Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We all know the tune. But how much confidence can we actually have that anything the Bible records is true?

Many skeptics of Christianity are adamant that the Bible is not a reliable source of history. If they’re right, then as followers of Jesus we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.

If.

See, there’s a reason the Bible is held in such suspicion. Put simply, it’s because the Bible records miracles. And there’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia that says a document is only historically accurate if it doesn’t describe supernatural events.

“If skeptics are right, we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.”

This might be a fashionable idea. But it’s far from being a self-evident fact. Really, it’s a worldview—an assumption that’s been made before any research has begun.

Anyone is free to believe this, of course. But that’s the point—it’s a belief. It’s as much a belief as the Christian who naively claims no research is needed since God wrote the Bible and it must be true.

“There’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia.”

What if, for the sake of historical inquiry, we all agreed to suspend our beliefs? What if we asked a question everyone agreed on: Is the Bible historically accurate when it speaks of events that can be tested historically?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Embarrassment of Scholars

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know the feeling. Nodding off to sleep as you endure another list of dates, names or numbers.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, those details aren’t there for your entertainment. They’re there for historical verification. Thousands of them.

For centuries, skeptics have assumed many of the Bible’s historical claims to be bogus. But so often, it’s the skeptics who’ve been put to shame.

Let’s take a few examples.

Isaiah talks about King Sargon of Assyria. For years academics scoffed and said such a king never existed. Then in 1842, his entire palace was unearthed in modern-day Iraq.

For a hundred years, skeptics said that the Hittites, mentioned many times in the Old Testament, were just a made-up people-group.

But in the late 19th century, the Hittite capital city Hattusa was uncovered in modern-day Turkey. It’s such a vast city that it’s still being dug up today.

Or take the Pool of Bethesda. For many years, university professors taught that the gospel of John was unreliable because it spoke of this apparently non-existent pool.

But with new technology, archaeologists were able to dig deeper, discovering what is without doubt the Pool of Bethesda spoken of by John.

This is just a sampling, but the pattern is a familiar one. Archaeology has vindicated the the Bible time and time again.

It’s beyond the reach of archaeology to prove the Bible’s supernatural events. But literally thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made that confirm the Bible’s other claims.

Let the Archaeologists Speak

Sir William Ramsay was born in Scotland in the 1850s. From a young age, he was skeptical of the Bible, calling it a book of fables.

He especially doubted that the book of Acts was real history because the author, Luke, spoke of so many places for which there was simply no evidence.

Ramsay studied at Oxford and then travelled to modern-day Turkey, fully expecting to discover there that Acts was mere myth.

After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field. Towards the end of his life, this is what he said:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Sir William Ramsay died a believer.

“After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field.”

W. F. Albright, one of the world’s great archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

Nelson Glueck unearthed some 1,500 ancient sites. He wrote, “In all of my archaeological investigation I have never found one artefact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.”

But the Bible’s Writers Were Biased

Let’s change gears for a minute. You may have heard it suggested that the Bible’s writers were already believers, so of course they were biased in their telling of history.

“The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism.”

But even if we set aside the entire Bible, there’s still so much we know about Jesus from non-Christian writers like Thallus, Tacitus, Lucian, Emperor Trajan, and Pliny the Younger.

Consider these words from Josephus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

From non-Christian authors alone, here’s what we know about Jesus:

  • he came from Nazareth
  • he lived a wise and virtuous life
  • he was crucified in Palestine, during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • he was considered a Jewish king
  • his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died
  • he was a sorcerer
  • his small band of disciples grew and spread as far as Rome
  • his followers believed in one God and worshipped Christ as divine

Is the Bible historically reliable? It depends. If you’re searching for proof of every miracle, historical inquiry won’t get you very far. At some point, you’ll have to exercise faith.

But it will be a faith that rests on facts.

The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism. But here’s what we know: when it speaks of events that can be tested historically, the Bible is a thoroughly trustworthy document.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

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.

