Christianity has two conflicting schools of thought. One says that evidence is the Christian’s friend and that an open-minded skeptic who follows the evidence will soon become a Christian. The other school cautions that such an empirical belief is grounded in science rather than God, and if science changes (as it sometimes does), that belief would then rest on nothing.
So which is it? Are science and evidence reliable paths to faith or just temptation from Satan?
I do enjoy watching Christian-on-Christian action, so let’s get the popcorn, explore these two options, and enjoy the show.
Science supports Christianity
Lord Kelvin said, “If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.” Modern apologists make a similar argument, though they often give themselves license to select the science they like and reject what they don’t. For example:
Throughout the ages true science has repeatedly confirmed Christ’s words. True science is the Christian’s friend, and the enemy of the evolutionist.
(Unsurprisingly, this claim, with its anti-evolution bias, was made by a not-biologist.)
There are many organizations like the Discovery Institute, Stand to Reason (Greg Koukl), Reasons to Believe (Hugh Ross), Cold Case Christianity (Jim Wallace), and Reasonable Faith (William Lane Craig) that enthusiastically point to science to support their Christian position.
One extreme approach is to simply declare your faith position correct with respect to science. For example, here’s a tenet from the faith statement of Answers in Genesis:
By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.
You see, if there’s a conflict, it’s because fallible people got it wrong. Cuz Jesus.
Science makes a poor foundation for faith
Other Christian sources see science as the bad guy.
The faith which the Christian has cannot be destroyed by the results of scientific study either, since that faith doesn’t depend on science. To base our faith on the proposition that a particular scientific theory is true or false is to build it on the wrong foundation. (Source)
Here’s input from Ken Ham of ICR:
We should be very wary of any idea about life that has a consensus among non-Christians. Sadly, many Christians listen to the ideas of secular scientists and try to add these to the Bible. This shows that they have the same problem as the non-Christian—they don’t want to submit to God’s Word.
This is sometimes put more forcefully: don’t use a scientific conclusion as part of the foundation of your faith, since science is always tentative. That foundation might crumble as science changes, which would put your faith at risk.
A weakness of this position is that such an apologist is never committed to the argument. They might say, “Well, how do you explain abiogenesis?” or “You can’t tell me what caused the Big Bang!” but those are just ploys. When science reaches a conclusion about any of these questions, the apologist will drop it and pick up the next challenge du jour. Nothing’s at stake. They demand that you question your worldview but refuse to reciprocate.
If you come across such an argument, you can dispel the smoke screen by asking if they would drop any part of their faith after science answered their question. If the answer is no, responding to their question is a waste of time.
Let’s consider this science-averse position. “Faith” is popularly defined by many apologists as synonymous with “trust”—that is, belief firmly grounded in evidence. If that’s what faith means to you, you should lose your faith when popular apologetics arguments are answered by science. Or, if your belief depends on nothing tangible, admit it, say that you “just believe,” and drop any pretense of grounding your worldview in evidence or having an argument that would convince someone else. (More on faith here.)
The Christian rebuttal
Apologist Jim Wallace makes an excellent argument against this position. He considers evangelical Christians who justify their belief in some experience or feeling and asks,
Could my Mormon friends and family make the same [experiential] claim? If they could, then your claim probably is insufficient. (Cold Case Christianity podcast for 5/12/16 @15:00)
That is, if you would reject Mormons grounding their faith in nothing more than a powerful feeling, why think that grounding is justified for you?
So which is it? One option is to keep faith and science separate and look for God to show you with some feeling or experience that you’ve chosen the right path. But then your position is no more compelling than that of anyone claiming a similar experience from their deity.
Or do you ground your faith in science? But then you risk a change in science undercutting that foundation.
Sometimes Christians do my work for me.
If you were convinced that elves make it rain,
every time it rained you’d see evidence of the existence of elves.
— seen on the internet
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/15/16.)