Now let’s be quite clear. When I started this blog I really never thought this would be the type of thing I would ever write. I have no interest in “taking on” people like Professor Richard Dawkins, and the other atheist in that kind of group. I’m not even sure it helps the Christian cause when we come across as being more interesting in “winning the argument” than we are in just caring for people. But I guess I feel that I’ve been left without a choice.
Quite a few of my non-Christian friends have commented on a number of these blogs with Atheist challenges. Please understand that I’m not in the least bit complaining about that. I happen to really enjoy a good debate (perhaps a bit too much, sometimes I forget that some people take these things more personally than me!). But, in regards to the challenges I’ve had about what I’ve written here, I normally answer something along the lines of, “I wasn’t trying to prove anything, I wasn’t trying to argue for the existence of God”. However, this is normally associated with a nagging thought that they haven’t really “heard” what I said. Almost as if the words I used meant something slightly different to them.
Then two things happened. Firstly, a friend of mind made a comment that you must be “sniffing more than glue” to believe in something like the virgin birth. This was after watching Simon Amstell (hope I’ve spelt that right!) doing his live show in which he was talking about people with a faith, and said he doesn’t want to fight, but treat them with love and respect, because “the battles already been won”. He went on to say they should be treated like little children who run round and say they’re a helicopter, “Oh that’s nice, I’m a choo-choo!”. That seems to be the reasoning that most atheist friends come at me with . “Faith” is now the polite way of saying “stupid”, because “the fight’s been won”(although, of course, they never word it like that). But, and this is the thing I want to try to get people to see, the “fight” hasn’t even been started! And this, some maybe surprised to hear, is not because the Christians are too scared to take on the challenge, but because the atheist can’t seem to understand what the “fight” is about.
But let’s go back a couple of steps. My objective is not to convince anyone, or even to “prove” there’s a God, but to try my best to communicate what it is Christians believe about the world and way the “fight” isn’t taking place. Instead, what is happening is like a conversion between two people who don’t speak the same language! But let’s start at the beginning and go from there.
Firstly, what is science? It may seem like an obvious question, but as it is now heralded as the only way to “know” things, that anything not proved by science is only “opinion”, “faith” or “delusion”, I think it’s important we figure out exactly what “science” is! Well, the Oxford dictionary defines it as
The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment
This seems fair enough, right? I’m not misrepresenting it, am I? This is science. Science allows us to understand, and often use, the physical world around us. This is a fantastic thing. The very fact you can read this, that my ramblings can be viewed by anyone around the world, is testament to the amazing results that have been achieved though people carefully and systematically observing, and growing in their understanding of, the physical world around them. I’m not for a second criticizing science. I’m a very interested and fascinated lay man in the world of science and share the sense of awe and wonder that so many, whether with faith or without, can experience at the mind expanding things being discovered each day. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let me note something very important, science is “the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”. Remember that, “the physical and natural world”.
Everyone, regardless of who you are or what you believe, has a worldview. A specific way of looking at, and making sense of, the world around them. Many people don’t even realise they have these “lenses”, this grid through which everything they experience is made sense of. But, whether realised or not, this worldview exists. Now the worldview of the atheist, or at least an atheists like Richard Dawkins, is that the world is purely “physical”. The only things that exist are those that can be examined by our eyes, or through a telescope, a microscope or something even more powerful than either. This “materialist” view is, whether he likes it or not, an act of faith! No proof can be found to demonstrate this, precisely because science is not some sort of “magic”, or an “all-knowing entity”. No science is the careful observation of the physical world. Therefore, by its very nature, it cannot give any clues as to whether the nonphysical exists. To say that science proves that only the physical exists, or that it demonstrates that the physical is more real, is to be confused as to what science actually is.
If you believe that only the physical exists then science can answer almost all questions (although still not all! The question “Why did Henry VIII break with the Catholic church?”, for example, is the realm of history, not science, as you can’t “observe”, or “experiment”, your way to the answer). But be that as it may, if the physical world is all that exists, science can, eventually, bring nearly all answers. I get that. Nor do I disagree with the answers it finds. But it cannot, by its very nature, give any indication as to whether or not the nonphysical exists. To insist that the nonphysical doesn’t exist is an act of faith.
