Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion

Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion

Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion

Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion

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Overview

This anthology of new critical essays written by experts in their fields, in honor of the late Victor Stenger, examines Christianity using established scientific criteria. Where science specifically touches upon the claims of Christianity the authors seek to show those claims lack the required evidence. The result is that Christianity is not a sufficiently evidenced religion. In his New York Times bestseller, God: The Failed Hypothesis, physicist Victor Stenger argued that claims of religion should be subject to the same standards of scientific rigor as any other truth claim. Taking this approach, the contributors argue that Christianity fails every known scientific test for truth. Stenger himself wrote a chapter for this volume before he died.In it he presents a brief history of ideas about cosmology, showing that Christianity's premodern understanding of the cosmos is incompatible with current scientific evidence regarding the origin and structure of the cosmos. Other contributors examine a wide variety of topics, including biblical archaeology, Intelligent Design, the Shroud of Turin, free will, the existence of the soul, the efficacy of petitionary prayer, and more.This challenging work is indispensable reading for both skeptical readers and open-minded people of faith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633881747
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 380
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

John W. Loftus earned M.A. and M.Div. degrees in theology and philosophy from Lincoln Christian Seminary. He then attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and received a Th.M. degree in philosophy of religion. Before leaving the church, he had ministries in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and taught at several Christian and secular colleges. The author of Why I Became an Atheist:  A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity and The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True, Loftus is also the editor of The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails; The End of Christianity; and Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails.

Read an Excerpt

Christianity in the Light of Science

Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion


By John W. Loftus

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2016 John W. Loftus
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-174-7



CHAPTER 1

HOW TO THINK LIKE A SCIENTIST


Why Every Christian Can and Should Embrace Good Thinking

Guy P. Harrison


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. Certainly all rivals would have wilted and died long ago, their hollow claims frozen out by the shadow of an obviously real Christian god. After two thousand years of Christianity, however, what we have is a religion that has been unable to convince even half the world's population that its claims are true.

What is required for someone to embrace an extraordinary claim that lacks supporting evidence? What kind of sacrifice is necessary to make such a leap? Specifically, do Christians give up some degree of their ability to reason in order to believe the unbelievable? They do, unfortunately. This may be putting it bluntly but there is no way around it. This religion — like many others, of course — stands in direct opposition to the full blossoming of a human mind. Thinking threatens Christianity; it's as simple as that. Most forms of Christianity discourage or outright forbid followers to vigorously and consistently think. Within this belief system, questioning, doubting, and mind-changing are commonly seen as bad. Meanwhile, believing simply because it feels good psychologically or a story says to believe is considered good. Fortunately, Christians and all others who may be intellectually off course can decide to make changes at any point in life. It is not overly difficult to do so and, as I will explain, doesn't even require a Christian to stop being a Christian. It's never too late to start thinking like a scientist.

Without the support of science or scientific thinking, Christianity's success and survival depends almost entirely upon exposure during the intellectually and emotionally vulnerable years of childhood, along with reinforcement or coercion from the surrounding society. This sad state is not unique to Christianity. Family indoctrination and cultural influence are the key crutches of all major religions. Very few believers come to their convictions after diligently researching a variety of contradictory religions, objectively comparing claims, and also considering what science has revealed about the human brain's propensity to be fooled by others and to fool itself. But these are Christianity's issues to deal with. I have little interest here in criticizing this ancient belief system's survival methods. I am far more concerned with the challenge of helping individual Christians think better in their real-world lives.


NO CHRISTIAN LEFT BEHIND

Good Thinking is my umbrella term for understanding, appreciating, caring for, and using the human brain in ways that enable one to better avoid lies, mistakes, and delusions, instead of repeatedly running toward them with open arms. Good Thinking reduces one's error rate over a lifetime. It includes thinking like a scientist in daily life. It also requires us to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and tendencies toward misperceiving reality and believing in nonsense. It is in everyone's best interest to realize and remember that the default human way is to believe first and ask questions never. We become better thinkers by recognizing how poor we are at thinking. Good Thinking is not some anti-Jesus agenda or an attack on anything else specifically, other than on lies, delusions, and cognitive errors. Who in their right mind would oppose it? For the sake of clarity, I repeat: Good Thinking is not necessarily opposed to Christianity. I would like to believe that virtually everyone, including Christians, can agree that it's only smart to be on the alert for fraud and bogus beliefs. Few people, I hope, openly claim to be in favor of bad thinking. No Christian should reflexively reject Good Thinking. Those who feel it is somehow negative or unnecessary likely have been misled by unthinking or unscrupulous sources and would do well to reconsider.

