Response to the Deconversion Story of “Anthrotheist”

Response to the Deconversion Story of “Anthrotheist” August 13, 2018

Words of Anthrotheist: a friendly regular contributor on my blog (he wrote this in a combox there), will be in blue.

*****

I remember some time ago having a conversation with Dave, the author of this blog, and he expressed interest in my ‘deconversion’ story. So here goes.

I don’t remember there ever being any particular anguish or trauma involved as I drifted away from church. I grew up in a Methodist home with my grandparents who attended services every Sunday (and at times in my childhood went during other days of the week; I don’t recall exactly what for). I think what I recall the most was sitting in church during Sunday school or the sermon, and thinking to myself, “I should feel more inspired by all of this.” There wasn’t any emotional connection for me, and as I grew older I started looking for an intellectual connection instead. I asked my pastor and elder church members (generally Sunday school teachers) questions, and the only answers I remember getting were, “You just have to have faith.” If there were more substantial responses, they were inconsequential enough that I have no recollection of them.

Looking for any sort of connection, in my teens I tried testing the messages I got from church, primarily regarding prayers. One evening, after chores, I spoke with my uncle regarding a particular cow he had in the pen used for cattle that were sick or close to delivery (the dairy farm I grew up on was run by my uncle and aunt, who had taken it over from my grandparents with whom I lived); he told me that he didn’t think that she (the cow) would survive the night. I didn’t have any particular connection to that cow, but was saddened; I decided to offer what wound up being my most heart-felt and earnest prayers that evening, pleading for the life of a simple farm animal. The next day, after school and during chores, I asked my uncle about it and he told me that she had lived and would probably be alright. It would be natural to assume that I felt vindicated by this apparent response to my prayers, but if anything I felt even less connected; the absolute lack of reaction from my uncle (or anyone else, cousins, hired hands, etc.) left me thinking, “Nobody sees this as miraculous, they all are taking it in stride like it’s nothing.” I think that I understood that what I had taken as a critical situation for this living creature’s wellbeing, was really just another day in the life of a dairy farmer. My prayer, honest as it was, really was quite trite; at the end, I felt more embarrassed than I did reassured.

Time passed, I stopped attending church, moved out and went to college, worked jobs, etc. One girlfriend in my twenties tried to re-convert me, but her attempts amounted to little more than emotional blackmail: believe in God or I’m going to break up with you. That relationship didn’t last, go figure. My first wife was a preacher’s daughter, but as long as I knew her she never expressed anything but indifference regarding her faith, which complimented my own feelings on the subject. My second and current wife was a member of a Pentecostal church when we got married, and I attended her church a couple of times early on. She struggled a bit with her own deconversion, but has remarked many times how she never felt committed to the message of her faith, and for over a decade had been faking it, expecting one day to “make it”, so to speak. We’re both quite content having nothing to do with any particular supernatural tradition, though we both find some interesting philosophical grist in the Tao Te Ching.

Ultimately, I have skimmed the world’s religions, curious about their essential messages. They all make fantastic claims, all of them have dedicated and sincere apologists that work diligently to support their theology (and have for centuries, at least). None of them have any greater insight into the reality in which we all find ourselves; none of them have produced answers that stand up to skeptical scrutiny. The most powerful epistemological system mankind has right now is premised precisely on the idea that there are no “supernatural” forces that cannot be accounted for. I don’t believe that science can answer every question; it is particularly lacking in areas where any data that may exist is almost entirely subjective. But it has revealed knowledge that flatly defies the claims made by the world’s religions, and provides the tools to test and confirm that knowledge. It seems my religious philosophy is basically, “Every adherent to any religion in the world has rejected the possibility of every single religion that has ever existed, with one exception; I have found no compelling reason to make that single exception for any particular religion.” I live my life in the secular realm, sharing that space in which people of all faiths can gather and interact; anyone is free to express their beliefs, no one has the privilege of demanding anyone else’s devotion. I have a former professor who is a good friend, who happens to be Catholic; a former classmate-turned-friend who is Protestant, and numerous acquaintances who’s beliefs have never come up, excepting perhaps a “thank God”, or “God bless you”, or perhaps a “We’re so blessed to… [whatever it may be].” It doesn’t bother or offend me, I am not threatened by it, and I don’t confront it with my own beliefs; I enjoy the religiously neutral space in which we live our day-to-day lives.

