Evolution, Galileo & God

Something that should have been mentioned in the first post in this series on atheism and Christianity is that I don’t think rational arguments—like those Jesse and I are attempting to make—are in themselves enough to lead one to a Christian faith. Alister McGrath says it much better than I can, so I’ll let him explain:

Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. To demonstrate the reasonableness of faith does not mean proving every article of faith. Rather, it means showing that there are good grounds for believing that these are trustworthy and reliable. It also means showing that the Christian faith makes sense of what we observe and experience.

So it’s with this in mind that I engage in this debate; not under some expectation that the arguments themselves have enough power to convince, but rather in the hope that the debate may remove obstacles to faith.

To return to Jesse’s most recent post, he writes that the probability of a Christian God existing was lessened significantly by the advent of scientific discovery:

‘What about after 1859, when Darwin published On the Origin of Species. This book painstakingly outlined how animals evolved over time from simpler organisms, contra Genesis…There has been a lot of back-peddling by Christians (non-overlapping magisteria, science and God are not in contradiction).’

My limited understanding of Origin of Species is that it doesn’t ‘outline how animals evolved,’ but rather theorises how they may have evolved. Either way, since the vast majority of scientists believe that it best explains the natural world, I’m happy to accept it. In no way does Darwinism threaten my Christian faith. By extension, I also see no incompatibility between science and theism. As Stephen Jay Gould, who coined non-overlapping magisteria (who was an atheist, not a back-peddling Christian) stated:

To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth millionth time … science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will … have their knuckles rapped for it…

Commenting on why many scientists also hold theistic beliefs, in spite of their science, Gould concluded that:

Either half my [scientific] colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism…

The point Jesse raises about evolution being ‘contra Genesis’ is only valid if one takes a literal reading of Genesis. Many Christians may read Genesis literally, and thus perhaps contest evolution, however I see no reason to personally, since a literal reading of Genesis is not needed to a) believe in God, or b) believe in the gospel.

Many read Genesis as poetry, not a scientific treatise (which doesn’t mean it is devoid of truth or meaning, just not scientifically verifiable truth).  This isn’t the only part of Scripture that is metaphorical, but has at some point being taken literally. For example, many once took the verses about God ‘laying the foundations of the Earth’ literally; they believed there were real, physical foundations.  Science has since clearly shown this to be wrong. The mistake, in this case, was human interpretation of the Bible as people mistook metaphor for science. As Galileo said, “the Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Galileo believed this when he challenged the Church’s position in the 1600s on a stationary earth, stating rather that it orbits the sun, a heretical view at the time since it contradicted a literal reading of the Bible. Philosopher of science John Lennox informs Christians that:

The Galileo incident teaches us that we should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it. The biblical text might just be more sophisticated than we first imagined, and we might therefore be in danger of using it to support ideas that it never intended to teach.

There are two points here.  Firstly, only a literal reading of Genesis puts one in conflict with science, and secondly, science itself ought to not be regarded as the only source of truth. While it is the sole source of truth in the empirical domain, its methods are limited to that domain. Its inability to answer questions that most people consider to be vitally important, such as ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ ‘Is there a point to any of it?’ ‘What do good and evil mean?—does not mean that those questions are meaningless (as now discredited logical positivists once claimed) just because a scientific answer is impossible.  Richard Dawkins himself partly acknowledges this limitation by stating that ‘science has no methods for deciding what is ethical.’

I’m running out of space, so I won’t write about Hume, but I’ll quickly deal with this:

‘Peter … what kind of Christianity do you yourself hold and advocate? Is there such a thing as a “kind” of Christianity, or is there just one Christian truth?’

My immediate response to this would be that there must be as many Christianities, as there are Christians. Now by that I don’t mean that there can be multiple, equally valid interpretations of the key gospel message, but rather that one’s understanding of God does not come simply from reasoned arguments, but also through interpretation based on emotional, and spiritual insight; something that is inherently individualistic up to a point. As to the bigger question, of why I think Christianity is reasonable, I don’t think it can be boiled down to probability per se. For me, this quote from Simone Weil summarises my view well:

If I light an electric torch at night out of doors I don’t judge its power by looking at the bulb, but by seeing how many objects it lights up. The brightness of a source of light is appreciated by the illumination it projects upon non-luminous objects. The value of a religious or, more generally, a spiritual way of life is appreciated by the amount of illumination thrown upon the things of this world.

So to use the same language, I believe that my Christian faith illuminates so much about the world and the human experience which I think science alone for example, is unable to consider, let alone begin to answer. A different analogy might be a visit to the optometrist.

As the optometrist tries to work out your prescription, they slide different lenses into glasses to see which best suits your vision; they ask you which lens best clarifies the letters on the wall in front of you.

Personally, my Christian faith is the lens which allows me to best understand the world around me, from the natural, to the moral, to the spiritual; it makes much sharper those things which are otherwise blurry.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook

2 thoughts on “Evolution, Galileo & God

  1. Pete, you write,

    I don’t think rational arguments—like those Jesse and I are attempting to make—are in themselves enough to lead one to a Christian faith.

    What do you mean by that? I can think of at least two ways in which that claim might be taken:

    1. Rational arguments are not sufficient to establish the truth of Christianity.

    2. Rational arguments are sufficient to establish the truth of Christianity, but (since people often think and behave irrationally) they are not sufficient to force a person who accepts this to trust in Christ, repent towards God, &c., &c.

    (2) is pretty obvious, I think. But if you have in mind (1): why would you think that rational arguments are not sufficient to establish the truth of Christianity, at least its central claims – God exists, God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, &c.?

    • Hey Tom.

      I do have 1 in mind. I believe this because I think it takes the heart as well as mind to have complete faith in the gospel. I think loving God with ‘heart, soul, and mind’ is needed. But maybe you’re right to an extent if we make a difference between saying ‘Christianity is true’, and ‘I’m a christian’. The former might only need argument, but surely the latter needs more? Does that distinction fix the issue you raise?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.