Should churches host apologetic events? Should we create a forum for exploring questions such as “Has Science Buried God?” or “Are Science and Faith Incompatible?”
I’m a ministry assistant for a small rural church in the highlands, and we did this very thing recently and as a result I would answer the above questions with a resounding yes!
I think the answer is yes – but not everyone agrees.
Who disagrees? Well, many local atheists. I advertised a three week event which was pitched as exploring the question – “Has Science Proven There is No God?” I advertised it in the local paper, and on some local social media pages which were designed for advertising. On one of these pages the backlash was incredible. Prejudice and hate-filled comments were fired from many angles. Many people seemed to think that Churches should not be allowed to even advertise their events because Christian beliefs are “offensive”. Really? So Christians are now officially no longer equal citizens in a free state?
Then came the assumptions — “this is the 21st century” these Christians are “idiots”, everyone knows “religion is blind faith”, there is no “evidence for God”. The assumptions were then followed by a flood of personal insults, insults which claimed that faith in God and a conviction that “science and faith are complimentary” is evidence of insanity. One person responded to my advert with the following “concern”:
“This poor fellow is suffering from invasive memetic brain damage. Have a heart and get him some treatment.”
Of course, such a reaction confirmed exactly what I had thought when I first considered running the science/God sessions that is that the fundamentalist dogma of Richard Dawkins has spawned a generation of militant atheists who armed with their own proof texts, mantras and unsubstantiated claims. Theists are “insane” according to this mob because that is what their teacher has taught them. Dawkins himself has led the way in this battle:
“It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease and many others, but I think that a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
And how should those who are the “enlightened” respond to such victims? Dawkins prescribes the cure: “Mock them. Ridicule them in public. Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion.” Welcome to evolution and enlightenment!
The responses, despite their intentions, were actually helpful. They confirmed what I already knew to be true – that there is so much myth and propaganda surrounding the subject of God and science that an opportunity for these issues to be explored needs to be created. From an evangelistic perspective, I wanted to create a venue which enabled the dual myth that science/theism is a contradiction and theism is unreasonable for anyone with intelligence, to be challenged. From a pastoral perspective, I wanted to create a venue for answering the question of one of our adherents – “Do I have to reject belief in science in order to believe in God.” I assured him he didn’t and I then sought to gather as many resources as I could in order to present the case that science and faith are complimentary and that theism is a perfectly reasonable worldview in light of the evidence that is available.
How “successful” was the event? In terms of an outreach, it did attract some visitors with a background in science and strong atheistic views. Were they convinced by the presentation? No. But at the very least they did not find what they expected. What did they expect? They expected what they described to be typical Ken Ham arguments against evolution or a dogmatic presentation of the Intelligent Design Movement. They found neither.
What they did discover was a presentation which drew from views expressed from various positions on the materialist – theist spectrum. We looked at the perspectives of Dawkins, Atkins, McGrath, Lane Craig, Lennox, Lee Strobel and scientists on both side of the theism/atheism divide. We even demonstrated that scientists themselves are divided over questions relating to Science/theism and faith/evidence. Further it was demonstrated that 40% of scientists surveyed are theists and around 20% are deists leaving around just over 40% who are atheistic or agnostic.
The event was a great learning experience and here are a few things that I think are important to keep in mind.
Be realistic about your aims. I was not so naïve to presume that a few sessions looking at Cosmology, fine Tuning and DNA & the Origins of Life were going to deliver a knockout blow to convinced atheists. I simply wanted to dispel myths and create an opportunity for those who are interested in truth to see that these issues are much bigger than Dawkins would allow us to believe.
I was encouraged by the fact that our adherent, who raised the question about the compatibility of faith and science, after exploring some of the sessions and working through some of the books that we gave away for free, (God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? By John Lennox and God are you there? Five reasons why God exists by William Lane Craig) told us that he found himself persuaded by the arguments for theism.
I was also encouraged by the somewhat back-handed compliment from our atheist friend who seemed to indicate that he found us “refreshingly normal” and appreciated the fact that we were taking a discursive approach to the subject. However, I was a little disappointed that after three sessions where we engaged with a wealth of evidence and sound logic he resorted to sweeping generalisations in order to prop up the doctrine of Dawkins.
At times I find myself amazed at the capacity of people, who believe their beliefs to be "evidence based", to make incredible unsubstantiated statements. In regards to scientists who are theists, an atheist said to me, “None of these people are 'real scientists'”. To which I responded by highlighting several scientists. “Ah, but they are not biologists!” he responded, as if that somehow undermined their credibility and ability to infer a designer from the fine tuning of the universe. So, just to satisfy him, I refered to the biologist who directed the Human Genome project, Francis Collins, “Ach, he’s an odd ball.” These types of responses were quite typical. In discussing the issues surrounding the Intelligent Design Movement I responded to his concerns by saying,“Actually, Alistair McGrath would agree with you." Our friend’s response? “I hate McGrath, he’s a pompous git!”
Despite the minor frustrations with the biased, dogma dressed up as “objective fact”, I still think the event was a good learning curve. If nothing else, it confirmed the fact that the New Atheism, despite its claims, is not a movement that is based on reason and logic. It is materialist dogmatic fundamentalism. Many New Atheists seem blind to their own bias, oblivious to the fact that they have not destroyed Christianity by their arguments – only the straw men of their own making. Further, they seem to be deaf to reasoned arguments based on evidence.
Make no mistake about it, the New Atheism attack on Christianity is not science versus God, it is militant materialism versus theism. And it is for this reason that the church should consider hosting events that enable myths to be dispelled and truth to be communicated to people who are other-wise being fed propaganda – propaganda that is leading them to assume that their atheistic worldview rests on upon a solid foundation. It would be unloving not to let our neighbours know that they are in fact resting their confidence (faith) upon the faulty foundation of belief dressed up as fact. It is time that someone helped them see that the atheistic emperor, for all its majestic self-talk about evidence and proof – is in fact itself lacking the so called 'proof' that it demands from theists.