And that’s about it. Thanks for reading.

Thank you very much for sharing your story. I have a few thoughts, if I may:

1. Apologetics is necessary to maintain belief in the Christian faith. We must harmonize faith and reason. We have to know why we believe what we believe (assuming we even know the latter; I certainly didn’t in my early years: which was also Methodism at first). This is why I do what I do. If one isn’t taught reasons to believe in Christianity, then there is also no reason to remain a Christian. Such a person is easy pickin’s for any other competing worldview that comes around. By the same token, from where I sit: you present no reason for leaving that poses a challenge to any other Christian, in terms of compelling disproofs of their worldview. Reason per se seemed to have little to do with the whole thing (though I can see that if you weren’t presented adequate reasoning, why you would take the route you took).

2. Your story also highlights the tragedy of having no Christians around one who express enthusiasm; who “carry the torch”: who show forth the light and joy of Christ, to “spark a fire under us.” It’s very tough to have a lasting faith minus such people around us. We’re too social as human beings to not need others whom we admire, that are of our same belief-system. If we don’t, many times we won’t last long in a given environment.

3. Neither #1 nor #2 were your fault. It was the fault of your pastors and role models in the faith. And that was my experience, too, up till age 13, when my brother got “saved” and started sharing his faith (though often in a boorish, unappealing way). I didn’t come into contact with apologetics till I was 19, and especially after age 23, when I discovered historical apologetics (in my evangelical period), and my life was changed, and I knew what I was to do with my life. It was very important to me (right out of college at the time) — indeed, crucial — to merge my faith with reason.

4. Like many atheists and former Christians, you seem to have virtually made science either your religion, or at the least, what “guides” your outlook on life (worldview, philosophy). It’s a view that I have written about as “atomism”: belief that the atom can literally do everything that we believe God does: “create” the universe and the marvelous laws of science, and life and consciousness: the whole ball of wax. Personally, I think that is exponentially more difficult to believe in than a God Who is an eternal spirit and all-powerful, etc.

5. The question then is whether science contradicts or overthrows Christianity. You say, “science . . . has revealed knowledge that flatly defies the claims made by the world’s religions.” Perhaps it casts doubt on other religions, but I have yet to see an argument proving to me that our present knowledge of science casts the slightest doubt on my Christian beliefs. I’ve seen nothing that was a fundamental / essential disconnect or contradiction. Perhaps you’d like to share what it is in science that you think does that. I’d be extremely interested in that. Science can’t disprove the presence of the supernatural because its purview, by definition, is matter and empiricism. That simply can’t rule out spiritual forces or the miraculous, or God, any more than an apple rules out an orange, or east, west, or baseball, algebra.

I commend you for your tolerance and civility (having just endured a two-day marathon of some 30-40 atheists all calling me every name in the book, simply for banning one person: who last night — irony of ironies — banned me from his site). I’m not prejudiced against atheists as a class of people; you don’t seem to be prejudiced against Christians. That’s all that’s required for thoughtful human beings to interact and even to become friends. It’s the deadly combination of hostility + ignorance (along with an automatic attribution of bad faith and insincerity) that causes problems on both ends.

Do I have your permission to make this exchange a new blog post? We can continue the discussion if you like, and I’ll add any new parts. Most atheists whose deconversion stories I have commented upon got mad at me, as if it was the most objectionable thing in the world that a Christian would “dare” critique reasons an atheist gave for forsaking Christianity. I think it’s quite obvious that examinations of such stories would be part and parcel of my job as an apologist defending Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular. If someone is giving reasons to leave Christianity, then the one who gives reasons for being a Christian would and should reply to such reasons.

