Why Do the Scientist-Christians Here Believe in God?

This is intended as a sort of “companion discussion” to Audrey Wagner’s recent discussion, i.e.:

and also to:

@Audrey

Audrey, as you’ll quickly pick up, a number of posters here are self-declared atheists. There are also, however, a number of Christians. However, of the Christian posters, not all are scientists. Many, such as myself, come from other areas of study, such as philosophy or theology. Hopefully you’ll enjoy talking with everybody, but since you are a Christian, and since you are interested in what science can (or can’t) prove about God, it’s likely you will have some general interest in the religious positions of the specifically Christian scientists here.

I don’t have an exhaustive list of which scientists posting here have explicitly or implicitly stated that they are Christians, and the following list is not complete (I’m sure I’ll inadvertently leave some out, and for that my apologies in advance), but here are some:

Joshua Swamidass
Daniel Ang (dga471)
Michelle Ols
Jordan Mantha
Curtis Henderson
Matthew Dickau (structureoftruth)
John Mercer

Some others I am uncertain about. I know that science graduate student Michael Okoko originally identified as a Christian as well, and he may still do so. I think that Ron Sewell may be a Christian as well, though I can’t recall if he identified himself as a scientist.

From time to time, some of these people have revealed something of their Christian beliefs, sometimes in a lengthy statement (which statements I always find helpful); others have only expressed their Christian faith or theology on a piecemeal basis, as it becomes relevant to the topic of the day. For those who tend to express it only piecemeal, you might, in interpreting some of their comments, need to ask them more direct questions to find out where they are “coming from” religiously or theologically.

You are of course free to ask your own questions, but some of the ones that interest me are:

1-Why do you, a Christian scientist, believe in God?
2-Why do you, a Christian scientist, think Christianity is true?
3-What do you, a Christian scientist, deem to be the core and non-negotiable affirmations of Christian faith or Christian theology?

Here I’ll ask only the first of these questions, and direct it specifically to the Christian scientists here. The first question is a good one to start with, since it builds on the discussion around your own opening question. Given that a number of Christian scientists have said that they do not think “scientific” design arguments (e.g., those advanced by people like Behe, Dembski, Meyer, and Axe) can establish the reality of God, then presumably they have not arrived at their own belief in God via such design arguments. How then have they arrived at that belief? Philosophical arguments? Conversion experiences? Trust in the plain meaning of the Bible? Trust in their parents, church leaders, etc. who taught them about God?

So that’s my first question to the specifically Christian scientists here: Why do you believe in God? What facts, reasoning, life experiences, etc. underlie and gird your belief?

(Those who have already held forth at length on this topic may wish to save writing time by simply supplying links to something they have written on this site or elsewhere.)

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16 posts were split to a new topic: Side comments on “Why do the scientist Christians here believe in God?”

Since you mentioned me specifically, I suppose I might as well answer! Though I will say, I am not a scientist. I have what you might call a science-adjacent education (MSc in mechanical engineering), and I am keenly interested and a number of scientific subjects (with physics being the area that I am most well-versed in), but I do not practice science professionally.

For my response, I’ll point to my (now mostly inactive) blog, where I built up to answering the first two of your questions over a rather long series of posts. (Those were written a few years back, and I would articulate a few things differently now, but in general it still represents my current beliefs fairly well. I’ve tried to edit posts with disclaimers wherever that doesn’t hold.)

I’ll take a stab at answering your third question as well. Here’s what I would say is the bare minimum for Christian faith:

  1. God exists, is the creator of the universe, and is good.
  2. The man Jesus of Nazareth is the unique Son of God (God incarnate, both divine and human).
  3. Human beings fail to fulfill God’s moral requirements, falling into sin, and we rightly deserve punishment for our sins.
  4. Jesus’ death and resurrection makes it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins and reconciled to God, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in Jesus.

However, I will add a fifth affirmation as just above the bare minimum, and that I believe follows from placing our trust in Jesus:

  1. The Bible is inspired by God and authoritative for what we are to believe and how we are to live.

So, that’s where I’m coming from. :slight_smile:

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@Eddie Thank you so much for the warm welcome, and for starting this thread! I am very interested in this thread and the responses that will come from it! I am already reading Francis Collins’ book (it’s soooo good) and also purchased Luke Barnes’ book. I have added Michael Denton’s book to my cart on Amazon. I love the book suggestions; they help me so much!

I am really benefitting from this forum. :slight_smile: I really appreciate all the responses, including the ones from atheists, as all responses help me in my search and make me think.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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For the record, yes and no respectively.

