Tag Archives: science and the Bible

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John Dickson on #qanda

I’m thankful Australian Christianity has spokespeople who don’t play the stupid combative game that Q&A seems to thrive on. John Dickson continued in Peter Jensen’s fine tradition (not Pell’s so much, thankfully).

science plus Jesus

Image Credit: Australian Christian News

I really appreciated his willingness to charitably cede points, and agree with others on the panel in order to make the most important point, and to push on despite being interrupted to get his key message across. This is a paraphrase, I only started typing what he was saying about halfway through… but I thought this bit was the highlight. The transcript is now available, and I’ve included some other highlights below.

“you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.”

There were some great #qanda tweets on screen tonight too that indicated Dickson’s approach, and the substance of his answers, was appreciated by the non-Christians in the audience.

I’m sure others are going to be more or less excited about his treatment of science – but historically, there’s little doubt that science arose on the back of a Christian desire to know more about God’s creation, so there is something nice about not tossing science under the bus while acknowledging that it is a movable feast – a point Krauss made very strongly over and over again – science isn’t set in stone, it’s an ongoing discussion of the evidence, and what Dickson demonstrated is that a robust Christian faith has nothing to fear from science – because it’s all about Jesus, and understanding how the Bible relates to the God who created the world reaching out to touch it in the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s worth pointing out that while Dickson accepted a truckload of science that some Christians might be unhappy with – including stuff about the age of the earth and evolution – he wasn’t asked about the historicity of Adam, which is where a lot of the theological weight in the debate rests – he also didn’t say anything disputable about the content of Genesis 1-2, what might be in dispute is what to do with his genre observations… and being honest about the history, intentions, usefulness, and limitations of science while being clear about who Jesus is, in a program that was trending worldwide on Twitter, is, I think, a win. The program format limits the panelists’ ability to come back and clarify or expand on the points they make – so while I’ve read a bunch of people throwing rocks at Dickson, on Twitter, in the comments here, etc – I think you’ve got to take the format into account.

Here were some bits from Dickson that I thought were just stellar…

“I agree with almost everything Lawrence just said actually except I would beg to differ about whether science can actually produce an ethic. I think human beings produce an ethic and we decide whether to use science positively or negatively according to our world view and history is littered with examples of science being used brilliantly, ethically so, and times when it’s used badly. I disagree that science has any ethical import. It’s a neutral discipline and it’s a wonderful discipline. The little quips that I heard throughout about science is all about humility and so on I love. In fact Peter Harrison of Oxford University, who is one of the world’s leading historians of science, thinks that it was a revolution in this doctrine of humility that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries that got science going in Europe in part. It’s not a total explanation but that as Augustine philosophy developed, which basically said human beings are flawed so we need better techniques. We can’t trust our brains. We need to observe, and this Augustinian philosophy grew out of Christianity, as you know, and so Christianity probably is, in part, responsible for science in the first place. I agree that it shouldn’t stick its head in now and tell the scientists what to do. My view is let the scientists do the science. My view is let the scientists do the science and let religious believers do what they do.”

This bit (Family First can learn from this one)…

“The only thing I want to pick up Lawrence with is to say to call it child abuse, to me there are two problems with this. One, it so inflames the conversation and I think the new atheism breeds of this kind of inflamed kind of conversation. The second thing I find very uncomfortable about it is that anyone in the audience who has actually been abused finds that a very odd use of that very loaded term. I know you don’t mean it like that but it’s like someone saying “Oh, that’s a holocaust”. There is one holocaust.”

This was the absolute gold.

JOHN DICKSON: “We live in a universe that operates according to these elegant, beautiful laws and when I read your book this week I was more convinced that that’s the case. And this universe, operating according to these elegant laws, has produced minds that now understand the laws, especially this mind next to us. And so this, to me, all looks and this is not a proof for God but I’m just saying why a lot of people think the God thing has a lot going for it, the whole thing looks rational. The whole thing looks set up to be known. Now, only known in a rational, like the God of Einstein, so then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, yeah, but hold on. There was a bait and switch there that I object to and that was that…

JOHN DICKSON: Can I get to the end of the bait?

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you said Jesus and then you started going off and we were no longer – okay.

JOHN DICKSON: So what I’m saying is you ask yourself the question: is there any tangible thing in the history of the world that looks like contact from the God we suspect might be there? The overwhelming – I think overwhelming evidence points in the direction of Jesus, his life, his teaching and his healings, his death and resurrection. And when I come to believe that, this opens up the world to me. It is like CS Lewis saying “I believe in Christianity for the same reason I believe in the sun, not because I can look at it but because by it I see everything”. And, for me, Christianity explains the world I live in in such a spooky and deep way that I find I feel I have met the God I had a hunch was there based only on the beautiful elegant (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. So now we’ve moved into the – I was going to say I would like Lawrence to respond to that. We have moved into the area of intuition now and perhaps…

JOHN DICKSON: And history.”