You are certainly welcome to post this conversation if you wish; you don’t need my permission, given that I posted my comment on your blog in the first place, but I do appreciate you asking. As for objecting to your response, I honestly would have been disappointed if you hadn’t replied. I was curious what you would make of my tale, and never expected that we would necessarily see eye-to-eye on every part [of] the interpretation. It seems to me that increasingly (at least in America where I live) it is far more important to be able (and willing!) to disagree politely, rather than surrounding ourselves solely with messages that fail to ever challenge us and lashing out when our views are confronted.

I agree: polite disagreement is more and more rare and all the more to be sought after in our present toxic environment, where every honest disagreement becomes an opportunity to demonize folks who are different from us. Thanks for being a civil voice and for being willing to discuss things on my page!

Regarding points 1-3, I don’t blame anyone in my former congregation for my deconversion. Whether they are at fault for anything would depend on who is (or should be) responsible for what activities in a church, and that is well beyond my areas of experience; as an atheist now, I don’t feel justified making any such judgement. I believe that the church I attended was probably a bit on the older side, in terms of its members; I went there with my grandparents, and the younger or middle-aged members were perhaps more active than others, but mostly limited to teaching Sunday school. 

You may not blame the people around you, but I do, because any belief-system is social in nature, and all involve role models that we look up to and emulate. No one formulates their beliefs in utter isolation from social surroundings and influences. “We are what we eat.” You yourself note that no one answered your questions or showed much enthusiasm for Christianity, so yes, I do blame them. Not that you were absolutely perfect and blameless in all of it (I have no idea, but since we’re all sinners, I highly doubt it). I’m just going by your report and accepting it at face value.

I imagine that my pastor was probably used to older congregates who had far fewer questions than I did, and I imagine my questions were more challenging than she was ready to answer off the top of her head.

Any pastor ought to be equipped to answer intelligent questions from a young person. But sadly, many did not learn enough apologetics (if any). The seminaries don’t teach it much.

Ultimately, I never felt drawn to the church or to religion; even during times of crisis I never turned to God, neither for support nor in blame. It just didn’t occur to me. 

I’m saying that at least part of that apathy had to do with the lack of inspiring role models and question-answerers around you. You confirm that in a statement near the end of your comment: “For me, if I wanted a community I could go to church, but my past experiences have been everyone sitting quietly in their pews until it’s time to leave, with only brief moments of mingling after the sermon.” Yep: no inspiration, no fire, no motivation to emulate inspiring role models, no one whose enthusiasm makes you curious and draws you further into religion and seeking after God . . .

All of that almost always occurs in a community. I was drawn to evangelicalism in 1977 by social and communitarian factors, and to Catholicism in 1990 via the same things. I thought through both (especially in 1990, which was a very “intellectually dominated” conversion). But we can’t underestimate the role of a like-minded community. It’s why, after all, most atheists online congregate together, and concentrate on running down Christianity. They have their confirming community, and they all agree to bash the thing that most of them used to hold: which is a further confirming — though usually fallacious — practice. I majored in sociology, so I know a little bit about social groups.

I am inclined to opine that something that is supposedly so true requires an inordinate amount of effort to support and explain. Nobody has to explain that gravity pulls objects to the ground or that sunlight can burn unprotected skin (artificial or natural protection of course), these things are clearly evident; and yet the most profound truths about the realities of the universe are only to be found in a single collection of writings from a single region of the world drafted thousands of years ago which take staggering amounts of effort to translate and to understand even casually. It ends up seeming to me like much ado about nothing.

I don’t see that this is apparent at all. You go on to mention gravity as a supposed simple and obvious truth of science. Of course it is not at all, because now we understand gravity not as an apple falling in Newton’s head, but as gravitational waves per Einstein: exponentially more difficult to fully explain. But I would say that science in general is made up of very complicated concepts and formulas that are above most of our heads. I would say all that is confirmation of its truthfulness, not the opposite.

