‘But where’s your evidence?!’ Whether it’s amidst heated debates over climate change, or the claims and counter-claims of the Leveson inquiry, the cry for evidence is a regular part of our everyday existence. After the dust of a media frenzy has settled, we all understand the need for evidence when making assertions and forming opinions. And yet often when people turn to think about Christianity, they assume that we’re the only ones not talking about evidence. In the realm of ‘religion’, suddenly believing something becomes not about evidence, but about that mysterious substance called ‘faith’. Ever heard a variation of this: ‘that’s easy for you to say, if only I had your faith’?
Given all that, you may find it interesting to have a listen to the latest episode of Radio 4’s ‘Beyond Belief’ programme, downloadable here. This week host Ernie Rea was dialoguing on whether modern physics leaves any room for God, and his guests were Dr John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Christian, Dr Usama Hasan, Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University and a part time Imam, and Dr Mark Vernon, Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, London who has degrees in physics, theology and philosophy and who is agnostic.
What I found particularly refreshing was hearing John Lennox, on national radio, highlight that the so-called New Atheists have done a jolly clever thing in convincing the general public that faith is believing where there is no evidence. In doing so they portray science as this great grown-up champion who’s thankfully come along to defeat ‘faith’, wielding his powerful weapon of rationality, and thus finally liberate us from our primitive ways. In their view faith just stands there, blindfolded to the light of reality, looking both feeble and horribly naive. Consequently the media always introduce the debate as ‘faith vs science’, with ‘believers’ being squared against those who ‘believe in science’, as if the two were opposing.
As Lennox tried to make clear, this is a completely false dichotomy. Science is essentially, as far as I understand it, the act of observing the world and trying to come up with explanations based on what we’ve observed. In that sense, it’s neutral. Like the court judge, science sits and listens and watches before then making a judgment call. Therefore surely the real fight is ‘naturalism vs theism’ and the grounds of this battle must always be evidence; does a God-shaped worldview or a God-less worldview best fit the presenting evidence we observe?
As part of the programme it was an unusual treat to hear the testimony of a man who’d moved from a naturalist position to becoming a Christian. However when Rea asked the man what would happen if some theory were to be discovered that ruled out the possibility of a God, he then explained that his own personal experience of God would become the grounds for him continuing to believe. Now, I don’t meant to in any way question that man’s experience of God, and I certainly do think we should be more ready to describe how God is working in us, but it was interesting that this answer was then picked up by Vernon as an example of believers not believing because of evidence but because of subjective experience. It seems to me, in line with what Lennox was explaining, that we’re missing a massive opportunity to demolish an unhelpful stereotype of Christianity, disseminated in part by New Atheism, by not pointing to the evidence for our faith.