II The Bible provides a basis for the two basic assumptions of science
(See ch. 8 of Del Ratzsch’s book, and many others.)
The Bible says God created all of the physical universe: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So the universe is real, not just an illusion. The God of the Bible is orderly, so what He creates should be uniform, which is the first assumption of science. Therefore for one who believes the Bible, this is not an assumption, but a deduction from something still more basic.
The Bible says God created human beings “in His image,” Genesis 1:26, 27. This does not mean a physical likeness, because everything physical was created by God. He Himself is not physical. Therefore the “image” must refer to our personal nature, our mind, emotions, and will, our capacity for consciousness and relationship with other conscious beings including God Himself. God’s goal is for us to be His children, with Him as our Heavenly Father. This is only possible if we think very much like He does. Therefore we should be able to look at things He has created, and after time and study to begin to see what He was thinking while He was creating them. Some of it is what we call it the laws of nature. In a similar way, we can look at most objects that humans have produced, and discern basically what purpose and method of operation was in the mind of their designer: a chair, table, light bulb, watch, airplane, etc. This analogy cannot be pressed too precisely, and this oversimplification mixes together principle and purpose, but the point is sufficiently clear for our purpose now. It means we expect that things God created should be intelligible to us, which is the second assumption of science. And thus for a Bible-believing person, this assumption too is transformed into a deduction from something else.
Finally, the Bible gives a reason, in fact a duty, to study science. In Genesis 1:28, God told the two people He created to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over living things. In many other places, the Bible tells us to help those who are sick and suffering. All of this requires us to understand nature. Thus it is not mere presumption on our part to pursue study and modification of our environment. This is of course not a license for exploitation and destruction. The world is still the Lord’s, and we are simply entrusted with its management for a while. We are not doing very well.
The Bible has no conflict with the assumptions or practice of science. On the contrary, it positively provides a basis for them, and as sec. I summarizes, it is the only religion or philosophy that does this. This is the opposite of the assumption, popular throughout the 20th century, that of all religions and “holy books” the Bible has the most serious conflict with science. This is not only an illogical assumption, it is contrary to the facts of history. Its widespread acceptance is partly attributable to blunders by early 20th century Christians, but that is a long story that we cannot go into here.
It is no coincidence that modern science developed first in Europe, particularly northern Europe, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Human history is always a complex interplay of many factors, but one factor is certainly a dominant one in the rise of modern science: This was the first society in the world that was deeply influenced by Biblical teachings, though this does not mean that all of the people were Christians. Their Biblical concepts gave them a basis for the assumptions of science, and the motive and freedom to study it. Those people were not more intelligent than people in other times and places, but given suitable assumptions and support, they founded modern science.
Most of the outstanding scientists in the West before the 20th century were Christians, and it did not usually hinder them in their research. In fact, many of them felt it was their primary motivation: Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Henry, Joule, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, Maxwell, etc.
The modern world seems happy enough to enjoy the benefits of the scientific revolution that grew from Biblical roots, but they are throwing away those roots in their rejection of all standards of conduct and truth. Our environment and society are suffering the consequences, and it is doubtful that scientific progress can continue indefinitely with the foundation removed from under it.
III Facing the experts
In the following section we will begin facing many arguments against religious faith, for evolution, etc. These arguments all sound very impressive and scholarly when you first hear them. The people who say these things are famous and intelligent scientists, experts who have spent their lives doing research on these subjects. Some have been awarded Nobel prizes for their achievements. How can we who are not experts dare doubt their conclusions? But even different experts disagree. The “science-religion conflict,” as explained above, is really a conflict between theologians and scientists ? both experts! How are we to decide which of them is right?
They are experts in the areas in which they have done research. Within that area, the only time we can question their correctness is when there seem to be contradictions. Then we can politely ask for clarification. Probably we will find that we misunderstood something. But experts can be wrong, and sometimes do contradict themselves, so we have a right to ask such questions. Also, experts are human and thus subject to vanity and tunnel vision that causes them unconsciously or even deliberately to distort or omit some of the facts. Thus while maintaining respect we must still be alert, and sometimes cautiously doubt the experts’ presentation of the facts. This is represented by a light arrow in the diagram.
