The Christian Roots of Science – how Modern Science Developed out of a Belief in God

Ancient Greek

When it comes to talking about the development of science as we know it in the West, the standard pop level narrative usually goes:

‘From the time of the Ancient Greeks, figures such as Aristotle were the fathers of science, and then unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church came into power during the Middle Ages/Medieval period (5th cent to around 15th cent) and during this 1000-year period, science was stagnated, that is, until science finally broke free from its religious roots in the early modern period i.e. the scientific revolution from the 16th century onwards. At this point modern science developed rapidly (finally) due to the fact that scientists were no longer religiously constrained as they once were.’

This is more or less a brief summary of what I would say the average person – who might not yet have done much research -would concede regarding the origins of modern science. Now I am not pointing fingers at anyone who takes this view, I myself assumed this version of history to be true growing up since it permeated Western culture so much.

What I want to do in this brief overview however, is to unpack and describe how this popular level depiction is simply untrue, in fact the evidence that modern historians of science now present to us seems to suggest the complete opposite – that it was when science embraced religion, and more specifically a literal interpretation of the Bible, that science really began to develop rapidly.

The Ancient Greeks, the Middle Ages and Science?

Let’s start with the Greeks. Firstly, I want to dispel the myth that the Ancient Greeks (mainly Aristotle) were the fathers/originators of the current progressive science that we all cherish now. I also want to dispel the myth that the Ancient Greeks were highly scientific and that they didn’t entertain supernatural/religious ideas that were outside the realms of materialistic science.

The first issue here is that the term scientist wasn’t invented until the 1830s by a man named William Whewell1, so whenever someone talks about Aristotle doing “science”, they are already presupposing the wrong foundation (because said person probably has modern science in mind). “Science” back in Aristotle’s time was actually called Natural Philosophy (which tell you something already about its nature), and this term held strong all the way until the 1830s.

Aristotle, contrary to common thought, was highly religious in the sense that he had no problem positing a type of god within his worldview (metaphysics). His god was called the “Unmoved mover”, or the “Prime mover” and in fact this god was an essential part of the makeup of the world because Aristotle realized that there had to be an efficient cause which was the ultimate explanation for motion in the universe and this cause had to be unmoved itself or the primary mover in order that it could initiate motion within the universe, as it was observed by Aristotle, without being affected by it.2

This Aristotelian philosophy was adopted throughout the Middle Ages and leading Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) sought to create a synthesis between Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology. The culmination of this synthesis is most evidently seen in Aquinas’s work Summa Theologica in which he answers some 10,000 questions in the areas of philosophy and theology.3

The Religious Roots of Modern Science

Here is where things get interesting, as we have pointed out, the usual story goes that during the early modern period science broke free of religious roots and that is why there was such a huge advancement in it. However, this as I have suggested is simply not the case, in fact contrary to popular belief Medieval Christian thinkers actually laid down the foundational work for the development and longevity of modern science as modern historians now report:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that begun in the Middle Ages. With the exception of revealed truths, reason was enthroned in medieval universities as the ultimate arbiter for most intellectual arguments and controversies. It was quite natural for scholars immersed in a university environment to employ reason to probe into subject areas that had not been explored before, as well as to discuss possibilities that had not previously been seriously entertained4

Secondly, it wasn’t a refrain from the Bible that led to the advancement of science, but rather the embracing of the Bible that led to it:

Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science. … Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its Literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western Science5

One of the most obvious pointers in favor of this is to note that all areas of modern science we cherish today were started by thinkers who believed in God: Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Einstein, Copernicus, Boyle, Leibnitz and so on are all known as the fathers of modern science, and yet all of them were firm believers in God.

In Isaac Newton’s General Scholium (the appendix to his more famous work The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) he wrote that “This most elegant system of the sun, planets and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. […] He rules all things, not as the world soul but as the lord of all. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator”6  

Rene Descartes – who was the first to successfully describe how we could represent space using mathematical equation (using his term extensions) is known as the father of western philosophy and in a letter to the catholic theologian Marin Mersenna in 1630, he notes that “God sets up mathematical laws in nature as a king sets up laws in his kingdom7

