Why I am a Christian

God limited intervention for vast periods even during Biblical times. Large-scale miracles only happened frequently during the Exodus, Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, Elijah/Elisha, the book of Daniel, Jesus and the early church. These are the ones I remember off the top of my head. All of these are stretches of time no more than 1-2 decades. There were large stretches of time during the intertestamental period, the united and separated kingdoms of Israel, the Babylonian captivity which were more or less pretty “quiet”. So we’re not living in a very odd time, not seeing many large-scale miracles.

This is what I originally wrote:

Notice the big if there John? I thought it was pretty clear from the beginning that this is a fundamental difference in epistemology.

Any discussion of how God works within a Christian worldview has to involve revelation - otherwise it would be useless, no Christian would accept it. By its very nature, being a philosophical and theological investigation rather than a strictly scientific, empirical one, we will never be able to answer the question with the same kind of certainty as purely scientific questions. But we can work out the theological and scientific options available to us, similar to the GA model.

I disagree. I believe that my scientific and theological epistemologies fit around each other without contradiction. I don’t think that I’ve fully worked it all out - there are many questions that I don’t know the answer to, as we’ve seen in this exchange. If someone points out a clear contradiction or tension in my belief system, I might amend or rethink parts of it. (Finding the GA model was an instance of that.) But nothing you have said here has moved me towards that.

I suspect that people who accuse Christian scientists like me of compartmentalization only do so because they have pretty naive epistemologies which are basically a variant of scientism, and expect everyone to believe the same as them. These epistemologies are excellent for purely scientific investigation, but they fail to take into account the depth and breath of questions that philosophy and theology attempt to answer. The fact is that among philosophers (including non-theistic ones) who have actually thought carefully about various issues in epistemology and metaphysics, naive scientism is untenable. I’m reminded of @PdotdQ’s comment some time ago, that scientists who are religious on average seem to know more about philosophy and non-scientific matters, perhaps because they have to think about such things given their religious background.

Even if God didn’t exist, theology has a lot to say about the human condition and human desires. Something as deep as theology can’t be rendered irrelevant by a series of gotcha questions or pointing to science.


I agree with you, Eddie, regarding the importance of having ambassadors of Christianity who are from all walks of life. I have found on multiple occasions that just being able to calmly give basic reasoning for your religious beliefs surprises a lot of non-religious people who have internalized a caricature of religious people as simple-minded and ignorant. I think among scientists in particular, values such as openness to speculation and new ideas, being willing to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” are important to have. This is why a lot of traditional, hard-nosed apologetics doesn’t come off very well.

Overall, what you’re pointing out to is the importance of the role of the human in evangelization and doing God’s work. I think this is one of the things which is often missed in these debates (and in this very thread as well). We ask why God doesn’t perform more miracles or intervene in the lives of more people to make them Christians. But the fact is that God created us in his image. Whatever definition of the image you adhere to, the point is that we are God’s representatives or ambassadors of some sort - “little gods” (to borrow a term from Nick Nowalk). Humans are the main means by which God works in this world. Far, far more people have converted to Christianity via a relationship with a Christian rather than seeing a miracle or encountering a devastating argument for Christianity. It is no wonder that when we find people resistant to Christianity, the problem is not with God, but with the “little gods” - we fallible Christians who are not witnessing to them properly.


Nothing for 2000 years isn’t odd? More importantly, nothing in cases of extreme need?

As far as I can see, we won’t be able to answer it at all, with any kind of certainty or even reasonable likelihood.

Interesting. And puzzling. I would find reliance on revelation and faith quite incompatible with reliance on empirical observation.

Could you give an example of what you mean by this?

Sure, but that’s because the latter two categories are nonexistent. It’s easy for the first to be far, far more than “none”. Still, the number of conversions is minuscule compared to the number of the unconverted. If God wants people converted, his instruments are failing spectacularly. Is that failure part of his plan? And aren’t the unconverted then victims of his lack of input?

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A post was split to a new topic: Greg on Why I am a Christian

Why did God decide that some should hear the Gospel and others should not?


I don’t find it puzzling at all, given that we regularly use more than empirical observation to go about our daily lives outside of the laboratory. Human relationships, for example, are not only about acting according to empirical observation. It’s also about trust, gut feeling, forgiveness, taking chances, and building up each other. Being willing to trust God is not much different from trusting a person, only that it’s a very different kind of person.

The idea of that all humans are made in the image of God is useful in arguing why racial discrimination is wrong. It gives a strong, ontological grounding to the moral precept that “all humans have inherent value and worth.”

That’s just wrong. There’s a substantial number of people who claim to have been converted to Christianity because of a personal miracle or a good argument. It doesn’t matter if you think the miracle didn’t happen or the argument was actually bad, the point is that they believe it was a good enough reason.

No. Everything is planned by God. God has full sovereignty to decide who is exposed to the Gospel and who is not. By the way, I think some of your questions like this one are repetitive and already answered. I have already said what I want to say, even if you disagree that it is a satisfying answer.