The Myth About the Flat Earth Myth

Image credit: https://www.dailydot.com/unclick/flat-earth-meme/

So apparently there are educated people who still believe the earth is flat. I wouldn’t normally waste time on such mindless drivel—except that it’s been getting a lot of press lately.

This week Elon Musk made history and launched the world’s most powerful rocket—on private funds no less. Yet most of what I saw online ignored the feat itself. Instead, photos of a spherical earth were used to mock flat-earth believers.

Is it just me, or is this a strange waste of news in 2018?

Maybe it was a poke at the handful of rich and famous who’ve recently come out as flat-earthers— celebrities like Tila Tequila, cricketer Freddie Flintoff, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics, and rapper B.o.B.

Maybe some genuinely fear the Flat Earth Society is gaining new members.

“Apparently there are educated people who still believe the earth is flat.”

But I think there’s something else at play. Ditsy celebrities come and go, but the group perennially targeted with flat-earth jokes is one I belong to: Christians.

Countless times I’ve had my faith in the Bible likened to belief in a flat earth. The story being told by high-school textbooks, high-budget documentaries and high-profile atheists is that religion held us captive to flat earth myth until science came to the rescue.

“In church history you’ll find approximately two Christians who promoted a flat earth view.”

Told and retold, the tale goes something like this:

Defending the Bible, the church through history taught a flat earth, and it persecuted any scientist brave enough to disagree. Only when Christopher Columbus discovered America without sailing off the edge of the world did Christians finally concede the earth was a sphere.

But as it turns out, this story is the real flat earth myth. Time to consider some facts.

The Bible Doesn’t Teach It

Critics scoff that the Bible uses phrases like “the ends of the earth”. They say verses like Psalm 19:6 complete the picture of a flat geocentric earth, which says the sun “rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other”.

Two problems. First, “ends of the earth” is a poetic phrase, not a geographical one. Any Hebrew scholar will tell you this is an idiom describing the furthest reaches of the inhabited world.

“Countless times I’ve had my faith in the Bible likened to belief in a flat earth.”

Second, while it’s scientifically wrong to say that the sun moves across the sky, even the most scientific among us do it. It’s called phenomenal language, and it’s a perfectly normal way of describing the world—so long as you’re not writing a science textbook.

What then does the Bible actually say about the earth’s shape? According to Isaiah 40:22, God sits enthroned above “the circle of the earth”. Admittedly, there’s poetry in this passage too. But it’s at least worth noting that circle here is the Hebrew word “khug” which also translates as sphere.

More curiously, Jesus spoke of his return as a momentary event, but describing that moment he said some people would be working during the day and others would be sleeping at night (Luke 17:34-35). That doesn’t work for a flat earth, but it does for a globe.

The Church Never Believed It

Dig up church history and you’ll find approximately two Christians who promoted a flat earth view—Lactantius (AD245-325) who was considered a heretic, and an obscure 6th-century monk called Cosmas Indicopleustes.

Through time and almost without exception, Christian theologians understood the planet to be spherical, as the sun or the moon appeared to be. The most influential theologian of the Middle Ages was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who emphatically supported the views of physicists and astronomers that the earth was a sphere.

Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liuthar_Gospels

Emperor Otto III Enthroned, 10th century

Or consider the artwork of this era. At their coronation, Holy Roman emperors were routinely depicted holding an orb, symbolising their rule of the known world.

Even evolutionist-philosopher Stephen Jay Gould has acknowledged that “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars… all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”

Skeptics Invented It

I’m fascinated by the Spice Islands. I’ve lived there, and read the stories, and inhaled the scent that drew heady explorers to “the far side of the world”. But in all I’ve read about the Age of Discovery, this now-legendary tale of Columbus is nowhere to be seen.

Columbus was controversial, but for altogether different reasons. He knew other sailors were tapping into Indonesia’s spice by sailing around Africa. So he planned to find a shortcut the opposite way, sailing West. Think that through: he already knew the earth was round.

