Friday, 30 March 2007


I listened to the Guardian science podcast interview with AC Grayling (well-known philosopher and atheistic sceptic) today. Find it here. It is basically a discussion on science and religion.

Now, my point here is not to disagree with everything that was said, for there is much that was said about science that any Christian would be happy with. But, on the other hand, the whole tone of it was militantly atheist.

1. The whole discussion was undergirded by the very typical secular atheistic assumption that it is only 'religious people' who have beliefs in need of any justification. It is almost as if atheism/naturalism just 'is' and needs no justification. It is de facto true. It is the 'religious person' who is biased, who must explain himself and who must give evidence. This kind of reasoning is so common that we don't really notice it - and as Christians we even accept it and scurry to defend ourselves. Reasons are demanded for belief in Christ, while no kind of justification for any other worldview/values is really offered. There is a kind of blindness to one's own assumptions as assumptions. They remain unquestioned even though they serve as the basis on which one doubts the gospel. I take this simply to be the extension of a sociological reality. It is always the minority who must justify themselves over against the majority secular culture. I think we need to be bolder at turning the argument around and asking "why is atheism etc so reasonable?"

2. At one point in the interview Grayling dismisses the need for morality to be based on religious belief. His criticism is directed against a command ethic i.e. do good so as to avoid punishment and gain a reward. He argues that many people do good without any notions of reward/punishment and, therefore, God must therefore be unnecessary and irrelevant. Now, the problem is that Christians can be prone to use this kind of argument. That is: 1. if there is no God then we can get away with anything 2. therefore, we need God. It's a kind of argument you find in Dostoyevsky's "Brothers Karamazov". I think that Christians must be careful here because a crude form of the command ethic is susceptible to Grayling's (and Kant's) criticism. If you only do good out of fear then really in what sense are you really doing good?

I think my response to Grayling would be more along the lines of how to coherently explain morality. If it's simply the result of evolution, how can it be anything but arbitrary? Yet, the whole force of ethics/morality is precisely that: it isn't arbitrary. A Christian, on the other hand, can point out that 1. we feel the absoluteness of right/wrong cos the universe is ultimately made by a moral God 2. the doctrine of creation explains why people do good without any explicit faith - we are made in God's image, live in God's world and can no more be totally amoral than we can be totally alogical 3. we are not saying that simply believing in God is a basis for goodness in a Biblical sense, as that can be mere religiousness (which will breed its own sin) 4. rather, living a 'good' life is not rooted in knowing what to do but in the Spirit and being supernaturally changed.

3. Scientific method works brilliantly in certain areas and poorly in others. It's great for shooting rockets into space and growing crops, but not great at giving meaning to life or telling me what is good/not good. Grayling seems to think that science is the greatest good we have ever had. He has great confidence in the scientific method - but science has given us Hiroshima as well as a cure for smallpox. Science tells us how stuff works but cannot tell us whether it is beautiful or kind or good.