The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)

Image: By Danielclauzier, on Wikipedia commons
There is only one story in the universe.

Occasionally I'll find a badly told story, which still attempts to convey the message of Christianity. Of such works I've said "you can't blame it for not being the universe", for that is what is required to tell that story well. God is the original storyteller, and he uses every part of the entire universe to tell us this one story, to send us his one message. All other stories are but retellings of small snippets of this very long and very great story.

We call this story the Gospel: the one story in the universe, and the central message of Christianity.

I will attempt to explain this Gospel in this post. I apologize beforehand for it not being the universe.

The Gospel is simple, as it must be if it's the one message that God has for us. I can summarize it in three words: Christ saves sinners. The Gospel is also complicated, as it must be if it's a story told with the whole universe. Fighting, torture, escapes, true love, and miracles all have a part in it. So let me begin by expanding that three word summary ("Christ saves sinners"), starting with the easiest word to understand, "sinners".

By "sinners", I mean people like me. Immortal souls bound in ephemeral constructs of flesh and blood, aware of their physicality yet knowing that they're not just a lump of matter. In our bodies we are bound to the circles of this world, yet we have an inkling of something beyond it, of something more. For we were gifted by the One Father of All - the source of all goodness - with his breath of life. We were made in his image as his children, intended to grow up to become like him. But we - that is to say, I - have abused this very gift, and have deliberately chosen to defy God and disobey his divine laws. That is sin. Its consequence is death.

Why is the consequence so serious? What harm could one small imperfection cause? Catastrophe. In an otherwise perfect system designed for infinite growth, every flaw is fatal, especially in a critical subsystem like morality. God, in his love for us, created us with unlimited potential - to become like God. His laws were decreed to help us develop into that destiny. Sin is the rejection of all that: it's violating his laws, discarding that divine destiny, and becoming alienated from God himself. And because of our unlimited potential, sin also grows without limit. For a rocket with infinite thrust, any error in its heading sends it infinitely far off course. In a boundless forest, a small fire causes an everlasting conflagration. In an organism that grows forever, cancer results in infinitely large tumors. In humans, sin causes endlessly more sin, which is endless separation from God.

We would not have this problem if we were just rocks, or cows, or even space-faring aliens who are merely fated to rule the stars then perish with the universe. But we are humans, created to be like God. We were the chosen ones. We were supposed to be the pinnacle of creation, not fallen sinners. But precisely because of that greatness, when we fall we fall deep into darkness, deeper into sin, leading to death. Like a debtor who borrows to pay the interest on his debt, like an alcoholic who drinks to deal with his alcoholism, we keep sinning, even in our attempt to do good. Sin begets sin.

Without intervention, we are thereby forever separated from God and therefore from all goodness. Sin infects us and turns us evil. It alienates us from God and makes us into his enemies, the objects of his rightful wrath. But in our folly we have attempted to convince ourselves that it's not that bad, that we're good enough, that we're not really sinners. But this attitude is actually the very symptom of our sinfulness. Sin makes us numb and blinds us to further sin. Consider the people you know. Judge them, if you think yourself qualified. Are not the worst kinds of people convinced that they're good? God is the standard of goodness, and one of the first consequences of falling away from him is that we can no longer rightly discern what is good. Oblivious to our own evil, we blindly stumble from sin into more sin.

We - that is, I - thus find myself in this pit of despair: estranged from God, and therefore also from all good things that might possibly enable me to return to him. Fixed to a doomed trajectory that I am powerless to change. Infected in my moral core with sin's ever growing evil. Even my attempts to be good are tainted with sin, and my righteous deeds are themselves like filthy rags. Who shall save me from this wretched body of death?

The next post of this series will continue from that second word in the three-word summary, "Christ saves sinners".

You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 2) (Next post of this series)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion)
Another post, from the table of contents

Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion)

This is the summary and conclusion post for the "Science as evidence for Christianity" series. It contains links to all other posts in the series. Please view the individual posts for a more thorough discussion.

We consider the whole of science as evidence to decide among various worldviews. This evidence overwhelmingly supports Christianity against its rival worldviews, and against atheism in particular: Christianity explains all the major features of science, while its rivals cannot explain science at all.

What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?
I use the Bayesian definition of evidence: something counts as evidence for the worldview that better explains or anticipates that thing. More formally: between two worldviews, a new piece of information counts as evidence for the worldview that predicted it with higher probability, and against the worldview that predicted it with lower probability.

