Is religion a failed attempt at scientific explanation?

Is religion a failed attempt at scientific explanation? September 9, 2020


Glacier National Park's Swiftcurrent Lake
Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph). A not obviously relevant but very beautiful image.


Here’s a passage from Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010).  McGrath is a former atheist, now an Anglican priest, who holds three Oxford doctorates — in molecular biophysics, theology, and intellectual history.  In this passage, he cites the very prominent British literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton:


For the new atheists Christianity represents an antiquated way of explaining things that can be pensioned off in the modern scientific age.  In one of the wonderfully unsubstantiated assertions that make up so much of his case against religion, Christopher Hitchens tells us that since the invention of the telescope and microscope religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important.”  It’s a nice sound bite which, when placed alongside many other equally unsubstantiated sound bites, almost manages to create the semblance of an evidence-based argument.  But is it anything more than that?

In his brilliantly argued critique of the new atheism, Terry Eagleton ridicules those who treat religion as a purely explanatory matter.  “Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place.  It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”  Believing that religion is a “botched attempt to explain the world” is on the same intellectual level as “seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.”

Eagleton is surely right here.  There is far more to Christianity than an attempt to make sense of things.  The New Testament is primarily concerned with the transformation of human existence through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The gospel is thus not so much about explanation as about salvation — the transformation of the human situation.  (9-10)




Here’s a helpful five-minute video that was recommended by this blog’s own Sam LeFevre:


“Is the CDC LYING about COVID DEATH numbers?”


And these two items (also, if I’m not mistaken, recommended by Sam LeFevre) are also worthwhile:


“Who is spreading COVID-19 misinformation and why: Many different groups and individuals spread false information.”


“The relation between media consumption and misinformation at the outset of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in the US”




And, finally, on the non-coronavirus-related topic of perceiving language:


“Children’s brains hear language differently: Research suggests this also helps them recover from neural injury.”


“3 recent discoveries have upended scientists’ understanding of how dogs age, navigate, and perceive human speech”

It seems that dogs may process human speech in the same way that we ourselves do, and — get this — that they may use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate.



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