Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the specific ‘scientific’ reason for my conversion to Christianity.

LC writes:

Thank you for making the story of your conversion to Christianity public.  I am a Christian apologist who is using your story as a discussion point in a meetup I am holding.  One of the atheists that is attending is asking what specific scientific reasons (not philosophical or theological) you found most compelling in your conversion.  The article mentions your work on deuterium abundances as well as your amazement that the universe is comprehensible.  Do you have any other scientific reasons that I could share with the group that you find compelling?

My conversion was a two-step process that took place over many years. I first went from atheism to theism, and then after a few years, I went from theism to Christianity. The former was completely unexpected; the latter was a very deliberate process.

You will have to explain to your atheist attendee that you cannot separate science from philosophy, so there was no ‘purely scientific’ reason for my conversion. What specifically led me to believe in God was the idea best expressed by Einstein when he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

Through my research in cosmology, I got an overwhelming sense of a universe that is so rational that it’s as though it wanted to be understood. I had a specific question I was trying to answer with my research — how much of the universe is comprised of ordinary matter* — and it shocked me when I realized not only how answerable the question was, but that there was no reason it had to be this way. How is it even possible to have a rational universe without some kind of rational cause? I realized that by far the best explanation for the existence of the universe is that it was caused by a personal, rational, transcendent being of some kind. At that time, I called this personal cause “God,” but didn’t have any specific religious beliefs beyond God as the Creator.

Note that this is not a God of the gaps argument or an argument from incredulity, which is how atheists often try to spin it. It’s simply the most rational explanation, and I had no choice but to accept it on that basis. If you want to understand this explanation in greater depth, William Lane Craig has some good articles and videos on the philosophical argument that the cause of the universe has to be a personal being.

It was that realization that took me from atheism to theism. What took me from theism to Christianity was mostly Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, which I highly recommend. After reading the first four chapters in particular, I reasoned that the odds of Genesis not being divinely inspired were so low as to be effectively impossible. Once I realized that Genesis was, contra the odds, rather scientifically accurate for a thousands year-old document, I began investigating the rest of the Bible and specifically the evidence for the gospels. I came to the conclusion that the best explanation, given the evidence, is that the gospels were true, so I accepted Jesus on that basis.

* One of these days I’m going to write a post about the details of the research project and how it ultimately led to my conversion.

A response to a critic

A friend recently sent me a critique of my testimony by someone named James of “Reasonably Faithless.” After I read James’ response to my testimony about how I made the journey from hostile atheism to a belief in Jesus, I was at first inclined to ignore it. Christians should generally resist the temptation to allow themselves to be sucked into the black hole of atheist discourse by feeling the need to respond directly to every attack on Christian belief. However, I think readers of this blog can benefit from what follows.

As I read James’ critique of my testimony, I marveled at how much misrepresentation, hypocrisy, nit-picking, taking things out of context, incoherent philosophy, and false science he packed into a few paragraphs. If you’re ever faced with such a response, you may feel the temptation to respond to each and every point, but I’m here to tell you that’s a waste of time. Instead, focus your efforts on helping other Christians withstand such assaults on reasonable belief.

To that end, there are two criticisms of my testimony, one logical and the other scientific, that can serve as useful exercises in how to refute atheist nonsense masquerading as legitimate criticism, logical thinking, and genuine science.

First, the logical argument James raises in his concern about the pain of human existence:

She also reveals some extremely offensive views about suffering:  essentially, people are “made to suffer for the bad things [they’ve] done”, and there is always “a reason for suffering”.  This seems especially insensitive to the people who have lived a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place and/or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind.

The basic atheist argument about the human condition is that all the pain people experience in this world is proof that there cannot be a God, because a loving God would not allow people to experience so much suffering. In the secular humanist protests against the unfairness of pain you can hear the voices of children furious at their parents for imposing consequences for bad behavior. C. S. Lewis answers this as well as anyone can in The Problem of Pain. James demonstrates his foolishness when he says that it is “extremely offensive” to point out the obvious truth Lewis demonstrated in his book about human suffering, which is that most of the pain people experience in life is the result of the bad choices they freely make.

James, however, makes one claim that deserves serious consideration — some people experience terrible suffering simply because of the place or time of their birth. There is some truth to this; a significant amount of pain that some people experience cannot be easily explained as the consequence of their actions. But, even when atheists manage to raise a valid point like this, they immediate veer off into incoherence.

As dedicated secular humanists, atheists are essentially children in their understanding of human existence. Most of them don’t so much disbelieve in God, but resent or feel anger towards God for being ‘mean.’ Those of you who are parents will recognize in the atheist mindset the child-like determination to avoid all discomfort and unpleasant consequences. The reason for this is that atheists need to believe in the possibility of ‘paradise’ on earth. As a result, they also need to believe that no one should ever have to feel bad and there should never be negative consequences for anything people do.

As long as we exist in this world, people will never fully understand their place in the grand scheme of things. But if you give some thought to James’s claim of my insensitivity about the mystery of human pain and suffering, you realize his logic is not only backwards, but leads to a conclusion that is fundamentally quite vile. It reminds me of something Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion. He quotes the famous geneticist, James Watson, who said in response to a question about the purpose of life:

“Well, I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.” 

To which Dawkins adds, “We did have a good lunch, too.”

When I read that I thought, “What a couple of jerks.” What kind of people can look at life as meaningless and bleak and then distract and comfort themselves with food? A ‘good’ meal or any other kind of material pleasure is small comfort to those who live a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind. Atheists take away all hope for those who suffer. So, who is being insensitive?

Every time I hear nonsense like this, I wonder whether humanists ever bother to work through to the logical conclusions of their beliefs. If they did, they would realize it is vastly more insensitive to tell people who suffer terribly through no apparent fault of their own that there is no reason for it. It is cruel to tell people that this one life of misery is all they get until they are annihilated by a cold and indifferent universe.