Yet when it comes to religious matters, the same people who accept — virtually worship — science, complain about almost any complexity at all (say, transubstantiation or the hypostatic union) and assume that this suggests falsity rather than being true. I say that that is hogwash: truth of any sort will ultimately be complex. It can be summarized or simplified for teaching purposes, but in the end it’ll be complex. We find that in science, theology, and anything else. I myself, when writing on many topics in theology, present a simple, summed-up version and also go into the greatest depth (usually in dialogues). Both have their purpose. But in the end, the longer treatments show how complex each topic is when closely examined.

(As an example, virtually every culture on Earth has means of creating fire; the methods differ and their explanations for what fire is differ greatly, but the phenomenon is universal. Why would God and his truth be limited to a book derived from a single culture in one part of the world? Why isn’t God more like fire, approached and explained differently, but universal in his characteristics?)

No one is saying that it is limited to the Bible (except a few fundamentalist anti-intellectual dumbbells). There are vast areas of learning and culture not dealt with at all in the Bible or not much (mathematics, logic, philosophy science, architecture, on and on . . . ). All truth is God’s truth. As Galileo said, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Your fourth point is interesting, and I imagine it comes as no surprise that I disagree with you at least in part. When I think about religion, it seems to me that several roles or functions are fulfilled by it most of the time: epistemology, morality, congregation, and tradition are the main ones that come to mind. So when I consider an atheist taking science as their new religion, I have a hard time seeing it as anything more than an epistemology. Science is notoriously bad in areas of morality and congregation (pure logic makes cold morals, and scientists tend to be introverts), and the enterprise of science is in many ways an effort to prevent the establishment of any traditions (particularly ones that would interfere with discovery, but generally as well). Even in the area of epistemology, any sort of ‘atomism’ differs profoundly from any religious belief in one critical way: agency. Atheists may believe that all that exists in the universe is matter and energy, but there is no sense that there is any agency behind those things; materials didn’t create the universe, there was not a creative power in place.

Yet somehow the universe we observe and marvel at, in all its wonders, is here, and had to come about somehow. If all you have is matter, matter had to do all that, and from scratch (as we have no proof that the universe is eternal: the Big Bang is the current consensus).

That matter and energy follow patterns of behavior seems to me self-evident at this point, and those patterns can both generate and destroy complex arrangements of material, depending on circumstances. That’s about it. I don’t hold scientific knowledge in any particular reverence (another aspect of religion to my mind); any sense of awe I may find is usually the result of my experiencing the wonders of nature, rarely as a response to human endeavor.

As for science vs Christianity. I think what I was referring to most was notions like the sun being a flaming chariot wheel, or illness being caused by malicious spirits. Where once the only answers to be found explaining the world were religious, now the scientific method provides answers that are more precise and universal (and therefore at least more useful; and thanks for correcting my misuse of ‘therefor’ at some point before, I may not like English but I dislike misusing it more). Those answers are not more satisfying, usually exactly because they paint a worldview in which nothing but human beings care at all about humanity. It’s hardly inspiring or uplifting, but then it was never meant to be nice any more than it was meant to be bleak. I think the only place I feel that science and religion are incompatible is when a religious claim is made that could be testable; in such cases, the tests always fail (such as prophesies, claims of healing powers, etc. You know, religion’s hucksters.).

I recently (in May) produced plenty of documented scientific / medical evidence for miracles occurring at Lourdes. This was in response to your own queries. To my knowledge, you have not grappled directly with that evidence (let alone explained it away). It’s easy to make blanket statements, as you have here; much more difficult to wrangle with this specific proposed evidence of the miraculous. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I’d rather be in a place of being pressured to prove and confirm miracles rather than in a position of having to categorically deny that any ever take place (the good ol’ universal negative).

