In search of answers to life´s biggest questions, Tyler investigated arguments by atheists, scientists and theologians. To his surprise, Christianity offered the best explanation of the origin of the universe and humanity´s current situation.
Every story has a catalyst, a pivotal event that initiates and guides the rest of the narrative. I believe this is also true in our personal lives.
When I was 10 years old, this life changing event was my grandfather, with whom I was very close at the time, taking his life. Although I was probably able to conceive of the possibility of suicide, the idea of being in such despair that you would do so was entirely alien to me.
Worse still, his death liberated other family members to openly talk about family history in a way that awakened me to the reality of evil, which completely shocked my childhood imagination.
My parents had made a conscious effort not to raise me religious, so I had no context in which to process these feelings and ideas. In fact, probably the first time I ever encountered a real, physical Bible was in the funeral home where we bid final farewell to my tragically departed grandparent.
I hated religion
As childhood gave way to adolescence, indifference to religion started to give way to hostility. It was though God has become a natural target for a bubbling anger I could not comprehend, and began rationalizing. I did have a very brief, very unserious dalliance with occult and New Age beliefs at that time, but by the age of around 16 or 17 I had developed a fascination with the fashionable ideas of philosophers like Nietzsche, eventually losing my taste for the supernatural altogether.
”Not only did I reject religion, I hated it. Its effects on society and the condition of the person were uniformly bad. It impeded our progress, justified violence, and gave a supernatural dimension to silly sexual hangups.”
It was a period in my life where I developed such a preoccupation with reading books in my interest areas that I neglected schoolwork, and my grades suffered because of it. As I read more and found my way into popular science books like Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker,” I started to take a liking to the ice cold rationalism of science. Whatever qualms one may have about the naturalist worldview, one cannot deny that there is a certain charm to the simplicity of it. The universe and the laws that govern it are all that there is, everything else is superstition and hocus pocus. I very quickly found myself being a fervent defender of that idea.
It certainly didn’t help that it was only a few years after this that the New Atheist publishing phenomenon took off. It seemed like Dawkins in particular was everywhere in the media massacring the sacred cows of the faithful. Already at this point habituated to reading the latest in pop science and materialism, I devoured the books of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.
The stridency of their atheism was at first startling but became infectious. This was, of course, still in the afterglow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and if there were ever a time for an anti-religious crusade, so to speak, that was it. It almost gave me a sense of purpose I was then lacking. Not only did I reject religion, I hated it. Its effects on society and the condition of the person were uniformly bad. It impeded our progress, justified violence, and gave a supernatural dimension to silly sexual hangups. In short, as Christopher Hitchens famously argued in his own contribution, “religion poisons everything.”
Is evolution capable of explaining the origin of life?
The idea of evolution by natural selection was a shocking idea, even to someone like me, who was not raised religiously. It is an idea relatively new in human history, but so straightforward that you wonder why it took thousands of years of human civilization for anyone to come up with it.
We all knew lifeforms vary from one generation to the next. We also knew some offspring were more successful than others in reproducing. But somehow, no one put those two things together to form an explanation for the diversity of life. It was my shock in encountering this idea that largely fueled my increasing confidence in scientific materialism. As Dawkins himself put it, Darwin made it possible “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
”Why does the universe, or anything, exist at all?”
But the growth of that confidence faced a major roadblock as I explored further. Sure, evolution is impressive, but it is still very limited in scope. One of the major misconceptions people have is that it is assumed to be capable of explaining the origin of life itself, but this is not so. To do this day we have nothing resembling a plausible theory for the origin of the first lifeforms from non-living matter.
I was able to dismiss this. After all, evolution was shocking and was hidden to us for thousands of years, perhaps such an explanation is likewise just laying out there for science to find. We do know there is nothing to life but chemical compounds arranged in some intricate ways, right? So my thinking went, but that was a small matter in comparison to the question I could never actually suppress and which eventually shattered my confidence in atheism: why does the universe, or anything, exist at all?
Searching for answers
To that end, cosmology has been a hot topic. But it is here that I found answers far less satisfying than anything I had received from biologists. A common refrain, for instance, is that the net energy of the universe is effectively zero because positive kinetic energy is canceled out by negative gravitational energy (so far as we can tell). And hey, zero doesn’t have to come from anywhere, right? This is an obvious example of equivocation, however, as it would be if I said there is “nothing in my bank account” due to an exact balance of credits and debits and that this, in turn, means I don’t have to actually explain any of those transactions (I’m pretty sure tax collectors wouldn’t buy that logic, at least).
