An Astrophysicist's Journey To ChristMarch 20, 2016 Time: 16:54
What influenced an atheist scientist to become a follower of Christ?
An Astrophysicist’s Journey to Christ
KEVIN HARRIS: Hey, come on in! It’s Reasonable Faith With Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, lots of people have sent this to us. It is the story and testimony of former atheist and astrophysicist Sarah Salviander and her journey to faith in Christ. Bill, her journey covers some of our favorite topics, and really shows once again the importance of what we do here at Reasonable Faith and your work. Let’s offer the usual disclaimer that we are not saying, “Here is a really smart person who became a Christian, so you should to.” We think one should become a Christian because we think Christianity is true. She says that much of her work is to show the integrity of science and the compatibility of science and being a follower of Christ. Dr. Craig, I am mostly just going to read some excerpts from Sarah and you jump in.
DR. CRAIG: From my point of view I just want to celebrate with her about this marvelous journey that she’s been on and the positive outcome that it’s had.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says that she grew up in Canada. Her parents were socialists and political activists and were also atheists. She says,
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when science fiction was enjoying a renaissance, thanks largely to the popularity of Star Wars. . . . I also loved the original Star Trek . . . The stoic and logical character of Mr. Spock was particularly appealing to me. Popular science was also experiencing a renaissance at that time, which had a lot to do with Carl Sagan’s television show, Cosmos, which I adored. The combination of these influences led to such an intense wonder about outer space and the universe, that by the time I was nine years old I knew I would be a space scientist someday.
Canada was already post-Christian by the 1970s, so I grew up with no religion. In retrospect, it’s amazing that for the first 25 years of my life, I met only three people who identified as Christian.
DR. CRAIG: Just think of that. Three persons who identified as Christians by the time she was 25 years old. That just shows how deeply secularized Canadian society has become.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial. I was ignorant not only of the Bible, but also of the deep philosophy of Christianity and the scientific discoveries that shed new light on the origins of the universe and life on Earth.
DR. CRAIG: Fascinating. There she says she was ignorant of three things: the Bible, deep philosophy, and these scientific discoveries. Now I think she would say in all of these respects her faith in Christianity has been strengthened.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
I began to focus all of my energy on my studies, and became very dedicated to my physics and math courses. I joined campus clubs, started to make friends, and, for the first time in my life, I was meeting Christians.
DR. CRAIG: Isn’t that encouraging that it was on the university campus that she ran into Christians for the first time.
KEVIN HARRIS: Absolutely. She says, “They weren’t like Objectivists—they were joyous and content.”
DR. CRAIG: I take it she probably joined some Ayn Rand club that hold to Objectivism which is a very depressing self-centered philosophy. The Christians, in contrast to the Objectivists, show joy and happiness which is wonderful.
And, they were smart, too. I was astonished to find that my physics professors, whom I admired, were Christian. Their personal example began to have an influence on me, and I found myself growing less hostile to Christianity.
DR. CRAIG: Doesn’t this show how important it is that at the university Christianity have a place at the table, and particularly Christian faculty. That is so key here, I think.
KEVIN HARRIS: She began to study cosmology, the Big Bang – skipping down to the second page. I like what she says toward the end of the second paragraph as she is studying cosmology. It made her think of
Einstein’s observation that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it’s comprehensible. I started to sense an underlying order to the universe. Without knowing it, I was awakening to what Psalm 19 tells us so clearly, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
That summer, I’d picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and was reading it in my off hours. Previous to this, I’d only known it as an exciting story of revenge, since that’s what the countless movie and TV adaptations always focused on. But it’s more than just a revenge story, it’s a philosophically deep examination of forgiveness and God’s role in giving justice. I was surprised by this, and was starting to realize that the concept of God and religion was not as philosophically trivial as I had thought.
DR. CRAIG: I just love this because here you have the combination of hard sciences but with the beauty of literature. Great literature like The Count of Monte Cristo which is a story all about God and how Edmond Dantès sees himself as an instrument to be used by God. It is a remarkable novel. I would encourage our listeners to read it if they haven’t done so yet. Literature like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Brothers Karamazov, and other great literature from a Christian perspective is also tremendously enriching as people like C. S. Lewis recognized.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
All of this culminated one day, as I was walking across that beautiful La Jolla campus. I stopped in my tracks when it hit me—I believed in God! I was so happy; it was like a weight had been lifted from my heart. I realized that most of the pain I’d experienced in my life was of my own making, but that God had used it to make me wiser and more compassionate. It was a great relief to discover that there was a reason for suffering, and that it was because God was loving and just. God could not be perfectly just unless I—just like everyone else—was made to suffer for the bad things I’d done.
DR. CRAIG: Isn’t it remarkable that it wasn’t as though she sort of reasoned herself or forced herself to believe in God. She simply found herself believing in God, having had these scientific and literary influences preparing her heart. Then I think the Holy Spirit just produced naturally in her soul this belief in God. It came naturally to her.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says she “was content to be a theist and didn’t pursue religion any further.” She met a man from Finland who had all of those overwhelming qualities that she had appreciated earlier. She says,
Like me, he’d grown up atheist in a secular country, but he’d come to embrace God and Jesus Christ as his personal savior in his early twenties through an intensely personal experience. We fell in love and got married. Somehow, even though I wasn’t religious myself, I was comforted to be marrying a Christian man.
I graduated with a degree in physics and math that year, and in the fall, I started graduate work in astrophysics at The University of Texas at Austin. My husband was a year behind me in his studies, so I moved to Austin by myself. The astrophysics program at UT was a much more rigorous and challenging environment than my little alma mater. The academic rigor, combined with the isolation I felt with my family and friends being so far away, left me feeling pretty discouraged.