We’ve had multiple discussions about the reliance on testimony that pervades normal life, not to mention law, and @swamidass also commented about the extensive use of it in science. (Testimony relies on faith, and revelation is testimony.)

None of those is useful in determining truth, which is what we’re supposedly about at the moment. Trusting God is different from trusting a person, since people do exist and we have ways of telling whether they’re trustworthy.

This seems to be a claim about noble lies. Should we tell lies if the outcome might be favorable? I’m uncomfortable with that idea. Further, there are plenty of non-religious bases for racial discrimination being wrong and plenty of religious bases for practicing racial discrimination. Apparently the image of God doesn’t prevent racism, as long as it’s directed at the (supposed) sons of Ham.

This is equivocation on the meanings of “testimony” and “faith”. Revelation is hearsay.

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You forget the context in which I answered the question. I don’t doubt that you, as an atheist or agnostic, find it hard to trust God, because you are not sure whether he exists. In my own personal context, however, I have already accepted that God exists and operate based on that assumption.

Actually the image of God is a very useful idea even there. Those who made a racist theology tended to think that the image of God is only fully expressed in a certain race. Some people believed that not all humans were descended from Adam and Eve, and hence not made in the image. So, rightly or wrongly, the idea of the image of God has implications on human rights and human dignity.

Fine. But how does accepting that he exists make you trust him? We trust people because we observe them and see cues to their trustworthiness. What such cues have you observed in God?

But it has contradictory implications depending on how you take it, so what’s the point? More importantly, why should we make use of the idea if it isn’t true? Are you in fact endorsing the idea of the noble lie?

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I can tell you several stories of things that have happened in my life showing that God has been so kind, loving, faithful, and providing for me. The meeting with Joshua and finding this wonderful community is just one mild example. I can tell you more personal stories if we were not in such a public forum.

Given my background assumptions, God has indeed been trustworthy. Now if you reject those background assumptions, of course you can interpret the data in a different way. You can do this with regular persons too. For example, I can be kind to you and help you, but you could always choose to be paranoid that I have some hidden motive or assumption and never trust me. You could also choose to regard me as a figment of your imagination.

They are not contradictory implications. Rather, different people have developed them differently. It is no different than many other ideas in society. For example, science or democracy or free expression can result in very different implementations. They can be used for good or evil (depending on your viewpoint). That doesn’t make the idea worthless.

No, I don’t. But even ideas which are false, or not completely right, can be a good way to learn about humanity and take into account stepping forward. This is why even atheists and agnostics study religion and the Bible, because Christianity has been a dominant cultural and political force for centuries. Even if you are, say, a secular humanist, do you think your ideals would be completely independent of 1500 years of Christian moral thinking? I doubt it. If you are a secular humanist living in the West, then your morality is likely a combination of adapting some Christian moral tenets and reacting against some other ones.


One problem with all those stories is that you just assume without any evidence that it’s God who has done all that. Another problem is that God has apparently been cruel, hateful, faithless, and withholding from lots of other people. Are you special, or do you interpret those stories of other people as something else?

It would be more difficult to regard you in that way than to regard God in that way, because I have evidence that you exist. And it isn’t a choice if you are compelled by evidence. I don’t choose to think that you exist, and I don’t choose to think that God doesn’t.

In contradictory ways. They’re either contradictory implications or they aren’t implications at all. Perhaps it’s the latter; being created in the image of God has no implications for or against human equality.

No, but I don’t think the aspects of Christian moral thinking that my ideals have to do with are either specifically Christian or have anything to do with God. You are claiming to theology what properly belongs to philosophy.


Again, John, you fail to take into account that I’m speaking about my beliefs with my background assumptions and my epistemology. I don’t care that an atheist would not be convinced that the events in my life are not God’s work. We’re circling back to what @Rumraket said in the beginning:

@Rumraket is right. I do interpret events through the glasses of my beliefs. Everyone does this. Interpreting data presumes some background assumptions. You and I have different starting assumptions.

“Choice” is quite a nebulous word here.

It’s not that simple. We’re not just deriving a belief system from a single belief, but a whole constellation of them. Different combinations of beliefs produce different logically consistent implications.

I don’t think you’re grasping my point at all. My point is about historical development, not logical consistency. Of course, you could just take the conclusions of Christian morality (e.g. “All humans have equal value”), declare them to be true by fiat, and forget all the original, religious reasoning that led people to those conclusions, and proclaim that you’ve founded a secular system of morality that has nothing to do with God. That’s not what I’m talking about.

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I won’t deny having confirmation bias, but neither should anyone else. A confirmation bias can be correct and another one wrong.

You mean that you have different starting assumptions when acting as a scientist than you do when acting as a Christian. Compartmentalization. I see you ignore the uncomfortable questions about bad things happening to other people.

I don’t think it’s nebulous at all.

Not mutually consistent, though. And the point is that the doctrine of God’s image, of itself, has no implications for human equality. Depending on auxiliary doctrines, you can come to any conclusion at all.

