theory, still remain “missing” today. All we have, even after a century and a half of fossil digs, is an embarrassingly small handful of highly disputed candidates. Famous evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of palaeontology”.

// “Living fossils” are a major evolutionary problem. Fossil ostracodes (“seed shrimp”) that have been dated at 425 million years old look identical to ostracodes alive today. In the same period of time, all land plants are supposed to have evolved, and some form of worm is said to have developed into all the species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (including us) alive today. Examples of such “living fossils” abound and have evolutionists scratching their heads.

// Dinosaurs are said to have lived and died out tens of millions of years before humans existed; yet ancient cave paintings and carvings of them have been discovered in diverse parts of the world. Dozens of cultures give independent accounts of uncannily dinosaur-like “dragons”—the book of Job being such an example. And more recently, blood vessels, blood cells and soft tissue have been found in Tyrannosaurus Rex bones that “should” have turned to stone long, long ago.

// Diamonds are found so deep in earth’s rock layers that they’re said to have taken billions of years to form. Yet radiocarbon, an isotope able to survive 50,000 years at most, has been found in many diamond samples. Not to mention the fact that diamonds, identical to these, can now be made in the lab in as little as twelve hours.

The scientific data already available makes the chance origin of the DNA code, novel biochemical pathways, sex, and even life itself jaw-droppingly untenable.


The claim that “evolution is science while creation is religion” might be effective in silencing dissent, but like the “Science vs Religion” concoction, it simply doesn’t align with reality. Not only is creation just as scientific as evolution; evolution is just as religious as creation. In the minds of the committed, it’s an unquestionable dogma that no evidence can overturn. Science philosopher Karl Popper acknowledged that “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme.” Michael Ruse, evolutionist and science philosopher conceded that “Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”

With good intent, Christians who want to honour the broad brush strokes of Scripture and the claims of the scientific consensus affirm evolution and acknowledge God as its cause. But not only does this position fail to make us any more sophisticated in the eyes of evolution’s most zealous defenders, the naturalists: it unquestioningly adopts a theory, 150 years young, that has become riddled with insurmountable problems.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We all agree. But maybe, just maybe, the rest of the chapter and its six “evening and morning” days is worth another look.

*Consider Richard Dawkins: “I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians who are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded.”

As Science Advances, God Retreats

eagle nebula

I was eight. I’d been reading picture books about my favourite childhood topic: Dinosaurs. Fearsome creatures that, so said these books, died out eons before humans existed. Now I was sitting in a cold, 150 year old red brick chapel for school assembly, listening to a minister read the creation week account from Genesis. Something wasn’t adding up.

Eight year old me had stumbled upon the infamous “Science vs Religion” debate. In the media and our public institutions, the loudest voices are telling this story: the more humans have discovered about the world, the less need there has been to believe in God. As science advances, God retreats.

Science n. the systematic knowledge of the physical world gained through observation and experimentation.


The mild version says that you’re still free to believe in a god or religion of your choice, but thanks to science it’s now an optional extra. The more aggressive version insists that religion is an outdated superstition. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” Is he right?

My voice may not be as loud, but can I have a turn to speak? My conviction is that Christianity and science are perfectly compatible. For two reasons:

FIRST, science is a product of the Christian worldview and can’t work without it. Science has a long history and many influences—Greece, Islam and the Enlightenment being significant players. While there were brilliant minds in China, India, Arabia, and countless other places, science arose once and only once: in Christian Europe. Why? A growing number of academics are suggesting that the Christian worldview is a major factor. For science to work at all, a number of things have to be true:

a/ The universe has to actually exist. Many eastern philosophies hold that everything is an illusion. Why study an illusion? The first declaration of Scripture however is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). It actually exists, so it can actually be studied.

b/ The universe has to be orderly. If a pantheon of gods were in charge, like those of the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, and they were competing with one another to run the universe, we could never have discovered natural laws that predict future outcomes. The same would be true if the universe were one great “thought” as some eastern religions conceive: it might change its mind at any moment. But as 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, God is a God of order, not chaos—and by inference, so is the world he created.

c/ Humans need to have confidence that investigating the world is a worthy pursuit. Many cultures believe that there are spirits in the trees and animals and landforms—that creation itself is divine. Studying them could anger the spirits—and this is one of the reasons many cultures never tried. However in Genesis 1:28, God said to the first couple, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Because of this, Christians have had confidence that studying the natural world is safe and worth our effort.

d/ Humans have to have free will and not just be slaves to their brain chemistry. C.S. Lewis puts this better than I can: “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts… are mere accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true?” From Scripture we know that God has given humans free will, so we can think and reason freely and arrive at trustworthy conclusions.

e/ Objective truth has to actually exist. Many belief systems insist that what’s true for you isn’t true for me. Why bother experiment if the findings are true for some people and not others? Christianity however says that truth does exist and is knowable.

