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Christian Biblical Studies

 

 

Faith and Authority

 

PART II

(Part I can be found here)

 

For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

When Jesus heard these things,

he marvelled at him, and turned him about,

and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you,

I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

(Luke 7: 8, 9, King James Version)

 

ANY PARENT will be familiar with the inherent faith of a child that at an early age believes almost anything his parents tell him. Fairy tales like that of Father Christmas and his retinue of elves, along with euphemisms of gooseberry bushes and sugar bowls are accepted without question. The child naturally has no alternative but to trust those who brought him into the world, his sole source of physical and mental nourishment.

 

This lack of criticism and desire for proof by the child should not be a cause of ridicule; rather, it is a plea for the sanctity of the infant’s simplicity, a reminder of the need for the parents to respect that trust. This familial bond preserves order and health in the family, just as the wisdom of age educates and restrains the impatience of youth.

 

A child that has learned to distrust his parents, left to learn solely from his own experiences, is likely to make some very human and unnecessary mistakes, and blunder from one to another of life’s many pitfalls. Of course, the opposite extreme of blind unquestioning obedience can have its faults, too, as evidenced by a son or daughter whose independence is undermined by a rigid, controlling parent. The golden mean is somewhere in between, a balance of faith and experiment.

 

Trial and Error

The rapid advance of medicine and hospital care is perhaps one of the chief fruits of our scientific age. Smallpox and scarlet fever, the symptoms of which marked a walking dead man, are now preventable and curable. Cheap medicines now give a new lease of life to thousands every day, though the developments in diagnosis and treatment sometimes come at a high social cost. Before any drug is released for public use it must be tested and approved by the regulating authority.

Parexel is an American contract research organisation that conducts clinical tests on emerging pharmaceutical products. In 2006 the firm conducted experiments with TGN1412, a drug designed to fight autoimmune disease, on behalf of the German bio-technology firm TeGenero. The product held the promise of a powerful treatment for leukaemia and rheumatoid arthritis.

 

In return for a payment of £2,000 apiece, six healthy young men submitted themselves to a trial of the drug, the first of such on humans. The research ended in disaster. All the volunteers had to be put into intensive care within hours of receiving their initial dose.[fn1]

 

The headline reports of disfigurement and permanent disability followed by a cold legal defence by both Parexel and TeGenero did little to alter the subsequent test procedure. Indeed, no one denied that the human tests were necessary. But the outcome in this case raised serious questions about both the ethics and risks involved in such trials. (Parexel was cleared by an official report; TeGenero later went out of business.)

 

Genetic Modification

There is, perhaps, a greater moral ambiguity in the questions surrounding the treatments offered by embryology and genetic modification. Although the human genome has been catalogued and analysed there is no complete study of the interactions and combinations of its life-sustaining processes. Splicing new sections of genetic material into a cell’s DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) is not a precise technique, and the long-term effects are unknown. The science in this field is still immature. And it is a tragic irony that most scientific institutions stand on the threshold of the laboratory and look out on the world without faith or a religious understanding to guide them in their search for answers.

 

A Scientific Cult

Perhaps it could not be otherwise. The veneration of science tends to displace the faith that believes in an unfathomable God. The yearning for the concrete and a day-to-day reliance on visible evidence naturally limits spiritual thought. Atheism now appears to be the default starting position for most scientists.

The bland assertion that there is no God until proven otherwise can be refuted by a consideration of the intricacy and complexity of Life. The overwhelming chorus of a billion creeping, walking, swimming, flying creatures is the sound of an intelligent Cause. Against this evidence of the mind, Evolution of the atheistic sort has opposed itself, essentially cutting out the Creator from the picture of creation.

