In her review of Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, Jesus Creed regular contributor, RJS, discusses the question, “Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?” Of course, RJS’ answer is a hard no. She lays out her argument based on the fact that science has never, nor could, disprove anything essential to Christianity. RJS says:
First, what is the essence of Christianity? The Apostle’s Creed (see below) is a good starting point. There is absolutely nothing in the Creed that is disproved, or even addressed by science. Nothing here about the age of the earth or the shape creation took. The virgin birth and the resurrection are specific acts of God, and thus not anything that science can address. They are not ‘normal’ and repeatable, but both Christians and atheists agree here. Our future hope is for a new creation. Again not something addressed by science.
What I thought was interesting was, in her comments, frequent commentator, the atheist “Tim”, raised a good point. He said:
Well, anytime you have a belief that lays claim to noticeable effects in the real world, it can in principle be tested by science. So the question is whether Christianity entails such a belief? If Christianity, for instance, would put forward the expectation that sincere, devout Christians as they grow and develop in their discipleship will…overall on average (not every case of course)…manifest fruits of the spirit / light & salt in a way that would be noticeable to others (e.g., self-sacrificial love, mercy, forgiveness, meekness. discernment, etc.), then such a thing could be observed through the social sciences in some capacity. Now, if Christianity makes no such claims, or if any claims in this regard are so weak and sporadic as to be unnoticeable across a population of ostensibly devout and sincere Christians in comparison to the rest of the “world,” then the social sciences would be irrelevant to this question.
And that is what I’ve found. Anytime I discuss with others how we ought to expect Christianity to manifest in the real world in any noticeable positive way, the claims are hedged back so far as to the point that they might as well not be there. And so if you have a faith that doesn’t lay claim to any recognizable effects in the real world, then of course there’s nothing for science to look at is there? And this, it seems, is a very common apologetic approach in progressive Christianity.
Now Tim has a heck of a good point here, “a belief that lays claim to noticeable effects in the real world, it can in principle be tested by science”. I believe our own frequent commentator, Stephen, has raised this same issue before. There is a very nice back and forth with Tim and some other Christian commentators that is respectful and intelligent and worth reading. Kudos to those commentators. Then someone referenced a Roger Olson blog post that was covering a similar discussion. Roger was explaining why he deleted an aggressive comment recently and said:
Recently I just automatically deleted a brief comment from someone which claimed that theology has no explanatory power because there is no evidence for God. This was his response to my essay here describing the “integration model” of relating science to theology and vice versa. There I said that science has no explanatory power in matters of meaning and value and theology has no explanatory power in matters of nature and is ordinary workings. I also argued there that both have explanatory power within their own proper spheres and that sometimes those spheres overlap and in those areas where they overlap both can inform each other. They are somewhat interdependent. I was speaking to my audience: evangelical Christians.
Roger goes on to further buttress his argument with a riff on the classic C.S. Lewis “argument from evil.” Roger again:
An example is evil. Science alone, without drawing on any metaphysics or theology, cannot explain evil without reducing it to something other than evil. If evil is only decisions and actions resulting from chemical interactions in brains or only what individuals or society’s consider deleterious to some “common good,” then it is no longer really evil. The word, the concept evil, contains within itself something powerful, something that points beyond nature to something spiritual, something transcendent. It is what ought not to be but is. And it is what cannot be explained; it is an irreducible mystery…
This has become my stock response to anyone who claims that science alone has explanatory power: What about evil? Some will say science does explain it, but after they have described the alleged scientific explanation of evil it is no longer really evil. It is ignorance or it is a lack of evolutionary progress or it is what most people think is contrary to the common good or it is…. In every case of attempt to explain how science alone explains evil; evil becomes less than really evil.
The whole post is an example of the erudite reasoning that Roger Olson is famous for; go read the whole thing. Then, like icing on a cake, there is an excellent give and take in the comments (frequent Imonk commentators Iain Lovejoy, Dana Ames, and Christiane also partake). Good back and forth that really makes one think. At the end of the comments there is this exchange:
Brian K: “Only existential fallenness can really explain evil while keeping it evil.” If you define evil as necessarily some sort of existential force, then all your work is ahead of you. Demonstrate such a thing exists. Absent that, I’ll just continue to use the word in the colloquial sense.
Roger Olson: My point is exactly that “the colloquial sense” includes that “evil” is something more than just badness. Use it as you wish, but once you believe it can be explained without metaphysics you have emptied it of its power. Then you might as well discard it.
Brian K: I don’t see the dilemma. If it can’t be explained without appealing to things we have no reason to believe are real (or discoverable), then sure, discard it. Problem solved.
Roger Olson: The problem for your argument and prescription is that no one can really discard my meaning of evil when standing before the gates of Auschwitz.
Well, what do you think? I have always found Roger Olson’s argument persuasive. A version of that very reasoning is, in part, what turned me from my atheism. And although “Tim” raises a good point the problem with his argument is that the social sciences have really no way to set up the experiment. Because the issue isn’t measurable differences in different cohorts, it is measurable differences in each individual’s life through the progression of their life.