You don’t need to be a Christian to be a scientist. But to be a scientist—even a scientist who is an atheist, you have to borrow the Christian worldview.


Christianity wasn’t the only factor that lead to modern science—but it was an absolutely indispensable one. And let me be clear: you don’t need to be a Christian to be a scientist. But to be a scientist—even a scientist who is an atheist, you have to borrow the Christian worldview. One of atheism’s conundrums is that, from the Christian worldview, it borrows the idea that objective truth and the universe actually exist, that the universe is orderly and worth studying, and that the human brain has freedom to think and reason—and then uses these to try to disprove Christianity—the very thing it’s had to assume is true in the first place!

SECOND, and you may need to sit down for this one—the loud voices have silenced it for so long that it may come as a shock: almost every field of modern science was founded by a Bible-believing Christian. How about this impressive list?

Antiseptic Surgery | JOSEPH LISTER (1827-1912)
Bacteriology | LOUIS PASTEUR (1822-1895)
Calculus | ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)
Celestial Mechanics | JOHANN KEPLER (1571-1630)
Chemistry | ROBERT BOYLE (1627-1691)
Comparative Anatomy | GEORGES CUVIER (1769-1832)
Computer Science | CHARLES BABBAGE (1792-1871)
Dimensional Analysis | LORD RAYLEIGH (1842-1919)
Dynamics | ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)
Electrodynamics | JAMES MAXWELL (1831-1879)
Electro-Magnetics | MICHAEL FARADAY (1791-1867)
Energetics | LORD KELVIN (1824-1907)
Entomology of Living Insects | HENRI FABRE (1823-1915)
Field Theory | MICHAEL FARADAY (1791-1867)
Fluid Mechanics | GEORGE STOKES (1819-1903)
Galactic Astronomy | WILLIAM HERSCHEL (1738-1822)
Gas Dynamics | ROBERT BOYLE (1627-1691)
Genetics | GREGOR MENDEL (1822-1884)
Glacial Geology | LOUIS AGASSIZ (1807-1873)
Gynaecology | JAMES SIMPSON (1811-1870)
Hydraulics | LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519)
Hydrography | MATTHEW MAURY (1806-1873)
Hydrostatics | BLAISE PASCAL (1623-1662)
Ichthyology | LOUIS AGASSIZ (1807-1873)
Isotopic Chemistry | WILLIAM RAMSAY (1852-1916)
Model Analysis | LORD RAYLEIGH (1842-1919)
Natural History | JOHN RAY (1627-1705)
Non-Euclidean Geometry | BERNHARD RIEMANN (1826-1866)
Oceanography | MATTHEW MAURY (1806-1873)
Optical Mineralogy | DAVID BREWSTER (1781-1868)
Palaeontology | JOHN WOODWARD (1665-1728)
Pathology | RUDOLPH VIRCHOW (1821-1902)
Physical Astronomy | JOHANN KEPLER (1571-1630)
Reversible Thermodynamics | JAMES JOULE (1818-1889)
Statistical Thermodynamics | JAMES MAXWELL (1831-1879)
Stratigraphy | NICHOLAS STENO (1631-1686)
Systematic Biology | CAROLUS LINNAEUS (1707-1778)
Thermodynamics | LORD KELVIN (1824-1907)
Thermokinetics | HUMPHREY DAVY (1778-1829)
Vertebrate Palaeontology | GEORGES CUVIER (1769-1832)

Every scientist today, regardless of what they believe, is indebted to these men—men committed to a personal relationship with Jesus.


Matthew Maury’s is a story worth retelling. He served in the US Navy and then for the US Naval Observatory. For decades he studied the winds, clouds, weather and ocean features, as well as the Bible. One day, reading Psalm 8:8, which speaks of fish passing through “the paths of the seas”, he reasoned that if the Bible says there’s paths in the seas, there must be. He studied old ships’ logs and compiled charts only to discover the ocean’s major currents, founding the field of Oceanography.

Sir Francis Bacon’s contributions can’t be overlooked. He is considered “the Father of Modern Science”. He developed the Scientific Method that, 400 years on, is still used in science classrooms and research laboratories all over the world: observation → induction → hypothesis → experiment → proof/disproof → knowledge.

Every scientist today, regardless of what they believe, is indebted to these men—founders of almost every field of modern science—and men committed to a personal relationship with Jesus.

If Christianity and Christians were so important in the founding of science, why is the view so widespread today that as science advances, God retreats. What changed?

Put simply, over the last 150 years, a small, vocal and growing number of scientists have decided to redefine science. They’ve smuggled an extra phrase into its definition. To them, everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded.

Naturalism n. the philosophical belief that everything in the world arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural explanations are excluded.


