The Place for Experience in the Mix of Science, Faith and the Evidence for God

When asked what would make them believe, some atheists say a personal experience with God would do it.

On the show and podcast, Unbelievable! On Christian Premiere Radio in the UK hosted by Justin Brierley, the host often asks people, atheists and Christians, what would make them believe (or not believe, as the case may be). Most people think of arguments or historical or scientific proofs, but not everyone.

In one particular episode Michael Ruse, a professor and philosopher of biology at Florida State Universality, participated in discussion with John Lennox, a professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford, on the subject of Science, Faith and the Evidence for God. When asked the question about what would make him believe, Michael Ruse surprisingly (for me at least) said that it would have to be a personal experience with God.

Michael Ruse is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ruse is an evolutionary biologist who has debated against intelligent design proponents. He has been on the Advisory Council to the National Center for Scientific Education. He is a Bertrand Russell Society award winner for his dedication to science and reason.

Thus, my surprise to hear him provide such an “unscientific” answer to the question of what it would take for him to become a believer. I have since heard other atheists provide similar answers. Intelligent Christians, I think, underestimate the power of personal experience.

To be fair of Michael Ruse, though is a decided atheist, he has a healthy respect for theology. Maybe that is because he is a philosopher, and not just a scientist.

I say “just a scientist” because there is a school of thought among modern scientists that we don’t need philosophy anymore, that science is all we need. (People like Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have expressed this view.)

But science, by definition, is limited to the study of the natural world, matter and energy (or “molecules in motion” as some like to say). Anyone who makes the claim that science is all we need has made an a priori determination (an initial presupposition) that molecules in motion are the sum of all reality. Neither theology, nor philosophy, fit into a world like that. And, where, then, does that leave mathematics and logic?

Michael Ruse, being an expert in philosophy takes great offense at the notion that philosophy has gone the way of God and is dead (alluding to Nietzsche’s great contention). It’s natural for a philosopher to take that position, I suppose, even an atheist philosopher. After all, he has devoted his life to philosophy!

But then, consider that he knows something of what he talks about. Just as scientists know a great deal more about science than me, a philosopher knows a great deal more about philosophy than, well… a scientist (who studies only molecules in motion). It isn’t hard to understand why such a person might begin to see the world as nothing but molecules in motion when that is the constant and continual focus of life long study, but the theologians and philosophers, even atheistic one, protest there is more.

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Is Belief Merely the Product of Geography & Culture?

Are religious beliefs only the product of environment?

Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist turned Christian minister and apologist, was interviewed on Justin Brierley’s podcast, Unbelievable!, with Peter Atkins, the famous Oxford professor of chemistry and avowed atheist. If you haven’t listened to Justin Brierley’s podcasts, I heartily recommend them. He handles very difficult subjects with people on opposite ends of the spectrum in a very gentlemanly, informed and thoughtful way.

The Hugh Ross/Peter Atkins interview (debate) was no exception, though Peter Atkins was a bit less civil in his discourse than Hugh Ross and the host. Brierley, who seems unflappable, didn’t miss a beat, but I was particularly impressed by the kind patience of Hugh Ross, though disappointed that he was often interrupted and not allowed to finish what he was saying.

I recently read a post interview statement from Hugh Ross that puts things in perspective. It provides some background and insight into the interview and the reason, perhaps, of the hostility evident in Peter Atkins demeanor. But first, let’s consider the position that Peter Atkins takes before we consider why he was so hostile.

Peter Atkins takes the position, that Richard Dawkins also takes, that people largely believe what they are conditioned to believe. People’s religious beliefs, therefore, are dictated by where they grew up, the culture and tradition to which they are exposed and other conditions that have nothing to do with the truth of the particular religious or philosophical proposition. Belief, according to them, is entirely an accident of external circumstances and conditions.

Both Atkins and Dawkins claim to base their worldviews entirely on the scientific evidence and on the scientific evidence alone. Both claim that Christians believe what they want to believe, ignoring the actual evidence or in spite of the actual evidence (“in the teeth of the evidence” as Dawkins puts it). If we know a little bit about their own stories, though, we see an immediate disconnect. And, if we think about the story of Hugh Ross, and others, that disconnect gets even more pronounced.

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Integrity and Authenticity in Belief

If we are influenced by the social influences around us, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

Depositphotos Image ID: 13127659 Copyright: creatista

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller lately. Today I listened to an old interview in which he said something that got me thinking. He asserted that, for many or most people, whether they are religious or secular often depends on their social influences. I suppose this would mean parents and family as well as peers. Richard Dawkins, the famously vocal atheist has said similar things: what religion we are depends to a large extent on the society in which we grew up.

Keller supported his thesis with anecdotal evidence from his own experience. He says, for him, he was religious initially because he wanted to gain the favor of people closes to him. What does that say about the power of social interactions? What does it say about our beliefs? If Richard Dawkins and Keller are right, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?

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The Ends of Science and Beginning of Faith

“A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

Photo by Ted Wright near Grandfather, NC

I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.

And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.

US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.[1]

These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.

In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

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Who Created God?

The question “Who created God?” has stumped many a person who believes in God, but the question is flawed.

Depositphotos Image ID: 10605683 Copyright: kevron2002

One of the showing stopping questions posed by atheists is this one: If God created the universe, who created God?

It is a clever question, and has stumped many a person who believes in God, but the question, itself, is flawed. Let me explain.

In my response, I am indebted to John Lennox who’s answer to this very question is embedded at the end of this blog article. John Lennox, is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and a frequent speaker on topics of science, philosophy and religion. He has twice debated the vocal atheist, and Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins, who wrote a book, The God Delusion, using this question as a centerpiece.

The flaw of the question is that it is loaded with the assumption that God was created. The response of the Christian (or theist generally) is that such a notion (that God was created) is not a notion about God at all, but a notion about a god – a created thing. Another word for such a thing is an idol.

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