I think where people tend to have an issue is: if religion doesn’t make a testable claim then it doesn’t conflict with science, but then what does religion offer? It could offer morality and community, but too often it seems that the most fervent faithful (e.g., fundamentalist evangelists) uphold a morality that is oppressive and provincial, all while excluding all but the most devoted from their midst. For me, if I wanted a community I could go to church, but my past experiences have been everyone sitting quietly in their pews until it’s time to leave, with only brief moments of mingling after the sermon. Religion has lost to science as an epistemology for the objective material world, and in my experience all accounts of the supernatural are singularly subjective. A religion may tell me that an angel is watching over me, but my seat belt seems more likely to save me. I can’t help but conjecture that perhaps a large part of why religious affiliation is declining is because religions are still trying to claim truth about how the world is, rather than making more effort to offer a vision of how the world should be (but again, I don’t feel entitled to say what religions should be doing, I’m just sharing my opinion).

There is no epistemological “loss” because it’s apples and oranges. The Bible and Christianity don’t claim to be textbooks of science. The main claim we make about the world and its natural forces are that God created that and sustains it by His power. But He does so through almost all natural forces. Thus, science studies those and builds up a tremendous and immensely helpful body of knowledge that we are all grateful for and use every day. Modern science began in a thoroughly Christian cultural and intellectual environment and was dominated by Christians and theists for 300 years: who founded 115 separate scientific disciplines. There simply is no conflict here at all. Science is more “ours” (if we must talk in that way) than yours.

Thanks again for your long and thoughtful, stimulating comment and your civility, as always.

***

Whatever the charges may be against my former congregation and pastor — I can see how a bit more fire and motivation, and especially intelligent engagement could have made a big difference — I have never dwelt on it. At this point I find little pragmatic reason to do so; I have viewed the world the way that I do for nearly 25 years now, and that is an enormous amount of momentum at which to throw a little bit of conjecture about what may have been.

Yes. From our perspective, it was this lack of what should have been from others, that helped lead you down a path away from the faith. It was one of the reasons, I submit, why you choose Path B in the fork in the road, instead of Path A (“the narrow way,” as Jesus calls it).

I’m just glad that you don’t accuse me of simply being angry at God because my father died or because I want to live a life of sin, an all-to-common theme of conversations with the devout.

We can’t read people’s hearts, and can’t make such judgments about motivation, unless we have overwhelming evidence from a person’s own report. It’s wrong for anyone to do it. And you are right: far too many Christians exhibit this sinful shortcoming. I have written about how the Bible describes two sorts of nonbelievers: the rebellious rejecter of God and the “open-minded agnostic.”

I am glad, but not surprised though; the conversations I have had with you have been singularly uncommon in their polite candor.

Well, thank you very much. I enjoy our dialogues too. I greatly appreciate your open sharing and refusal to bash Christianity, like far too many atheists online do.

The point that I was trying to get at with gravity and fire is that these phenomena are universal. Everywhere in the world, societies have stories where something falls to the ground or something catches on fire. The explanation for why these things happen may vary quite a bit, but in every case we can look back retrospectively and claim with reasonable certainty, “That is an account describing gravity/fire.” Modern physics can quantify the properties of gravitation and combustion, and can even reveal the invisible forces at work (at least in the case of combustion; as far as I know, there still isn’t a clear explanation for why matter has mass), but the visible effects have always been apparent and consistent no matter where you go or when.

Yes, of course: the laws of nature.

The particulars of the Christian God are quite precise, and as far as I have found fairly unique: virgin birth, miraculous powers, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension. Take any of these away (and I may have missed some myself of course) and it seems to me that you have an incomplete picture of Christ; nowhere else in the world’s oral or written traditions do these themes appear together except in a tiny part of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.

