The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST Chris Mulherin

Chris Mulherin
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Episode 42

Chris Mulherin: Episode Description

On this episode of The Inspiration Project, Brendan Corr talks to Rev. Dr. Chris Mulherin about the supposed conflict between Christianity and science. What it means to reconcile truth against an objective reality, understanding the shared nature of faith, how Chris came to faith and whether Chris has had to deal with doubt questions about what is true and what is not.

Among other things Chris shares:

  • How Chris came to faith
  • The conflict myth
  • What is truth and what is not
  • What it means to reconcile truth against an objective reality
  • How to understand the shared nature of faith
  • Losing his son Ben and dealing with the question of where is God in this tragedy?
  • What is it about the story of Christ - incarnation, salvation and redemption that speaks to Chris?

Chris Mulherin: Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christians share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Inspiration Project, the podcast where we talk to prominent Christians about how they came to faith and how they integrate that faith with their professional practice, particularly those that have been able to enjoy a measure of success in their professional practice.

Brendan Corr
I’m absolutely personally delighted to have the chance today to talk to the Rev. Dr. Chris Mulherin. Chris is the executive director of ISCAST, an organisation that brings together Christians who are also in the area of science, research, and science education. With that background myself, I’m really looking forward to this conversation today. Rev. Dr. Mulherin is an Anglican minister. He has a personal background in engineering, philosophy, and theology. Before commencing with ISCAST, he filled various roles, including that of locum ministers at different Anglican churches, Scripture Union, 13 years is a missionary in Argentina with his family. He’s the publisher of a number of books. His most recent book is Science and Christianity: Understanding the Conflict Myth, which is designed to be used by young people in schools and churches in resolving what is that perceived difference. Now, Rev. Dr. Mulherin, Chris, it’s absolutely delightful to have a chance to talk with you this morning. What an interesting combination of background and current experience. So maybe we could start by addressing what is clearly the thing that you must get asked a lot is, how can you live with the apparently irreconcilable realities of science and religion and pursue them both with passion and conviction?

Chris Mulherin
There are a number of ways of approaching that one, but I guess I would say I’m pretty interested in pursuing what is true, what the truth of the world is, and I’m pretty convinced that science does a pretty good job of understanding the truth of some aspects of our world. Usually we talk about the national world or something like that, but there’s so much more truth out there that lies beyond the bounds of science. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is the truth and that there is a truth about this world that goes beyond science. As a Christian, those truths are fairly obvious. God is the creator of everything. God made human beings with a purpose. God sent Himself in the form of Jesus Christ the Son. But these are all things that science can’t touch on. I love the stuff that science does touch on, but there’s so much more that science can’t touch on. As a Christian, I believe Christianity gives us, well, it doesn’t give us all the answers we’d like, and we can never be arrogant or terribly dogmatic about saying, “I know the truth, somebody else doesn’t,” but we believe we know where the truth lies as Christians.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, I’d love to come back later in that conversation and explore that notion that you are prescribing that there is truth that is absolute and it’s external and it’s objective. But maybe we will roll the record back a little bit. Have you always been interested in this sort of thing? Was science a subject you enjoyed at school? Where did the love for this sort of thing?

Chris Mulherin
I did the standard maths, science subjects at school. I was interested in pulling my car apart and fixing it, or not fixing it, whatever. Of course, the obvious thing was I went into mechanical engineering. I studied mechanical engineering. I taught engineering for a little bit at RMIT here in Melbourne. But I was also a Christian. At university, I bumped into a group called The Navigators, who really put the pressure on and said, “Being a Christian’s a pretty serious business. Are you serious about it?” I guess I realised that calling myself a Christian, I was making claims that were very, very important for my life, for what we would call discipleship, and that it was an all-or-nothing thing. Either I was in with Christianity, in which case it was a whole of life commitment, or not. I guess, therefore, I had the science and I was committed as a Christian. Then I started exploring the relationship between science and Christian faith. First of all, I did a master’s in philosophy of science, so that’s about how science works, what the limits of science are, those sorts of things. And then I started to do some theological study. To cut the long story short, I finished up being ordained as an Anglican minister in the Diocese of Melbourne, but at the time, we were also missionaries in Argentina. Although I was ordained by the Diocese of Melbourne, I practised by running an Anglican church in the north of Argentina. We did 13 years over there. Then after I came back, I wanted to pursue the science and religion thing more so. Well, the science and Christianity thing really, so I did a doctorate, a PhD, in a fairly technical area called philosophical hermeneutics. But the bottom line was, it was about the nature of scientific knowledge and the nature of other sorts of knowledge, including theological knowledge, and how they fitted together. That’s sort of a long story. And then I came across ISCAST. I mean, I’d been a bit involved in ISCAST. ISCAST is an organisation mostly run by senior scientists from around the country. A couple of our people have won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, but they’re all Christians. One of them invented the bionic ear. One of them you’ve had on your programme. In fact, two of them you’ve had on your programme, I think two ISCAST fellows. One is Ian Harper who’s an economist. In some circles they call economics the dismal science. Ian Harper is one of our fellows. Luke Barnes, astrophysicist, he’s also a fellow ISCAST. We go around doing what we can to promote a constructive conversation between science and Christian faith. A lot of that recently the last few years at one end, it’s in schools, it’s talking to Year 9s, Year 10, 11s, 12s about science and faith issues. And then at the other end, we have an academic journal where academics write about science and faith. And then we do all sorts of things in between.

