Science vs Christianity? audio (3MB)
How do you answer your friends or colleagues when they ask you why you believe? What do you say when they throw up one of the many excuses for not believing. If you’ve been here for the last few weeks you may have noticed that we’ve been trying to answer those questions in this sermon series on doubt to belief. What we’ve been doing is to answer the questions people ask as though they were in the congregation. We want to equip you to answer them yourself when someone asks you. We might also be helping you to answer questions that you yourself ask from time to time.
Well, if someone doesn’t suggest that all religions are the same; or that suffering in the world disproves God; if they don’t complain that the injustices inflicted by the Church are enough to put them off God, you can be fairly sure that they will think that science has disproved Christianity. Richard Dawkins claims that evolutionary science has shown that God’s role in creation is just a myth; that the advances of science have removed the need for God. He and his colleagues would argue that science shows that miracles are impossible. Everything is governed by cause and effect, these people would say. If it can’t be measured it can’t be real.
But that’s a circular argument isn’t it? Science works entirely on what can be measured. We can’t measure the supernatural, therefore it can’t exist. But what does that prove? Only that science is limited to a certain part of reality. Beyond that it becomes a statement of faith on the part of scientist and Christian alike. We’d want to argue from the opposite point of view: if there is a God, who created the world out of nothing, then there’s nothing illogical about the possibility of miracles.
The Battle of Science vs Christianity
People like Dawkins seem to want to revive the battles of the 19th century, of Christianity vs evolution. Dawkins suggests it’s impossible to be an intelligent scientist and believe in God. Well I can think of some pretty intelligent scientists who do believe in God. And of those who don’t believe I imagine most would have come to the point of disbelief long before they became scientists.
The Moral Compass
One of the failings of natural science is in its efforts to explain the immeasurable parts of human experience: love, generosity, conscience, the innate moral compass. I heard Richard Dawkins, on TV or radio, trying to explain that love has to do with the imperative of the survival of the species. It’s just evolution making our hormones do their thing in order to perpetuate life. What he didn’t explain was how a person can fall in love with someone who’s physically unattractive or disabled in some way. If it’s just the imperative of evolution why would someone be attracted to another person who’s, for example, unable to bear children. That’d go against the whole survival of the species principle wouldn’t it?
Similarly, Dawkins seems to have a problem with understanding the idea of sacrificial love, especially love that would give up life for the sake of another. You may have seen him on the ABC’s Q&A program in March. There he described the idea of Jesus giving up his life for the sins of the world as a horrible, depraved notion. And I guess he’s quite consistent in coming to that conclusion because in his worldview, the notion of self-sacrifice goes against the whole principle of natural science. Yet it’s what many people do, don’t they? They give up their own rights for the sake of others.
Similarly there are certain moral beliefs that almost all of us hold that just can’t be explained by some inbuilt physical mechanism. For example, we see genocide as morally wrong even if it might be a way of removing an inefficient and weaker racial group from the gene pool. We hate injustice. We cheer when a cheat gets caught. These sorts of belief aren’t the product of our cultural conditioning. They’re innate, built-in.
Still there are some who would argue that morality arises from a social contract that we all enter into as part of a society. We have certain agreed behaviour standards that ensure the society works well. We’ve worked out that it’s in our own best interest to follow the rules. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you’ will lead in the end to the best outcome for you. So we don’t steal because the concept of ownership of property is central to our economic well-being. We pay our taxes because if we all pay our taxes they’ll be minimised and the government will be able to do their job well and so we’ll all be happier.
I’m sure though that you’ve noticed the flaw in that argument. If everyone else does the right thing and I, on occasion, can get away with ignoring the rules, without getting caught, then I’ll be even better off. And why shouldn’t I? That’s the moral question isn’t it? Why is it wrong to break the social contract? Why do we all, universally, believe that when someone else breaks the social contract they’ve done the wrong thing?
Is it because there’s a God-instinct built into us that alerts us whenever we see injustice happening, whether it’s in the form of our conscience accusing us of our own failure or our indignation when we see someone else acting unjustly?