On the other hand, their conclusions are based not only on their research, but on assumptions and logical reasoning. These are outside the experts’ field of expertise; here we (anyone who is educated enough to be reading this book) can stand on level ground with them. We can and must carefully notice these assumptions, and ask questions about them. Often they are unstated, assumed to be intuitively obvious and unquestionable, reflecting the expert’s personal worldview. But we can choose different assumptions, and give our reasons for doing so. This is represented by a heavy arrow.
We must also pay close attention to the logic, and ask questions when it seems the logic is mistaken. This is represented by the other heavy arrow. Anyone who has had the privilege of a higher education, whatever the field, should have a well-developed sense of discernment between sense and nonsense. If not, his or her education has failed; this is not the specialty of a few experts, though some do specialize in the technicalities of logic. In fact, many whose education was quite limited have developed a keener sense of discernment than most who possess formal degrees. Thus this also includes anyone who is reading this book. When the experts have finished saying everything they know about the subject at hand, we can ask, “Is that all?” If they say yes, then we believe them that they know no more, and probably no more is known at present, unless we have other reasons to think they are missing some things, whether by mistake or deliberately. We can say, “I am not convinced yet that your research proves your conclusions.”
If there are flaws in the facts, assumptions, or logic, then the conclusion becomes doubtful. Thus we have a right to think it over and say to the expert, “I do not accept all your assumptions and logic, and maybe even some of your facts, and therefore I disagree with your conclusion.” If we fail to notice such flaws, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when we are led into error.
IV General Scientific Challenges to Religious Belief (Ratzsch, ch. 7)
The people who present these arguments are professing, or at least practicing, atheists, and are actually a small minority of the population. But they are highly intelligent, visible, vocal, and influential. Most people do not completely accept this attack on religious faith, but they do not know how to respond to it, and remain disturbed and confused by it. Although their faith is not destroyed, it is weakened. This is sad and unnecessary.
These general challenges need only brief comment. We have already dealt with the principles involved in most of them.
A Not scientificWhat does “scientific” mean? It is difficult to define; see ch. 2.
Even if belief is unscientific, does that make it unbelievable? Is there “nothing but” scientific truth? There is no scientific proof that there is nothing but scientific truth, so if this is true it is an unscientific truth, and therefore violates its own requirement; it is self-contradictory. (Review the conclusion of ch. 2, and see V, A, B below.)
B Not provableWhat does “provable” mean?
Many things we believe are not provable: the 2 (or more) assumptions of science, trustworthiness of friends, etc. Is there “nothing but” what is provable? There is no way to prove that that is true. In fact it has been proven by mathematics that there must be more truth than can be proven by mathematics (Kurt Godel’s theorems, etc.) Any proof must have some unproven assumptions as a starting point.
C Unsupported by evidenceWhat is evidence? Our assumed theories influence our interpretation of evidence. For instance, sunshine is evidence for nuclear fusion in the Sun, but no one recognized or interpreted it that way until recently. Is the existence of the universe, life, and complexity evidence for creation and design? What evidence is there that the universe could exist without creation, or life without design? If the Bible tells us something, is that evidence? If not, why not? Those who challenge religious faith in this way must state what they would accept as evidence for religious belief. If there is nothing they would accept, then they are simply closed-minded.
How can we be sure evidence is correct? We need evidence to confirm evidence. And to confirm that evidence,... As with proof, evidence must begin somewhere, and we look for consistency in the results. This beginning point is our belief, or faith. We can therefore suggest that religious faith might be exactly such a beginning point, unless there is evidence that all religious belief is wrong. Is there such evidence?
D Superfluous, obsolete:This is “nothing but science” again.
“Science has given natural explanations that replaced religious explanations of many things, like lightning, motion of the sky, and sickness. As our knowledge continues to increase, it will someday explain everything, and replace all religious explanation.”
