2

Context: before answering this question, I highly recommend reading the answers to Is Christianity testable? and What is the biblical basis for John Lennox's claim that Christianity is testable?.


Some Christians believe that Christianity is testable. At least John Lennox does. According to such Christians, what is a step-by-step guide on how to perform such a test?

I'm putting on my scientific hat here. Specifically, I'm interested in the following points:

  1. Is there a set of clear, specific, measurable, non-ambiguous conditions that need to be satisfied for the test to become successful?
  2. Is there a set of clear, specific, non-ambiguous steps that need to be carried out in sequence for the test to become successful?
  3. Are there clear time frames for each step of the test, or for the test as a whole?
  4. Are there clear, specific, non-ambiguous, measurable standards for evaluating the success or failure of the test?
  5. Is falsifiability on the table? That is, if the conditions of the test are perfectly satisfied and the steps are performed precisely as instructed, and yet the expected outcome of the test fails to take place, would that falsify the hypothesis underlying the test?
11
  • 2
    The scriptures are quite clear. Repent and be converted. The details regarding this consist of 39 books in Hebrew and 27 books in Greek. The whole of the revelation is called 'The Gospel'. It cannot be simplified. It has been expressed in full, for good reason. Obedience to the word of God is essential, as it is written.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 16:18
  • 1
    "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16). Depending on just what you are trying to "test", and how you approach it, you are potentially trying to prove something about an intelligent, omniscient and omnipotent entity who is deliberately skewing your results.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:34
  • @Matthew I'm happy with a test that Christians consider to be valid. Do you agree with John Lennox that Christianity is testable?
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:40
  • Christianity makes numerous truth claims - is there a specific claim you have in mind? E.g. Lennox appears to be focused on Christianity's transformative effect on human nature. Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:40
  • 1
    I think it's testable. I would even disagree (strongly!) with Anne that science can't test whether God exists. The problem isn't testability as such, it's that testing is potentially subject to hostile interference.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:46

3 Answers 3

5

"You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16). Depending on just what you are trying to "test", and how you approach it, you are potentially trying to prove something about an intelligent, omniscient and omnipotent entity who is deliberately skewing your results. With respect to "those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved", Scripture tells us God that "sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2).

Those who genuinely seek God are rewarded with an abundance of evidence. Those who resist God will be actively thwarted. Thus, an impartial test is not possible; the results depend on one's attitude going in.

That being said... where might one look for evidence? Well, you didn't specify what you meant by "Christianity", so at least three major areas of investigation come to mind.

Does God exist?

"Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral." — (God, The Failed Hypothesis, Victor J. Stenger, p.28)

This is absolute nonsense, and the entire field of Intelligent Design is dedicated to refuting it. By this logic, science would have to ignore the existence of humans, archaeology and forensics are not sciences, and Stonehenge was created by a receding glacier.

"What can be known about God is plain to [the unrighteous], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." (Romans 1:19-20)

Consider the device on which you're reading this. Did an intelligence play a role in its creation? Of course! We're intimately familiar with humans designing artifacts. We have no trouble attributing an oddly-shaped rock, or some discolorations on a cave wall, to human activity.

Materialists will claim that "human activity" is allowed in scientific inquiry because humans are tangible and observable. So... imagine if we found a Martian Stonehenge. The rocks have smooth sides, sharp corners, and are inscribed with what appears to be writing. Analysis of their placement shows that they function as a calendar and mark significant astronomical events. Because it's on Mars, it wasn't built by any known humans. What caused it to exist? Was it chance, natural processes, or was an unknown intelligence responsible? Is immediate knowledge of the responsible intelligence really necessary to conclude that intelligence played a part in the creation of some artifact?

We can ask the same questions about Life, The Universe and Everything. The overwhelming probability is that an intelligence, a Designer, is responsible for these. Materialists insist otherwise, but they have a priori excluded a Designer as a permitted explanation. They have done so on specious grounds.

Science can, and does, tell us that a Designer must exist. Science can, and does, give us confidence that Noah's Flood was an actual, global event that occurred a few thousand years ago.

What science can't tell us is the nature of the Designer. For that, we would need additional information... which we have in the form of Scripture, whose reliability is established through its historical and (occasionally) scientific accuracy.

