Both Rev’d Clive Watts, Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity church, and Rev’d Neil Jones, Lead Minister at Barrow Baptist Church responded with thoughtful letters to Gaynor Barton’s article on humanism in the spring issue of the Barrow Voice They wrote a joint response for the paper version of the Barrow Voice, but here are their individual responses. First, we hear from Clive.
I read with great interest Gaynor Barton’s article on humanism in the Spring Edition of Barrow Voice and welcomed the invitation for responses from faith leaders in Barrow. I’d like to share my thoughts in response to that article.
Humanism draws on science and human reason to dismiss the existence of God and looks for an ethical and moral code that is independent of faith or religious belief. Christian faith does not have a ‘ready-made code of behaviour’ as suggested in Gaynor’s article, but is instead founded on Jesus’ teaching to love one another as God has loved us and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Kindness, respect and compassion for others are at the heart of our faith. Whilst you don’t need a religious faith to live a good, and ethical life, for Christians their faith and relationship with God provides an example and a framework for this. Our Christian faith is lived out every day, in our prayer, worship, community service, witness and above all our love for others.
Christians believe that God created everything that exists and even though we are imperfect, he loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. In fact, he wants this so much that Jesus came to earth to live as one of us and to die for us so that we could have that relationship with him and be his followers. We believe that there’s more to life than just our time on earth, and that through Jesus, God offers eternal life to all who receive the gift of his son Jesus Christ. Christians believe that God sends his Holy Spirit to dwell in us and support and sustain our relationship with him. Bishop Martyn, the Bishop of Leicester wrote, “The most important decision anyone can make is to become a follower of Jesus. It may not always make life easier, but life is always better when lived in relationship with him.”
Much of humanism presupposes that science somehow disproves faith, however for many Christians, including me, a background in scientific research supports and strengthens our faith rather than denying it. I remember a leading international geneticist telling me how her research into DNA made sense of her faith in God, and how her faith made sense of her research. In my work as a Stroke specialist, understanding how brain injury could affect every part of the human body and life led me to reflect on how the complexity of the human brain could not be the result of mere chance but a signpost to the wonder and complexity of God’s creation and his immense love for us. Christianity has long been a patron of scientific research and education; many leading scientists such as Faraday, Newton and Fleming drew on their Christian faith to inform their scientific theories.
The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, celebrated by Christians at Easter, together with the many miracles recorded throughout his life are a matter of faith and belief rather than of pure science; though science has been drawn on to both prove and disprove their plausibility. Gaynor writes “Can a dead man really rise again? Science says not.” By contrast, Ian Hutchinson, Professor of Nuclear Science at MIT believes in the resurrection of Jesus and recently wrote “Science cannot and does not disprove the resurrection.” He is joined in this belief my many leading scientists across the world. Hutchinson comes to his conclusion by balancing scientific evidence for the resurrection alongside science’s inability to disprove it, comparing this with the historic evidence both biblical and from other sources to support the resurrection of Jesus. He finishes by saying the “presumption that science has shown the resurrection to be impossible is an intellectual cop-out. Science shows no such thing.” As a Christian my belief in Jesus’ miracles and resurrection comes from my faith in him and is a core element of that faith, my faith is further informed and enhanced by my background as a clinical scientist rather than calling it into question.
Gaynor suggests that humanism replaces the biblical story of creation with the Big Bang Theory of the creation of matter. In contrast, I would suggest that the biblical account, written thousands of years ago with a limited scientific understanding, is explained and enhanced by our scientific understanding rather than being replaced by it. Contrary to popular myth, Charles Darwin was not an atheist, though he did question his Christian faith at times. In his autobiography of Darwin, Barlow writes, “Darwin could not conceive how the universe could have been the result of ‘blind chance and necessity’; all this must have had a ‘First Cause’ with an intelligent mind.” In other words, Darwin believed that the creation of the universe and subsequent evolution requires a divine creator rather than a cosmic coincidence. As a Christian I would agree with Darwin and I would identify God as that divine presence causing and guiding his wonderous creation, bought about by the big bang. Christianity and scientific theories of creation are not mutually exclusive, rather they inform and support each other.
If you would like to know more about the Christian faith, please visit the faith pages on our church website, www.barrowandwoldsgroup.com or get in contact with us. If you would like to know more about Christianity and science, have a look at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion; a Cambridge-based interdisciplinary research institute improving public understanding of religious beliefs in relation to the sciences. Their website is at www.faraday.cam.ac.uk
Rev’d Clive Watts
Priest in Charge, Holy Trinity Church, Barrow upon Soar
Neil Jones wrote:
In the spring edition of Barrow Voice, Gaynor Barton invites response to her article on Humanism from the faith leaders of Barrow (p.15), to which I give my response.
Easter and spring may be distant memories by the time you read this response, and hopefully, as a nation, we are enjoying greater freedoms from coronavirus restrictions than we have had for over a year. Eastertime is the special time of the year when Christians remember the death of Jesus and celebrate his rising from the dead.
Christianity is centred on this event. It is the place where the promises of God, including a new and meaningful life in God, are to be found. In agreement with the author of the article in question, we know that people don’t just rise from the dead, it’s not natural. However, Jesus’ super-natural rising from the dead is the demonstration that our earthly death is not the end, and that there is more to life now when in relationship with God.
The moral and ethical aspects of Christianity are for our benefit (concerning Humanism’s scepticism of Christian values, is there anything to be cynical about in the directions, ‘Do not murder’ and ‘Do not steal’?) and they flow from a desire to live in right relationship with God, each other and ourselves. The evidence of this in our lives are love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control – all aspects of God’s character.
Sadly, a reputation abounds that Christianity and science are opposed to one another; that if you follow one, you must reject the other. This is not true. Christianity offers a ‘why’ answer to the universe and life; science offers a ‘how’. Imagine a cake is presented to you. Forensic science could tell us how it was made and when it was made. Only the cook could tell us why it was made. This is the relationship that ought to exist between science and faith.
This world we live in has been crafted by God. Whether this was a process that took billions of years or six days doesn’t matter – there are countless Christians who believe both. What matters is that we have been made in God’s own likeness, which means that we have potential to be creative, responsible and caring. As image-bearers of God, we have a responsibility to govern the world in a godly manner; behaving conscientiously, caring for one another, and protecting all life and the environment.
The last thing to say is that God loves you and everybody else, whoever they are and wherever they live – each person is therefore intrinsically valuable and each life is worthwhile. In addition, God has a plan and a purpose for your life. This means that you are not a random set of chemical reactions, or a happy accident, that just happens to exist. You are so much more than that. You are an individual that is known, loved and cared for by a loving and caring God. If you wish to find out more, please visit www.barrowbaptist.org.uk/alpha or speak to any of the church leaders in the village.
Thank you for reading,
Rev’d Neil Jones
Minister of Barrow Baptist Church, Barrow upon Soar