This itself is a theory, based on past observation. We cannot be sure tomorrow’s new facts will confirm it, any more than we can be sure research will confirm any other current theory. In the past, such confidence has often been proven wrong, for instance when physicists at the turn of the 20th century were confident classical physics could explain everything.
Actually, this theory does not fit all past observation. Already there are some things that seem to be beyond the realm of science: the origin of the universe and life, ethics, etc. (sec. V, and ch. 6)
V Some specific topics of purported major conflict between science and religious faith
These scientific fields are not inherently anti-religious. The problem is that many people have chosen to believe the philosophies of naturalism, materialism, scientism, relativism, humanism, and pluralism, and these people misuse these scientific fields to support their philosophical attack on religion. It is not merely Christians who object to this; many non-Christian scholars have rejected most of these arguments and pointed out their many errors, even though they still agree with these conclusions.
I must have found the following outline somewhere, but I have no idea where.
A Naturalism and materialism misuse natural science against:First we must review the definition of “miracle” (end of ch. 2): a physical event without a physical, natural cause, in fact an apparent violation of what we know about natural causes. And we must also include events that are considered providence.1 theism: “Natural science has replaced God.”
This is “nothing but science” again. See above.
2 miracles: “Scientific laws forbid miracles. We know miracles are impossible. Only unscientific, superstitious people believe in miracles. Science must assume there is a natural explanation for everything.”
Miracle stories in the Bible are mostly in a few short, crucial periods, separated by centuries with almost no recorded miracles. So the Bible does not lead us to expect miracles all the time. But neither does it give us any basis to say that they are impossible or forbidden at any time. Absence of recorded miracles is not equal to recorded absence of miracles.
Christians should be skeptical about any miracle story. Most miracle stories are false, whether deliberately so or not. And most true miracles seem not to be miracles from the God of the Bible, judging by their context and after-effects. When we discussed other religions in ch. 3, VI, A, we pointed out that the Bible says God is not the only supernatural power.
A miracle from God is planned, purposeful, helping people to know and love Him. I John 5:12,13. It is not intended to be frightening or entertaining. It is not an emergency solution for an unexpected problem; the God of the Bible does not have unexpected problems.
Believing in miracles does not require ignorance or superstition; it requires knowledge and belief in science. Miracles are exceptions to the rule; we cannot recognize an exception if we do not know the rule. So miracles and science are not incompatible; in fact they go together. Only by implicitly accepting theism can the concept of miracles be used as an objection to theism. Atheism and agnosticism have no basis for assuming that nature is uniform. Can pantheism and animism even have a clear concept of “miracles”?
This means that accepting the possibility of miracles does not undermine all scientific research or give a lazy excuse for avoiding it. As stated in sec. II earlier, God is orderly and His universe is orderly. Believing in miracles does not mean that anything is “off limits” for investigation. It also does not mean that we frequently invoke the label “miracle” for everything we do not understand. That would be the “God of the gaps” error, which is discussed in the introduction to ch. 6.
Scientific research tells us nature is usually orderly, and always gives an orderly response to causes we use in experiments. We cannot perform miracles on demand. But that does not prove that miracles never occur, or that there is no-one besides us who can cause them. The Bible does not say people can cause miracles, only that there is a true God who can, as well as some spirits He created. The basic question is not whether miracles are possible, but whether God exists. If God exists, then miracles are possible. But His power is not some impersonal force which we can learn to manipulate at will. God is not a cosmic electric outlet or vending machine to be manipulated as we wish.
Review the diagrams in I, F, 3 above representing the theistic outlook on the relationship between science and faith. The natural world is contained within the realm of created reality. In ch. 2, the definition of natural science, and of physical nature, included the assumption of consistency, or the existence of “laws of nature.” And in II above the consistency was explained as derived from God’s own consistency. Therefore every event in the natural world can be regarded as an act of God, and the only difference between what we regard as laws and what we regard as miracles is that the “laws” describe those acts of God that are repeated in a consistent manner. “Natural laws” are simply repeated miracles to which we have become accustomed and familiar.