Religions are not all bad. Of course there are good things about Christianity. I understand that for many people it feels great and inspires them in positive ways. Little or no harm is done when a man kneels before a cross and whispers a wish into the air around him. No one is hurt when a joyful woman weeps before the Stone of Unction in Jerusalem. But we all are diminished and cheated when so many versions of Christianity encourage or demand people to think with less force and clarity than they are capable. The championing of this pathetic and passive posture dims our world. It robs humankind of much potential progress in science, medicine, exploration, education, security, and cooperation. In its worst expressions, Christianity would have us not only stagnate but move backward. Too little attention is given to what is stolen by this deference to blind allegiance. Not only is every moment spent looking up at an empty sky a lost moment down here in the trenches of reality, it also distracts us from dreams of what we might achieve if we took better advantage of our limitless potential to reason and create.

The belief system that rests upon the biography, personality, and supposed desires of Jesus/God the Father/the Holy Spirit endures despite a profoundly strange and wholly unproven premise. Nevertheless, more than two billion people today apparently find it not only compelling but convincing. No doubt the central story would be dismissed as unbelievable by most current Christians had they heard it for the first time in adulthood. The basic points that one is asked to accept as real follow in the next paragraph. As you read them, ask yourself how such claims without evidence could ever win over minds without circumventing or shutting down one's ability to reason.

An all-powerful god who knew the future when he created humans later decides to slaughter nearly every man, woman, child, infant, puppy, kitten, ant, etc. in a global flood. The reason the humans he made were so bad and worthy of horrible deaths is because they were "sinful" or "fallen." This state was a result of Adam, the first human, having bitten into a piece of fruit that had been designated off limits. Thanks to Adam, every human since has left the womb flawed and condemned. A single act of mastication-rebellion puts every newborn on death row. Never mind that the idea of punishment for an inherited criminal conviction is incompatible with all modern concepts of justice. Despite "our" crime, however, this god still loves us. For this reason he came to Earth in human form some two thousand years ago. This was so that he could be tortured and executed as a human sacrifice, which apparently was necessary for him to be able to forgive us. This event is commonly described as the ultimate act of love and sacrifice: God the Father gave up his only son for us. But it wasn't quite as bad as it might have been because the dead Jesus promptly lived again and ascended back to heaven to rejoin God the Father — who is also Jesus, by the way. (Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all one, according to the Holy Trinity doctrine.) The crucial point of the story is that this god sacrificed his son/himself — albeit only temporarily — so that he would be able to excuse us for Adam's crime against him, which we had nothing to do with. No one seems to know why a god who makes all the rules and answers to no one couldn't just pardon us and skip the barbaric crucifixion event entirely. But what matters is that the Christian god loves us and provided everyone with a loophole to escape his punishment for something we didn't do. Make sense?

Many atheists enjoy endlessly mocking and dismantling this bizarre tale, as well as other claims, ideas, and behaviors that various versions of Christianity promote, including: miracles, faith healing, symbolic and actual cannibalism, opposition to human rights, doomsday predictions, and a six-thousand-year-old Earth. These are all fair game, of course. I never discourage poking holes in big claims that come with little or no evidence. I do believe in prioritizing, however, and skeptics of Christianity might do well to keep in mind that such things are mere sideshows next to the most serious problem this religion presents. Christianity's overarching opposition to Good Thinking is the crucial challenge, and there is only so much time in a day. This is where the most damage is done, and it should be the focus.

