Just for being a Christian, I’ve been accused of being a “science-denier” (the atheist’s version of a “heretic”), even though I’ve always had a fascination with science. Well, some aspects of it. Chemistry was my worst subject in high school, but I loved biology and astronomy has always amazed me. Most atheists have a straw man caricature in their minds of Christians as dumb superstitious rednecks enraged at recent scientific discoveries proving that the earth isn’t flat or 6,000 years old.
To venture a little further, the atheist narrative is that mankind has, for most of its history, been mired in religious superstition, until the Enlightenment. Now, advancements in science have proven the Bible false, and atheism is on the rise as people become more intelligent. This has led God-believers to frantically struggle to come up with bizarre theories to explain away science. Inevitably, religion will become a thing of the past and mankind can finally spring forth into the wonderful utopia of intellect and reason.
For more on how and why atheists have arrived at this absurdly false reality, click here to read my previous blog on the topic.
Recently, I picked up one of the best books I’ve ever read, Timothy Morgan’s Thank God For Atheists: How the Greatest Skeptics Led Me to Faith. I’m including a link to its Amazon page (and no, I’ve never met Morgan and it’s not a paid endorsement).
To sum it up briefly, Morgan was a lifelong Christian and devout youth pastor who, after a series of setbacks in ministry, eventually gave up and decided God must not exist. A decade-long attempt to embrace atheism, however, only made his situation worse. He read every book from any atheist author he could find, from Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris and even Bertrand Russell. Ultimately, he found their arguments underwhelming, and this even seemed to make God more real to him than before.
Most of the book focuses on summarizing atheist literature and offering thorough rebuttals. However, I found one particular theme especially informative, and that’s what I want to talk about this week.
First, there is more to the history of atheism as a philosophy than most of us realize. Atheists generally claim they are not part of a “belief system,” but that they simply lack belief in God. Morgan completely cripples this, first by pointing out that no one “lacks a belief” in something, unless they’ve never heard of it. An Amazon tribe who’s never heard of Irish leprechauns, for example, lacks a stance on whether they exist. But if you’ve heard of them and don’t believe in them, you have a genuine disbelief in leprechauns. Second, he points out that the philosophy’s history undermines its own claims about itself. Whether they realize it or not, most atheists don’t actually think for themselves, but are largely spouting off dogmatic claims from their favorite authors. It’s fascinating to debate many and hear so many of the same arguments, over and over again. Throughout the book, Morgan gives us a rich history of these arguments, tracing their origins to a single author (a disturbing number of which come from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, one of Hitler’s greatest influences) and then offering a powerful rebuttal.
Let me go back to the opening paragraph. First of all, the ancient world was not filled with only superstitious tribes; skepticism is as old as religion itself, and the ratio of believers to nonbelievers really hasn’t changed since 500 BC. The Enlightenment certainly has not made atheism mainstream.
Atheists are constantly claiming that cultural shifts are bringing the human race into the “dawn of atheism” and the “sunset of religion.” In actuality, this is a cycle that has repeated itself over and over again. A “dawn of atheism” is usually followed by a quick “sunset of atheism” with new scientific discoveries. Charles Darwin’s infamous Origin of Species was never even considered a work that had anything to do with theism until 30 years after it was published, when seized upon by Bertrand Russell.
Russell is the primary cause of the “science-atheism” myth, which is perhaps why his arguments are still being re-used to this day.
At the heart of the atheist narrative is the claim that they are simply concluding there is no God due to science. “Science is the poetry of reality,” claims Dawkins. For this reason, science and atheism are now often considered mutually inclusive. Look no further than Stephen Hawking, Neil de Grasse Tyson, and Bill Nye for textbook examples.
But Morgan presents us with an interesting dichotomy: for the past century, science has been making tremendous strides. Atheism, however, is still clinging to the old tired arguments of a Russell and Nietzsche. If atheism and science were mutually inclusive, wouldn’t atheists be coming up with new arguments?
Instead, those scientific advancements have actually been jumped on by theists.
For example, Darwin authored The Origin of Species under the assumption that the universe was static with no beginning, and little concept of how complex molecular biology is. The Big Bang theory was actually first proposed by a Catholic priest named Georges Lamaitre, two years before Edwin Hubble discovered that an expanding universe indicated a universe with a starting point. Christians were able to use this to further their argument for the God of the Bible. Atheists like Russell had to backpedal.