But this then raises another question. Some people complain that it is unreasonable to say God would make the laws of nature and then sometimes break those laws Himself. It seems to represent a lack of planning and foresight. This is a good question, but it is based on a mistaken conception of God’s purpose. If God’s plan is only to produce an orderly universe, then miracles are unreasonable. Under such a plan, God would act once in the beginning, and endow the created order with sufficient capabilities to carry out His purposes thereafter. But who are we to assert that that is the only type of plan which God might adopt? We accomplish most of our goals in a series of (hopefully) planned steps, and do not necessarily consider that as lack of planning or foresight; why not God? Furthermore, there is the interpersonal element of our relationship with God. If His plan is to have people who choose to love Him, trust Him, and share His glory (Ephesians 1:12; 3:10, etc.), then that plan requires both order and miracles. We need an orderly environment in order to live. But sometimes a miracle helps us to know, love, and trust God, just as good human parents use unexpected gifts and events going far beyond their children’s merely physical needs. Excluding this possibility amounts to criticizing the way God has chosen to work, and giving Him advice, which is a highly presumptuous position to take.
We cannot know that miracles are impossible. The most that could conceivably be said is that we know that no miracles have ever occurred, and even that would only prove that it has not happened yet, not that it is impossible. But we do not know about everything that has ever happened everywhere in the universe. So we can know that miracles have never occurred only if we know they are impossible. But some philosophers have argued that we know miracles are impossible because they have never occurred. This is a logical circle. This was precisely the argument used by the anti-Christian British philosopher David Hume 200 years ago. Yet amazingly, despite its glaring fallacy, it has been very influential.
When someone says nothing exists outside the physical universe, he is claiming either that the universe is infinite so that it has no outside, or that he has looked outside the universe to see what is there, and found nothing. To make either claim, he is claiming that he is infinite; otherwise, how could he know? The God of the Bible claims to be infinite, so there is nothing outside Him, and He is qualified to make statements about what does not exist. There are reasons to believe God’s claims (ch. 6, III), but no reasons to believe that the universe or any person is infinite.
This question also relates to the issue of whether our thought process itself is meaningful. We will pursue it further in the following section.
As at the end of ch. 2, and ch. 3, IV, D, and ch. 5, I, A, we remain unconvinced that science must assume there is a natural explanation for everything, denying the existence or relevance of a larger realm.
But this person claims he chose to believe this! And in his attempts to convince others to choose to agree with him, he is trying to use logic to prove that logic does not exist. Once again, this is thinking that thinking is meaningless, which is logically a self-defeating argument. But let’s consider it also from a more practical standpoint.3 free will: “Free will is only an illusion. All choices are really only natural cause and effect.”
This is atheistic reductionism in action (sec. I, A). Is this an acceptable viewpoint? Are we really willing to believe that we ourselves and everyone around us is fundamentally no more than a complex system of physics and chemistry, in principle no different from a computer-controlled chemical processing plant? This question has been debated for the last several centuries (though only in recent decades can it be stated in terms of computers), and a few paragraphs here won’t be the last word. But every individual has an opinion on the subject; it is impossible to be a person and not have a self-concept. So let me raise some matters that I think should be taken into consideration in choosing your self-concept.
I will not fall into the trap of attempting the self-contradictory task of giving scientific proof of the unscientific assertion that there is something beyond science involved in personhood. As already discussed, I do not accept the premise that only science constitutes an adequate explanation of phenomena. I can only point out, not prove, our innate comprehension of our personhood. If a person has no such comprehension, I have nothing to say. Trying to convince a person that he/she is a person is like trying to convince a fish that it is wet.