The reason so many people accept and defend the many minor supernatural claims within Christianity is because they have already fallen so deep into the game. They failed to apply Good Thinking initially and bought the lie that it's bad or unnecessary to demand evidence for unusual and important claims. Therefore it seems inefficient to spend a substantial amount of time combatting belief in demons and angels, for example. Better to educate and encourage Christians to think critically, to doubt, and question everything as a general way of life. Inspire them to work harder, embrace science, and accept that not every question has an answer that is immediately available. Good Thinking is the all-purpose cure and preventative. Illuminate one fallacy or cognitive error for a Christian, and one helps her think for a day. Show her how to watch out for them on her own, however, and one helps her think for a lifetime.

Christians promoting faith over skepticism and belief over science is nothing new, of course. The story of "Doubting Thomas," the apostle who wouldn't accept the resurrection claim without evidence, has been held up for more than a thousand years as exhibit A in the Christian case against science and reason. It is not difficult to imagine why Christianity so often opposes Good Thinking. Many leaders and the more vocal Christians seem to sense that atheism is the final destination of those who think well. This conflict between reason and religion is not to be taken lightly. Discouraging or hindering the optimal use of a human brain to ferret out lies and mistakes is one of the worst things one person can do to another. Immeasurable misery and loss stems from poor thinking. In the twenty-first century, humankind needs to strive for maximum brain power, not less. Religious terrorism, for example, is seen by many today as a problem that nothing but war or nicer US foreign policy can solve, depending on which expert you ask. But Good Thinking is probably the only long-term solution. People who question, doubt, and think freely are much less likely to kill innocents and sacrifice their own lives in the service of extraordinary claims that can be shredded easily by analysis and skepticism. They also are much less likely to follow leaders who are uninformed enough to declare that the earth is six thousand years old and a supernatural doomsday is imminent — without providing evidence, of course. If we want a world without religious terrorism then we must first raise a generation of children who are capable of thinking their way through lies and delusions.


HUMAN 2.0

Good Thinking is not a stance or set of skills that come naturally to us. To the contrary, we all are born to be sloppy and inconsistent thinkers. This is normal. It is who we are. Perhaps we can think of it as the secular version of original sin. Unfairly, we inherit the cognitive limitations, biases, and misleading subconscious shortcuts of our ancestors. Similar to the story of Adam, Australopithecines reach out from millions of years ago to burden us today. The brain you host right now is virtually the same as the brain our human ancestors were packing in prehistoric Africa more than 100,000 years ago. Our modern brains are great, no doubt, but still not the best match for the concrete, plastic, high-tech, socially intricate societies so many of us now inhabit. We are something like aliens who have been tossed into a confusing new world. We never evolved to be scientific thinking machines that instinctively apply critical thinking and skepticism when confronted with important experiences, claims, or choices. Our brains are still busy looking for deep meaning in the wind and worrying about big cats eating us. We have to compensate for this with effort and purpose.

Christianity, like many other religions and like supernatural/paranormal claims in general, exploits a variety of standard mental vulnerabilities. We have a strong tendency to visually or intellectually connect dots, for example, even when those dots have no meaningful relationship. Our brains are also uncomfortable with unanswered questions, so we often make up answers and then defend them by twisting our perceptions and thoughts. Hopes and fears can weigh heavy when we make important decisions, often without our awareness. Regardless of whatever intellectual gifts or educational achievements one may boast, Good Thinking is necessary if one is a human being. Sorry, no exemption for Christians. Good Thinking is the one thing capable of pushing back against the avalanche of sensory inputs, impulses, and flimsy assumptions that so often derail our thinking. We all need it because the brain is strange and rascally in the ways it goes about its business. Good Thinking is our only hope for living a life that is at least somewhat free from the lies, delusions, and madness that soak the world around us.