Then there is the scientific criticism of my testimony:

After reading Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, Sarah became convinced that the book of “Genesis is literally true”.  (The word “literally” is used in a pretty non-literal sense here, since Schroeder’s theory is that the first “day” of creation was 8 billion years long, the second day was 4 billion years long, etc – the thesis of Schroeder’s book is really that Genesis can be squared with our modern scientific understanding of the universe, apart from a few teeny little details like evolution.)

If I was the type of person inclined to dictatorship (which I am not), the first thing I would do is make it a state crime to comment knowingly on a book you have not actually read. I mean, I’m assuming he hasn’t read Schroeder’s book, because he’s made two very basic blunders about Schroeder’s model that could’ve been rectified by reading the chapters on the age of the universe and evolution. It’s possible James has actually read the book, in which case he is either deliberately misrepresenting Schroeder’s argument or has failed to comprehend it.

In any case, I used “literal” in a very literal sense in my testimony. Schroeder makes a compelling case for reconciling actual 24-hour Genesis days with a billions year-old universe. It works because, as every good physicist knows, you have to specify from whose frame of reference those 24 hours elapse. You can read Schroeder’s book to see how this works or go through my slide show presentation for an explanation.

James goes on to demonstrate that he is unaware of the science behind Schroeder’s explanation:

So, does Schroeder’s book constitute a good reason to think that “Genesis is literally true”? Most definitely not.  Here are several scholarly reviews of the book…

Whereupon he cites a few critical “scholarly” reviews of Schroeder’s book, including one by historian, Richard Carrier, a man who is best described as the court jester of the New Atheist movement and an utter embarrassment to intellectuals everywhere.

When I first read Schroeder’s book, I spent a lot of time verifying its claims. Contrary to James’ assumption, that meant investigating criticisms of Schroeder’s model — the very ones James cites — which I found to be not only wrong, but surprisingly inept. For ostensibly smart people (most of them, anyway), these critics failed to understand the basics of Schroeder’s argument. I was especially taken aback that someone with credentials like those of the late mathematician, Mark Perakh, could fail to understand the straightforward physical argument laid out by Schroeder. I will write a separate post about this, because it deserves serious attention.

But James’s criticism of my testimony gets worse from there:

… Sarah came to believe (for whatever reason) in the truth of Genesis, and then deduced that the gospels were true.  Think again about her words: “I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis.

This is a lie. He conveniently omits the statement in my testimony just before this one — “I knew of the historical evidence for [the Gospels’] truth” — which clearly implies I investigated the truth of the Gospels independent of Genesis.

However, Christians do have reason to believe in the general reliability of the Bible based on Genesis. It was chosen as the first book of the Bible for a reason. Among other things, it immediately establishes the reliability of the Bible in general because Genesis 1 performs a miracle right in front of our eyes – it gives a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe and life on earth over 2500 years ago when no person could have possibly known how the universe formed and life came to be. At the very least, this miracle of information that anticipated so many modern scientific discoveries should lead one to consider the truth of the other parts of the Bible.

James concludes with a common bit of atheist dogma about the Bible:

The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors.  It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.

Having once been an atheist, myself, and now observing them from a Christian vantage point for a number of years, I’ve noticed patterns in their behavior. James presents us with a perfect example. What happens is this: one atheist will come up with an idea — say, that Genesis is just a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions — and then others pick it up, repeat it (often verbatim), and the idea gets passed around and around, and meanwhile nobody bothers to investigate whether the claim is actually true. They just repeat it mindlessly and accept its truth blindly, because they are emotionally invested in it being true.

If any of them bothered to check, they would discover that the idea that Genesis is just a mish-mash of other faith traditions is provably false. One of my colleagues, who is deeply informed on the topic, refers to this claim as “traditional [theologically] liberal blather” dating back to the 1800s and based on little more than pure imagination. All you have to do is compare Genesis with one of these alleged sources, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, to see that they could hardly differ more. This is another topic I will address in more depth in a separate post, because it’s an intensely stupid notion that needs to die a horrible death. [Update: Uniqueness of Genesis is discussed here.]

To my Christian readers, here is what you should take away from all this. Do not waste time trying to convince atheists of the foolishness of their arguments. They make these arguments for highly emotional reasons and will not part with them on account of either reason or science. Atheist emotions are in turn rooted in a deep desire for self-indulgence, which is in eternal conflict with God’s intention that we overcome earthly desires. Instead, spend time becoming totally familiar with atheist assaults on Christian beliefs and faith so that you can help shield yourselves and others, especially children, from the deceit and temptations of atheism.

Jewish authority on scripture

I grew up atheist in a secular country, so my experience with Christianity was very limited until I moved to the U.S. As I explained in my testimony, I came to my belief in God and acceptance of Jesus Christ mostly through my work in astrophysics, and particularly through the work of an Israeli physicist named Gerald Schroeder.

Schroeder is an Orthodox Jew who has been living in Israel since the 1970s, and he describes himself as an applied theologian. I have found his commentary on Genesis and modern science to be extremely insightful and inspired. Not everyone agrees with Schroeder’s interpretation of Genesis and its compatibility with modern science, but nevertheless, it is honest work based on deep scholarship, an obvious love for God, and respect for both scripture and science. It was through Schroeder’s work that I came to believe in the God of the Bible, and eventually to accept Jesus Christ.

Most Christians I have encountered through public speaking events and this website are intrigued by Schroeder’s work and willing to explore it, but I recently had a reader try to warn me against trusting Schroeder for the reason that he is an “unbelieving Jew.” According to this person, Schroeder, as a Jew, has failed to recognize his Messiah, so his authority on scripture is called into question. It never occurred to me, as someone who came to Christianity by way of Jewish wisdom, that I should mistrust an Old Testament authority, because he has not accepted Jesus. When I began my ministry several years ago, I had been told by some Christian friends to expect a bit of this, but I was still taken aback by it.

I contacted “Rabbi B,” a friend who is a Messianic Jew and a rabbi, and asked him whether a person’s failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is a sufficient reason to reject his authority on scripture. Below is his response.

The idea that Jews who do not embrace embrace Jesus as the Messiah can’t be trusted to elucidate the Scriptures is a specious argument. Paul indicates in Corinthians, I believe, that when the unbelieving Jews read the Scriptures, there is a veil over their eyes which prevents them from recognizing the Messiah.