Having disavowed any attempt to give proof of this point, I still wish to raise a number of fairly objective matters that are relevant. Let me suggest some things that computers will never achieve no matter how highly developed they become, despite the claims of artificial-intelligence enthusiasts. “Never” predictions have a notorious and hilarious history of failure, but I will venture to make some in this case. Computers will never enjoy a milk shake, nor prefer strawberry to chocolate. They will never laugh, cry, tell a joke, or even smile. They will never be excited, depressed, interested, awed, bored, lonely, or contented. No computer will ever think about who designed and built it and why, or whether it was designed and built and purposeful at all, let alone whether the universe is designed and purposeful. No computer will ever ask or try to answer philosophical questions. Computers do not have a panic button, but they do have a delete button that perfectly erases a particular item from their memory. They will never wonder whether they are more than just a machine, or write books debating that question. They will never write or read a book of any kind, never produce or watch a movie. They will never pray or worship. They will never love, hate, be surprised, scared, impressed, ambitious, greedy, frustrated, or disappointed, make plans or wishes, all the scary science-fiction stories notwithstanding.
Computers will never establish a school to teach young computers how to design and program human beings. They will never hold a funeral for a departed computer, or human. They will never fall in love, marry, divorce, have children, raise them or abuse them, or soothe a frightened baby. Computers will never develop a language, or system of writing, or change it, or invent slang or profanity, or make accurate translations or dictionaries. No computer will ever be able to read a doctor’s signature. They will never write nor enjoy a science-fiction story about computers, or any other kind of story. No computer will ever write a (good, whatever that means) melody, opera, letter, diary, textbook, book review, or psychological test, nor answer one. They will never be curious, study something, or design and do an experiment, or propose and solve a problem. They will never design or build a building, bridge, or even a barbecue, though they are highly useful tools for people who design things. Computers will never set up a government, organize a political party or a union or a street gang, run for office, manage an election, vote, negotiate, sign a contract, or break one. They will never start a war, let alone win or lose one. They will never make laws or break them, though computer operators do. They will never create a unit of currency, devalue it, or counterfeit it, buy, sell, set up a bank, make a profit, or earn a living (they have no living to earn). They will never invent devices or write computer programs for their convenience, nor use them. Computers will never organize a state fair nor attend one, nor enjoy or fear any of the rides. They will never organize professional or amateur athletic activities, nor practice, compete, or watch.
Computers will never enter the entertainment industry; no self-respecting computer would be caught dead doing the foolish things many entertainers do. Computers will never create a work of art, nor appreciate one, nor appreciate the beauty in the natural world. They will not design new fashions, nor discard perfectly good clothes because fashions have changed. No computer will ever look at an overstuffed closet and say “I haven’t got a thing to wear.” They will never judge (let alone enter) a beauty pageant, a writing contest, a baking contest, or a county fair hog show. They will never award nor receive prizes of any kind. They will never invent musical instruments or games, nor play them, though people may write computer programs to perform a game for them. The famous IBM chess-playing computer does not know it is playing chess, and does not know or care whether it won or lost. Like all other computers, it knows nothing. Computers will never compose music, or practice and perform it, or gather in audiences to watch the performance or clap. There will never be Pentium’s Fifth Symphony, and even if there is the (human) audience will be very small and unimpressed. There is “computer art” and “computer music,” but it is produced by programs written by human beings, and its quality is debatable at best. Computers will never need a holiday, or take one. Old computers never die, or have a mid-life crisis, they just crash or become obsolete.
The famous chess-playing computer deserves further comment. IBM makes a huge investment in this project, for publicity purposes. It performs several hundred million operations per second. It is executing a program carefully devised by, you guessed it, expert humans, who construct criteria for choosing which of all the possible future combinations of play are worth considering. If it were totally blindly considering all possible plays, it could not finish in a reasonable amount of time. The human opponent is at most considering two plays per second in choosing his (thus far no women have entered this competition) next move, and furthermore is planning farther ahead than the computer is yet capable of. And still it is a close competition, and it is considered amazing when the computer finally wins a game against the master. Obviously the human and the computer are performing totally different forms of “thinking.” Any comparisons between them are ignoring the vast chasm that still separates them.
