“This is Guaranteed to Convert You!”

Is belief in God rational or logical or justifiable?Imagine that an atheist walks into a gathering of Christians.  He says, “I hold in my hand a pamphlet that will rock your worldview.  In fact, it will almost surely change your worldview.  I have shown this to several hundred Christians of many denominations, and shortly after they read it, 90% admitted that their faith in the truth of Christianity was pretty much gone.

“Now—who wants a copy?”

How many Christians would take the challenge?  How many would risk their worldview for a chance at a more correct worldview?

My guess is very few.  My guess is that most Christians have had pangs of doubt and don’t like them.  They don’t want the boat rocked—it’s rocking enough as it is.  They suppress their own doubt and they avoid any “opportunity” to increase that doubt.

But now let’s turn that experiment thought around.  I’m going to the Reason Rally and the 2012 American Atheists Convention in Washington, D.C. in March, so let’s imagine that a Christian speaks to the gathered atheists at these events and says, “I hold in my hand a pamphlet that will rock your worldview.  I have shown this to several hundred atheists, and shortly after they read it, 90% went down on their knees and accepted the truth of the gospel message and asked Jesus into their hearts.  Now—who wants a copy?”

How many atheists would take the challenge?  My guess is many.  My guess is that most atheists came to their position because of evidence, not because of suppressing it, and that they’re eager to find the most correct worldview.

I certainly would read it.

What would you do?  And what does this say about the truth of the Christian and atheist positions and the role of evidence in those worldviews?

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Keith B. for this insightful idea.

Photo credit: Brandeis Special Collections

Related posts:

Christianity Can’t be Deduced from Nature

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, 
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
— Albert Einstein

Atheist Christianity discussionSuppose Einstein’s catastrophic World War III happened and civilization was destroyed.  After a thousand years, civilization returns to roughly our level of scientific awareness.

After losing all knowledge of optics and thermodynamics and gravity, this naive society has re-discovered it—the very same laws of optics and thermodynamics and gravity that we have now.  The same is true for relativity or e = mc2 or f = ma or any other scientific law or theory.

Obviously, these post-apocalyptic humans would have different terms and ways of representing things—consider how mathematical symbols, numbers, punctuation, paragraph breaks, and even spaces have evolved over the centuries.  But whatever notation they invented would be synonymous with our own since they would simply be descriptions of the same natural phenomena.

Now imagine that all knowledge of Christianity were lost.  A new generation might make up something to replace it, since humans seem determined to find supernatural agency in the world, but they wouldn’t recreate the same thing.  There is no specific evidence of the Christian God around us today.  The only evidence of God in our world are tradition and the Bible.  Eliminate that, and Christianity would be lost forever.

There would be nothing that would let this future culture recreate Christianity—no miracles, no God speaking to them, no prayers answered, no divine appearances (unless God decided to act more overtly than he does today).  Sure, there would be beauty to wonder at, great complexity in the interwoven structure of nature, frightening things like death and disease for which they would need comfort, riddles within nature, and odd coincidences.  People then, like they do now, would likely grope for supernatural explanations, but starting from scratch you could invent lots of religions to explain these things.  There is no evidence or observation that would guide them to any supernatural dogma that we have today, except by coincidence.

Christians today come to their beliefs because someone initially told them of Christianity.  If no one told you, you couldn’t figure out Christianity on your own, which is quite the opposite from how science works.

Note that morality doesn’t need rediscovering.  Naive people don’t need to be told that you oughtn’t treat someone else in a way you wouldn’t like to be treated.  That doesn’t mean that everyone in a post-apocalyptic society will act with compassion and generosity, just that they don’t need to be taught this.

The Bible weighs in on our thought experiment.  It claims:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18–20). 

And yet, without God informing humanity of his existence, Christianity could never be recreated.  Worship of one or more gods, sure, but not Christianity.

Here’s a variation on this thought experiment.  Imagine the post-Christian society uncovers a library from our day from which they find information about 20 religions that are popular today. This information spreads and civilization gradually adopts these new religious options.  What is the likelihood that Christianity would come out on top again?  Not very.

