Christianity Can’t be Deduced from Nature

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
— Albert Einstein

Atheist Christianity discussionSuppose Einstein’s catastrophic World War III happened and civilization was destroyed. After a thousand years, civilization returns to roughly our level of scientific awareness.

After losing all knowledge of optics and thermodynamics and gravity, this naive society has re-discovered it—the very same laws of optics and thermodynamics and gravity that we have now. The same is true for relativity or e = mc2 or f = ma or any other scientific law or theory.

Obviously, these post-apocalyptic humans would have different terms and ways of representing things—consider how mathematical symbols, numbers, punctuation, paragraph breaks, and even spaces have evolved over the centuries. But whatever notation they invented would be synonymous with our own since they would simply be descriptions of the same natural phenomena.

By contrast, imagine that all knowledge of Christianity were lost. A new generation might make up something to replace it, since humans seem determined to find supernatural agency in the world, but they wouldn’t recreate the same thing. There is no specific evidence of the Christian God around us today. The only evidence of God in our world are tradition and the Bible. Eliminate that, and Christianity would be lost forever.

There would be nothing that would let this future culture recreate Christianity—no miracles, no God speaking to them, no prayers answered, no divine appearances (unless God decided to act more overtly than he does today). Sure, there would be beauty to wonder at, great complexity in the interwoven structure of nature, frightening things like death and disease for which they would need comfort, riddles within nature, and odd coincidences. People then, like they do now, would likely grope for supernatural explanations, but starting from scratch you could invent lots of religions to explain these things. There is no evidence or observation that would guide them to any supernatural dogma that we have today, except by coincidence.

Christians today come to their beliefs because someone initially told them of Christianity. If no one told you, you couldn’t figure out Christianity on your own, which is quite the opposite from how science works.

Note that morality doesn’t need rediscovering.  Naive people don’t need to be told that you oughtn’t treat someone else in a way you wouldn’t like to be treated.  That doesn’t mean that everyone in a post-apocalyptic society will act with compassion and generosity, just that they don’t need to be taught this.

The Bible weighs in on our thought experiment. It claims:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse(Romans 1:18–20).

And yet, without God informing humanity of his existence, Christianity could never be recreated. Worship of one or more gods, sure. But not Christianity.

Here’s a variation on this thought experiment. Imagine the post-Christian society comes across a library from our day from which they find information about 20 religions that are popular today. This information spreads and civilization gradually adopts these new religious options. What is the likelihood that Christianity would come out on top again? Not very.

Let’s acknowledge that Christianity is sticky. If its message were a dud—that is, if it didn’t give people what they were looking for, at least to some extent—it would have faded away. But now we’ve turned our backs on the question of truth and are squarely in the domain of marketing, considering which features of religion satisfy people’s emotional needs and which are turn-offs.

This is religion as breakfast cereal. Some new cereal brands last for a few months and are then withdrawn while others remain appealing (often adapting to changes within society) over the decades. Christianity is simply the Cheerios of religion. Like any successful brand in the marketplace, Christianity has spun off many variants—as if Protestantism were the equivalent of Honey Nut Cheerios, Mormonism as MultiGrain Cheerios, and Pentecostal as Cinnamon Burst Cheerios.

What can you say about a religion that can’t be recreated from evidence at hand today? About a religion whose god is knowable only through tradition? You can say what applies to all religions: we can’t prove that it’s manmade, but it gives every indication of being so.

I’ll end an observation by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason, still relevant 200 years after he wrote it.

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not any thing can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.

See other posts in the God Doesn’t Exist series.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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“God Did It” Explains Everything … or Maybe Not

"Creation of Adam" painting raises the question: does God even exist?It’s time once again to check in with apologist Greg Koukl. In a recent podcast (“Is Consciousness an Illusion?“ 12/4/11), he talked about Daniel Dennett’s 2006 book Breaking the Spell.

Let me first seize the opportunity to agree with something. Koukl says, “Reality is the kind of thing … that will injure you if you don’t take it seriously.” It’s good to see us with the same goal of seeing reality clearly.

But we don’t agree on everything. Koukl said:

[Dennett has] made a claim in this book about something that is very, very difficult for a materialist to deal with that makes sense completely within a Christian worldview. (3:05)

The “something” is consciousness. So Koukl says that the scientist has a tough time explaining consciousness, but it’s easy for the Christian.

While it’s true that science has much to discover about consciousness and how it works, I don’t see anything in particular that ought to keep the naturalist up at night. Science has an unanswered question—big deal. Science has lots of unanswered questions. It also has a marvelous track record for answering them.

But what trips me up here is the idea that the Christian worldview adds to the discussion. How does God explain anything?

Let me make clear that I can never prove that God didn’t do something. For example, let’s consider a few claims about God by Pat Robertson. He said that God is “lifting His protection from this nation” to allow terrorist attacks (2001). And that Hurricane Katrina might be God’s doing (2005). And that the people of Haiti made a pact with the devil, in response to which God allowed the earthquake that killed 300,000 (2010). These are assertions without evidence (and, in the case of Haiti in particular, of much contrary evidence), but I can’t prove that “God did it” is false.

The fact is, “God did it” can explain everything. As a result, it explains nothing.

“God did it” is simply a repackaging of “I don’t know.” It tells us nothing new. I’m no smarter after hearing “God did it” than before. It tamps down one set of questions, but others pop up: Who is God and how does he act in the world? Is he one of the thousands of gods that humans have already formed religions around or someone new? Why did God do what he did? What natural laws did God use to do it, and what laws did he suspend? How can we communicate with him?