There is also the claim that a “cause” of the universe isn’t really needed because quantum mechanics is fundamentally acausal. Sounded baffling, which to be sure quantum mechanics really is, but it doesn’t take long actually reading about quantum mechanics to realize that this supposedly “acausal” theory is actually based on causal relations, just not deterministic ones. And there is always of course the pesky question of why we live in a universe governed by quantum mechanics in the first place.
Another pivotal moment was when Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design” was released to much fanfare. After hearing the news that one of our most brilliant living scientists was going to answer why our universe was in no need of a God or supernatural explanation, I excitedly read it, looking to have my doubts extinguished. What happened was the exact opposite. The book became famous among other things for its embarrassingly nonsensical statement that “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” That this is gibberish should be obvious to a 10 year old. There was also the sheer inventiveness of Hawking’s specific scenario, which was essentially a popularization of various ideas in the highly speculative field of quantum cosmology. The book was based on proposals like a multiverse, eternal inflation, M-theory, etc, for which we currently have zero evidence and many mainstream scientists (eg, Peter Woit) accuse of being outright unfalsifiable. Not only did this show a double standard in demands for evidence, it was very obvious that Hawking was simply deferring the question rather than answering it.
From atheism to agnosticism
From here my atheism gave way to a kind of non-committal agnosticism. It was fairly recent that I really started revisiting this question and asking myself, “what am I missing?” Eventually my second and more serious engagement with the question brought me into contact with Aquinas, Leibniz, Anselm, and other major figures in the classical theist tradition.
Just like evolution, I was being treated to the shocking revelation that most popular atheists are arguing against a God that these figures wouldn’t have recognized. Likening God to a flying spaghetti monster of an invisible teapot orbiting Mars would not only have been blasphemous to them, it would have been nearly unintelligible.
God is not, and cannot, be something simply contained in the world, another link in the chain of causation we observe in the cosmic order. Divine aseity, divine simplicity, divine impassibility, and the like are all traits that follow from the fact that God is a necessary being, and indeed, the very ground of being as such. In my naivety of dealing with those cosmological questions, I had never really happened upon an explanation of what a metaphysical anchor point, an ultimate explanation, would look like. One of many good books I would recommend on this topic is “The Experience of God” by David Bentley Hart.
Did the resurrection of Jesus happen?
Although at this point I was convinced that theism was superior to atheism in solving the problems that had so troubled me, I still was not a Christian. Philosophy and natural theological arguments are wonderful, but they only get you to the sterile God of the philosophers. The God of Plato and Aristotle is not necessarily the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jocob.
My initial instincts went toward perennialism, the notion that all religions must have an underlying truth that in its fullness is hidden to us. This lasted until I was in a conversation with a friend who asked, “oh, so you’re making your own belief system, that’s interesting.” Although he did not mean it maliciously at all, it ended up being a deep cut, because I realized how silly it was to think I could extract the ultimate truth hidden to all by examination religions I had presumed must all be in error. It was then that my seemingly hopeless situation was perturbed by a Youtube video of William Lane Craig, who was arguing the historical case for the resurrection.
”The conclusion, which I have become ever more convinced of since then, is that Jesus of Nazareth is exactly who he said he was: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the only begotten Son of God.”
The video was an interesting apologetic, arguing from particulars like the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the discovery of the empty tomb, the experiences of the disciples, and the growth of Christianity from the original church in Jerusalem to argue that the resurrection provides the best explanation for this set of facts. I was intrigued, but not quite convinced. Aren’t there miracles in other religions that are attested to, how does such a thing prove one religion over another? My investigation of this question in particular is what really sent me down the proverbial rabbit hole. My investigation led me to conclude not only is no miracle as credibly attested as the resurrection, but the entire body of Old Testament literature points to Jesus in a way that could not be a mere product of human sagacity. For those who would like a beginners introduction to these ideas, I would recommend Brant Pitre’s “The Case for Jesus” and “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” in conjunction with Peter J Williams’ “Can We Trust the Gospels?”
The veil is gone
From there it was a matter of acceptance. The conclusion, which I have become ever more convinced of since then, is that Jesus of Nazareth is exactly who he said he was: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the only begotten Son of God. This insight has changed my life profoundly. Not only do I feel as though a great veil has been cleared from my eyes, but I can have hope beyond some evanescent material happiness that will inevitably be obliterated once I pass into nothingness. Beyond that, however, I know thanks to the scriptures that I also have a responsibility to be a minister of God’s Word to others. That is why I wrote this piece, and I would urge you, if you are not yet a believer, to repent and follow Jesus. Your baptism, your new birth in Christ, is a liberation you cannot imagine. Give yourself to God, because God gave himself entirely for you.