In a debate between John Lennox and Peter Atkins on the topic "Can science explain everything?", at minute 44:47 John Lennox claims:

Lennox: "And the major reason why I believe that Christianity is true is because--and here comes science again as a base--because Christianity is testable."

Atkins: "Oh nonsense. How can it be tested?"

Lennox: "Well, Peter, let me face that head-on. Christ said that if a person considered the evidence and came to believe that he was God incarnate who was dying on a cross to give forgiveness and bring peace with God, well we can test that! I've tested it! And I've seen hundreds of people test it. I mean, take an example. I was lecturing at Harvard a while ago to a couple of thousands of people, and when I'd finished, a young Chinese student stood up and he said 'look at me!'. So we we looked at him. And I said why should we look at you? And he was absolutely beaming. He said 'you should look at me because six months ago I came to a lecture you gave at Penn State University. I was at the end. My life was in a complete mess. And something you said triggered a search. And I started to read the New Testament for myself and I became a Christian. And just look at me now.' Now ladies and gentlemen, I've seen that happen not once, not twice, dozens of times. And when you see addiction to drugs transformed at the foot of the table, when you see broken relationships mended, and you ask people what happened to you, and they say variously 'I became a Christian', 'I had an encounter with Christ', you begin to put two and two together and make four! And I wouldn't sit here for a nanosecond if I didn't believe these promises that Jesus made actually can be fulfilled in a person's life today. And that's immensely important to me, the testability of Christian relationship with God."

(Lennox makes similar claims in a short 5-minute video titled Is Christianity testable? | John Lennox at Texas A&M.)

In this intriguing exchange between John Lennox and Peter Atkins, Lennox asserts the testability of Christianity as a key factor in his belief. He argues that the transformative impact of Christian faith on individuals' lives serves as empirical evidence supporting its truth. Lennox cites instances of personal and societal change, from overcoming addiction to healing broken relationships, attributing these transformations to the Christian experience. While Lennox's anecdotal evidence is compelling to him, it raises broader philosophical questions about the nature of religious beliefs, their testability, and the role of personal experiences in evaluating their truth claims.

Is John Lennox's defense of the testability of Christianity sound?

  • 49
    Plenty of such annecdotes can be found about other religions too. Even straight up cults like scientology. Are those also true? What is more even if we granted the fact that belief in Chistianity or reading the new testament helps people put their life together, it is no proof of divine origin as such thing can be obtained by mundane means too. This is highly unserious on the part of Lennox.
    – armand
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 1:24
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    By definition, belief is not testable. If it were, it would not be belief, it would be knowledge. Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 21:19
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    "Christ said that if a person considered the evidence and came to believe that he was God incarnate who was dying on a cross to give forgiveness and bring peace with God,...". I'm not familiar with that quotation. Which Gospel, specifically which chapter & verse? Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 7:07
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    So, Lennox has discovered the Placebo effect? Congratulations to him for this discovery.
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 17:37
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    I have several similar anedoctes of how people begun to heal after dropping religion, so that's not a great test of anythhing.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 19:57

24 Answers 24


TL;DR Testable claims are testable, untestable claims are not testable, and it's easy to confuse the two when they appear to be one package.

People who study comparative religion tend to distinguish between three related terms:

  • “Religion” refers to a set of behaviours or practices. It comes from the Latin religio, meaning “an obligation or bond”, and its original use in English referred to life under monastic vows. This still the sense in which we almost always use the word “religion” today; it’s correct to speak of someone engaging in a hobby “religiously”. Note, for example, that the five pillars of Islam are all things that you are supposed to do.
  • “Faith” refers to trust, confidence, or loyalty to or in a cause, person, institution, etc. It comes from the Latin fides, meaning “trust”. Again, this is the sense in which we almost always use the word today; we speak of relationships being “faithful”, or someone acting “in good faith”.
  • “Creed” refers to beliefs. It comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe”. Unlike the others, this is almost always a term referring to religious beliefs, but we can use the term in other contexts, such as a “political creed”.

As a socio-cultural phenomenon, what we call a "religion", such as Christianity, is usually composed of these three parts, and of these three, only the creed part can be said to be "true" or "false".

Faith is not "true" or "false", it is only "well-placed" or "misplaced".

Religion is not "true" or "false", it is only "effective" or "ineffective".

A theologian might (perhaps correctly, even) point out that it's a package. A psychologist might express that in more secular terms; believing or professing the creed is what makes the positive worldview more effective.

It's interesting that in many religions, creeds are not merely believed, they are recited, whether it's the Nicene Creed or the the shahada. The ritual enforces the beliefs. So in that sense, from the perspective of a practitioner, you can see how someone might come to conclude that if the ritual is effective, the beliefs are true.

Obviously some religious claims are testable.

At one extreme, you have some of the more fundamentalist groups (thankfully uncommon, from a worldwide perspective) who teach that the universe was created in seven days less than 20,000 years ago. Now it's true that history and historically-based sciences such as geology and palaeontology are only partly testable; you can't run a double-blind controlled trial to test if Julius Caesar was assassinated. Nonetheless, Ockham's Razor applies, and the simplest explanation for all of the facts is that the universe is much older than that.

At the other extreme, you have something like the neo-orthodox theologian Rudolf Bultmann, who argued for a complete separation of history and faith, and that "only the bare fact of Christ crucified [is] necessary for Christian faith". As a historical claim, it's almost certainly accurate: there almost certainly was a historical Jesus upon which Christianity was based, and he almost certainly was executed by means of crucifixion.

Here, the claim is that Christianity can make someone's life better or make them a better person. It seems to me that this is not only testable, it's obviously true. But if the claim is that Christianity always makes someone's life better, it only takes one clear counter-example to disprove. This is not only testable, it's obviously false.

You could equivocate over "Christianity", but if you go by a neutral definition, such as "adopting the religion and joining a denomination that is part of the worldwide ecumenical communion of Christian churches", then it's not hard to find counter-examples.

(As an aside, there may be prominent churches in your part of the world which are not part of "the worldwide ecumenical communion". We have a lot of readers from the US, so it's worth pointing out that the Southern Baptist Convention is one example of a locally-prominent denomination which isn't formally part of Christianity in this sense.)

Of course, this claim, "it can make your life better or make you a better person" is clearly true of more than one major world religion, or non-religious ways of living.

The key point here is that the claim seems to be that the effectiveness of the religion somehow reinforces the truthfulness of the creed, and that simply doesn't follow.

However, it is possible that believing and professing the beliefs makes the religion more effective somehow. That seems like it might be a testable claim, and it would be interesting to know if anyone has tested it.

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    The key point here is that the claim seems to be that the effectiveness of the religion somehow reinforces the truthfulness of the creed, and that simply doesn't follow. - It could follow (partially) if the creed includes specific claims about effectiveness (i.e. if there is an overlap between the two). One could also say that some claims of the creed might gain credence (in an abductive sense) if there are examples of very high effectiveness (or of any extraordinary experience for that matter) explained by the creed that could be challenging to account for with alternative explanations.
    – user66156
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 6:29
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    @Mark That's true. And for completeness, it's also possible that creeds could also include claims about faith, like "trust the community leader and you will never catch the common cold" or something.
    – Pseudonym
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 6:44
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    I would upvote this answer 5 times if I could, because this is philosophy practiced at its best - using language carefully to make distinctions between related concepts to bring clarity to a confusing situation. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 1:22
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    @AlexanderWoo I would upvote this answer 5 times if I could - You can certainly place a +50 rep bounty on the answer :)
    – user66156
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 14:50
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    @ScottRowe There are plenty of atheists in foxholes. And conversions near death or in dire circumstances doesn't really help Christianity much, as people in those circumstances tend not to think too clearly and would be more inclined to latch on to any source of hope, even if it's false.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 0:22

Is John Lennox's defense of the testability of Christianity sound?

