A Brave Man or a Fool


It is a brave man or a fool who takes on Quantum Mechanics, Steven Hawking, string theory and Thomas Aquinas in a book for the lay reader.

David Berlinski does just that in The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. And, most notably he does it with a remarkable sense of humor.

He is writing in response to a recent series of books and writings by what could be called “militant” or “devout” atheists. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others are not content to merely disbelieve in the existence of God. They are determined to change the minds of those who do believe. Berlinski notes:

Religious men and women, having long accommodated the village idiot, have long accommodated the village atheist.  The order of battle is now different. It has been the scientists … who have undertaken a wide-ranging attack on religious belief and sentiment.[1]

Ironically, Berlinski argues that this activist science vs. religion approach is, at least in part, not a reaction to Christians, but a “lurid but natural reaction … to the violence of the Islamic world.[2]

We are now faced with a group of scientists who are militantly atheist and willing to accept the result of any scientific experiment which does not point to the existence of God. The cult-like nature of this group shows up whenever a paper or experiment produces a “wrong” answer.

After dealing with “the contingencies of life-getting food, getting by, getting laid[3]” humanity has sought answers to two basic questions: How did everything, including humans, get here, and why? Religion, philosophy and science have long sought answers to these questions. Until recently, these quests were considered complimentary.

But science has now become, for many, a religion of its own. This shows up in two major discussions in science.

The first deals with the origins of the universe and what is called the “”Big Bang” theory.  Berlinski shows the development of the theory and how many scientific measures point to the belief that the entire universe started at one moment. However, if science is to replace religion, a belief which corresponds to the biblical statement “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” cannot be allowed to stand.

They have thus made every effort to find an alternative.
Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth?
Well, you were wrong.[4]

 

It is amusing to see “scientists” who won’t accept what their research shows them about the origin of one universe devise all kinds of complex mathematics to show there must, in fact, be multiple universes. How the first of all these started is left unanswered. 

To further complicate the question, the universe we inhabit has a group of characteristic properties to which science can only assign a value without knowing why those values are what they are. They include the strength of various forces, such as gravity and magnetism, and characteristics of water and other compounds. These values “happen” to be exactly the right number needed to support life, at least on Earth. Rather than accept the idea that God might have made the universe that way, “scientists” have come up with all kinds of probabilistic “multi-verse” scenarios where it was inevitable that one of them would have the right values for life. Yeah, Right.

The other major question is “How did humans get here?” Berlinski starts by saying:

Together with Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace created the modern theory of evolution. He has been unjustly neglected by history, perhaps because shortly after conceiving his theory, he came to doubt its provenance.[5]

In an 1869 paper, Wallace “outlined his sense that evolution was inadequate to explain certain obvious features of the human race.[6]” Berlinski comments:

Suspicions about Darwin’s theory arise for two reasons. The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence.[7]

The veracity of Darwinian evolution can be measured by the accuracy of Berlinski’s observation that although Darwinian biologists may claim “that evolution is a well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid.[8]

Why then the determination to force acceptance of a theory with obvious difficulties. Berlinski cites an evolutionary biologist:

Whatever the degree to which Darwin may have “misled science into a dead end,” the biologist Shi V. Liu observed …, “we may still appreciate the role of Darwin in helping scientists [win an] upper hand in fighting against the creationists.[9]

But for most of us, the question is not between creation in seven days and science. We are more than willing to accept the enlarged time frame of the universe and the development of life on earth. We are also clearly willing to accept the benefits of science and the technological progress it allows.

Berlinski and many of his readers, including this writer, refuse to accept that science has the authority to speak outside of its realm. It can tell us what is there and how it works. When those who lay claim to special knowledge of science try to tell us what we can or cannot believe about why we here we have the right to refuse to listen.

Even more, when they ask us to believe what the evidence does not support, or seek complicating or obfuscating theories when the obvious theory supports a theory of creation they oppose, they have clearly moved science out of the realm of objective measurement and observation.

