RESPONDblogs: I think it’s Great to be British!

woolf

It is a mistake to lump all world religions into the same bucket. Are we learning yet? It appears not.

At the beginning of December, a report on “religion and belief in British public life” was published by the Woolf Institute.[1] This organisation is dedicated to encouraging inter-faith dialogue between the different religious groups in Britain. Their report says that – Britain is no longer a Christian country, so Christianity should not be given priority in public life. Faith schools should be abolished, thought for the day on the radio should be opened to atheists, the next coronation should have input from other religious groups…and so on. Because the vast majority of people in our nation don’t regularly attend church…the Woolf Institute say we need to abandon our society’s Christian foundations.

Okay – there’s some truth here that I know this as a Pastor and a Christian for over 40 years. I know very well that the vast majority of British people do not align themselves with a local church. I agree with them on that. I also agree that there are many benefits to a multi-cultural society, which should be celebrated and protected. But what I don’t agree with – is their next recommendation. Which is to abandon Britain’s Christian roots.

Why don’t I agree with them? Because I’m a Christian and so I’m blinded by my bias? No – because I know how much light that Jesus Christ gives to each person stumbling in the darkness. Myself included. But yes – you’ve got me – I have a perspective on Christianity informed by both my life and from the lives of others. But my disagreement with the Woolf report also comes from historical realities…the part Christianity has played in the establishment of Christian Britain. It has been absolutely foundational.

I do not agree we should abandon this Christian foundation. Because as I read their report, what the report does not do…is describe what should replace those foundations. They have no idea! But the priority seems to be side-lining Christianity from public life. Call me old and “stuck in the past”, but don’t you think someone needs to decide ahead of time what will go in the place of our Christian foundations…so that we can decide whether it’s a good idea and whether we want that? Or is everyone happy just to stumble forward into the darkness together?

Does Britain have a Christian foundation? Well – let me ask another question. Did you notice what both the British Monarch and the Prime Minister said in their Christmas addresses this year? The Queen reminded us that, “Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another….and to look for ways of spreading that love to others.” And then she quotes an old saying. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”[2]

The Prime Minister was even more “on the nose” with his Christmas speech. “As a Christian country, we must remember what [Jesus’] birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope….it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”[3]

I think they are right. But an honest look at British history would confirm it. Jesus – his life, his words and his church have been foundational to the British nation thus far.

One of the brilliant things about Britain is our diverse, varied society. It makes for a rich tapestry of life. Every part of our society has the potential to make a positive contribution. But the foundation of this country is and has been the message of the Christian Gospel. It is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This was God’s plan all along.

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9

Jesus lights up the darkness for everyone, whatever our background. Whatever our life experiences have been so far.

 

There are those who want to stuff that light into a bag jumbled full of all sorts of religions and worldviews. What effect will that have on our country? I honestly don’t think they have considered that question. Can I suggest it’s only going to deepen the darkness and the confusion in our nation?

 

All religions are not the same. Look at them. They all make contradictory claims about God and the nature of life. Purely at the factual level…the religions are incompatible. And yet they do have at least one important place of overlap. One person who they all appeal to in greater or lesser degrees. And that’s the person Jesus Christ. Everyone wants Jesus on their side. All the religions do. Hey – I even know atheists who also want Jesus on their side!

Here’s my point. Britain has looked to Jesus Christ for its foundations. It has been part of our genius.  Are we really sure we want to turn that light off now? Are we sure we want to replace him with secular humanism? To open ourselves up to the sole foundation of the checks and balances of purely human government? Which has a habit of deciding for each of us what is ultimately right – and then forcefully imposing it on us using their might? Personally – I would rather we stuck with the Jesus who changes hearts by his love and grace.

 

Britain is a country where different faith systems can flourish. Christianity has been the foundation for that to happen. It creates an environment where people can exercise free will, while also giving people the choice whether or not to follow Christ. Don’t believe me? Check out other countries where Christianity has not been the foundation. I’m proud to be a citizen of a country where I can discuss matters of faith and belief with people of other religions and those with none.

 

I would suggest…that this sort of open and affirming foundation is one of the things that has made Britain great. So let’s keep it that way.

[1] http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/practice/commission-on-religion-and-belief.asp

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35178485

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-christmas-message-pm-to-hail-britains-christian-values-a6785021.html

2015 in review

It’s been so great to blog and interact with people in 2015. I’m convinced that matters of faith should be brought into the public square, into the light…rather than hidden behind feelings of fear, social pressures…or whatever. It matters what we believe. And I want us to gently but confidently discuss it.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

RESPONDblogs: Science Cannot Explain Everything. Discuss?

einstein

Open letter to New Atheist Scientists:

I heard Oxford Professor Peter Atkins recently assert that “God is not necessary…Any argument that asserts that God did it is the sign of a lazy mind wallowing on assertion rather than climbing the intellectual Everest of comprehension.”[1] Like you, I recognise the effectiveness of scientific tools in skilled human hands. Yet I am wondering whether you truly believe the scientific method is all mankind needs? Surely there is more to life than trying to simply understand the mechanisms of existence? The point I would like to make is that, while science is useful, there are certain tasks that it is simply inappropriate for. There are some things that science cannot tell us anything useful about.

I think we both know this at an intuitive level. The Latin word “universitas” was originally used to refer to a seat of higher education encompassing many separate disciplines. The Universities I have studied with have all had Science Faculties, but they have also had departments dedicated to the Humanities, to Language, to Music and so on. Are we to believe that these departments should be closed and their subjects relocated to the laboratory? This proposal would destroy the University in favour of a College of Science. Universities operate as if there are some areas that science cannot tell us anything about.