Brendan Corr
Sounds like a fascinating field to develop or bring two of your interests together. The focus of your book, Chris, seems to be focusing on the religion science conflict myth, as you describe it.

Chris Mulherin
That’s right.

Brendan Corr
Who wouldn’t perhaps resonate or they wouldn’t recognise the truth in the title. They actually see there is conflict. You describe that conflict as a myth. Please unpack that for us.

Chris Mulherin
Look, the idea that there’s a fundamental conflict between Christianity and science. Let me just talk about Christianity because the word religion is just so broad. Let’s talk about Christianity, and as a Christian, it’s Christianity that I’m interested in mostly. The idea that there is a conflict between Christianity and science, firstly, it’s an old idea promoted by people who didn’t understand and who had their own interests, really, who didn’t understand the nature of Christianity or the nature of science properly. So if you imagine science has certain boundaries, if you don’t understand what those boundaries are, then you might think, as some people seem to think today, that science can answer all sorts of questions. Any question we can ask, if science hasn’t answered it, science will in the future. Well, that’s a misunderstanding based on the idea that science has no boundaries, and science does have boundaries. Back to the conflict myth. In the late 19th century, there were a couple of people writing books about the conflict, and this idea got picked up by people who thought it sounded like a good idea. Basically they said there is this historical conflict between science and Christian faith. Very often they’ll name Galileo. The Galileo controversy is one example where it just is not the story that we’ve heard. Galileo was a faithful Christian to the end of his life. He wasn’t in conflict. Yes, there was some conflict. He was in conflict with the Catholic church at the time. In fact, according to one of the world’s most significant eminent historians on this subject, the Catholic church, in fact, had better science on its side at the time than Galileo did. The Catholic church was not anti-science, but Galileo was a difficult personality. He had a friend who became the Pope and who became an ex-friend because Galileo was pretty rude about him in some of his writings. So Galileo’s story has been turned into a story about conflict between science and Christian faith. That’s not really what it was about at all.

Brendan Corr
There was more going on.

Chris Mulherin
There was a lot more going on, and that was not what it was mainly about. So anyway, the historical idea of a conflict, even secular historians nowadays will say quite clearly, “No, that was beat up. There was not this historical conflict between science and Christian faith.” That’s one side of the conflict. Yeah, go on.

Brendan Corr
I was going to say that while that might have debunked some of the historical foundations of it, there is the real contemporary perception.

Chris Mulherin
That’s right. There is a contemporary conception, and that contemporary conception comes from two sides. It comes from an atheistic science side, and it also comes from a Christian side where some Christians, because of the way they read the Bible, insist that there’s a conflict between some of science and Christian faith. Maybe it would help if I comment on both of those conflict ideas.

Brendan Corr
Yes, definitely.