Science is a noble pursuit and a lousy religion. Those who practice it, particularly those who would use its findings to influence public decisions need to know that science will only be influential if it is seen as objective.

The “Climate-gate” controversy about efforts to “influence” the peer-review process makes science seem more political and less objective. The “pre-Cambrian explosion” period of rapid species change could at least raise questions about the validity of the Darwinian Theory. The public has the right to expect a serious discussion of those issues instead of being talked down to.

Most of us are willing to look to science for an explanation of what is here and how it works. When we ask why we are here, we look elsewhere.


[1] Berlinski – Page 3

[2] Page 5

[3] Page 165

[4] Page 112

[5] Page 157

[6] Ibid

[7] Page 187

[8] Page 191

[9] Page 197

Is That All There Is?


On a trip to San Francisco, my wife and I were driving down the highway next to the Pacific Ocean. The view was incredible. We stopped to take it all in. As we turned to walk back to the car, I noticed the locals driving by in utter indifference to the beauty around them.  They were going to work, the store or their kid’s games and the glory of the Pacific Ocean might well as not been there.

The locals in the bay area who see the ocean every day are no longer impressed by it. The question, “Is that all there is?” captures their view. No matter how beautiful or incredible something is, we can easily be bored by it.

Anything we experience repeatedly can become boring through repetition. Many of us have reached this point when we hear about Christianity. No matter how incredible the claims, we just know we’ve heard it all before so, what is there to get excited about?

Recently, I watched a science program about the orbits of the galaxies and the “black holes” in them. On my nice HD screen, I could see endless stars swirling as two galaxies danced around each other. Some people say they can see God in a tree or a sunset. Christianity says that God “created all things, visible and invisible.” That means the swirling galaxies and the dark matter in the Universe were created by God. Science tells us that our universe began with a “big bang”. The Bible says God said “Let there be light!” All the matter and energy in the universe came from that beginning.

When thinking about the size of the universe, some people feel themselves such a small speck they find it hard to believe God could care about them.

So then Christianity comes in with an even bolder claim. It says the God who created the Universe became a small baby on a small planet near the tip of a galaxy. The God who created it all humbled himself.

He didn’t do it as an intellectual exercise to see how it felt to be small. Instead He did it because – are you ready? – He loves us so much he came to end the grip of death and sin on us!

Who can believe that? The God who can twirl galaxies became a human baby “wrapped in swaddling clothes” because we needed something only He could do for us.  Only the death of a sinless human being could end death’s grip on us. God “trampled down death by death!”  Through His suffering and death, Jesus, a part of the trinity, shattered the grip of death and hell, not for Himself, but for us!

Then comes another incredible claim. He rose from the dead! How many times do we have to hear this before it gets boring! The resurrection of Christ is an essential claim of the Christian faith. If it didn’t happen, Christianity is pointless. We celebrate the resurrection on Easter (Pascha) but we have heard the claim so often that we give more thought to hiding eggs for the kids.

Then He ascended into heaven in front of the apostles and other witnesses.  Before He went, He said He was going to prepare a place for us. We are going to join Him in the next life! Yeah, but, don’t bother me, I’ve heard that before and I have to get the kids to a swim meet.

This whole Christian thing is so incredible we almost have to make it boring as a means of self-defense. Unfortunately, there are many members of the clergy who are willing to do that for us. They make Christianity about rules and punishment. God hates sinners and will punish them forever. They say God’s love is an abstract principle showing us how to live. Something, anything other than facing the overwhelming fact that the God who made all things made us to be loved my Him and to love Him.

The question for us is whether we can allow ourselves to live in the wonder of the message of Christianity. It is easy to get caught up in the daily minutia of life. Some people say we should stop and smell the roses. How about something even bigger than that?

The God who made the roses, the mountains, the Grand Canyon, the Solar system, the galaxy and the universe is trying to get our attention. With all the other things He made, He made us to love us and so we could love him.

We are asked to stop and consider that. Or, we can ride right past a beautiful ocean and just choose to find it all boring.

