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Russell Stannard: "Reconciling" Science and Religion
 
Modern people feel that the Bible was written by people who lived long before the discoveries of science and therefore espouses a primitive and superstitious worldview. A worldview is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. Is the Bible really in conflict with science?
 
Russell Stannard is one of the best sources of current Christian thinking on how to reconcile the Christian religion and science. Is he right that they are compatible?
 
Let’s examine the seeming problems between science and the Bible pertaining to the “big issues”:
 
1 Creation
2 Evolution
3 Miracles


The Christian physicist Russell Stannard reports the doctrines of modern science accurately and tries to reconcile them with biblical Christianity. We will look at the alleged conflict in the light of his work.
  
Stannard & Creation
 
The Book of Genesis in the Bible says that in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. Christians assume that this is referring to the big bang, the explosion that resulted in the universe, space and time.
 
“There is a close connection between space and time - to the extent that that the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time are to be regarded as indissolubly welded together to form a four-dimensional continuum called space-time. The link is so close that we cannot have space without time, or time without space….if the big bang marked the coming into existence of space, it must also have marked the coming into existence of time. There was no time before the big bang” (page 55) and argues “where the big bang was concerned, there was no before. Although the question, ‘What caused the big bang?’ strikes us as a perfectly reasonable thing to ask, it is not. Our line of argument appears to lead to the conclusion that the question is meaningless” (page 56).
 
The Biblical response to this is that the fool says there is no God and by implication the agnostic is just as foolish. And Stannard’s reasoning denies that we have any real reason to believe in God. He rejects the question,
 
"Why is there something rather than nothing?".
 
That is the core question for those who are trying to find proofs for God's existence. His view that there is no real reason to believe in God leads to atheism. He argues that creation can be explained without God but as God is not subject to scientific examination we can still believe. But that is not belief - that is only assuming God exists. It is using the God idea to plug a gap or hole.
 
The “God of the Gaps” line of argument is quite unpopular today. In the past, Christians noticed how science not make life in the laboratory and concluded, “There only God could have done that!” That’s an example of the line of argument. Stannard says that the argument suffers from the problem that “the gaps have a nasty habit of getting filled up, leaving an intervening God with less to do” (page 28). It is important that we grasp that this completely repudiates the Bible’s claim that God’s existence can be clearly seen from nature.
 
Using God to plug holes is a denial that God is by definition the perfect being and that we should do good just for him. It is only using God instead of serving him.
 
It is not true that "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is the most important question for believers in God. The question, "Why is there a God rather than nothing?" is the most important question. If God originated the universe then he is more important than it. It is so unimportant in comparison that he didn't even have to make it. It follows the question about the why of God is what matters and the question about the why of the universe takes second place. Why is there a God rather than nothing? The believers just reply that God is there and that is that. That is not an answer. If that is not an answer then it follows that "Why is there something rather than nothing?" cannot be answered either. If you believe in a creator God, then you cannot ask why the universe exists when it might not have done unless you tie it in with the question, "Why is there a God rather than nothing?"
 
"Why is there something rather than nothing?" is unanswerable if you assume the existence of God because the why of God's existence cannot be understood or answered.
 
If "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is unanswerable for the atheist God only makes it worse. It follows then that it would make more sense to be atheist than a believer.
 
If the question is unanswerable that is not the same as saying the existence of the universe is purposeless. It only makes purposelessness a possibility.
 
If the question is unanswerable then the atheist can answer or guess that there is no purpose. There being no purpose is a legitimate answer. There does not have to be a purpose for everything.
 
Its foolish to ask, "Why the universe?" and not also "Why God?". The two questions cannot be separated. Religious manipulators have us looking at the universe and asking, "Why is there something - meaning all this - when there might have been nothing? There must be a reason." The question is deliberately put like that in the hope of nudging people towards thinking that the universe's existence must be down to a magical God. The manipulators know that this is less likely to happen if its phrased as it should be, "Why is there a God and universe when there might have been nothing?"
 