Chris Mulherin
The atheistic science side, it comes from people. For example, we’ve probably heard of the New Atheists. It’s not any atheist, it’s a particular group of atheists who say that basically there is no truth outside the realms of science, that any question you can ask, if it’s got an answer, it will have a scientific answer, if not now, then in the future when science has done more work. So if you ask about religious questions, if there’s a scientific answer to it, then that’s fine. If there isn’t, then it’s a nonsensical question. The atheistic conflict idea says science is the only way to truth. Let me quote one of the New Atheists, Dan Dennett in an article in an interview which you can Google. He said, “When it comes to facts and explanations of facts, science is the only game in town.” Now, that idea means that there are no answers, according to those people, it means there are no answers to questions like, what is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Because science can’t give us those answers. Therefore, those people say there are no answers to those questions. Of course, there’s no God, because all that there is what science can investigate. So those people think there’s a conflict. Then there’s another group of people who think there’s a conflict, and that is Christians who have a particular view of how we should understand certain parts of the Bible, particularly the first chapters of Genesis. If you think that the first chapters of Genesis are written to tell us scientific truth, then when you read one day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day, then you might think, “Well, these must be 24-hour days. This part of the Bible is telling us how many days it took God to create the world.” If you read that part of the Bible in that scientific way, then you say, “Well, hold on, there’s a conflict with science because at the moment, science’s best estimate is that the universe is 13.7 billion years old. The Earth is about four billion years old, etc” On the other hand, if you think that Genesis wasn’t written as a scientific textbook, it’s poetic although it’s not exactly poetry, it was written to convey theological truths, and there are very clear theological truths in Genesis, if you think that that’s the type of literature that Genesis is, then you are not demanding that Genesis gives you answers to scientific questions. Therefore, that conflict goes away to some extent, at least. Now, it doesn’t mean that we’ve resolved all the problems, but it does mean that there isn’t this fundamental conflict between what science says about the age of the earth or how long it took to come into being and Genesis.

Brendan Corr
What you’re doing there, Chris, is reconciling two ways of knowing truth against an objective reality.

Chris Mulherin
Well, yes, there are different ways of knowing truth, and if we understand truth in the pre-post modern sense, if we understand truth as you can’t have two things that are true and conflicting, one of them must be right and one of them must be wrong, then all truth is God’s truth. Everything that we find out to be true is something of the way God has made the world.

Brendan Corr
Yes.

Chris Mulherin
There is only one truth.

Brendan Corr
Yes. In a lecture I heard you give not long ago, I think you referred to that phrase, all truth is God’s truth, as tautological, that truth is describing or defining the nature of God’s operations, God’s work, God’s character, which is what you explain.

Chris Mulherin
It’s interesting that many of the people who gave us the scientific revolution, in fact, most of them, they were Christians, and they understood themselves to be uncovering the wonders of God’s creation.

Brendan Corr
Yes. Let me probe you with a different way that some people, I think, reconcile that issue by making the decision that their faith is entirely personal, that it’s just about me and my relationship, my connection with God, the way I live my life, His provision for me, and that’s the extent of my faith and the world and scientific activity and all that sort of thing can carry on happily in another sector or another sphere of existence, operation. What brought you to this sense of, “Actually, no, my faith has got to be bigger than that? It’s got to be more than just my experience, my salvation, my morality.”?

Chris Mulherin
I guess if we go back to the truth question, it seems to me there’s a big danger of saying, “My faith is entirely personal.” Very quickly, we finish up, whatever I feel or whatever I want can just be my truth, rather than being open to question, open when it comes to matters of faith and discipleship open to the church. And that’s why it’s a good thing. I could quote Hebrews 10:24-25 about it’s a good thing that brothers and sisters in Christ get together. They need each other. The Christian faith is not an entirely personal faith, it’s a corporate faith. God called up people. We tend to be very individualistic and say, “Well, God has called me.” But actually, when He calls me, He calls me to be part of His people. The scientific enterprise is exactly the same. Take climate science, no scientist, no matter even if they’re called a climate scientist, no scientist understands all there is to understand about climate science. What they do is they say, “This is my view. I’m going to publish it in this article.” And then other climate scientists who know other things criticise the article and they have a big barney, if you like, they have a dialogue, and out of that dialogue, if the dialogue works well, out of that dialogue comes a consensus view that all the people contributing to the dialogue say, for example, “Human beings are causing global warming.” That’s the result of a consensus, it’s not because any individual scientist can prove the case. In the Christian church we do the same. We call it theological discussion. We have creeds that have come out of that consensus. We have statements of faith that we believe are thoroughly based on the biblical revelation. So that’s an argument against saying, “Well, my faith is just a personal faith.”

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Did you have a personal sense of challenge about that or was it the result of your studies in the philosophy of science and theology that you came to understand the shared nature of the faith?