The other point is the previously-mentioned complexity of the living cell. In 2003, physician-geneticist Francis Collins (who, by the way, is a Christian) successfully completed the mapping of the human genome. According to the findings, the code of DNA in one human cell is so long, if printed on regular-sized paper in ordinary font, it would produce a stack pages as high as the Washington Monument. Now multiply that by the trillions of cells in a single human body, and you get the picture. This is especially interesting when considering that according to atheist writer Carl Sagan, a message as simple as a series of prime numbers points to an intelligent source…and a single strand of human DNA is certainly more complex than a series of prime numbers! If Darwin were still here, he would certainly be at a loss trying to explain what forces were able to generate life from nothing!
You can even throw cosmology in the mix. Our hunt for life on other planets is greatly fueled by our incredulity that it wouldn’t exist anywhere else in a universe this big. But some very advanced mathematical calculations have been made by astrophysicist Hugh Ross on the matter. For life to exist on any planet, exactly 122 perfect conditions have to be met (what we call the “Goldilocks Zone”). According to Ross, the probability of life existing on any planet in the universe, out of sheer luck, is 1 out of 10 to the 138th power! By comparison, the number of atoms in the entire universe is only 10 to the 70th power!
To get back to my main point, pointing out the scientific contributions of Christianity undermines the atheist narrative that religion holds back science. Let me quote Morgan’s book directly to drive it home (from pages 244-245):
“(Richard) Dawkins’ claim that religion ‘subverts science’ is patently out of touch with history and reality. Catholic Friar Gregor Mendel pioneered the field of genetics…Father Angelo Secchi was the father of astrophysics. From his scientific work at the Vatican Observatory, he was the first to map the surface of Mars and the first to look as stars through a prism in order to deduce the composition from their spectral lines….American scientist, botanist, and inventor George Washington Carver, famous for escaping slavery in Missouri to become one of the earliest prominent black scientists, said his ‘faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively and perform the art of science…’”
“…The Catholic Church promoted and financially underwrote scientific research before any government did. For example, Catholic funding for astronomy research built the observatory that allowed the creation of the Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII…A google search of ‘Christian thinkers in science’ produced 55 scientists in the 20th century alone who are winners of the Nobel Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Royal Medal, the Copley Medal, the Davy Medal, the Perkin Medal, and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. They were inventors, researchers, and the presidents of the Royal Society and the World Academy of Art and Science. These religious scientists discovered nuclear fission, founded Quantum mechanics, created the MRI, developed rockets and space exploration, discovered radioactivity, and discovered the chemical element argon among other scientific contributions. One wonders how Dawkins is unaware that Christian paleontologist Charles Walcott discovered the Burgess Shale, one of the world’s most celebrated fossil fields, a huge contribution to the study of evolution. This just scratches the surface of the immense number of scientists in the last century who were also Christians.”
Common throughout Dawkins’ (and others) books is a tendency to blanket all Bible-believers as Young-Earth Creationists. In The God Delusion, he spends the majority of the book attacking the 6,000 year-old world theory, but never addresses any other theist viewpoint. This mischaracterization, of course, ignores that there are actually four viewpoints on the matter: theistic creation, theistic evolution, naturalistic evolution and naturalistic creation. Young-Earth Creationism is actually the newest of these four views, not gaining widespread acceptance until the 20th century (this has nothing to do with whether it’s right or wrong; that is another debate for another time). Whether you agree or disagree with it, a sound case can be made for the Genesis gap-doctrine, which places the age of the Earth at billions of years, most of that time taking place between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
And contrary to what you’re thinking, this is not an example of Christians changing the meaning of scripture to fit scientific discoveries. The Old Earth Creationist viewpoint isn’t just older than Young Earth Creationism; it’s older than geology’s discoveries on the age of the earth. Even going back as far as 426 AD, over 1400 years before Darwin, Saint Augustine pointed out that the word for “day” in Genesis (yom), could have a much more broad meaning than just a 24-hour period, making the exact age of the earth indeterminable.
There’s plenty more I could say, of course, and I’ve summed up my favorite points Morgan makes. But on this website I could never go as deep in refuting atheism as he does in his book.
Here is the link to Thank God For Atheists on Amazon; I can’t recommend it enough.
For my own series on the Bible and cosmology, click here.