Some feel that space and time being made in addition to the universe at the big bang makes the God hypothesis more necessary than ever. The reason they give is that it leaves the existence of space and time in need of explanation as well as the universe's existence. This would mean that if there was time but no space or no universe we would need God to explain time's existence. It also implies that if there is nothing but a single grain of dirt then that needs the God hypothesis as much as an infinite number of universes bigger than ours would. We can sense that there is something badly wrong in this logic. When it is put that way, the problem shows that the God answer is not the great answer it is made out to be.
 
 
Adam & Eve
 
In his book, Science & Belief, Russell Stannard, quotes the modern view that if we all came from Adam and Eve we would all have the same ethnicity.
 
Stannard argues that the Genesis story of the origin of woman was “highly unlikely…as a literal account of how women originated” (page 17). So what is it about then? He replies, “It is saying that man is not complete without woman and woman is not complete without man. It is drawing attention to the importance of marriage.” Stannard has failed to engage with the text. We must note that Stannard cannot read the mind of the author of the Genesis and cannot know what he was likely to intend.
 
 
Attempts to get around the literal meaning are attempts to make human opinion about the word of God into the word of God itself. That approach leads to people deliberately contradicting the Bible and claiming to believe that it is the word of God. If Genesis were being non-literal it would say so clearly. The Bible was meant to be understood by simple people and people of simple faith. How could it be if it used non-literal stories and wouldn’t say so?
 
An opinion is a view that does not really matter that much for its open to dispute and is only a little better than a guess. To turn faith into opinion is to make a shipwreck of the Christian faith and is a recipe for confusion and chaos.
 
Though Genesis says that God made Eve as a companion for Adam, it does not follow that she was Adam’s wife from her creation. Perhaps they were to grow together. It cannot be argued that the story of Eve being made from Adam has something to say about marriage.
 
Stannard claims that Adam and Eve were sent by God into the Garden of Eden not “to laze about and have a good time. They were put there to till the soil and look after the garden” (page 17). This is said to have a lesson for us: “That we are not on the Earth to exploit it” (page 17). First, we are not in the Garden of Eden. Second, Adam and Eve’s idea of a good time might have been looking after the garden. Third, Adam and Eve looking after the garden might have been a hobby when they got fed up with being lazy. Stannard is just inventing the alleged lessons. If God or the Bible author were good teachers they would not leave us having to depend on the likes of Stannard to think it all out for us!
 
Stannard and how Chance Made All Things
 
Believers say that whether the universe and ourselves were made the way the Bible says or by chance as science would say we still need God as an explanation. But the chance theory has less need for God no matter what they say. He may still be needed. Stannard accepts that science is correct in saying that chance made all things and evolution produced us.
 
The Theory of Evolution clearly claims that it was chance that made all life the way it is. Some Christians say that God used chance to make us. Stannard correctly points out how if it were really chance then God had no idea what he was going to end up with. He says that the answer is that God has foreknowledge - he sees how things will turn out. But it is Christian belief that God sees and can foretell the future without making a mistake. The view that God knows exactly what would happen in the world if Princess Diana had never died makes no sense. He cannot see a future that will never be. God cannot then make decisions in the present because of what he sees in the future. He makes decisions now and sees what the outcome will be. The future does not have an effect on the past. Stannard is watching too many episodes of Dr Who in which the future affects and changes the past. That is as illogical as a time machine going into the past and allowing you to murder your father before he met your mother.
 
Christians are uncomfortable with the notion of a God who uses such a cruel process as evolution to produce us and the other creatures we share the planet with. Evolution is based on survival not love. It is based on power not mercy. The entity that survives has the best survival mechanism and love does to come into it. Scripture says that God is love, 1 John 4:8. Contrast that with Stannard’s science which argues that God lovingly set up the evolution system and its cruelty is not that bad for animals do not suffer much - page 31. It would be dangerous to assume that harming anything is fine as long as it is not fully aware that it is being injured. It would refute morality. It would be a very cold attitude to take. And what for? For the sake of religion?
 