Chris Mulherin
Yeah, I guess I grew up in what today we would call evangelical circles. Evangelical circles are very clear that Christianity isn’t just what you want it to be or what you feel like it is or something, Christianity is constrained by biblical beliefs. And so, we often talk about Bible-believing Christians or born-again Christians or something like that. Those words are trying to say, “The Bible has got to be the place that we go to find out what’s true and what isn’t. And if I feel doesn’t conform with the Bible, well, the Bible calls me to change.” I guess that’s the circles I grew up in and that’s why, I guess, I’m committed to the idea that I might be wrong and that I need to be corrected by the church or the Bible.

Brendan Corr
Which is interesting. I want to come back to that notion of falsifiability as a principle, but this might be an interesting little detour into sharing. You talked about growing up in evangelical circles. How did you come to faith? What’s your faith world and your experience in discovering the tenets of Christianity as being things that you believe in?

Chris Mulherin
Like lots of people of my time, I grew up going to church. Now, that’s not happening so much these days, but I grew up going to church and being interested in the community around church. I won’t say chasing girls or something like that. But for many people, this romantic interest is a pretty big incentive to being part of a youth group, isn’t it? But also as a sort of, I don’t know, practical engineering type, again, we’re back to the truth thing, I believed that Christianity was the truth about the world that we lived in. I got pushed pretty hard when I went to uni, as I said, to take that seriously in a discipleship sort of way. Eventually by about 18 or 19 years old, I would’ve called myself a committed Christian rather than a churchgoer. There was no revelation for me. There was no particular moment where suddenly I was faced with God and I went down on my knees. It was more of a gradual progression of dawning on me what being a committed Christian was about and praying and reading the Bible and that sort of thing.

Brendan Corr
What sort of factors were going on in your life that were encouraging you to consider this and evaluate and find answers in the truth?

Chris Mulherin
Well, as I said, The Navigators at Melbourne Uni were a significant factor. Prior to that, I’d gone on Scripture Union camps, significant leaders at Scripture Union camps had helped me to think through my faith a bit more. That was through high school. And I was in this church youth group that had lots of pretty faithful Christians. I still look to them and thank God for them. There were lots of people in the youth group that weren’t terribly faithful Christians, but I’m grateful for those circumstances. So the people around me, church. And then eventually I also met somebody who became my wife who was on the same wavelength, if you like, so we have over the decades encouraged one another.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good. Beautiful thing to find a companion.** **Chris, you’ve dug deep into these ideas and you’ve scratched below the surface to some of the fundamental claims of Christianity, the fundamental claims of science. Have you ever had to stare down doubt questions that were really fundamental for you about what really is true?

Chris Mulherin
I guess at a head level, as we say, at a head level, I haven’t had serious doubts that Christianity is wrong. I’ve had that belief at a head level. In terms of commitment, heart level, that tends to come and go a little bit I think. Sometimes you go through dry seasons in your faith and the head level keeps on saying, “Well, this is the truth,” so you just keep going forward. And other times, you’re more excited about your faith and sometimes you have cloud nine experiences. I guess one of the big issues, and it’s probably worth saying, one of the big issues I think that a lot of people face and a lot of people who are not Christians or ex-Christians probably point to is what’s often called the problem of evil. Life can be going along and then stuff happens, as they say. For us, the biggest thing that happened to us was about 12 years ago. Our oldest son was 23 years old. He came home one day with a lump on his leg, and he jokingly said, “Doctor says I might have cancer.” And he died five months later.

Brendan Corr
Oh my goodness, Chris.

Chris Mulherin
Excuse me if I tear up a little bit now. We had five sons. He was our oldest. Ben was our oldest. He was just finishing his science degree. He was about to do medicine. He was a committed Christian guy in a big circle of young Christian people. That sort of thing stops you in your tracks. When I speak in schools, I sometimes tell that story. You see nine or 10 students, I say, “Some of you haven’t come across the existential issues of life yet, but you will one day.” And I tell that story. Invariably, Year 9 or 10s, they can be a bit rambunctious at times, a bit noisy at times. I tell that story and there’s silence in the room. Because they realise that there are some things in life that just stop you on your tracks, and we call it the problem of evil or the problem is suffering. The question is, well, if God loves us, where is God in this? Why should this happen? Why does this happen? So yeah, I guess for us that was a moment.

