The Bible’s Power and Influence
Contemporary science is a wonderfully collaborative activity. It knows no barriers of geography, race or creed. At its best it enables us to wrestle with the problems that beset humanity and we rightly celebrate when an advance is made that brings relief to millions. I have spent my life as pure mathematician and I often reflect on what physics Nobel Prizewinner Eugene Wigner called ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’. How is it that equations created in the head of a mathematician can relate to the universe outside that head? This question prompted Albert Einstein to say: ‘The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.’ The very fact that we believe that science can be done is a thing to be wondered at.
A common claim made by many atheists is that religion causes evil, suffering, division and war. For example, at the Munk Debate in Toronto last November, Christopher Hitchens argued this very point against Tony Blair. Religion, Hitchens claimed, causes sectarianism, division, strife, disagreement, war, poverty and a host of societal evils. In his best-selling book, God is Not Great, Hitchens even wrote that “religion poisons everything”.
In Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath points out that “one of the most familiar criticisms of Christianity is that it offers consolation to life’s losers.”(1) Believers are often caricatured as being somewhat weak and naïve—the kind of people who need their faith as a “crutch” just to get them through life. In new atheist literature, this depiction is often contrasted with the image of a hardier intellectual atheist who has no need for such infantile, yet comforting, nonsense. This type of portrayal may resonate with some, but does it really make sense?(2)
A common accusation thrown at Christians is that they are anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception. Many people have a perception that the church is negative — anti-everything — and Christians utterly prejudiced. How might we respond?
We live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for that which will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst recently said this: “Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am. I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever, I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.”
People regularly ask that question when a massive catastrophe like the Japanese earthquake happens, but also in cases of individual tragedy, such as the young Mum dying of cancer and leaving her children motherless.
I found myself watching the Channel 4 programme One Born Every Minute this week. Over the course of an hour I laughed cried and winced as we watched an incredibly diverse selection of women giving birth to their babies in NHS hospitals. While the church in China sees someone become a Christian every 30 seconds and the hospitals in our own country see a baby born every minute I started to wonder how often new birth is occurring here in Britain.