by Jay Johansen | Dec 3, 2006
My local paper has a regular column by an atheist. His latest (June 2006) is titled, "UFOs and Other Nonsense". The point of the article is to link Christianity with superstition and pseudo-science. In a key example he writes, "Christian fundamentalists accept the existence of UFO aliens … skepticism about UFO aliens could encourage skepticism about other beliefs."
I just spent hours searching the Internet for any corroboration of this claim. I found only two surveys on the subject, and both flatly contradict the columnist. A survey by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis found that 70% of "non-churchgoers" believe that there is life on other planets, but only 46% of "churchgoers". A survey of ministers, priests, and rabbis by the National Institute for Discovery Sciences found that 77% said that contact with alien beings would not threaten their beliefs, but only 12% believe that any such contact has occurred to date, by UFOs or any other means. (Their report didn't separate out "fundamentalists", but Protestants were less likely to believe in UFOs than Catholics or Jews.)
The only evidence the writer offers for this claim is that the wise sage Carl Sagan says it's so. All his other supposed "facts" are attributed to unnamed "scientists". The whole point of this article is to attack Christians for being anti-science and generally muddle-headed, but he offers no scientific evidence to back up any of his claims, no experiments or research. We are supposed to believe him purely on the basis of the weakest of all arguments: the appeal to authority. If a Christian said that we should believe something because God says so in the Bible, this atheist would surely laugh at our gullibility. But then he tells us that because Carl Sagan said it, we must believe without question. After all, Sagan is a scientist, and scientists are to be respected because they have done so many impressive things, like discovering the law of gravity, genetics, and quantum physics. But neither Sagan nor most of the other "scientists" who ridicule the supposed anti-scientific attitudes of Christians accomplished any of those things: they just call themselves by the same name as these great men and expect to automatically receive the same respect. Indeed, the examples I just gave were the discoveries of Isaac Newton (gravity), Gregor Mendel (genetics), and Max Planck (quantum physics) -- all devout Christians. The scientific method itself is generally credited to Roger Bacon. Bacon first described his ideas in his book Opus Majus, which happens to also include a call for more teaching of the Bible in schools.
While I was researching this article, I came across this interesting historical tidbit: In the 1860s, atheist Francis Galton wrote that the "priestly mind" was not conducive to science. At the same time that he was writing this, a devout Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel was laying the groundwork for modern genetics.
I'd love to refute this atheist's other arguments point by point, but I just don't have the time: It takes a lot longer to do research and actually find the truth than to just make things up.
© 2006 by Jay Johansen
Basil Jan 20, 2016
It appears that Planck was avowedly not a Christian, but instead a Deist:
Moreover, if you read more about Newton you will find that he reject the notion of the trinity and perhaps even the divinity of Christ.
So while all three men you list believed in a Creator, only Mendel can be called a conventional Christian.
So perhaps do some fact checking before you complain about other people not doing fact checking.
Jay Johansen Jan 23, 2016
This article was originally written as a letter to the editor of a newspaper, and so was subject to sharp length limits.
Perhaps I was inaccurate in saying that Planck was a "devout Christian". I don't know enough about his beliefs to say that. But he certainly believed in God and that Jesus Christ was not just an ordinary man. One can easily find many quotes from the man critical of atheism.
I read the quote you cite saying that Planck was a deist. But plenty of quotes from Planck indicate something quite different. For example, he wrote, "All matter arises and persists only due to a force that causes the atomic particles to vibrate, holding them together in the tiniest of solar systems, the atom. Yet in the whole of the universe there is no force that is either intelligent or eternal, and we must therefore assume that behind this force there is a conscious, intelligent Mind or Spirit." That is, he believed (or at least speculated) that God was constantly engaged in holding the universe together at the very atomic level. Such a belief is pretty much the opposite of Deism.
He also said, "“Farsighted theologians are now working to mine the eternal metal from the teachings of Jesus and to forge it for all time." Indicating at least some sympathy for Christianity.
Yes, I've read that Newton rejected the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. Someday I would like to find an explanation in his own words of his position on the subject. But read his "Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St John" and it is clear that he took the Bible as literal and authoritative. In that book he refers to Jesus as "Christ" and "Messiah". He discusses his virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and Second Coming. He says that Christ will reign forever and ever. He talks about worshipping Christ. Clearly Newton did not think that Jesus was simply some "good teacher". While he may have rejected the Trinity per se, it is difficult to find anything in his discussion of Christ that a Trinitarian would disagree with.