Brendan Corr
It wasn’t your studies that brought you face to face?

Chris Mulherin
No. No. No.

Brendan Corr
Chris, what an extraordinary thing. I was going to say faith, but I don’t know whether there is a test of faith or whether it’s a falling into the hands of Your Father that holds your faith. Part of my reflection was you were talking about the existential issue that that confronts for you, and how also does it demonstrate those boundaries of science, that you’re-

Chris Mulherin
That’s right, science can’t tell us anything to help in that. Science can say, “Ben’s now stardust again.”

Brendan Corr
But science had no answers, couldn’t solve the problem.

Chris Mulherin
No.

Brendan Corr
Explain what went wrong, but no answer, couldn’t explain the love that you felt as a dad, couldn’t explain the grief that you feel in the moment. All of that is beyond science.

Chris Mulherin
Yeah.

Brendan Corr
It’s not.

Chris Mulherin
Science can’t offer us a hope to deal with those things. It’s funny, as I said, Ben was a Christian. When he was in hospital towards the end, he just used his phone to text people. His aunt asked him how he was going, basically how he was going thinking about dying. And his answer was, “I’ll be okay, but it’ll be crap for everyone else.”

Brendan Corr
That is such an assurance, isn’t it, of what you said, talked about the meaning of life a little bit earlier, and the fact that there’s more to it than just matter and energy and force and molecules and atoms and all those things. A spark of our humanity is something more transcendent than that.

Chris, thank you for the privilege of sharing that little bit of insight. In that space of having wrestled intellectually with some of the ideas, having wrestled emotionally with the implications of connection and the intangibles of our humanity, what makes you believe that Christianity is the version of religion or religious understanding that stands above any other religious version? Why not just theism or deism, that there is this God and there’s a Creator? What is it about the story of Christ and incarnation and salvation, redemption that speaks to you?

Chris Mulherin
Yeah. Let me give you two sorts of answers. First answer, and let me use a scientific way of putting it or a legal way of putting it. I think that Christianity is the inference to the best explanation. What I mean by that is there’s a whole lot of stuff about the world that is the raw data, that is if you like, needs explaining. There’s the natural world, but there’s also the human world. And some of the things that doesn’t need explaining in the human world are, for example, human goodness and human evil. How do you make sense of the fact that human beings can, on the one hand, understand goodness, understand what a better world is, commit themselves to a better world, commit themselves to doing good, but at the same time, human beings do appalling things and fall into appalling practises and evils? As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, it’s not like one human being’s the bad and the other one’s the goodie. He said, “The line between good and evil is a line that goes through every human heart.” I think that is a fundamental piece of data that needs explaining.

Brendan Corr
That’s good.

Chris Mulherin
Our sense of meaning, our sense of purpose, our sense of awe and wonder and, in fact, desire to worship, I think those are things about human beings that need an explanation. I think there are things about the world that need an explanation. Why do we live in a fine-tuned universe? I haven’t heard the interview with Luke Barnes, but I’m sure when you talked to Luke, you probably talked about the fine-tuning of the universe and the fact that this universe is extraordinarily fine-tuned, is extraordinarily unlikely. Why did this particular universe that gave rise to life come into existence? Here’s a whole lot of data that needs explaining. I think Christianity is by far the most explanatory theory, to keep talking the scientific language, the most explanatory theory for the data. It just makes sense of the world we’re in. Now, we don’t like a world with evil, but Christianity makes sense of a world where awful stuff happens. So that’s one aspect of why I think Christianity is the worldview, if you want to put it that way, that basically has a grasp on the truth of the world. I mean, other worldviews had a grasp on some bits and pieces, but Christianity has a grasp on so much more. The other reason that I think Christianity is true is because of something that comes out of what we now call postmodernism. Postmodernism, in some senses, has come to the point of saying, “Human beings are very insignificant. We really can’t know anything at all. We know a tiny bit of everything.” Or some people say, “We can’t know anything at all. Your truth is as good as my truth. All truths are the same,” stuff like this. Well, postmodernism leads us to the point of recognising that if there were a God, so much more a Creator of everything, if there were this sort of God, human beings would have no chance of finding out about it on their own. In comes Christianity, which says effectively, “Right. You could not know.” I mean, the beginning of Roman hints that maybe we could give thanks to a Creator, but nothing more. So in other words, if human beings want to know about God, God needs to speak a language that they understand. Christianity, of all religions, philosophies and everything, Christianity says, “God speaks. Not only does God speak, God speaks human. God speaks human by coming as Jesus Christ.” And all of a sudden God has come down to us, and that is the only solution to the postmodern problem of our lack of knowledge. The only solution is if God speaks a language we understand and He comes as a human being. Well, there you have it. So it’s Christianity or it’s nothing and nothing doesn’t make sense either, so Christianity it is.