DR. CRAIG: She was in a top-flight program at UT-Austin in astrophysics. That is where John Wheeler was – the world-famous astrophysicist. She is really in the academic elite in her field.
Wandering through a bookstore one day, I saw a book called The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder. I was intrigued by the title, but something else compelled me to read it. . . . If Genesis is literally true [like Dr. Schroeder says], then why not the Gospels, too? I read the Gospels, and found the person of Jesus Christ to be extremely compelling.
This sounds a lot like you, Bill.
DR. CRAIG: For me, it was also reading the Gospels and being just captivated by Jesus of Nazareth.
KEVIN HARRIS: She continues,
I felt as Einstein did when he said he was “enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” And yet I struggled, because I did not feel one hundred percent convinced of the Gospels in my heart. I knew of the historical evidence for their truth. And, of course, I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis. Intellectually, I knew the Bible to be true, and as a person of intellect, I had to accept it as truth, even if I didn’t feel it. That’s what faith is.
DR. CRAIG: That’s an interesting definition of faith. That is contrary to the atheistic view that it is believing in something you know ain’t true. She says it is accepting something you know is true even if you don’t feel like it.
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
As C. S. Lewis said, it is accepting something you know to be true in spite of your emotions. So, I converted. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.
Maybe that sounds coldly logical. It did to me, and for that reason, I sometimes worried whether my faith was real. And then I had a chance to find out a couple of years ago. That year started with my cancer diagnosis and an unpleasant course of treatment. Not long after, my husband fell ill with meningitis and encephalitis, and it was not clear if he would recover; we didn’t know if he would be paralyzed or worse. It took him about a month, but, thankfully, he did recover. At that time, we were expecting our first child, a baby girl. All seemed well until about six months, when our baby stopped growing. We found out she had Trisomy 18, a fatal chromosomal abnormality. Our daughter, Ellinor, was stillborn soon after.
It was the most devastating loss of our lives. For a while I despaired, and didn’t know how I could go on after the death of our daughter. But I finally had a clear vision of our little girl in the loving arms of her heavenly Father, and it was then that I had peace. I reflected that, after all these trials in one year, my husband and I were not only closer to each other, but also felt closer to God. My faith was real.
DR. CRAIG: She had gone through the crucible hadn’t she?
KEVIN HARRIS: She says,
I don’t know how I would’ve coped with such trials when I was an atheist. When you’re twenty years old and healthy, and you have your family around you, you feel immortal. I never thought about my own death or the potential deaths of loved ones. But there comes a time when the feeling of immortality wanes, and you’re forced to confront the inevitability of not only your own annihilation, but that of your loved ones.
A few years ago, when I was researching an article on the nature of time, I was surprised to discover that only the Abrahamic faiths and their offshoots hold to linear time. All other religious traditions hold to cyclical time. Not only does cyclical time seem more intuitively correct—our lives are governed by many cycles in nature—but it offers a comforting connection to the Sacred through the eternal return. The modern, secular version of this is the Multiverse.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah. I don’t think cyclical time is at all intuitive! It seems to me that it is deeply counterintuitive to say that an event can occur both before and after itself. I think that is metaphysically impossible. But any case.
KEVIN HARRIS: What do you think about what she said about linear time?
DR. CRAIG: I think this is right at the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith. History is moving toward a goal. That is the whole idea of eschatology – the end, the new heavens and the new Earth. That really is a very deep element in the Christian faith that history and that time is linear. That is absolutely correct.
KEVIN HARRIS: Skipping down here, she starts talking about the multiverse. She says,
The Multiverse idea posits that there is a huge number—possibly an infinite number—of parallel universes. It’s an interesting, but ultimately unscientific, idea. Science can only study what we can observe in this Universe. It cannot ever hope to study the Multiverse. Nevertheless, some atheists cling to the idea, because it’s the only serious alternative to God as the creative force behind the Universe and it’s a way to cope with mortality in the absence of God. The problem is, most proponents of the Multiverse haven’t seriously explored its logical implications. I think, when they do, their worldview leads to despair.
. . .
In the Multiverse, we are not unique; there are many “copies” of each of us. If it’s real, then we have lived, and will live, an infinite number of lives. In fact, we have already lived this exact life an infinite number of times. All those lives are lost and pointless. We will live them an infinite number of times again. Everett and others who believe in the Multiverse have not conquered death; they think they’ve found a way to cheat it, but this form of “immortality” is really just a prison from which there is no escape. Does that sound awful to you? It sounds awful to me. As with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, the Multiverse is ultimately barren of hope and purpose.
DR. CRAIG: I couldn’t agree with her more. I have been puzzled – deeply puzzled – by the almost glee with which certain secular astrophysicists like Alex Vilenkin and Lawrence Krauss propound this multiverse idea and the idea that we have existed an infinite number of times and done exactly the same things an infinite number of times over, as though this were somehow a charming notion when in fact, I think, she is right. As Nietzsche saw, this is horrible. This is a curse that is just utterly meaningless. I think she is right that this multiverse scenario not only is, I think, explanatorily inadequate (as I’ve argued elsewhere) but ultimately it leads to despair.
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, wrap this up by reading that last paragraph of her testimony.
DR. CRAIG: This is her final thought:
I do not believe we are locked in that sort of prison. But the only way we are free is if the universe and everything in it was created, not by some unconscious mechanism, but by a personal being—the God of the Bible. The only way our lives are unique, purposeful, and eternal is if a loving God created us.