There will always be (until we stand before our Maker at the Last Judgment!) a hard core of people who insist that all the above human behaviors and more (that long paragraph could go on forever; what would you add to it?) can still be regarded as the product of complex physics and chemistry in the human body and brain. Although it is so obvious that computers are not human, there are experts who try to convince us that humans are computers. But do the rest of us believe that? Does the expert himself really believe his girlfriend or wife is no more than a complex machine? (I omit “herself,” because I give women credit for being sufficiently in touch with themselves not be this sort of expert.) We cannot argue with people who say so, but can only pity them, because they must suppress so much within them that contradicts what they profess to believe. What frustrations and disappointments must have driven them to such a sad condition? Is it we or they who are benighted, out of touch with reality, and self-deluded? It is inconsistent to claim to believe naturalism, yet express the very human feelings of awe, enjoyment, and curiosity about nature, and emphasize the importance of values and dignity in human life and society. Yet this is exactly what is calmly and confidently stated in countless articles and TV science documentaries.
There is a large and impressive research community developing “artificial intelligence.” They are accomplishing amazing things, with ever-larger databases, and complex computer networks. But artificial intelligence will always be exactly that, artificial. There are even claims that such work will soon produce consciousness in computers, but this must be based on an extremely rudimentary, reductionist definition of consciousness. This point is argued by other scientists who profess no religious belief, not just by we who have a religious viewpoint at stake. Even the most ardent proponents of artificial intelligence have no intention of ever writing an obituary or holding a funeral for a computer, nor expectation that any computer will ever do so.
An interesting and controversial detour would be to discuss how many of the above activities animals can perform, but we are not discussing the distinction between humans and animals. This discussion has engaged in enough controversies without that one!
All the above is the subjective side of this question. Perhaps the most objective problem with this viewpoint is that it undermines itself. If we say that there are absolutely no events outside the cause-effect chain of natural laws, then where did our thinking come from, including this thought? The only materialistic explanation is vibration of molecules in our brain cells, but that makes all thought meaningless. There have been various attempts to defend the meaningfulness of thought on the basis of the order of nature, or the evolutionary adaptive value of a thought pattern that is consistent with physical reality. But such attempts are unconvincing, and it is impossible to even make the attempt without implicitly assuming the opposite. The only way thinking, including thinking about reality, can be meaningful is if personality exists in a broader reality beyond the realm of natural cause and effect, but this is exactly what a materialist does not believe. He can only regard his own thoughts as either miracles or meaningless, and he does not believe in miracles…. When we remove God from the universe, it becomes only a meaningless machine, and we become part of the machine. Then the only way to feel that we and our lives are meaningful is to become our own “God.” This is the basic assumption of existentialism. Most materialists do not understand this loss of value, and cannot accept it. A few, like Bertrand Russell, understood it and admitted that it is frightening but must be faced bravely. But even Russell, in his monumental book The Wisdom of the West, pointed out many fallacies of past philosophers including fallacies in their criticisms of theistic religion, but he never got around to facing the problem that even these very thoughts themselves become meaningless if they are right.
We simply do not understand the nature of consciousness and thought, or the relationship between the person and the brain. Probably this is one of the deep parts of our nature that are beyond our complete understanding. We cannot expect to get outside of ourselves sufficiently to enable us to look back and attain a complete understanding of ourselves.
Atheists’ viewpoint on personhood and values is self-contradictory and fails to meet the needs we feel. This is good reason to doubt that it is true, though not a proof. If we claim that this actually proves it is false, some will object that this approach is unfair and closed-minded, because it excludes the possibility that atheists may after all be right. It is a fair question to ask what would be accepted as sufficient evidence that we are in fact mere complex machines in a meaningless mechanical universe. My answer is that it would be possible to believe that nothing exists beyond the material universe if there were no conscious beings in the universe wondering about this question. To ask this question is to answer it. Even if we do not admit we are persons, we still are. The very act of denying personhood is a demonstration of personhood.
