Christianity’s Bogus Claims to Answer Life’s Big Questions

Christianity claims to be able to answer the Big Questions of Life®. I can buy that, but anyone (or any religion) can answer them. It’s whether the answers are credible that matters.

For discovering reality, religion comes up short. Surprisingly, we rarely turn to science, the discipline that has faithfully answered so many other questions. But science can help with the Big Questions, too.

For example: Why are we here? Science can answer that: 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 remarkable 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 not a meaningful answer. Sure, your religion may have an answer, but why trust its answer over the incompatible answers of the other religions?

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?

For example: What will happen to me after I die? There’s no evidence that anything more remarkable will happen to you than happens to a deer, jellyfish, or oak tree when they die.

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 provides 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.

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 9/2/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Ian_SAfc

    Science cannot answer philosophical existential questions. Science can answer (in some cases) the “how”. Philosophy , tries to explain the “why”. The author of this piece is confused if he thinks Science and Religion are trying to answer the same questions. Another point is that, the scientific peer-reviewed fact of today, might not be in 100 years time. There is an element of “faith” in science whether an atheist likes that fact or not.

    • Dys

      Another point is that, the scientific peer-reviewed fact of today, might not be in 100 years time.

      I’m going to assume you meant theory, not fact.

      There is an element of “faith” in science whether an atheist likes that fact or not.

      Using faith in this sense is an attempt to create a false equivalence between science and religious faith. Furthermore, you apparently don’t grasp that the scientific methodology explicitly allows for errors. It allows for correction, meaning there is an inherent admittance that our ideas could be wrong. Yet another reason why it’s a far more reliable and trustworthy pathway to knowledge than religion. And it doesn’t require faith in anything approaching the religious sense of the word at all.

      • Ian_SAfc

        Yes, theory. But its often expressed as if it were fact.
        In terms of “faith”, (thats why I put it in quotes), because Science, in certain areas, does rely on assumptions that cannot be proved.

        • Dys

          Yes, it does rely on axioms. Religions, including Christianity, usually accept the same axioms and then tack on more unneeded assumptions.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Science’s axioms are constantly tested. Religion wants to support those axioms with (if you can believe it) “God dun it.”

          Religion takes this improved outlook on faith and then imagines that it has done something worthwhile.

        • MNb

          “Science’s axioms are constantly tested.”
          No, that’s incorrect.

          http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/basic_assumptions

          Scientific theories and hypotheses can be tested, but not the axioms of science. That’s not a problem at all; it suffices to notice that science works. You and me communicating via your blog supports it.
          But “tested” also implies “disproving”. Nobody argues though that science’s axioms are “disproven” because of the failure to correctly describle superconductivity at relatively high temperatures.
          So if science works we bring it up as confirmation that the axioms are correct. If it doesn’t we assume it’s a temporary problem. That’s not a test. It’s sufficient as a philosophical foundation though.
          Moreover this puts the ball in the religious park. To have credibility apologists have to show as well that religion works some way or another. I’m always eager to point out that it doesn’t.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s a good list. I was referring to a different category–1 + 1 = 2, for example. The fundamental axioms of logic. Maybe Euclid’s postulates?

          I’d say that my list is axioms and yours is assumptions. Would you buy that?

        • MNb

          I’m afraid I’m not smart enough to understand the difference between axioms and assumptions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Science cannot answer philosophical existential questions.

      And Philosophy can?

      Science can answer (in some cases) the “how”. Philosophy , tries to explain the “why”.

      “Why does the giraffe’s recurrent laryngeal nerve travel from its brain, down its neck, around an aorta in the heart, and then back up to the larynx in the head?”

      Science tells you why.

      The author of this piece is confused if he thinks Science and Religion are trying to answer the same questions.

      And you’re confused if you think the many contradictory answers that Religion gives to life’s Big Questions give any confidence at all that any are accurate.

      the scientific peer-reviewed fact of today, might not be in 100 years time.

      I’d say “the peer-reviewed theory, but I think I see your overall point.

      There is an element of “faith” in science whether an atheist likes that fact or not.

      Nope. Science is trustworthy. It has earned that trust with the tsunami of information it’s given us about reality. Religion has given us nothing.