Because we're dealing with historic investigation and cannot repeat Genesis 1 (or Genesis 6-11), there is no "step by step" process. Instead, we must look at things which exist and ask whether known "natural" processes are capable of producing them. On the plus side, this is absolutely falsifiable, by showing (without intelligent meddling) that natural selection can produce novel, complex features, or that a living organism can arise from non-living precursors.

Was Christ's Resurrection a real event?

The question "did a 'Jesus of Nazareth' exist?" is certainly answerable through historic sciences, and the consensus is "yes". Next, then, we must ask whether it's probably that the Resurrection happened, or that it did not.

To that, we should consider the numerous eyewitness reports, the explosive growth of Christianity, and the willingness of believers to be martyred for their beliefs. Jesus body was almost certainly not available to refute early belief in the Resurrection, and the sealed-and-guarded tomb would not have been easy to rob.

A search for "historical case for resurrection" turns up many articles that discuss these points in greater detail.

Again, since we're dealing with history, there is no step-by-step way to recreate the Resurrection. However, we could falsify Scripture's claims by showing that a more plausible explanation exists.

Does God actively work in the lives of Christians?

This seems to be the area that Lennox focuses on, and IMHO is the most difficult to test and the most susceptible to interference. Evidence will tend to be anecdotal, and establishing a controlled test would be very challenging. Moreover, as noted at the beginning, it would be quite easy for God to interfere with the results of such a test.

Imagine trying to test the hypothesis "people who play Dungeons and Dragons are more intelligent than people that don't". What is your criteria for "more intelligent"? How would you establish causation? What if effects aren't visible for a variable length of time? Can you answer your five questions for the D&D hypothesis?

Lennox's "test" for Christianity is not so different. It relies on a probability assessment; is it more probable that a correlation of positive outcomes indicates causation, or is it coincidence? IMHO it's actually more useful to investigate the first two areas first, since their truth or falsity will strongly influence the credibility of the hypothesis that Christian belief has a measurable effect.


In any case, the problem with "testing" Christianity is that God doesn't want us to approach Him like that. Besides those places where this is illustrated in Scripture, it should be obvious from the fact that God doesn't give us evidence that can't be misconstrued. That said, don't underestimate humans' ability to misconstrue evidence; "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:31). There is more than sufficient evidence that a) God exists, and b) Jesus is the Resurrected Christ. Those who doubt these things, who find ways to explain away the evidence in some other fashion, would almost certainly do so even for an "overt miracle". In the absence of evidence that simply cannot be explained in any other fashion — and I'm not sure we can even comprehend what such evidence might be — there is no "test" that can't be twisted such that the results provide the conclusion desired by the tester. Given that some people question God's existence, it is clear that He deigns to not give us such evidence.

This is true for "does God exist", where even voluminous evidence to the affirmative is twisted and reinterpreted as "proof" against God's existence... and this where we're dealing with fairly concrete, "hard" sciences. How much more, then, when we ask more subjective questions will any conclusion be suspect?

The problem, however, is not that "Christianity" cannot be subjected to empirical investigation, but rather that human nature is clearly demonstrated as being more than capable of overruling the results. Impartiality is an illusion (whoever does not follow God, opposes God; Matthew 12:30).

Thus, Anne, and your point 5, are on the right track. The only reliable way to "test" Christianity is in the way God instructs us; have faith first and look for it to be rewarded. God does tell us to test Him in this manner, but we must first be genuinely open to finding Him. Whoever seeks shall find, but whoever does not seek, even that which is plain shall be hidden from him and those who claim to be wise shall be made fools. (Matthew 7:7; Romans 1:22)


With all that said, let's try to directly reply to your points:

Is there a set of clear, specific, measurable, non-ambiguous conditions that need to be satisfied for the test to become successful?

I would say "no", or at least none that is obvious to me. However, if you can successfully complete the process steps, you probably will intuitively understand your conclusion without needing to put it in such quantitative terms.

Is there a set of clear, specific, non-ambiguous steps that need to be carried out in sequence for the test to become successful?

