This post is by RJS; for the record a Professor of Chemistry and thus (take a deep breath) a scientist…
We all know, or have heard repeated over and over … Science has Disproved Christianity… the elite and intelligent know it … it is only a matter of time before average Americans come to their senses and realize it. This is the proposition discussed in Chapter 6 of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.
There are several aspects to the conflict – or apparent conflict – between science and faith that often serve as barriers to consideration of the Christian story in our educated and skeptical society. We could stretch this over several posts – but instead I just beg your indulgence in one longer than normal post.
1. Science has proven that miracles are impossible. We’ve heard this statement in many forms and many places. It is, of course, not true. Science cannot disprove miracles, as science can only address the question of normal or natural cause. None of us actually think that miracles represent the normal process in the world today or were the standard mode of operation in the past.
If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles. After all, if he created everything out of nothing, it would hardly be a problem for him to rearrange parts of it as and when he wishes. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didnât exist, and that is an article of faith. The existence of God can be neither demonstrably proven or disproven. (p. 86)
There is another important point here as well – miracles are not and never were intended as magic tricks, or as on call interventions for our individual good. When we consider miracles the most important point is why — why are miracles performed in the first place?
In the ministry of Jesus and in the early Church miracles had purpose. They fulfill prophecy and enact the coming of the kingdom of God. Disease, hunger, death, pain, suffering; these are not the intent of God in his creation. As Keller puts it: Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming. (p.96) A corollary to this must be the realization – any miracles today must also have purpose.
2. Intelligent people don’t believe in God. People like Dawkins and his ilk like to point out that only 7% of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) believe in a God who actively communicates with humanity, at least through prayer. From this a causal link is assumed – intelligent scientific thinking leads to the nearly inevitable conclusion that there is no God.
But, there are several problems with this conclusion. First – most scientists base disbelief on other than scientific grounds; the factors are nearly always a complex mix of intellectual, social, and personal issues. Second – while all scientists base their science on methodological naturalism, it is not true that all or even most profess belief in ontological naturalism or “physicalist naturalism” – that the ultimate explanation and reason for everything lies in the as yet unknown theory of everything. There is more to life than elementary particle physics and string theory. Most scientists today, for example, believe that our conviction that genocide is morally wrong is not an “accident” of evolution – but an absolute value. Finally – I (RJS) think that the well documented drop in percentage of believers as one moves into elite circles – faculty at top universities, scientists elected to the NAS, Nobel Prize winners – comes in part from the highly competitive nature of science and the fact that it is hard to balance a Christian lifestyle with the level of effort and commitment required to excel in science today. This is not a criticism of those successful Christians, but a realistic assessment of the forces at play. Values influence choices. Choices influence achievement.
3. Evolution disproves the Bible. This, of course, depends on our interpretation of Genesis and other passages of scripture. Scientific knowledge may inform the interpretation of some texts – and it may be inconsistent with certain interpretations. But this does not mean that evolution disproves the Bible. Frankly, God’s method in creation is not fundamental to Christianity. On this blog we have discussed these issues in the course of a six-part series on Francis Collins’ book The Language of God,especially in this post a couple of months ago, and in a series on Vern Poythress’ book Redeeming Sciencefrom early 2007 found here, here, and here.
Keller’s own position is not given in detail but he makes several provocative comments on p. 94:
I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened. There will always be debates about how to interpret some passages — including Genesis 1. But it is false logic to argue that if one part of Scripture can’t be taken literally then none of it can be. That isn’t true of any human communication.
For the record I think that God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.
Keller’s most important point is that this is a “nonessential” with sincere Christian believers taking different positions. Keller notes:
…those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate. The skeptical inquirer does not need to accept any one of these positions in order to embrace the Christian faith. Rather he or she should concentrate on and weigh the central claims of Christianity.
And then we have issues of common descent and The Fall…
Ok Folks … What are the essentials?