Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Didn't Watch the Nye/Ham Debate, and What Could I Possibly Have to Say About It (Part 2)

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.” Tim Keller

Standing beside my Goliath, all I had at my disposal were the same two weapons: a curious (but limited) intellect, and prayer.

I remember during one of my periods of turmoil being at work, trying to distract myself with my duties, and finally crying out to God in my mind, “Please help me figure this out, I don’t know what to do! I don’t want to be scared all the time, but that’s what it feels like right now, how do I escape?”

The thought came to me that I needed to seek. And not just seek out those who I knew already agreed with me, but seek out the roughest, toughest, bunch of skeptics I could find so that I would know, really know, that I had at least tried to understand what the “other side” was about. I couldn’t try to protect myself with selective listening, because I knew I would only be burying myself deeper in denial and distancing myself from the world, and that is not the kind of faith that was authentic to me.

So I read, and read, and found websites or books that presented one position, then found what I thought was a well-constructed argument against it. And I spent a lot of time thinking. I didn’t always make big changes in my beliefs in a single setting; usually it was some small detail that I later had to circle back to years later to re-explore, adapt or rearrange. Mostly it wasn’t that a new element was added, but a room was made bigger for ideas to better flow through. The biggest alterations were walls that were taken out that I had come to decide didn’t belong in the first place.

Ultimately the architecture of my faith has not only remained, but been improved by facing my Goliath, who I no longer identify as a single entity such as “atheism” or “science,” but by his real name: Fear.


There are so many points I wanted to make with this post that it has been hard for me to narrow myself down to a conclusion. Chastise believers because I think they’ve alienated an entire community by defending a very specific, predetermined perspective? Challenge the atheist community who likes to use this specific position as a straw man to undermine all of theism?

How about neither? At least one of my points is that we need to quit accusing large groups of people based on a label, because what you believe shouldn’t define how you believe. The more I interact with thinkers different than myself, the more I realize that we stop hearing each other as soon as we think we know the why behind someone believing what they do (because admit it, it usually isn’t a sterling motive we’re assigning them).  

On the flip side, in the aftermath of debates between figures like Bill Nye and Ken Ham, men who embody two very specific belief systems, I saw this debate used an opportunity to protect what we think we already know instead of keeping an open mind to learning what maybe we don’t. And since I do not consider that a debate, but a stage for a melodrama, that is why I chose not to watch.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why I Didn't Watch the Nye/Ham Debate, and What Could I Possibly Have to Say About It (Part 1)

No, I did not watch the debate last night.  I did,  however,  watch my news feed as others reacted TO the debate.  Familiar nouns like "faith", "science", "Bible", "facts", "Spirit of God" got thrown around like verbs. "I'm going to science that Bible until it cries!" or "Those sciencers need to get their faiths checked out", that kind of thing.*

I shared a blog post from the Huffington Post ( alongside all the curfuffle that I thought made the good argument that the entire discussion was needless,  we're trying to compare apples to oranges. Simplistic  but I believe it made a good point: There is often a rocky history behind our ingrained sentiments,  and I think the church and the scientific community might benefit from exploring the relevance of that history as they interact so that they can genuinely hear each other. 

But all these observations aside,  the debate had the additional effect of propeling me forward to share why I am where I am in the scuffle and how I arrived.  I will undercut some of the suspense and share that I definitely do not have every question answered, either spiritually or scientifically. Really what has changed is how I see myself in relation to the questions, and how I allow myself to react as they are asked.


Ten years ago I was on the cusp of giving my life to Christ. My heart was in a bad way due to rough personal circumstances and a close Christian friend was there trying to help me work through the mess.  She had her (loving!) agenda,  but the fact was I already had a building desire for God and felt drawn to Christianity specifically. For the first time it seemed a tangible experience I could grasp. Although it was intuitive for me to immediately reach for it, another part of myself needed to test my instincts before I could "let go" of everything else.

So I read and I prayed (because really,  what could it hurt?).  I read anything and everything I thought was relevant at the time.  Why not become a Buddhist,  or Hindu... or nothing at all? I read one side and then the other,  trying to find their best arguments so that I could make sure I wasn't only believing something because I wanted to. Toward the end of this period I remember stumbling on the controversy of evolution. Because atheism wasn't really a belief I considered likely,  I felt comfortable letting the matter go and figured I'd circle back around later if I had to.

Like many of us,  once I became comfortable in my new faith I was, well,  comfortable. Life was great.  Not as in every-detail-was-all-I-hoped-it-would-be great,  but I had a purpose. It happened that God seemed to use me to explain/teach spiritual things to people, and that He was interacting and reshaping my self in real and unexpected ways. Christianity was both "more than" and "exactly what" I thought it would be.

But peace is for a season,  and I eventually had disquieting feelings of uncertainty. Like what if everything I thought I knew was only a emotional bubble I created to evade truth? What if all my Christian relationships only served to make this bubble more resilient,  shielding me from reality? Atheism/evolution/mainstream science became the Goliath representing these doubts and everything about my faith I didn't understand. After all,  the atheists I encountered seemed so confident and to never struggle at all.

Goliath's whisper became a predictable companion every couple of years even though I tried pushing it off,  praying it away to find peace. Anxiety built up inside and suffocated me with fear instead. Apparently, there was only one way out and that was through my fear. If there was a God He was forcing me to confront Goliath and use my intellect as the weapon of choice.

...and how small my stone was compared to this giant!

*a terrible, but more humorous, rendition of what was actually said by the way