Monday, August 1, 2011

Why I'm a Christian

From time to time I'll post some thoughts on why I became a Christian about 6 years ago.

The short answer to 'why I'm a Christian' is God's grace. He came looking for me, long before I was looking for Him. I'm sure that God speaks to each person in a unique way, because He knows our hearts.  In my life God speaks to me by showing me. When I ask a question in prayer,  His answer usually comes in an act, sometimes several days later, that I see as His reply. It has happened to me so many times now that it no longer surprises me. I'll want His guidance, and He provides it, by showing me the answer.

I had been an atheist/agnostic most of my life. I was raised in a functionally atheist home. My mom dragged me to church on occasions, but it was more social than spiritual.

I liked Ayn Rand for a while in college. Rand's atheism made a lot of sense to me. I liked her comparison between totalitarian thugs and mystic thugs. Reason seemed a fine thing to worship. I was a little uncomfortable with the suspicion that Rand's ideology could lead to a particularly ugly form of repression itself, because it was based in no objective moral code except "A is A" and rational self-interest. I wasn't so sure that that code would end well if widely practiced, but my affection for Objectivism remained.

The portrayal of Howard Roark in the Fountainhead fascinated me. Still does, in a way. I never liked Atlas Shrugged (too strident), and I was never an Objectivist in any formal sense. I never wore an dollar-bill-broach and I didn't smoke. But Rand got me thinking, at a young age. My thoughts took me in a different direction, but I have to thank her at least for that.

I had been a faithful atheist for many years. I liked Christians. I respected Christianity. I didn't think it was nuts, just untrue. Too good to be true. I equated Christian belief with televangelists, who I despised.  I still don't like them, although I seem them a bit more sympathetically than I did. I believed that Darwin explained life and Hawking explained the universe and that science was the reliable path to knowledge.

But I came across a quote from St. Paul. I don't recall where I saw it, or even exactly when, except that it was years ago. I seem to remember that it was in an essay that wasn't particularly religious. The quote struck me as more philosophical than religious when I heard it, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. The quote was:

"What do you have that you did not receive?"

It haunted me. The context was that Paul was chastising the Corinthian Christians for taking pride in their sectarian faith or in their personal abilities (1Cor 4:7). I think that he also meant it in a much more general sense.

I couldn't stop thinking about it.

What did I have that I did not receive? I had always been an ambitious person. My family was poor. We were on welfare for a while when I was a kid. I became a paratrooper in the Army, went to an Ivy League college, got into an Ivy League medical school, became a neurosurgeon. I married a wonderful woman-- the love of my life-- and I had four great kids I love with all my heart.

I was a self-made man. But that line- "What do you have that you did not receive?"-- dogged me.

I couldn't stop thinking about it. Because when I thought about it, I realized how utterly contingent I was. Where I was born, how I was raised, my health and intellect, nearly all of the chance and purpose in my life, was not from me.   My life was largely without my request and without my consent. It could be altered or ended without my consent. Certainly I worked hard, and took opportunities when I found them, but nearly all that I took pride in I received, in a very real sense. My health, my life, my abilities, my circumstances, the good and the bad, were not from me in any essential way.

That is not to say that I didn't take responsibility for myself. I did, and do. But I was overwhelmed with the fact of how little of my life was not received. I was not my own.

I saw that this wasn't a scientific question, in the sense that I could explain things by biology, etc. It was deeper than that. It was a question about ultimate origins, not mechanism. When I thought about mechanism, I saw how shallow that was. Science described things, but didn't explain them, in any ultimate way. The real question was my origin.

I came to see that I was contingent. That just as my life began without my having any say, it could end without my having any say. I came to see that I was not responsible for my existence. My experiences in medicine brought that point home even more intensely: I saw people's lives changed radically in a moment, saved or lost by a power not theirs or ours.

I began to ask the obvious question: if what I have, I received, where did I get it from? What, or Who, gave it to me?

So I began looking.


  1. wooow. A single phrase made you spin from atheism to theism ???

    Doctor... what do you think of scientific education ? any thoughts about that ???

    * I am remembering here my own story. I was never an atheist or agnostic but learned under people who probably were agnostics and atheists. Learning that religion is old and stupid, and being liberal or a leftist or at least a nonbeliever was the only rational thing to do.

    Well their doctrination made me despise science and scientists. I felt that science was completely filled with egocentric people. Well all that changed after decided to make more questions about my own view of the world and science. *

    So now i am learning physics... but see Doctor, I believe that education plays a vital role in those metaphysical decisions. So I wonder how much education interfered in your decisions and if you have any thoughts on education as a Whole ???

  2. @Edward:

    "Learning that religion is old and stupid, and being liberal or a leftist or at least a nonbeliever was the only rational thing to do."

    There was certainly a strain of that in my education, although it was mostly unspoken. I did have some wonderful science professors (Bob Pollack, a quite religious Jew, was one of my favorite molecular biology professors and went on to be dean of Columbia College. Walter Bock, professor of evolutionary biology, was a bit doctrinaire and not my favorite).