If this worldview is accepted (by faith notice, not by proof), then any understanding of “a god” must fit within this worldview. So Dawkins (I’ll just refer to him by his last name to save time. I hope this will not be viewed as offensive, but as a sign of respect that he is now so well-known only his last name is needed!) does exactly that. For example (From the 2007 edition of “The God Delusion”, by Dawkins)
‘The God Hypothesis suggests that the reality we inhabit also contains a supernatural agent who designed the universe’ p.81
No it doesn’t! No thought through Christian believes that God “inhabits” the universe with us, as if you could fly to Him if you had a powerful enough rocket. The universe doesn’t “contain” God. God doesn’t “dwell within” the universe or “outside it (whatever that might mean)” (p.59). If you’re struggling to understand how I can say that both are contradicting Christian belief then you, my friend, are a person of faith, because you have a “materialist” worldview! You must be assuming that God is “in a place”, which is itself a physical description. (I shall try my best to describe the Christian worldview shortly.) This is why Christians get annoyed when, the apparently leading atheist, compares belief in God to belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden (p.74), or a flying teapot is space (p.75), because both of these (and several other examples he gives) would be physical entities within our universe. Therefore, we would expect science to either have discovered proof for them, or indicate the likelihood of them existing. BUT this is not the case for the nonphysical God of the Bible.
So, does the nonphysical exist? Are you, for example, purely physical? Or is there a “part of you” that is non-physical? Like in those films where people “body swap”, where the “real” you is not your physical body, but your “soul” (or “spirit”, or any other word you wish to give it). Or is the sense that there is more of us that our physical bodies nothing more than electrical pulses in our brains? Now some believe that we have a “soul” and that this the “real” us and our bodies are simply a “carrier” for this soul. As strange as it may seem, Christians don’t actually go this far! Instead, Christian understanding is that there is both a physical and nonphysical aspect to a person and that these two are deeply intertwined. We are more than our physical bodies, but nor would we truly be ourselves if we became a “disembodied spirit”. That’s why a Christian’s future hope is not to fly off to a nonphysical heaven, but to be physically resurrected with a physical body (albeit one which no longer ages and decays). You can cut a human up, examine him under a microscope or test various chemicals on him, but you will never prove, or disprove, whether there is part of him that is nonphysical, precisely because science is the observation of the physical! Likewise, if you show that emotions, or beliefs are linked with electrical pulses in the brain, this still fits with the Christian understanding, because our physicality is bound up and linked with out spirituality. So you can’t demonstrate that the “physical” electric pulses don’t have a nonphysical aspect to them, because (at the risk of repeating myself) science is the observation of the physical. To decide there is no nonphysical part to our thoughts and emotions is not based on “proof”, but on “faith”.
This brings us to the Christian belief in God. The God of the Bible is not physical, but spiritual (Ps 139:7-12). Neither is he “far away”, as if Christians believe that God “kick-started” the universe, ran away and just occasionally “pops-in” to pull off the odd miracle here and there. No, Christians believe in a God who is deeply connected to His creation, sustaining and maintaining it. This is why evolution is not a problem for a Christian, precisely because we believe in a God who guides and maintains His creation (and, incase you’re wondering, I do know the story of creation the Bible, but this blog is already taking too long without going down that road today!). Showing how evolution is the result of physical processes is not, in any way, contrary to this, but simply a description of what was physically resulting from God’s sovereign control. As well as this, miracles are not God “popping-in”, but part and parcel of his interwoveness with creation. (It’s important to emphasises, though, that Christians still see a distinct difference between God and creation. They are not the same thing).
I am pleased to say that Dawkins does, at one point (for about 5 pages!), seem to realise this and argues that it would still be the case that a universe which emerged by purely physical processes would be different from a created universe (p.82). I agree with this. However, he himself admits that, in practice, working this out would be difficult. He also says that certain questions are still the realm of science:
‘Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer.’ p.83
While I would argue that these are historical questions, and not scientific (see above) I still agree with his point and am quite open to discussion as to whether these events happened. Unfortunately, Dawkins never actually returns to these questions.
I could go on, but I’ve already written too much here. Remember I am not trying to convince anyone, but instead trying the, extremely difficult, job of getting across a different way of understanding the world. “Translating” the Christian faith into an atheist worldview, then knocking this artificial faith down is not going to convince anyone who doesn’t already sign up to your own worldview! To argue against something you have to understand it first.
Christians, like atheists, are people of faith. The only difference is that Christians haven’t deluded themselves into thinking they’re not!