No. It's true that Christianity as a religion contains some testable claims, but the implication – that therefore Christianity is true – is false.

Whether something is testable or not does not matter if it's arbitrary.

The claim that tomorrow it will rain because a spaghetti monster told me so is testable. But if it does rain, the claim still has no merit because it could just as well not have been a spaghetti monster but the Christian or muslim god, or any other god of your choosing.

If Lennox is going to reference science, he should know that scientists do not test arbitrary claims – they reject them out of hand. Arbitrary claims are a dime a dozen, and there are too many to test them all. Rejecting them out of hand is a valid epistemological shortcut scientists take all the time.

Lennox also conveniently disregards all the people on whom Christianity didn't have the cited effect.

Read The Beginning of Infinity chapter 1 by David Deutsch to learn more about arbitrariness in science and philosophy.

  • Your analysis has a serious fault. What you say is that if for example QM is testable, which IS, then someone could say that QM is not true because there exist many interpretations of QM, so whichever you choose to explain the phenomena, is arbitrary. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 22:50
  • No. The same logic applies: discard the arbitrary, refuted, overall bad 'interpretations' of QM, and from what I understand you're left with only one, ie Everettian QM. Not an expert in physics so I refer again to David Deutsch. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 23:08
  • Very good and short demonstration on what is wrong with Lennox line of argumentation. Though I would add "the weather forecast channel" to the list of possible dieties :)
    – datacube
    Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 13:41
  • @DennisHackethal It seems like you're taking the position of David Deutsch as if hes some ultimate authority... There are plenty of physicists (including Nobel laureates, which he is not) who do not share the same view. See examples here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation#Reception
    – JMac
    Commented May 13 at 12:55
  • No. I don’t view Deutsch as an “ultimate authority” and I’ve written several criticisms of his ideas. I’m aware there are physicists who disagree re multiverse but AFAIK Deutsch has already addressed all known criticisms. And whether those physicists are Nobel laureates has no bearing on whether the multiverse is real. Commented May 14 at 22:23

We have to start from the neutral observation that while Lennox is deliberately using scientific terminology, and explicitly placing it in a scientific context, he is NOT using the term in the same way as a scientist would. "Testable" in the science world has connotations of something that can be confirmed or disproved by consistent, clearly relevant empirical results under controlled conditions. That is not what Lennox is describing.

So, is this an entirely illegitimate move, a incoherent argument? In the most charitable interpretation, it's a rhetorical device. While Lennox is using the language of "testable," he is not actually trying to establish religion as a science. He's really trying to demonstrate a more modest point--that religious people have reasons for their beliefs, just as people do in the world of science. Often, faith is conceptualized as "blind" and unreasoning. Lennox's point (in this interpretation) is that people do test out their beliefs. People wouldn't hold onto religion if they didn't see it as making a difference in their lives.

I think it's safe to assume that neither Lennox nor Atkins really expects to convince the other. They are each using the other person as a foil to help present arguments not chiefly deployed against the other person, but for a third-party audience. Lennox is reaching for the listener who finds a purely scientific worldview unsatisfying and unfulfilling, but who doesn't want blind faith, or an unreasoned, unquestioned approach to religion--someone, perhaps, who wants faith AND science. He's using language that person might already be familiar and comfortable with, as a way of talking about a related, but different concept. It's a common technique, but whether or not that makes it legitimate is a question on which we can expect disagreement.

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    I wish everyone found worldviews "unsatisfying and unfulfilling". We might make some progress then.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 21:55
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    "'Testable' in the science world typically means something can yield consistent, clearly relevant results under controlled conditions." I don't think that's what testable means. A scientific theory is testable when there exists an observation that refutes the theory (I believe I'm getting this from Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery). What you suggest sounds like more like a criterion of certainty, confirmation, or increasing confidence, whereas the point of testing a theory is to find fault with it. Commented Jan 17 at 5:09
  • @DennisHackethal I have edited to address your concern Commented Jan 17 at 16:37
  • It's an improvement, but now it's a mishmash of what you had previously and what I'm suggesting. As a result, it doesn't really do either one justice. Popper denies that a theory can ever be confirmed – he would say at most it can be corroborated if a test that could have refuted it failed to. Second, consistent reproducibility is nice but I doubt he'd consider it a necessary requirement of testability. I wrote "there exists an observation" for a reason ("an" as opposed to 'many') – a theory can still be testable even if it is never tested, or only tested once, or even only testable once. Commented Jan 17 at 23:37
  • For example, the claim that 'tomorrow at noon there will be a single instance at which one raindrop will fall on your head' is testable even though it precludes any reproducibility or consistency. Commented Jan 17 at 23:37

Well, he's playing with polysemy, but what he really says is that it's testable in the sense of someone adopting it may have beneficial results. Of course there's the issue what the control group is supposed to be (nothing?, another religion?, psychotherapy?), and what do you measure for outcomes etc. But besides his anecdotes, somewhat more serious if not conclusive research has been done on this, so it's actually more testable in that sense than the anecdotes he relies on, e.g.

Alas that kind of research tends to be sponsored by certain foundations that definitely have a 'spiritualist' agenda, to say the least.

Of course, all of that implies nothing as to whether some parts of the Christian doctrine are testable, which is generally considered not so

Scientists follow the scientific method, within which theories must be verifiable by physical experiment. The majority of prominent conceptions of God explicitly or effectively posit a being whose existence is not testable either by proof or disproof.

And it also implies nothing about the veracity of Biblical (or at least Bible-inspired) claims as to when (and how) the Earth was formed etc., even those are far more testable than the existence of God.

Or to give you some analogies in terms of other non-implications: whether [some] psychotherapy works or not implies nothing about whether the brain is a quantum computer, or whether mind-body dualism is true or not.


Not really. Firstly you need to be clear what you mean by testing Christianity. It's a bit like testing a person- there are hundreds of different attributes, some of which are testable and some are not. The underlying claim that god exists is certainly not testable. You could perform tests to determine whether Christians, as a group, possess certain attributes to a different degree to the population at large (I won't mention gullibility even though there are some bitter cynics out there who might expect me to), but that would not be testing Christianity overall.

  • In technology there is something called "destructive testing", but we don't do that on humans, and even doing it with their beliefs is probably not a good idea. So, it will remain unproven.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:21
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    @ScottRowe an excellent point. That said, I sometime wonder whether my sanity was destruction tested at some point. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:43

From the short video by John Lennox I understand that he proclaims Christianity to be an evidence based religion. He repeats two basic statements of Christianity:

  • Jesus is the son of God, Jesus is the Messias.

  • In that believing you may have life in his name.

The first statement is a truth claim, the second is a promise. For me it is not clear, where and how the role of evidence comes in. Every religion presents examples of conversion, the main example of Christianity is the autobiography of the apostle Paul.

