Note: There is exciting news for the BioLogos website: we have a major revision planned to roll out later this month. Designers and programmers have been hard at work for several months updating our look, organizing the resources, and making the entire site mobile-friendly. Much of the BioLogos staff will be engaged in testing the new site for the next couple of weeks, hoping to work out all the kinks before we go live. So we’re taking a bit of a blog hiatus—at least from new content. We’re going to run some excerpts from a couple of books that we think you’ll find interesting. The first excerpt is from Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. Each chapter of the book deals with a common objection to biblical Christianity by skeptics. This week, we will be reprinting is the chapter entitled, “Science has Disproved Christianity". This gives a good, basic explanation of one of the fundamental commitments of BioLogos, namely that science and Christianity need not conflict with each other. In today’s selection, Keller teases out the assumptions at work when people claim that science has disproved miracles.
“My scientific training makes it difficult if not impossible to accept the teachings of Christianity,” said Thomas, a young Asian medical resident. “As a believer in evolution, I can’t accept the Bible’s prescientific accounts of the origin of life.”
“And the Bible is filled with accounts of miracles,” added Michelle, a med student. “They simply could not have happened.”
The bestselling books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris assume that science in general, and evolutionary science in particular, has made belief in God unnecessary and obsolete. Dawkins said very famously that “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In The God Delusion he goes much further. He argues that you cannot be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold religious beliefs. It is one or the other. To support his thesis he points out that a study in 1998 showed that only about 7 percent of American scientists in the National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal God. This is proof that the more intelligent, rational, and scientifically minded you are, the less you will be able to believe in God.
Is Dawkins right? Has science essentially disproved Christian beliefs? Must we choose between thinking scientifically and belief in God?
Aren’t Miracles Scientifically Impossible?
The first reason that many people think science has disproved traditional religion is that most of the major faiths believe in miracles, the intervention of God into the natural order. The miraculous is particularly important for Christian belief. Christians annually celebrate the miracle of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, each Christmas, and the miracle of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead each Easter. The New Testament is filled with accounts of miracles that Jesus performed during the course of his ministry. Scientific mistrust of the Bible began with the Enlightenment belief that miracles cannot be reconciled to a modern, rational view of the world. Armed with this presupposition, scholars turned to the Bible and said, “The Biblical accounts can’t be reliable because they contain descriptions of miracles.” The premise behind such a claim is “Science has proven that there is no such thing as miracles.” But embedded in such a statement is a leap of faith.
It is one thing to say that science is only equipped to test for natural causes and cannot speak to any others. It is quite another to insist that science proves that no other causes could possibly exist. John Macquarrie writes: “Science proceeds on the assumption that whatever events occur in the world can be accounted for in terms of other events . . . just as immanent and this-worldly. [So] . . . Miracle is irreconcilable with our modern understanding of both science and history.”
Macquarrie is quite right to assert that, when studying a phenomenon, the scientist must always assume there is a natural cause. That is because natural causes are the only kind its methodology can address. It is another thing to insist that science has proven there can’t be any other kind. There would be no experimental model for testing the statement: “No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible.” It is therefore a philosophical presupposition and not a scientific finding. Macquarrie’s argument is ultimately circular. He says that science, by its nature, can’t discern or test for supernatural causes, and therefore, those causes can’t exist.
The philosopher Alvin Plantinga responds:
Macquarrie perhaps means to suggest that the very practice of science requires that one reject the idea (e.g.) of God raising someone from the dead. . . . [This] argument . . . is like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight on the grounds that the light was better there. In fact, it would go the drunk one better: it would insist that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.
The other hidden premise in the statement “miracles cannot happen” is “there can’t be a God who does miracles.” If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles. After all, if he created everything out of nothing, it would hardly be a problem for him to rearrange parts of it as and when he wishes. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didn’t exist, and that is an article of faith. The existence of God can be neither demonstrably proven or disproven.
Excerpt from The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2008 by Timothy Keller
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/has-science-disproved-christianity-excerpts-from-the-reason-for-god-by-tim