But this does not preclude their understanding of the Scriptures generally or that they have not been given a certain amount of understanding concerning other matters.

Jesus also stated that though the Jews diligently search the Scriptures, they fail to recognize the Messiah. Again, this does not mean they have no insights to offer, it simply means they do not recognize or have failed to identify who the Messiah is. In fact, we have a very old tradition that the patriarchs all experienced blindness. Abraham was blind to who the son of promise would be — he experienced a spiritual blindness. Isaac experienced a physical blindness when he was fooled by Jacob, as his eyes were dim. Jacob’s blindness was due to the environment, as it was darkness which prevented him from seeing Leah, when he thought he was marrying Rachel.

Here is the interesting part. The rabbis look at the blindness of the three Patriarchs and conclude that it portends the blindness of Israel when the Messiah comes, that they will not recognize Him when He comes. Which, as we know, has been very much the case.

Paul, alludes to this idea in Romans, I believe, when he speaks of a ‘blindness in part’ that has come upon Israel, particularly regarding the identity of the Messiah. Again, it’s a blindness IN PART … not complete and utter blindness. It is important to remember too, the Jews were entrusted with the very oracles of G-d, i.e. the Scriptures, again, according to Romans.

Rabbi B offers more insightful commentary at his blog, and may be contacted at rebbaruch10 -at- gmail -dot- com (replace the ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the appropriate symbols).

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss general versus special revelation with an ostensibly confused godless person.

‘Good and Godless’ asks:

Yes, it was lucky I was born more than 1500 years after Christianity began to spread all over the world and more than five hundred years after the invention of movable type allowed the Bible to be mass-produced and available pretty much everywhere except North Korea. That was a close call!

Now, something tells me that our godless commenter here is not entirely sincere in asking this question. However, despite his attempt to score a rhetorical point, it is a legitimate question that seekers—and sometimes Christians— struggle to answer.

Disclaimer: I am a scientist who is Christian. I have not had any special training in theology, and I do not represent any kind of religious or theological authority. The following represents only my own personal understanding. There are many very good resources out there if you wish to pursue the topic further.

General Revelation

The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that God is merciful and just. For this reason, he has made himself manifest in nature, so that we can all discover God just by experiencing the natural world. This is why I post weekly reminders of Psalm 19. We are also reminded in the New Testament that God has revealed himself generally in nature with Romans 1:20, so that there is no excuse for rejecting God.

This is part of what’s referred to as General Revelation. As I explain in my testimony, that’s exactly how I came to my belief in God despite the fact that I had almost zero contact with religion for the first quarter-century of my life. I figured out that God existed without so much as ever picking up a Bible.


Special Revelation

What our commenter is alluding to, however, is Special Revelation. This refers to the knowledge that Jesus Christ died to atone for our sins, and that we are saved—that is, reconciled to God even though we’re sinful—solely through Jesus Christ.

It is not unreasonable for a sincere person to be concerned that this leaves a lot of people throughout history and even today out of receiving God’s promise of redemption and eternal life through Jesus Christ. First of all, it’s worth noting that by now that there are probably vanishingly few people anywhere in the world who have not heard of God or the Bible or Jesus. I have seen Inuit people in the remotest parts of Alaska praying in the name of Jesus. Christianity is spreading like wildfire through China despite the brutal efforts of the Communist Party to crush it. This is due in large part to the efforts of missionaries who have been fearless and tireless in spreading the gospel throughout the world. But it also shows, where there is a will to know, there is a way.

There is a good case to be made that God gives Special Revelation to those who are open to receiving it, even in the most unlikely circumstances. There are reports of Jesus appearing in visions and dreams to hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Middle East amidst the most horrible chaos and suffering. Those who have converted to Christianity will proselytize others who are open to hearing the gospel.

So, what about those who still have not heard of Jesus or the Bible? Are they doomed? I responded to a similar question asked by a student when I was on a Q&A panel, in which I quoted C. S. Lewis:

I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats [Matthew 25:34-40] those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.

God is loving, merciful, and just. Everyone who desires to know God and to be close to him will be given the opportunity.

Mi testimonio

I’ve had several requests for my testimony in Spanish, so here it is. [The English version is here.] This translation was kindly provided by Nélida Rubio-Diffey.

A lo largo de estos años he recibido numerosas solicitudes para que escriba mi testimonio personal y publicarlo. Me pidieron que diera mi testimonio en una Iglesia Local de Austin como parte de su celebración Pascual, lo que finalmente me obligó a escribirlo aquí. Lo siguiente es una versión adaptada de lo que expuse ese día en la Iglesia.

Nací en los Estados Unidos de América, pero crecí en Canadá. Mis padres eran socialistas y activistas políticos que pensaban que la Columbia Británica en Canadá, sería un mejor lugar para vivir para nosotros, dado que en ese tiempo, ésta tenía el único gobierno socialista de Norteamérica. Mis padres también eran ateos, aunque evitaban ponerse esa etiqueta y preferían la de “agnósticos”. Ellos eran amables, amorosos, y con valores morales, pero la religión no era parte de mi vida. En vez de ello, mi infancia giraba en torno a la educación, particularmente la ciencia. Recuerdo que importante era para mis padres que mi hermano y yo tuviéramos un buen desempeño escolar.

Crecí en las décadas de los setenta y los ochenta, un tiempo en el que la ciencia ficción disfrutaba de un renacimiento, gracias a la extensa popularidad de la serie Star Wars. Recuerdo lo fascinada que estaba con la trilogía original de Star Wars. La cual no tiene casi nada que ver con la ciencia – seria más propiamente caracterizada como una novela espacial – pero me llevo a pensar sobre el espacio en gran manera. También me encantaba la serie original de Star Trek, la cual es más de ciencia ficción. El carácter estoico y razonable de Mr. Spock me era particularmente atractivo. En ese tiempo, la ciencia popular también estaba experimentando un renacimiento, lo cual tuvo mucho que ver con la serie de televisión de Carl Sagan, Cosmos, la cual me encantaba. La combinación de estas experiencias me llevo a tener una curiosidad apasionante sobre el espacio exterior y el universo, en ese tiempo a mis nueve años de edad, ya sabía que algún día sería una científica del espacio.