It seems strange to me that a religion with a tradition of 2.000 years is in need to argue for the evidence of its message. There were enough time and possibilities for Christianity to show its fruits:

A healthy tree [...] bear[s] good fruit. (Matthew 7.18)

The test for evidence is finished, but the test result is controversial.

  • In line with not appealing to tradition: just because something has been around a while, that doesn't mean we should stop arguing for or against the evidence for it (especially when there are many people who accept it, and many who reject it).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 10:47
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    @NotThatGuy If testing during a time span of 2.000 years does not bring a decision, then the setting of the test (sample, criteria, key performance indicators, evaluation, ...) has to be sharpened :-)
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 11:15
  • In 2000 years, many decisions have been reached. But different people reached different decisions. Much of the discussion is not about presenting new evidence, but rather about trying to convince others about how to evaluate that evidence (or what presuppositions we start with, if any, what requires evidence, and what we should or should not question).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 11:52
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    @NotThatGuy if it is actually evidence, then it should just be bone obvious. Since it isn't, it is not.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:14

Firstly no, because he is cherry-picking evidence

In order for his claim to be valid, he would have to track the number of people went into a church and felt nothing. He would also have to track the number of people whose experiences with particular Christians or Christianity in general have driven them to drugs, addiction or other negative life experiences. From that, he would have to prove at the very least that Christianity produces a better-than-average outcome.

My personal opinion is that if you claim your God can witness the fall of the smallest bird then you should also have to show that Christianity results in no negative life experiences. Clearly proving a negative is impossible, so I would be perfectly happy with a reasonable sigma value, in the same way as physics does. (Being aware of history, and even limiting that history to merely the last 50 years, Christianity is an epic fail on this measurement.)

And even then, all this would prove is that contact with Christians and/or the Christian church structure and/or the Christian philosophy has produced a positive effect.

Secondly no, because he has not proven God (or Jesus) is the cause

The "Christian experience" as described is entirely, 100%, a human experience. It comes from humans interacting with other humans.

Certainly if you live according to the teachings of Jesus (note: solely the teachings of Jesus, not the Old Testament or Paul) then you will have a positive impact on the world. But you would have a similarly positive effect from the teachings of Gautama or other religious figures who emphasise service and care for others, especially for the disadvantaged. Many religious leaders today emphasise the ways in which different religions have these features in common. And in fact these concepts are largely distilled into humanism, which attempts to keep the positive features but discards the religious elements entirely.

In order to prove his case here, he would have to prove that Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims or atheists carrying out positive acts in their community do not have the same positive effect as a Christian church carrying out positive acts in their community.

  • Double blind placebo controlled tests! Yes! Just blot out the name of the particular spiritual avatar and try them all out. That would be science.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:07

Allow me to be uncomfortably philosophical for a moment.

This question — and in fact this entire (oh so irritating) dispute — rests on a fundamental misunderstanding. Most everyone holds the naïve belief that the material and human worlds are more or less interchangeable. That belief assumes and sometimes asserts that 'sciencey' terms like 'evidence', 'testing', 'experimentation', etc, mean the same thing whether we're talking about a molecular compound of a love affair. There's both history and developmental psychology behind this belief (which I won't get into right now) so I understand it, but still…

So let's make the proper distinction upfront:

  • The material world deals with 'facticity': questions about what a thing is and how it can be used. Questions here are value-free, pragmatic, utility oriented; it's the domain of science, and all technological progress arises within it.
  • The human world deals with 'ethicity': questions about how a being ought to be and what behaviors it should engage in. Questions here are value-laden, principled, aesthetically and ethically oriented, and all social and personal progress arises within it.

Obviously there are overlaps and gray areas — human beings are also material objects, after all — but neither realm can be reduced to the other without doing violence to reason.

My goal here is to make the following assertions:

  1. In the material realm we test properties: immutable characteristics of objects.
  2. In the human realm we test character: mutable characteristics of beings.

It's a mistake to confuse those acts. Though I don't entirely disagree with Lennox's conclusion, he does make the mistake of treating a test of character as though it were an exercise in material science. He wants to say that accepting Christ is the way to being a better person, as though that were a material property of the object 'Christ'. But (self-evidently) many people who overtly claim to accept Christ fail the test of character and become truly horrible people. In the human world, accepting Christ in this sense means that one ought to behave in ways that appeal to Christ; it's the creation of an abstract social relationship that one must develop.

And (of course) this is true of any other religion, philosophy, or metaphysic. Asserting that accepting Christ is the only way again reduces both Christ and human beings to material objects that have immutable properties.

Tests of character are good; they allow us to be more than the sum of our urges and instincts. but the mutability of choice is important, and not something science is designed to deal with.

  • It would be helpful if there were more tests of character that people could definitively, visibly fail.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:05

So, the view that things can be tested and evidence (SEP) can be considered is evidentialism. But just what constitutes evidence can be given a very wide berth. For instance, an astrologer claims to have evidence with the same sincerity as an astronomer. Most epistemologists, I suspect, would accept these are two entirely different classes of evidence, and only the latter counts as scientific. Can a Christian attempt to gather evidence on the benefits of their faith? Sure, but the devil is in the details.

Now, the passage you cites quite fairly claims that Christian faith is testable. This isn't radical as one would think. The current Dali Lama makes the same claim of his version of Buddhism which he considers scientific analogously to Western science. (See The Universe in a Single Atom (GB).) Certainly, one can make decisions and see the results. Greek skepticism, for instance, functioned quite well before the invention of modern scientific practice. To claim that faith has benefits might even be supported by science when such studies look at the efficacy of prayer. There certainly some evidence to suggest religious people are happier (Pew).

But is that sort of informal evidentialism the same sort of reliable evidentialism built into modern scientific methods? Absolutely not. For instance, the benefits of methodological naturalism extend the range of physical phenomena from cells to minds to planets. Christian faith on the other hand deals with personal meaning and positive psychology exclusively. Prayer doesn't cure cancer nor does it generate electricity. It doesn't get keep cars running or win wars. And it's questionable even that's there widespread agreement on what Christian faith even is with over 40,000 Christian denominations globally each with its own doctrines.