This is a philosophy, and it’s called naturalism. The naturalists haven’t deduced this from their research. They’ve assumed it from the outset—they’ve simply decided it’s true. It’s philosophy masquerading as science. Dr. Scott Todd wrote in the science journal Nature: “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”

The proponents of this philosophy are relentless evangelists and even though they’re in the minority (a 2009 poll found that 51% of scientists still believe in God or a higher power—not to mention agnostics) they have a lot of air time in the media and public institutions. If they can’t beat you with better science, they’ll ridicule you until it’s just unfashionable to be on your team.

From that little red brick chapel I set out on a relentless search for answers. I have learnt at least two lessons from that journey so far. One is that we live in a world where the loudest voices are saying that as science advances, God retreats. The other is that if you listen more carefully past all the noise, history speaks for itself: Christianity and science are perfectly compatible. Not only is science a product of the Christian worldview; science was founded largely by Bible-believing Christians. It really is possible to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

In the words of Johann Kepler, founder of Celestial Mechanics and Physical Astronomy, to practice science is “to think God’s thoughts after him.” Sounds about right to me.

Read on about the “Evolution vs Creation” debate.

When Science Has No Answers, God Did It!

tanna-meet_natives_tribal_life_ss_009

In the early 1920s, by a freak shipping accident a brand new car—a Model T Ford—in perfect working condition and with a key in the ignition and a full tank of fuel, found itself washed up on the pristine sandy shores of an untouched Pacific island.

A band of curious locals who had never seen such a wonder, after touching, pressing and carefully manipulating every accessible moving part, happened to start the engine. Shock and fear eventually gave way to smiles and chatter.

More exploring uncovered how to put the car in gear and make it move—by which time the whole village had come out to watch and cheer the spectacle. Arms and heads and joyous screams made their way out of every open window as this strange gadget drew large circles on the beach.

Later that evening, the village elders gathered to make sense of this amazing piece of machinery. It was deduced that there was a spirit-being under the bonnet of the the car, affectionately named “Mr Ford”, that made it go.

The following day the fuel tank finally emptied and the car chugged to a standstill. No amount of persistence would make the car run again, and a fight broke out as to who was responsible for causing Mr Ford so much upset that he fled the scene.

“It was deduced that there was a spirit-being under the bonnet of the the car named “Mr Ford”, that made it go.”

 

This, atheists scoff, is how silly and superstitious Christians look when crediting God with something we don’t yet understand about the natural world. “God of the gaps” it’s called: no need to use your brain if you can simply shrug and say “God did it” every time there’s a gap in our scientific knowledge. Then science advances, unravelling another mystery, filling another gap—and making Christians look like fools. Again.

The atheists are right. “God of the gaps” is brainless and intellectually lazy, and as Christians we need to spurn such a simplistic view of science. But the story about the Ford and our islander friends shouldn’t be so quickly discarded. It’s got something more to tell us.

See “Mr Ford” was a laughable explanation for how the car ran, considering all we know about mechanics. But was there a Mr Ford? Yes, in fact, there was. He was no spirit-being: he was the designer of this work of engineering genius, by now internationally famous for what he had achieved.

“No need to use your brain if you can shrug and say “God did it” every time there’s a gap in our knowledge.”

 

Let’s say one of these locals, on the arrival of Europeans and with generous support, chased down his dream to become a mechanic. After his studies he would be no fool to conclude that internal combustion is a sufficient explanation for how their lucky Ford ran. But would it also make sense for him to conclude that there was no Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place?

To us this is an obvious mistake! If Mr Ford never existed, neither would the car that arrived on his beach that fateful day. In the same way, it’s a mistake for people to have uncovered the mechanisms by which God chose to run the world (whether cell reproduction or planetary orbits or natural selection) and thereby conclude that he does not exist. This is the error of atheism.

There is a cultural myth out there that says sceptical scientists rescued the West from superstitious Christianity. Reality check: most branches of modern science were founded by Christians, creationists in fact: Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Pasteur, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal—just to name a few.

“These men were pioneers, answering questions the world hadn’t even started asking.”

 

What’s more, historians of science are now recognising that the faith of these men was no oddity of history. It was in fact only in Western Europe, where a worldview crediting a personal, rational Creator with the universe’s design, that modern science could birth and flourish.

And these scientists were no lazy “God of the gaps” types. They were pioneers, answering questions the world hadn’t even started asking. It wasn’t the gaps in his knowledge, but actually the knowledge he uncovered, that compelled Sir Isaac Newton to write, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

Mr Ford did it. Yes, God did it! But we don’t say this in the absence of evidence—when it seems science has no answers—but rather, as the scientific knowledge testifying to the majesty and brilliance of our Creator keeps rolling in.

*Ford illustration courtesy of John C. Lennox, from the book “God’s Undertaker”