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That’s what I thought I had done, but apparently I did something else. I’ll try again:

This is intended as a sort of “companion discussion” to Audrey Wagner’s recent discussion on scientific evidence for the existence of God, and also to the other recent discussion on philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

You may be conflating the writings of the DI with design arguments in general. I believe many theists who reject those writings for the poorly argued pseudoscience that they are, are nonetheless convinced by design arguments that are better reasoned.

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I’ve looked at Matthew’s blog site now, and though I’ve read only a small part of, I can say that it is very good. The material on it is well-organized, clearly written, and very thoughtful. I think it’s well worth reading for people interested in science/theology questions, and in philosophical and other arguments for the existence of God. I haven’t got to the parts specifically about Christian belief yet, but if they are of the same quality as what I’ve seen, they will be very good also.

Matthew’s writing challenges the stereotype of engineers as people unable or unwilling to deal with philosophical questions. Great stuff!

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Responding to the OP question, most scientists who believe in God were raised in the belief system of their family and choose to remain for personal reasons. IOW is pretty much the same for scientists as it is for anyone else.

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If there are Christian scientists here who were led to believe in the existence of God by design arguments other than those advanced by modern ID proponents, nothing is preventing those scientists from answering my question by stating what those other design arguments are. In any case, I was asking for any and all reasons for belief in God, and so the answer does not have to include mention of any design arguments at all. I look forward to hearing some reasons from our Christian scientists, especially from those who (so far as I can see) have never told us why they believe in God.

That may or may not be true, but supposing it is true, I’m still more interested in hearing from the Christian scientists here, because we can have a conversation with the scientists here, whereas “most scientists” don’t participate here. Also, “personal reasons” covers a lot of ground, and therefore is vague. “Personal reasons” might mean nothing more than an emotional commitment or a response to social pressure, but they could also include “what the person has arrived at by reasoning”, and it’s that reasoning I’m interested in hearing. The Christian scientists here have surely heard all the usual arguments against the existence of God, yet they continue to believe that God exists. I suspect that it is not sheer blind faith that keeps them in belief, but a set of reasons.

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Sure. I just found it odd that you would explicitly address your question to people not convinced by the arguments offered by members of the DI in particular, as if those arguments are such a common basis for theistic beliefs that it is would be noteworthy for someone to hold those beliefs for some other reason. As far as I can tell, the efforts of the DI are as irrelevant and inconsequential to theological scholarship as it is to scientific scholarship. Am I wrong about that?

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If you mean, do academic theological discussions (outside of Christian colleges) about God and nature frequently reference Behe on the flagellum or Dembski’s Explanatory Filter, you’re correct; they don’t. But while most philosophers and theologians would not be up on the details of ID arguments, they are very familiar with teleological arguments, and that is the general sort of argument ID folks make. And at least some theologians and philosophers have respect for teleological arguments, even if they aren’t aware of ID writers or wouldn’t think their particular versions are the best teleological arguments.

So, in short, I was saying to you that if there are other teleological arguments that have convinced some Christian scientists that God exists (or are part of the reason why they believe God exists), I would love to hear which teleological arguments they find convincing.

I believe that Francis Collins, a few years back, said that he did not find Behe-type arguments regarding design of complex structures convincing, but found Denton-type arguments (i.e., fine-tuning arguments) stronger. In other words, Collins thought teleological arguments were invalid in biology, but possibly valid in physics/cosmology. Lamoureux also finds Denton-type arguments for a sort of front-loaded evolution valuable, while rejecting Behe-type arguments. It would be interesting to hear how Christians here regard teleological arguments for God – and of course other arguments for God.

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It’s certainly true that most people belong to the religion they were raised in, rather than choosing another as an adult.

Yes, “personal reasons” is vague. Let me narrow that down for you; They don’t believe in God because they think science supports that belief.

“Personal reasons” might mean nothing more than an emotional commitment or a response to social pressure, …

Nothing more? Emotional commitment would seem to be a prerequisite. Social pressure is sufficient for some; there are plenty of US immigrant stories about converting to Christianity in order to fit in better.

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Whether or not that is true as a generality about religious scientists, I’m interested in hearing specifically from the Christian scientists here what the basis of their belief in God is. And remember that under this topic (as opposed to the previous one) the discussion is not restricted to whether science supports belief in God. Scientists might believe in God for philosophical reasons, or because they have had religious experiences, etc.