Thus, the evidence about Christian faith is a very different epistemological animal than scientific and mathematical evidence. As long as one doesn't try to sell them as equivalent, or push supernaturalism, or attempt to replace the evidence of criminal justice with Christian faith, there's nothing inherently wrong or contradictory about describing one's belief system in terms of personal evidence. This was Stephen Jay Gould's argument for NOMA. From WP:

Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view, advocated by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the "nets"1 over which they have "a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority", and the two domains do not overlap.2 He suggests, with examples, that "NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism" and that it is "a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria."1

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    Spontaneous remission of cancer is a rare, but not unheard of, occurrence. So there can certainly be cases where that's attributed to prayer. The more common example is that prayer can't cure amputation, because spontaneously naturally regrowing an arm is something we have no evidence for (in humans).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:04
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    Skeptics would say that astrology only has bad (or no) evidence, not that astrology should be accepted under a different class of evidence (they say the same about Christianity, for that matter). And many skeptics would be fine with accepting that e.g. it's beneficial to take some time to calm yourself and reflect on life, which people do while praying - whether faith has benefits is distinct from whether Christianity is true. Also, minorities may generally be less happy because of how they're treating in society, which has nothing to do with which worldview is inherently more beneficial.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 12:04
  • @NotThatGuy In the mind of a believer, anything can be attributed to prayer. Christians run the gamut from full believers in an interventionist God to the highly scientific Jesuit who defends science by rejecting supernaturalism. And there are two meanings of skeptic: one who spends time attacking pseudoscience, and one who doubts the possibility and strength of knowledge. The latter's dispute is not with pseudoscience, but overconfidence in any belief system. Which brings us to the idea that belief systems are never true or false, but adequate or inadequate. Truth applies to propositions.
    – J D
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 15:36
  • The current problem in the USA is that people keep trying to extend the two domains so that they do overlap. This is called 'politics'.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:27
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    @ScottRowe Not a new problem. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state
    – J D
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 1:25

It's not the job of philosophers or scientists to check whether Christianity or any other religion is testable; it is the job of Christians to provide a test which is strict according to whatever set of rules the other folks have set up. In this case, if you are asking about scientifically testable, we are talking primarily about a falsifiable statement about religion. So far, none has been brought forward that matches scientific standards. So, no, Christianity is not testable.

The example you gave is something completely different. Your example is basically "belief in something, no matter whether wrong or false, can lead to improved mental health". This statement has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, but is a purely natural statement about the human brain. It is easily testable, indeed we are doing it often. You can search for "placebo" on PubMed and will find plenty of meta studies which prove beyond doubt that this effect exists for all manners of effects.

For other religions the same applies - for example if you look at Buddhism; a fresh convert to that religion may take up meditation practice for the first time in their life, and it is very likely that they get a positive result from that alone (completely irrespective of whether the more religious tenets of Buddhism are "true" in any scientific sense).

Some religions are very intense on certain practices to be held up by their believers; i.e. the commandments of Christianity, or the "path" of buddhism. It is pretty clear that these behavioural patterns alone (i.e. "doing good" for a lack of better description, or at the very least avoiding evil deeds), no matter whether any of the spiritual propositions of the religion are true or not, can have a measurable positive impact on their live, or at least get rid of some less benefitial effects. I.e., if you lead a "gangster" or "drug dealer" life, you will very likely live in more dire circumstances than someone swearing off of that (and being able to exit those circumstances...). Real-world aspects like not being shot to death by other gangsters or the police aside, the significant stress reduction alone might as well have huge health benefits.

N.B.: all of the above is available to any human without any religion or belief system at all; and religions can of course also contain content which can be quite detrimental.

TLDR: no, there have been no falsifiable tests brought forward to "prove" Christianity (whatever that may mean, even) or any other religion. Yes, there are testable and readily verifiably experiments which would show that some of the the more practical guidelines of how to behave, contained in many religions, may have beneficial results - irrespective of the religious content - and which can clearly explain people turning from miserable to "glowing", like in your example.

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    "belief in something, no matter whether wrong or false, can lead to improved mental health" This is a much stronger claim than a placebo effect. It's also part of the theory behind psychotherapy and counselling, after all.
    – Pseudonym
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 2:33
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    I don't see how it is a stronger claim. The key word is "can" here. That is to say, we have at least the placebo effect as scientifically proven. My answer does not say that believing in religion or Christinanity specifically leads to a better life, but that there is at least one data point that is proven. Hence "can".
    – AnoE
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 10:35
  • Oh, I see. Got it. I thought you were saying that any positive mental health effects of religion can be attributed to the placebo effect. This has been tested and it's not true, but it's also not true that ONLY religion can provide those positive effects.
    – Pseudonym
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:17
  • Right. The placebo effect is not in any way mysterious. It is just the statement that humans, animals, etc, tend to survive things more often than being killed by them. If that was not true, we would not be here.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:12
  1. There are certainly formerly unhappy Christians who broke away from their religion and were happy ever after. They just don't tend to stand up in Lennox's lectures, so he isn't aware of them. I'm all for evidence, but for all the evidence.

  2. Even if that group didn't exist I'd simply throw the Sagan standard at him. "I have personally seen it!" is simply not enough for such a bold claim.

On a meta level it is noteworthy that in effect, Lennox here brings forward a pragmatic theory of truth, in the sense popularized by William James: Lennox holds that Christianity is true because it has positive effects on the believers: It is true because adhering to its demands is useful, the same way, say, dental medicine is true because brushing your teeth is useful.

This is noteworthy because it is about the opposite of what one would expect from a spiritual leader, and exposes the categorical mistake Lennox is making: Pulling the heavens down to Earth, so to speak, and subjecting them to mundane tests robs them of their essence, indeed debases them. This is not how the Christian God works, and Lennox should know better.

  • Jesus famously remained silent when asked by Pilate to explain himself, even when Pilate might well have been interested, sympathetic to Jesus' adherence to his integrity, and able to pardon him. Perhaps that should be the model for Christianity?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 14:37

It's noteable that Christianity has invested considerable ingenuity into making its beliefs not testable. To give just one example, it might seem simple to test the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist by comparing consecrated bread and wine with unconsecrated, and looking for animal proteins in the consecrated. Long before scientists had suitable tests in place, the Catholic Church deployed some of Aristotle's terminology, substance and accidents, to prevent this.

As a thought experiment, imagine that someone were to devise a controlled experiment to test the efficacy of a religion in terms on changing people's lives for the better; also imagine that some flavour of Christianity got a reasonably high rating, but some other religion (Twelver Shi'ism, say, or Shingon Buddhism, or Candomblé) did significantly better. I wonder how long it would take for some theologian to explain the finding away.


What you cite does not constitute a test in the scientific sense. The central tenet of Christianity is that Christ rose from the dead. The null hypothesis is that Christ did not rise from the dead. I am not aware of any challenge to this hypothesis.

  • 1
    How would we test or prove the hypothesis?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:19
  • @Scott This story illustrates one possible approach... Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 5:52
  • @SimonCrase Harry Harrison is awesome! Can't recall if I read that actual story, but if he proved God's existence, I would accept it. (Not so much if the Stainless Steel Rat proved it though.) Did you read "Speaker for the Dead"?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 11:37

Lennox claims "Christianity is true, and this is testable".

Lennox then cites a test evidence case of "a person asserts that they adopted a Christian belief, and asserts that their lives are drastically better after doing so".

So if Lennox thinks that "Christianity is true" only means "adopting a Christian belief makes some people feel better about their lives".... then yes, this is absolutely testable ... and absolutely true.

However ... I don't think anyone is claiming that is the limit of Christian truth. And thus the "test" offered is entirely irrelevant.

Christianity's claims about the nature and origin of reality and the existence of deity-like entities (which I would argue are the absolute core of the claimed "truth" of Christianity) are untestable, in the face of a group that simply replies "well He chooses not to satisy your test, for His own ineffable reasons" to any concrete test proposed.

