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Return to September/October 2014 articles.


by Dick DiTullio

sculpture of SocratesSocrates, the ancient, Athenian philosopher, penned a simple but powerful phrase that remains the rallying cry of atheists even to this day. In a moment of quiet reflection, he moistened his quill and scribed the following words, “Follow the evidence wherever it leads.” I wonder. Could he ever have imagined that those words, his words, would continue to resonate thousands of years later and across such diversified cultures?

Are we to believe that prior to his word of advice people merely chose to ignore evidence and turn over the reigns of their lives to chance and fate? Actually it is worse than that. Many believe that people of old were guided solely by superstition and salient hucksters. Some were, yet many were not. Socrates' phrase was popularized not so much as a new concept but rather as a profound thought couched in succinctness. It spoke straight to the point.

sculpture of PaulFour-hundred years later Paul, the Christian apostle, put forth a similar challenge to any who would seek to know Truth. Unlike Socrates, Paul attributed his insight to a higher Source — to the Source that claimed to be the Author of life itself. Paul would instruct his followers with these words, “Test everything; hold on to that which is good.”

Test everything? Really? Is that really what Paul would say to those who attended his lectures? Apparently so. When Paul entered the town of Berea, he immediately went to the synagogue to present some challenging information. The crowd was comprised of Jews, but also “a number of prominent Greek women as well as men.” It is interesting to watch this scene play out.

An inspired apostle, a man who in the eyes of his audience was speaking words received directly from God, or at the very least with God’s approval, was challenged. We are told that they, “… searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

This is nothing short of amazing! A respected apostle was presenting information to a partisan crowd, and yet the people listening engaged in critical thinking. They had the audacity to challenge Paul by consulting Scripture to see if his words were consistent with God's written word! And how did Paul respond? He called them a name. It was a good name. “Noble!” Some translations say “open-minded.”

Paul then carried that thought further. He compared his present audience to his audience in Thessalonica saying the Bereans were more noble than they! Why? Because they took the time to confirm, to question, to challenge what they were being taught. “Blind faith” does not seem to be high on Paul’s list.

I have questioned church leaders and have had descriptive names applied to me as well. Never once “noble.” Yet those who questioned the apostle Paul, those who challenged the status quo, were called noble. That is a powerful object lesson for Christianity today. Some might charge that Paul was just playing to the crowd, but there is no indication of that. His response was exactly consistent with what he always taught.

So we have Socrates admonishing his followers to “Follow the evidence wherever it leads” and Paul admonishing his followers to “Test everything; hold on to that which is good.” Both are giving good, consistent advice when it comes to things that matter. Were we to combine the statements of Socrates and Paul the result would not be an unnatural, incoherent phrase. Rather, it would be instructive and elegant. It might read: “Test everything and follow the evidence; hold on to that which is good wherever it may lead.”

We would like to think that both sides immediately rallied around these words of wisdom. Who could object to such a rational approach when dealing with evidence? The worldview divide notwithstanding, the main objective is the same — do not just accept things on faith alone!

Today atheists tend to quote Socrates while Christians quote the apostle Paul. If both sides are looking at the same evidence, and if both sides are testing their beliefs and are following the evidence to its logical conclusion, why the divide? Why are there two worldviews? Why are the worldviews so diametrically opposed?

The unfortunate truth is that neither Socrates’ nor Paul’s advice has been seriously entertained. “Lip service” is a phrase that comes to mind. Each side uses their quote to denigrate those who hold the opposing worldview. “They’re slanting the evidence!” “They aren't willing to test anything!” “If only they were more like us!” Truth takes a back seat to emotion when there is no real effort to objectively internalize truth — to live it out — to respect it in any meaningful way.

Today we see a sharp divide between atheism and Christianity, which, of course, is nothing new. The question of God's existence is as old as history itself. It is an important topic. If God exists and if we are ultimately accountable to him, we will live our lives one way. If there is no God, we will live a different way.

I attended a week-long seminar back in the 1980s called “Humanist Ethics — An Alternative to Religious Belief.” It was a forum with five of the leading secular humanists in the world. They were going to try to determine how to live as secular humanists in the next decade.

One gentleman suggested that atheists should be more aggressive and less passive. Well, that has certainly grown legs! The New Atheist movement today is a full-fledged, no-holds-barred attack on Christianity. But the New Atheism is not really an outcome of that forum. There are other reasons for that movement taking hold.

After five days of arguing among themselves about what a secular humanist society would look like, whether or not secular humanists should embrace altruism (that discussion got downright ugly), and what the basis of morality is, the time came to put it all together. The facilitator walked up to the board and started listing all the points of agreement that would represent the secular humanist position in the 1990s.

As I watched him list point after point, it suddenly occurred to me that he was outlining the gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7! I could not constrain an urge to point that out, but with the qualifier that there was no rational reason for an atheist to live that way. If this is the only life there is, and if we answer to nobody but ourselves, there is absolutely no reason (and I emphasize “reason”) to do anything for anyone else if it does not, at the very least, provide some kind of benefit to the “doer” as well. Since my popularity at that point could go no lower I further noted that the exact opposite would be true for Christians. Christians do have the motivation to sacrifice, to live altruistic lives, to put others ahead of themselves.

Now I am not at all saying that atheists are not moral people. Most are. Many can “out-moral” some Christians on any given day. I am just saying that there is no compelling “reason” for atheists to live sacrificial, moral lives. That is all. Like the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said, “If there were no God it would be necessary to invent one.” He recognized that when people believe they are accountable to God it tends to have a positive impact on society, whether that God is real or imagined.

So while the divide between Christianity and atheism is not new, what is new is the quality and quantity of evidence that is available through science whereby we might test our worldviews. Evidence is accumulating at an unprecedented rate and from all areas of science today, especially compared to when Socrates’ and Paul’s admonitions were first written.

Scientific evidence speaks directly to the whole notion of Truth. How so? I occasionally speak on apologetics at churches, and I sometimes start with a concept that puts the role of science into proper perspective. Most churches tend to hold an anti-science stance largely in response to Darwinism. But Darwinism, right or wrong, is not all of science. One does not have to reject all science just to question one, small faction within it. When Christians get sick they do not refuse medical care just because the doctor might have been exposed to Darwinism when studying biology. So why the knee-jerk, negative reaction to science in general?

In order to help Christians view science in a more positive light, I draw upon a concept that seemed reasonable to me even as an atheist. If you accept that God created the entire universe, which includes having established the “… fixed laws of heaven and earth” and the “laws of nature,” that would essentially make God the Author of science. This also means that when you study science you are studying God's handiwork. Many Nobel laureate scientists, including Max Planck, Erwin Schroedinger, Albert Einstein, and Arno Penzias, to name just a few, accept Intelligence rather than rote, mechanistic, opportunistic chance as being the directive force pertaining to all things created.

Then if God truly inspired the writers of the Bible, that would make God the Author of Scripture. If both statements are true then God is the Author of both science (General Revelation) and Scripture (Special Revelation). That being the case, one would not expect to see contradictions between science and Scripture since both are sourced in the same Author.

Yet contradictions do exist. Why? This is not difficult to understand. John Clayton, the founder of the Does God Exist? program, puts it like this; “If you have a conflict between science and Scripture you either have bad science, bad theology, or both. And we've had a great deal of both.” Albert Einstein recognized the symbiotic relationship between science and religion when he wrote, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Something is fundamentally wrong with our present situation. Both sides are missing a vital connection. Misinformation abounds. A good part of the problem lies with how we discern Truth through both science and theology.

Picture credits:
Socrates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Socrates_Louvre.jpg;
Paul: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paulus_San_Giovanni_in_Laterano_2006-09-07.jpg