Stannard then tries another way to reconcile the cruel plan of evolution with the love of God. It is ingenious and Christians who believe in evolution seem to have no choice but to adopt it. Given that God “was the sole creator, [he needed a way to] endow his creatures with a measure of independence from him in order that he might genuinely win them over. His answer? Chance. God would not specify all the details of our construction. He set in motion the broad principles of evolution and then let nature take its course. In a sense, we made ourselves” page 32.
 
You would be forgiven for saying that we gradually make ourselves good and since God continually creates us we might as well do without the process. If our genes influencing us to do good is the reason why we do good then why didn’t God give us genes that help us become even better people?
 
If God is in control of the process, we did not make ourselves in any real sense. Scripture speaks of our absolute dependence on God. God is the master and sustainer of all that he has made Ps 147:8,9 He covers the sky with clouds;  he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.  He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.
 
God is almighty and therefore in control. So chance cannot truly exist. Stannard’s God is not the God of Christianity but the Supreme Being of the Deists. Also, his God after making us in such a cruel fashion does not have almighty power so can we be confident that he can eradicate evil and give us eternal happiness? In addition to the cruel way we were made, we also have to endure this uncertainty. What a position that God has put us in! Stannard contradicts the biblical doctrine of creation.  
 
Stannard may believe that his Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit - Matthew 1:20. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit".
 
Stannard’s argument that we have to make ourselves would imply that Jesus was only partly the product of evolution and therefore had less free will and personal responsibility than the rest of us. This idea is contradicting the Bible doctrine of Jesus' full humanity. See Heb 2:17. Jesus had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.
 
Stannard's answer to the question about how we know this God of evolution loves us, is that God became man, Jesus, and suffered and died with us for “There was no other way for him to confirm the nature of his relationship with us" page 33. The Bible indeed does teach that God did that and proved his love.  This proof is so powerful and strong that the apostle proclaimed that the gospel is simply the death and resurrection of Jesus 1 Cor 15:3-4, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. But evolution undermines the strength of that proof.  Because, according to Christianity, God loves us he gives us free will so that we can love him back. Real love is not forced. Only a person with the power to do evil and rebel against God can love him. Evolution implies that until the human ancestor developed an adequate degree of consciousness there was no free will. Evolution demolishes the biblical explanation for why evil exists ie: it’s not God’s fault but our own for he made all things good - Gen 1:31 it was very good.
 
Stannard argues that you say chance made all things we need an explanation for why chance exists and why it has produced such greatness and wonder in the universe. But you don't assume a why for chance! Chance is to be seen as a brute fact. You do not need to ask the why. You just accept that chance has been at work and leave it at that. If you win the lottery you do not start investigating why you won! That would be strange.
 
Stannard then claims that “it is simply not true that to say that random chance that lies at the basis of the evolutionary process makes the outcome wholly unpredictable” page 29. He goes on to argue that though random, chance has a role, a system will develop and “characteristics conducive to survival will emerge” - page 29. For example the entities that are produced by evolution will develop the power to see. This would happen if we were able to start off evolution on another planet from scratch. Suppose such a system is there, lots of things are not part of it. For example, there are still entities that do not see and which are helpless. They are alive not because they have survived but because luckily there are no predators about. The Bible however says we are not mere survivors but children of God. 1 John 3:1, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
 
Stannard's thinking unacceptable to Christians for scripture says that God looks after all his creatures even the lowliest - Matthew 10:29. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.. He is saying that our evolution and our existence are down to purely natural causes - an example of how some Christians are agreeing with the atheists! It is only luck that causes evolution to form a system that procures entities that can survive.
 
Human Relationship to Animals
 
Stannard asserts that we are not different from animals in quality but quantity on page 34. We have more faculties so that we were able to develop spiritual faculties.
 