 

The Watchmaker

William Paley, a fellow of Cambridge University and an astute observer of the natural world, composed his final written work while convalescing at Buxton, Derbyshire. Paley’s book, Natural Theology, offers a reasoned argument for the evidence of design in nature. His argument begins with a simple anecdote:

 

In crossing a heath suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of the answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I before had given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.[fn2]

 

To this broad stroke in defence of an intelligent creator, Paley adds further details, drawn from animal and human anatomy, sociology, the natural order, and philosophy. The complexity of a watch – mechanical or electronic – argues the impossibility that such a device emerged by chance. The argument does not reveal how the watch came to be there, and the silence invites speculation as to the processes which might have produced its inner workings.

 

In his atheistic work, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins disassembles Paley’s logic and interposes evolution as the ‛genius’ capable of forming the watch. A hypothetical sightless mechanic is granted only three tools which which he must fashion the timepiece – random mutation, epic lengths of time, and natural selection. In other words, ‛wait long enough and anything can happen’. Such a belief has its place when, for the sake of robustness, engineers weigh the long-term effects of nature’s elements on an aeroplane or a suspension bridge, but it’s not a suitable method of production.

 

Time and Chance

Chance and randomness have distinct properties which make them the opposite of order. Randomness obviously is unpredictable, but unpredictable in its own special way. The important mathematical number pi is an infinite sequence of digits which has no regular pattern – the next number in the sequence is just as likely as the previous one. So, perhaps, if you spend enough time looking for it, you may find your own telephone number in the string. This conjuring up of meaning out of a sequence of numbers very often works because all combinations are valid and all are present; the sequence has no end.

Randomness does not work this way in nature. Applying the same method, it might seem reasonable that if one tuned from a favourite radio station and attended to the discordant hiss and noise long enough, a chord or two of Mozart might be heard. All the audio signals may be present, but the random directions of this blind conductor over his orchestra must do more violence than not to the rules of harmony.

 

It is the same with the sequence of our DNA. Random mutation does not add new material to the genes. It disrupts the existing pattern, destroying the order already present, blindly indifferent as to whether its changes are beneficial or not.

 

Survival of the Fittest

Natural selection unaided by intelligence is offered as the means by which life and order emerge from the ‛noise’. In this particular fight of survival and propagation, only the harsh, competitive environment decides which modifications are passed on to the next generation and, voila! reproduction will filter out any ‛mistakes’.

Trouble is, the children of natural selection are at the mercy of the same random changes to their genes as their parents. No amount of selection and propagation can prevent the removal of the advantageous attribute by the next round of mutations. Only were evolution given a fourth tool, a mechanism by which genes are protected from interference, could the beneficial mutations be preserved. But such a mechanism would be anti-evolutionary by ruling out future changes.

 

To the evolutionist’s surprise the DNA of living cells contains a system of error-checking and self-repair. Cells usually reproduce thousands of times without error, but the means of reproduction can tell a good from a bad copy and, as errors arise, restore the lost or damaged information. Evolution becomes powerless if the DNA cannot be mutated. The blind watchmaker thus locks himself out of his workshop.

 

Atheism’s Ascent

The argument for the existence of God from science alone is, perhaps, limited. Any proofs for or against are at the mercy of future discoveries, and creation’s unravelling secrets are usually delivered into the hands of science, not the church. This scientific epiphany has shaped the evolution of man into a cult. The strident voice of Atheism seems to come more from its reaction to a floundering religious establishment than to its proselytising zeal.

Atheism’s champions, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have on two counts feigned a win for secularism. First, by flaunting human traditions as divinely given and thus attributing the evil or mediocre results to God. Second, through a piecemeal and literal interpretation pronouncing the Bible irrational and craftily manufactured (God’s intended result for those who approach Him without faith). Neither of these two great intellects offer a credible alternative to the religious ideals of Christianity. Atheism’s paradise is the here and now.

 

Evolutionary Man

Life by experiment, the trying out of novel genetic combinations, is at the heart of evolutionary theory – what succeeds, lives; what does not, dies. This fundamental optimism that chance will deliver your children with a better life fits well with the pattern of modern living, stimulated by the technology and enlightenment which followed the Second World War.