“In all I’ve read about the Age of Discovery, this now-legendary tale of Columbus is nowhere to be seen.”

Yes, church leaders warned him not to go. But their fear wasn’t him sailing off the edge. They feared his maps were wrong and that he’d run out of supplies before he got to Asia.

It turns out they were right. Heading West, Indonesia was four times further than Columbus calculated. Lucky for him and his crew there was an unknown continent called America in the way.

“Columbus planned to find a shortcut the opposite way by sailing West.”

He also found the “West Indies”. Have you ever wondered why we use the name Indies for islands in the Caribbean Sea? It’s because Columbus thought he’d arrived in the Orient. More evidence—in case you needed it—that early explorers knew they were sailing around a sphere.

If all this is true, where did the fake history come from?

Put simply, it was made up out of thin air in 1828. The famous American novelist Washington Irving (of Rip Van Winkle fame) created it to pad out his book, “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus”.

“Columbus was controversial, but for altogether different reasons.”

Once the myth was entrenched in the public mind, two skeptics decided to give it a veneer of scholarship: in 1874, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White included it in their so-called “History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science”.

And the rest is history. Or in this case, revised history.

Anyone Can See It

But we don’t even need a history lesson to find out what people of bygone ages knew about the shape of the earth. All we need is a bit of common sense.

Star constellations were visible to them in Africa that they couldn’t see in Europe. During a lunar eclipse, they saw the shadow of a curved earth move across the moon.

They saw the earth’s curvature at work when the hull of a ship sank below the horizon before its mast did. Climbing high on a cliff, they didn’t just see further because of better angles—they saw distant objects that were obscured at ground level by the horizon.

“We don’t need a history lesson to find out what people of bygone ages knew about the shape of the earth.”

Do you get it? Except for a few nuts on the fringe, the real myth never was that the earth is flat. The real myth, still believed today, is that the flat earth was a mainstream view advanced by the church.

Christianity and science aren’t at war. How can they be? Modern science was birthed out of a biblical worldview—in Christian Europe and nowhere else—and mostly by followers of Jesus.

“The real myth is that the flat earth was a mainstream view advanced by the church.”

So have a laugh at celebrities embarrassing themselves. Shake your head that something like the Flat Earth Society could still exist today. Read trashy news stories with a smirk.

But next time you’re the punchline of a flat-earth joke, be sure to set the record straight.

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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.

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Are We Returning to the Dark Ages?

It’s almost an absurd question. Smartphones have put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Passenger jets fly us to the other side of the planet in a day. Soon AI will relieve us from all of life’s humdrum tasks.

But in just the space of a few decades, phenomena like slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks. Are these omens of a new Dark Age? Even as we accumulate the relics of a supermodern world, are the vision, values and humanity that brought us here fading to black?

“Slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks.”

History’s single greatest lesson is that we don’t learn from history—or in the words of another well-known maxim, those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

So join me on a time-travelling adventure through the Middle Ages, and let’s see if anything looks familiar.

Passivity and Mysticism

In the medieval world, superstition was rife. Truth wasn’t discovered by the courageous common man; it was dispensed by the church and those wielding power.

Thanks to reformation and renaissance, we have universal literacy. But while generations past treasured this, today’s culture of whatever shrugs it off with apathy. Education systems soften us; university degrees are becoming commodified, mass produced, and shoddy.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Beneath this decline in serious learning lay the crumbling ruins of a Judeo-Christian worldview. We could have restored their foundations, but instead we chose an experiment. Breeding modernism with mysticism, we’ve created a strange beast.

Now alternative everything has gone mainstream, all backed by its own “literature”. Truth can be validated by empiricism, politics or passion—depending on which tickles your fancy. The humanities have seen this for decades; now watch it rise in the sciences too.

Political correctness and its bizarre new morality pose as Pope for our brave new world. Too many are gullibly persuaded by this upstart authority; too few are willing to speak out for fear they’ll be branded with a phobia.