That contradicts the biblical doctrine that we differ from animals in kind not just in degree.
 
Stannard & Psychology
 
Stannard says that Freud held that when we are children we feel helpless and begging to wish for protection and that wish stays with us so we believe we have a father figure in heaven who is always caring for us (page 110). This led Freud to see religion as a childish delusion.
 
Stannard objects that religion calls on people to make sacrifices so it is not all about comforting (page 111). But people have to intend to make the sacrifice. There is a comfort to be grained from hurting yourself and making sacrifices. That is easier than undergoing torture you cannot control.
 
I like Stannard’s understanding of Jung’s theory of archetypes. The theory is that we have a personal unconscious. We also have the collective unconscious. We all share it. Thus we are born with certain mental attitudes that are called archetypes. They are principles of organisation. Stannard says they can be likened to moulds for jelly. They are empty but they give shape and form to our experiences (page 113). Jung saw God as an archetype (page 113).
 
Stannard objects to the view that people follow religion because it improves our scope for survival. His objection is based on the notion that a faith that commands that we love our enemies and to forgive them (page 116). Its surprising how he would support and encourage a religion that he thinks wants us to give up our chances of survival by virtually enabling our enemies to liquidate us!
 
In his chapter on psychology, Stannard considers how determinism means that our choices are not real choices and wonders how we can believe in free will or think its possible. He looks at the attempt to say that not everything is deterministic. He argues that this is saying that a deterministic denial of free will has been replaced by another denial of free will that says that random chance is controlling us (page 119). He said it is like being unable to decide and letting a toss of a coin decide for you. My thought is that if every explanation of how we are free fails, then we are not free at all. We feel free but have no free will at all.
 
Page 120 outlines an experiment that showed that before people decide to press a button, something in them decided it unconsciously before they consciously did it. The experiment showing this was done in 1983 and since 2008 it was verified by further experiments. The decision we think we make then is an illusion - we are merely going along with something out of our control.
 
Stannard thinks about this and decides that we are deciding it unconsciously so it is our decision after all (page 121). He concludes that we act according to our wishes. He says free will means freedom and the ability to choose whatever we want to do (page 122). The reason he says it means this is because we do not have the experience of deciding to do something and then finding a compulsion arising that makes us do something different.
 
Miracles
 
Science cannot verify miracles any more than it can verify that John is thinking of a white stone. This only means that science cannot comment on something being a miracle. The scientist must assume that miracles may or may not happen. As a scientist, he must say he doesn’t know.
 
If we think lightning has a supernatural divine origin and are proved wrong, it only means that it does not have a direct supernatural divine origin. Religion holds that God still keeps all things in being supernaturally.
 
Alister McGrath would say, “Observation does not determine fixed laws, which may be used to determine whether something did or did not happen in the past. It merely establishes the probability of events of a certain type” (page 164, Bridge-Building).
 
Stannard mentions the view that science may prove that miracles cannot happen (page 129).
 
Stannard mentions the view that as God is all powerful he can disobey the laws of nature or obey them as he chooses. On page 133, he says nobody denies that if God exists then he can act to change the law of nature so the problem is then, does he choose to do so?
 
Stannard says on page 131, that though the laws of nature are remarkably consistent, there could be times when they are inconsistent.
 
Stannard argues that Jesus was against miracles as an attempt to convert people (page 134). Stannard cites Jesus’ refusal to do a miracle at Satan’s request in order to convert the people by surviving a great fall. And how Jesus said he would not be giving his evil and faithless age a sign. And how he told a story that declared that if people do not believe in Moses or the Prophets then they would not be convinced if somebody was raised from the dead to get them to believe in religious truth. And he would not come down from the cross though people asked him to.
 