Science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (introduction)
We will look at four broad features that characterize the entirety of science: its axioms, its trends, its limits, and its possible future course. We use these broad features, because it's only at this level that the different worldviews make predictions with different probabilities. When we examine these features, we'll see that Christianity provides the best explanation for each of them.

The axioms of science as evidence for Christianity against atheism
Like any logical system, science has unproven starting points. They state that the universe is a consistent, logical place, and that we humans can learn about it. Atheism has no explanation for these axioms. It in fact it has no explanation for anything, because nothing comes from nothing. Christianity, however, states that the universe was made by God as a reflection of his character to teach us about him. This naturally leads to the axioms of science. Since Christianity explains these axioms, these axioms are evidence for Christianity.

Answering objections: science as evidence for Christianity against atheism
A common error is to simply assume that science and atheism go together. This makes the mistake of assuming your conclusion: since atheism cannot explain science, it simply adds science - the thing it's supposed to explain - as an assumption to its worldview. However, atheism then becomes a parasitic postulate to science that adds nothing. Science doesn't function any differently with or without atheism, therefore atheism must be cut out according to Occam's razor.

Another possible objection to Christianity is that miracles violate the laws of nature. This is a simple straw man. The laws of nature, understood in the deepest sense as God created them, are not violated in miracles. In fact God is the one who created these laws and called them good. However, this objection does eliminate other rivals to Christianity, such as animism, or parody versions of Christianity with a "magic genie" God.

Another possible objection is that the Christian God is too complex and nebulous, so he could be used to explain any outcome, including science. This is a historical and theological error: Christianity and its major tenets were established far before modern science, and the Christian God is infinitely simple - without parts, free parameters, or contingencies.

The trends in science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (part 1)
Science is now old enough to show clear trends in its discoveries. We have continually discovered that the world is just awesome. Consider the vastness of the universe: if the universe is the creation of an infinite God, this makes perfect sense, but atheism has no explanation for it.

It's true that there were some Christians on the wrong side of specific scientific issues. But Christians were also on the right side on those issues as well. This is only what's expected from people doing science, because science progresses by being wrong. This is the reason we use big trends in science as evidence, rather than individual discoveries.

The trends in science as evidence for Christianity against atheism (part 2)
We look at other big trends in science: science is perpetually advancing in creative ways, and discovering the universe to be an interesting place. Simultaneously, it is ever finding that its underlying laws are more elegant than previously conceived. Science is also constantly enabling humanity to become more powerful. All of this makes perfect sense in the context of Christianity, whereas atheism has no explanation for any of it.

The limits of science as evidence for Christianity
Science, being just one of the fields of human discipline, has limits. Some questions it cannot ever hope to answer, and other questions it cannot answer yet. In these categories are the questions of meaning, morality, beauty, and consciousness. Any "science only" worldview would be paralyzed into inaction in the face of such questions, but Christianity easily provides answers to some of these questions and actionable guidance on all of them, in addition to providing for science itself.

Christian predictions on the future of science (part 1)
Christianity has explained everything else about science, so we move on to making predictions of its future: science will never end Christianity, either through new evidence or through physical catastrophe. The "edge" of the universe will always lie beyond our grasp even as our reach continually increases. Science will continue to discover new depth in the universe, without ever exhausting it. Our understanding of the fundamental laws will become simpler and more elegant. And humanity will grow in power and knowledge. All these are natural consequences of Christianity.

Christian predictions on the future of science (part 2)
I make two more predictions: science will discover more about morality, without ever fully explaining it. These discoveries will reveal God's moral character, imprinted in the universe. In particular, love will be found at the center of all moral truths. These discoveries will become a new big trend, like the other ones I mentioned. I also predict that science will not fully understand humans, despite making continuous advances in simulating and characterizing them. Humans, as beings made in God's image, will turn out to be far more complex than we think.

In conclusion: Christianity explains the axioms, trends, and limits of science, and makes predictions on its future. It thereby completely explains science, whereas its rivals (atheism in particular) can generally explain nothing. Therefore, the whole of science is overwhelming evidence for Christianity and against its rivals.

You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Another post, from the table of contents

Christian predictions on the future of science (part 2)

In the previous post of this series, I promised two more predictions on the future of science based on Christianity. I said that they'd be different from the science of the past, or the current expectations of the future. Here they are:

In the future, science will have much to say about morality, in contrast to the past when science was mostly silent on such issues. We have inklings of the beginning now, as social sciences such as psychology, sociology, or economics mature and become more firmly grounded in the natural sciences. We're starting to scientifically address questions like "what effect does divorce have on children?" or "what are the measurable benefits of belonging to a church?" Moral actions like divorce or church attendance are found to really matter, yet these are only the beginning; scientific discoveries with moral content will occur frequently enough to form a new large-scale trend in science, similar to the ones I've mentioned before. This new trend will show that God created the universe in such a way that our choices for good or evil has significant, real consequences.

