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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Non-Negotiables of Christianity

Many of us have been wondering what it means to be a Christian. Can Christianity be made compatible with science?

Bill Dembski has the answer on BioLogos at Southern Baptist Voices: Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?.
Non-Negotiables of Christianity:
  • (C1) Divine Creation: God by wisdom created the world out of nothing.
  • (C2) Reflected Glory: The world reflects God’s glory, a fact that ought to be evident to humanity.
  • (C3) Human Exceptionalism: Humans alone among the creatures on earth are made in the image of God.
  • (C4) Christ’s Resurrection: God, in contravention of nature’s ordinary powers, raised Jesus bodily from the dead.
Decide for yourselves. Is Christianity compatible with science? Are there Christians who are prepared to abandon one of more of these "non-negotiable" in order to make science and Christianity compatible? Are there accommodationsts who think that Dembski's version of Christianity is compatible with science? with evolution?


  1. Non-negotiable statements? There you have it: why Intelligent Design can never be considered scientific.

  2. If one twists and turns enough, C1 might be compatible with science (see Lawrence Krauss, "A Universe from Nothing").

    1. Raul A. Félix de SousaWednesday, May 09, 2012 9:36:00 PM

      Twist a little bit more, and even C2 may become compatible with science, because, in the absence of C3 (defining an anthropomorphic god) and C4 (claiming a christian god), the idea of what exactly a god is gets so malleable and abstract that the reverence towards nature that often characterises those who love science may be equated to a form of pantheism.

  3. @Elf: Science also has non-negotiables, most obviously a commitment to consistent and evidence-based reasoning.

  4. The question of whether or not such assertions are compatible with science pales into comparison to whether such statements are compatible with any reasonable epistemology.

  5. How, exactly, is one to discover that the world reflects God's glory? The ocean certainly reflects the sun; if this is God's glory then I've completely misunderstood Christianity.

    Human exceptionalism went out with Skinner's denial that non-humans had mental states. I remember a very old illustration in the Scientific American of a mentalistic Coke machine with four states: waiting; got a nickel, waiting for another nickel; got two nickels, dispensing a Coke; got a dime, dispensing a Coke.

    1. The IQ of Coke machines has evolved considerably since then. Our machines require $2.00 so there are many other states. Our machines also have evolved one other state not covered in the Scientific American example: "got $2.00, dispensing nothing."

  6. While those may be non-negotiables for many christian sects, none of them are requirements of the American (originally named: Northern) Baptist sect in which I was raised. I was taught that whenever evidence and reason disagree with religious ideas always abandon the religious ideas.

    The most famous minister from this sect, MLK Jr., was a supporter of science including evolution. Sadly this sect, which split from the southerners over slavery in the early 19th century, has been slowly vanishing for decades.

  7. Actually, C2 is just fine, once you translate the improperly defined terms to something concrete and jump to an appropriate metaphorical interpretation:

    "The world" here is clearly intended to mean "the universe".
    "God", in the usual physicist interpretation, also means "the universe".
    "God's glory" is a rather fuzzy notion, but the key notion is the claim that the adjective "glorious" is a fitting description of the universe.
    "reflects" is a strange verb to use, but here it clearly just means "indicates".

    So we have "The universe indicates the gloriousness of the universe". Literally speaking, this is gibberish, but it's not that much of a stretch to interpret it metaphorically as "The gloriousness of the universe is evident". The redundant "a fact that ought to be evident to humanity" boosts my confidence that "is evident" is in line with what Dembski meant.

    Finally, in a scientific context it is appropriate to move from a binary "glorious-or-not" view to a more quantitative "degree-of-gloriousness" view. So we end up with "The degree of gloriousness of the universe can be quantified and would turn out to be high." This is clearly not a scientific non-negotiable, but should be given the status of a hypothesis - it's not incompatible with science.

    Of course whether it is evident (the "can be quantified" part) is a red herring, the real non-negotiable that Dembski should have stated is the idea that the universe (or God, or whatever) is "glorious" in the first place. I think this is indeed formally a non-negotiable in many versions of Christianity, although I wonder how widely it is accepted by actual Christians. It may not even be more widely accepted by Christians than by non-Christians.

  8. That is a word salad if ever I saw one. Glory? Wisdom? What the hell does this mean? There is a priest where I work who tells his students that Jesus is "perfect". What does THAT mean? They hide their nonsense behind these nebulous words that have no real meaning. I guess we can conclude from this that Dembski really is a garden variety creationist.

  9. That is a word salad if ever I saw one. Glory? Wisdom? What the hell does this mean? There is a priest where I work who tells his students that Jesus is "perfect". What does THAT mean? They hide their nonsense behind these nebulous words that have no real meaning. I guess we can conclude from this that Dembski really is a garden variety creationist.

  10. C3 needs some comments and discussions about the degree of exceptionality, but all in all i can't see anything uncompatible with science in these statements
    i can't call myself christian with confidence, but i'll abandon anything obviously unscientific without a doubt.

    btw i know some people who still believe that the world was created in 5585 (or when it is said?) BC

  11. just remembered

  12. Who died and made Dembski the pan-Christian Pope?

    What do you mean by "Christianity being compatible with science"? 1. Historically compatible? Of course it is. Virtually all of the early founders of science were Christians and scientists all along have been and continue to be Christians. Some people think science arose in Europe because religion led to people expecting that universal laws should be there. 2. Psychologically? Of course, for the same reasons as 1. 3. Religiously? Yes, certainly as just about all Christians accept parts if not all of science. Even biblical fundamentalists have successfully obtained degrees in science from fully accredited university departments and have published papers in credible, reviewed journals. There isn't any reason for religion to not take whatever science can discover and put it to use. 4. Scientifically? No. Non-scientific information is kept out of science by mutual agreement and on the basis of incompatibility.

    Is betting on poker compatible with science? How about playing the slots or horse racing? I know plenty of people who work in science who would have to be cast out if violations of the laws of probability and the backsliding on the idea of luck were deemed fatally incompatible.

  13. "Word salad" one of the sillier of the new atheist thought blocks that quite often means "I don't like what was said" when it doesn't mean, "I'm not going to bother out what that means". "Word salad" is word salad.