    [Well their doctrination made me despise science and scientists. I felt that science was completely filled with egocentric people. Well all that changed after decided to make more questions about my own view of the world and science. *]

    My own experience with scientists is that they are largely nice people, although unfortunately too focused on funding. There have been a few not-so-nice ones, but not many. Certainly much of the behavior that you see now from some scientists-- evolutionary biologists in particular-- is execrable.

    Scientists are like most people-- they want to earn a living and have a decent career. They go with the flow, and unfortunately, the current flow is atheism.

    [So I wonder how much education interfered in your decisions and if you have any thoughts on education as a Whole ???]

    My education profoundly interfered with my coming to Christ. I had to undo years of smug dismissal of religious thought. That's a major reason I fight atheism in science so hard-- I hope to help a few young students understand that belief in God and good science are entirely compatible.

  3. @Edward:

    [wooow. A single phrase made you spin from atheism to theism ???]

    There was of course a lot more- my personal prayers and experiences, George McDonald, CS Lewis, and quite a few devout Christians I met professionally.

    But that phrase "What do you have that you did not receive? kept me going. Anytime I started to think "these religious beliefs are silly", it would come back to me that I still hadn't explained where all that I had received came from.

    It was like a huge mystery that I couldn't ignore, for very long, at least.

  4. Well personally I realized that the researchers in the Physics institute and professor are very nice people, well my atheist professors are more prominent about their positions XD but all in all they seem quite calm and gentle people which one could talk for hours!

    Well I had a different take on this whole religion and science relation. I spent a year at home and during that time I did a lot of thinking. I finally realized that religion, science, the Arts, technology, and all in life came in a sense from philosophy or rather from our capability to think and create and interpret. That soorrrt of put me back to my old self who were so passionate about knowledge; but this time Science was to me, like "applied philosophy" of some sort, I felt that i had understood science in its deepest.

    Well at least in physics I suppose * not counting quantum XD physics *

    But Darwinism was really different to me. I mean I was never really the Life sciences guy, but when I learned about the Evolution Theory ( Darwinism in this case ); The whole explanation sounded so loose! I saw the whole logic of the thing, and noticed that it was a valid theory... But just in theory; I kept asking the odds of everything getting in the right track by simple chance and natural selection, a system that doesn't know what it's doing, has no idea what it did, has no idea who is the best condidate among the Living Beings that it is suppose to select. Wellthe explanation never bought me.

    by the way Doctor... Why Catholic ??? any reasons on this choice or it was just mere affinity ?

  5. @Edward:

    Why Catholic ???

    I am a catholic too. The answer lies in the quote by Benedict XVI that Dr. Egnor put on the top of his blog.

  6. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

    Pope Benedict XVI.

    The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

    Richard Dawkins.

    Who is right?

    Who do you wish is right?

    When your life will be near the end, what will be your choice? Ben or Dick!

  7. @Edward:

    [ Why Catholic ??? any reasons on this choice or it was just mere affinity ?]

    Good question. I went to a number of churches prior to my decision. My reasons:

    1) I felt the Real Presence
    2) Catholics didn't dress fancy for mass.
    3) The intellectual tradition fascinates me.
    4) I fell in love with Augustine and Aquinas
    5) I like dogma. I would go nuts if I were in a Protestant denomination that voted on every popular idea. I came to the Church for the truth, not the latest trend.
    6) I love the Church's stand on life issues
    7) I like belonging to a 2000 year old organization
    8) I have a lot to learn, and it seemed to be that the Catholic Church was the best place to learn it.
    9) I deeply admire Pope John Paul II

  8. @Pepe:

    Thanks for the Pope Benedict XVI quote. I's beautiful.

  9. @Edward:

    My decision to become a Catholic in no way means I don't have love and respect for my Protestant/Orthodox brethren in Christ. I have many friends who are not Catholic from whom I have learned much.

    One of the most profound worship experiences I have had was at a protestant evangelical conference in Hungary a few years ago. It still gives me chills.

    The Lord's mansion has many rooms.

  10. My mother is a protestant XD but she was a catholic before. I mean ... I always saw the USA as a more Protestant country. So sometimes I feel like that the Catholic position might be a safest choice since protestants tend to be more fervorous about their faith.

    I am .... was a Catholic... have been so much time away from church that ... well is hard to say I am a Catholic now. But I love catholic churches, they really have that presence to them. The calmness XD is really good.

    Now I see your point Doctor Egnor. I wish I wasn't so damn lazy and relutant about everything I do XD, perhaps I would be more fulfilled I suppose. ( which I believe that could be achieved by being one with God... or sort of that idea I suppose )


    Now onto Dawkins... I mean I know exactly why Benedict says what he says, He is coming from a more transcendent view of the world... But dawkins is just ... well .... what THE heck is he talking XD ????

    since when there are rules for undesigned stuff ??? man ... dawkins .... really amazes me XD!!!

