Debate (Do the findings of science entail that Christianity is false?): John Lepp’s opening.

Debate (Do the findings of science entail that Christianity is false?): John Lepp’s opening. November 20, 2014

Here’s my opening.  Below is John’s opening:

Let me start this by thanking JT for the opportunity to have a lively discussion, on his blog “WWJTD?” (aka What would JT do?), about whether or not Science refutes Christianity.  I will argue that Science does not refute Christianity.

This is my very first debate.  I suspect JT is compensating for my debating naivete’ by burdening himself with a few difficulties that he would not undertake were he to debate someone with a bit more experience.  There’s a few reasons for my suspicion:

1)      He let me choose the debate format.

2)      He has allowed me to have the last word.

3)      In terms of how this debate is structured, he has the more difficult task.  He actually has to prove that science refutes Christianity.  Proving that science refutes Christianity involves more than just showing such and such passage conflicts with what we now accept as scientific fact (say, geological fact.)  Proving science refutes Christianity demands not only a counter-claim with evidence, but also an alternative explanation for the observed phenomena.  That is a lot to prove. Hence it is possible for me to write complete nonsense and still win the debate by JT’s failure to meet the difficult task set before him.  I could certainly understand him wanting to switch the topic.

To make this even more challenging for JT, I will attempt to put forth an intelligent and coherent argument that Science does not refute Christianity.  As for the debate topic, we worked on it together.  If he wants me to have the burden of proof, I am happy to do so for our next debate.

It has become rather trendy to assume that science refutes Christianity.  Let’s go over a few legitimate responses I could give to such a charge.  I could point out that science itself is not unified, so science is not really in any position to refute anything as general as Christianity.   Take a look at Schrodinger’s paradox concerning physics and biology.  The 2nd law of thermodynamics says entropy in a system – any system – increases.  For the possibility of life, entropy must decrease.  Hence there’s a supposed “conflict” between biology and physics.

The point I’m making isn’t anything as silly as the 2nd law of thermodynamics refutes biology (or vice-versa.)  I’m just showing that scientific laws only cover so much, and just because there is apparent conflict does not mean there is a refutation.  I certainly would not ask you to choose sides between biology and physics.

It really shouldn’t be too surprising that there would be apparent conflicts between any of the natural sciences (which as we’ve just seen don’t even apparently agree with each other) and the claims of Christianity. Again, the claims of science are neither unified nor eternal.    Picking piecemeal conflicts with the sciences does not constitute a refutation.

I could also point out that the citation of scientific findings can actually show why something ( or somebody) is worthy of worship.  JT brought up Jesus walking on water.  There are other instances.  For instance, you can very reasonably point out that the laws of biology forbid virgin births for humans yet virgin birth is mentioned both in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14) and – of course – in the New Testament (Luke 1:31).  But, keep in mind before you overemphasize this observation, it’s not as though Christians and Jews were (and are) unfamiliar with how babies are made.  It’s not as though Christians and Jews necessarily need a “birds and the bees” talk.  The laws of nature would have to be known, and accepted, in order for something to be deemed supernatural.   What makes something worthy of worship is that it goes beyond the ordinary.

Mere mention that an occurrence violates scientific law does not settle whether a supernatural event has occurred.  The idea of that someone or some event transcended the limitations of the natural world is precisely what makes it worthy of worship.  In order for the findings of science to show the belief in Christianity is false, it would either have to be explained why supernatural occurrence is impossible or show that science has the ability to explain away anything and everything held by Christians.  Simply denying that an event considered supernatural occurred simply begs the question of whether or not such an event actually did occur, and you – JT – would still need to explain not only that supernatural occurrence is impossible but also that a perfectly reasonable natural explanation can explain what was observed.  “Refutation” needs to go beyond the mere restatement that a supernatural occurrence defies natural law.

JT says “What’s more, in science even a hypothesis must be falsifiable.”  That can’t be quite right.  Were science to dictate that even an hypothesis must be falsifiable, the hypothesis “the universe started with a big bang” would have been refuted.  It would follow from a big bang cosmology, that the spread of background radiation temperature should be uneven (since it started with a “big bang”.)  Measurements have shown that background radiation temperature is pretty much the same throughout the Universe. Hence the cited hypothesis would be falsified by observational data.  Using JT’s falsification principle, we’ve just refuted “the big bang.”  Great going, JT.

Besides were the laws of science actually falsifiable by observation, shouldn’t an observed instance (in JT’s example, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead) refute the scientific law and not the other way around?  Remember, observation and testimony, aka evidence, is supposed to be able to refute scientific law.  There were witnesses who accepted that corpses do not regenerate into living human beings.  Yet they saw a rotting corpse come back to life.

So “What need do we have god and his powers if there is a natural explanation?”  Perhaps God shows the truly incredible to demonstrate that not everything has a natural explanation.  “Everything has a natural explanation” is a metaphysical doctrine.  To deny people’s observations because it conflicts with that doctrine is an act of “blind faith.”

Let’s take a closer look at one of the more celebrated instances of “Science versus Christianity” –  Galileo versus the Catholic Church.  Hopefully, that provides a teachable moment on how we can use our advances in Cosmology to better understand Genesis.

It is easy enough to translate and interpret Psalm 104:5 as saying the Earth is stationary.  The thing is it’s not exactly clear that it has to be read that read that way.  You can accept something like the New King James translation of Psalm 104:5  “You who laid the foundations of the Earth, so that it shall not be moved forever.”  That reads more as a praise of God for providing the Earth with an orbit.  Perhaps the Psalm is a praise of the regularity of nature that allows for life to be possible. How that piece of scripture should be read is informed by Science, rather than being refuted by it. Science informs how to interpret the Bible.

You can use the Bible and the once current science to show that the Earth is stationary.  An hypothesis that the Earth is stationary was tested experimentally. Using the scientific method, an hypothesis was formed: “If the Earth is motionless, heavy bodies falling from on high – say from a tower – should fall vertically to the Earth,” since were the Earth diurnally rotating, the ground would be rapidly shifting. In which case, from the time it was dropped from a tower versus the speed of the Earth diurnally rotating, a heavy body would fall yards from the base of the tower.   Upon heaving a heavy body from a tower, it was verified that a body falls vertically – not yards from the tower.  The Earth, therefore, had just been shown to be stationary, motionless, using the scientific method.  This demonstration, “The Tower Argument”, was accepted by then practicing astronomers.

The Catholic Church chose the theory that had accorded with the then accepted scientific point of view.  The theory of a stationary Earth ,“verified” by experiment, also had corroboration from Aristotle’s studies.  Hence the stationary Earth had become accepted as God’s word.  The church’s adoption of “the Tower Argument” is an example of science informing Christians.  How to read Psalm 104:5 was dependent on the best available information.  Christians accepting the Earth’s rotation is also an example of science informing Christianity.

There are anomalies between the sciences, between theory and data, and between the Bible and currently understood science.  Notice even after most (if not all) Christians accepted that the Earth rotated, they still accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.   Whether or not the Earth rotates doesn’t appear to have great bearing on whether or not Christ is Lord.  Hopefully you can get a glimpse of how science informs Christianity.  You can accept both the findings of science and Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  The findings of science, then, do not refute Christianity.   They inform Christianity.

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