Brendan Corr
I think that’s a beautiful, really wonderful presentation of the explanatory power of Christianity. I think it’s wonderful from a scientific perspective, somebody that appreciates the necessary coherence of claim and truth that Christianity is the best fit to the data. That’s really great. And then there is the personal encounter that you have with the living God that affirms, that takes it away from mysticism, but gives it a sense of genuine experience that aligns. Chris, you started by talking about. Well, no you didn’t start, but earlier in our conversation, we were talking about the fact that there were people who didn’t recognise the boundaries of science. You made reference that that was where some of the new atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens and Sam Harris, and you mentioned another, failed to recognise that. I wonder, do you feel in our postmodern world where we are now questioning the very essence of truth, are we in a similar space where the notion that even the truth that science can lay claim to is open for contestability or science can be applied to things beyond the material and bring the weight of a scientific explanation into things that are not the realm of science?

Chris Mulherin
Yeah, I think people try to do that. I think they try and do it in two ways, probably. One is the new atheist way of doing things, which say science has all the answers. Any questions outside of science are meaningless questions. The other way is people saying, “Oh, well, we all know that everything’s a matter of opinion. Therefore, one person’s opinion is good as another.” But the fact is, if you ask any serious scientists, “Is everything a matter of opinion?” they won’t like you putting it that way. Now, that’s not to say that science has all the answers and has locked up all the answers in some totally provable way, but it doesn’t mean it’s just a matter of opinion. For argument’s sake, if 98% of the world’s scientists who are involved in climate change are pretty convinced that human beings are causing global warming, then you can put that one way and say, “Oh, well, that’s just their opinion, and other people have other opinions.” But hold on, they’re the ones that are the experts. They’re the ones that are totally immersed in working out what the ocean’s doing, what the atmosphere’s doing, what the sun’s doing, what humans are doing. Their opinion counts a lot more than somebody else’s opinion because there are conflicting stories. You can say that you believe the moon is made of green cheese, if you like, and that’s your opinion. And in a postmodern world, we sometimes say things like, “Well, that’s true for me.” But actually, there is a fact about the matter, and some people’s opinions about it are better than other people’s opinions. When I say the world is not made of green cheese, I’m saying, “I’m relying, I’m trusting the judgement of those people who have done the science about the moon and told us it’s not made of green cheese.” I’m having it both ways here. I’m not wanting to paint science, or Christianity for that matter, as something that has this absolute proof. All you have to do is just look here and here’s absolute proof that Jesus existed, or here’s absolute proof that climate change is occurring. The absolute proof story is just not the way science works and it’s not the way faith works. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that, therefore, any opinion is as good as any other opinion. There is a truth, and some opinions are better than others. In the law court we say proof beyond reasonable doubt. That’s faith language, but it’s also science language, proof beyond reasonable doubt. I no longer have good reason to doubt.

Brendan Corr
So in our world of TikTok and Instagram and social media platforms where individuals can hold and express very influential opinions, they’re called influencers, where’s the place of being discerning or finding some objectivity in some of the claims of those social media outlets?

Chris Mulherin
It’s very sad, it’s very sad that we listen to people who have power to influence opinion but not necessarily. Excuse me, not necessarily any serious. Well, we don’t necessarily have any serious reason to listen to them. When a Hollywood star can have millions of people following them on Twitter, well, what they say is going to influence people. And if they say climate change isn’t happening, people will believe it. But we’ve got to get back to the idea of evidence and considered opinion and the opinion of people who ought to be listened to. And that involves trust. We trust some people, who are we going to trust? Don’t trust a Hollywood start to tell you whether climate change is occurring. Don’t trust an atheist to tell you about whether Christianity makes sense or not. Unless they’re a serious thinking, philosophical person who really want a serious search for truth conversation, that’s fine, but not if it’s just. Anyway, yeah.