Let’s acknowledge that Christianity is sticky.  If its message were a dud—that is, if it didn’t give people what they were looking for, at least to some extent—it would have faded away.  But now we’ve turned our backs on the question of truth and are squarely in the domain of marketing, considering which features of religion satisfy people’s emotional needs and which are turn-offs.

This is religion as breakfast cereal.  Some new cereal brands last for a few months and are then withdrawn while others remain appealing (often adapting to changes within society) over the decades.  Christianity is simply the Cheerios of religion.  Like any successful brand in the marketplace, Christianity has spun off many variants—as if Protestantism were the equivalent of Honey Nut Cheerios, Mormonism as MultiGrain Cheerios, and Pentecostal as Cinnamon Burst Cheerios.  Variants succeed or fail depending on how they serve their customers, both with cereal and with religion.

What can you say about a religion that can’t be recreated from evidence at hand today?  About a religion whose god is knowable only through tradition?  You can say what applies to all religions: we can’t prove that it’s manmade, but it gives every indication of being so.

I’ll end an observation by Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason, still relevant 200 years after he wrote it.

The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion.  Not any thing can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.

See other posts in the God Doesn’t Exist series.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

Word of the Day: Theory and Law

A novel of Christian apologeticsLet’s start with a few definitions within mathematics and logic.  An axiom or postulate is a proposition (statement) taken as a given.  A lemma is an intermediate proposition or stepping stone rather than the final result, which is a theorem.  A corollary follows readily from a theorem—it’s often simply another way of stating the theorem.  Lemmas, theorems, and corollaries are all proven, but proofs are only possible within mathematics and logic, not within science.

By contrast, all scientific statements are provisional.  A scientific hypothesis is a testable explanation for a phenomenon.  It explains and predicts.  Once a hypothesis has proven itself, it becomes a scientific theory.  A scientific law is a description of a natural phenomenon, often an equation.  Laws and theories are both well-tested, widely or universally accepted within the field, and falsifiable.  The main difference is that a theory explains while a law describes.

For example, germ theory, quantum theory, and the theory of evolution are explanations.  Boyle’s law, Ohm’s law, and Newton’s law of gravity are all descriptions (and are all equations).

A common misconception is that scientific hypotheses mature to theories, which mature to facts or laws.  Instead, facts (the observations from an experiment, for example) lead to hypotheses (a plausible but immature explanation), which lead to theories (well-evidenced explanations).  In the category of scientific explanations, a theory is as good as it gets and it doesn’t graduate to become a law.

Photo credit: Marvin (PA)

Related posts:

Related links:

Don’t Like Abortion? Then Support Sex Education.

There’s a reality disconnect within the pro-life community. They reject abortion while they also reject the solution to abortion, sex education. Is abortion an American Holocaust, as Ray Comfort says? If so, then join forces with the pro-choice camp and teach teens how to avoid it!

Being against abortion but rejecting sex education is like being against deaths through unclean water but rejecting sewer systems.

Here’s an excellent infographic on sex education from PublicHealthDegree.com.  Pass it on.

Reproductive Health Education
Created by: PublicHealthDegree.com

Related posts:

It’s Funny Until Someone Gets Hurt, then it’s Hilarious

Creationists make themselves look foolish when they pick and choose their scienceI’ve been amazed at the popularity of Creationism/Intelligent Design among Christian pundits.

Old-earth Creationism accepts the consensus within the field of cosmology about the Big Bang and the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago but rejects evolution.  Young-earth Creationism also rejects evolution and argues that the earth is less than 10,000 years old.  This view is predominant among evangelical pastors.

Dr. Karl Giberson recently pointed out an interesting downside of this mindless rejection of science.  He begins by citing a Barna survey that lists six reasons why most evangelical Christians disconnect from the church, at least temporarily, after age 15.  The most interesting reason: “Churches come across as antagonistic to science.”

Of the young adults surveyed,

  • 23% say they had “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate”
  • 25% say “Christianity is anti-science”
  • 29% say “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”
  • 35% say “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”

As an example of this rejection of science, Giberson points to the technique recommended to schoolchildren by Creation Museum founder Ken Ham.  Ham encourages students to ask, “Were you there?” when the biology teacher says that life on earth appeared roughly 4 billion years ago or the physics teacher says that the Big Bang gave us the universe in its present form 13.7 billion years ago.

Ham proudly blogged about nine-year-old Emma B., who wrote to tell Ham how she attacked a curator’s statement that a moon rock was 3.75 billion years old with “Were you there?”

Biologist PZ Myers nicely deflated Ham’s anti-science question with a gentle reply to Emma B.  Myers recommends using instead “How do you know that?” which is a question from which you can actually learn something.

Contrast that with Ham’s “Were you there?” which is designed simply to shut down discussion and to which you already know the answer.

“Were you there?” is a subset of the more general question, “Did you experience this with your own senses?”  To Science, this question lost significance hundreds of years ago.  The days when Isaac Newton used taste as a tool to understand new chemicals are long gone.  Modern science relies heavily on instruments to reliably provide information about nature—from simple ones like compasses, voltmeters, and pH meters to complex ones like the Pioneer spacecraft, Hubble space telescope, and Large Hadron Collider.

Personal observation is often necessary (finding new animal species, for example), but this is no longer a requirement for obtaining credible scientific evidence.

From the standpoint of mainstream Christianity, Ham’s position as a young-earth Creationist and Bible literalist is a bit extreme, but higher profile figures like William Lane Craig also give themselves the option to pick and choose their science.  Craig uses science a lot—at least, when it suits his purposes.  The Big Bang suggests a beginning for the universe, so he takes that.  Evolution suggests that life on earth didn’t need God, so he rejects that bit.

He imagines that he’s Hanes Inspector Number 12: “It’s not science until I say it’s science.”  It may be fun to pretend that, but what could possibly make you think that’s justifiable?

That reminds me of a joke:

Scientists figure out how to duplicate abiogenesis (the process by which molecules became something that could evolve).  They are so excited that they email God to say they want to show him.  So God clears some time on his calendar and has them in.

“Sounds like you’ve been busy,” God said.  “Show me what you’ve got.”

“Okay—first you take some dirt,” said one of the scientists.

“Hold on,” God said.  “Get your own dirt.”

And to William Lane Craig’s pontificating about science, I say, “Hold on—get your own science.”

You either play by the rules of science and accept the scientific consensus whether it’s compatible with your preconceptions or not, or you sit at the children’s table.  If you want to hang out with the adults, you can’t invent reasons to rationalize why this science is valid and that is not.

Evangelicals may want to rethink this picking and choosing of science.  Giberson ends his article:

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above.  In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church….  What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

Perhaps I should be more welcoming to Christian anti-science in the future.

Photo credit: commandoscorch

Related posts:

Related links:

  • Karl Giberson, “Creationists Drive Young People Out of the Church,” Huffington Post, 11/19/11.
  • “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church,” Barna, 9/28/11.
  • PZ Myers, “Dear Emma B,” Pharyngula blog, 10/3/11.
  • Ted Olsen, “Go Figure,” Christianity Today, 11/14/11.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

Cross Examined, a novel about Christian apologetics, Christianity, and atheism109-year-old Rose Cliver, the oldest survivor of San Francisco’s great earthquake, has recently died, leaving only two survivors of the event.  The Huffington Post article of the event includes some great photos of the aftermath.

While a little off-topic for this blog, this is squarely on topic for my book, set in 1906 Los Angeles in the aftermath of the earthquake.  The Azusa Street Revival, which launched the Pentecostal movement, began with a reasonably successful prediction on the front-page of the LA Times the morning of the earthquake.

Someone within the Azusa Street church saw the people of Los Angeles “flocking in a mighty stream to perdition” and saw “awful destruction to this city unless its citizens are brought to a belief in the tenets of the new faith.”

This was too cool an event to ignore, and I launched my story with this earthshaking and historic prediction.

Photo credit: Berkeley Seismological Laboratory

Related links:

  • Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey on Amazon.