What's So Great about Christianity

What's So Great about Christianity<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Sean McDowell
I recently picked up a copy of What's So Great about Christianity (2007), by Dinesh D'Souza, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. Although D'Souza's background is primarily in domestic policy, he has established himself as a significant apologist with the release of this recent book. In fact, What's So Great about Christianity is one of the most eloquent, researched and forceful responses to the recent barrage of anti-Christian books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and the like. While there are a few points of which I would disagree with D'Souza, his book is overwhelmingly an excellent and timely read.
Even though these "new atheists" are making waves in the public arena like never before, D'Souza is convinced that atheism is on its way out. One of the most important developments of our time, according to D'Souza, is the global revival of religion. One of the reasons some atheists are making so much noise is because they are losing ground-hence, the renewed effort by atheists to explain away religion as a byproduct of evolution. Harvard's Stephen Pinker, for example, has suggested that evolution gave us a "God module" in the brain which predisposes people to believe in the Almighty. It may serve no purpose, says Pinker, as it may have evolved as a byproduct of other modules with evolutionary value. In simple terms, this means there is no evolutionary explanation. D'Souza asks a pointed question: "If a 'God module' produces belief in God, how about a '<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Darwin module' that produces belief in evolution?" (15)
D'Souza points out that many of the "new atheists" are not content in merely expressing their ideas-they want to take your children with them: "The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents' beliefs" (31). Defenders of the new atheism are quick to assert that they are not trying to inoculate kids, but merely stand up for science. But D'Souza points out that the wide majority of students are scientifically illiterate in all aspects of science. So, why isn't there a movement to teach photosynthesis, Boyle's law, or Einstein's theories, as there is for evolution? To D'Souza, the answer is simple: "This is why we have Darwinism but not Keplerism; we encounter Darwinists but no one describes himself as an Einsteinian. Darwinism has become an ideology" (32).
Much of What's So Great about Christianity is an explanation of the positive aspects Christianity has brought to the world, and in particular, Western culture. Despite incessant claims in the media that religion is harmful, D'Souza powerfully defends the overwhelmingly positive legacy Christianity has had on the world. Consider a few points he brings out.
1.      Secular values are the products of Christianity, even if they have been severed from their original source. The separation of the realms of church and state has always been central to Christianity. In Matthew 22:21 Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's." This is not the result of the Enlightenment.
2.      Christianity made family life far more important than it ever was in the past.
3.      Christianity shifted the focus from the rich and powerful to the common man.
4.      Christendom developed a new notion of romantic love.
5.      Christianity introduced consent as the prerequisite for marriage.
6.      Christianity introduced a new model of influence: servant leadership.
7.      Christianity brought a powerful emphasis on compassion.
8.      Christians built the first hospitals.
9.      The modern concept of freedom has been inherited from Christianity.
10.  Christians were the first group in history to begin an anti-slavery movement.
11.  Finally, Christianity brought true equality for all human beings, because of the doctrine of being made in the image of God. This laid the basis for all modern doctrines of human rights.
Christianity and Science
            One of the reasons the "new atheists" are so confident is because they believe science is on their side. But with tremendous recent advances in our knowledge of the complexity and diversity of life, nothing could be further from the truth. It is also ironic that modern science is an invention of medieval Christianity. The greatest breakthroughs in scientific history have largely been at the hands of Christians. Atheistic scientists work under Christian assumptions (namely, that we live in a rational universe that operates according to laws which are understandable to the human mind), even if they deny them. D'Souza asks, "So where did Western man get this faith in a unified, ordered, and accessible universe? How did we go from chaos to cosmos? My answer, in a word, is Christianity" (93). Some of the leading scientists have been Christians: Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Boyle, Galileo, Pascal, Mendel, Pasteur, and more.
            In the middle chapters of the book, D'Souza makes a powerful case for design in the universe. He points to the beginning of the universe as compelling evidence for a creator: "In stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light" (116). Even Einstein tried to avoid this conclusion because he knew that a beginning of the universe strongly implied a beginner. Amazingly, the Bible stands alone as the only ancient document positing an absolute beginning. What the Bible has held to be true for a few millennia now has powerful scientific support.
            D'Souza also points to the failure of naturalism to account for the fine-tuning of the universe as well as the origin of life. In fact, says D'Souza, these are problems for which naturalistic scientists are not even remotely close to solving. All explanations, such as the multiverse, are plagued with problems. Even biologist Franklin Harold admitted that the origin of life is one of the "unsolved mysteries of life" (147). The reason many atheists reject design in the universe is not for lack of evidence, but because of their pre-commitment to naturalism. Steven Pinker puts his cards on the table: "Because there are no alternatives, we would almost have to accept natural selection as the explanation of life on this planet even if there were no evidence for it" (160).
Responding to Common Criticisms against Christianity
            Prominent atheists commonly object that Christianity has caused incredible bloodshed in the world. D'Souza makes a few key points in response. First, the crimes committed by religious fanatics pale in comparison to those committed by atheistic fanatics. In the 20th century alone, atheistic regimes were responsible for over 100 million deaths. Even if we compensate for higher population levels, the violence caused by Christian rulers over a 500 year period amounts to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao in just a few decades. Furthermore, atheism is intrinsic rather than incidental to their ideology. Some people have done some horrible things in the name of Christ, but clearly these actions go against his teachings. In other words, they were acting in spite of their convictions, whereas it can be argued that atheistic regimes, says D'Souza, acted consistently with their beliefs.
Point of Disagreement
            One key point of which I disagree with D'Souza is his take on faith. He sees beliefs such as life after death and the existence of heaven as mere acts of faith, impossible to verify. Rather than being knowledge claims, he sees them as faith claims. In his view, faith takes over when knowledge ends. Thus, he defines faith as, "a statement of trust in what we do not know for sure" (195). While I agree that faith does not necessarily mean certainty, the Christian tradition is one of knowledge. Faith should more properly be understood as being built on knowledge. The disciples had faith in the God of the Bible, and they also believed that they could know it to be true. As J.P. Moreland points out in his recent book The Kingdom Triangle, the word "knowledge" appears far more often in the Bible than "faith." In fact, one in every four verses in the book of 1 John has the word, "know."
            There actually can be evidence for life after death, despite D'Souza's claim that it is merely faith. In Beyond Death, Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland trace how there is scientific evidence for the continued existence of consciousness after physical death. And there can be evidence for heaven as well. Before his death, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for his followers in heaven (John 14:2-3). Any evidence, therefore, for the resurrection of Jesus counts in favor of the reality of heaven. These are minor points of disagreement, though. D'Souza is to be commended for a first-rate defense of the Christian faith. I highly recommend his book. And I hope this is the first of many to come.

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