None of the examples really show what Stannard says they show. Jesus believing in miracle to convert people would not mean he would do a dramatic public miracle because the Devil asked him to. And if that age was evil and faithless would doing a miracle to convert it serve any purpose? It would get even harder in unbelief. And Jesus said we have the miracle of the testimony of Moses and the Prophets so if we don't heed them, somebody rising from the dead to talk to us will do no good. And Jesus may have stayed on the cross and planned another miracle in order to convert them. All the examples show not that miracles intended to convert are wrong, but that they are not worth doing if the people are too anti-god and too stubborn.
 
Page 147 argues that the Gospel of John is telling the truth and is an eyewitness account of what happened after Jesus’ burial for it goes into seemingly unnecessary detail about Peter and a disciple going to the tomb and finding it empty.
 
Stannard then says that using miracles to convert people would imply a attempt to force them to love God and the truth (page 134). Jesus appeared to the disbelieving apostle Thomas and St Paul to force them.
 
Stannard mentions the New Testament account of how Paul was converted by a miracle and denies that Paul was forced to believe for he might have already started to believe and indeed his conversion was gradual and may have developed afterwards for reasons independent of the miracle (page 134). There is nothing in the New Testament to back up Stannard's speculation.
 
An event that is claimed to be miraculous but which is just about a display of power such as a statue drinking milk or a weeping image of the Virgin Mary must be understood as demeaning to God and we can presume that there is a natural cause even if we don’t know what it is. Science may show there is no natural explanation but out of our love for God, we are unable to accept the events as being his work.
 
David Hume held that no evidence is good enough for a miracle for it is always more likely that an honest and reliable witness is mistaken than that anything magical happened. He does not say miracles don't happen. He does not say the evidence is useless. He just says it is not enough. He does not deny that a case might arise tomorrow where the evidence is good enough.

Stannard & Prayer
 
Page 158 outlines how experiments for seeing whether or not prayer could help the sick failed. He argues that the results are open to interpretation. One thing he says is that the prayers of strangers for the sick may have been ineffective because they were not heartfelt like the prayers of their loved ones would be. He quotes the Bible as saying that we must not test the Lord God.
 
Stannard says we must not pray to God in an attitude of, “If you are there then help”. Then he tells us to pray as though there was a God (page 159). But that is the same thing! What stupidity! And if you are not sure if there is anybody there, then why shouldn't you pray "If you are there then do something?"
 
Stannard & Scripture Interpretation
 
Stannard wrote “Why do so many people today insist on adopting a literal approach to Genesis - one that inevitably puts them on a collision course with science?” Stannard, R. Science & Belief, The Big Issues (Lion, 2012), p. 19
 
This contains the hidden assumption that God, if he wrote the Bible, telling us something was the case is unscientific. Stannard is not much of a believer after all.
 
The Book of Genesis, chapter 1, speaks of six days of creation. God made all things in six steps. Chapter 2 says Adam was made from the dust of the ground and a rib was taken from him and built up into his wife Eve. How can these details be reconciled with modern science which says creation was a process that took billions of years and that the order given in the Bible is wrong? Stannard quotes the view that the fossil record contradicts the six day creation.
 
Stannard takes the view that the Genesis story is correct at its core and that it is poetry: “Take the core assertion that, somehow or other, God created the world, the events of the six-day narration being regarded as a form of poetry”  Stannard, R. Science & Belief, The Big Issues (Lion, 2012) p. 54.
 
Is the assertion that God made all things really the core statement in Genesis? Why not say that its core intent is to detail how God made all things? We might think the creation is the core statement but what matters is what the author of Genesis considered to be core.
 
The author of the creation story, lived in a time when the supernatural was thought be directly at work when lightning flashed or when anything even slightly strange happened. It is impossible to believe that he would have went to huge effort to write the story if it were not literal. It was not a very effective way to get a non-literal message across in a literal and simplistic age.
If we try to water down scripture for the sake of what we perceive to be scientific knowledge, then we are guilty of wresting the word of God. 2 Peter 3:16, He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Do we really want to take sinful and often deceitful man as the authority of the truth and not God?
 