I don’t see how that is relevant. Likewise, modern science began in western Europe in the 15th-16th centuries, in a thoroughly Christian cultural and intellectual milieu. Nowhere else in history did this occur. I don’t see how that has any bearing on the truthfulness of science. It’s simply how modern science began; and you describe how Christianity began. The uniqueness of that historical event has no bearing on whether Christianity is true, either.

Polytheism doesn’t look like the Christian God, and animism certainly doesn’t. Why isn’t the true nature of the one true God more universally apparent?

Because cultures can develop false premises and then build upon those. If you walk two feet to the left, eventually where you end up could be hundreds of miles away from where you would have been if you walked straight ahead. Sometimes, when Christianity would have been introduced to a region, they killed the ones who were brining it, so that it couldn’t get off the ground (e.g., Japan).

Leaving descriptions of the universe apart, the Bible describes what God is like and what to expect after death, and nowhere else in the world does that particular narrative appear except the Bible.

There are certainly other religions that talk about the nature of God and the afterlife. Islam, for one. That’s a billion people. So this is an odd comment from you.

God’s most important truth, the one that will affect everyone for eternity after death, is tucked away in a single culture that only appeared thousands of years after humans started farming.

If you are implying that this is unfair, the Bible says that every man will be judged by what he knows (Romans 2).

Taken all together, it appears to me to be just another local religion that won the lottery of history and expanded into a world religion.

For you it is all chance and happenstance. We believe it is God’s providence: all part of His plan.

As for the beginning of the universe, I don’t have an answer to that quandary.

No atheist seems to. And I think that is a big problem in the atheist worldview: at least for those who strive to find answers to the basic questions of life: “why are we here?” etc.

My inclination is to assume that the universe is like a marble statue that has been pulverized to rubble and dust: the resulting material didn’t come from nothing, but there is zero evidence remaining that could be used to piece together an understanding of what it had been like before. The rubble can go on to do other things, and some of the essential properties are certainly consistent with its previous state, but what came before may always be a mystery. The fact that science is currently stumped by the universe’s origin (and as a result its essential nature) is no form of support for any competing narrative; just because I don’t claim to know, doesn’t mean that your claim that you do know has any greater validity.

I’ve always said that our view is at the very least equally as plausible than yours, and requiring no more faith or (to express it in logical terms) no more acceptance of unproven / unprovable axioms. And you seem to basically agree. You guys offer nothing (a big “Who knows?”). We simply believe in /posit an Eternal Spirit Who brought everything about (a notion which has a long and noble philosophical pedigree, so that it is not merely a religious “blind faith” belief or intellectually equivalent to leprechauns and Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny). The fact that He is eternal overcomes the quandary of how matter (which, as far as we know, is not eternal) ever came to be in the first place.

So I did finally look more into the Lourdes cures (I admit that I pretty much glossed over it before, enticed as I was to pursue other lines of thought that appealed to me more at the time), and I honestly don’t know what to make of them.

Thanks for your honesty.

Part of the problem is that it appears impossible to differentiate the claims from the Catholic church; while I don’t doubt any particular person’s sincere intention to evaluate the claims objectively, I can’t ignore the church’s clear conflict of interest given the region’s immense dogmatic value to the organization. The thing that strikes me most is, given the area’s long history, why have I never heard of it before?

Because it is mostly known in Catholic circles. I hadn’t heard of it, either, when I was a Protestant. I remember the first time I heard the word was in a George Carlin comedy routine. I thought he was saying “Lord’s” at first.

Why are references to it almost exclusively limited to Catholic and faith websites and organizations?

Non-Catholics often ignore things that they pigeonhole as “just more Catholic junk.”

If the claims have any veracity, where are the research doctors and scientists that should be clamoring to examine the facts in excruciating detail?

They have to have the will to do so. There are motivations not to pursue it, because what happens if the miracles are verified? Folks might have to act on that and become Catholics! Since they don’t want to, they choose not to begin. Just speculating . . .