Widening Inequality

Happily, the modern world has set us free from the rule of princes and feudal lords. Each of us has a vote—and along with it, rights, liberties and opportunities never dreamt of by the peasants of a past age.

And while liberal democracy is by far the best system devised, its founding fathers handed it on to us with sobering words. America’s second president John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself,”—and, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Today, one percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth.”

Could it be that we’re experiencing the “any other” he warned of? Consider the widening gap of inequality. A shrinking number of banks and businesses rule the global economy, paying little to no tax. One percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth. Many are now convinced that class mobility is just a dream.

When so much power is held by so few, and when political influence is up for sale to the highest bidder, our vision grows dull and it’s hard to tell businessman from kings, and feudalism from freedom.

Pessimism, Fear and Brutality

The Middle Ages have been called dark because they were a period of cultural and economic decline that eclipsed the glory of Rome. Europe’s idealism gave way to angst, fear of the outside world, and centuries of bloody crusades.

There are remarkable parallels today. Our technology might be advancing, but in other ways we’re going backwards. We’re obsessed with trivia, airbrushed porn, and the cult of celebrity. Popular tastes in music are vulgar. Even hipster nostalgia is growing kitsch.

“Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it.”

Crass arts pepper every age, but what passes as art today raises eyebrows for its grotesqueness as much as its creativity. If you don’t believe me, take a walk through a modern museum.

Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it. It’s us versus them, with ideological borders replacing the old geographical ones. Now the enemy shares our cul-de-sac, but we wouldn’t know it because we’ve never met. Online algorithms have created parallel left-and-right societies where we reinforce our own dogmas and hoist the drawbridge of our minds.

“We’ve enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free.”

If the last year is anything to go on, it’s a small step from social fragmentation to cruel violence and rioting in the streets. Maybe these crusades will end after another election. Or maybe they’re just the beginning.

It will all depend on our collective conscience: is it truly wrong to hurt our fellow man? We’ve been desensitised from years of terrorism on the nightly news and Hollywood’s glorified brutality. If that weren’t enough, we’ve murdered millions of the unborn, and enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free—all for cheap trinkets and virtual pleasure.

Tyranny Beckons

This is not what the pioneers of the free world dreamed of. They warned us that democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained by their own morals and manners. As these slip away, will we the people at last prefer tyranny to chaos?

Patrick Henry, another US founding father, said, “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” I’m not ready for 1984 just yet. Our civilisation is fading like the dusk, but it’s still the freest on earth, and that makes it worth fighting for.

“Democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained.”

This month the western hemisphere celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—the social and spiritual revolution that jolted us out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world.

Call me dramatic, but I think it’s time we had another one.

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: Medicine

kasih1

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 Medicine.

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Every time I visit her village, with a shy smile, Kasih runs and jumps into my arms. Kasih—whose name means “love”—is a joyful and energetic eight year old, born to loving parents in a lakeside village in South-East Asia. It’s a miracle that Kasih made it past her second birthday.

Kasih was born with a cleft palate: a developmental defect that leaves children with a gap in the roof of their mouth. In Kasih’s case, this extended through her upper lip, nose and cheek, leaving her constantly exposed to life-threatening infection.

kasih2

In 2008, I had the privilege of playing a small part in welcoming Kasih and her mother to Australia, as a team of doctors, translators and hosts made available to her life-saving craniofacial surgery. Kasih now lives a completely normal life, playing happily with other children in her home village.

Kasih’s story is an inspiring reminder that modern medicine is a gift. In fact it is a gift that Jesus gave the world. How dare I make such a fanatic and audacious claim?

What about ancient Greece’s Hippocratic Oath and Rome’s public baths and military hospitals? What about the early Indian inventions of plastic surgery, cataract operations and massage therapy? What about the surgery, medical encyclopaedias, hospitals and medical schools of the ancient Islamic world?