I suspect that is increasingly less common, as US culture becomes less and less Christian. But even to the extent that it’s true, it raises the interesting question of what these immigrants converted from. In my experience, Muslims and Sikhs tend to be zealous about their faiths and are unlikely to abandon them in order to fit in better, and I’ve spend enough time among Jews to know that very few of them (at least in my lifetime) have converted to Christianity, and that there are strong (sometimes spoken, other times unspoken) counter-pressures to such conversion from within the Jewish community. I know fewer Hindus, but I know something about Hinduism, and based on the very different type of religion that Hinduism is, I suspect that only those who were already lukewarm about their traditional Hinduism upon arrival in the US would be interested in converting to Christianity. Buddhists are harder to call, because they are so diverse. Overall, I would guess that the greatest number of immigrant converts are those who come to the US with, for all practical purposes, no religion at all, or only weak attachments to their family’s original religion, so that embracing Christianity is not felt as a betrayal of a former loyalty. And I would guess that such converts are not nearly as interested in the detailed contents of Christian belief as in learning patterns of Christian behavior that will make them seem less “foreign” and more “American” to others.

(Of course, there are, e.g., Hindus who embrace Christianity and repudiate Hinduism because they have come to believe that Hinduism is idolatry and Christianity worships the true God – I have known such people – but such people have made that dramatic change, not in order to “fit in” with their new society but out of (in their minds) religious/theological integrity.)

In any case, I’m talking about a deeply inwardly felt belief in God here, not mere outward conformity (e.g., attending services at some bland mainstream Protestant church once a week). I’m talking about people, in particular scientists, who consciously affirm the existence of God, are willing to defend the proposition that God exists, and have reasons for their belief that they can articulate.

Also, to remind people, here I am talking only about “belief in God”, i.e., in some sort of supreme being who is in at least some sense “personal”, i.e., possessing an intelligence and a will. Belief in Christianity is my question #2, but I want to reserve that for the subsequent discussion, whenever this one dies a natural death.

As one of the Christian scientists that @Eddie mentioned, I guess I’ll take a stab at it.

Why do you, a Christian scientist, believe in God?

This question is trickier for me to answer than one might think. As @Dan_Eastwood said, I would say my belief in God did not originate in science, as I was raised in a Christian family. Of course, in America at least, I would guess a decent amount of atheists are also born into Christian families, so that’s not particularly interesting. So more pointed questions, in my case, would be more “Why do you, a Christian scientist, continue to believe in God?” or “On what grounds do you build your belief in Christianity, and how do they interact with science?”

As an Evangelical I’m “supposed” to say I believe in God because the Bible says so … but that’s a bit circular isn’t it? As I’ve mentioned before on here, I would say much of my life that would have probably been my answer. Today, I would that it’s more complicated and nuanced. I would say that my belief is grounded in a “swirling convergence” of multiple dimensions of evidence or reasoning, some of which include:

  1. Personal experience of God’s presence - subjective, inner-world experience that gives a feeling that there is “something beyond”. Sometimes this is a “coincidence” at just the right moment, or an emotional response to verse or a song you’ve heard a hundred times that all of a suddens hits you.
  2. Witness of the Bible - I believe it to be inspired by God and authoritative for the Christian. I see the Bible as true Scripture … but also very human too, sometimes maddeningly so. In the end, I believe it to be the faithful witness/testimony of God’s relationship with Israel, the life and death of Jesus Christ, and the formation of the early Christian church.
  3. Testimony of the Church - some might call this “tradition”, but there is something about the idea that belief in God is not something I just made up by myself, that I follow a long line of people of similar faith. Of course, the Church’s “testimony” has not always been (nor always will be) totally positive.
  4. Consonance with the World - ultimately, for me when I look at the world around me through the lens of Christianity it make more sense than when I try to look at it without that lens. As Alister McGrath puts it, Christianity enriches our vision of reality, adding a layer of understanding that makes for a fuller, richer, understanding of what is real and true. I feel like design arguments might fit in this category, but I tend to view those as “neat, it’s consistent” post-hoc realizations rather than as an actual persuasive arguments.

In the end, I don’t see where science, in particular, provides much of anything resembling solid evidence either way as to the question of God’s existence. However, I do feel like my training as a scientist, the ways of thinking, being comfortable with uncertainty and nuance, developing and testing models of reality, critical thinking, etc. have been very valuable to my faith and has deepened my belief that Christianity is true, even while challenging some aspects of it. I would say I’m a better Christian because I’m a scientist and a better scientist because I’m a Christian. To me it’s a win-win.

Lastly, I believe in God primarily because I believe that Jesus Christ was who the Gospels declare him to be, the messiah described in the Hebrew scriptures, as summarized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

In other words, I’m a theist because I’m a follower of Christ, not the other way around.

