CHRIS: Hello Terry. What has happened to the essays you were writing?
TERRY: Well I wanted to get the 1978 Chicago Statement, definition of Biblical Inerrancy off my chest; but I got stuck.
CHRIS: Well why pick on these people in particular?
TERRY: I was just so surprised that a group of people who consider themselves theologians could come up with such a daft concept, surely they knew better. One of the signatories was Francis Schaeffer, who is generally recognised as a theologian; I can only assume that he later regretted his folly.
CHRIS: Come on, don’t attack the people, be more specific.
TERRY: These people are absolutely sure they knew about the unknowable. I wanted to prove they were wrong, but found I couldn’t; there is no logic either way.
CHRIS: Why don’t you pick on the anti-Christians? You are always attacking Christians.
TERRY: Well, when I began these essays, I set out to correct the mistakes I thought Richard Dawkins was making in his book called The God Delusion.
CHRIS: Yes that was a terrible book, full of lies and errors.
TERRY: Unfortunately Dawkins is much more clever than you suggest; he at least writes in a scientific manner and is happy to openly defend whatever he writes. Dawkins text is certainly far more inerrant than the Bible. At the same time I claim that the Bible has a deeper spirit, despite its obvious shortcomings.
CHRIS: I thought you had just finished reading a book that completely refutes Dawkins.
TERRY: Yes I have just finished reading The twilight of atheism by Alister McGrath (professor of historical theology at Oxford University) as well as Gunning for God by John Lennox (professor of Mathematics at Oxford University). Both of these books pick quite wide holes in Dawkins philosophy, but having finished these books I remain quite supportive of Dawkins for his honest and upfront style. I have viewed and reviewed videos of Dawkins debating Lennox and in a discussion with McGrath and I must admit that Dawkins presents his case very well. If these discussions were scored as debates my suspicion is that Dawkins would win them both.
CHRIS: Then why do you say both the books are so good, when you say they fail to refute Dawkins?
TERRY? Well, as Karen Armstrong points out in The case for God, if Dawkins debated a real theologian (such as McGrath) he would probably lose. However, as far as the public are concerned he would appear to win hands down. Lennox claims that a number of atheists are annoyed by Dawkins failure to use his special scientific knowledge as a biologist to add anything to the debate.
CHRIS: Well who wins in the debate ‘Does God exist?’ Does it just end up a matter of opinion?
TERRY: It does. This is because science and theology take very different viewpoints. Modern science with its verifiability is generally considered to define true things. Although as a physicist I would question this simple unsubtle definition of truth. Theology deals with transcendence (or spiritual matters) and these apparently lie beyond the realm of immediately verifiable truth.
CHRIS: Oh, I think I can see now why you object to biblical inerrancy it is not wrong, rather it is inappropriate.
TERRY: That says it very well. Actually it is still scientific reductionism that bothers me. Dawkins and the other reductionists mostly seem to be biologists (a point already noted by Paul Davies in God and the new physics). These scientists claim that life is just a consequence of simple chemical reactions: nothing else exists. Their scientific thinking seems to be locked in the pre-quantum era of the 1920’s.
CHRIS: So now you are criticising scientists as a scientist.
TERRY: Yes the trouble seems to have started around 1970 when Jacques Monod produced a book called Chance and Necessity. Monod won the Nobel Prize for biology and had a good grasp of philosophy, if not theology; his book is well worth reading, if only to learn about the formation of living cells and that subsequently show life and follow evolution. In this book, Monod also argues quite persuasively that we can understand how living cells form. We have a chemical and thermodynamic explanation of these natural events and so the formation of cells is inevitable given the right conditions. By hand-waving Monod suggests the extra bit, life itself, just happened by chance. This is a real sleight of hand!
CHRIS: Oh, so according to Monod there is no need for a creator and thus there is no creator; it all happened by chance. Does it keep happening by chance?
TERRY: You raise a good point and in my view, a serious objection. From the evidence and scientific models, life only seems to have happened once in four billion years. If you like, this was a THE scientific creation event.
CHRIS: But wouldn’t you expect new life forms to keep appearing all the time?
TERRY: That also occurred to me when I first studied evolution, but there is no evidence that life formed spontaneously on more than one occasion. The general scientific consensus seems to be that living molecules came from outer space. This scenario was first proposed by Fred Hoyle and is seriously considered by James Watson, also a Nobel Prize winning biologist; in his book Life itself its origin and nature. Unfortunately this scenario takes us no closer to understanding how or why there was a life creation. My own opinion is that God did it!
CHRIS: So you do believe in God, I always thought you might. How can we trust your scientific outline?