“Modern medicine is a gift that Jesus gave the world.”

Without doubt, many streams make a river. Still, it is a glaring fact of history that modern medicine was born in the West, and that the West is still the stage of its major advances. Why?

Emperor Julian of the fourth century offers us an early answer. Disgruntled at the growth of Christianity, he complained that the followers of Jesus “support not only their own poor but ours as well [while] all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

Moved not by compassion but jealousy, he instructed “those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.” He completely missed that it was actually compassion that drove radical Christian love to the poor and marginalised.

“Unique to Europe was belief in a compassionate God who became one of us, and invited the poor, meek, sick, hungry, weak and weary to come to him for rest.”

In fact it was radical Christian love and compassion that animated the development of medicine from the ancient world through to today.

Monks learnt from other cultures, translating Greek and Islamic medicine, documenting what worked and what didn’t as they practiced. Gradually, wanting to spend more time in prayer, they passed their knowledge on to others.

From the thirteenth century, universities took over the tradition, and refined the knowledge they received. A Catholic priest wrote the first modern book of surgery, and Christian scholars of the Renaissance like Leonardo da Vinci gathered incredible knowledge about human anatomy.

“Built on the life of Jesus, Europe birthed a culture of care that turned a science into an industry of compassion.”

In the seventeenth century, an English physician called Thomas Sydenham, who grew up in a strongly Christian home, began questioning the medical practices and assumptions handed down, and began what we now call “modern medicine”.

He wrote that every medical practitioner “must remember that it is no mean or ignoble creature that he deals with. We may ascertain the worth of the human race since for its sake God’s only begotten Son became man and thereby ennobled the nature he took upon it.”

In writing this, he gave us the key to understanding Western civilisation’s unique role in the development of medicine. Medicine is far more than a science. It will only flourish if it’s built on a culture of care and compassion.

“Christians believed that God loved this suffering world so much that he sent his own Son to befriend and save sinners.”

While people of other cultures have as much natural empathy as anyone, unique to Europe was belief in a compassionate God who became one of us, and invited the poor, meek, sick, hungry, weak and weary to come to him for rest; who blessed children, touched lepers, delivered the demonised, and healed the sick.

Roman beliefs built an empire of cruelty that killed for entertainment. In India, suffering was seen as karma: cosmic justice that must run its course. Buddhism valued compassion but the Buddha’s third noble truth urged people to remain detached from those they cared for, lest they too suffer. While Islam’s Allah is compassionate and merciful, its prophet was best known as a military leader.

On the other hand, Christians believed that God loved this suffering world so much that he sent his own Son to befriend and save sinners. Built on the life of Jesus, Europe birthed a culture of care that turned a science into an industry of compassion.

“Modern medicine isn’t found just anywhere. It has a specific and unique origin.”

Secular British journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I’ve spent a number of years in India and Africa where I found much righteous endeavour undertaken by Christians of all denominations; but I never, as it happens, came across a hospital or orphanage run by the [socialist] society, or a humanist leper colony.”

The Red Cross is now secular. Nursing has become a commercial enterprise. The significance of big city hospital names like “Calvary” or “St. Andrews” or “Good Samaritan,” once pregnant with meaning, is now all but lost on our culture.

But as Kasih’s life-transforming trip to a Western hospital reminds us, modern medicine isn’t found just anywhere. It has a specific and unique origin. And as Kasih’s name reminds us, it is love—the love of this man staggering up Calvary to give us life—that has made all the difference in the world.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Liberty.

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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: Science

science

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 beginningor start here for how Jesus shaped Science.

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Richard Dawkins has declared, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

He may not speak for all, but he captures a mood now common in the West that faith—and especially the Christian faith—is a hindrance to inquiry. Is he right? Are science and Christianity at war?

The scientific worldview we live and breathe seems so normal. From car repairs to dieting, and from weather forecasts to the latest iPhone, we take science and all of its benefits for granted. In doing so, we forget that it’s an entirely unique way of perceiving the world.