B Some people misuse social sciences and humanities against:The attacks on religion discussed in the first section say “Natural science is supreme,” “nothing but.” In this section we discuss people who say that there is “nothing but social sciences and humanities,” that religion is nothing but feelings and concepts, and therefore we can completely explain it in terms of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Many such “nothing but” comments were discussed in the previous section. It is mostly self-contradictory. It is reductionism on a different level.
(parts of this section are based on Dyrness’ book, ch. 8)1 revelation:“Many religions have sacred books, which are considered revelations from or about the supernatural, spiritual world. Their contents can be completely explained by the historical development and physical environment of that society and culture, and the personality and experiences of the writers. For example, Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915. There is no real revelation from a supernatural God, or perhaps all religions are different truths from the same supernatural world. We should not say one group’s religion is right and others are wrong. We must accept and respect others and their beliefs. There is no absolute truth.”2 conversion, religious experience:“Individual feelings and behavior, including those connected with religious belief, can be completely explained by psychology. For example, Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, the Future of an Illusion, 1939. Religious concepts are a projection of our childhood father image, mere wish fulfillment to try to overcome our fears, failures, frustrations, trials, and emptiness. We have created God in our own image.”3 free will:“Personal choice and decision is only an illusion. All thought and behavior is predetermined by heredity and environment. For example, B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971. We should control society in order to control and improve people.”
In ch. 3, II, C we discussed the statement that there is no absolute truth. Here we face the statement that there are no moral absolutes. As before we must immediately reply, are there absolutely no moral absolutes?
If there are no standards, then we have no basis for saying that Hitler, Stalin, or people who commit physical or sexual abuse, are wrong. How many people believe this? How many really want to believe this? The few who do are described in manuals on psychopathology, and are considered a menace to society from whom the rest of us must protect ourselves by forcibly restraining them.
At a dinner I was once talking to a woman who advocated reason and education as the solution to all the world’s ills. I commented that Hitler was reasonable (given his assumptions) and educated. She suddenly had to go to the bathroom, and while she was away her friend told me she was a Jew.
These attacks on religion are partly true, which is why they are so influential. We are influenced and controlled by psychological and sociological factors much more than we usually realize. But are we totally controlled? Are we only machines? If so, then what controlled Durkheim, Freud, and Skinner? Were they not a product of their background, society, and intellectual community? Or do they claim to be some exalted form of being looking down on the human race from a different realm? If society should be controlled to improve it, who should control it? Who says who should control it? What does “improve” mean? Who decides what it means? Who decides who decides?....
It is true that our society greatly influences how we think and believe. But what we think and believe also influences society. The Bible says God especially chose and prepared the Jewish people, despite all their faults and failures, to be the ones through whom He gave His revelation to the whole world. If we say that society determines what we think, including what the authors of the Bible thought, then how can we explain why the Bible teaches so many things that no society easily accepts, and describes God as so different from us?
It is true that the faith of many people, including many Christians, is largely wish-fulfillment and cultural background, dreaming. But that does not prove that all faith is nothing more than this.
It is true that our concept of God and our relationship with our earthly father have deep psychological interconnections, which could be called projection. But which way does the projection go, and what does this have to do with whether one or the other is real? Which came first, our earthly father or heavenly One? Eph. 3:15 refers to “the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Some commentaries suggest this means that the very concept of fatherhood is drawn from God and defined by Him. If the Bible’s creation account is true, then the system of parenthood and child-raising was established by God, and one purpose is for its instructional value to us. The Bible constantly uses family relationships as illustrations of our relationship with God. Our experience as children with our parents teaches us much about dependence and trust that transfers to our relationship with God. When we grow up and have our own children, many Christian parents, myself included, find that our experience of having and raising children also gives us new insight into God’s relationship with us.