Para los años setenta, Canadá ya vivía en la era post-cristiana, por lo que yo crecí sin religión. En retrospectiva, es increíble que los primeros veinticinco años de mi vida solo conocí a tres personas que se identificaban como cristianos. A temprana edad mi visión sobre el Cristianismo era negativa y cuando llegue a los veinte años ya era una enemiga activa del Cristianismo. Cuando miro atrás me doy cuenta que mucho de ello era la absorción inconsciente de la hostilidad general en contra del Cristianismo que es común en lugares como Canadá y Europa; Mi hostilidad ciertamente no estaba basada realmente en mi conocimientos sobre el Cristianismo. Yo había llegado a creer que el Cristianismo convertía a la gente en débil e ingenua; pensaba que era filosóficamente trivial. Yo era ignorante no solo de la Biblia, sino también de la profunda filosofía del Cristianismo y de los descubrimientos científicos que clarificaban los orígenes del universo y la vida en la Tierra.

De joven, en mi lucha por comprender el mundo sin la ayuda de la religión, me involucre en el Objetivismo. El Objetivismo es una filosofía fundada en la idea del egoísmo racional. Está basado en el trabajo de la ferviente atea filosofa Ayn Rand, quien vivió en la Rusia Soviética antes de emigrar a los Estados Unidos. A diferencia de mis padres, al principio de mis veintes, yo me acogí al capitalismo en vez de al socialismo. El Objetivismo me atrajo porque defiende la creencia de que mi vida me pertenecía, y de que podía hacer lo que yo quisiera. Parecía una filosofía fuertemente lógica.

A mediados de mis veintes, me mudé a los Estados Unidos para ir a la universidad y prepararme para una vida dedicada a la ciencia. Me inscribí en el programa de física de la Universidad Eastern Oregón, ubicada en el mismo pueblo pequeño donde mi hermano y yo habíamos nacido. Cuando comencé a experimentar la vida como un adulto independiente, empecé a encontrar al Objetivismo como una filosofía árida y estéril.

Ésta había fallado en responder las grandes preguntas: ¿Cual es el propósito de la vida?, ¿De dónde venimos?, ¿Por qué estamos aquí?, ¿Qué pasa cuando morimos?

También padecía de una falta irónica de consistencia interna. A pesar de su enfoque en la verdad objetiva, la filosofía del Objetivismo no tenía ninguna fuente para esa verdad, excepto la opinión humana. Y, a pesar de su enfoque en disfrutar de la vida, los objetivistas no parecían experimentar alegría alguna en absoluto. En cambio, parecían preocupados, con enojo, protegiendo su independencia de todas las presiones externas.

Yo había estado indirectamente apoyando al Instituto de Ayn Rand con una suscripción a una revista objetivista, pero para ese tiempo estaba empezando a arrepentirme. A pesar de que todavía pensaba que el cristianismo era una tontería, los ataques implacables del Instituto de Ary Rand hacia los cristianos estaban empezando a ser tediosos. Y cuando una de las más prominentes figuras públicas del Instituto montó una defensa pública a favor del aborto por parto parcial como un hecho “pro-vida”, cancelé mi apoyo y ya no me identifiqué con la filosofía. Me di cuenta que había dejado atrás al Objetivismo.

Empecé a concentrar toda mi energía en mis estudios, y me dediqué mucho más a mis cursos de matemáticas y física. Me uní a clubes universitarios, comencé a hacer amigos y, por primera vez en mi vida, estaba conociendo cristianos. No eran como los objetivistas – los cristianos eran gozosos y alegres. Y eran inteligentes también. Me quedé asombrada al descubrir que mis profesores de física, a quienes yo admiraba, eran cristianos. Su ejemplo personal comenzó a tener una influencia en mí y me encontré cada vez más menos hostil hacia el cristianismo.

En el verano después de mi segundo año en la universidad, participé en una pasantía de investigación física en la Universidad de California, San Diego. Por primera vez en mi vida, ya no estaba en el centro de masa de la ciencia -el reino de las verdades científicas ampliamente aceptadas- pero me había trasladado a la frontera de la ciencia, donde se estaban haciendo nuevos descubrimientos.

Me había unido a un grupo del Centro de Astrofísica y Ciencias del Espacio (CASS) que estaba investigando evidencia sobre el “Big Bang”. La radiación del origen cósmico- los restos de la radiación de la gran explosión- proporciona la evidencia más fuerte de la teoría, pero los cosmólogos necesitan otras líneas independientes de evidencia para confirmarlo. Mi grupo estaba estudiando la abundancia de deuterio en el universo primitivo. El deuterio es un isótopo de hidrógeno, y su abundancia en el universo primitivo es sensible a la cantidad de masa ordinaria contenida en el universo entero. Lo crean o no, esta medición nos dice si el modelo del Big Bang es correcto.

Si alguien está interesado en cómo funciona esto, lo describiría, pero por ahora les evitaré los truculentos detalles. Basta decir que una sorprendente convergencia de las propiedades físicas es necesaria con el fin de estudiar la abundancia de deuterio en el universo primitivo, y sin embargo, esta convergencia es exactamente lo que conseguimos. Recuerdo haberme quedado pasmada por esto, impresionada, completa y absolutamente asombrada. Parecía increíble para mí que había una manera de encontrar la respuesta a la pregunta que teníamos sobre el universo. De hecho, parece que todas las preguntas que tenemos sobre el universo tienen respuesta. No hay razón para que sea de esa manera, y me hizo pensar en la observación de Einstein, de que la cosa más incomprensible del mundo es que es comprensible. Comencé a sentir un orden subyacente del universo. Sin saberlo, estaba despertando a lo que el Salmo 19 nos dice claramente: “Los cielos cuentan la gloria de Dios; y el firmamento anuncia la obra de sus manos”.

