This week, in a three-part series, we’re talking science and religion in honor of science’s “great leap forward” with the discovery of “the God particle” (otherwise known as the Higgs boson)–a discovery so impressive that it surprised Stephen Hawking.
It wasn’t learning about evolution that made my faith take a nosedive into atheism in my first year of college, though evolution was thoroughly espoused in Professor Thornton’s geology class. It was Greek myths. I spent hours each week immersed in the worlds of Homer, Aeschylus, and Euripides, What rocked me to the core was that these writers wrote about the gods as if they actually existed. The Trojan War was caused by mischief between the gods, not enmity between nations. Human experiences and world circumstances are explained as the direct result of the actions of the gods. In Homer’s world, humans were mechanical puppets in the hands of ignoble and selfish gods.
“Mr. Yancey, do you mean,” I asked as I chased my English professor after class one day, “do you really mean that the Greeks believe in God as emphatically as Christians believe in Yahweh and Jesus Christ?” Surprised, he stopped to turn and face me. “Of course,” he said, “Why do you ask?” Breathless from his answer, I said nothing. As he walked away, I thought, “Greeks believed in their God as much as I believed in mine.” And for me to be right they would have to be wrong. What arrogance to think we have the one and only right answer.” For Christians to be right, so many have to be wrong. “What,” I further wondered, “is the statistical probability that of all the world’s religions, I was raised in the one and only true faith? I didn’t know the exact number, but I knew it was probably a pretty low chance, statistically speaking.
So science really wasn’t what led me away from God; in a sense, it was science that brought me back. I spent a couple of years trying to understand how life came to be from an evolutionary viewpoint. I could understand microevolution, the small changes that occur in living organisms over a great amount of time. Two things I couldn’t sign on to was 1.) how something came from nothing and 2.) macroevolution, large changes in a species occurring over a great amount of time. One day I sat outside the classroom e in the bright sunshine thinking of these things. My thoughts turned to my Dad, and I wondered what was the statistical probability that my Dad was a biological “accident” and nothing more. Again, I didn’t know the exact number, but I knew the chance had to be pretty low. To believe that required as much faith, if not more than believing in intelligent design. In my mind, evolutionary theory could not explain my Dad, or more, my love for my Dad. It was the beginning of a long journey back to the Christian faith.
Everyone has things that instigate moments of doubt. For some, it’s the problem of pain. How can there be a God when there is so much indescribable pain in the world? But the problem of pain has never made me question the existence of God. It has certainly made me question his character, but not his existence. For where would I get my ideas of good or bad, of pain and pleasure, if not from some universal standard? For others, it is God’s intangibility, “I can’t see, hear, taste, touch, or sense God’s presence, therefore He must not exist.” But that doesn’t really get to me, either. I’m willing to accept that there is a dimension to life that is not accessible through the five senses.
It was science, in a sense, that hastened my first step away from atheism, so it’s odd that is science, not pain or God’s intangibility, that causes an attosecond of doubt. What we’ve learned about creation through astronomy and physics leaves me shaking in my boots, mainly because I know, without a doubt, that the God in my head–the one I pray to every night–definitely does not exist. Belief in an intelligent agent who created the cosmos is reasonable enough, but as astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross noted, “the immensity of the cosmos made me doubt that a Creator of such awesome magnitude had communicated—in words—to mere humans on this tiny speck called Earth.”
Graphics courtesy of NASA.