It is a flawed view that optimistically presumes that science unaided by religious faith will lead mankind to a better land. Christopher Hedges, an American journalist and author, adds some perspective to this position:

 

For example, they [the New Atheists] believe that the human species is marching forward, that there is an advancement toward some kind of collective moral progress — that we are moving towards, if not a Utopian, certainly a better, more perfected human society. That’s fundamental to the Christian right, and it’s also fundamental to the New Atheists.

 

You know, there is nothing in human nature or in human history that points to the idea that we are moving anywhere. Technology and science, though they are cumulative and have improved, in many ways, the lives of people within the industrialized nations, have also unleashed the most horrific forms of violence and death, and let’s not forget, environmental degradation, in human history. So, there’s nothing intrinsically moral about science. Science is morally neutral.[fn3]

 

The Voice of Conscience

How then is the scientist to know right from wrong? The evolution of conscience, a fixed set of principles that guides regardless of experience, remains a puzzle to biologists. Current evolutionary thought sees morals as a fashionable behaviour developed by an individual or a group out of selfish interest. Evolution would be deemed a failure if the human race were to suffer and die to retain his collective righteousness against material benefit.

In 2009 the British Humanist Association ran an advertising campaign using the slogan, Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.[fn4] At its heart the campaign was a counterpoint to the (unbiblical) doctrine of hell; the words, however, are an expression of atheism’s experimental morality.[fn5] Having departed from traditional religious landmarks as ethical markers, Atheism’s new moral guidelines have become the consensus of the educated majority. Conscience is reduced to a calculation of advantages.

 

The Descent of Man

Not that atheists always take a selfish outlook. Indeed, they usually agree with, and uphold, the commandment to love one’s neighbour, the sincere intent to do good to another. But they disagree on how the intention came about. When the authority of a loving and far-seeing God no longer arouses a faith that submits to His absolute principles of righteousness, the consent of the majority is free to choose the lowest common denominator.

What began as the enjoyment of ‛life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ may finish up as merely the pursuit of pleasure. If the cultivation of doubt, experimental living, and the rejection of authority should extend to the old and young everywhere, then society would become ripe for anarchy. In such a condition, in which no central government holds sway, the responsibility for law and order would default to the self-serving individual.

 

The ultimate proof of the new humanistic morality has not yet been given: born out of a struggle for personal, secular liberty, would it grant to religious people the same freedoms it desires for itself?

 

________________

 

NOTES

Citations to Web pages are correct as of the dates retrieved, but sites may expire or be moved.

 

[fn1] <http://www.i-sis.org.uk/LDTC.php> (retrieved 26 March, 2011)

The particular case of Ryan Wilson, a trainee plumber in his twenties, is given on the BBC Website. While all six of those that participated in the TeGenero trial made a recovery, Mr. Wilson was the worst affected.

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5121824.stm> (retrieved 26 March, 2011)

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[fn2] William Paley D.D., Paley’s Works (Charles Daly, London, 1805), 201. An electronic version of Paley’s Natural Theology is available here:

<http://www.archive.org/details/naturaltheology00pale> (retrieved 26 March, 2011)

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[fn3] Chris Hedges is a veteran of the New York Times and one of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism in 2002. A transcript of an interview with Hedges where he discusses his book I don’t Believe in Atheists is given here:

<http://www.salon.com/books/int/2008/03/13/chris_hedges/index.html> (retrieved 26 March, 2011) (Copy and paste into internet browser)

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[fn4] The British Humanist Association began the atheist bus campaign in 2009 and designed it to counteract the fear-inducing message of hell-fire promoted by a London-based Christian group on their Website. The campaign grew beyond expectations and was taken up by similar movements in other countries adopting the same theme. A history can be found here:

<http://www.humanism.org.uk/bus-campaign> (retrieved 26 March, 2011) (link broken)

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[fn5] The fiery doctrine of hell torment is an established error among various Christian denominations. For an article defending the Bible’s teaching on the subject, see here:

<http://www.ukbiblestudents.co.uk/Magazinehome/judgementday.htm> (retrieved 26 March, 2011)

 

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Article copyright 2011 by ukbiblestudents.co.uk

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