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[NOTE: Throughout the text, you will see bracketed purple text insertions that begin with “Discussion”. These are suggested discussion questions for small group leaders who would like to review these topics in an interactive group setting.]
On April 8, 1966, one of the most recognized magazines in the world, Time, published a very special magazine cover. For the first time in its 40-year history, the cover didn’t have any picture, only text. Nonetheless, it would quickly become one of the most controversial covers. It had three words.
[Discussion: Does anyone know or want to guess what were those three words?]
Written in bold red font, the three words were, “Is God Dead?”1
As per Time, this story by their religion editor, John Elson, inspired countless angry reactions from readers. National Review asked whether Time was the dead one. Even Bob Dylan, the famous singer and song writer, criticized the cover in a 1978 interview with Playboy Magazine of all places, saying, “If you were God, how would you like to see that written about yourself?”
Those three words, “Is God Dead”, captured the imaginations—and fears—of the readers. They also captured a moment in time. In 2016, exactly 50 years later, Thomas Altizer, one of the death-of-God theologians featured in the story, believes today it would have a far more muted reaction. “At least I can’t imagine it… We are in a very different world”.2
In 1966, surveys indicated about 97% of Americans believed in God. In 2014, 63% of Americans believed with certainty.3 Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a similar cover today wouldn’t cause a strong reaction. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear statements such as:
[Discussion: Taking the above statements into consideration, must you choose between science and Christianity?]
It is true that we have been able to observe secularists pitting science against Christianity in an ever more frequent manner. Since the 1966 article in Time, in which it said, among other things, that “Faith is something of an irrational leap in the dark.”, the secularists have gotten more brazen. There are at least two reasons for pitting science and rationality against religion—in the western world, against Christianity.
[Discussion: What explanations can you determine why someone would want to conflict science with Christianity?]
1. Intimidating Christians to Abandon Some of Their Beliefs
One reason to contrast science with Christianity is to intimidate Christians into abandoning some of their beliefs while also discouraging non-Christians from considering Christianity. Who wants to belong to a group of irrational “morons” that doesn’t believe in science? If you disagree, just read Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.4
2. Presenting a Story with Opposing Forces Makes for More Interesting Reading
Stories become more interesting with an antagonist and a protagonist. Everyone likes a story about a good and bad guy, about good and evil. If one is writing a news or blog article, creating tension between science and Christianity can help get more views, likes, and shares. Thus, the modern media machine, which is addicted to clicks, often promotes an alleged battle between science and Christianity.
However, the origin of the alleged battle between science and Christianity traces to the 19th century, when an attempt to secularize American educational institutions was started. The objective of the secularists was to increase their cultural power by undermining Christian influence. What better strategy to accomplish that in an educational setting, than to claim belief in God is anti-science?5
Fortunately, this view is losing credibility with a growing number of scholars. For example, in 2006, the same year that Richard Dawkins’s very aggressive anti-god book, The God Delusion, was published, Francis Collins, research scientist and head of the famous Human Genome Project, published The Language of God, in which he makes a point that science supports the belief in God.6 According to a study published in 1997 in the scientific journal Nature7, 40% of scientists believe in a god who communicates with humanity, at least through prayer.
This percentage of god-believing scientists would be even higher if the study didn’t group as unbelievers those who believe a god exists but doesn’t communicate with humanity.
Lastly, as covered in the introduction of our The Reason for God study series,8 most unbelieving scientists, just like non-scientists, are unbelievers based on unscientific reasons. As Peter Berger, Professor of Sociology at Boston University, has demonstrated, people’s worldviews are greatly influenced by past experiences, social settings, and opinions of others from whom they want respect.9
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll expose some of the alleged controversies between science and the Bible.
5 Christian Smith, ed., The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life, University of California Press, 2003, as quoted in The Reason for God, p. xvi, location 4093/4761.
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