Let us imagine that you were born into Greek society several thousand years ago. Sitting under an olive tree one day, you are hit by a falling fruit. Contemplating this event, you experience sudden inspiration.
“Eureka”, you cry, “I have discovered the universal principle of gravitation” and you run to the nearest Greek philosopher.
Breathlessly, you describe your experience to the learned Aristotelian. With a triumphant flourish, you finish the explanation of your discovery and await the kudos that must surely be yours. You are shocked by the negative response that dashes your hopes and feel the sinking feeling in your stomach that accompanies crushing disappointment.
“Don’t be ridiculous, my dear boy, no such universal principle of gravitation exists.”
“But, but, but” you stammer . . .
“No, no, no it won’t do”, continues the learned philosopher, “Consider a bird. Does it fall in the way that your universal principle of gravitation requires? No? What about a leaf that falls downward and then begins to move sideways and then upwards again? What about the clouds that remain in the sky day after day, hour after hour? What about the moon? Does it come plummeting to earth as is required by your little theory? When we look at the real world, sometimes things fall down and sometimes they do not. Now go away and please don’t disturb me anymore.”
Now as the beneficiaries of several centuries worth of reductionist science, we can see the error that this philosopher was making with his holistic approach. When he examined the complex phenomena of the real world, he was unable to discern the universal principle of gravity that we all take for granted. In the cases that he considered, gravity was present, but it was competing with other forces such that its effects were not dominant. He mistook the fact that gravity is not always the dominant force to mean that gravity was not a universal principle.
The power of the reductionist approach is that it strips away complexities and allows us to study a phenomena in isolation. Freed of the complexities that can make even simple phenomena indecipherable, it is much easier for the natural philosopher to conceptualize and analyze the experiments that will eventually lead to greater understanding. This reductionist approach has been enormously successful and it is one of the pillars of the scientific revolution that has changed the way human beings view the world.
A Reductionist Approach to Thinking About God
Ironically, the atheists who preach the power of reductionism most vociferously when it comes to the study of the natural world are the first to abandon the approach when it comes to thinking about God. They lump all of their difficulties with Christian belief into one gigantic indigestible hairball and present that lump triumphantly as conclusive evidence of their views. “Hell is really horrible for a loving God, there is genocide in the Old Testament, there is a great deal of suffering and evil in the world and the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. There is no evidence at all for the Christian God.”
In contrast to this holistic approach which lumps everything together and combines the various issues into an incomprehensible muddle, the case for Christianity that we are going to make is reductionist. We are going to ask questions that are as simple as possible and examine the evidence piece by piece. When we are done we will see that at every step of the way we had extremely solid reasons grounded in overwhelming evidence for choosing the answer that favored Christianity over the other available alternatives. We begin by outlining the case for Christianity and presenting the three fundamental questions that will form the basis of our investigation:
- Is their evidence of a cosmic mind at work in the universe?
- Is their evidence that human beings are related to this cosmic mind?
- What is the most reasonable explanation for the cosmic mind?
When we have done our best to answer all of these questions, we will come to the conclusion that Christianity is the most rational available belief system.
For the next part of this series, see “The Case for Christianity Part II“.