And think about the size of various claims. The claim “1 + 1 = 2” is not controversial. The claim “I had a sandwich for lunch” is unsurprising, and thorough evidence could be provided to back it up. But the claim “There is a being that created the universe” is without scientific precedent—that is, science knows of no supernatural anything, let alone a being that could create the universe. I can think of no bolder claim than “God did it.” It’s baffling to me how apologists can toss out that immense claim and simply let it hang there, supported by nothing more than wishful thinking and tradition.

“God did it” doesn’t do it. It satisfies only those who want their preconceptions affirmed.

But let me take a step back for a moment. I’m treating this claim with the dignity due those that make testable pronouncements about reality. Perhaps that’s my mistake—if it’s simply a theological claim divorced from reality, fine. In that case, it’s a claim to be taken simply on faith, with no pretense of evidence or verifiability, and I have no use for it.

Let me end with a song, “Tell Me Why” by Pat Benatar*, which nicely makes the “God did it” claim.

Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me what makes skies so blue,
And I’ll tell you why I love you.

(refrain)
Because God made the ivy twine.
Because God made the stars to shine.
Because God made the sky so blue.
Because God made you, that’s why I love you.

This Christian explanation is poetic, but for those of us who prefer to actually understand the world, Isaac Asimov has a new and improved refrain:

Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropisms make the ivy twine,
Rayleigh scattering make skies so blue,
Testicular hormones are why I love you.

I’ll stick with the discipline with the track record for explaining reality.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

*Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing.

Related posts:

  • Don’t Move the Goalposts. Apologists often say about the puzzling questions at the limits of science, “If you can’t answer them, we can!” For the old questions (such as “What causes disease?” or “What causes drought?”) this claim is now laughable. Why is Christianity’s claim to answer the new questions any less so?
  • Philosophical Grounding: A Parable. We’re told, “The atheist borrows from the Christian worldview!” But dig into this claim, and you’ll see there’s nothing there.

Cartoon: Mythology and Science Just Don’t Mix

Cartoon: A boy asks a priest about the Adam and Eve story.  Since Eve came from Adam's rib, "she" had the same DNA and the same sex chromosomes.  So we're all descended from two gay clones!

Artwork credit: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Stephen Hawking Speaks

Here’s an excellent video (43:39) inspired by Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design. It’s quite approachable, but it does get into some apologetics-relevant topics like, Does the Big Bang demand a Creator? and Can something come from nothing?

Hawking says that it doesn’t and it can.

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I Survived the Creation Conference (1 of 2)

Noah's ArkI attended the 2011 Seattle Creation Conference and made it out to tell the tale.

The slogan of the conference was, “Dedicated to glorifying God through the scientific study of His Creation and refuting the false claims of Evolutionism.”  (Is it just me or does that last phrase betray a presupposition?)  There were prayers galore, sometimes both opening and closing a single lecture.

If the speakers were confident that science will eventually support the biblical view, they could let the science speak for itself.  They could show confidence that science will lead us to the biblical answer.  The question, “If Science and Scripture diverged, which one would you follow?” came to mind, but the answer was obvious.

This was a young-earth Creationism conference.  “Young earth” means: the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  “Creationism” means: evolution is nonsense.  There were probably some old-earthers there too, but I’m pretty sure that I was the only one stupid enough to accept the scientific consensus on evolution.

The remainder of this post is about lectures by Mike Oard from Creation Ministries International, who spoke for two hours on Noah’s flood.  (Let me add that everyone was polite, including me, so I’m attacking the “science,” not the speakers.)

Oard began with a couple of Bible quotes to justify using reason.  It’s odd to need such a justification in a conference “dedicated to … scientific study,” but OK.  One quote was, “Examine carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).  I suspect that the last phrase was seen as license to pick and choose.

He stressed that, while some Christians imagine this to be a local flood, it was global.  I enjoy seeing Creationists attack each other, but Continue reading

Science Answers the Big Questions

In a recent post, I argued that Christianity’s smug claim to be able to answer the Big Questions of Life® is empty.  Sure, it can answer these questions, but so can anyone.  It’s whether the answers are credible that matters.

For discovering reality, religion comes up short.  And I would argue that Science does provide answers to these questions.

For example: Why are we here?  We’re here for no more cosmically-significant reason than why deer, jellyfish, and oak trees are here.

For example: Where did we come from?  Science has some decent answers (Big Bang, evolution) and still has a lot of work to do in other areas (string theory, abiogenesis).  Science never answers anything with certainty, but the scientific consensus, where there is one, is the best explanation that we have at the moment.  The retort “Well, if Science can’t answer it, my religion can!” is hardly an argument.

For example: What is my purpose?  There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life.  One great thing about rejecting dogma is that you get to select your own purpose!  And who better than you to decide what that is?

And so on.  Science has answers; it’s just that religion doesn’t like them.

Science has only one reality to align itself with.  By contrast, each religion makes up its own, which is why they can’t agree.  Science provides answers and doesn’t demand faith to accept them.

Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod on top.  The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage.  Which claim has the evidence to argue that it’s true?  Religion makes truth claims and so does science, but science takes it one step further: it actually delivers on its claims.

Religion … well, not so much.

Photo credit: Wikipedia