I don’t think the historical development is all that Christian either. Certainly Western civilization passed through a period in which morality was infuenced by Christianity, but then again Christianity was influenced by a host of other traditions. There’s nothing all that new in it.

We’ve established that there is no such thing as “the conclusions of Christian morality”; rather, there are a great many sorts of Christian morality with different conclusions, and thus different Christians were able to support both slavery and abolitionism.

Nobody is doing such a thing, so arguing against it is pointless.


@jongarvey: Would you like to give some input or response to this thread? (Read that: ‘I would like you to…’ :slightly_smiling_face:)


@dga471 has done pretty well in responding to those who often seem to have no wish to understand. I never feel drawn to apologetics to those who perceive no need for God. But St Paul tells me to be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in me, and three people have asked, so I’ll add that to the mix simply for information. But since I was converted at the age of 13, well before reaching Piaget’s formal operations stage, my reasons were not primarily intellectual, so I’m not the best dog for that fight.

My first observation is that any arguments along the lines that scientists cannot consistently be believers is obviated simply by the fact that very many of the best scientists (and philosophers, and statesmen, and technologists etc) have been Christians. And one reason isn’t hard to find - both experience and a body of research show that belief in God is natural to most children unless and until it is educated out of them: the ambiguous power of such education is evident from the fact that we’ve now raised a whole generation of awoke snowflakes because of who runs the educational system. One can, thank God, come to reject indoctrination, but nevertheless it influences demographic belief patterns.

For myself, I was raised in an older, more rationalistic, system, and because of it I almost, but not quite, grew out of my childhood default belief in God, like the rest of my family. I won a place at one of the most academic grammar schools in the country, and got year prizes in a couple of subjects early on. But my main love was zoology - I’d been collecting fossils since I was five and ran experiments in my bedroom - and that’s the subject that later got me into Cambridge with possibly the highest Zoology exam score in the school’s history. I say this not to boast, but to show where my focus lay - and what a prig I was!

So evolution (introduced to me by my agnostic parents) seemed to discount the biblical idea of creation, and my parallel interest in astronomy/astronautics made it seem more likely that a sage like Jesus was a philanthropic extraterrestrial visitor than the Son of God.

But around that time I got to know a bunch of Christians - kids and adults - who were the most interesting and integrated people I’d ever met. I’m still in touch with a few nearly 60 years later, and they’re still role models. They ranged from market gardeners to atmospheric physicists.

Through them, I heard that I was estranged from God because I was a sinner, but that Jesus had died to deal with it. Not a message I liked, either intellectually or as a challenge to my autonomy. But over time I began to long to know God, I eventually (and stupidly without telling anyone at first) “called on the name of Jesus,” and so met him. And here I still am 54 years later, apparently, and have found him faithful through intellectual challenge, failures, illness, bereavement, and the other challenges that life always throws at us. I’ve seen one or two miracles along the way, too, but since I’m assured by commenters here that they don’t happen, there’s no point in talking about that.

From the start I was a minority in my family, and in school. Then I was in a minority at university (though it was impressive that the Cambridge Christian Union alone numbered about 10% of the student population at what was then the best university in the world). I was in a minority at medical school, and was gloomily told that encountering real human suffering would soon sort me out… instead, in something like 1/4 million consultations over my career I saw many patients deal with suffering through faith, and even come to faith through it. And several of my cynical medical school colleagues became Christians (like Jim, who moaned that Christians were always forcing their views down people’s throats, but was converted a couple of years into hospital practice, his Christianity guiding his successful career up to his retirement, since when he’s been in church work).

Along the way I’ve met many people like student Gop Chai, one of the first Christians in Nepal, where there are now anything up to a million Christians despite persecution; Insur, from a Tatarstan atheist family, converted in the Soviet army; a guy whose name I forget converted in prison through reading the page of a Gideon’s Bible he tore out as a cigarette paper, and a bunch of more conventional people who took the intellectual route of examining the historical and other claims of Christianity. A whole library of fascinating individual stories, more often than not in the face of family and peer-group opposition.

But in every case I know, something (grace?) prompted a desire, or a need, to know God, and not the challenge to be persuaded against their will. That’s maybe what that verse in Hebrews means that says “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him.” I’m very happy to affirm to those searching that the desire is rewarded, but don’t see much point in arguing the toss with those who want to say it’s irrational. It’s analogous to the way I’m just not interested in being persudaded by those who say that marriage is a bad institution when I, and my family, have been blessed by our marriage for 44 years.


And that argument is obviated by the fact that you needed to add the word “consistently”. How do you know they were being consistent?

One can indeed, as I eventually rejected my religious indoctrination. Your notion that primary education is somehow atheistic is quaint and amusing. Though perhaps that’s a difference between UK and US?

It seems that you agree it’s at least non-rational, that rationality has nothing to do with becoming Christian. If you really want very hard to believe, you will find belief somehow.

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9 posts were split to a new topic: Evidence, Rationality, and Christianity

3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Evidence, Rationality, and Christianity