We can go further. Not only are there things science can’t tell us about, science makes assumptions that are closed to scientific scrutiny. An example is mathematical knowledge. We probably agree with Atkins who comments that “it’s a really deep and interesting question why mathematics works as such a profound language of description of the physical world.”[2] And it is clear he believes this fact will one day itself be explained by Science and we will, “come to understand the fabric of reality. I certainly don’t think that at this stage of science we should say…this is something we can never understand.”[3] To avoid intellectual laziness, Atkins requires a scientific explanation of the usefulness of mathematics. I suggest this attitude reveals a wrong understanding of what science is for.

As we know, science is an a-posteriori realm of knowledge. Scientific study identifies particular instances of behaviour, logs these sensory inputs as experimental data, and then attempts to build a general law based on the observations.

Mathematics, on the other hand, is an a-priori realm of knowledge. Mathematical concepts are confidently asserted without appealing to any sense experience whatsoever. Our confidence comes from the self-evident nature of mathematical principles. Within science, we must do the work to justify a belief. Yet in mathematics we must recognise and form an understanding of self-evident mathematical principles. For example, when I was teaching my children arithmetic, I would reach for the fruit in the fruit bowl. I would engage their own sensory mechanisms as I taught them the principle “2+2=4”. Yet notice what is happening here. I am not appealing to sense experience to justify the existence of the mathematical principle, but to illustrate the abstract self-evident law of arithmetic itself. And those are different tasks. As Philosopher J P Moreland puts it, “If you have an understanding of what 2 is and an understanding of what sum means and what 4 is then you can know 2+2=4 in your intellect without having to look at anything.”[4]

My conclusion is that, while mathematics is the language of science, mathematics cannot be explored and understood using the scientific method it enables. These are two wholly separate but related fields of reasoning and knowledge. And to attempt to bend these laws risks our descent into irrationalism. There are some things that science cannot tell us about.

Ethics is also closed to scientific scrutiny. What is good and what is evil? Why is it wrong to torture babies for fun? Why is it right to display loyalty to our friends? These are important considerations for the legal professions, not to mention philosophy and theology. Science has nothing to say about where morality has come from and why it is as it is.

Many scientists would disagree. After all, the human race is generally assumed to have evolved. “Just as good manners have emerged for the sake of decorum and the avoidance of offense, so good behaviour has emerged for the sake of survival.”[5] The material naturalist’s trump card when it comes to morality is evolution. Survival of the fittest requires moral principles that aid our survival. Why is it wrong to murder? Professor Atkins tells us, “Because we might be murdered.”[6]

Yet I think this is to misunderstand what is going on. Anthropologists observe how societies act, they don’t speculate about what is true and good. As Computer Scientist David Glass commented while debating Atkins, “Evolution cannot account for moral duties and laws. What perhaps it can account for is particular types of behaviour. Why it is beneficial in some respects, but not if something is true or false, good or evil.”[7] The evolutionary approach smuggles in the concepts of truth and goodness and then points to why human beings might strive towards them. But this is to misunderstand the point. Where does human good and evil originate from? Science does not know.

Further, why do these moral laws exist, yet human beings appear incapable to measure up to them? “The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not…You have the facts (how men behave) and you also have something else (how they ought to behave).”[8] Ironically morality is often less about human action, and more about our inability to act in these good and moral ways. Why is this? Science has no response.

But we can take this argument further still. Not only does science not know everything, scientifically derived truths are generally more tenuous than other things we know and rely on. Like mathematics, ethics is self-evident to us. We intuitively know, “mercy is a virtue. True! There are electrons? Well – probably.”[9] We know our own thoughts and feelings but we have not derived that understanding using any scientific method. “You know it from a 1st person introspective point of view. Science does not know things from a 1st person introspective point of view.”[10] We are surer about how we think than we are about the scientific observations we’ve made. Again, there are some things that science is just not able to talk about.

Finally, were we to stand by the notion that we can only properly know something if it is known by scientifically testable means, then we are defending a self-refuting position. We cannot know this statement’s truth by appealing to the scientific method. So if it is true then it must be false because we have not appealed to science to establish it.

In summary, science is only one of many disciplines. It cannot tell us everything, and the knowledge it does give us must be treated carefully. Let us value the scientific approach while recognising its limits.

 

 

 

[1] “’Does God Exist?’ Bill Craig Debates Peter Atkins,” bethinking, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/does-god-exist-bill-craig-debates-peter-atkins.

[2] “Unbelievable? Has science explained away God? David Glass, Peter Atkins & James Croft”, Premier Christian Radio, accessed November 21st, 2015. http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Has-science-explained-away-God-David-Glass-Peter-Atkins-James-Croft.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. P. Moreland, PH.D., Christianity and the Nature of Science, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[5] “’Does God Exist?’ Bill Craig Debates Peter Atkins,” bethinking, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/does-god-exist-bill-craig-debates-peter-atkins.

[6] “Unbelievable? Has science explained away God? David Glass, Peter Atkins & James Croft”, Premier Christian Radio, accessed November 21st, 2015, http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Has-science-explained-away-God-David-Glass-Peter-Atkins-James-Croft.

[7] Ibid.

[8] C. S Lewis, Mere Christianity, (Fount, 1989), 26.

[9] J. P. Moreland, PH.D., Christianity and the Nature of Science, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[10] Ibid.