I and some other men have been talking to a young man who joins our church gatherings. Recently, he said, “I want to believe but I don’t know if I can. As I see it right now, I have a 50/50 chance that either atheism or Christianity is true, and I’m just not sure which side to believe.” He later asked if one day he decided that Christianity is wrong and atheism is right, would he still be welcomed at our church? “Of course…”
We also have another young man who faces the same dilemma, though he seems closer to belief. If he rejected Christianity he would likely choose deism as opposed to atheism. We welcome him too.
Both these young men are smart, and they’re both into math and science. And that seems to be part of their problem, they struggle with meshing science and the claims of Christianity, especially the claims about an infinite personal God.
Like them, I love science and math as well. Before I decided God was leading me to be a pastor, my life was heading towards a career in a scientific field. Halfway through college, I decided to make the career change but I kept my major—graduating with a B.S. in Meteorology and a minor in math before heading off to seminary. I happily wear the moniker of geek.
One of my good friends in college, a fellow meteorology student, professed to be an atheist. He founded and served as president of the campus’ Atheists and Agnostics Society, he had a book shelf filled with several philosophers especially of the existential ilk, and he happily argued the merits of atheism with anyone who dared challenge him and did so quite impressively. But there was something about living in the same dorm and going storm chasing together…even though I talked about Jesus quite a bit, he really never tried to argue back. In fact, one time he, I, and another guy were in a discussion about the intellectual merits of holding to the Christian faith and he ultimately spilled the true story of his disbelief.
“I don’t believe in God and I just don’t give a [expletive deleted].”
In nicer terms, it came down to the reality he simply wanted to live and act the way he wanted to live and act, and the notion of God especially the Christian notion of God introduced ethical requirements he didn’t want to follow. Personally, in that moment, I think he stood as the most honest atheist I’ve ever spoken with.
So what is it about science?
One thing that causes me to shake my head is when I hear some of these guys who hold to an atheistic naturalism talk about science as this end-all/be-all of truth. As if through science and the scientific method there is an inherent objectivity that puts to bed all the silliness of God and religion.
Well, there is a certain objectivity to science, but it is limited. Data measurements are objective, the data simply reports what is (assuming your instruments are accurate and well calibrated). But as soon as a person starts to interpret data, they inject various degrees of subjectivity into the system. Yes through trial and error, falsification, and peer-review you can remove some subjectivity but not enough to make science the surefire be-all truth-teller.
Furthermore, science by its nature is limited. We can hypothesize about anything we want, but we can only scrutinize and demonstrate the observable. Science, therefore as a discipline, is limited by the bounds of human observation and understanding. Some atheists like to proclaim that science has shown God is dead and then drove nails into the coffin.
Science can neither prove nor disprove God. The very conception of God lay outside of the range of science. God or the lack thereof, by nature, stands beyond the physically observable. One cannot disprove God by science.
But, here as Christians we must also understand the limitations of science in regards to the opposite end of the faith spectrum. As Christians we believe that God created all things and that creation reveals his power and glory. Therefore as Christians, we can happily embrace science as a tool for the deepening of our understanding of creation and thus our understanding of God’s glory. But we cannot use science to prove God.
And as an excurses—please, no more holding up misapplication of science as proof of our beliefs. Ninety-nine percent of the time when I see someone mention the second law of thermodynamics it is like nails grating on a chalkboard. The second law is all about entropy—the lack of available energy. In a closed system, entropy increases. Thus, a closed system will not progress to greater order but will eventually fade into a stale equilibrium. Many-a-Christian-apologists have made a giant leap from that to the idea that evolution (and with it, atheism) must be false. After all, evolution is an increase of order…
But, no one sensible thinks our planet is a closed system. And neither Christian nor atheist views the universe as a closed system. We believe God interacts with his creation. And even atheistic physicists through quantum theory, etc., believe there are interacting with our universe other dimensions where we have little-to-no understanding of how things work. Please, debate the merits of those ideas, but do not use the second law to argue against evolution. It just makes us look silly. Rant excurses over…
So science is not the end of epistemological evaluation. We must include philosophical ideals, and not write off religion but ask which worldview ultimately makes the most sense of our world as we experience it.
And here is where I think atheism meets its biggest failure—and the very thing I explained to both these young men who join us in our church gatherings…
If atheism is true, then the entire sum of our existence is bound up in natural processes—be they mechanical, chemical, or biological—working through time with some randomness. If that is so, then emotions such as love and hate are simply aspects of these processes. The feelings that go with love and friendships, though they might seem real, are illusions. The reality is completely deterministic. We are attracted to certain people and repelled by others due to pheromones or brain chemistry or something along those lines.
The intrigues of personality also become difficult to explain. Why do we relate to others like we do, if we just ultimately evolved from an impersonal mess?
The human experience cries out there is something more to life, there is something more to love. Our own experience says, “There’s gotta be something deeper.” I don’t love and stay committed to family and friends simply because of biology. Nor do I hold a grudge against someone who has bruised my ego simply because of mechanics.
Natural instincts of wanting to propagate our own genetic code might mildly explain why we will jump in front of a speeding car to push our own child out of the way. The species aspect of it might give a hint as to why we do it for someone else’s child. But it fails to explain our compassion and risk to run into a burning building to rescue an old woman who is done genetically adding to the species and is much more near to death.
Here I do feel compelled to give Peter Singer some (sad) props—his views on euthanasia are at least consistent with his beliefs about the world.
And speaking of death…why do so many fear it, if everything dies? Fear of dying early might make some sense, but not fear of death in general—after all, we would just be completing a natural process to return our matter and energy-usage into the world for the following generations.
Philosophically atheism gave birth to nihilism, the notion that life is meaningless and without purpose. Yet even some of their own looked at life and realized the very human understanding that there must be more to life. So came existentialism with guys like Sartre and Camus. They embraced the reality that atheism cannot explain—that there is something greater to life, they just refused to let go of the atheism that went along with it.
When we consider the limitations of science and include basic human experience, and then we ask the question: What makes more sense, an infinite personal God or the lack of any deity?—I answer with God.
Those two young men who come to our church gatherings are still contemplating. But I don’t believe in coincidence or random happenings. I do believe there is a reason why as much as they question, they keep coming back.
The one who said, “I want to believe but I don’t know if I can,” also said, “I’ve been praying that if God is real he would show me a sign.” I pointed him to Mark 9:24, and told him, “Instead of asking for a sign, why not try, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”