Brendan Corr
We’re back to that. The role of science partly was the democratising of truth, that it was something that was shared and accessible, and we agree by consensus because we all see the same interpretable data that we have, but then the individualising of that is going to the extreme version.

Chris Mulherin
It is problematic.

Brendan Corr
Chris, the organisation that you’re part of, ISCAST, is involved in science education in a way. Maybe we could draw our conversation or close by giving some reflections around the value for every person to have some essential understanding of how does a scientific process work? What is believable evidence? What are the boundaries of science? What’s the work of ISCAST in that space? Or what are you hoping for through the work of ISCAST?

Chris Mulherin
At ISCAST, we are committed to the idea that there is basic harmony between science and Christian faith. In order to argue that case, not only do you have to understand Christian faith, you also have to understand a little bit about science. Those who are anti-Christian or anti-religious or whatever, science has become their ideology or worldview, and they want to push science into all the spaces of life. So it’s in their interests for people to think that science can give us answers to all the questions. There are a lot of scientists around who should know better, but they allow us to believe that science can go anywhere. And so, at ISCAST, it sounds very technical, we’re pretty keen to do philosophy of science. At the basic level what that means is we’re pretty keen that people should know that science is about particles and not purposes, or that science is about mechanisms and not meanings. And if you don’t get that difference, then you’ll be confused about science and Christianity. The example I give in schools, if we go into a school, very often I ask them if they can provide a beaker of water and a Bunsen burner. The water’s boiling, the physics teacher asks the student, “Why is the water boiling?” The student says, “Energy of the gas turns into heat energy, makes the water molecules jiggle, the water boils, vapour comes off.” Physics teacher says, pulling out a teabag, “No, actually I want a cup of tea.” So why is the water boiling? Well, both reasons. One is the scientific reason and one is the reason that has to do with meanings and purposes. And Christianity, for the most part, deals with meanings and purposes, and science doesn’t deal with meanings and purposes and never can or will.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. That’s really great. Even in the big issues of our current society, there is the need for us to interpret the science and act on the science with intention that is governed by something more than just the science. We need a reality mix and a framework that gives us purpose.

Chris Mulherin
I remember, I used to teach an introduction to climate change, and we talked about climate change a bit. At the end of the course in introduction to climate change, all the students in the class, one of the students said, “Yeah, okay, I recognise that human beings are causing global warming, so what? Why do anything about it?” Well, why should we do anything about it? That is the moral question. And science can’t tell us why we should do anything about it. Science can tell us the planet’s burning up maybe, it’s not. But science can’t tell why we should do anything about it. That’s the purpose, morality. Christians have really good reasons for doing something about it.

Brendan Corr
The Rev. Dr. Chris Mulherin, thank you so much for sharing your story, for letting us into your personal account, your personal faith, and helping us understand the way in which we can engage in really meaningful, informed conversation around what’s going on in our world, what is our world, and what our place is in it. Yeah, give us a plug for your book.

Chris Mulherin
Well, the book was written because we couldn’t find anything, at least here in Australia, that would give people just the basics of how to understand the relationship between science and faith. So Garratt Publishing have done a great job of making it a really interesting book. I provided the text, obviously, and it comes in all sorts of articles, short chapters, bios of scientists, and the basics of that philosophy of science. So it’s being used in schools and churches as a resource for understanding the basics. Science and Christianity it’s called. It is available on the ISCAST website. It’s available from Koorong, etc.

Brendan Corr
Very good. Well, with that recommendation and with sincere thanks for your time this morning, the Rev. Dr. Chris Mulherin.

Chris Mulherin:

It’s been great to talk to you, Brendan. Thanks for having me.

Chris Mulherin

About Chris Mulherin

Rev. Dr Chris Mulherin is an Anglican minister with a background in engineering, philosophy, and theology. Chris’s doctorate in philosophical theology and philosophy of science dealt with the relationship between scientific and other knowledge claims such as those of theology. Chris has published articles and book chapters in the media and in academic works. His book Science and Christianity: Understanding the Conflict Myth, designed for use in schools and churches, is available from ISCAST. He has also produced ABC Radio National programs, and he blogged on the Global Atheist Convention for ABC RN. When he is not working for ISCAST, he teaches and tutors at various universities in Melbourne in philosophy, history of science, Christian apologetics, and climate change. He is currently co-supervising a PhD candidate working on Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, and the question of whether all human understanding is linguistic.

Photo of Brendan Corr

About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).