P.S. For question 3 (what are core, non-negotiable affirmations of Christian faith), I’d maybe go with 1 Corinthians 15 quoted above as about the most minimal version. The Apostle’s Creed and Nicean Creed are pretty standard for “orthodox” Christianity, I think. For me the core beliefs of the Christian faith are quite minimal: “Love God, love your neighbor, follow Christ”, but just outside that core in “non-essential but really important” territory is a whole lot of theology.

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I’m grateful for your careful and thoughtful reply, Jordan. It gives readers lots to think about.

One thing that strikes me is that in your answer, the first two questions I asked above come out as inter-related. That is, you don’t, as one might possibly do, give independent reasoning for the existence of some sort of Supreme Being, and bracket out discussion of the specifically Christian God, holding off your reasons for believing in the Christian God until later. Your reasons for belief in God seem to be closely tied in with your reasons for thinking Christianity true. Even reason number 1, which in the first sentence sounds as if it could be about a “generic” God rather than the specifically Christian God, seems to suggest a Christian context in the second sentence (“a verse or a song you’ve heard a hundred times”). I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. But it does strike me as in contrast with, say, the approach of C. S. Lewis, who appears to have spent a great deal of time (during his pre-Christian years) wrestling with the question whether any God exists, and to have deferred the question “whether Jesus Christ was the son of God” until later. I’m wondering if your approach is commonly found among Christian scientists here. I look forward to hearing from more of them, as time permits them to answer.

A side point: I find one of your characterizations of the scientist interesting: “being comfortable with uncertainty and nuance.” I agree that this is a desirable characteristic for a scientist, and I’m sure many of the greatest scientists possess it. It’s not at all clear, however, in popular discussions where scientists weigh in (whether about origins or climate change or the origin of COVID or other subjects), that all scientists value expressions of nuance and uncertainty. Phrases such as “the science is in”, for example, suggest that science is about coming up with the “right” answer and then closing down further discussion. And to take particular examples, I would not say that the writings of Michael Mann on climate change show much “nuance” or express much “uncertainty.” And I wouldn’t call the view of Christianity or religion set forth by some scientists, such as Dawkins, exactly “nuanced” or expressing much “uncertainty.” I would be much happier if more scientists, when participating in public forums, advocated more caution regarding certain statements made by their fellow-scientists. But this is a side-point, which does not affect the general truth you were trying to convey, i.e., that openness and nuanced treatment of questions are scientific virtues. Maybe at some point one of the scientists here could write a column on this subject, and we could discuss it in that context.

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Is Denton “currently likely to be recognized as an exponent of fine-tuning arguments”?

In science, that would appear to be the Rare Earth hypothesis whose foremost proponents appear to be “Peter Ward, a geologist and paleontologist, and Donald E. Brownlee, an astronomer and astrobiologist” who wrote a book Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. The Wikipedia article on that hypothesis (surely a reasonably good indication of who is “widely recognized” on a subject) does not mention Denton at all – nor do the articles on Anthropic principle, Fine-tuned universe or Fine-tuning.

Even within ID-Creationist Apologetics, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, through their book The Privileged Planet, would appear to be more widely recognized as exponents.

It would therefore seem more reasonable to term this a “Brownlee-type argument” (if we take a scientific focus) or a “Gonzalez-type argument” (if we take an ID focus) than as a “Denton-type argument”.

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Yep, I noticed that too and considered rewriting my post. However, for me they really are almost inseparable. I think if I had spent time as an atheist I would have perhaps been gone more of the C.S. Lewis route. I have gotten a lot from Lewis’s work and greatly admire him, but when he describes his conversion experience it feels a bit foreign to me. The question of whether a god exists is completely subsumed by whether Christianity is true, it’s just not that interesting of a question. I think that’s a major reason why ID and “proofs” like fine tuning and William Lane Craig’s are just not that interesting to me. Whether they are right or wrong has little bearing on what I believe.

Yes, that is a fair point. A few quick thoughts:

  1. I’ve noticed that scientists are much more guarded and nuanced (using many qualifications) in primary literature than what ends up in popular news (even science news) articles. This tendency goes into overdrive if the topic is controversial at all.
  2. Even within the primary literature, I think most scientists take the first few paragraphs of any journal article with a grain of salt. The reality often is, if you aren’t curing cancer or overturning our understanding of the field your chances of getting the next grant funded are not so great.
  3. People outside an area of expertise have a hard time judging the “level of significance” of new scientific knowledge. The vast majority of science is filling in the details of things we basically know (as well as we know much of anything) rather than true revolutionary science that changes how people think about something to any meaningful extent.
  4. Scientists are human too and that’s why actual expertise and experience in the field are so important. If you want to know who’s a genius and who’s a crank … go talk to the scientists in that field rather than YouTube or popular press. I find that scientists working in a field are usually the best critiques of that field because they know where all the cracks can be found and where all the bodies are buried.
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Thanks for another thoughtful and meaty reply, Jordan.