  • "which I would argue are the absolute core of the claimed "truth" of Christianity" There are theologians who would definitely debate that point. At length.
    – Pseudonym
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 2:21
  • 2
    fair :) But I suspect there are fewer Christians who would debate it. I suspect the vast majority of Christians would say that is you don't believe in a God with <a handful of standard properties> who created and controls the entirety of reality ... then you don't believe in Christianity.
    – Brondahl
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 10:32
  • This is philosophy.SE, so probably best if we listened to the theologians who are likely to have the best arguments.
    – Pseudonym
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:15
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    I would argue that Lennox is reference a more mass-understanding of Christianity, but fundamentally it doesn't really matter. The exact details of what Christianities truth is were immaterial to my answer, since no-one is going to seriously claim that they were actually supposed to be "believing in Christianity makes you feel better", and nothing more than that.
    – Brondahl
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:48
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    I doubt anyone can offer plausible and interesting definition of "the core claims of Christianity" that end up being testable. I posit (without proof, granted) that any testable claim will inevitably end up turning out to be an uninteresting observation of human psyche. Variations of "thinking good things is good for you".
    – Brondahl
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:50

Is John Lennox's defense of the testability of Christianity sound?

This is how the human mind works. Whatever you come to experience personally defines what you will believe. If every time you open a book you experience some physical pain or perhaps some psychological distress, you will inevitably come to dread opening any book. And this is perfectly rational.

Science as we understand it now is obviously a bit more demanding. A scientist would presumably refrain from publishing a paper on his finding that he personally experiences a psychological distress each time he opens a book. So if science is recognised science, then Christian beliefs are very unlikely to be testable.

John Lennox's claim rests on an obvious equivocation. Nobody really cares that he could personally have the personal impression again and again that he is verifying his personal impressions, yet this is just what his claim amounts to. So, to give it a shine, he just equivocates his personal experience with science.

  • 1
    Right, the old: "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 22:01

The question whether or not a given doctrine is testable would apparently involve the possibility of testing that involves a pair possibilities: either (1) confirm or (2) refute the said doctrine. As a modest contribution to this thread (namely, the 20th answer!), one could raise an issue not discussed at any of the other 19 existing answers, namely the key part of the doctrine, called eucharist, of which there is a spectrum of interpretations. Catholics tend to interpret it via transubstantiation, based on their understanding of an Aristotelian (not necessarily Aristotle's) idea of hylomorphism.

To provide a 0th approximation, every thing involves two levels: the "hylo" (extremely thin "prime matter", sort of like the clay of which various utensils are made), and the "morphism" which includes all of the thing's sensible attributes, including texture, taste, and smell. The sunday miracle consists in replacing the wafer's hylo by that of the body and the blood, while keeping the attributes intact (note that such an interpretation has no scriptual basis).

To go on to the testing stage, modern science has by and large rejected the existence of such "prime matter", and by-and-large endorsed the rival doctrine of atomism (though obviously in a form not identical to that originally proposed by Democritus). The origins of this tension go back to the sources of modern science in the 17th century, when Galileo among others was challenged by the jesuits Grassi and Inchofer (on account of Galileo's scientific claims), based on a conflict with the eucharist. It must be mentioned that the criterion of compatibility with modern science is obviously not the only (nor necessarily the decisive) one.


I think all that can be derived from the anecdotal evidence presented is that a case can be made...

  • Hope is a real thing, and reason to hope is strengthening, motivational
  • Man will not attempt that which he does not believe he can possibly acheive
  • The opposite of hope is despair, despair is destructive and can lead to inaction, giving up, calling it quits
  • Hope can be clung to and used as a rope to pull yourself through tough times, make the food last till spring, we will persevere, we know it, and that gives us strength and tolerance and patience and ability to cope... and through those mechanisms, we will make it

The name of the self-created source of hope is non-consequential. Some persevere "for their kid's sake", or "their partners". Some, make up invisible friends, guardians, consorts, acomplices... talking to Karma, or Lady Luck, or the Master that lives in the blank wall and will talk back to you if you sit and ask him to...

Monk to Wall: "Are you their master" Wise Monk, answering on behalf of the wall: "Yes my Son, I am here, what's on our mind today?"

Proving that hope trumps despair, psychologically, and then physiologically... and can act as an evolutionary filter.., killing off those more prone to giving up... droughts, harsh winters, whatever...

... is not proof of a supernatural supreme being, universal Creator, Designer, or provider of souls, and an everlasting life in God's lap in Heaven, after one's physiological self goes kaput.

Those that admit religious beliefs are completely faith-based, not evidence-based, have it correct... one must make believe. Trying to logic-believe... fails every time. Well... not every time... I had a friend who recognized there was a definite advantage in "playing along" with religious belief and believers. Social and economic advantages. He played pretend make believe.

At least, these are my suggested thoughts on "proof by positive experience"... Based on my observations of theists and their thoughts and claims.

To falsify the claimed testing... one could rerun the experiment, but swap in a different source of hope and inspiration and strength... Use the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster as the "provider of good fortune" and see if believers benefit from having a source of hope they believe can alter their reality.

Spiritual placebos. It seems to me.

  • 1
    The placebo effect is simply that we tend to survive more often then not, else we wouldn't be here. Similarly, beliefs are surprisingly hard to kill off. They will withstand the most aggressive attacks. Good when they are true beliefs, bad when they are false. Survival is no proof of truth.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 23 at 14:44
  • I think it is high time humanity invented a new entity to admire and emulate. Whaddya think, Scott? I came up with "Phil". "The God of logic, wisdom, knowledge and understanding"... oh, and "Creator of Philosophers". Likes plaid, and baseball caps (especially the Angels, or Saints), new country, and classic rock. (Rap is not his doing). Favourite authors Asimov, Stephen King, and Douglas Adams. Could start a movement. Commented Mar 23 at 16:47
  • @ScottRowe If you haven't seen this, you will probably enjoy... youtu.be/hO8MwBZl-Vc?si=1Un5b7p4lxGRg9tq "Leadership lessons by crazy dancing guy" Commented Mar 23 at 16:49
  • 1
    I tried for a while when I knew less... went thrice a week to a small friendly church. But it was not divine pressure. I had a major crush on a young lass who believed. So I tried to. Couldn't. Just could not. Knew I could never. I see it as primarily a suggestion. Since there is zero evidence or proof it is entirely a system of suggestion and acceptance. Then I looked back in time... who came up with the suggestions originally... ie... when were gods conceived? Answer thousands of years ago. How much about reality did the first suggesters of deities know?? Jack shit. Almost 0. Commented Mar 24 at 16:23
  • 1
    People make stuff up. They just do. Can't be helped. Nonduality is the realization of that, all the way through.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 24 at 18:33

In order to determine whether Christianity is testable or not, you first have to define "Christianity". It is not sufficient to say, for instance, that Christianity is that which is conveyed by its canonical scriptures, since different branches of Christianity have different mutually contradictory sets of canonical scriptures. For instance, the Septaguint and Masoretic text disagree on which commandment is the one to not bear false witness. (Let that one sink in for a while.)

Second, assuming you arrive at a definition that can be agreed on as actually being a definition of Christianity, you still have the question of precisely what statements are you referring to and asking for the testability of. Failure to satisfy this burden is an automatic Moving The Goalpost Penalty, and grounds for forfeit.

Third, assuming you can identify the statements in question, there is still the question of precisely what criteria actually constitute proof of the statements in question. Strictly speaking, in a debate setting, the burden for this actually falls on the opposing party - the Skeptics' Burden. Failure to satisfy the burden is also an automatic Moving The Goalpost Penalty ... and grounds for forfeit. The criteria should, themselves, be in good faith. For example: on the question of establishing historicity of events, a similar set of criteria should be used in this context as are generally used by historians.

Once the statements have been laid out by the proponent who is seeking to establish testability, and once the criteria have been laid out by the opponent, and once all of these have been agreed upon by everyone involved, then it will be possible to move forward to address the matter at hand in a coherent manner.

None of these steps, however, have been taken - and the failure of either side of the debate on this question to call out, or even note these necessary prerequisites, much less to impose their requirements, constitutes an automatic Bad Faith penalty against all sides of the issue.

So, based on these considerations, I would say the issue cannot be addressed in its present form. Both the question and the replies seen up to this point, as well as the adjoining debate on the matter, are - on the grounds cited - all in bad faith. That is: all sides have forfeit the debate and no meaningful question has even been posed.


I cannot say I am an expert on the subject, but here are my two cents:

I come from an Orthodox Christian background (this matters a lot). Based on my experience, Christianity is 100% testable. But there is a huge BUT.

There are people in my faith that have unnatural abilities and experiences, and this is perfectly clear to both them, and the people around them. And there is a long historical tradition on this. There are tons of books about the subject, each book usually focusing on a specific saint and his life. This way, you get an understanding on how the saint lived his life and potentially why he got those spiritual gifts to begin with. Those gifts are of wide range, and some are even hard to believe (knowledge of events that happen currently at a far away place on earth, foreknowledge of events that will come many decades or centuries later, ability to read peoples' minds and know their past and present life, etc, etc, etc), but there are eye witnesses. There are some events, small in significance, that I have witnessed myself, and I kinda regret about it. On top of that, there are also books and events proving that other religions are wrong.

So, here is the huge BUT is was talking about, in the form of bullet points:

  • It is pretty clear that all the above "gifts" are given by God to people that deserve them. By "deserve them", I mean that they are truly Orthodox Christians, having the dogma uncorrupted in their hearts (so that the rest of the Christians that notice those gifts don't go down a heretic path with him/her), and they live according to what God asks (they will not get proud of themselves, they will not abuse their gifts, they will not abandon God after receiving those gifts, etc, etc). This way, the saint gets courage by seeing that his struggle gives fruit, the Church gets some hints on what the correct approach on various issues is, etc, etc. So, there are practical reasons for this "gifting" to exist.
  • As it is pretty well known that, not seeing and believing is far better, than seeing and believing. And this, of course, happens for many reasons like: there are already enough hints around us that God exists and that Christ was a true God. The blanks that exist and generate doubts in people, are easily covered by the desire of people to accept such a God. And that is how it should work. There is no meaning in persuading a person hating the concept of the Christian God that there is a such God. His life will be a living hell after that. But a person that is willing to accept such a God, is ready to make a tiny leap of faith, to reach the destination God intended for him. On top of that, if you manage to prove the Christian God exists to yourself and then you dismiss Him (either directly or indirectly, with your life), then you are absolutely doomed. You will be compared to the ancient saints that suffered horrible torture for their faith, after witnessing Christ, or events similar in importance.

So, all of the above are extreme cases where one can become certain (although, one can be uncertain even about this world being real and not an illusion...) that Christianity is true, and they happen by either God choosing you for those gifts (usually because you are already one with Him to begin with, either knowingly or unknowingly), or with a long and hard struggle to become a better Christian (not a better person according to cultural beliefs) and attracting God's grace. In either way, it is not easy and it is rare, but if you set it as your life's true main goal (accepting all the sacrifices, etc, etc), I am sure you will get there at some point in time (having some small knowledge of the statistics of Orthodox monks that reached that level myself). When it comes to God, he wants you to devote yourself to Him, above all other things. You cannot treat Him as a second class citizen in your life.

Of course, taking part in the Church's mysteries can also give some proof of the validity of Christianity, by experiencing changes in you and the way you affect people. Especially, if you have someone experienced to guide you (a spiritual father). One small problem is that the situation in the Church lately is not so great and finding true Orthodox people, true Orthodox priests, and true Orthodox spiritual fathers is hard. But God always helps out.

At an even lower level, even seeing the spiritual gifts on other people, or seeing the countless prophesies being fulfilled can be enough proof for some people.

And at an even lower level (purely academical), one can say that every living thing on Earth is a machine of extremely precise engineering, that unfortunately gets gradually degraded by mutations and natural selection until life is totally extinct without a comeback. But, of course, this could provide evidence of "A" God, not "THE" God of Genesis, and people's imagination can easily refute this with unproven and imaginary fairy-tales.

So, I would say that it is better to start from the bottom and climb towards the top, unless you happen to crash-land near the top from early-on.

Update: I will add a list of well-known saints and books as requested:

A sample list of saints (this is a too limited list, since there are 2000 years of Church history - also, I am not a big believer in WikiPedia trustworthiness, but I guess it is a bit hard to get the overview wrong, so I have added some links to WikiPedia):

Also note, that this list is built based on my exposure to locally-known saints in my area, and I am definitely not honoring a lot of other modern saints from other places and cultures.

If you are interested in miracles and spiritual gifts, which I would suggest you shouldn't be, since this is not the goal nor what God wants from you, maybe some of these books/websites would be of interest. They should also include the life of each saint (note: I have not read most of them and I am not gaining anything from listing those specific books. It is just a sample of reading material that seems to be trustworthy to me (meaning, they do not contain any heretical views that I am aware of) ) :

https://www.amazon.com/Saint-Nektarios-Our-Century/dp/9607374088 https://www.amazon.com/Porphyrios-Testimonies-Experiences-Klitos-Joannidis/dp/9606890236 https://www.amazon.com/Saint-Paisios-Mount-Athos-Hieromonk/dp/9608976456/ https://www.amazon.com/Father-Porphyrios-Discerning-Foreseeing-Healer-ebook/dp/B00WANSIZE/

https://orthochristiantools.com/category/miracles-in-orthodoxy/ https://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/miracles-of-orthodox-saints/

Generally speaking, there are many related books. The tricky thing is to find the ones that contain no heresies (since the books are written by other people, not the saint, who is not all-knowing either anyway) and that describe the events and words of each saint without modifications.

I hope this is of help. And try to not get scandalized if you come across many Christians that don't behave like Christians. We do live in some dark ages...


Christianity exists - the question itself is proof of that, and that Christianity has helped many people get through some hard times in their life can be anecdotally proven. However, Roman Catholic style "proofs" (ie: bleeding statues and other documented miracles) don't hold up to scientific scrutiny.

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 16:04

Yes it is, but because it is a religion it is outside the realm of proof, tests, and logic for those who believe in it.

  • Yes it is How? but because it is a religion it is outside the realm of proof, tests, and logic for those who believe in it. Wait, you just said it is testable, but now you are saying it isn't. How is it? Is it testable or not?
    – user66156
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 18:39
  • 1
    nonbelievers can test it. believers do not have to. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 20:47
  • So it is basically a preference, like how my favorite (whatever) is true for me, but might not be for you? I keep trying to get people to agree with my preferences, but they are awfully stubborn!
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 13:54

Properly Basic Beliefs or Witness of the Spirit

What Lennox is describing is a combination of Properly basic belief aka witness of the Holy Spirit that is personal conviction (internal), and the objective external evidence. A man is justified in having beliefs based on his cognition or perceptual experience or knowledge alone, without inferential or external reason or proof.

Dr. Craig gives the example of a film Contact to present an analogy of this: Belief on the Basis of the Spirit’s Witness:

Thus, my basic beliefs are not arbitrary, but appropriately grounded in experience. There may be no way to prove such beliefs, and yet it is perfectly rational to hold them. Indeed, you’d have to be crazy to think that the world was created five minutes ago or to believe that you are a brain in a vat! Such beliefs are thus not merely basic, but properly basic.

In the same way, belief in God is for those who know Him a properly basic belief grounded in our experience of God. This was the way people in the Bible knew God, as Professor John Hick explains:

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . . They did not think of God as an inferred entity but as an experienced reality. To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.[John Hick, “Introduction,” in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.]

In the absence of some defeater of that experience, the Christian believer is perfectly rational in accepting belief in God in a properly basic way. Your mother is under no rational obligation to prove to you that her experience is veridical, anymore than you are to prove to the sceptic that your belief in the external world is veridical. It is up to you (just as it is up to the sceptic) to prove that your mother’s experience is purely emotional or delusory.

Here is how I would formulate your mother’s argument:

  1. Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs not grounded on argument.

  2. Belief that the biblical God exists is appropriately grounded in the witness of the Holy Spirit.

  3. Therefore, belief that the biblical God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded on argument.

You may not accept (2), but then you don’t have the witness of the Holy Spirit that your mother claims to have. Your lack of such an experience does nothing to defeat her experience.

I’d encourage you to watch the movie “Contact.” The climax of the film comes when the sceptical heroine played by Jodie Foster has an overpowering experience revealing to her the deep meaning of the cosmos. “I never knew!” she cries. “I never knew!” She has no way of proving to her colleagues that what she experienced was real, yet she knows it was. She had a properly basic belief grounded in experience even though she felt at a loss to prove the veridicality of that experience to those who did not have it. Similarly for your mom.

An interesting twist in the film is that later on, some evidence does emerge that her experience was genuine after all. This is analogous to Christian evidences like the historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection. Evidence can confirm what one knows in a properly basic way.

Take another analogy, if I am a scientist or an investigative journalist, and due to some unique experiences I am convinced that an experimental injection is the only way of salvation, to reject the majority belief that this medication is causing more harm than healing, no matter how much external evidence they present. If I am convinced that my belief is justified, or I am warranted to hold them, or that they are for the greater good or something. Then I am indeed justified in my beliefs for my experience that I and only a fringe circle of people hold.

If, I am a member of the opposing popular group, and I begin "resonating" with various testimonies of conversions of the popular group to the fringe group, then I may find these subjective stories as objective evidence in favour of this fringe belief. This is what Lennox described in his encounter with various personal testimonies of conversion, which either converted him or strengthened his faith.

Christianity is Testable

This is true, and the argument about other religions can be easily ignored, as none of them makes that promise or challenge. I have never seen miraculous conversion testimonies of hindus, muslims, buddhists and atheists. There are a couple of muslim conversion videos on YouTube, such as one in which a woman claimed Jesus came in her dreams to tell him to follow Muhammad. Such radical and desperate claims are easily rejected as deceptive tactics and are not even in harmony with Islam and Muslim community. The concept of reasonable faith is unique to Christianity. There should be no surprise that non-christian religions are never taken seriously or considered by the Western skeptics. Sahih Muslim Hadith No.4841 instructs Muslims not to take the Quran on a journey for the fear of unbelievers taking it to debate with them to lead to doubts. The sole reason or cause for the spread of Islam has been fear of the sword, see Quran 9 and 2. The tendency to lump Christianity with the heathen unreasonable religions as homogenous is too convenient.


Absolutely. Christianity is testable using Lennox's procedure.

And it is congruent with the Scientific Method.

Popper's False Equivalence

First, let's address a false dichotomy often taken as true by modern philosophers. Several decades ago, Karl Popper advanced an hypothesis that equated falsifiability with testability. However, an oft-overlooked facet of testability is the logical duality of propositions and proofs. Logical duality says that if there is falsifiability, there must also be a concept of verifiability. Almost no one talks about verifiability independent of falsifiability in philosophical problems, despite its crucial importance to the hard sciences and engineering.

We can prove the non-equivalence of falsifiability and testability with a simple truth table. The columns denote true and untrue claims, respectively, and the rows correspond to whether a claim is verifiable or falsifiable. This means there are four elemental types of claims, as follows:

There are only two types of grey area: Unverifiable truths, and unfalsifiable falsehoods. Importantly there are two quadrants of the chart that correspond to testable and provable claims--not only a one-dimensional category, the "falsifiable", as Popper's fallacy is commonly misrepresented to imply.

As a consequence, falsifiability only matters for claims that are false. If they are not false, there does not need to exist a mechanism for proving them false--that would be immaterial, just as there does not need to exist a mechanism for proving a false claim to be true.

Christianity does not need to be falsifiable because it is not false.

It is however verifiable as all truly converted Christians can attest. Lennox's proof is completely valid. He is echoing immaculately scientific Scriptural invitations:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

James 1:5

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Moroni 10:3-5

We don't need to be confused. Outsourcing this experience regarding the one thing that matters most--who we will become and the conditions we will enjoy or not enjoy for eternity--would be most unwise. If our love of wisdom is sincere, then we must contemplate and adequately address the subject of eternity above all else.

Failure to falsify must not be conflated with untestability.

Importantly, real scientific inquiry requires patience, diligence, and even faith--because it might not be immediately apparent at first whether an inability to falsify a claim is because it is true, or we just haven't found a means of demonstrating its falsity yet, or vice-versa. If we insist on the falsifiability of a claim as a prerequisite to considering it testable, we are betting on its falsity thereby. On the other hand, if we hold out for the verification of a true claim, eventually we will be rewarded for our persistence, because the thing is true! The only bottomlessly fruitless proofs are endeavors to prove false claims true or true claims false. Those who do not endure in the correct avenues are simply giving up on truth before they find out. This is one reason why faith is so essential! You can stop working a problem at any time based on your presuppositions. But presuppositions are not sure knowledge of truth. Discovery is and always has been a matter that requires patience, deep thought and commitment.

Proof with Modus Ponens

Consider one of the most basic building blocks of scientific and philosophical proofs: Modus ponens. The rule of Modus Ponens states that if you have a true proposition, P → Q (P implies Q), and you also have that P is true, then it follows that Q must be true. Importantly it is not possible to disprove the proposition that P → Q without satisfying the condition P. In Scriptural terms, God requires that we meet His conditions to receive a testimony that Christianity is true. Those who do not satisfy the condition P can have nothing to say about P → Q (which we can say is Lennox's method or the above Scriptural invitations for purposes of this discussion); they have no experience in the matter because they have not actually tested it. Testing is as much about effort as it is about the theories of falsifiability and verifiability. Discarding a possibly true claim as untestable merely because it is not falsifiable is simply laziness and apathy making the subjective decision for you that it is not worth the effort to find out. Such never arrive at the treasures of true discovery, and the personal verification of timeless truths.

Thousands of claims thought impossible by philosophers and mathematicians have been proven true over the years through patience, perseverance and diligence. The fact that a result does not seem to have been obtained yet by someone working on a particular problem does not mean that it never will be. Otherwise there could be no technological advances or scientific discoveries at all. In other words, faith is the crucial component of the scientific method, and the fruit of faith is knowledge of truth, and love of virtue. What the mainstream says doesn't matter. Truth is not relative in the slightest, but all proof is personal--and you must be the experimenter. Welcome to the journey of conversion, which happens to include the real scientific method, without misdirection or artificial limitations.


Yes. Christianity is testable.

I'm writing the following as a committed Christian. It is based on the core [fact | assumption] (choose one as desired) that the God of Christianity exists. Many will not agree with the truth of that assumption. For this to be useful to you, assume it for the purposes of the argument for now, and read on.

So, yes, Christianity is testable. However, you cannot "put God in a test-tube", arrange hoops for Him to jump through, demand that he queue for examination or use the Scientific method to conduct enquiry, except on His terms.

This is not the 'cop out' that Brondahl reasonably identified with his 'Ah, yes, the classic "it's testable ... but only if you believe. And if you don't believe the He will choose not to satisfy your tests.' - but it's a fair observation. Doing it God's way is required - and why should that be a surprise.

The Bible notes in a number of places that "miracles" can be expected.
Mark 16:20 claims specific occurrence as part of an evangelism 'campaign' "with signs following ...".

*From here

"In the Chronicles of Narnia, when confronted by the idea of Aslan, the lion, who is a picture of God, Lucy asks, "Is He safe?"
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Mr. Tumnus also says, "He's wild, you know. Not a tame lion."

What Lewis is saying with metaphor is that God does what He wants to do for His purposes.
And sometimes that may indeed include demonstrations for whatever purpose that demonstrate testability. Or to meet specific requests or needs. Understandably, that will seem a very evasive and weasel-worded claim.

I'm a professional engineer. I'm 72 years old and still professionally active.
I have a Master's degree in electrical engineering, life long experience in many areas that my professional core capabilities have taken me into.
I live in NZ. I've carried out development and production in China and Taiwan - around 15 business visits to Asia and many a fun hour spent trying to ensure that people build things the way I've designed them.
I understand numbers and statistics and probability "well enough" - In a prior corporate lifetime I carried out numerical and operations analysis for a diviion of our country's then largest corporate. I value integrity and honesty.

And: On a relatively small number of occasions when it was a really really good idea and available options were non-existent, I've gone to God with specific well defined requests, in some cases written down to ensure that I know what I'm asking for. I never assume that I'm going to get what I'm asking for. And/but, when it's serious or useful or interesting enough to be done, I have had outcomes that are statistically impossible by any usual standards. Many many many standard deviations off the norm. Probabiities that make me laugh (sometimes literally). On the few occasions when Ive shared this I have had, very understandably and very reasonably, people suggest that I am cherry picking, identifying a few good outcomes from many trials, and all the other statistical "tricks" which people accidentally or purposefully fall into.
All I can say is - "No, I'm not". I'm happy that the laugh out loud small volume specifically asked for 'impossible' outcomes do meet an 'impossible' standard.

[Added - 231201] : I haven't kept count, but I'd say it was in all or most cases of this very special approach. A response other than hoped for is of course always possible, but even those could be couched in statistically "impossible" ways.]

But, wait, it gets worse.
For reasons which I will explain, and which are genuine, and which people will understandably be unhappy with, I'm not going to provide any details for others to test. The best I can offer is that others 'come and try it'.
This will usually require a journey in life to get to the "with signs following" stage, but how long each such journey is is God's choice. For some it may be on day one. Or before.

Why not describe at least some of my experiences?
Largely it's because my understanding is as C S Lewis describes. God is not a "tame Lion". IF he wished to arrange for street corner miracles at 5pm on Fridays then he would. He doesn't. Usually.

To add context, I "have God in mind" to a variable extent a lot of the time. Not usually 'praying' as most would identify the word, but aware of him in day to day life. I may share thoughts on needs or outcomes in the world which seem desirable from my lowly perspective. This is much different from the sort of situations I described above. This is over time "high volume' and I don't "keep score" or have strong specific hopes or expectations. I say the above to distinguish it from the "testable" area above. I've not see an amputee given a new limb. I'm well aware of the comments made in this sort of area. So far my "testable" requests have only covered the impossible - miracles may yet join the list :-).

Added: JMac commented:

"Doing it God's way is required - and why should that be a surprise." I dont find it surprising that such a claim is made. But quite frankly, I dont see any value in those types of assertions. Anyone can make such claims about any number of unreasonable beliefs to explain why they cant be tested. ... To me, such claims are the opposite of convincing and make me more suspicious of the claims.

Response: While this answer one specific query it also usefully addresses the reasonable 'objection' wich is very frequently raised:

@JMac I sympathise with your position and agree that it "would be nice" if it was more black and white. I can also see, and I assume that you can too that IF 'the christian God exists' (given for the purpose of the argument) then IF God does it this way then there is 'good reason' and that the choices are to either 'follow the program' or to ignore it.

However, I have offered slightly more than the above - albeit not enough to meet the usual objections for most. I CLAIM to be a person who values honesty and integrity. I could provide "character references" but that's not usually really going to help. I CLAIM to be an experienced engineer (that's provable) still active (same) & I CLAIM I'm experienced in numbers, statistics & probability and that I held a job in a large corporate using those abilities. Also provable.

THEN I CLAIM that I have a relatively small number of cases where I've asked God for specific (sometimes documented) things and received statistically and probabalistically "impossible" results. I then "spoil it" by saying I'm not going to give any details. Most will at this stage quite understandably give up, and dismiss me as (yet another) loony/liar. But, some will believe me enough to follow through.
That's why I bothered writing this answer.

  • 2
    "Doing it God's way is required - and why should that be a surprise." I dont find it surprising that such a claim is made. But quite frankly, I dont see any value in those types of assertions. Anyone can make such claims about any number of unreasonable beliefs to explain why they cant be tested. Like James Randi testing magicians/telekinesis, the person being tested can just claim the structured test interferes with their abilities. To me, such claims are the opposite of convincing and make me more suspicious of the claims.
    – JMac
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 13:46
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 13:54
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    @RussellMcMahon And do you have any type of controls in this type of statistical test? This sounds like very clear cut confirmation bias to me. That's one of the huge flaws I find with this whole idea. If you must first believe it before you begin to find evidence that convinces you it's true, it seems like a whole system based on exploiting biases. We are primed to find patterns that fit what we already believe.
    – JMac
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 15:05
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    @RussellMcMahon Being aware of confirmation bias is not the same as accounting for it in yourself. And as someone with an engineering degree who regularly works with professional engineers, it's not like engineers are immune to bias and able to consider everything from a neutral point of view.
    – JMac
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 15:58
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    @ScottRowe Thanks for the comment. I'm suggesting (but don't know for sure) the "experience" appears to be available to any sincere seeker. || 'Mystical Psychosis' sounds interesting - but, to me, seems, of course :-), inapplicable. I'm a generally very non-woo, interested in reality engineer. The very few specific cases that I mention (say maybe a few dozens over my many decades, I've not kept count) are what seem to me to be clearly or immensely highly probably exceptions to solid engineering based statistical probability. Those who can't conceive of such must of course 'explain them away'. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 8:03

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