But wait; have I not argued in a previous post that science cannot explain morality? Indeed I have. How could it be that science will make morally relevant discoveries, when it cannot explain morality? What this means is that the prediction I'm making is really quite specific. As I said before, science could never explain why we ought to be good, for it only deals in physical reality as it actually is. Yet in our deeper understanding of that reality, we will find that there is a real difference between good and evil, real consequences to our choices, and real mechanics built in to nature itself to enable us to meaningfully act as moral agents. Pretend that you're holding a gun to someone's head; pulling the trigger may mean that you and your genetic line will continue to survive, while putting down the gun may mean that someone else will prosper and thrive in your stead. Science will not and cannot tell you what you ought to do; it can only tell you that this is in fact the choice and the consequences before you. I predict that as our scientific knowledge of morality increases, at every step we will be confronted with a choice between right and wrong, between saving our life, or losing it for God and his righteousness - even as the correct choices made by the past generations become common sense.

In particular, I predict that love will forever remain at the heart of all the moral truths discovered by future sciences. Science will not discover that love is just a human societal convention, nor will a future advancement eliminate our need for it. Instead, when the relevant individual scientific discoveries eventually form that long-term, large-scale trend that I predicted, it will point to love as the principle upon which the whole moral structure of the universe is built and the thing that we encounter at the core of every moral issue.

I predict these things because I believe that God, who is love, created the universe to reflect his moral character, so that we can look upon it and come to know him and become like him. He then gave us science as a tool for studying that universe. Our sciences are currently insufficent for revealing God's goodness embedded in nature, but as our power and knowledge grows, especially as our social sciences advance, we will be able to scientifically explore the moral aspect of the universe that God created. That is what we expect from a universe created by the Christian God.

My second prediction on the future of science is about human nature: In the future, a full scientific understanding of human beings will continue to elude us, in contrast to the expectations of many today who expect humans to soon become obsolete through scientific progress. The current vogue is to believe that artificial intelligence will advance and supplant humans. Or, perhaps it will be genetics which will allow us to clone and mass-produce designer babies. Or maybe it will be neurology, cognitive science, psychology, and sociology which will allow us to "figure out" a human being. Is it not inevitable that one or a combination of the above methods will soon allow us to reduce a human being to just another object, completely understood and uninteresting and boring?

I predict that this will not be the case. I make this prediction based on my belief that God created humans to be the pinnacles of his creation, made in his image to subdue and rule over nature. Moreover, Christ himself - God incarnate - became flesh and dwelt among us, taking on the form of man and containing the fullness of the deity. Therefore I predict that Christ cannot ever be trivialized to completely fit inside our understanding - nor can other humans, who are capable of becoming like Christ. Indeed the universe itself was created for God to become incarnate into it as a human, and therefore to fully understand humanity would be nearly tantamount to fully understanding all of creation. We have a very, very long way to go before we can fully understand ourselves.

I do not mean to suggest that there will be no scientific progress on this front. I've already predicted that science will continue to progress in new and unexpected ways on many fronts. As in my first prediction, this seeming paradox - of continually advancing sciences being unable to fully comprehend humanity - actually serves to focus the prediction. I expect our future science to do wondrous things in understanding and simulating humans. For example, I think that it's inevitable that a computer will pass the Turing test. As another example, I even think that some form of AI might make very good jurors or judges in the judicial system. They could even be better than humans in some ways. Similarly, I think that we will eventually gain at least limited mind-reading and mind-control capabilities, due to scientific advances in understanding the brain. If, in the next few centuries, we're capable of using hard numbers to calculate the effects of a genetic treatment on the future history of some society, that would not surprise me.

But in this process of progress, as we achieve each new feat, we will find ourselves with an expanded conception of humanity. After all, we understand that the essence of humanity is not in our capacity for math calculations or chess or Jeopardy, now that we have tools like Wolfram Alpha and Deep Blue and Watson. Humanity is bigger than that. We're bigger than we think. As our achievements get bigger, we get bigger.

