Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 3

In my previous two posts: Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist – Part 1 Part 2, we talked about how data shows that, contrary to the popular myth, studying science can actually build faith rather than undermine it, and that in reality everyone exercises faith when it comes to metaphysical matters.

The real question is: What is the content of my set of beliefs? And flowing from that: What is that content based on?

Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote an article in which he admitted that he prefers naturalistic explanations for things because he has “a prior commitment…to materialism.”1

In other words, for Lewontin, his science isn’t driven by objective facts or reason, it is driven by an underlying philosophy. He approaches his scientific work with a faith position and a metaphysical belief, not the other way around.

Interestingly, in the field of philosophy, Alvin Platinga, considered one of the greatest living philosophers, is a theist who has so convincingly argued for the existence of God that it has changed the entire climate of academic philosophy, to the point where atheism, rather than belief in God, is now considered a “superstitious” belief.

Philosopher David Bentley Hart says of this,

“I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position; in fact, I see it as a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd,”2

I will leave you with this quote from one of my favorite authors, Oxford professor Alistair McGrath: “The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science.” He concludes by saying that the idea that “fact-based science” is “at war” with “faith-based religion” is “a myth.”3

 

References:
“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997), 28., quoted in Clark, The Problem of God, (p. 31)
The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, (p. 16)
The Twilight of Atheism, (p. 87)

 

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What the Bird Said Early in the Year – a Poem

In my last post about my recent trip to England, I shared how I took my family for a walk along Addison’s Walk, the footpath at Magdalen College in Oxford (click here to read that post)

CS Lewis taught at Magdalen College, one of the 39 colleges which make up Oxford Univeristy. On the grounds of Magdalen College are a deer park and an island, upon which is found Addison’s Walk.

Along the path, there is this plaque dedicated to CS Lewis, which contains one of his poems, titled “What the Bird Said Early in the Year.”

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I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn one year older by the well worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart.
Quick quick, quick, quick – the gates are drawn apart.

C.S. Lewis

This poem reflects the longing and the expectation of CS Lewis’ Christian faith; as he wrote elsewhere: “all the leaves are rustling with the rumor” that one day, the “new day” will dawn and the promise and hope of the gospel will become reality.

For more on this, check out this message I preached this past Sunday at White Fields titled, “The Dawn of a New Day.”

Addison’s Walk

I took my family for a walk the other day down a path called Addison’s Walk: a mile-long footpath around an island created by the river Cherwell in Oxford, England. The island and the path are part of Magdalen College, one of the 39 colleges that makes up Oxford University.

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It was there on Addison’s Walk that CS Lewis and his friend Jack, AKA J.R.R. Tolkien, had a conversation late one night after dinner, which Lewis later said was a turning point in his journey from atheism to Christianity.

Tolkien and Lewis both taught at Oxford and they were both part of the Oxford literary society known as “The Inklings”. The Inklings would meet regularly at two pubs in Oxford: the Eagle and Child, which they nicknamed “Bird and Baby”, and the Lamb and Flag. Both pubs are still there today, on opposite sides of the same street. At their meetings, the Inklings would discuss literature and share their writings with each other. It was at the Lamb and Flag that Tolkien read his first drafts of The Lord of the Rings.

Lewis and Tolkien shared a love for stories. They both felt the power of stories, and Tolkien had written a book titled, On Fairy Stories, which discussed how even in a scientific age, an “age of reason,” for some reason, people still desire to hear and to read fictional stories, even stories which talk about a supernatural world. The reason for this, he said, is that the characteristics which make up all the stories which people love: good overcoming evil, escaping time, overcoming physical limitations, interacting with non-human creatures and other-worldly beings, etc.; these reflect the deep longings of the human heart.

The reason we can’t get enough of these stories, Tolkien argued, is because deep down we believe that this is the way the world SHOULD BE, even if it’s not the way it currently is. The reality of life is that good doesn’t always win, that eventually we are separated from those we love, and so on – but even if this is how things are, it’s not how we believe that they should be. And so we love to read stories which describe life the way we believe it should be.

CS Lewis agreed with Tolkien on this point, and believe that this was indeed the power of stories. However, Tolkien took it one step further that night on Addison’s Walk: he told his friend CS Lewis to consider the gospel story of Jesus Christ. This story, he said, contains all of the elements which make every great story great: love which overcomes death, life out of death, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, overcoming physical limitations, the promise of a world where things finally will be the way they should be… Lewis agreed.

Then Tolkien went one step further: he said, the gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all other stories point.

The gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.

CS Lewis then asked how he could be sure, to which Tolkien encouraged him to look at the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.

It was that conversation which CS Lewis credited with leading him back to Christian faith. He went on to be one of the most effective apologists for CHristianity in the 20th century, partly because he was so intelligent, partly because he had been an atheist and was personally familiar with the arguments against Christianity, and partly because he was a layman and not a Christian minister.

I walked with my kids along Addison’s Walk, along the River Cherwell, and I told them the story of how Clive Lewis and Jack Tolkien had taken that walk along the same path, and I told them how Tolkien had shared with his friend this message of the gospel, and how all the things which cause us to love the stories we love point to “the true story of the world” – the story of Jesus and what he did for us.

As I did, my voice cracked a little bit as I tried to hold it together; you see, my heart has these deep longings as well. The promise of the gospel is that these things will not only remain longings, but one day they will once again be true, because of what Jesus did for us.