Ese verano, recogí una copia de El Conde de Montecristo de Alejandro Dumas y lo leía en mis horas libres. Anterior a esto, solamente conocía esta obra como una emocionante historia de venganza, ya que eso es lo que las innumerables adaptaciones de cine y televisión siempre habían destacado. Pero es algo más que una historia de venganza, es un examen filosóficamente profundo del perdón y el papel de Dios en impartir justicia. Esto me sorprendió, y estaba empezando a darme cuenta de que el concepto de Dios y religión no eran tan filosóficamente triviales como yo había pensado.

Todo esto culminó un día, mientras caminaba por ese hermoso campus de La Jolla. Me detuve en seco cuando me ocurrió – ¡Yo creía en Dios!, estaba tan feliz; era como un peso que se había quitado de mi corazón. Me di cuenta de que la mayor parte del dolor que había experimentado en la vida era de mi propia creación, pero que Dios lo había usado para hacerme más sabia y compasiva. Fue un gran alivio el descubrir que había una razón para el sufrimiento, y era porque Dios era amoroso y justo. Dios no podía ser perfectamente justo a menos que yo- justo como cualquier otro – estaba hecha para sufrir por las cosas malas que había hecho.

Durante un tiempo estuve contenta de ser una teísta y no perseguí a la religión más allá. Pasé un verano muy agradable en el CASS, y luego durante mi último año en la Universidad conocí a un hombre que me gustó mucho, un estudiante de ciencias de la computación proveniente de Finlandia. Él había estado en las fuerzas especiales de la Fuerza de Defensa de Finlandia, y tenía un carácter de lo más bizarro que he conocido. Pero también era un hombre de fuerza, honor e integridad profunda, y me encontré poderosamente atraída por esas cualidades. Al igual que yo, él había crecido siendo ateo en un país laico, pero había llegado a aceptar a Dios y a Jesucristo como su salvador personal cuando tenía unos veinte años, a través de una experiencia personal intensa. Nos enamoramos y nos casamos. De alguna manera, a pesar de que yo no era religiosa, me sentí reconfortada al casarme con un hombre cristiano.

Ese año me gradué de la licenciatura en física y matemáticas, y en el otoño, comencé estudios de posgrado en astrofísica en la Universidad de Texas en Austin. Mi esposo estaba un año detrás de mí en sus estudios, por lo que me trasladé sola a Austin. El programa de astrofísica en la Universidad de Texas era en un ambiente mucho más riguroso y desafiante que en mi pequeña alma mater. El rigor académico, combinado con el aislamiento que sentí de mi familia y amigos que estaban lejos, me dejó bastante desanimada.

Un día paseando por una librería, vi un libro llamado La ciencia de Dios por Gerald Schroeder. Estaba intrigada por el título, pero algo más me obligó a leerlo. Tal vez fue la soledad, y yo estaba deseando una conexión más profunda con Dios. Todo lo que sé es que lo que leí me cambió la vida para siempre.

El Dr. Schroeder es un individuo único, es un físico entrenado en el MIT y también un teólogo aplicado. Él entiende la ciencia moderna, ha leído los comentarios bíblicos medievales y antiguos, y es capaz de traducir el Antiguo Testamento del hebreo antiguo. Por consiguiente fue capaz de hacer un análisis científico de Génesis 1. Su trabajo me demostró que Génesis 1 era científicamente sólido, y no sólo un “mito tonto” como los ateos creían. Me di cuenta de que, sorprendentemente, la Biblia y la ciencia están de acuerdo por completo. (Si usted está interesado en los detalles de esto, bien puede conocerlos a través de mi presentación o leer el libro del Dr. Schroeder.)

El gran trabajo de Schroeder me convenció de que Génesis es la palabra inspirada por Dios. Pero algo me llevó más allá. Si Génesis es literalmente cierto, entonces ¿por qué no los Evangelios, también? Leí los Evangelios, y encontré a la persona de Jesucristo extremadamente cautivadora. Me sentí como Einstein cuando dijo que estaba “fascinado por la figura luminosa del Nazareno.” Y sin embargo aún luchaba, porque no me sentía cien por ciento convencida de los Evangelios en mi corazón. Yo sabía de la evidencia histórica de su verdad. Y por supuesto, sabía que la Biblia era fiable debido a Génesis. Intelectualmente, sabía que la Biblia es verdad, y como una persona de intelecto tuve que aceptarlo como verdad, aunque no lo sintiera así. Eso es lo que es la fe. Como dijo CS Lewis, es aceptando algo que usted sabe que es verdad, a pesar de sus emociones. Así que, me convertí. Acepté a Jesucristo como mi salvador personal.

Tal vez esto suena fríamente lógico. Me lo parecía a mí, y por esa razón a veces me preocupaba si mi fe era real. Pero entonces, hace un par de años atrás tuve la oportunidad de descubrirlo. Ese año comenzó con mi diagnóstico de cáncer y un tratamiento desagradable. No mucho tiempo después, mí esposo se enfermó de meningitis y encefalitis, y no estaba claro si iba a recuperarse; no sabíamos si estaría paralizado o peor. Le tomó cerca de un mes, pero afortunadamente, se recuperó. En ese momento, estábamos esperando nuestro primer hijo, una niña. Todo parecía bien hasta los seis meses, cuando nuestra bebé dejó de crecer. Nos enteramos de que tenía trisomía 18, una anomalía cromosómica fatal. Nuestra hija, Ellinor, nació muerta poco después.

Fue la pérdida más devastadora de nuestras vidas. Durante un tiempo perdí la esperanza, y no sabía cómo podría continuar después de la muerte de nuestra hija. Pero finalmente tuve una clara visión de nuestra niña en los brazos amorosos de su Padre celestial, y fue entonces cuando tuve paz. Reflexioné que, después de todas esas pruebas vividas en un año, mi esposo y yo, no sólo estábamos más cerca entre sí, pero también más cerca de Dios. Mi fe era real.