A full scientific understanding of ourselves will continue to elude us for a very long time, not because science will stagnate in the future (it will thrive), but due to the greatness of humanity. For we are made in the image of God, as rulers over the rest of creation, and joined with God through his incarnation as one of us.

These, then, are my predictions. And we already have overwhelming evidence for Christianity from our previous considerations. At this point, Christianity has done everything that can be asked of it on the question of science. For it has explained its axioms, its progress, its limits, and made predictions of its future.

The next post of this series will be the last one: a summary and conclusion for everything.

You may next want to read:
Science as evidence for Christianity (Summary and Conclusion) (Next post of this series)
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
How is God related to all other fields of study?
Another post, from the table of contents

Christian predictions on the future of science (part 1)

In the previous post of this series, we examined the limits of science as evidence for Christianity.

Thus far, we have seen that compared to atheistic worldviews, Christianity gives a better account of science in every way. Christianity explains the starting point of science, the trajectory of its progress, and what lies at or beyond its limits. Atheism explains nothing, and therefore must assume the axioms of science - the very thing it's supposed to explain - in order to gain any explanatory powers. But even while riding the coattails of science, atheism cannot explain the trends in scientific progress, nor anything beyond the limits of science.

There is only one more thing Christianity needs to do in order to completely subsume science: if, as I have claimed, science is the way it is because God created it that way for his deeper purposes, then we should be able to predict the future of science based on what we know of God. Predictions are difficult, and it's been said that nobody knows the mind of God. But with faith that we have the mind of Christ, I will venture to make some predictions.

There are necessarily some caveats: these predictions will not be easy to test; that may take a long time. Just as only the long-term, large-scale trends in science could serve as evidence to distinguish between Christianity and atheism, my predictions could also only be of that same type. I will not predict specific discoveries, but rather big trends. After all, you do not expect to use general relativity to predict the result of throwing dice. Because these predictions are big trends, I expect them to hold in general, but they may fail in eschatological scenarios. With all that out of the way, here are the predictions:

We start with an easy prediction: science will never disprove nor exterminate Christianity, nor will anything else. It may come close at times - The Bible warns of times when people will abandon sound teachings, and things which would deceive even the elect if that were possible. But if God is real, Christianity will survive until the end of the world. As Christians, then, we are not worried about existential risks, although we may (and almost certainly will) suffer greatly at times. So science will never destroy Christianity. Neither will alien invasions, runaway nanomachines, sentient algorithms, ecological catastrophes, new sociological or historical trends, or new philosophical arguments. Many of these things may be dangerous and may merit our concern, and may in fact play a part in the end of the world. But as Christians we believe that we will endure until that end.

We can also predict that the trends in science which served as evidence for Christianity will continue. They are, after all, evidence for Christianity because they're what Christianity predicts. Specifically, we can predict that:

Science will continue to take us further in understanding the scale of the universe, but the full scope of its dimensions will continue to elude human experience. The real universe will always be larger in size or smaller in the building blocks than what humans can experience, even though our experiences will continue to grow through science. For the universe was made to reflects God's vast glory, and although we are perpetually gaining new understanding of that glory, it will always lie beyond us.

Science will continue to move in new, unexpected directions. New discoveries will continue to be made and entire new fields of science will continue to open up. The universe will continue to be revealed as an intricate place, requiring ever deeper thoughts and creativity to understand - for it was built by the thoughts of God, with his infinite wisdom and understanding.

Science will continue to be unified into simpler and more fundamental laws, despite being more intricate and deeper in full understanding. Our current best theories cannot be the end of the line, for they do not yet reflect the simplicity of God. If we ever do discover the theory of everything, we will find that it has properties that approach the aspects of its maker - infinitely simple, yet infinitely complex in its perfectly consistent application.

Science will continue to provide humans with increasing power and knowledge, befitting our identity as pinnacles of God's creation who were made in his image and charged with its care. And in the future, when we look at the universe anew with our increased powers and understanding, we will still say that the world is just awesome and that science is worthwhile - for God created the universe to display his character, so that we can look upon it and learn more about him.

At this point you may be disappointed and say that all I've done is predict the future from the past. This does not invalidate these predictions, nor is it surprising. God is the same in the past or in the future: he will not suddenly change the nature of science or the universe. However, I understand that part of the value of a prediction lies in its dissimilarity from the past or the expected, so I have two more predictions that fit that criteria - which I will present in the next post of this series.

You may next want to read:
Christian predictions on the future of science (part 2) (Next post of this series)
For Christmas: the Incarnation
How physics fits within Christianity (part 1)
Another post, from the table of contents