Breaking Aristotelian Roots – Holding Christian Foundations

For modern science to develop, Medieval thinkers did have to break free of some ancient shackles, but those shackles certainly were not Christianity and/or the Bible, in fact these shackles were rather ancient Aristotelian philosophy. Christian theology remained widely in play throughout the Medieval period right into the early modern period and beyond; what was abandoned was the synthesis between Aristotelian physics and theology in favor of a new philosophy that stemmed directly from the Bible. Professor of History Thomas E. woods elaborates on the words of prize winning historian of Science Jaki Stanley, “…in order for science to progress, it was up to the scholastics of the High Middle ages to carry out the depersonalization of nature, so that for instance, the explanation for falling stones was not said to be their innate love for the centre of the earth8. This idea of objects having an innate love for the earth stemmed directly from Aristotle’s four causes, namely his last one which he called final cause (teleology) in which every object and being had an intrinsic essence and this essence led it to its ultimate purpose/goal. There was no such conception as gravity until Rene Descartes and Newton and came onto the scene, dispelled with this old Aristotelian philosophy and developed the new Biblical philosophy of nature each with their similar three laws of motion based on the fact that a rational and orderly God had created a rational and orderly laws governed universe in which could be studied as God’s second revealed  book, the book of nature.9

So, as we have seen here in this brief overview, most modern historians of science now hold to the picture that it was actually the literal interpretation of the Bible that aided in the rise of modern science. Far from Christianity being pushed to the wayside, Christianity was the driving force behind the rise of modern science as we know it today. This is why we find comments like this from leading historians of science littered all over the academic world today:

Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy,’[according to historian of science Stephen Gaukroger] and played the most crucial role in the subsequent cultural success of science10

  1. (2017) William Whenwell, Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whewell/
  2. Aristotle, Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H4
  3. Thomas Aquinas () Summa Theologica, Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H4
  4. Thomas E. Woods (2012) How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization , United States: Regnery History. p66
  5. Harrison, P., The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23 (3):14 – 15, 2002
  6. Newton, General Scholium
  7. Thomas Dixon – Science and Religion – A Very Short Introduction (p47)
  8. Thomas E. Woods (2012) How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, United States: Regnery History. p79
  9. Peter Harrison (2015) The Territories of Science and Religion, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. p77
  10. John Henry – Cambridge companion to Science and religion – Religion and the Scientific Revolution. p43

I don’t Believe in God, I Believe in Science!

I believe in Science not God

In the greatly enjoyable 2006 comedy Nacho Libre, there is one scene where Esqueleto a small and quite skinny man finds himself in a wrestling ring forced to fight another much bigger and taller man, or be beaten up by him. Just before the events continue, Nacho and Esqueleto engage in the following dialogue:

Esqueleto: I can’t wrestle him.

Nacho: But you’re tall and fast like a gazelle, you can do it. Pray to the Lord for strength.

Esqueleto: I don’t believe in God, I believe in science. (1)

It is this last line by Esqueleto which is really at the heart of what I want to focus on in this article. At the foundation, much of the debate in today’s contemporary world about God and science stems from this very idea that it is ‘God vs Science’; the more science we learn the less we need God as an explanation.

Most people (believers in God or not) will most likely be familiar with the term ‘God of the gaps’. What people might not know however, is where this idea stems from. You would think it stemmed from some scientist in the past who thought about this God vs Science conundrum and then pushed the concept forward…but no, it actually originates from a 19th century Scottish evangelical theologian named Henry Drummond. When he coined the concept, it was not meant to be an argument against God since he himself believed in God. The whole point of him creating the term was so that people in general could be made aware of the apparent separation, and then not fall into the trap of actually using it as an argument against God! That’s right, the main purpose of the ‘God of the gaps’ invention was so that it would not be used as an argument against God. So how have we gotten to a point in this era where this is now one of the most common arguments against God, especially as employed by high ranking scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss?

Well this brings me to another historical event which helps demonstrate why this thought is so captivating, although completely useless when applied logically to any situation. There is an account told (possibly apocryphal) about the 18th century French mathematician and astronomer Laplace in which Laplace presented his work to Napoleon, who asked him where God fitted in. Laplace replied to Napoleon by saying “I had no need for that hypothesis”.

Laplace’s reply is the same type of a reply that many non-believers in God will give (although worded differently) when confronted about a question to do with God and science. Within this mind-set, God is seen as a ‘God of the gaps’ explanation so that the more we find out about the universe the less we need God as an explanation. According to this idea, in our “evolutionary”(2) past, humans couldn’t explain much about the world and so they had to invoke god like beings to explain away phenomena like thunder and lightning (the Greek gods). Once however, we developed good science and figured out how those phenomena worked…poof, those gods vanished. So it’s basically the same thing with the God of the Bible today, we now know so much about the universe that God is simply irrelevant.

This sounds like such a conclusive argument, so it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to it and maybe feel comforted by it. However, ultimately it is very weak argument when analysed properly, and in order to show why this is, I will use none other than Ford cars to elaborate. (Oxford Professor of mathematics John Lennox alludes to this example all the time to make this same point).

Ford Cars, Science and God?

Imagine you own a Ford car, and after a while of use, the engine breaks down so you take it to the mechanics to have it fixed. Whilst there, you ask the local mechanic how exactly the engine works. At this point the mechanic delves into a very detailed and technical answer about internal combustion, and the four-stroke combustion cycle, and the tiny space for small explosions known as the piston for propelling the car etc. After this satisfying explanation, you then think about it all and proceed to ask the mechanic, “So how did the car come to exist in the first place?” The mechanic then replies by saying “Ah now that would be the work and brains of Henry Ford the creator of Ford cars.” Notice something very important here. Merely explain how the car worked did nothing to get rid of Henry Ford who is the explanation (the personal reason) for why the car exists in the first place. It is very easy to see that these two concepts – henry ford (the agent), and the laws of internal combustion (the process) – are not at war, but rather are complementing. If someone told you to pick one answer out of the two as an explanation of how Ford cars came to be, you would rightly tell them that that is a Ludicrous choice to try and make, both explanations are needed in order to give a complete account of the existence of the Ford car. (3)

Hopefully you are already able to see how this relates to the idea of science and God. Science is a method for explaining how things work (the mechanical explanation of the car), however God is the personal explanation for why there is a universe to study in the first place (Henry Ford). God and science not only do not compete, but cannot compete because they are in completely different categories. In philosophy, this type of mislabelling is called a category mistake: putting God under the umbrella of a scientific theory that can be done away with once a better theory comes along.

Genesis starts with the words “In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth” This is to say that (as John Lennox puts it) “God is not a ‘God of the gaps’, he is the God of the Whole show.”(3a) He created the bits we do understand as well as the bits we don’t understand. To try to apply the ‘God of the gaps’ logic to the God of the Bible is to show a complete lack of understanding as to who the Biblical God is, not to mention it doesn’t even begin to address the issue of God at all because by definition, the concept doesn’t apply to Him.

Science and Religion in Conflict?

My reasoning so far is not meant to be used as conclusive evidence to show that God must exist. The point of this article is to expose the fallaciousness of the entire ‘God of the gaps’ argument against the existence of God. If we want to rightly source evidence for God’s existence, we can put forward the very same question that 17th century German philosopher Leibniz put forward when he asked the famous question, why is there something rather than nothing?

On an interesting final note, it is worth pointing out that another reason (amongst many more) why people seem to cling onto the notion of the ‘God of the gaps’ is because they think it supports the idea that science and religion have always been at war. Unfortunately, once again, this is simply not true. Almost all modern historians of science today now conclude that science and religion have never historically constantly been at war but rather that they have always complemented each other. Here are just a few quotes from professors and historians justifying this position.

 

  •  Historian of Science Edward Grant – speaking about the early Catholic Church:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that begun in the Middle Ages(4)

  • Professor of Humanities Lawrence M. Principe:

The idea that scientific and religious camps have historically been separate and antagonistic is rejected by all modern historians of science(5)

  • Former Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University Peter Harrison:

Today, people are less confident that history moves through a series of set stages toward a single destination. Nor, despite its popular persistence, do most historians of science support the idea of an enduring conflict between science and religion…In fact, contrary to conflict, the historical norm has more often been one of mutual support between science and religion. In its formative years in the 17th century, modern science relied on religious legitimation. During the 18th and 19th centuries, natural theology helped to popularise science (6)

 

Referencing 

[1] IMDb. 2006. Nacho Libre. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457510/.

[2] I do not hold to the evolutionary account as being our true origins

[3] John C. Lennox. 2012. Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-god-particle-not-the-god-of-the-gaps-but-the-whole-show-80307/.

[3a] Ibid.,

[4] Woods Jr, T., 2012. How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. 1st ed. United States: Regnery History. [Edward Grant – p 66] 

[5] Lawrence M. Principe, Transcript book for lecture course Science and Religion (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 23.

[6] Peter Harrison. 2017. Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://aeon.co/amp/ideas/why-religion-is-not-going-away-and-science-will-not-destroy-it.

 

Is Christianity a Blind Faith?

Is Christianty a Blind faithSceptics of the Bible ranging all the way from professors such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking right down the average layman, seem to have acquired a unified definition of what the word faith means when it comes to the Bible over recent decades. In essence the most common definition of the word you will hear is: Having faith in the Bible is believing in the truth of the Bible without any evidence to support it. Another simple way to word this is to use the term ‘Blind faith’.

To me this seems quite odd. Firstly, the Bible has the definition of the type of faith a Christian has/should have within it, in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1 which states that, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So it’s a bit of a straw man to redefine Christian faith as blind faith and then proceed to attempt to take it down based on that faulty assumption. Secondly, there are good historical and archeological evidences which heavily support the claims of the Bible to which even atheistic scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Gerd Luderman have attested to. Thirdly, many people might not realize, but there are at least five different definitions of the word faith that we humans can exhibit. What tends to happen in a back forth between a sceptic and a Christian is that when they both use the word faith in conversation, they define the word in almost opposite ways (in their minds) without realizing. The sceptic defines it in the context of “no evidence” whilst the Christian defines it in the context of “evidence”. Because they are unaware of this distinction between each other, the conversation can get quite heated, and both parties end up effectively talking past each other with no real progress. Ultimately speaking, definitions are key and it is always important to define exactly what you are talking about in order to minimize confusion when involved in an argument (argument in the philosophical sense which is just simply a dialogue between two or more people where premises and conclusions are presented and contested respectably between both sides).

So what are the five different definitions of faith?

  • Warranted faithThe type of faith that everyone exhibits. This is as simple as faith that when you sit down for example, your chair won’t break on you, or faith that when you go to drink tap or bottled water it won’t kill you, or faith that you will be able to drive to work every day without your car exploding on you. Warranted faith is essential to life and everybody alive, more or less, has to function with it.
  • Irrational faith – This basically means ‘faith even when the evidence is contrary to that position.’ For example, having faith that your friend is 25 years old when they are really only 20 years old and all the evidence (the person themselves, parents, birth certificate, school year…) shows that they are clearly only aged 20.
  • Blind faith – Blind faith is to have faith in something where there is simply no evidence for it. For example, the idea that aliens exist has no evidence to support it apart from wishful thinking due to the vastness of the universe. This type of faith in aliens by definition comes under the category of blind faith simply because there is no direct or indirect evidence for alien life in the universe to date.
  • Evidence based faith – This is simply to have faith in something because there is evidence to support it. For example, we have faith that the first president of the U.S. was George Washington because there is overwhelming historical evidence to support this idea. Or, we have faith in that the holocaust really did happen in the 20th century under the reign of Hitler (although some chose to believe that it did not – displaying irrational faith) because there is so much evidence to support this event.
  • Biblical faith – This is a bit of a different one as it only applies to those who take the Bible to be the Word of God. This faith only comes about as a result of being a follower of Christ. It is faith in the things of God and of what Jesus spoke about in the Bible, e.g. the spiritual realm and spiritual activity, the Biblical creation of the world, and eschatology (the end times – the events to come). As Christians, we can have faith in things of this manner only as given by Christ. A non-Christian would have no reason to exhibit faith in any of the same stuff.

With these definitions now in place it is easy to see which is which. The Christian faith falls under number four (Evidence based faith) and five (Biblical faith), not two or three as many assume. I don’t have enough time to go through actual points of evidence in this article however my other written articles Can We Really Trust the New Testament?Atheist Scholar Agrees that the New Testament is Reliable? give you a taste of some of the fundamental evidence that supports the case for the Bible being a historically reliable book.

Is Science Based on Faith?

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When someone is trying to prove a point (usually to do with the physical world), they will often refer to science by saying something along the lines of “it’s been scientifically proven that X is true.” After this is said, supposedly the case is settled unless there is some sort of evidence to the contrary. This points to the fact that today in current culture science has been venerated, and for clear reasons too – technological advancements (phones, space rockets, computers) – biological advancements (health care, genetics), the list could go on and on.

Great as this may be (and I am a huge fan of science), my one fear is that this sort of progress has led to a very biased approach towards how we view science. Many people have lifted science above all other fields of discipline such as, history, philosophy, art, politics and so on. The most extreme version of this bias comes in the form of scientism – the view that science is the only way to know truth – now this worldview is easily defeated (the statement itself cannot be scientifically tested and so if it is true…it is false), however, that isn’t my main focus here. I really want to focus on the concept of science and faith.

