Sample Exercises

Chapter 1 – Science and Worldviews

Sample Exercise 1

In his book An Atheist Defends Religion, atheist Bruce Sheiman points out an inconsistency in the worldview of scientism.  Read his statement below and explain in your own words what the inconsistency is.

“An additional dimension of faith is also expressed in scientism, which I previously defined as a belief that the materialist model of reality is all that exists and that science in effect disproves the existence of God. Scientism does not rely on empirically derived evidence for these conclusions, for there can be none. Thus, like religion, it makes claims that cannot be tested or proven. The hallmark of scientism—accepting reason as the only path to truth while at the same time negating faith—paradoxically requires faith.”

Answer:
Scientism expressly negates faith as a valid way of knowing anything about reality in favor of knowledge gained only through the scientific method. But to believe that this is true—that only scientifically verifiable knowledge is true knowledge—is not scientifically verifiable; hence, it requires faith. And so, scientism is caught in an eternally circular argument.

Sample Exercise 2

C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, gives the following good advice in his book Science and Faith, Friends or Foes?
“…we can’t rely solely on arguments to help people embrace the Christian worldview.  There is no substitute for a gentle and holy Christian character that everyone knows they can rely on in a pinch: that’s what shows others our worldview is one to live by.”
Some people hold their worldview as a conscious choice.  Other people may hold their worldviews for reasons that are unconscious and beyond their rational choice.  In addition to being prepared to offer rational reasons for holding the Christian worldview, Christians should also be sensitive to the underlying reasons people may have for choosing their own worldviews.  Consider the following examples:

  • A person who is fearful of being judged may hold to relativism.
  • Somebody whose father abandoned her as a child might be angry and also feel abandoned by God, leaning towards atheism.
  • A person holds to naturalism and finds escape in the science lab because they dread making changes they know would be necessary if God was in their life.
  • A humanist may hide deep insecurities by trying to show extreme human confidence.

a)  Can you think of other reasons people might choose their particular worldviews?
b)  Speculate how you would feel if someone patiently made an effort to understand the way you think and the worldview you hold.  How can you show Christian character in the way you approach a conversation with a friend who holds a different worldview than you?

Answer:
a)  Answers will vary.
b)  Students will probably have experiences where they have been judged for their beliefs without others even having a conversation with them. They may also relate times when people were honestly interested in why they believe the way they do. A genuine conversation about worldviews allows people to be heard and understood, so that the strengths and truthfulness of a Christian worldview can be laid before another person for their honest consideration. It is also important to remember that the reasons why people choose different worldviews may not be rational decisions that can be debated. A person will only open their heart to reveal those reasons if they feel accepted and experience an atmosphere of love and genuine interest for them.

Chapter 2 – Science and Faith: Two Approaches for Understanding the World

Sample Exercise 1

A common misconception about faith is that it is a crutch for intellectually weak or gullible people.  But the Bible does not encourage gullibility:

“Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps”
  Proverbs 14:15.

Look up the definition of “gullible” and contrast it with the kind of faith that this proverb encourages us to pursue.

Answer:
Gullible = easily fooled or cheated. Quick to believe something that is not true. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).
A gullible person is someone that is easily deceived or tricked, naive.
This definition is in stark contrast with the faith encouraged in Proverbs 14. According to this passage we should be prudent, not naive. We should carefully consider and examine what we hear instead of just believing whatever we are told. This should be true of our study of both the Scriptures and of scientific evidence.

Sample Exercise 2

C. S. Lewis defined faith as, “…the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.”   C. S.  Lewis
a)  According to C.S. Lewis what is the role of reason in having faith?
b)  How does this definition contrast with a popular idea that associates faith with subjective feelings and wishful thinking?
c)  What do you think C.S. Lewis would advise us to do during those moments of faith when we struggle with doubt?  Give at least three specific things you can do when you struggle with doubt.

Answer:
a)  C.S. Lewis sees reason as the anchor that holds our faith firm when feelings (which he calls “moods”) change and begin to cause us to doubt.
b)  This view is very different from one that says faith has to do with subjective feelings and wishful thinking. When faith has a basis in reason, it holds firm when the feelings and wishes change. In order to arrive at a reasonable faith, there must be a component of rational thinking and a person’s willful choice of that faith—hardly wishful thinking!
c)  C.S. Lewis might suggest that we mentally review the reasons we came to faith in the first place. These reasons shouldn’t change and should give us comfort and help us hold on to faith when doubts arise. After all, if we choose to have faith because we believe it to be a reasonable choice, then we can also re-choose faith in spite of any doubts. Clearly, doubts should be examined rationally, too. We can talk with adults or friends that we trust, we should pray for God’s leading as we wrestle with what is causing us to doubt, we should investigate what Scripture and others say about this doubt—we’re not the first person to have it! Spending time in God’s word and in fellowship with God’s people is also important—doubts can sometimes cause us to turn away from those habits, but it is critical that we not do so.