  • Approach nature open to the possibility that a Designer exists. If you can do this, you will find that the evidence is substantial, even overwhelming.
  • Approach Scripture (and especially Genesis 1-11) open to the possibility that it (especially Genesis 1-11 and the gospels) is historically accurate. If you can do this, you will again find that the evidence is substantial.
  • Approach Christianity open to the possibility that God acts in the world and in people's lives. If you can do this, you may find He is acting in your life, and you will likely see how He has acted in the lives of others.

Are there clear time frames for each step of the test, or for the test as a whole?

Here, I'm pretty confident the answer is "no". As with (1), you'll know when you've arrived, but only God knows how long that will take.

Are there clear, specific, non-ambiguous, measurable standards for evaluating the success or failure of the test?

Success? Not really; see (1) and (3). (I'm not counting "you die, stand judgement, and are redeemed through Christ". I'm assuming you want a 'success' condition that can be measured before that.) Failure? See next point.

Is falsifiability on the table?

Potentially. If it could be shown that the universe as we know it, and life as we know it, can be explained without intelligent intervention, that would certainly falsify traditional Christianity and would make it hard to recover belief in Scripture. The trick is to approach such evidence neutrally; many claim to have such proof, but those claims are not nearly so robust as they believe. As noted, lack of neutrality is a serious problem when it comes to establishing the reliability of such disproof.

If someone could produce Jesus' remains and somehow demonstrate that they really are the remains of Jesus, that would also be very strong evidence against Christianity.

3
  • Excellent, outstanding, very thorough answer, +1. Not accepting it just yet to let others have a chance.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 23:11
  • Update: accepted.
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 14:48
  • 1
    @Mark, thanks; glad you found it helpful!
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 16:07
5

Testability of Christianity There are different meanings to the word, "test." The passage in Deut. refers to impugning the character of God, testing His integrity, and doubting His faithfulness. The use of this word, test, by the questioner is different. It means the valid apologetic of showing the truthfulness of the Christian religion to honest inquirers. God is not offended by this inquiry; He invites us to come and let us reason together. He challenged Thomas to empirically verify His resurrection, as well. (touch, feel, observe, handle repeatedly)

Epistemology Many, overwhelmingly, aver that Christianity can be proven (tested for validity) by several means/methods. Which one is chosen depends, however on one's adopted Epistemology or method of coming to truth. These include:

  • Rationalism
  • Fideism
  • Mysticism, experientialism
  • Pragmatism
  • Empiricism
  • Evidentialism
  • or Combinationalism (a mixture of the above)

The posted Question has appealed to one who is "wearing a scientific hat." As such, the Guidelines would contain points that are contained in the Empirical Method, the division of Epistemology used by the modern "scientific method" in research.

Scientific Method This method of testing is called the Multiple Hypothesis Method. And it involves most, if not all, the step-by-step procedures listed by the Questioner.

OBSERVATIONS
Phenomena are observed in the microscopic or telescopic universe that illicit wonder, awe, to the point of inquiry and research.

HYPOTHESIS
A generalized statement (of the problem, or cause or explanation of the observation) is made using Inductive Logic and this is called an Hypothesis.

PREDICTIONS
Using Deductive Logic, a list of "Predictions" is made, that would be true, if the Hypothesis were valid. [If the hypothesis is true, then these conclusions must be reached.]

EXPERIMENTATION
To see if the Predictions are true many experiments are done. These experiments are varied according to the nature of the Hypothesis. Sometimes just one or two predictions are discovered to be false, but they don't substantially affect the major premise of the Hypothesis, so they are discarded, but the Hypothesis remains in tact.

THEORY
When all the predictions are tested and seen to be true, the Hypothesis advances to being called a Theory. Researchers recognize the validity of the Hypothesis at this stage, but with reservation (caution).

SCIENTIFIC LAW
When a Theory passes the Test of Time it reaches the status of Law. This Hypothesis is recognized as reliably true, and worthy of applying to other scientific endeavors. For example we have the Laws of Gravity. the Laws of Thermodynamics, etc.

Guideline If we used this step-by-step guide--as the requirement of this posted Question--where would Christianity stand? If we subjected Christianity to this testing, would Christianity be discovered to be not just a valid worldview, but the only valid worldview (religion)?

We repeat that there are many other methods to verify the Claims of Christians who teach Christianity as the divine revelation from the Only Wise God. But we aver that this scientific method will result in the same inescapable conclusion.

