So I could lay the existence of the God issue to bed once again. (Concerning arguments about multiple gods, that is for another time and place).
Still, I wanted to hear much more from the other side of this topic. I wanted to minimize confirmation bias as much as I could on this issue, after all, I want to know what is actually true, or is the closest approximation to it.
Also, there was the issue of my Christian faith still firmly hanging in the balance. For me to settle a belief in God at an intellectual level was still a million miles away from the belief that Jesus was God and I was not at all certain where this path might lead in that regard. When your worldview gets upended, you can end up questioning everything you ever believed, were taught or believe you already know.
One of the more easily accessible ways to find the counter arguments for both God and Christianity is from a popular quartet of atheist apologists often referred to as “the four horsemen”, a parody from the four horsemen mentioned in the book of revelations. These four intellectuals: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris began spearheading a movement against religious fundamentalism after the 9/11 attacks.
To be honest, I was afraid to watch their videos and debates at first because I was fearful that they may end up decimating my Christian faith to a point of no return which was already in a state of crisis. Nevertheless, I pressed forward, wincing at the possibility of the beginning of the end of my faith, ironically in search of the truth.
An interesting sidenote, I found them surprisingly likeable; mainly Hitchens, Dennett and Harris; Dawkins less so. I also found that they make a number of fascinating points and observations that should be deeply reflected upon and considered instead of ignored and discarded. Equally surprising however is that I did not find the smoking gun argument and evidence against faith in God or Jesus from any of them that I was afraid of or expected to find.
Having heard from them, I decided I would turn my attention more directly toward psychology to see if it might not shed more light on the subject, specifically social psychology. In social psychology I found more compelling arguments for alternative explanations of the existence of faith and belief in general such as terror management theory (a different angle not dissimilar to Freud’s wish fulfillment idea). Jordan Peterson and to a lesser degree, Jonathan Haidt also has some fascinating insights on this matter from a psychological perspective, though I do think psychology, as a whole, can be too one dimensional in its approach to attempting to answer these types of questions.
Without going into more elaborate detail here, I concluded from my time reviewing the different points of view, that the case for evolution driving religious belief and potentially all other social, economic, and political factors of life to be compelling and convincing.
Here is the pressing question then. Setting my own personal experiences aside, sure, it appears evident or self-evident to me there is a God, but is there any compelling reason to believe that any religion in the world truly represents God? Does God actually speak through a religion or any religion? On a more personal level, does God care anything about me as I was raised to believe and experienced profoundly in the Charismatic world I was raised in?
I remember asking this same question about God caring about me (in a far more simplified manner) as a child and I think it was a fair question even then.
I have concluded that I do not believe there is any reason to believe God cares about us, let alone me when viewing reality through a purely naturalistic lens.
And what about the rest of the thinkers within the Christian world that wrestle with the evolution question? What’s trending with them?
One of the most noticeable trends is a growing movement within progressive Christianity that is embracing elements of post modernism, abandoning traditional constructs, and attempting to pave a new path forward in different ways. Some try to keep as much Christianity as they can while re-evaluating aspects of the traditional faith, they no longer find reconcilable. Others almost categorically reject most or all the premises of traditional Christianity, reinventing them to fit a new perspective. It is hard to say where the majority view sits in this respect. There are certainly plenty of believers from layman to professional theologians who fall on the spectrum between these two.
For instance, there is no small amount of energy expended in Christian intellectual circles among those who, from my assessment, are accepting or are open to evolutionary theory yet resist any broad categorizations, instead embracing a sort of incrementalism approach, arguing that evolution explains this, but not that. This is happening in the secular domain as well.
There is one idea which posits that when a creature evolves to a greater complexity, it essentially does not play by the same rules as its lower evolved predecessors played by. The idea is called emergence where the sum is viewed as being greater than its parts. Evidence for this is seen by examples such as humans forming belief systems, languages, civilizations and moral frameworks that do not exist in other, lower evolved creatures.
Traditional fundamentalists meanwhile reject all of this as heresy, and I am sympathetic to their position for feeling that way. I can’t much blame them for wanting to protect the status quo. I found that was something I could not do.
Having considered these different points of view and others, I still found the evolutionary framework to make the most sense. I found the idea of Christians doing patchwork to shore up loose end aspects of the Christian faith determined to be obsolete to be foundationally problematic.
For me I wanted something more compelling than nuanced, accommodating approaches to new information. I wanted to know, is there anything truly revolutionary about my Christian faith that did not fit the evolutionary theory paradigm?
I was already familiar with the intellectual arguments for the resurrection of Christ. The prophecies that uncannily foretold Christ’s sacrifice and the historical reliability of the Gospels, including the resurrection. Historian and professor Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical turned agnostic put it bluntly when he said that it is clear from an historically reliable perspective that Jesus was a real person, his crucifixion really happened, and they (his disciples) really believed they witnessed Jesus risen from the dead. He also claims Jesus promised to return and judge the world and when he didn’t, the church changed the story to accommodate the absence of a quick departure from earth. (At least it wasn’t an “it’s a cookbook!” scenario 😂)
Was there anything truly unique though about Jesus and Christianity that separated it from every other religion in the world that could possibly serve as compelling evidence for uniqueness of its claim? I couldn’t readily see one from an intellectual perspective.
The answer to this question came from a book I had read many years before by Philip Yancey called “What’s so Amazing about Grace?”
In that book Yancey tells the following story of professors at Oxford attempting to answer this same question.
During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.” (Yancey, 1997)
Ah now we were getting somewhere. Now we have a question that goes to the heart of the Christian faith, pitted against the reigning championing of explanatory power in the natural world.
Can evolution explain grace?
Thank you for taking the time to read. If you would like to ask me any questions or interact concerning any of these topics, feel free to comment or visit the Borderland Faith discussion board for more in-depth conversation and interaction.
[Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 45.]