Chapter 3 – Science and Faith: Four Interactions

Sample Exercise 1

In his book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan elaborated on the success of science and elevated scientific inquiry and critical thinking as the most precious things in our society.  He wrote, “We can pray over the cholera victim, or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every 12 hours… the scientific treatments are hundreds or thousands of times more effective than the alternatives.”

a)  Which view on the relationship between science and faith is expressed in this quote?
b)  When facing illness and disease should Christians rely on medicine, on prayer, or on both?  Do you think it is contradictory to take medicine and to pray as well?  Explain.
c)  Some people refuse to take medicine at all, believing that healing comes from God alone.  Yet humans’ discovery of medicines and the development of technologies to produce them are also gifts from God.  How do you resolve this dilemma in your own life?
d)  When missionaries with medical background go to developing countries, they help poor communities with health care and preach the Gospel at the same time.  Which of the four views on the relationship between science and faith are they expressing by the way they live?  Explain.

Answer:
a)  The Conflict View is expressed in this quote because Sagan presents these two options as either/or and he cites scientific treatments as being “thousands of times more effective than the alternatives,” of which he cites prayer as one example.
b)  Answers will vary. We promote a Dialogue View with a degree of Integration in this textbook, so our answer would be that both can be effective in the treatment of disease. God, the author of all truth and knowledge, has allowed humans to harness medicines for our good, but He also commands us to bring our requests before Him through prayer with thanksgiving. He remains a mighty God who can heal as He chooses—whether supernaturally through miraculous healing or through the everyday miracle of modern medicine and natural processes. Both are equally His gifts to us.
c)  Answers will vary. See part (b) for a possible response.
d)  These missionaries are expressing an Integrated View of science and faith. They are using the medical findings of science to relieve the physical suffering of the poor whom they serve and the truths of the Gospel to relieve their spiritual suffering.

Sample Exercise 2

Recent discoveries in molecular biology have led scientists to claim that part of our brain is “wired” for religious or spiritual experience.  Molecular biologist Dean Hamer, author of The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes, not only claims that human spirituality is an adaptive (evolutionary) trait, but also that he has located a gene responsible for spirituality.  When scientific discoveries with philosophical implications such as this one are announced, people respond in ways that reflect different perspectives on the relationship between science and faith.
Which of the four views is expressed in each of the following responses?

a)  Science can tell us new things about the circuits of the brain, but it tells us nothing new about God and religious experience.
b)  If human beings were created by God, wouldn’t it make sense to expect that our bodies include a gene that would enable us to contemplate our Maker?
c)  Our most profound feelings of spirituality are nothing more than an occasional shot of intoxicating brain chemicals governed by our DNA.  Our religious experiences are thoroughly explained as the result of brain activity.
d)  The concept of “God” appears in human cultures all over the globe, regardless of their geographic isolation.  This is consistent with the claim that we are “wired” for religion.  But the intriguing question is why?  Which came first: God or the need for God?  In other words, did God create us wired for religious experience or did we create God because our genes programmed us to do so?

Answer:
a)  Independence
b)  Integration
c)  Conflict
d)  Dialogue

Chapter 4 – Exposing the Conflicts: Scientists, Christians, and Human Attitudes

Sample Exercise 1

The following quotations were published and made available to millions of readers.  The first is from an interview with Steven Hawking published in a Chilean newspaper when he visited the country.  The second is from James S. Trefil, another professional astronomer, in his book about cosmology:  The Moment of Creation: Big Bang Physics from Before the First Millisecond to the Present Universe.

#1 When asked if he considers science a new form of religion, his short answer was: “It is different; science works.”

#2 “….I am often asked about the religious implications of the new physics.  Physicists normally feel very uncomfortable with this sort of question, since it cannot be answered by the normal methods of our science.  For what it is worth, I will give my own personal views on the subject here, with the caveat that these views may not be shared by other scientists…

a)  Both statements are talking about science and religion.  What is the main difference between these two statements?  What does Trefil do in statement #2 that Hawkings fails to do in statement #1?
b)  How do these responses relate to the attitudes that you learned about in this chapter?