    Now I wonder what are the predictions of a no-design Universe... I mean we barely know if there is will in matter or not! I mean I could make a bunch of pressupositions, but I don't know if we can positivily prove the point correct....

    know what I give up ... dawkins's mind is indeed a mystery u_u!

  11. What does all of this "XD" mean?

  12. means I am laughing... maybe I should use Vocaroo XD so you people can grasp how I talk hhahhaha ...

    I like laughing man... is like my fuel.

  13. Ah, the zeal of a new convert.

  14. @oleg:

    I have noticed that Christians who converted from atheism are often exceptionally hard on atheists.

    Perhaps its because they understand atheism so well.

  15. Or perhaps they are afraid that they may be wrong and feel a bit insecure. And as we all know, the best defense is a good offense.

  16. Oleg has a good "perhaps" there. Based on the sort of reasoning displayed by Darwinist "scientists", that is all that is needed, and he should be understood to have proved that Egnor is afraid that he is wrong.

  17. Fascinating stuff, Folks.
    Nice to read. Nice to note there was a distinct lack of flaming from the Atheists too. I would like to commend them on that, but I fear it would be a waste of perfectly good pixels :P

    For me the Lord was on a different path.
    I was raised in a traditionally Anglican home. We were officially 'high church', but only my Grandparents actually WENT to church, and I with them as a boy. When I did, it was usually our own, but also quite often My Grandmothers sisters (aunties) churches: A Roman or Presbyterian. All the sisters were easy to attend all, except my Aunty Vi (the RCC lady) who claimed she could only be allowed to attend the RC or HC services. I still do not understand the logic of the priest who told her that, and now have MANY RC friends who, while attending their own mass at their own Parish, will gladly find God in any of 'his Mansions'.
    For years I did not, as a young man, attend services or even THINK about God in anything but the most abstract terms. "Thank God" or "good God!" were about the closest I came to prayer. I celebrated the holidays and feasts out of tradition, and enjoyed the ideas. I told my son the meaning of Christmas etc, but only out of a kind of duty.
    As a student of history and military sciences, I began to think in terms of motivations, not reasoning or origins. While I some may say I was agnostic (apathetic actually) in those days, I could not have been described as 'atheist'. My study of history had left me with far too much of a bad taste for the age/cult of Reason. I knew Atheism was a reduction, a detraction. It was the LACK of an idea, not one in itself.
    I also understood that much of the modern slant on history that teaches 'religion bad - progress good' is bunk. I quickly became aware this was the means by which modern social engineers distance themselves from those of the past. "Past bad - Future good" is the real message: Pure BUNK.
    Atheism, and it's parent ideology, Materialism, were obviously conformity dressed as subversion. Like an intellectual Marxism, it brings everyone DOWN to a level of common stupidity and WILLING ignorance.
    A line form Jeremiah comes to mind:
    'Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not'

  18. PART II
    It was not until years later that I experienced what could be only be called an 'epiphany' or 'wakening'. My eyes, ears and all my senses returned. I found wonder again.
    This profound moment changed me utterly and entirely. The phrase 'completed' is the best term I could use for the sensation of this transformation. I was now a 'man'. I WAS.
    People could use words like fulfilled, but it would be lacking in depth.
    It was like feeling a new emotion. A new freedom. I Opened my mind to non material concepts I had forgotten since childhood. I began to dig, read, and ATTEND services and Masses at my local Churches, Synagogues, and even a Mosque or two. I had long discussions with our Chaplains and Rabbis in the service.
    The change in me made me a better soldier, officer, and student/educator of history. Ironically the 'motives' I had us observed in my reasonable way became CLEARER and functional. So much more mystery and wonder presented itself. The universe became INTERESTING in a flash of light.

    Even more beautiful to behold was the infectious nature of that rediscovery/completion. My wife saw it in me, and was changes too. We have grown stronger and closer in faith. Our relations have a new meaning and our love a new purpose.
    My Dad, a Philosopher of the Humanist bent and decidedly AGNOSTIC since my childhood (very tolerant) began to attend holiday services and eventually to dig into CS Lewis. By the time he passed, about 10 years later, he was happily Home with Christ. He died a brave, honest, and loving death.
    A similar thing happened with my teenage (now adult) son.
    He viewed my quiet return as a (pleasant) transformative mystery for a while.
    He too began to look into the faith; to read, to question the materialism of his (then) colleagues and peers. Now he carries the Cross, just like his dad. His course changed entirely. Am I proud of that effect?
    I thank God for it. I thank God for my Grandparents, and them for keeping those traditions alive in our kin.
    I am proud, if I may be allowed some vice, of my son, family, and my Lord.
    For my own part I just opened my eyes and reacted to what I saw.
    How can one see/feel God and not love Him?
    That is the mystery to me.