Monday, January 7, 2008

Disproof of Faith: Part 1

A couple days ago, my mind started chewing on whether it was possible to disprove Christianity. Basically, could some piece (or set) of theoretical knowledge or evidence be introduced to humanity that would make Christianity patently false, or at least overwhelmingly unbelievable? Today, I'll start with some topics that are perceived by some to fit this bill, but really don't.

Apparent Contradiction

If there were a clear contradiction in the Bible, that would certainly count. However, I have yet to encounter an apparent contradiction that could not be explained. Addressing all of them is more than I can handle in this space, and there are some fine books that tackle this issue. I'll present one of my favorites, for the sake of this argument:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. - Proverbs 26:3-4
So, which is it? Answer a fool or not? It's easy to write this off as a contradiction, but let's face it, even a somewhat smart human wouldn't make this kind of error (and it is the same human author, or at minimum the same human editor). What makes more sense is the author (and Author) is making the point that sometimes you need to answer a fool, and sometimes you need to hold your tongue. So, this doesn't qualify as evidence that disproves.

Heliocentric Theory

So, in Joshua, the Bible says God caused the sun and moon to stand still for an entire day. This passage, at one time, convinced the Church that the sun must go around the Earth (and all sorts of humiliating actions against Copernicus, Galileo, etc. ensued). Now we know that the Earth moves around the sun. Does that mean the Bible is wrong? If it were trying to be an astronomy textbook, then yes; but it's not. Instead, it's describing an event from the perspective of Earth, where it does appear that the sun normally moves across the sky. After all, we do still describe the beginning and ending of a day as sunrise and sunset, though we know the sun doesn't actually do the rising or setting. Again, no sale on disproving evidence.


Maybe the story in Joshua just begs the question. Whether it's the sun or Earth moving is irrelevant; neither just stops in its motion for a day, then starts back up again. That's a lot of kinetic energy to invest, and the laws of physics say it just can't happen. The same thing goes for water standing up on end in the Red Sea, or walking on stormy water. Some believe that's the last nail in the coffin, that science has disproved the possibility of miracles. However, that's just not true. Science has brought us a long way; we once thought phenomena like thunderstorms were an "act of God", but now we know they are explained through natural laws. It doesn't follow, however, that miracle cannot exist. In fact, since science focuses solely on the explanation of the natural, it is silent on the supernatural. We may not observe any miracles today, but that doesn't mean they didn't occur 2000 years ago.


This seems like a funny topic, as it doesn't seem very controversial. I haven't heard of any protests of fundamentalists outside the Weather Channel studio. And yet the Bible does say that God (and not natural law) controls the weather. So which is it? Again, I think some flexibility in thought is needed here. God could control the weather through natural means. It might mean God sometimes steps in and overrides natural law to accomplish his ends. Either way, I don't think this is conclusive.

The existing set of evidence that I believe makes the best case for disproving Christianity is macro-evolution. That's what I'll write about in my next post in this series.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Science & Faith: Living in perfect harmony?

I just read a New York Times article (courtesy Slashdot), describing a new publication (free online) from the National Academy of Sciences. Normally, I'd be mildly interested in such a writing, but what made this one fascinating was the topic -- Science, Evolution, and Creationism -- and one of the advertised statements that effectively you don't have to choose between science and religion.

My assumption had been that the article would say this harmony was accomplished because faith was personal and internal, whereas science focused on the external. In other words, science is real and faith is what's in your head. I was pleasantly surprised to see nothing of the sort. Instead, the article concludes that science is about testing natural phenomena, where religion focuses on the supernatural... which science (by definition) cannot comment. Another statement I found refreshing is "Science is not the only way of knowing and understanding." (It does go on to explain science differs from other way in its dependence on testable explanations.)

This document does say that Creation Science is not really science (as it is not testable), and honestly, I don't have a problem with that statement (but the reasons are for another time). The only phrase that irked me a bit was that religious faith "is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence." I guess that's technically true; after all, how many times have I felt my prayer was not powerful and effective (though that could be a commentary on my righteousness).

Anyway, their statement made me think about whether Christianity could be disproved. After all, Christianity is founded on observed events that happened on planet Earth (Jesus dying on a cross and resurrecting), and I came to believe because of the evidence supporting its claims. So, is it even possible for a piece (or set) of evidence to occur that would disprove Christianity? I'm not looking for existing evidence; if it's really true there won't be any. No, instead, I'm wondering if it's possible to imagine such a piece of evidence, or if Christianity is inherently irrefutable. That's too much for one post, and certainly one that I've already filled with a commentary. Instead, I'll add others in the near future, starting with one describing evidence that could but does not disprove Christianity.