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

Related posts:

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    So you’re saying that because Christianity rests on events having occurred in history, if we do not have access to the historical records of these events then they did not happen?

    Have you been smoking some Baudrillard?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      My point was that it rests solely in history. The hypothesis is that there’s a God who desperately wants us to know him, and yet we’d have no specifics of God without history.

      Add to this the fact that historians reject supernatural elements within history, and that makes the belief implausible.

      • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

        There are plenty of other things that rest on history, for example democracy, or any books or works of art. Say goodbye to Shakespeare, Homer, Mozart, Da Vinci and all of their works. Do their works suddenly become irrelevant or meaningless, or not true simply because they are not “scientific”?

        Forget about Abraham Lincoln, or even the idea that slaves should be freed, or the concept of government of the people by the people. Science can’t discover these things either.

        And your comment that historians reject supernatural events in history is simply not true. Try doing a survey of historians of the NT period to see how many reject supernatural events in the life of Jesus. You will find that many accept such events. However, most historical textbooks are written for a general audience and therefore don’t take sides on an issue where there is great division.

        • Retro

          Say goodbye to Shakespeare, Homer, Mozart, Da Vinci and all of their works. Do their works suddenly become irrelevant or meaningless, or not true simply because they are not “scientific”?

          If we found out that another author actually wrote Shakespear’s plays, would that make them meaningless? No. The value of a play is in the content of the script, not in the name of the author.

          Unless any of these artists were making faulty scientific claims about scientific things, their works will not suddenly become irrelevant or meaningless.

          Remember, the Bible claims to be more than just a work of art. Since the Bible makes truth claims, and is suppossed to be from God, it matters whether or not God actually authored it. If we found out that someone other than God authored the Bible, it would suddenly become irrelevant and meaningless.

          So then, how exactly do you know the Bible was inspired by God?

          And your comment that historians reject supernatural events in history is simply not true.

          Excluding the supernatural events in the Bible, are there any other supernatural events that you accept as historical?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Do their works suddenly become irrelevant or meaningless, or not true simply because they are not “scientific”?

          They’re not “scientific”; they’re “historical.” And historians reject supernatural claims without exception. I’m pretty sure that our historical accounts of Shakespeare and the rest are based on no supernatural claims.

          Try doing a survey of historians of the NT period to see how many reject supernatural events in the life of Jesus. You will find that many accept such events.

          I always put an asterisk next to “historical” claims from religious people, don’t you? If you gave the gospel story to a group of Muslim historians, what do you think they’d say? My guess is that they’d universally reject the supernatural claims. Don’t you think we should asterisk their opinions?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          Retro,
          the fact is that your point is very different to the one Bob was making. Bob was making the point that Christianity is not important because it couldn’t be recreated by scientific discovery. If you regard any of the things I mentioned as important then you also are opposed to Bob’s argument.

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          I always put an asterisk next to “historical” claims from religious people, don’t you?

          So an admission that you automatically discount the views of those who are opposed to you on this issue.

          Try looking up words like “prejudice” and “bias”. If the shoe fits …

          For myself, I try to treat all claims fairly regardless of my prior position.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          Try looking up words like “prejudice” and “bias”. If the shoe fits …

          When someone who’s biased makes a statement, how should I treat it??

          For myself, I try to treat all claims fairly regardless of my prior position.

          This doesn’t answer the question: wouldn’t you, like me, asterisk the gospel critique from Muslim scholars? Or would their historical expertise be every bit as relevant as that from Christian scholars?

        • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

          When someone who’s biased makes a statement, how should I treat it??

          The idea that you can find an unbiased view is somewhat flawed.The act that you treat views differently depending on where their bias lies is prejudicial.

          This doesn’t answer the question: wouldn’t you, like me, asterisk the gospel critique from Muslim scholars? Or would their historical expertise be every bit as relevant as that from Christian scholars?

          It depends on what they say and how it stacks up with the evidence and other expert opinion. If their opinion is based solely on the Quran, excluding evidence from Christian writings (earlier and with better textual attestation than the Quran) then I will probably consider their views as less reliable than those who include evidence from more and better sources. Whether they are a Muslim is not the point, how their view stacks up with the evidence and other expert opinion is. Now if the Muslim was able to come up with a convincing argument that the pre-Quranic Christian writings were not to be trusted it would be another story, however I have yet to see a convincing argument along this line.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          (I think this argument is getting fragmented over two threads…)

          If their opinion is based solely on the Quran, excluding evidence from Christian writings (earlier and with better textual attestation than the Quran) then I will probably consider their views as less reliable than those who include evidence from more and better sources.

          (1) Our thought experiment is as follows: imagine that our Muslim scholars are unfamiliar with the NT story but are very skilled and educated historians within a Muslim context.

          You create a year-long intensive course to educate them about what the NT story says and all the evidence in favor of it.

          Now you ask these scholars: Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? What do you suppose they’ll say?

          (2) As for Bible vs. Koran, the Bible is older, which is a strike against it.

          The period of oral tradition appears to be no worse in the case of the Koran than Mark and perhaps significantly better (Wikipedia says that the Koran was written “shortly after” Mohammed’s death). The Bible adds books from many different authors, making more of a hodgepodge than the single-author Koran. I’m sure there are many subtleties that I’m missing, but I reject your argument that the Koran is less reliable than the Bible.

          Of course, I think that the Koran is complete nonsense, but that’s beside the point.