TERRY: That is a worthy question, I have been careful so far to mention books that are readable and accessible to a non-specialist. The book by Paul Davies (God and the new physics) is possibly the heaviest but I have included this because I find Davies, as a physicist, is quite accurate and reliable; also he does not write as an apologist for any particular philosophy or religion. As I write, I can see other texts on my bookshelf that I have deliberately not mentioned, not because they are deficient but because they are either heavy to read or not strictly relevant to my topic. I can recommend all the books I mention because they are well and honestly written, you should read these books if you want to test what I have written for yourself. I have tried to be faithful to my physics hero (Richard Feynman) who wrote “…describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good and what’s bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty.”
CHRIS: Do you honestly think you have presented the case for atheism fully?
TERRY: No I don’t, but in my defense I suspect that most of the great physicists were high level agnostics, few could ever commit to full blown atheism; it is in our nature to always allow for new ideas and discoveries. While I am a theist I insist on being considered an agnostic.
CHRIS: Are you a Christian?
TERRY: Yes I believe I am, but …
CHRIS: Let’s get back to Schweitzer; don’t you think our understanding of the Bible has moved on since 1910?
TERRY: One would hope so. But apologists have wasted a lot of time and effort, by simply ignoring or failing to comprehend what Schweitzer wrote. At the same time many authors who write about the gospels being carefully written fakes also ignore Schweitzer completely.
CHRIS: What did Schweitzer say that you think is so important?
TERRY: Well his book on the life of Jesus, is written in the heavy style of German philosophy, that is why it is hard to read and easy to misunderstand. However I will try to illustrate with a significant quote from the first chapter. “Moreover we are dealing with the most vital thing in the world’s history. There came a man to rule over the world; … That He continues, - to reign as the alone Great and the alone True in a world of which He denied the continuance, is the prime example of that antithesis between the spiritual and natural truth which underlies all life and all events, and in merges into history.”
CHRIS: I don’t get that at all.
TERRY: I agree, I have read the book three times and still struggle with the meanings. However, let me try and rephrase or translate the passage. Jesus, as man, came to rule the world. He continues to reign in truth and provides the greatest ever revelation; and in so doing has completely changed our spiritual understanding which is the opposite of our natural understanding.
CHRIS: Wow! I think I get that more easily. But what was it that “merges onto history”?
TERRY: An excellent question, remember my second essay on Mungo Man? We tend to build up elaborate theories about what might have happened in history, but as time passes our theories drift further away from the actual truth. The truth that we should seek lies in spiritual experience. This is why the word antithesis appears, what we experience is our reality and this is quite the opposite to reconstructing truth using existing records along with our logic.
Schweitzer called his book The quest of the historical Jesus and in the end he concluded that all attempts to explain and rationalize the historical life of Jesus have and will fail. Writing in 1910 he specifically debunks many of the modern reconstructions such as: Jesus was an Essene, He married, His miracles have natural explanations, His story was just a copy of earlier religious myths etc. etc.. You must have read or encountered all of these futile reconstructions.
CHRIS: Don’t some people claim that Schweitzer didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus?
TERRY: He never made that clear, so we don’t know. The proof of his faith is shown by the fact that he gave up all his professional music and his academic positions and trained as a missionary doctor to serve in the Congo. It seems, like Alister McGrath, Schweitzer was a genuine ‘polymath’. He well aware that he would not be a great doctor or missionary, but this was his response to the risen Christ.
CHRIS: Do works alone prove ones faith?
TERRY: Fair enough, let me quote again from the other end of Schweitzer’s book. “Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery. It is the solid foundation of Christianity.” I don’t think I need to simplify or translate that quote.
CHRIS: But does he believe Jesus rose on the third day?
TERRY: He probably did believe that, however, as an historian, he wrote that the writers of the gospels certainly believed Jesus rose again on the third day, as they claimed. He further claimed that the gospel records stand out amongst other documents of their time as being the best examples of recording plain facts, unembellished by religious and historical theories.
CHRIS: You have started to convince me that Schweitzer was a Christian, but I remain a bit suspicious, why is he so heavily criticized and even reviled by those you call apologists?
TERRY: We need to be careful with definitions from now on. I have implied that apologists are persons with limited thinking, but this is not necessarily the case. For instance McGrath is described in Wikipedia as a Christian apologist and I think he is happy to be regarded as such. I would never presume to suggest that McGrath is intellectually limited in his understanding and defense of theology. Nevertheless there is a tendency for fundamentalist thinkers to feel threatened by opposing, or antithetical arguments. When Schweitzer claims that Jesus is a spiritual figure he is making a transcendent claim and this cannot be logically proved. Fundamentalists can feel insecure when they realize that their faith is based on un-provable facts; in this ‘Age of Reason’ we feel most comfortable with provable facts.
Note added in proof: The original Latin definition of inerrancy implied “does not wander from a true path” i.e. is not erratic. The early English definitions of ‘error’ had the sense of wrong action as in ‘… the error of his ways’. I would say that the Bible is inerrant in the sense that it does not recommend that readers should follow wrong or evil paths. However I would never approve of the modern meaning that implies the inerrant Bible reveals literal truths and is without logical or mathematical errors.