Falsifiability Is this method falsifiable? After all, any proposition or hypothesis that is not subject to being falsified, is not a valid proposition. [For example: Hypothesis of multiple universes! No scientist could venture out of this universe to know or not know.]

But this method of scientific hypotheses is falsifiable. Recall the information from Biology textbooks:

In practice, scientific research usually progresses most rapidly when several possible alternate hypotheses which would explain the situation are put forward. This is because, formally, a theory can never be proved. It can only be disproved. (Karen Arms and Pamela Camp, BIOLOGY, N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1979, p. 3)

Proving the Christian Religion

So, how does the Christian religion size up according to this method? Apologetic books have worked this out in minute detail, and it would take up too much space here to list the full proof. But here is a condensed summary:

OBSERVATIONS
We see a temporal, physical universe that had a beginning.
We observe the immensity of the cosmos and the vast power caused to exist.
We are able to calculate the Laws of Nature according to mathematical equations.
We observe life with its extraordinary, detailed characteristics.
We notice the existence of Mind and Feelings, with the ability to communicate through writing in a coherent manner.

HYPOTHESIS (MODEL)
Using inductive reasoning, we posit the existence of an Almighty God as the Cause for the being of the universe, the Creator of life, and the instigator of Mind.

PREDICTIONS
If there is a Creator of the human mind we would expect Him to be able to communicate with His creatures.
If there is a God with a rational Mind we would expect the Universe to exhibit order.
If there is a God-creator we would expect Him to be able to suspend the Laws of Physics at will.
If there is an invisible spirit God with the ability to create physical things, He should be able to materialize at will, and reveal Himself to His Creation. We would expect Him to:
...Enter the world supernaturally.
...Demonstrate His power over nature.
...Teach the highest philosophy of ethics, morality and justice.
...He should demonstrate power over death.
...He should leave the world supernaturally...etc.
And ifGod made revelation to mankind, we would expect that He present a religion that supplies man with adequate answers to the basic needs of the human dilemma, and existential questions.

THEORY BY FULFILMENTS
When the hypothesis of the Almighty God, based on our observation of the universe and life in it, has been put to the test, it is found that the fulfilments of the predictions are complete!

Not only do the requirements for an orderly, mathematical universe find fulfilment in God (Einstein quipped that God did not play dice with the universe.), but the building blocks of life--DNA with needed information--require a Creator God, not randomness. The historical record shows the communicability of God with mankind (through the prophets of old), culminating in the supernatural Christmas birth of Messiah who manifested divinity from start to finish! His teaching has supplied mankind with a satisfying understanding of answers to the existential questions of life.

INDUCTIVE CONCLUSION
When we consider the two thousand years of Christian history as a test of time, Christianity is seen as a verified Law of this Universe. It is mandatory that we conclude that the hypothesis of a Theistic Universe is correct. The predictions are not unproven. Christianity is the most reasonable hypothesis to explain all the facts, exposing alternative worldviews as deficient. "God" (Theism) renders the universe metaphysically intelligible, as well as scientifically meaningful, weaving universal circumstances with a causal chain of immense veracity.

Theism (Christianity) explains the world (cosmogony, cosmology), man (nature, nurture), and human history (origin and destiny) more comprehensively and more satisfactorily than alternative models which fall short and tend to self-destruct at some point.

Resources This is merely a drastically short summary, but more detailed presentations exist. See writings of Bernard Ramm, Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, A.J. Hoover, E.J. Carnell, L.R. Bush, John Blanchard, Lord Hailsham, Peter Kreeft, Robert Morey, Rene Decartes, Greg Koukl, John Locke, C.S. Lewis, William Paley ,Thomas Aquinas, and the many scientists who are Believers. The Christian model is subject to falsifiability, but is instead, verified. And the passage of time confirms its truthfulness. As J.B. Philips noted, when struck as a large bell, there is something about it that "rings true."

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 1788)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handywork. (Psalm 19:1)

That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the Creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even the eternal power and Godhead. (Romans 1:19,20) (See also Job 12:7-10; chapters 38-41)

Postscript
Those Christians who subscribe to the doubters' (atheists, humanists, naturalists) narrative that Science cannot say anything about the Existence of God are forgetting that God's fingerprints are all over the universe! (And that His footprints are on the shores of Galilee.)