  • Rick Townsend

    Bob,

    The Bible doesn’t claim you can get all the way to Christianity by GENERAL revelation (that which embodies the order clearly seen in nature, or is universally experienced by all in the form of human conscience.) It only claims you cannot logically and with intellectual honesty ignore the order and choose not to infer a creative entity. The specifics of Christianity can only be derived from SPECIAL revelation, that concerning the exact nature of the beliefs specific to the need for and the provision of a savior.

    By mixing the two you lessen the impact of your argument and make clear your willingness to grasp at any possible “just so” story (such as the one you made up in this blog post) to justify your missing the obvious conclusion of general revelation.

    And by capping your piece with a quote from the most obscure, most criticized and most poorly researched example of Thomas Paine’s writings, you show you are looking for a quote, any quote, validated or not, to make your point. Paine ignored mounds of evidence to make this sweeping statement and in the process tried to sweep away textual and historic evidence that was and is readily available. This is a clear example of prooftexting, and is of a sort that you would grandly (and correctly) criticize anyone on the other side of this argument. But in this case, you gladly use it because it suits your purpose.

    Rick

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I understand your general/special revelation distinction, and it sounds like you agree with the conclusions of my post.

      You say that everything is rescued by special revelation. OK–could be, but that’s similar to what anyone from any religion might say. And this puts Christianity back in the bin with all the other religions that we agree are manmade.

      a quote from the most obscure, most criticized and most poorly researched example of Thomas Paine’s writings

      Are you saying that the authenticity of this quote is suspect? Or just that many people reject it?

      This is a clear example of prooftexting

      I realize that Paine was a deist, but he was enthusiastic in his rejection of Christianity. You’re saying that I’m misrepresenting Paine’s take on Christianity?

      • Retro

        The specifics of Christianity can only be derived from SPECIAL revelation, that concerning the exact nature of the beliefs specific to the need for and the provision of a savior.

        And that was exactly the point Bob was making.

        And by capping your piece with a quote from the most obscure, most criticized and most poorly researched example of Thomas Paine’s writings, you show you are looking for a quote, any quote, validated or not, to make your point.

        “Most obscure” ??? … it’s right there in The Age of Reason…

      • Rick Townsend

        I didn’t say anything was rescued. Please don’t mischaracterize what I said. I said that the specifics of what Christianity teaches regarding salvation are made clear and specific by special revelation. I agree that you can’t get to the specifics of God’s requirements for justice being fulfilled in the sacrifice of His Son through general revelation. But you, by mixing general and special revelation, attempted to muddy the waters.

        As for your question, “Are you saying that the authenticity of this quote is suspect? Or just that many people reject it?” my point was that your quote from Thomas Paine was from his last and least respected work, and that it was very obscure as a quote. Not a very authoritative source in this case, and one that has been thoroughly answered if you research it. You may not agree with the answers, but trotting it out as if Paine is an authoritative source on Christianity, as he is on economics, is misleading and unhelpful. He is no theologian, and has no notoriety or respect as one.

        I’m saying your choice of Paine as a quotable source doesn’t advance your case because of his lack of credibility in this area. It’s like quoting a noteworthy source like Neil Armstrong on a topic like medieval art. He is a learned source, but that would be outside his field of expertise. Same with Paine on Christianity.

        • Retro

          Rick wrote: He is no theologian, and has no notoriety or respect as one.

          Great! You be able to easily refute his arguments then.

          Not a very authoritative source in this case, and one that has been thoroughly answered if you research it.

          I’d love to discuss these thorough answers you’ve found, as I’ve researched it and didn’t find much at all.

          For those of you who may want to join in on this discussion, the full text of The Age of Reason can be found here: http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/singlehtml.htm

          An audio version (running time is only about two hours), read and generously made available for free by Mike Earl, can be found here: http://reasonworks.com/thomas-paine-1737-1809/the-age-of-reason-1794/

  • Bob Calvan

    “..My point was that it rests solely in history. The hypothesis is that there’s a God who desperately wants us to know him, and yet we’d have no specifics of God without history…”

    The “.. hypothesis that there is a God who desperately wants us to know him….” Is a false one.

    First of all there is a general revelation to all men that there is a God (YHWH). And all men know this God but reject Him. That is why you are spending so much time of you life trying to disprove this God..Is because you know Him and hate Him.

    Second of all God has determined before He created whom He will spiritually reveal His presence to for Salvation. God by His grace has selected a people from Adam to His last Elect chosen person that He will save. And when God has called His last elect person to salvation, He will return. ( Not a good day for you and Retro)

    So there is nothing you can do to turn anyone away from those the Father gives the Son. All those from Adam to the final day; will come and none will be lost. It is determined, decreed , and predestined.
    So your blog as usual does not represent the Triune God of the OT and the NT. But what’s new?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That is why you are spending so much time of you life trying to disprove this God..Is because you know Him and hate Him.

      Evidence of this?

      Not a good day for you and Retro

      Justice from a fair and loving god? How could I ask for anything else?

    • Retro

      Second of all God has determined before He created whom He will spiritually reveal His presence to for Salvation.

      Obviously, God hasn’t bestowed any irresistible grace on any of the atheists here. If He had, we’d all be Calvinists.

      Fortunately for you Bob C, when God got to your name and flipped the coin, it came up heads, so you’re saved. When God got to my name and flipped the coin, it came up tails, so I’m damned.

      Oh well, according to Calvin, it’s not like there’s anything anyone here can do to change it, is there? When you get to heaven, please be sure to give God and Jesus this note for me: “Thanks for nothing.”