No sé como hubiera hecho frente a tales pruebas cuando era atea. Cuando se tienen veinte años, estas saludable, y tienes a tu familia alrededor, te sientes inmortal. Nunca pensé en mi propia muerte o la posible muerte de mis seres queridos. Pero llega un momento en que el sentimiento de la inmortalidad se desvanece, y te encuentras obligado a enfrentar lo inevitable, no sólo tu propia aniquilación, sino la de tus seres queridos.

Hace unos años, cuando estaba investigando un artículo sobre la naturaleza del tiempo, me sorprendí al descubrir que sólo las creencias abrahámicas y sus ramificaciones se sostienen en un tiempo lineal. Todas las demás tradiciones religiosas se sostienen en un tiempo cíclico. No sólo el tiempo cíclico parece más intuitivamente correcto -nuestras vidas se rigen por muchos ciclos en la naturaleza- sino que ofrece una conexión reconfortante con lo Sagrado a través del eterno retorno. La versión moderna y laica de esto es el Multiverso.

Georges Lemaître fue un sacerdote belga y físico que resolvió las ecuaciones de la relatividad general de Einstein y descubrió que, en contra de la filosofía predominante de los últimos 2,500 años, el universo no era necesariamente eterno y estático. Descubrió en su solución la evidencia matemática de un universo en expansión, y lo discutió vigorosamente. Por esa razón, se le considera el padre de la gran explosión – el Big Bang – (a lo que él llama “la hipótesis del átomo primitivo”). Poco antes de morir, se le dijo que su hipótesis había sido reivindicada por el descubrimiento de la radiación del origen cósmico, la predicción más importante de la hipótesis. Este descubrimiento también reivindicó las primeras palabras de la Biblia después de 2,500 años de duda- hubo un principio. Y ese principio significaba que el universo tuvo una causa trascendente, pues nada en la naturaleza es su propia causa. Los ateos se consternaron por ello y se vieron obligados a retractarse de la idea del Multiverso.

La idea del Multiverso postula que hay un enorme número, posiblemente un número infinito, de universos paralelos. Es una idea interesante, pero en última instancia no es científica. La ciencia sólo puede estudiar lo que podemos observar en este Universo. No puede inclusive tener la esperanza de estudiar el Multiverso. Sin embargo, algunos ateos se aferran a la idea, porque es la única alternativa seria a Dios, como la fuerza creativa detrás del Universo y es una manera de hacer frente a la mortalidad en la ausencia de Dios. El problema es que la mayoría de los defensores del Multiverso no han explorado seriamente sus implicaciones lógicas. Creo que, cuando lo hacen, su visión del mundo les lleva a la desesperanza.

Hugh Everett es un ejemplo de ello. Él era un brillante físico que es conocido por lo que se llama “La interpretación de muchos mundos de la mecánica cuántica”. Trató de explicar los efectos extraños, casi místicos, del mundo cuántico al rechazar su dependencia de las probabilidades. Propuso en cambio que todos los posibles resultados de cada experimento realmente suceden, pero suceden en universos alternativos. Esta fue la primera encarnación científica del Multiverso.

Everett no estaba motivado únicamente por las matemáticas. Él entendió las implicaciones de sus creencias ateas, y estaba buscando una manera de escapar de la aniquilación que es inevitable en la cosmovisión atea. Para él, la idea de muchos mundos era una forma de inmortalidad. Quería creer que había un número infinito de Hugh Everetts, todos habitando en estos universos alternos, porque era una manera de evitar el terror de la aniquilación. Pero, como Jesús nos dijo, debemos juzgar a un árbol por sus frutos. La visión del mundo de Everett no le ofreció a él, ni a su familia, confort verdadero alguno. Él era un alcohólico deprimido que se consumió, bebió y fumó hasta la muerte, a la edad de 51 años. Su hija se suicidó años después, e indicó en su nota de suicidio que ella esperaba terminar en el mismo universo paralelo que su padre.

En el Multiverso no somos únicos; hay muchas “copias” de cada uno de nosotros. Si es real, entonces hemos vivido y viviremos un número infinito de vidas. De hecho, ya hemos vivido esta vida exacta un número infinito de veces. Todas esas vidas están perdidas y sin sentido. Viviremos un número infinito de veces de nuevo. Everett y otros que creen en el Multiverso no han vencido a la muerte; creen que han encontrado una forma de engañarla, pero esta forma de “inmortalidad” es en realidad una prisión de la que no hay escapatoria. ¿Eso te suena horrible? Suena horrible para mí. Al igual que con la filosofía de Ayn Rand, el Multiverso es en última instancia estéril de fe y propósito.

No creo que estemos encerrados en esa especie de prisión. Pero la única forma de ser libre es si el universo y todo lo que hay en él fueron creados, no por algún mecanismo inconsciente, pero por un ser personal -el Dios de la Biblia-. La única forma en que nuestras vidas son únicas, con propósito, y eternas es si un Dios de amor nos creó.


Amo mi carrera de astrofísica. No puedo pensar en nada que prefiera hacer que estudiar el funcionamiento del universo, y me doy cuenta ahora que mi fascinación de toda la vida con el espacio ha sido realmente un intenso anhelo de una conexión con Dios (“Porque desde la creación del mundo las cualidades invisibles de Dios – su eterno poder y deidad – se hacen claramente visibles, siendo entendidas por medio de las cosas hechas “[Romanos 1:20]). Pero también siento un fuerte llamado a ministrar a otros a través de este mismo trabajo.

Nunca olvidaré a la estudiante que me inició en este camino. Cuando yo era estudiante de posgrado, no mucho después de que me había convertido al cristianismo, estaba auxiliando dirigiendo una sesión de un curso de astronomía, y estábamos hablando sobre la cosmología del Big Bang. Después de la sesión, la estudiante vino a mí y muy tímidamente me preguntó, si estaba bien ser un científico y creer en Dios. Le dije, por supuesto; Yo era científica y creía en Dios. Ella estaba visiblemente aliviada, y me dijo que uno de sus profesores en otro departamento había dicho que no se podía ser religioso y creer en la ciencia a la misma vez. Estaba angustiada por esto, y me pregunté cuántos otros jóvenes estaban luchando con preguntas similares acerca de la ciencia y la fe. Me decidí a ayudar a otros que están luchando con dudas. También quería ayudar a la gente a responder con seguridad a los argumentos ateos falsos. He luchado con esto, porque sé que va a ser un camino difícil de recorrer. Pero el significado del sacrificio de Jesús no me deja ninguna duda acerca de lo que tengo que hacer.