It is contradictory for atheists to say "Physical Science says nothing about God" (science is neutral), but then turn about and aver that "Science proves there is no God (which they teach university students). As well, atheism is not "falsifiable" and is therefore, not a valid worldview. (It is impossible to prove a 'universal negative.')

Many scientists in history have found reasons to believe in God through their knowledge of the physical universe. (Newton, Kepler, Babbage, Boyle, Davy, Fabre, Faraday, Joule, Kelvin, Maxwell, Mendel, Mendelev, Pascal, Pasteur, Riemann Simpson, Bacon, Morse, Von Braun, Margenau)

It is true God cannot be squeezed into a vial or test tube, and analyzed with mechanical or chemical instrumentation. But none of physical and biological reality (existence, operation, balance, viability, information) can be satisfactorily explained without Him and His creative powers.

Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not for the glory of our mind, but rather, above all else, for the glory of God. (Johann Kepler, discoverer of proof for heliocentricity.)

4

This type of question is best answered with "a scientific hat" removed, because the testability of Christianity cannot be done via scalpels, test-tubes or bunsen-burners. It cannot be chemically analysed or compared with anything of a material nature. Indeed, scientists recognise the clear differentiation that must be made between science and Christianity.

The US National Academy of Sciences said,

"Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral." - (God, The Failed Hypothesis Victor J. Stenger p.28)

If you read Who Made God? In search of a theory of everything by Edgar Andrews, you will learn how this scientist, who is a Christian, explains the hypothesis of God, and takes Stenger to task, in the process.

Although Albert Einstein rejected the idea of a personal God and might be described as a pantheist, he complained,

"In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views." Einstein: The Life and Times Ronald W. Clark, p.425

Note how scientists of a very high calibre are usually careful not to rule out the possibility for the existence of God, nor of what is loosely called 'supernatural miracles'. Theists do not just say that it's possible for God to exist, they would argue that there is evidence of the God of the Bible breaking through into human experience and making himself known, supremely through the person of Jesus Christ. They believe their faith in God is warranted due to God's self-revelation. Evidence is not proof, but proof has to start with evidence.

And although most of the world religions believe in the existence of a personal God, it is significant that Christians who are scientists, mathematicians, scholars etc have written a massive amount of literature giving reasons for why they think Christianity has been tested, and proven true. You will find virtually all of them have experienced the reality of a resurrected, living Christ, with whom they have come into a living relationship with the living God. I have quite a long list of modern-day scientists who have written on this topic, but providing such a list here would not constitute an answer to this question.

Step 1 is accepting that God exists and seeking him through the means he has provided - "Repent and be converted" he demands.

Step 2 is only unambiguous for those who take Step 1 in faith and begin to waken up to how they have a need to relate to God's chosen means of intelligent communication - the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Step 3 has no set time-frame that we can determine, for it is God's prerogative to commence the start of the search with each individual, and to determine when he brings the seeker to spiritual life (i.e. a Christian.)

Step 4 makes each person who has successfully got to a happy end of Step 3 smile wryly. Only a person who does not know what it is to be brought to newness of spiritual life by God would even think to ask the question in Step 4.

Step 5. The falsifiability of Christianity is usually determined by those examining it as just one more religious system, and seeing all the faults and downright errors of such a system. Yet however many such faults and errors they find in a system does not prove false the claims of Christ (i.e. what he says Christianity is). It just exposes the flaws of followers, or the downright hypocrisy of false claimants to being followers of Christ.

2
  • @ Anne - It is ironic to list a quotation alleging the neutrality of science by an org that is NOT neutral! Individual scientists do quite often admit Belief in God. But national science organizations and teachers orgs are usually vehemently adverse to topics of Faith (as they interpret Faith). And believing scientists are often mute for fear of discrimination, loss of funding, loss of tenure, etc.
    – ray grant
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 2:01
  • @raygrant Oh, that irony is not lost on me! The quote is in a book by an avowed disbeliever in God! But note how the scientist and Christian who quoted it in his book supporting the hypothesis of God takes that disbeliever to task. You would appreciate Andrews' book. Science organizations avoid topics of faith because they know it's not within their remit.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 9:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .