Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.
What was the most difficult specific objection to faith (particularly Christianity) that you had to get past? / What was the biggest stumbling block to faith that you had to overcome? / For new believers, how do you get past the line of ‘the Bible is just a story’ into faith? I’ve accepted that there is a God, but I’m struggling with accepting Jesus.
As a scientist, I know that the opening book of the Bible is confirmed by science: the Genesis account of creation makes at least 26 statements that are testable by modern science. These statements are not only consistent with our current scientific understanding, but, amazingly, in the correct order. This could not be the result of some lucky guesses. The most reasonable explanation is that it is not ‘just a story,’ but was divinely inspired. Many other stories of the Bible are likewise confirmed by archeology and historical accounts.
But what about the claims about Jesus in the Gospels? I sympathize with new believers who are struggling to accept Jesus, because I’ve been there. I initially had great difficulty believing the Gospels are true, that Jesus really was the Son of God, and that he was sent to Earth to pay for our sins and reconcile us with God. But I was able to reason my way to accepting the truth of the Gospels.
There were two main things that led me to accept Jesus and become Christian. The first was the observation that everything I value in this world is a product, either directly or indirectly, of the Christian faith: science, prosperity, and freedom. History demonstrates that without Christianity there would be no individual rights to protect people against abuses of power, no modern science to raise humankind out of ignorance, and no free market economy (Weber called it rational capitalism) to free billions from abject poverty. Other things, such as widespread literacy, the end of the worldwide slave-trade, and the sense of optimism that invigorates much of humanity, is the result of Christianity as well. As I observe events around the world and throughout history, it is obvious to me that the Christian faith generally acts as a brake against humanity’s worst tendencies and as the inspiration for people to consistently rise above their base nature. As a scientist, I had to acknowledge that there must be something real about the beliefs and faith that motivate people to behave in these extraordinarily good and productive ways.
This doesn’t prove the central claims of Christianity, but it should nonetheless give us great confidence in their truth. It is somewhat the same way that we know the fundamental assumptions of high school geometry are true. (I know that sounds weird, but stay with me.) Euclidean geometry is based on ten basic ideas (five postulates and five common notions) that can never be proven to be true—we just accept them to make the mathematics work. But, we don’t accept them blindly or in the face of evidence to the contrary. We are confident of their truth, because whatever we try to do in plane geometry based on those postulates works out in useful ways. Likewise, we can observe that whatever people try to do in this world based on the principles of the Christian faith tends to work out more often than not in wonderful ways.
The second thing that led me to believe was that the Christian faith is the only faith/philosophy that explains evil. If you accept that there is evil in the world, the Christian explanation is not only the only one that makes sense, it’s the only one that offers hope of eventually overcoming evil.
I finally realized it came down to accepting Christ or accepting that nothing matters. I chose the former, partly on the basis of reason and partly on hope. I’ll admit, the day I was baptized I felt like a bit of a fraud, because I wasn’t feeling it deep down inside. My intellect had come to terms with the commitment, but my heart hadn’t. So, I accepted Jesus on faith. Contrary to what atheists claim, it wasn’t the sort of faith that insists you proceed in the absence of knowledge or in spite of evidence to the contrary. Rather, it was the sort of faith C. S. Lewis described when he said we hold onto a belief we have accepted through reason in spite of our transitory emotions.
Now, some years after my conversion, I no longer feel like a fraud. I have fully embraced my identity in Christ, and my faith has been internalized to the point that it has given me a degree of peace in my life and guidance through all the confusion. I know my faith is real, because it has sustained me through some very difficult times.