For clarification, when I say faith, I don’t mean it in the sense of religious faith in a creator (there are at least four different definitions of the word faith), I mean faith in the sense of warranted faith, the type of faith that everybody on earth exhibits on a daily basis whether they are religious or not in order to get through life. For example, when you go to drink water from the tap or a bottle, you do not conduct science experiment upon science experiment to determine if the water is clean to drink. When you are sleeping at night, you do not barricade yourself in your room for fear that a family member or friend will walk in and suddenly pull a knife on you in order to do you damage. The list runs deep but when we really take time to view how we live life, we realise that we really do exhibit a lot of faith, and that is what gets us through. The main question again I want to address is this: Is science based on faith?

Now before we get into this, we need to define the word faith. The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines faith as:

Complete trust or confidence in someone or something 

In this sense, we don’t necessarily have to include anything specifically religious at this point, we are just talking about having confidence and trust in something, and anybody is capable of that.

So, is science based on faith? Well on the surface, it seems that the answer is a clear NO, of course it isn’t. Science works via observation, testing, repeating and confirming results, it is in the business of strictly empirical findings. This would seem to be true, and it is! However, the question that I’m asking is not about what science does, but rather what it is based on…or in other words, what makes science possible? I will just focus on one topic below in order to try and help answer the question…mathematics (there are many more paths we could go down).

Mathematics, science and faith?

Science, especially the discipline of physics is based upon mathematics. Mathematics underpins science and seems to uphold it (in a sense). The problem here is that, mathematics – as any scientists will tell you – is law like, so much so that it is essentially referred to as “laws of mathematics”. In order for scientists to be able to land people on the moon, and to be able to send satellites into orbit around the world they have to utilise these laws of mathematics. The huge underlying questions however are: what are the laws of mathematics? Where did they come from? And why are they so consistent? Notice that scientists didn’t create and do no not uphold these laws of mathematics. Einstein knew this very well when he made the statement saying: “How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”[1]

The problem is that science is supposed to work empirically, however, the laws of mathematics are immaterial. E=MC2 is not something physical you can touch, it is an immaterial mathematical equation which helps us to understand the nature of mass and energy. Hopefully you are starting to see the big picture here.

Fundamentally, there is a major disconnect between ‘doing science’, and ‘knowing why science works’. The ‘knowing why science works’ part is something that is believed primarily by faith when it comes to truths such as mathematical laws. In fact, this topic cuts so deeply into the world of science that it caused Nobel Prize winning mathematician Eugene Wigner to write an entire paper entitled The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. The last quote at the end of the paper is probably one of the most striking, and it puts a finger on Wingers central thoughts on the whole topic. Winger says that:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.[2]

This to me is a bit like a statement of faith from Wigner, and this is not a bad thing! It is just simply an admittance that science does not contain all the answers, and furthermore, it is an admittance that science cannot even fundamentally account for why it works in the first place.

 

Science and Religion

With this now is mind, I think it is easier to show that the straight line that people tend to draw between science as being “empirical truth” and religion as being “based on pure faith” in not as easily marked as first thought. A few point to consider are that:

  • Faith is a concept that applies to everybody whether religious or not.
  • Science is based upon faith on mathematical laws (and we could extend this to faith in gravity, energy, and light as well since nobody in the world knows what any those things fundamentally are)
  • There are at least four definitions of the word faith (Warranted, blind, evidence based, irrational,) and so we must know which definition we are talking about when we speak about the word
  • Scientists have a fundamental faith in certain unexplainable phenomena just like religious people do. God’s existence cannot be explained by humans, but neither can the laws of mathematics, or gravity, or energy, both fields exhibit very large degree of trust…faith!

 

References:

[1] Max Jammer. 1921. Einstein and Religion, Princeton University Press,

[2] Eugene Wigner. 1960. THE UNREASONABLE EFFECTIVENSS OF MATHEMATICS IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/~aar/papers/wigner.pdf.

Did Jesus Christ Really Exist?

Jesus - real or not

It is widely known today that Jesus did exist. Even the average non-religious person on the street can accept that Jesus was at least a good moral teacher (although there are issues with this position as C.S. Lewis points out). However, on rare occasions, we still overhear the claim that Jesus never really did exist, but instead he was a mere hypothesis as French philosopher Michel Onfray maintains.[1]

What is the evidence that he did exist?

