QUESTION: I’m leaning toward atheism, because I think it offers a much richer description of the world than a faith perspective does. All my Christian friends seem to shut their eyes when I challenge their understandings which they get from the Bible. Science is a more elegant and authentic perspective on everything. Isn’t that a nobler path than religion which has entrenched ignorance and denied science?
RESPONSE: I really empathize with your frustration with Christians who shut down conversations about the nature of things, with the phrase, “the Bible says”. No end of damage has been done to civil discourse and a true understanding of the Christian faith by perpetuating a science versus faith war.
I understand what your Christian friends are thinking – they are probably a bit scared that some bit of scientific discovery refutes a particular biblical claim and thus the Christian faith looks vulnerable. They don’t want to entertain that. And I understand what this looks like from your perspective: that Christianity itself is constantly in retreat, being pushed back by science at every turn. It may seem to you that this is a reason to embrace atheism.
But i would suggest this is only a good reason to embrace science and not atheism. And I would further suggest that the reason science is even a thing and the reason why it is “elegant” rests entirely on premises that only make sense inside a Christian worldview. In other words, science depends deeply on spiritual/religious and specifically Christian ways of thinking about the world. So a more reasonable and noble way to go would be to embrace both.
In his book “Stealing from God” Frank Turek makes the claim that all of science’s descriptions and even it’s very impulse borrows everything it has from the Christian worldview. The great scientific claim (by that I mean the primary hypothesis on which all other scientific hypothesis’ were ever built) is basically this threefold assumption:
- the world is ordered and lawful,
- we can understand this,
- it is good to understand it.
All science rests on those assumptions. You won’t do science unless this hypothesis makes some kind of sense, or you have some reason to accept these as starting premises. Therefore, it is the grandest of all scientific hypothesis’.
But think about it, there is no reason, on atheism, why anyone would ever make those assumptions about the world. They are faith leaps, a priori “givens” that one either feels about the universe or does not. And on atheism, there is no inherent or logical reason anyone would go there.
Why, if there is no ordering Principle, no Mind, no Logos behind the world, would one think that at bottom, it would be ordered? That is, layered with regular patterns, “obedient”, as it were, to invisible demands that are constant and unchanging? Wouldn’t the more natural assumption on atheism be that at bottom it would be disordered and chaotic? Unstructured? Un-mind-like? Unreasonable? Un-math-like?
And even if it was ordered, on atheism, what confidence would one have that a human mind, a result of pure, unguided processes could understand any of this? (Darwin himself struggled with that notion mightily as he confesses openly in Decent of Man…).
And even if you could assume we can understand it, on atheism, why would it be good to try to do so? What’s the point? What is “noble” after all, on atheism? It’s a subjective feeling of a worthy enterprise, which is objectively meaningless.
Only Christianity provided the fertile ground to propose and explore the great scientific hypothesis, believing the world was a result of Mind, therefore it had inherent order, and therefore, we, made in the image of that Being, could have minds which correspond to the world made by that Great Mind, and therefore, it was good to understand it, as we were worshiping and glorifying the Maker by better knowing what he had made.
All pagan ages, and even pre-Christian atheistic thinkers (like some Greek philosophers) never thought that the world was understandable. It was often specifically seen as the work of forces of chaos. How could it be understood? There was no benevolence or order to it, only mystery and fear-inducing arbitrariness.
There is a reason science was launched (only) in the Christian West – it wasn’t dumb luck.
So now that Christians found out that all three assumptions behind Science were reasonable and supported by the evidence, atheists are happy to take those assumptions for granted and keep the study of the world going – but very few of them realize that every discovery they make about the world is actually confirming the spiritual premises on which all of science is built.
There is a reason why only the atheists who live after the scientific revolution think that science is cool. They stand on the shoulders of Christian giants, like Kepler, Newton, Pascal, Copernicus, Galileo etc. Rodney Stark makes the bald point in Victory of Reason, that all the early scientists were not scientists in spite of their Christian worldview, but because of it. They were very explicit. The idea that faith is a science blocker stands refuted on the inarguable historical fact that science was invented by Christians of deep faith.
So, no true scientific discovery ever refutes Christianity, but rather is another brick in the edifice of the worldview Christianity presents: The world is a machine, a book, and it can be read and even reverse engineered. For all our best designs come from looking at nature.
Now, I admit freely, it may refute some superficial understanding of the world we had which we thought was taught in the Bible. Those are the places where the atheist loves to camp out and talk about faith losing the war with science.
But they usually don’t realize that every time real science dispels an area of ignorance they are helping the larger cause of making a spiritual/ordered/Word-like/intelligible world a given, and that world does not make sense without God.