Last week, Brad Edwards looked at the New Scientist’s claim that religious beliefs such as the rise of “New Calvinism,” is a mere survival reflex we are biologically disposed to. The potential problem he pointed out with the claim is that it assumes that a biological survival mechanism must be irrational. Christianity claims otherwise.
Here’s why Christianity (and specifically Calvinism) wins this cage match: Christians can absolutely affirm that humans are predisposed to supernatural belief. Those Calvinists that Time discussed point to the same scientific evidence (which is experimentally verifiable), yet drastically disagree with the New Scientist’s conclusion. If we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and intended to be in relationship with Him (Exodus 6:7), then of course we are physiologically predisposed to it!
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the New Scientist article: “Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain… Boyer points out that people expect their gods’ minds to work very much like human minds…” It is how and who we were created to be. Ironically, it would be far more damaging to religious belief if experiments showed that there was no physiological predisposition to belief.
In his #1 New York Times Bestseller, the Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Radical Skepticism, Tim Keller examines the anti-supernaturalist claims of philosophical naturalism. He likens it to a drunk who only looks for his key (a given natural or supernatural event) underneath a streetlight (science) because it simply “cannot” be in the dark outside the reach of the streetlight (where science cannot shed light or predict a supernatural event).
As vehemently as theism is claimed to be irrational, there is no more hard evidence supporting atheism or philosophical naturalism. It may come as a surprise to know that there are actually many theists in the scientific community who see the evidence pointing to a creator God, the most notable of which is the Director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins. In the Language of God, Collins explains that it was the sheer awe of the natural order that sparked faith in a God who has the capacity to create such a thing and the love to do so with so much beauty.
But the premise of the New Scientist’s argument begs the question: if religious belief is invalid due to it’s function as a survival mechanism, then is our interpretation of the data not also inherently flawed because it is also a survival mechanism? If supernatural belief somehow protects us from predators by creating an increased sense of caution (a popular claim), then how is our very reason any different? If every truth claim is traced back to evolutionary design, then even that claim is unreliable by the same reasoning. Nietzsche was perennially frustrated with this paradox when he said that all truth claims are attempts to exert power over another… including the claim that “all truth claims are attempts to exert power over another.” C.S. Lewis basically agreed when he said that he who attempts to see through everything ends up seeing nothing, and is truly blind.
So where does this leave us? We are left with the reality that the future is perennially uncertain and humans will continue to search for meaning, purpose, and comfort in that reality. New Calvinism is anything but new, for “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10). Indeed, it is a truly orthodox, historical, and foundational understanding of Christianity that has resurged every time our false hopes have been proven insufficient. On 9/11 our false hopes of naïve safety collapsed with the World Trade Center. Last year, our false hopes of financial comfort plunged with the stock market. In America, we have any number of comforts available to medicate and placate us. Yet we will always be disappointed when we make good things into god things (i.e. home ownership). Only trusting in an unchanging, good, and loving God will bring us the kind of hope and comfort to sustain us through crises, economic and otherwise.
After all, we were made for it.
Brad Edwards is a husband, seminary student and lover of all things urban. His favorite topics of writing are the intersections of culture and theology.