Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today. (H/T Sanjay M.)

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most atheists are not interested in truth, because they tend to jettison truth whenever it conflicts with their personal autonomy – their desire to seek pleasure apart from moral constraints. But there is another kind of atheist. This kind of atheist is honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

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5 Responses

  1. Seth says:

    I’m a Christian today because of an educated Christian in my college class. He challenged me with reason, humor, and honesty. The Christianity I knew growing up was the anti-intellectual, don’t-have-to-read-your-bible-because-subjective-experience-trumps-the-mind flavor that I thought *was* Christianity. He proved me wrong.

    Those who doubt or are mad at WK for saying what he said, hey, he’s right about it. I know from personal experience of being that agnostic in class who had lots of great conversations with a reasonable, honest, and educated Christian interested in giving me negative and positive reasons for Christianity. Did he have *every* answer? Nope, but he had general knowledge of Christianity, other religions, science and was able to point me in directions for further study. He also lots of stories of other interactions with atheists, JWs, and people of other religions. Again, he wasn’t an expert, but his being able to give general answers and knowing other sources helped me tremendously. There were a lot of Christians in other classes who would tell me, “Well, I had an experience that proves to be Christianity is real,” or “Try meditating on a scripture.” There was a Buddhist who told me things along similar lines that sounded like Christianity (what I thought was Christianity): emptying oneself, and other escapist thoughts; I didn’t hear anything from Christians that was like Socrates or John Locke.

  2. Keith says:

    Glad you posted this. There’s a lot of people who assume apologetics is irrelevant (as I’ve been told several times before)

  3. [...] A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God  [link] (HT: Wintery Knight) [...]

  4. Mathetes says:

    Even more, if you know a little you can initiate conversations when topics arise and steer them towards God. I was sitting in my office about a year ago with three other grad students, and one of them said he liked Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I told him I thought it didn’t make any sense, since she’s an atheist, and she therefore has no right to talk about objective morality. She has no basis for right and wrong. That started the room on a 2 hour conversation about the moral argument. So a wasted morning scientifically, though a productive one in provoking some thoughts. Thanks Dr. Craig!

  5. mmmne4 says:

    I think it is extremely important to remember that people are very different. I spent about 70 hours researching Christ’s Resurrection and was convinced it was fact, or so I thought. A nagging filling in the pit of my stomach told me I wasn’t quite there. I had to KNOW His bodily resurrection was historical fact. After another 30 hours of intense research it struck me like a ton of bricks, only in a wonderful way, that Christ was IN FACT raised from the dead!!! I continue to learn, and with any doubts that arise I thoroughly research them and in the end God reveals to me what He wants me to know or takes away any worry about the matter. Any time I have any doubt about something I revert back to my rock solid foundation; Christ’s Bodily Resurrection….The definition of Faith is “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of an idea, person, or thing.” A little bit of evidence can go a long way indeed…………

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