      • Ian_SAfc

        >Science tells you why.
        I’m pretty sure your answer was tongue-in-cheek as you are aware I am talking about “why” in the context of existential questions.

        >Nope. Science is trustworthy. Religion has given us nothing.

        I am sure that Sir Isaac Newton (who some regard to be the greatest scientist of all time) might not agree with you there. And 100 out of the first 110 universities in the US were church founded, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m pretty sure your answer was tongue-in-cheek as you are aware I am talking about “why” in the context of existential questions.

          Not tongue in cheek. Science answers Why questions just fine.

          If you’re saying that science doesn’t answer philosophical questions, I’m not following. Are you saying that some other discipline does?

          I am sure that Sir Isaac Newton (who some regard to be the greatest scientist of all time) might not agree with you there.

          I’m not talking with Sir Isaac; I’m talking with you. You tell me: what has Christianity told us about reality?

          And 100 out of the first 110 universities in the US were church founded, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

          Odd. Seems that the rise of modern science is paralleled with the secularization of universities. Yet again, Christianity is no tool to teaching us about reality.

        • Ian_SAfc

          Sir Isaac Newtons belief that a God of order had created the universe prompted Newton to look for the laws that govern his creation. Had he not that belief in the first place, he would not have looked. Matthew Fontaine Maury read as a youngster in the Bible that there were “pathways” in the sea (Isa 43:16). Inspired by this, Maury embarked on a lifetime quest (who is now known as the Father of Oceanography) went looking for such pathways and thus led to him studying the ocean currents etc which have been a great source of blessing to sailors for many years.
          The dimensions of Noahs ark are very precise and its now known by modern maritime engineers to have the perfect length to width ratio to maximize stability, ie: 6 to 1.
          But, the Bible is not supposed to be a scientific textbook anyway. Thats not its purpose. Part of its purpose is to reveal our moral lostness and how to be reconciled to God through Jesus on the cross. Our purpose, God’s character, our sin and how to deal with it etc. I would never pick up a book about cookery and expect it to teach me about car maintenance. In the same way, you should never pick up a Bible and expect it to teach you about nanotechnology. The Scriptures have a unique and focused purpose.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I know what you mean. The way reality works is so changeable that only a religious belief would get you past that.

          I mean, sometimes I drop a ball and it falls quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes it rises up. Only faith in a grounding God gets me through the day.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          To your claim about the Ark, my response here.

          To your claim that the Bible has accurate scientific facts, I challenge you to provide one thing that science has learned from the Bible (not read back into it, as you do with ocean currents).

  • Alicia

    Re: deer, jellyfish, and oak trees.
    In one of my past lives when I attended (a very liberal) seminary, some classmates and I once had a very enjoyable late-night conversation about the fact that human
    religion was rather narrowmindedly focused on the relationship of humans with the divine and, while we “of course would not presume to intrude on or be overly directive of the relationship,” we spent a while wondering about the indigenous philosophies of amoebae and ferns and what tasks has God given to them to hasten the coming of the Reign of God. Alcohol was involved, and it was more tongue in cheek than otherwise, but it was a delicious experiment in breaking out of our usual conceptual frameworks.

    I’m one of those 98% atheists who lacks the courage of my convictions, and the 2% of me that doesn’t know if maybe some sort of God-ish thingy exists after all still occasionally wonders about amoebae spirituality and can I *really* rule out the possibility that they have one merely because they have no discernable cognitive capacity.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Like many others, I call myself an agnostic atheist. I have no god belief (so I’m an atheist), but I don’t know (so I’m an agnostic).

      I read someone talk about the various terms, wondering which one to use. The problem is, that many could apply to a Christian. The Christian might say, “Well, I’m a freethinker as well.” And “Oh yeah–I’m a skeptic, too.” And so on. But the Christian would never say, “I’m an atheist.” Which is one reason that I say that I am.

  • Leaf Erikson

    What is the point of “why”? It would be interesting to know, but I’d rather not have to commit to a story that can’t be confirmed just to escape the threat of uncertainty. I don’t know why things are, or what the meaning of it all might be. I’d rather be in honest doubt that deluded certainty.