Religion Isn’t Ice Cream


For many people, religious preference is treated almost like an ice cream flavor. You don’t have to eat ice cream and, if you do, it doesn’t matter all that much what flavor you choose. No matter the flavor, it’s all ice cream.

There are reasons for this attitude.  Throughout history, the group, be it a clan or a kingdom, followed the same beliefs about how the world and people came to be and a moral code about how to treat one another. A classic case came when the ruler of Russia sent some advisors to help him choose between Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity or Islam as the religion for his domain. He chose Orthodox Christianity.

In the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation brought a series of clashes over religion. These had political overtones as local rulers were able to establish their freedom from Rome’s influence in their actions by choosing one of the Protestant faiths.

The desire for freedom of religious belief and practice was a major driver in the colonization of English-speaking America. The First Amendment to the US Constitution prevented the federal government’s establishment of religion. The major reason for this was that several states had their own state religion and didn’t want their choice overridden at the federal level.

With the development of religious freedom, there is a need to be courteous toward those whose beliefs differ from ours. In many ways, the “ice cream” model is reasonable. After all, we are taught that it is simply not a good idea to discuss religion or politics. They are a matter of personal belief.

But, it is important to understand the need for religious freedom. Religion isn’t too trivial for the government to decide, it is too important. We don’t let the government, or other people, control our religious quest, or lack of one, because it is a very important matter.  It is too important to be left to others.

If, in the interest of courtesy, we say that all religions are the same, we cheat both ourselves and the other person. I think the current lack of religious participation is a result of this confusion. It is pointless, to me, to treat all religions the same. If that is true, I’ll just sleep late on the “Sabbath” of all religions and get some rest.

Many “mainline” denominations are working to accept all views and are, as a consequence, seeing their numbers decline. Others just mutter something like “be nice to people.” They are also in decline.

Religions grow when they have something to say and something to offer. When we appreciate the value and importance of our own quest and extend to others the courtesy of their quest, or lack of one, we are fully practicing and granting freedom of religion.

You can reasonably ask, and I will willingly grant, that your religious quest is as valid as mine. That is the essence of religious tolerance. The limit is reached when you ask me to treat all religions as equal or, more specifically, ask me to say the religion I follow is of no unique value.

To be specific, Christianity is not a religion of ambivalence or indifference. A person’s understanding of Christianity is the answer to the question asked by Jesus in Matthew 16:15 (RSV), “But who do you say that I am?”

C. S. Lewis has written that Jesus is a liar, a fool, or the Son of God. Jesus was crucified largely because he made himself the equal of God.  If He believed himself to be the son of God and He wasn’t, He was a fool and His execution as a blasphemer was justified. If He didn’t believe it but said it anyhow, He lied Himself into an early death.

The most challenging possibility, for us, is that He really was the Son of God. If we are to believe that, we have to believe something even more incredible. Was He really resurrected from the dead?  The apostle Paul, in the fifteenth chapter of his first letter (epistle) to the Corinthians discusses this in some detail. Paul makes it clear: if Christ is not risen from the dead, our “faith is futile” (v. 17-RSV). Likewise, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (v. 19 – RSV).

In the older, liturgical, churches, there is a Creed, or statement of belief, repeated in every liturgy. The “Apostles” Creed, the Nicene Creed or something very similar is used. We get the word “creed” from the first Latin word of the creeds, “Credo” means “I believe” and, in saying the creed we are supposedly saying what we believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If, after saying the creed in church I, out of courtesy, say to you that all religions are equal, I have made myself a hypocrite.

Your quest is yours. Your answer is yours. You are absolutely free to live your life and make your quest, or not. Even more, you are free to ignore my opinion. But, if you ask my opinion of various religions, do not expect me to utter some bland “religion is like ice cream” response.

I have come to a definite conclusion about religion. If you ask what I think, I will say, in the words of the liturgy of my church, that Jesus of Nazareth is “truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.”