Unfortunately, no parent is perfect, and some are terribly flawed. This has a negative impact on our concept of God. It becomes a hindrance, though not an insurmountable one. The faults of our parents can help us understand God’s perfection in contrast. If atheists claim that believers’ concept of God’s existence and nature is totally produced by their parents’ power and character, then we could alsoclaim that atheists’ concept of God’s non-existence and impossibility is totally produced by their parents’ failures and faults. This would be a fascinating psychology research topic.
Objectivity does not necessarily lead to disbelief, and belief is not a sure symptom of blind submission to tradition. To give the truth a chance to become apparent, we must doubt our doubts (repeating a comment at the beginning of ch. 4). Unbelief is only one item on a par with all others in the marketplace of beliefs. There is a strange double standard applied to the “scholarly” study of religion. In every other field I can think of, a teacher and researcher is required to believe the prevailing paradigms of that field. That certainly is true in my field, physics. Yet in “religious studies” or even so-called “Christian studies” it often seems mandatory to take a stance of disbelief in order to be considered competent and objective in teaching or research. Anyone who is a believer is automatically disqualified. The only way to justify this practice is to admit that the prevailing paradigm of the religious studies community is disbelief. But can such people really claim to understand the faith of believers?
Answering that question, I would say yes and no. In some ways they cannot understand what they have not experienced. On the other hand, my reference to a prevailing paradigm highlights the fact that everyone is a believer in something, complete with a healthy proportion of bias, prejudice, and subjectivity. Unbelief may also be wish-fulfillment, hoping for freedom from any superior power which/who might interfere with our own wishes and plans, and who might someday reward or punish us. Wish-fulfillment may in fact be the basis of faith for many Christians, but not necessarily for all, and it is not only Christians who can dream! Many people have chosen a lifestyle in which they must hope that there is no God who will one day judge them by a standard of justice and morality, and they profess to believe in the non-existence of such a God. Who is dreaming?
Whether a particular belief fulfills our wishes, and whether it is true, are two separate questions. If a belief meets all our needs, that is at least a strong clue that it is from the Creator Who knows our needs. If a belief does not meet our needs, that proves either that it is not from our Creator, or if it is then He does not care about our needs. The God of the Bible meets all our needs (but not all our wishes): love, forgiveness, security, purpose, comfort, instruction. See ch. 6, II, N, and IV.
Of course believers’ experiences can be described in terms of psychological principles and effects; how could it be otherwise? People are psychological. Only machines have no psychological effects. But a psychological description is not necessarily an explanation. Psychologists observe a pattern of behavior and give the pattern a name, but this does not mean they understand the cause of behavior; they have only hung a label on it. Human personality is complex beyond our comprehension.
If people reject religion because believers experience psychological effects, do they mean that religion should have no psychological effects? That is impossible, and if there were such a religion it would not meet our personal needs, which would refute any claims that it is a supernatural revelation from our personal Creator who should understand our needs. My freshman physics course has very little psychological effect (though the effort required to understand it, and the grades earned, seem to have considerable influence on some students’ psychological state), but that hardly means we wish to make physics a model for the structure of a religion.
Many people believe we are the product of an impersonal, meaningless natural universe. How could that produce people who feel a need for personal meaning? Where did these needs come from, if not from a personal God Who created us to need Him?
Even if psychology and sociology could explain all of subjective religious feelings, this still would not explain many objective phenomena including the origin of the universe and living things, and the Bible’s historical accuracy, miracle stories, Jesus Christ, etc. See ch. 6, I, II, III.
Thus far this is a critique of the logic of this attack on religious faith, in defense of that faith. But let also us go on the offensive, and critique the critiquers. What alternative do they offer? Where will we go if we follow them? We in the modern world have already followed them far down their road; where have we gone? There are already hints of this in the above discussion of the implications of the rejection of all standards. This is discussed further at the end of ch. 6, III, N, on the Bible’s good influence on society.
C Astronomy and biology vs. creationAstronomy relates to the age of the universe, which is the subject of ch. 7.
D History vs. the BibleMany people claim that the Bible is full of historical errors. This is discussed in ch. 6, III, E.