It is dishonest to reason that scripture is nonsense if you check it out against modern science and to postulate that it cannot be meant literally. That is reading today’s scientific claims back into the scriptures which were produced in a pre-scientific age. Liberal Christians seem to think that the early Bible readers were sophisticated theologians! Unlike people of today, they would have read the scriptures or heard them read and accepted them with faith instead of trying to formulate symbolic interpretations. The Bible always makes it obvious when it deploys symbolism. If people were able to see the Bible meaning so clearly without science then we should be able to see clearly with it.
 
It is possibly true that the story is poetic but it does not follow that it is necessarily non-literal. Mark’s Gospel for example mentions inexplicable darkness over the land during Jesus final hours on the cross Mark 15:33

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.. He wants to convey both Jesus’ utter sense of loss and does it by means of stating a historical fact. The entire gospel shows great restraint in what it tells us which proves that he was writing like a historian would.
 
Attempts to get around the literal meaning are attempts to make human opinion about the word of God into the word of God itself. That approach leads to people deliberately contradicting the Bible and claiming to believe that it is the word of God. If Genesis were being non-literal it would say so clearly. The Bible was meant to be understood by simple people and people of simple faith. How could it be if it used non-literal stories and wouldn’t say so?
 
An opinion is a view that does not really matter that much for its open to dispute and is only a little better than a guess. To turn faith into opinion is to make a shipwreck of the Christian faith and is a recipe for confusion and chaos.
 
Stannard rejects the notion that the six days in which God made all things are really days. Some who say they believe argue that: “the six ‘days’ of creation could hardly be solar days, since Genesis says that the sun was not made until the fourth day.” US Catechism. But this is saying there are contradictions in scripture. The dubious solution to the alleged contradiction is that the story is symbolic. Roman Catholic theologian Robert Sungenis states “the US Catechism is presuming that we can’t have a “day” without the sun. Says who?” http://www.catholicintl.com/index.php/catholic/scripture/786-the-us-catechism-more-problems-and-erroneous-concepts. True - here is no reason why God can’t set up a 24 hour day without the sun being made.
 
Stannard argues on page 153 that the strangeness of Christian fundamentalists trying to force their view of scripture on biology but not on physics indicate that their behaviour is all about emotion and not belief. But Stannard forces his view of science on scripture and he forces his speculations on scripture. He's far more addicted to religious thrills than the most ardent fundamentalist Christian!
 
Stannard would probably agree that the scriptures were God communicating with people and with his own people in particular. Scripture helped them gradually move away from dangerous and blasphemous forms of religion. Another way to put this, is they were delivered from grave pre-scientific superstition. This might be a connection point between scripture and science but is it really? 
 
Conclusion
 
Stannard is only undermining his own scientific knowledge and credibility by wasting time writing a book on Science and Religion. He is taking advantage of the fact that society is too prejudiced to get upset by this. If it were somebody trying to show how Alice in Wonderland/the Vedas/the Mormon Book of Abraham compliments science his credibility would be in tatters. And especially if he chose the Bible of Scientology Dianetics. The loyalty to science in a person who idolises a book that does not even mention evolution is quite low. Period.
 
Bibliography
 
Atkins, P. On Being (Oxford, New York) 2011
 
Griffiths, R. Ed. Hitchens vs Blair, Is Religion a Force for Good in the World? (Black Swan, 2011)
McGrath, A. Bridge-Building (Inter-Varsity Press, 1954) 
Newman, R. Questioning Evangelism (Kregel Publications, 2007)
 
Reid, A. Apologetics (Moore Theological College, 1996)
 
Stannard, R. Science & Belief, The Big Issues (Lion, 2012)
 
Vernon, M. The Big Questions, God (Quercus, 2012)
 
Warfield, B B, On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race (The Princeton Theological Review, 1911)