A while back John Lepp emailed me about doing an online debate. I agreed. Since then, as many of you know, I have been sick and dealing with rapid weight loss, etc. He has been very patient. Today, it finally begins. We’re doing four rounds, each gets an opening, rebuttal 1, rebuttal 2, then closing. Each round has a word limit of 1,500.
My opening is below.
It should be said at the start that asking science or anybody to disprove a claim is shifting the burden of proof to begin with. It’s not up to science to disprove that a man rose from the dead or that a wizard named Voldemort threatens all of humankind with magic – it’s up to the people claiming to have evidence of these things to pony up. That being said, Christianity makes several claims that fly in the face of how science has revealed the world to work.
It’s also important that we’re clear on exactly what the findings of science are. They’re not proclamations of absolute certainty and they’re definitely not just wild guesses. The findings of science are probabilistic, tentative conclusions that represent the best descriptions of our universe. They are the result of rigorous investigation and founded on methods that demonstrably produce the most consistently reliable descriptions of reality – methods like independent verification, falsification, peer-review, etc.. So while we might prove that evolution explains the diversity of life on this planet, we didn’t set out to prove that the first man was not the product of magically animated dirt. However, by proving that evolution explains the eventual appearance of homo sapiens, science has rendered less valid other explanations with less evidence to support them. Should there ever be evidence for the animated dirt hypothesis then it will be considered. But not only is there no scientific evidence for that hypothesis, it runs contrary to the evidence we have. Thus, the findings of science entail that the magic dirt hypothesis is untrue.
This topic can be tricky since “Christianity” means something different to so many people. For this reason I turn to the ultimate authority on Christianity: the bible. What’s more, I take the bible to mean what it says. For instance, when the bible says that god once commanded the death of anybody who worked on the Sabbath, I don’t assume this was a metaphor for god wanting people to make them pancakes and pay them a living wage.
The bible makes numerous claims that conflict with the way science has revealed the universe to work over a long list of different disciplines. For instance, the idea of somebody rising from the dead could not be more offensive to our understanding of biology and medicine. We have established this so completely that virtually nobody opposes interring the deceased, regardless of how loved they were in real life, for fear that they will reanimate.
The idea of somebody walking on water is offensive to physics (the surface tension of water simply cannot support a pebble, let alone a fully-grown human).
The idea that Lot’s wife could be converted into a pillar of salt is ridiculous by the light of chemistry.
The story of Laban and the goats, where goats mate in front of striped sticks to affect the pattern on their coats, makes a mockery of genetics.
And geologically speaking, there was never a global flood. Sure, apologists may be able to cite individual scientists who think there was such a flood, but so far those individuals have failed to convince the consensus of the geologists (on the rare occasion they have even tried). Hence it would do a person no good to try this line of argument as scientific fact is determined by peer review, not by lone persons with credentials but who seem more interested in convincing non-experts.
What’s more, the global flood claim is even untrue in terms of meteorology:
One estimate of the volume of water in the atmosphere at any one time is about 3,100 cubic miles (mi3) or 12,900 cubic kilometers (km3). That may sound like a lot, but it is only about 0.001 percent of the total Earth’s water volume of about 332,500,000 mi3 (1,385,000,000 km3)
If all of the water in the atmosphere rained down at once, it would only cover the ground to a depth of 2.5 centimeters, about 1 inch.
There’s simply not enough water in the atmosphere for a global flood to have taken place, despite assurances from the bible that it did. There’s enough to add an inch to the ocean levels. This is quite a far cry from covering mountains.
There are far more examples than the handful I’ve listed above (a talking snake in a garden where man was made from dirt and woman from his rib, etc.). These claims and many, many others are directly in conflict with the findings of science. And if “false” is going to have any meaningful usage, I’d argue that “in conflict with the findings of science” is just about the best criteria we can imagine. Indeed, Jesus rising from the dead is the claim upon which the rest of Christianity is essentially based, and it could not conflict with our scientific understanding more.
So how might a person go about circumventing the conclusions of science?
One might argue that science doesn’t account for the supernatural. They would be right, which is of note when we’re arguing if something is true scientifically. Human beings only possess sensory organs that detect the natural (ears to hear, eyes to see, etc.). Anything we perceive is already necessarily natural. So there’s no evidence that the supernatural is even something that exists, but how would we even take it into account if it did?
What’s more, science operates under a single assumption: the universe operates under a set of rules (this is why experiments work). If you insist magic (supernatural forces) allowed the natural rules to be suspended then you’re not using science. What’s more, if you’re saying there’s some natural explanation for Jesus walking on water, you’re undermining the god proofs these miracles were intended to be. What need do we have of god and his powers if there is a natural explanation? This is why magicians aren’t viewed as gods.
An apologist might also kick causation back a step. For instance, while the book of Genesis claims that god made the stars, we know that stars are the result of a completely natural process known as the Jeans Instability. While no appeal to god is required to explain this process, a person might assert that god put that process in place and that science has not proven otherwise. So, we’re to believe, god DID create the stars, just using the means that science has revealed (this, of course, would not rescue him on scientifically impossible claims such as Jesus walking on water or rising from the dead, so it’s a moot argument anyway).
By using this approach, a person would be mistaking making an assertion with making an argument. Quite literally anything could be asserted here: perhaps instead of god it was actually magical pink smurfs who were the architects of the Jeans Instability. But science operates on evidence. If there is no evidence for something it simply is not scientific. And while we have tons of evidence for the natural mechanisms that produce stars, we have zero evidence that a god or a smurf put those processes into place.
What’s more, in science even a hypothesis must be falsifiable. How could we falsify the claim that god put all these natural processes into place? If it can’t be falsified, it’s not science. And if it’s not science, you can’t claim that it’s scientifically true.
One might also point out that scientific conclusions have changed throughout history as new evidence has been discovered, leading us to better supported conclusions about the operation of the universe. So how can science suggest anything is untrue when science is always being refined in this way? Of course, by that argument, science would never conclusively establish anything. What’s the use of medical science that concludes insulin shots are the best way to treat diabetics when tomorrow there’s a chance, however slight, that we might discover that insulin shots don’t cure diabetes and that slaughtering a couple doves and smearing their blood around in the proper way is actually what works (see the old testament cure for leprosy)? If your definition of disproof requires absolute certainty then your definition is utterly useless. By that definition we can not only never disprove anything, we can never even know anything (what if tomorrow 2+2=apple?). But it’s clear that when we usually say something has been proven false we mean that it clashes with the evidence we have for how things really work. By that definition it’s plain to see how many truth claims in the bible are simply false when measured against what science has revealed.
So in order to win the debate, John must establish how a person walking on water or returning to life after three days of being dead are scientifically possible. If these are merely stories to be ignored for the underlying message then even Pinnochio has not been disproven scientifically. As no scientist has yet to achieve this to the satisfaction of peer review, John has a very steep climb ahead of him.