Your approach makes sense, given your biographical comments. It sounds as if you’ve never really left Christianity, and therefore would be more interested in arguments that show an already existing belief in God to be consonant with reason and science, than in arguments that try to demonstrate the existence of God from scratch.

On the other hand, if we think in terms of evangelism in a world in which, for many, the very existence of any God is regarded as impossible or at best dubious (the religious “Nones” in the USA are now up to about 20% and climbing), it becomes necessary to ask how to bring an unbeliever, who in many cases may never have been inside the door of a church (except for weddings and funerals of friends) to concede that God does or may exist. It makes no sense to start by trying to convince someone that Jesus is God, or even just the Son of God, if the person you are trying to convince doesn’t think any God exists. If God is a fiction, then any Son of God or any Trinity is equally a fiction, and any book allegedly inspired by that God, i.e., the Bible, is equally fictitious.

From this point of view, natural theology – the attempt to establish the existence of God, and some of his broader attributes, on the basis of reasoning from nature, without any appeal to the authority of any revelation – can for some people be a useful prelude to Christian faith, a sort of vestibule which later can lead to the other rooms in the house. Some of the Church Fathers regarded Greek philosophy as fulfilling this role in the evangelization of many Gentiles, since Greek philosophers offered natural theology arguments for a Deity (along with a loftier and almost monotheistic ethics in comparison with typical pagan ethics).

I wouldn’t say I was ever really at heart an atheist; I was, however, for a long time agnostic (despite a lukewarm church upbringing, there was a strong streak of skepticism in my family which I imbibed), and my own trajectory was more like that of Lewis. It was in the university, not in the church, and from professors trained in philosophy, not from any clergymen I had ever listened to, where I learned that the idea of God, far from being outmoded and irrational, was intellectually respectable. After reading thousands of pages of the classic expositions of philosophers and theologians, and numerous pieces by the some of the more philosophical scientists, I ended up persuaded that reality could not be explained (satisfactorily to me, anyway) without reference to God or at least some supreme Mind behind the world. So when I later encountered some evangelical students of the more intelligent type (the ones I met in graduate school in Religious Studies, not the ones I had met in first-year undergrad waving their Four Spiritual Laws pamphlets), I was already on the “God exists” side, and unsure only about Christianity. So my Christian friends and acquaintances had something to build on.

To be sure, it was traditional natural theology, not ID, that had served as the bridge for me, but when ID came along much later, I immediately recognized it (the first author I read was Behe, who accepted common descent) as a modern presentation of natural theology (with molecular machines replacing, as the main focus, the machinery of skeletons etc. in the older account of Paley). And Denton’s Nature’s Destiny says explicitly that his conclusions vindicate natural theology. I doubt that many modern agnostic undergrads studying science would have the patience to read natural theology as presented by traditional philosophers, but some undergrad science students do actually read general science books outside of class, and there is some hope of persuading a science major to read a book like Nature’s Destiny, which describes the history of the universe much in the same molecules-to-man way that Carl Sagan did (and therefore would make the science major comfortable) but interprets that history in teleological terms. Someone like Denton (and there are a number of other “fine-tuners” that could be named in his place) can therefore serve as the sort of bridge between agnosticism and Christian faith that Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, etc. were in times past.

I’m not saying the majority of conversions to Christianity proceed in this cautious, stepwise way through either traditional natural theology or ID, but the case of Lewis and others indicates that this possibility should not be rejected.

Of course, there can be other reasons for believing in God, beyond ID or natural theology reasons. I’m interested in hearing those other reasons from the remaining self-declared Christian scientists here.

On the other subject you deal with, your remarks in the main make sense to me, and since it was a side-remark of mine you were responding to, I don’t think we need to pursue it.

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May need to @mention some to receive more replies
@swamidass @dga471 @cwhenderson @Mercer @glipsnort

Belonging to a religion or converting due to social pressures is different than actually believing in God. Many people can identify with a particular religion due to family traditions. However, the OP seems to be asking what experiences or reasoning/logic has led people to genuine and personally-held faith. What thought processes help people hold onto their faith for the long haul?

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