Evolution vs the Bible.
Let’s think for a moment about the issue of evolution vs the Bible’s account of creation. Do the discoveries of science around the theory of evolution negate the teaching of the Bible?
The answer to that question revolves around the question of the nature of the Biblical account of creation. Is the account of Gen 1&2 meant to be read as a scientific thesis? God made the world in six standard days and then had a day off before getting on with the rest of his work?
When we read the Bible we’re reading a library of books, written by people over a period of, say, 2000 years. They write in a variety of genres. There’s history, there’s poetry, there’s parable, there’s patriotic fervour, there’s lament, there are letters, there’s what’s called apocalyptic writing. And each one is different. You can’t read a patriotic call to arms the same way you read a parable. You can’t read a letter the same way you read a lament. And you can’t read poetry the same way you read history. So when we read Gen 1 and examine it’s structure what do we find? Well, it reads like a poem or a hymn doesn’t it? Its carefully structured. Each stage of creation corresponds with a later or earlier stage. It isn’t trying to give a scientific explanation; it’s helping us sing the wonders of God’s creation of the world out of nothing. Even when we read Gen 2 we don’t find a scientific explanation of creation the way we would today. We find an account, that’s mainly theological, of how men and women were created equal; of how humanity is superior to the rest of the animal world; of how humans were intended to be the ones to care for God’s creation. The fact that the word cloning isn’t used when Eve is created is simply because the concept was unknown to people that long ago.
What do you think? Could God use evolution to bring about his creative purposes? Of course he could. Could he equally create life out of nothing, or make the leap in the genetic development necessary to create the incredible diversity and multiplicity of species? Of course he could. Once you allow the possibility of a God who creates, anything is possible. To deny the possibility is an act of faith just as much as believing in it.
What about miracles? One of the great objections to Christian faith has arisen from the belief that science has ruled out anything that doesn’t have a material explanation.
Again we come back to this issue of everything needing to have a material cause. The idea of God doing something that breaks the chain of causality is too much for some people. So we have a problem with our modern worldview don’t we? The Bible speaks repeatedly about God doing things that contravene natural laws. It speaks openly about spiritual and supernatural events and beings. We believe there are parts of the Bible that foretell events that didn’t happen until hundreds of years later. So how do we reconcile this with our scientific understanding of the world?
I think the place to start is to understand that the God we believe in is a God who relates to us in a personal way. He speaks to people, sometimes directly, sometimes in a dream or through a vision, sometimes through an angelic messenger. To use an analogy, God acts not just at the wholesale level but at the retail level as well. He isn’t just the moral force of the universe, or the master designer, he’s also the one who confronts me with my sinfulness, who asks me to work on his behalf, who comes and lives as one of us, dies and rises again so I can be forgiven.
If that’s the sort of God we’re talking about then wouldn’t we expect him to get involved in the creation from time to time in a way that affects the material world? And if he was able to create the universe in the first place, what’s to stop him moving a few atoms here or there to do something miraculous?
In the end it comes down to the question of the God you believe in. For some their god is science itself. Science has all the answers. Science will bring us salvation if we work on it long enough. Science will even bring us happiness. At least that’s the myth that surrounds science and technology.
But we believe in a God who first created the world and now sustains it. We believe in a God who intervenes in the world from time to time to bring about his purposes for people. We don’t believe in a clockwork universe but in one where God is in control.
And finally the implication of the various miracles that Jesus did while he was here on earth is that God is a God who desires to heal this broken world. That small collection of miracles of Jesus will be repeated the nth degree when he brings in the new heaven and earth at the end of time.
As someone who’s background is applied science I have to say that the more I see of the world the more I’m convinced that it could only have come about by the creative activity of someone like God. It’s far too complex, far too intricate, far too beautiful in its design to have just happened by chance. That’s a statement of faith, yes. But it’s a statement of faith based on what can be clearly observed in the material world.