1) Well firstly we have 4 biographies of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Now I know the automatic charge from a sceptic against this will be that “the New Testament (NT) isn’t a reliable document”, so let me quickly dispel that myth citing world renown atheist New Testament critical scholar Bart Ehrman. He says that:

If he [Bruce Metzger – most influential 20th century NT scholar] and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.  The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.[2]

Now when we look at the dating of the four biographies, all four of them were written within at least 70 years of Christ’s death. This is excellent in terms of time frame because it means that not enough time has passed between Jesus and the biographies for mythology to creep in. To give you an example of how close this gap is within ancient history, let’s compare it to the Iliad written by Homer. The Iliad is ancient Greek epic poem written in dactylic hexameter.  The problem here is that there is at least a 400 year gap between Homer (850BC according to Herodotus) and the first copy of the Iliad (7-8th Century) available to us. 400 years compared to just 70 is a big difference.

The four biographies also pass the test as standard eyewitness accounts (or at least reports off of eye witnesses – for example the book of Luke) based within first century Jewish culture.

2) St Paul (New Testament evangelist) writes a letter in 1 Corinthians 15 attesting to the life and death of Christ. Scholars place this letter at about 25 years after the death of Christ. Within a historical context, this is a very close proximity, and so counts as valuable evidence adding to the idea that Jesus really did exist since he was being written about so soon after his death.

3) We also have many extra Biblical reports of Jesus cited from ancient figures around the time of Jesus (ill jus point out a few):

3a) Flavius Josephus who was a Romano-Jewish Scholar and historian. He was born 37AD and died 100AD and he wrote a history of Judaism around 93AD in which he makes a reference to James the brother of “Jesus, who was called Christ”.[3].

3b) We also have reports from Irenaeus. Irenaeus lived from 130AD to 202AD and he was an early church father and apologist. He references the four gospels in one of his writings confirming the claims of each of them. This provides good evidence because it shows that the gospels had to have been written before the 2nd century since someone in the 2nd century was referencing all of them. Jesus himself would have lived in the 1st century and so this places a lot more weight on the idea that the gospels were written by people who actually knew Jesus because they were living around the same time as him.

3c) Lastly, we have the Babylonian Talmud which is a commentary on Jewish laws written between 500-600AD. Within this text (Tractate Sanhedrin 43a), we see a clear reference to Jesus Christ and his death by hanging (on the cross) by the hands of the Jews and Romans. It even references the period of time in which Jesus was hung.[4]

We now return to Bart Ehrman prominent atheist scholar and historian. In a series of quotes in his book Did Jesus exist? Bart says that:

Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?

…I decided to look into the matter. I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.

…I should say at the outset that none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed.

…But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.[5] 

Here we can see even Ehrman himself has no issue with admitting that the historical evidence points to Jesus being a real person. He essentially tells us within these quotes that it isn’t even a debate amongst trained historians and scholars, it only surfaces as a problematic question amongst untrained writers in this area who (possibly) have an agenda (evident in the fact that they misquote Ehrman in support of their point – the mythicist argument).

It seems it is implausible to claim that Jesus didn’t exist. If we can at least get this far then the next question to asses would be, was Jesus really God or just a fraud? And did he prove this on the cross or not?

 

References:

[1] Simon Gathercole. 2017. What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/14/what-is-the-historical-evidence-that-jesus-christ-lived-and-died.

[2] Bart D. Ehrman. 2017. Misquoting Jesus:The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Misquoting-Jesus-Story-Behind-Changed/dp/0060859512.

[3] William Whiston. 2017. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0146%3Abook%3D20%3Awhiston+chapter%3D9%3Awhiston+section%3D1.

[4] come-and-hear. 2017. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 43a. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_43.html. [Accessed 2 August 2017].

[5] Bart D. Ehrman. 2017. Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062204602/?tag=stno-20.

 

According to Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick, Humans are Just Atoms in motion?

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“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”1

According to Richard Dawkins in his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian view of Life, humans are nothing more than chemical reactions, guided purely by genes acted upon by blind physical forces.

According to Francis Crick co-discoverer of the DNA molecule “you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… you’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”2

These are two very bold statements, and it seems you will find people on either side of the fence. Some will totally agree with this reductionist view of life, whilst some will abhor the very thought that humans could be reduced to essentially nothing.

I think firstly – as Professor of Science and Religion – Alister McGrath would say, we need to take both statements seriously. Whilst I don’t personally agree with the view of life portrayed by Dawkins and Crick, I completely and utterly respect them both as people and scientists, and so in challenging their opinions I want to do so respectfully.

Are Dawkins and Crick Correct?