“The ancients had astounding insights into nature, but a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.”

India had great surgeons like Sushruta who wrote a textbook on medicine six centuries before Christ, but medicine didn’t develop in India. Another Indian introduced a revolutionary concept to mathematics: the number zero. Yet in India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.

Over 2,000 years ago, Eratosthenes measured the earth’s circumference with eyebrow-raising accuracy. Ancients from Greece, Egypt, China and the Muslim world had astounding insights into nature. They observed facts, developed their skills, and accumulated knowledge to pass on to others. Despite all of this, a culture of science didn’t arise in the ancient world.

Science arose once in history: in Christian Europe. We could shrug and move on. Or we could inquire as to why that is.

“In India, maths didn’t go on to become the language of science, as it later would in Europe.”

A growing band of historians are drawn to Whitehead’s thesis, agreeing with John Lennox that, “human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

We’ve become so accustomed to thinking of Jesus’ teachings as merely “spiritual” lessons. But Europeans of centuries past saw them as much more, believing Jesus spoke into every pursuit of life.

As such, Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had. See science only works if the following things are true:

Objective truth exists. Eastern faiths (and postmoderns) say that what’s true for you isn’t true for me. But who would bother experiment if the findings are true for some people and not for others? Jesus however insists that truth does exist and is knowable.

“Europe inherited from Jesus a set of assumptions about the nature of reality that no other culture had.”

The universe actually exists. Eastern philosophies taught that everything is an illusion. What point is there in studying an illusion? By contrast, the first declaration of Scripture is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It actually exists, so it can actually be studied.

The universe is orderly. Greek, Roman and Hindu beliefs propose multiple gods competing to run the universe. But an enchanted world like this doesn’t lead people to search for “laws of nature”. If the planets are themselves gods, why would they follow established laws? The God Jesus spoke of, however, is a God of order, not chaos. And by inference, so is the world he created.

“Human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

People have confidence to investigate the world. Indigenous faiths taught that there were spirits in the trees, rivers and mountains—that creation itself is divine. So poking around trying to study these things could anger the spirits—and this is one of the reasons many cultures never tried.

Christians also believe in angels and demons, but in Genesis 1:28 they read God’s command, “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 had courage to study the natural world.

“Science rests on uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.”

People have free will. Atheism—the idea that the material world is all that exists—leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.

C.S. Lewis asked: “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?”

Jesus’ teachings assume a free will given to us by God, so we can think and reason freely and arrive at trustworthy conclusions.

“It’s no coincidence that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians.”

People need correction. Many in the East see humans as divine, and believe that enlightenment comes by mystical experience. Islam rejects the idea Jesus taught, that humans are born with a tendency towards error and sin. But it turns out that the Christian doctrine of original sin, despised by so many, was foundational to the scientific method. Because we’re fallen, early Christian scientists insisted, our findings are in constant need of objectivity, facts, peer review, and skeptical testing.

People see themselves as caretakers of creation. Most worldviews see humans as merely part of nature—a cog in the machine. Atheism views us as sophisticated, hairless apes. But the West’s passion for science began when Christians read the Bible and rediscovered God’s call to have caring dominion over the creation.

Francis Bacon, founder of the scientific method said, “For man by the Fall fell from both his state of innocence and his dominion over creation. Both of these, however, can even in this life be made good; the former by religion and faith, the latter by arts and sciences.”

“Atheism leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’re just slaves to our brain chemistry, so we have no free will.”

Embarrassing as it may be to the intelligentsia, science rests on these uniquely Christian ideas, and it can’t work without them.

Is it any coincidence then that almost all of the founders of modern science were Christians? Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most important scientists of all time, discovered the law of gravity, but also wrote over a million words about the Bible.

Science arose once in history: in the Christian universities of Europe. This isn’t because other cultures lacked ability: many individuals outside of Europe saw nature with a scientific outlook. But their civilisations’ belief systems didn’t allow a culture of science to flourish.

