Christianity In The Light Of Science edited by John W. Loftus (book review).

October 18, 2016 | By | Reply More

I should start by pointing out that ‘Christianity In The Light Of Science’ is a US publication. America and Britain differ considerably in their attitudes to religion, leaving out its now-extensive Muslim and other populations, much of the UK is basically secular, attending church only for marriages, christenings and funerals. Why they do so, is interesting in itself! Many more people in the USA are strongly religious, especially in the so-called ‘Bible Belt’ and attend church on a regular basis and this even forms part of political platforms, for instance, in Presidential elections. So, while much of this book applies equally to the UK, some attitudes and opinions and especially statistics are obviously only valid in the US.

christianitylightscience

I might also add that despite its title, ‘Christianity In The Light Of Science’, and intentions, much of this book can only be described as ‘preaching’. In the case of many readers, this will be preaching to the converted because I know, from personal experience, that many committed Christians will simply refuse to read it. They know what they believe and nothing is going to change their minds. ‘Belief’ is the key word here but if you need good, well-reasoned arguments in order to try to convince True Believers that much of the Bible is pure fiction or that Creationism or Intelligent Design are not as valid as the Theory of Evolution, this book is for you!

Apart from a foreword by Frank Zindler and a lengthy introduction, which does what it says on the tin, the book is divided into five parts, each of which is sub-divided into three chapters. The parts are: ‘Science And Religion’, ‘Science And Creationism’, ‘Science And Salvation’, ‘Science And The Bible’ and ‘Science And The Christ’.

In Part 1, Guy P. Harrison argues that people of faith should think like scientists. While accepting that doing this may not lead them to reject their faith, he claims that ‘Thinking threatens Christianity; it’s as simple as that.’ He goes on to teach us ‘How to think like a scientist: why every Christian can and should embrace Good Thinking’ [his term]. As he says: ‘the world’s most numerically popular religion has a problem. Christianity’s most important claims are not supported by good evidence and logical explanations. If this belief system had some significant degree of scientific confirmation going for it, it is likely that everyone alive today would be a devout Christian. After two thousand years of Christianity, however, what we have is a religion that has been unable to convince even half [of] the world’s population that its claims are true.’ I thought it worth quoting this in full since it is a claim that is made, in various forms, throughout the book.

He goes on to ask: ‘Do Christians give up some degree of their ability to reason in order to believe the unbelievable?’  Having examined the biblical story of Adam, the Garden of Eden, the Holy Trinity doctrine and The Fall, he brushes aside the other claims, ideas and behaviours that Christianity promotes including miracles, faith-healing, symbolic and actual cannibalism, opposition to human rights, doomsday predictions and a six thousand-year-old Earth, instead examining its opposition to Good Thinking and the dire results of this. These other points are however taken up in great detail later in the book. Harrison continues by explaining how to think like a scientist, to conduct experiments and research and so forth. In the second chapter, David Eller continues with an in-depth analysis of the brain and how it works and how it can easily be led into making mistakes and misinterpreting phenomena.

There is not room here to mention every topic that is discussed but no stone is left unturned and all questions must surely be answered somewhere within these pages. Of special interest to SF readers are the chapters on ‘Christianity And Cosmology’, in which we move from Ancient Cosmology and Aristotle through the Dark Ages, Ptolemy and Copernicus, Galileo and the telescope to Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity and the Big Bang. Was God necessary to the creation of the universe? If he created Man, did he also create other creatures and, if so, do they also believe in and worship Him? There is even a mention of the ‘Star Trek’ movie in which a Romulan destroys the planet Vulcan but it is explained that, in reality, Einstein did that when his theory of gravity made a hypothetical intra-Mercurian planet unnecessary!

Also, especially interesting are the discussions of Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID), and here, the US bias is especially obvious, since many schools in the USA are forced to treat Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as having no more credibility than ID, itself created because in 1987 the Supreme Court declared Creationism to be a religious doctrine, while ID can apparently be treated as science. Very clearly, it is not since its articles and ‘scientific’ papers are hardly ever peer-reviewed but are more likely to appear in the popular press without any description of the methods by which any research was done and they do not present any experimental and/or quantitative results. Rather than presenting any data, its proponents appear to spend all their time arguing.