Yes, it is possible that they are correct…however I don’t think the evidence points in favour of them being correct. Let’s take just three points below in order to unpack what I am suggesting.

  1. If Dawkins and Crick are correct, then morality is subjective

This is to say that if humans are nothing more than a ‘bag of neurons’, how do we decide what is right and wrong? A typical response is that “humans just know”, philosophically however, this is illogical and easily refutable; it doesn’t provide an answer at all and it barely even addresses the question at hand.

In this worldview (where there is no God), the human mind is the highest entity. This poses a huge problem because, which human mind decides what is morally acceptable? Theresa May? Trump? Hitler? You? Me? If one person decides that they want to go around stealing money off strangers, it has no bearing on someone else who decides that they want to go around giving strangers £50 notes. Remember, according to Dawkins there is “no purpose, no evil, no good” to life, everything is relative and so you cannot suggest in life what ‘OUGHT’ to be done, you can only suggest what ‘IS’. But then what do we do with all the war in the world, and murder, and rape and terrorism? Are all these things ‘not actually evil’? And what do we do with seemingly good things like charity, and selflessness? Are these things ‘not actually good’? Most likely any person with a degree of reasoning capacity would almost undoubtedly agree that raping and then murdering an innocent child is evil, however as soon as they do this they step outside of the Dawkins Crick subjectivism, into the theistic worldview of objectivism. In the theistic worldview, God is the moral standard who is above the human mind and so his commandments (which flow out of his nature) dictate right and wrong. In this way, you can say that certain things ARE right and wrong. However, anyone who ascribes to the Dawkins Crick view, must maintain that right and wrong and purely subjective (which I think is impossible to hold to), because there is no God – or in other words ultimate/objective standard. In this then objective morality seems to point away from this Dawkins Crick view of life.

  1. Humans innately have a deep sense of wonder and meaning. If Dawkins and Crick are correct, these senses are nothing but illusions

According to English writer Jeanette Winterson “We cannot simply eat, sleep, hunt, and reproduce – we are meaning seeking creatures.If the Dawkins Crick view is correct, then Jeanette is wrong as ‘meaning’ is just an illusory chemical component produced by our “selfish genes”. So, which view seems to be more evidentially based? Meaning seems to be embedded into the very fabric of human existence. Every morning that you get up out of your bed you are exhibiting meaning and purpose, every time you go to school, or university or work, or spend time with friends or family, you exhibit meaning. If meaning and purpose exited the world despair would be the only logical position available. Suicide has a strong correlation with a sense of meaninglessness. Professor of psychology Todd Kashan lists 5 signs that relate to suicide rates and amongst that list is ‘hopelessness’, the idea that it isn’t likely that things are going to get better.4

Philosopher Richard Rorty believes that meaning is entirely man made, he suggests that “We invent meaning – including our ideals of identity purpose and value”.5 There are a couple of problems with this view. Firstly, as I have already raised in the first point, who decides who’s meaning is correct? Another way to state it is, what happens when you have two directly conflicting ideals trying to occupy the same space? Survival of the fittest maybe? How do you adjudicate between the two since ultimately, it’s all relative? Secondly, logically and philosophically speaking, the very claim that meaning, purpose and value are subjective IS in itself an objective claim about meaning value and purpose. The phrase ‘we invent meaning’ is an objective claim about how meaning relates to human beings throughout all time and space, and so on the outset, this view is actually self-refuting as it doesn’t actually escape the objective view of meaning which it is trying to do.

A final point to make is on the concept of God and meaning. If there is a God, then there is a possibility of objective meaning to life as it is God who grants us life and the meaning to which we live. Now I think that there is strong evidence to support the existence of God such as the ‘Kalam Cosmological Argument’, the ‘Teleological Argument’ and the Argument from the longest piece of information known to man…DNA, (there is no time to go through each of these these here). If it is true that God does exist, then it lends much credibility to the correlation between faith and objective meaning/purpose. As C.S Lewis boldly maintained “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”6

3. If Dawkins and Crick are correct…then they are wrong

This is probably the most devastating blow against the Dawkins Crick view. The point again made is that if Dawkins and Crick are right, then they are wrong. So how is this possible? J.B.S Haldane was a British-born Indian geneticist, biometrician and physiologist who opened new paths of research in genetics and evolution. He summarized the fundamental issue with the Dawkins Crick view in a quote in which he says:

“If my mental processes are determined solely by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”7

If we understand what is being said here, Haldane points out the fact that the Dawkins Crick position is a self-refuting position from the get go. It can’t even get itself off the ground simply because of the fact that if the view turns out to be true, then it doesn’t just undermine the worldview of theism, it also undermines every single worldview known, including Dawkins and Crick’s own atheism. So, in attempting to prove their worldview, they actually end up disproving it in the end.