I barely watch Q&A anymore – five panelists is far too many. Tonight would have been sensational had it just been Krauss and Dickson, the others (as much as I like Tanya Plibersek) added nothing to the discussion, and there were too many times where misunderstandings were glossed over and not resolved in order for the pollies to get their bits about climate change in.

Did you catch it? What’d you think?

Jesus and science

Have you been to promotingjesus.org? Why not. It’s Mitchelton Presbyterian Church’s new evangelistic tool – they’re spending a year encouraging people to promote Jesus. It’s a great resource.

My future brother-in-law, Mitch, put most of it together. He’s done a great job. I am writing a few articles there. There’s one up already and here’s one I’ve just written (that’ll no doubt be edited before going live).

Jesus ignores science

There are many people – both from the scientific and Christian communities – who would take this statement to a further extreme. They would argue that being a follower of Jesus means rejecting science. And certainly, science is ultimately a fallible human product. It is not perfect. To hold what we now think we know to be absolutely true (based on science) is dangerous ground. This is why scientific principles are called theories. Science is always waiting for a better explanation. A more complete picture.

Jesus did not ignore science. Jesus does not contradict science – and in fact you can hold to scientific truth and still be a Christian – providing you are willing to submit to the idea that Jesus, as God, is not bound by the rules that apply to you and I. Our null hypothesis as believers – the point at which all scientific theories begin – is that there is a God who has influence over the way the world works.

The truth of Christianity doesn’t pivot on a great conflict between scientific beliefs like evolution and contrary claims in the Bible. The truth of Christianity hangs on the person of Jesus. Did he exist? Did he perform the miracles the Bible claims he did? Did he die and rise?

There is a scientific element to these questions – but more than any other religion – Christianity submits its claims to the scientific method for observation and testing. Jesus started by posing a hypothesis. He asks us to test his claims that he is the son of God and the saviour of mankind. His ministry was measurable and observable. It occurred in public in front of tens of thousands of witnesses around the regions he travelled. His miracles were repeatable – they were not – based on the accounts of his life – one offs.

Those around Jesus were able to measure and observe – and had his claims been bunkum they would have been able to refute them. But time and time again those in positions most likely to refute his actions – for example his sparring partners the Pharisees – were left having to accept that there was something unique about him.

No other religion subjects its deity to such scientific scrutiny. Jesus was tangible, he was tactile. The resurrection is without doubt the hardest claim for us to accept based on current scientific knowledge. We know people don’t just rise from the dead. This is where the hypothesis that there is a God involved becomes important.

If Christians claim that Jesus rose from the dead – a claim seemingly counter to our scientific principles – then this is where science and Christianity collide. The resurrection of Jesus is a question of history not a question of science. Did it happen? If it did then it must influence our understanding of science. We must accept that Jesus was who he claimed to be.

The scientific method is relatively young. The model we understand and apply when testing truths is the product of the 19th century enlightenment. People were no less skeptical of claims of resurrection prior to the enlightenment. We’ve always had a sense that rising from the dead is an extraordinary occurrence. Even the religious people of Jesus’ day didn’t necessarily believe in the possibility of the resurrection of the dead – Paul uses this division when he’s on trial in Acts chapter 23.

While the scientific method wasn’t around while Jesus was alive, God knows the type of questions people ask. And so we meet Thomas – often called “Doubting Thomas” but perhaps more appropriately “Scientific Thomas”.

Thomas was a disciple. He’d travelled with Jesus for years. He had heard Jesus say (a few times) that he would die and be raised from the dead. It seems he didn’t believe this was possible.

After Jesus had died and been raised he appeared to the other disciples and ate some food. But Thomas wasn’t there – and he didn’t believe the claims his friends (the other disciples) made about their meeting with Jesus.

So when Thomas was confronted by the resurrected Jesus his first thoughts were the same that ours would be if we were confronted by a friend we knew was dead. Thomas had seen Jesus die, he knew he had been buried. So he thought he was hallucinating. He thought, perhaps, he was being confronted with a ghost. He didn’t believe in that sort of stuff so he put it to the test. He conducted an experiment.

This is the story John’s gospel ends with – an account of the scientific testing of the resurrection and the belief of a skeptic… in chapter 20…

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus does not ignore science – though he could be forgiven for doing so because the scientific method wasn’t around when he was – Jesus submits his claims to science, and he triumphs over science. True knowledge and understanding of the world comes from an understanding of the one who created the world – and the one who triumphs over the realities of the world – death and our inability to live meeting God’s standard.