Peter Harrison, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Bond University in Australia wrote, “It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible… [but] the reverse is the case: when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world. The Bible… played a central role in the emergence of natural science in the seventeenth century.”

Richard Dawkins couldn’t be more wrong. It was in fact the teachings of Jesus that drove Europe’s curiosity to study the world and view it scientifically. Centuries later, every culture—and Dawkins himself—has reaped the benefits.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Medicine.

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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: Technology

technology

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 Technology.

* * *

The watermill, the crank, and the flywheel are quaint symbols of a bygone era. They’re also the very foundations of modern technology.

And along with the wheelbarrow and the windmill (revolutionary in their day) they were invented by—you never would have guessed it—monks.

See the monks of the Middle Ages had entered monasteries to pray, but most of their time was being taken up with necessities like grinding grain to make bread. These new inventions saved them hours of degrading, monotonous toil.

“If God created human beings in his own image, this means when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.”

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. But if that were true, wouldn’t have these inventions surfaced earlier—and universally? What set Europe apart?

Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape. The idea that I can imagine an alternate future, and change nature to become like my imagination, is one we take for granted. But it’s found in high concentration in the West.

Inventing new technologies, upturning culture, changing the course of history. All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.

If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means we too are creative, and when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.

“Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape.”

Not long after the birth of Islam, Muslim armies swept through North Africa, entering Spain in the East. In the West they’d captured Constantinople, and it seemed like only a matter of time before European cities like Vienna and Rome would fall too.

But Europeans had discovered crop rotation and the heavy plow. For the first time in history, farmers in Europe had replaced oxen with horses because they’d invented the horseshoe, the horse collar, and the tandem harness. These lead to a phenomenal increase in horsepower—and therefore, productivity.

Famine could have spelt the end of the continent as Muslim armies invaded. But with these inventions, the food scarcity was overcome, and Europe’s restored economy could now keep Islam at bay.

Reading glasses were invented in Italy in the 1200s. The main customers were monks, who needed them to study the Bible and other great books. This crucial invention almost doubled the productive life of Western scholars, who could now spend their best years improving the civilisation’s texts and technologies.

“All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.”

The mechanical clock was invented in both Europe and China. But only in Europe did it become an industry and develop into other forms of technology. Why?

In the East, time was considered part of samsara, the endless wheel that people were trying to escape. In the West however, time was seen as part of physical reality, a good part of God’s creation. So Europeans wanted to know the time and organise their lives according to it.

Creativity is ubiquitous, on display in every culture. But Europe pushed inventions and technologies much further than anything seen in the East or the ancient world. It transformed their civilisation, and eventually, the world. Still the question lingers: why?

Peel back the layers. If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means something else too—it means that every one of us are of infinite worth.

Cultures won’t spend themselves in labour-saving technologies unless they place immeasurable value on human dignity. Other civilisations of history, and many today exploit women, children or slaves to get work done. Hinduism convinced a whole caste that it was their duty.

“Only the Christian West developed technology to empower the weak and liberate humanity.”

But these early Europeans reasoned that if humans are of infinite worth like the Bible says, why make them do what machines, nature or animals could do? Why not use technology as a force to liberate and empower humanity for more dignified work?

Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless. This is what Jesus gave Europe.

Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi has said, “The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building, for the first time in history, of a complex civilisation which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves… but primarily on nonhuman power.”

“Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless.”

It’s true that many in the West have used technology to exploit the environment and other cultures, and cause huge amounts of damage to the planet. The blame for some of this lies at the feet of Christians, who should have read Genesis more carefully and been better caretakers of God’s creation.

But while in most cultures the ruling elite used creative technology for war, pleasure, monuments to themselves, and the oppression of their people, only the Christian West developed it to empower the weak, and liberate humanity.

Who would have thought? In more ways than one, this Nazarene carpenter truly shaped technology.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Languages.

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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.

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!

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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”