The good news is that this way of approaching life is within reach of us all. As I detail in my book Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to Be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser, this is much more about will and skill than social status, innate intelligence, or cultural location. Unfortunately, for various reasons, most people stumble through life making one avoidable bad decision after another. Don't believe me? Look around at our world. Belief in various forms of nonsense is near universal. Here in the twenty-first century, belief in outlandish, unsupported claims such as astrology, psychics, ghosts, UFOs, and worse flourish to some degree in every society. Irrational thinking is universal. I have traveled through six continents and interviewed or chatted with people who were rich, poor, powerful, powerless, educated, and illiterate. No social stratum is spared from this persistent plague, no individual completely safe. This is bigger than a divide between the religious and nonreligious. Many atheists fail to consistently apply Good Thinking. The French, for example, are mostly nonbelievers when it comes to gods but can't seem to get enough of homeopathy and other forms of medical quackery. There are atheists in America who believe in the most absurd conspiracy theories. And, of course, most atheists worldwide make many irrational decisions in the routines of their daily lives, just like most religious people. Just because one manages to figure out that Mohammed probably didn't really ride that white winged animal up to heaven, Joseph Smith's seer stones most likely weren't legit, and it's doubtful that Jesus walked on water doesn't mean everything else automatically falls into place. Good Thinking is needed always and everywhere. Fortunately, anyone can have it. No doctoral degree, membership fees, or decoder ring required.

It is a common misconception that innate intelligence, or at least advanced classroom education, makes one immune, or at least less vulnerable to scams and irrational beliefs. Not necessarily. It depends on how that intelligence is applied and what one learns in those classrooms. There are numerous examples of this. The late Edgar Mitchell was highly educated and made it all the way to the Moon on Apollo 14. But that same brain that did so well academically and professionally also harbored beliefs in ESP, UFOs, and many other unlikely claims. Brain surgeon turned political hopeful Ben Carson is about as elite as one can be in terms of formal education, yet he consistently demonstrates horrendous shortcomings in critical thinking. Carson has publically promoted medical quackery and declared his belief in numerous unsupported claims that any sharp-thinking high schooler could see through. Carson has stated, for example, that evolution is a lie inspired by Satan and the pyramids at Giza were built by the Old Testament figure Joseph to serve as grain silos. He also holds the strange position that microevolution is real but macroevolution is not. This seems a bit like believing in campfires while rejecting the existence of forest fires. He also thinks that human moral behavior proves the existence of his particular god. Apparently Yale-educated Carson knows nothing about bonobo chimps who consistently exhibit what can only be fairly described as moral behavior. Or maybe he does and consequently believes there is a little hairy god up in bonobo heaven who is responsible for their acts of sharing and kindness. Ben Carson, a Christian, is not dumb, yet blatantly dumb ideas inhabit his well-educated and most likely gifted brain. No Christian, regardless of education or IQ score, should make the mistake of assuming that they can afford to wave off Good Thinking. If one is a human being, one needs it. Christians who insist on thinking themselves too bright or too credentialed to ever be a sucker for nonsense and fraud might recall Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Christianity in the Light of Science by John W. Loftus. Copyright © 2016 John W. Loftus. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword, 9,
Introduction, 13,
PART 1. SCIENCE AND RELIGION,
1. How to Think Like a Scientist: Why Every Christian Can and Should Embrace Good Thinking Guy P Harrison, 27,
2. A Mind Is a Terrible Thing: How Evolved Cognitive Biases Lead to Religion and Other Mental Errors) David Eller, 47,
3. What Science Tells Us about Religion: Or, Challenging Humanity to "Let It Go" Sharon Nichols, 69,
PART 2. SCIENCE AND CREATIONISM,
4. Christianity and Cosmology Victor J. Stenger, 97,
5. Before the Big Bang Phil Halper and Ali Nayeri, 119,
6. Intelligent Design Isn't Science, and It Doesn't Even Try to Be Science Abby Hafer, 141,
PART 3. SCIENCE AND SALVATION,
7. Saying Sayonara to Sin Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen, 169,
8. The Soul Fallacy Julien Musolino, 187,
9. Free Will Jonathan Pearce, 207,
PART 4. SCIENCE AND THE BIBLE,
10. Biblical Archaeology: Its Rise, Fall, and Rebirth as a Legitimate Science Robert R. Cargill, 239,
11. The Credibility of the Exodus Rebecca Bradley, 253,
12. Pious Fraud at Nazareth René Salm, 275,
PART 5. SCIENCE AND THE CHRIST,
13. The Bethlehem Star Aaron Adair, 295,
14. If Prayer Fails, Why Do People Keep At It? Valerie Tarico, 313,
15. The Turin Shroud: A Postmortem Joe Nickell, 335,
About the Contributors, 357,
Notes, 363,

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