Cuando estaba en el proceso de convertirme en creyente, dos cosas me atrajeron a Dios, la abrumadora evidencia de su implicación en el mundo físico y su justicia perfecta. Yo puedo ayudar a la gente a ver la obra de Dios en el mundo físico, pero no estoy cualificada con justicia perfecta. Ninguno de nosotros está. La justicia perfecta de Dios exige la expiación del pecado, pero debido a nuestra naturaleza imperfecta, no somos capaces de llevar a cabo la expiación. Dios envió a su Hijo unigénito, Jesucristo, para la expiación por nosotros. Jesús fue crucificado, murió y fue sepultado, y al tercer día resucitó. Se logró la justicia perfecta.

Jesús triunfó sobre la tentación, el pecado y la muerte. Si optamos por aceptar el regalo de la salvación, somos reconciliados con Dios:       “ Porque de tal manera amó Dios al mundo, que ha dado a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo aquel que en él cree, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna.” (Juan 3:16 ) No sé quién es usted, querido lector, o cual sea su pasado. Tal vez usted es un creyente; si es así, usted ya conoce el poder de estas palabras. Pero si usted todavía está buscando a Dios, quizás usted elegirá, como lo hice yo, aceptar este gran regalo de la salvación y reconciliarse con Dios.


May the Force be with all of us

In 1977 my father took my brother and me to see Star Wars, and what I saw transformed me. On that screen, which seemed so big to a little kid, I was swept away from my Earth-bound existence and became conscious for the first time of our universe.  This was the defining moment in my life and it occurred when I was six years old.

Now that I am an adult, I realize how short on science the movie was, but I will be forever grateful for the way it got me thinking about outer space in a significant way. Space was all I could think about for years after: the awe, the mystery, the unlimited possibilities. From that moment onward, a life dedicated to the study of space science was inevitable for me.

Almost four decades later, I’m a professional astrophysicist. I have Jodie Foster-in-Contact moments whenever I go to a remote observatory and watch the transcendent night sky. Every time, it transports me back to 1977 and reignites the sheer wonder and indescribable joy I felt at the sight of a sky filled with thousands of far-off suns. But the wonder is deeper and more complex than it was when I was six years old, because of what I know. I now know what powers each of those suns, I know how they formed, when they formed, that most have planets orbiting them, and, though the stars appear to extend infinitely in all directions, I know that I’m really only looking at the outskirts of the vast Milky Way galaxy. But most important of all, I now know that all of this was deliberately created.

My brother and I were brought up with little in the way of religious instruction or experiences. He and I found God after long journeys on separate paths. It was the intense love my brother felt for his children and his need to believe they would have eternal life that brought him to God. What led me to God was my love of all things space and everything I learned as a student about the creation of the universe and the way nature is so exquisitely fine-tuned for intelligent life.  Science continues to be the basis of my unshakable conviction that nothing as beautiful and orderly as our universe could be an accident.

Whenever I stand on the peak of Mount Locke wrapped in the awe of a perfect night sky, I am infused by a feeling of complete humility. But, I understand in those moments what a little girl couldn’t possibly have understood forty years ago, that I am feeling humility in the midst of God’s divine work as I view proof of Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”


Whenever I teach introductory astronomy, I hand out a questionnaire to my students and ask them to describe their main challenge (if any) with astronomy in terms of their religious or philosophical worldviews. Some students are troubled by the apparent conflict between science and their religious beliefs, but the most common response by far is a feeling of insignificance in the face of their new awareness of the vast scale of the universe.

Their answers reflect an intense humility, but it is often different from what I feel. Their humility, combined with the sense of insignificance, seems to lead many of them to disturbing feelings of meaninglessness and hopelessness. I realized some time ago that people who do not believe in God feel the same degree of humility when they look at the night sky as I do, but they often turn the humility inward where it is translated into feelings of personal worthlessness. This feeling is not unique to the young and uninitiated in science. Physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg lamented in his book, Dreams of a Final Theory, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

I am fortunate to know that our vast universe is exactly the size it has to be to give rise to intelligent life.  Just about every scientist knows this, but the unfortunate non-believers are materialists for whom the vastness of the universe is also a constant reminder of the cold and deadly indifference of nature. Some non-believers, like the late astronomer Carl Sagan, hope for something after death, but largely accept the materialist view that this existence is all that there is. They retreat to gratitude for the moment, which is an intellectual evasion of their terrible truth.

Other scientifically informed people evade thoughts about the creation and fine tuning of the universe in a different manner, by pushing it beyond the bounds of investigation. They maintain that ours is one of an infinite number of universes—the multiverse—which we can never observe. They argue that we must have simply won the multiverse lottery and the jackpot was all of the conditions necessary for life. It seems to me that if people feel insignificant and hopeless in a vast universe, they aren’t going to feel any better being part of an even bigger multiverse. A darker road is taken by a few, like biologist William Provine, who simply accept their insignificance and acknowledge that a godless universe can have no meaning. It is an honest assessment for a materialist, but one that is filled with despair.

The deliberately more optimistic atheist will talk of his awe of the universe, but I know from experience that is only what he says in public to make his case. If he is capable of taking the next step in his reasoning, he can’t help but move to terrifying thoughts. He may feel wonder at the universe, but if he knows its history he can’t escape the understanding that nature doesn’t care about him. His awe, humility, and fear must all be based on the inescapable realization that ultimately the cosmos will bring about his destruction and the eventual annihilation of the entire human species. Nothing that he or anyone else does will ever have any meaning.  The atheist who looks at outer space as merely a pretty picture is deluding himself. If there is no loving God as Creator of the universe, what the atheist is really looking at in the heavens is the end of all hope or meaning.

