THE VALIDITY OF [CHRISTIAN] RELIGION (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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THE VALIDITY OF RELIGION (C. 1958)

By Malcolm Duncan Winter, Jr., Medical Internist

B.A. in Zoology, Wheaton College, M.D., Northwestern Uni­versity Medical School; three years at Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minn.; M.Sc. in Medicine, University of Minne­sota. Captain of U.S. Air Force, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.; Chief of Medicine, 29th TAC Hospital, Ellsworth. Specialist in Internal Medicine.

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The problem of the scientific validity of religion can be stated, more concretely, in the form of this question: Is there a God, and is He personally interested in man? I con­sider that question basic—basic to our very existence.

Although there are many philosophical reasons why there should be a God and why He should or should not have certain characteristics, there are really only two principal, elemental approaches to this question. The one deals with natural science, the other is historical and archeological in nature.

As to the first: Earth and the universe with all their com­plexities, life in its various forms, and finally man himself with his superior thinking ability are all too intricate to have just happened. Therefore there has to be a Master Mind, a Creator, behind it all. There must be a God. Since man is the zenith of all about him it would seem likely that his God would be interested in him, and therefore be a personal God.

As to the second approach, that can be made through what for centuries has been known as the Bible. This is really a collection of writings, or books, which originally were known as The Books, or The Scriptures—a collective name without a modifying adjective, indicating that they stood apart from, and above, ordinary literary productions. There are sixty-six of the books, written by a large number of writers over a span of some 1,400 years, and yet they form one systematic whole, with one central Figure—the Christ. Not­withstanding the fact that it took 1,400 years to write ‘The Books,” and many writers were engaged in their production, living in several different countries, the one frequently not knowing about the other, yet we find no contradictions of thought; instead, a marvelous unity. Besides, all the scientif­ically confirmable data of “The Books” have actually been confirmed by secular history and archeological findings to an amazing degree. So far as scientific data are concerned, the Bible stands—like a bulwark of the ages. And this same Bible maintains from beginning to end that there is a personal God.

On the other hand, what man believes, and why he believes what he does, is determined to a great extent by both his intelligence and his environment. His beliefs can be divided into those that are “factual” and those that are “theoretical.” To be absolutely sure that his factual beliefs are correct, he would have to derive each of them by application of the scientific method. Obviously this is impossible because they are both too numerous and too complex. He accepts them as being correct both because they are accepted by the society in which he lives and in the books which he reads, and because they prove valid as he uses them in his daily life.

Theoretical beliefs often prove themselves useful and are usually valid in the ways in which they are used. However, for various reasons they are not accepted by everyone, and application of the scientific method to prove them cannot be fully carried out because of lack of basic data with which to work.

According to these definitions belief in a personal God is a theoretical belief. The scientific method cannot be fully applied in proving it, and there are some who disagree that a personal God exists. Although both of the approaches men­tioned earlier point toward a personal God, neither of them establishes by the scientific method that He exists. Therefore the final choice of (1) belief, (2) agnosticism, or (3) atheism is left up to the individual.

The field of medicine deals with man as an individual under stress. It tries to analyze what he’s like and why he reacts the way he does. Therefore a very brief review of some medical precepts may be of value in a study of man’s belief in God.

All illnesses have to be evaluated in the light of two com­ponents, organic and psychic. A patient’s basic mental out­look or psyche to a large extent determines his reaction and attitude toward an illness. The psyche is hard to change and in many people it proves to be well-nigh impossible to alter. The well-adjusted individual usually remains well-adjusted. The neurotic usually remains neurotic. Psychotherapy helps superficially to alter a person’s psyche but usually fails to do more than that, and in cases of individuals with very trau­matic backgrounds often accomplishes little or nothing. Although, for example, an excessively compulsive personality might be somewhat improved through intensive psycho­therapy, many compulsive features will always remain. Sug­gestion may cure one manifestation of a hysterical personality only to have another crop up.

The Biblical statement, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” has proved itself to be very true. Man’s thought pattern is hard to alter. He is to a large extent a product—and some­times a victim—of his upbringing. Most children brought up in a certain set of beliefs will continue to adhere to them. If brought up in an atheistic society, they are likely to remain atheistic. If brought up Christian, they are likely to remain Christian.

Just because one has been taught to accept a certain set of beliefs doesn’t necessarily prove those beliefs are right, even though he feels they must be. This must be accepted as a basic premise. All of us are prejudiced, one way or the other.

Although a detached attitude may be maintained with reference to many problems that face us, such an attitude is impossible when it comes to answering the question, “Is there a personal God?” The question affects all of us to such an extent that we all have been influenced to think about it in various ways since early childhood. We cannot escape it. Nor should we try to escape it. As a question which is basic to our very existence it is one which needs answering.

My own personal conclusion is that the question can only be answered through a step of spiritual faith. This step is taken after inductive reasoning leads one to the conclusion that a personal God should exist. Once this conclusion is made, God himself confirms it by giving the individual a personal assurance of its validity that is unshakable. Call it prejudice if you wish—my personal testimony calls it more than that. Belief that there is a personal God is individual in scope. It can be arrived at by inductive reasoning, but can only be proved by supernatural means. Faith in God is the basis for belief in Him.

Faith has been defined in “The Books” as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Sir William Osler—prominent Canadian physician who practiced in the United States and England—defined faith as “the one great moving force we can neither weigh in the balance nor test in the crucible.” Belief in a personal God can never be achieved without it.

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