Billions of dollars are spent every year researching treatments for cancer alone; if there is clear evidence that cancer is being cured in Lourdes, surely someone outside the faith would want to be involved?

Our actions and beliefs are often determined by presuppositions that we adopt: either favorable or hostile.

Finally, I honestly didn’t ever intend to claim that the Bible was meant to be a science textbook, but hasn’t it served at various points in history as exactly that?

Sometimes it is misunderstood as that, by less sophisticated portions of Christianity.

Wasn’t the position of the church for at least some time that the Earth must be the center of the universe exactly because of a passage about the Earth being set on its foundations and the sun and moon moving about it?

Yes. Later it was better understood that that was phenomenological language: the same sort that all of us use every day: “the sun comes up and goes down.” Or some of the language was poetic and not intended to be literal (as was done in describing God Himself too). Without knowledge of heliocentrism (or any science at all), it’s perfectly logical (and not absurd) to assume or conclude that we are stationary and it’s the sun that is moving. And many great scientists did that, too (backed up also by Aristotle and other great philosophers). At least one great scientist did even after Copernicus (Tycho Brahe).

I know that it describes the creation of the world, and that description counters many current understandings of the order in which things had to happen; literal readings of scripture aside, when a text says “First this, second this, third that,” and so on, that isn’t at all poetical or allegorical.

The ancient Hebrews had a very different conception of chronology, and often, texts that we casually interpret as literally chronological, were not intended to be (I’ve written about the Hebrew conception of time). Early Genesis is a combination of symbolic language (trees and picking fruit, talking serpents) and some real, literal things (the earth did have a beginning — as science also tells us –; there was a primal human pair, who did “fall” and rebel against God). The word for “day” (yom) was understood to not have to be literal, at least as far back as St. Augustine (d. 430).

I suppose the point that I am trying to make is that it is all well and good to say in modernity, “the Bible isn’t a science textbook,” exactly because we now have science textbooks. Prior to that invention, far more stock was put in the Bible’s capacity to explain the world, and that stock has only receded in response to the epistemological successes of science.

Yeah; science (originating in a Christian worldview, not an atheist one; formulated in Christian and medieval minds) was a great advance in human knowledge about the material world, and even interpretation of the Bible was improved because of it. I think that’s great. It didn’t prove that the Bible was wrong; only that we interpreted it wrongly in some respects. Biblical interpretation is a human field of knowledge where we can improve and do better over time. The Bible itself didn’t change, but over time our understanding of it can improve.

That is the loss that I refer to. It isn’t that the church has tried to stymie science, just that by its own hand it has limited the Bible to spiritual matters (whether that amounts to a diminishing of the Bible’s stature is another matter, and I suspect that you don’t believe that it is at all).

The Bible is primarily about spiritual matters. When it touches upon matters that are scientific in nature it is not inconsistent with science. We believe that God created the universe ex nihilo. Science eventually figured out that it began in an instant with a Big Bang (the theory was formulated by a Catholic priest-scientist), which was not inconsistent with our existing view at all. It’s quite harmonious with it. Science came up with evolution (conceived in a then-theist — not atheist — mind, by Charles Darwin).

Nothing in the Bible requires us to believe that Adam was necessarily created in an instant. It says that God made Him from the dust (“the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground”: Gen 2:7, RSV). The “formed” could very well have been a process of millions of years, from matter. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say that God created man out of nothing, but from the dust (matter). To me, that almost implies process itself.

Thus, there is no necessary contradiction. The real contradiction comes with materialistic science, that attempts (inconsistently, among some scientists) to rule out God as impossible in the whole process (even with regard to ultimate origins). That contradicts Catholicism and the Bible (and I would say, logic as well). But evolution itself does not, as long as God isn’t arbitrarily / dogmatically excluded from the process.

And so on and so forth. No unanswerable contradiction between Christianity and science has been demonstrated.

***

Photo credit: Albert duce (10-8-09). The main sanctuary of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Detroit [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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