I think after going through these three points, it seems clearer that the evidence supposedly in favour of the Dawkins Crick view, is obsolete. Humans are meaning seeking creatures and when we take the evidence logically on board, it suggests to us that we are more than just “a pack of neurons”. We are bio-organism with a mind, a heart a soul and a spirit and all these components plus many more make up the complexity that is…the human being.

 

References

 

[1] Dawkins, RD, 1995. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Basic Books

[2] Francis Crick, The astonishing Hypothesis: The scientific Search for the Soul. London: Simon & Schuster, 1994, 3; II

[3] Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? London: Vintage, 2012, 68

[4] Dr Todd Kashdan. 2017. Why Do People Kill Themselves? New Warning Signs. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs.

[5] Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 1982, xlii

[6] C.S Lewis, Essay Collection. London: HarperCollins, 2002, 197, 21

[7] J.B.S Haldane, Possible Worlds, 1927, p.209

Is Religion the Main Cause of Wars?

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This has been echoed many times throughout modern civilisation, “if we got rid of religion, we would have less war in the world.”

Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous atheist remarks that if religion was abolished, there would be a “much better chance of no more war1

Many atheists seem to hold to this rhetoric, and when in conversation with a religious person, tend to bring up this objection.

In some sense, it is easy to see why this argument is used so frequently; taking the most notable example of our day, ISIS present an ongoing threat that is plastered all over the media constantly. Being a part of Islam it is therefore easy to link the two together and then to suggest that religions like this cause the problems of war and violence in the world. Whilst this seems logical on the outset, here is the major problem: The evidence does not support this view. In fact, it goes almost completely against it.

Firstly, when we look The Encyclopaedia of Wars, with an exhaustive study published in 2008 citing 1,763 throughout anthropological history, it marks a mere ‘123’ of the wars as religious. In percentages, this is only about 7%! The other 93% (or 1,640) of wars were caused by other means.2

This on its own more or less defeats the claim that religion is the main cause of war, however we can support the evidence even further.

The institute for Economics and Peace recently published reports supporting this idea and debunking the myth that religion causes war.3 They found that a country with less religion does not make it necessarily more peaceful. Amongst other places they cite North Korea as an example. North Korea is a country with minimal religion however it was deemed 10th in the ‘least peaceful country’ to be in in 2013.4

Lastly, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion Alister McGrath comments that:

 

The 20th Century is perhaps the greatest obstacle to that the metanarrative of secular progress has to overcome, not least because of its sacred mythology of the unique capacity of religion to generate violence. The First Word War, the Great Depression and the Second World War all raised awkward questions about the plausibility of this narrative. We were told that if we got rid of religion – or at least neutralized it, pulling out its teeth – then the likelihood of war would be drastically reduced, since religion was a key element in causing global conflict. Yet as far as scholars can see, there were no significant religious motivations for either the First World War (death toll around 16 million) or the Second World War (death toll around 60 million).5

 

The myth that religion is the main cause of war/violence is unfounded according to the evidence. Yes, it may “reflect it”6,  however, as Alister McGrath also states, “We need to face up to the fact that, as a species, human beings are animals that use violence to achieve their ends.”7a 7b  The problem isn’t with religion, the problem is with us…humans.

 

 

Referencing

[1] Louise Ridley. 2014. Does Religion Cause War… And Do Atheists Have Something To Answer For?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/11/14/religions-war-cause-responsible-evidence_n_6156878.html.

 

[2] Charles Phillips. 2017. Encyclopedia of Wars – 3 Volume of Set (Fact on File Library of World History). [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Wars-Volume-Library-History/dp/0816028516.

 

[3] Institute for Economics and Peace. 2017. Religion and War. [ONLINE] Available at: http://economicsandpeace.org/.

 

[4] Forbes. 2017. The Most And Least Peaceful Countries. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/pictures/54f4e703da47a54de82444a7/no-10-north-korea/#60588f2e55f6.

 

 

[5] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 181 -182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.

 

 

[6] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.

 

[7] McGrath, AM, 2017. The Great Mystery – Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning (p 182). 1st ed. Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton An Hachette UK company.

 

[7b] I do not agree with the statement that humans are animals, however I used the quotation to get across the main point which is about humans and violence