There is no need for such a dim view of existence. Because I believe in a loving and purposeful God, when I look at outer space, I see something created with mankind in mind. I know that I am small in physical size, but huge in significance. My awe and humility expand my being through the knowledge that there is a divine power guided by God’s love for all of us. His love changes space into something more like Star Wars: a wonderful challenge that we can meet with joy because of our God-given spirit and intellect.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet

Psalm 8:1-6

Vanquishing fear

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. – 2 Timothy 1:7

The All-Father wove the skein of your life a long time ago. Go and hide in a hole if you wish, but you won’t live one instant longer. Your fate is fixed. Fear profits a man nothing. – Herger the Joyous, The 13th Warrior

Nine years ago, I stood in a terminal in Phoenix, Arizona, unable to board a connecting flight that was supposed to take me to visit family in Oregon. I was so gripped by fear that I was near hysteria, and a worried gate agent wanted to call an ambulance. Embarrassed, I told her, no, I was fine, but I was really far from it. I ended up renting a car that day and driving all the way home to Austin, Texas. That was the first of many long trips by car to visit people.

My fear of flying started about a year after my mom died from cancer. In my grief, I started to isolate myself and avoid any sort of discomfort. Not coincidentally, I found that I began to have irrational fears, which manifested most obviously in a fear of flying. It started with fear of turbulence, then fear of boarding, then fear of airports. It got so bad, I couldn’t even look at a plane in the sky without getting clammy with terror. Intellectually, I knew that my chances of being hurt or killed while driving were far greater than any chance of being killed in an air disaster. I even knew that my chances of being killed by falling out of bed at night were greater than being killed flying in a commercial airliner. But this did nothing to calm my anxiety. That’s why it’s called an irrational fear.

Fear is a hell of a thing, and so is its cousin, worry. In terms of the Christian faith, we know where fear and worry come from. They attack us when we abandon our trust in God and allow the Enemy to take control. In terms of biology, it’s equally simple. Fear and worry come from the over-enjoyment of security in the form of avoidance and from too much comfort. These two perspectives are complementary, by the way. We were meant to engage the world, not avoid it.

I knew deep down that it was wrong to let fear rule my life, partly because I despise weakness, but also because it showed a terrible lack of trust in God. So, after one final grueling drive from Texas to Canada last spring, I realized it was time to conquer my fear. My next trip would be by air.

My husband and I were going to fly with our baby daughter from Seattle to Austin. I was anxious the night before our flight, and even more so in the morning. Thankfully, the drive to the airport was interrupted when we were pulled over by a state trooper for speeding. That meant we had very little time to get from the ticket counter to the plane, and I had no time for dithering. We were up in the air before I even had time to reconsider.

It was a bumpy ride from the start; the turbulence was putting my nerves even more on edge. But instead of growing more fearful, a peculiar thing happened. I started to get angry. I couldn’t run from the fear, so, cornered, I turned and faced my adversary. I was going to sit there and feel every sensation in that plane; I was going to dare this stupid thing to kill me. So, I just let go and felt every single bump and jolt. I focused intensely on how it felt. And then, suddenly, there was a sense of utter peace. I turned and smiled at my husband, and told him the fear was gone. It was gone! Confronted head-on, the fear simply vanished.

I flew six more times that summer, all without anxiety. No worrying the night before, no cold sweat at the ticket counter, no sense of mounting panic as I boarded. There was only sweet, sweet victory.

While I don’t share the pagan view that our fates are fixed, I do believe Herger was right that hiding from danger — real or perceived — won’t extend our lives by even one second. Whatever is going to happen is largely out of our hands. We might as well go forth boldly.

Radio interviews

“Mac” McKoy interviewed me earlier this week about science and Christianity on his show, “A View from a Pew.” Catch the show on YouTube here.

Kevin Collard of “A Soul Encountered” had me on his show to talk about my conversion from atheism to Christianity. You can listen here.

Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which an anti-theist mischaracterizes a claim in my testimony and also misses the point.

In response to my recently-posted testimony, OpenMind offered the following

I don’t know exactly what OM meant, so I’ve asked him for clarification. However, he seems busy responding to the flurry of Tweets his comment generated, so I’ll just address it as is.

Generally speaking, when a person is said to be rationalizing his behavior, it means he’s offering a seemingly plausible, but untrue, reason for it. That’s probably the sense in which OM offered his interpretation of how I’ve dealt with the death of my daughter. The problem with this interpretation is that no one can demonstrate that the reason for my behavior — God’s existence — is untrue. Therefore, by definition, it cannot be a rationalization. Furthermore, I offered very good reason to believe that it is true, which I explained in my testimony. OM’s is just a nonsensical claim.

OM also missed the point of my relating how I dealt with the loss of my baby. My testimony was the story of how I went from atheism to theism, partly on the basis of scientific evidence, and from theism to Christianity, largely on the basis of scientific evidence. It seemed a little too coldly logical to me, and so I worried that maybe my faith wasn’t real, that it lacked substance. Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower. Sometimes people receive the Word, but as soon as they experience any tribulation, they fall away from the faith. I don’t wish to overstate my case, but I think it’s fair to say that I experienced tribulation that year. Yet my faith did not fall away. When the dust had settled, I felt closer to God — I knew what it meant to receive his provision and protection. I knew my faith was real.

There are two takeaway points here for my Christian readers. The first is to always evaluate what an anti-theist (or any other) critic is claiming, identify the error, and then focus your response there. OM claimed I was rationalizing my loss. A rationalization involves an untrue belief, in this case, a belief in God’s existence. Contrary to what strident atheists imply or outright claim, no one has shown that God does not exist. Not only is there is no good reason to assert that God doesn’t exist, but there is good reason to believe that he does. The claim of rationalization is therefore invalid.

The second point is that strident atheists will frequently avoid, evade, redefine, mischaracterize, and misdirect in order to discredit your argument or avoid acknowledging a logical conclusion they don’t like. OM mischaracterized the story of how my faith was tested to claim I was rationalizing my belief. This story had nothing to do with the truth of the reason for my belief, but rather concerned whether my belief even existed. It’s a common tactic; don’t let them get away with it.