By chapter seven, we come to the biblical story of Adam, which is described as an allegory: ‘more precisely, a figure in an ethnological myth who symbolised all humanity, the root stock from which all others descended. The closest real equivalent was an African man living many tens of thousands of years ago, who was the ancestor to every male human now alive.’ The whole story of the ‘sin’ of Adam in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is analysed at some length, along with the need for Christ’s redemption. Not surprisingly, it is found lacking in many fundamentals!

About half-way through the book, we come to a discussion on the soul and its putative existence. Nobel laureate Francis Crick wrote: ‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’ So can some immaterial part of us exist outside of our physical brain and mind? It seems that in the USA, at the turn of the 21st century, about 75% of people believed in the afterlife. But in many other developed nations, rather inexplicably, the UK is not mentioned by the writer, Julien Musolino, this number has gone down to between 30-50%, while most Swedes and Danes do not believe in the existence of the soul, yet do not seem to be troubled by this and where is Heaven, anyway? We can no longer believe that it is ‘up there’ and that our dead relatives can look down upon us from a cloud, though many people do still seem to believe this, since we know a great deal about the universe and while the centre of the Earth is most certainly hot, it seems unlikely that it is actually Hell.

If I may be allowed a personal aside: I have always found the idea of Eternity very daunting. What does one do for eternity? Remember, it’s not just for a hundred years or a thousand, even a million but forever! In Heaven, do they have food, beer, books, art, TV, movies, football and sex?!

But to continue, later chapters deal with free will, going on to discuss psychology and psychiatry, crime and criminality. There are very interesting sections on biblical archaeology and the proof or otherwise of the biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, through to Nazareth and Bethlehem and whether any indisputable archaeological evidence has ever been found for famous biblical locations, still displayed to tourists today. Even camels get a mention, since whatever the stories and paintings of scenes from ‘Exodus’ may suggest, the pack animal of choice in those times was the donkey. Camels did not appear on the scene in Egypt until about the sixth century BCE.

Also of interest to readers on this site will be the chapter on the Star of Bethlehem, which is discussed at some length. Many possible explanations are analysed: a comet, a nova or supernova and a conjunction of bright planets? Astronomy or at least astrology was well developed at the time of the birth of Jesus, so most of these would not really give rise to any special concern or interest and what are we to make of the fact that the star ‘goes before’ the Magi, then ‘stands over’ where the child lay? The authors conclude that there is not really a conclusive astronomical solution to this. Indeed, unlikely as it may seem, the most credible explanation could be that of a UFO, appearing as a brightly-glowing object, moving at will and hovering in one spot! But, as is stated, this alien explanation is little better than the miraculous explanation, a modern deus ex machina to make any story possible.

The final sections are concerned with prayer and its possible efficacy or not and the Turin Shroud, which is concluded to be an artistic fake by a self-confessed faker but again, this makes for a fascinating story. It takes a certain amount of stamina and dedication to read every word of a book such as this, but even if you only dip in and out or use it as an aid to discussion or argument, it can be rewarding.

David A. Hardy

October 2016

(pub: Prometheus Books. 399 page enlarged paperback. Price: $19.00 (US), $20.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-173-0)

check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com

Tags:

Category: Books, Culture, Science

avatar

About the Author ()

David A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA is the longest-established living space artist in the West, being first published in 1952. From working almost exclusively in water colours and gouache he has gone on to embrace acrylics, oils, pastels and, since 1991, digital art on a Mac. For more art, including prints of this and other works, visit http://www.astroart.org, where you can find many links, tutorials, books and prints and originals for sale. Dave is Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA) and European VP of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), and has an asteroid named after him! His SF novel 'Aurora' is now available in a revised and updated edition on Amazon etc. See a review of this and an interview with Pauline Morgan (November 2012) here: http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/?s=hardy

Leave a Reply

Enjoy scifi? Please spread the word :)