Answer:
a)  The main difference is that on the second statement the scientist very ethically separated his personal beliefs from the scientific facts of his expertise, while in the first, Stephen Hawking does not make this distinction. It is very important for those in an authoritative position to separate personal opinion and philosophical, worldview-related claims from the scientific information of their expertise. The general public may not have enough background in the subject to do it themselves. For example, people who read Stephen Hawking’s interview in the Chilean newspaper may think that it is a scientific conclusion that religion does not work.
b)  When in a public interview, a scientist is certainly free to express himself concerning his personal beliefs, however, professional ethics requires that he separates these expressions from scientific statements of his expertise. To use his plataform as a scientist to spread his personal worldview is an unethical misuse of science.

Sample Exercise 2

One clear sign that science has assumed the role of a religion, rather than just a way of knowing about the natural world, is when it starts defining what is right and wrong—our values and how we should live.  In her book A Jealous God, journalist Pamela R. Winnick comments on philosopher Peter Singer’s ideas:
“In his book, ‘Rethinking Life and Death’, Peter Singer announced that ten new commandments would have to replace the Ten Commandments of the Bible. “Thou shalt not kill” and others are replaced with conditional commandments that humans should be killed under certain circumstances, that animals may at times be more worthy of life than humans, that not all human life is of equal worth, that a newborn infant has no greater right to live than a fetus, and so forth.”

a)  From where do we get the concept that human life is sacred?
b)  What role should scientists play in determining the moral values of our society?  Should they have any say in what is considered right or wrong?  If not, why not?
c)  What possible dangers/consequences are there in elevating science to the position where it is used to help determine our moral values?
d)  Give an example in history of a society that elevated science to this position; explain how science was used to help determine people’s values.

Answer:
a)  As Christians, we believe that human life is sacred because of what we read in the Bible. We see that we are crowned with glory and honor and that God is mindful of humankind (Psalm 8:4-6); we were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27); we are known by God from the very moment of our conception (Psalm 139:13-16); and Jesus Christ died on the cross to offer us eternal salvation from our sins (John 3:16). These assurances and others convince us that human life is sacred.
b)  All people have a right to contribute their ideas about the moral values society should be guided by. Scientists are no different in this respect. The findings of science are not moral or ethical by their very nature; however, the uses to which these findings are put do have moral and ethical implications. Scientists are as welcome to speak about these implications as anyone else, but they do not have special moral or ethical authority or insight simply because they are scientists. Moral values lie beyond the realm of science.
c)  Science itself, as a process of inquiry and as a body of knowledge is value-neutral.
One of the dangers of elevating science to a position where it helps to determine our moral values is that we are really elevating people with particular worldviews to that position. Our values are part of our worldview and belief system and nobody should have the power to impose them over us. This opens doors for the misuse of science, when science can be used to serve political agendas and manipulate people and society.
d)  In pre-World War II Germany, Adolph Hitler used science to help determine the moral values of a society by supposedly “scientifically proving” that there were significant differences between the races. He believed that the Aryan race was the superior race. As we know, this led to the atrocities of the Holocaust and the unconscionable deaths of millions of Jews, Gypsies, people with mental and physical handicaps, and others. Note here that a person who misused science was responsible for the moral degradation of this society and not the scientific findings themselves.

Chapter 5 – Tips and Tools for Sound Arguments

Sample Exercise 1

Atheist Richard Dawkins criticizes and ridicules religious belief as a childish delusion that should have disappeared as humanity reached its maturity.  He compares belief in God to belief in fairy tales or Santa Claus and claims that these childish beliefs should be abandoned as soon as we are capable of evidence-based thinking.  These beliefs, he says, belong to a past era of superstition, but now we have to grow up.  This argument is faulty.  Can you explain why?

Answer:
The flawed thinking in this argument is identified as a faulty analogy by Alister McGrath in his book The Dawkins Delusion.6  The flawed analogy (which occurs in the first premise) is debunked with two simple questions: How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? (Hence, this truly is a childish belief.)  How many people do you know who become Christians as adults? (Hence, this is not “childish belief.”)  Since premise #1 is a faulty analogy, the argument fails to lead to the conclusion. Belief in God and belief in Santa Claus cannot really be compared.  These beliefs differ in fundamental aspects.

Sample Exercise 2

Some atheists argue that God was invented by human beings who craved spiritual meaning and spiritual explanations.  They claim that God is the result of wishful thinking, a projection of human longings, but that God does not really exist.  To present humans’ desire for God as an explanation for His nonexistence is a faulty argument; can you explain why?

Answer:
The argument commits the fallacy of wishful thinking.  Wishing for something is no proof that it does or does not exist.  Humans long for food and water.  This fact does not explain the existence or non-existence of food and water.  The fact that humans long for spiritual answers to questions about meaning and purpose is in no way evidence of God’s non-existence.