Why I am a Christian

Dan Simon
Department of Electrical Engineering
Cleveland State University
Cleveland, Ohio, 44115

Why am I a Christian? It's amazing how such a complex issue can be contained within such a simple five-word question! This question can be answered on several different levels.

 

Before I explain why I am a Christian, I will give some common motivations that do not apply to me. Someone has said that the best reason for becoming a Christian is other Christians, and the best reason for not becoming a Christian is other Christians. This paradoxical statement emphasizes the point that religion brings out both the best and the worst in people. It is undeniable that people have accomplished great things in the name of Christianity (Mother Theresa comes to mind). It is also undeniable that people have performed horrendous acts in the name of Christianity (the Crusades comes to mind). Bertrand Russell, the famous mathematician and philosopher, wrote a book called Why I am not a Christian. One of his primary reasons for rejecting Christianity was the hypocrisy of Christians. I am sure that this reasoning motivates many non-Christians today also. On the other hand, author G. K. Chesterton wrote that "the reason why I am a Christian is that the Church is living and not a dead teacher." Like Chesterton, there have been many others who converted to Christianity because of the influence of other Christians. Having been around Christians all of my life I can see both Russell's and Chesterton's point of view. But, like Russell, I have seen too many bad Christians to join them on their own merit. If my impression of Christians (in general) was the sole criterion, I would choose not to be a Christian.

 

Another common motivation for Christianity which does not apply to me is the avoidance of hell. This is the idea behind Pascal's Wager, named after the famous mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. He said that if Christianity is true, then after death Christians will go to heaven while non-Christians will go to hell. But if Christianity is false, then after death both Christians and non-Christians will simply cease to exist. So if Christianity is false then Christians have nothing to lose. But if Christianity is true then Christians have everything to gain and non-Christians have everything to lose. So, given the available options and the potential consequences, it makes sense to be a Christian. This is a way of 'covering your bets.' While I think that Pascal's Wager does have merit, it does not especially appeal to me. I try to choose the right thing in spite of the consequences. (This is my idealistic streak coming out.) So if I was convinced that Christianity was false I would not be a Christian, even though I would knowingly be taking a small risk of going to hell. And if I was convinced that Christianity was true, I would be a Christian even if I knew there was no heaven or hell.

 

This brings me to my primary thesis - the reason why I am a Christian. I am a Christian simply because I believe that Christianity is true. On one level I can say that I am a Christian because my parents raised me that way. If my parents raised me as an atheist or in some other religion, perhaps I would not be a Christian. What would I be like if I had different parents or if I was raised in a different religion? This is a speculative question, and the bottom line is that I simply do not know the answer. But I like to think that I would be a Christian today even if my parents did not raise me that way. I can honestly say that if I became convinced that Christianity was not objectively true, I would renounce my faith. I am committed to truth and I believe that Christianity is true. Hence I am a Christian.

 

This brings me to the question, "Why am I convinced that Christianity is true?" I have been convinced on the basis of nature and the Bible. Evidence for the truth of Christianity is explored in the discipline known as Christian Apologetics. (According to the popular usage of the word apologetic, this seems to indicate that Christians are embarrassingly apologizing for their beliefs. However, the word apologetics is derived from the Greek apologia, which means the communication and defense of Christianity.) Here are a few summaries of evidences for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.

 

  1. Throughout all time and in all cultures, people (in general) have always been convinced that God exists and that right and wrong exist. Why? Does a belief in God have some evolutionary or survival value? This general belief in the supernatural points to the imprint of God on the conscience of humanity.
  2. The complexity of the universe indicates the existence of a designer. The physical characteristics of the universe and the earth are perfect for the existence of life in general and human life in particular. These characteristics include the expansion rate of the universe, the distance of the earth from the sun, the complexity of the human brain, the relative masses of atomic particles, and many more. The well known atheist J. L. Mackie wrote [1, p. 141], "There is only one actual universe, with a unique set of basic materials and physical constants, and it is therefore surprising that the elements of this unique setup are just right for life when they might easily have been wrong."
  3. The origin of life defies natural explanation. The famous astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle (an agnostic) made the following analogy of the possibility of the chance origin of life [2, p. 19]: "What are the chances that a tornado might blow through a junkyard containing all the parts of a 747, accidentally assemble them into a plane, and leave it ready for take-off? The possibilities are so small as to be negligible even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole universe." Hoyle also wrote [2, p. 220], "There are so many of these odd coincidences essential to life that some explanation seems required to account for them." University of Virginia astronomer J. Trefil estimates the probability of life existing anywhere in the universe to be one in a billion. "If I were a religious man," Trefil wrote [3, p. 252], "I would say that everything we have learned about life in the past twenty years shows that we are unique, and therefore special, in God's sight." Sir Francis Crick is quoted in Scientific American [4] as saying, "The origin of life appears to be almost a miracle" (page 125). Harold Klein, in the same article, says that "the simplest bacterium is so damned complicated from the point of view of a chemist that it is almost impossible to imagine how it happened" (page 120).
  4. The nature of the Bible indicates a supernatural source. It was written over a 1500-year time span by 40 different authors in different cultures and languages, yet it contains an astounding consistency in its message. There are certainly inconsistencies in the Bible (like in any book), but the inconsistencies are relatively insignificant discrepancies on peripheral issues. The truth of the Bible continues to be verified independently by archaeologists and historians, and the fulfilled prophecies contained in the Bible can only be described as amazingly "coincidental."

 

The existence of God and the truth of the Bible cannot be proved. But although the evidences summarized above are by no means definitive, they are convincing enough to me (and I think to most honest and rational persons) to conclude that Christianity is true. And that is why I am a Christian.


References

[1] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, Oxford University Press, 1982.

[2] F. Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984.

[3] R. Rood and J. Trefil, Are We Alone? Scribner, 1981.

[4] J. Horgan, "In the Beginning...," Scientific American, vol. 264, no. 2, pp. 116-125, February 1991.


 

Here are some web sites that contain many useful resources on the relationship between science and Christianity.

 

Reasons to Believe

The American Scientific Affiliation

Leadership University

Probe Ministries

The John Templeton Foundation

Christian Engineering Society

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences

Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

Discovery Institute

Northwest Creation Network

 

Here are some recommended books on the issues discussed above. All of the books below are written for educated non-professionals who want a serious discussion of the issues without having formal training in astronomy, philosophy, or any other particular field.

 

-         The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, by John Barrow and Frank Tipler - Both authors are non-Christians who are world-class scientists - Barrow in astronomy and Tipler in physics. This book recognizes the apparent fine-tuning displayed by the physical constants and natural laws that describe the behavior of the universe. Instead of attributing this fine-tuning to God, they attribute it to the anthropic principle, described in this book.

-         Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee - I am not sure of the authors' religious beliefs, but they are both committed to naturalism (that is, that the universe is closed to any activity by God). This book, using more recent scientific information, revisits the questions posed in 1981 by James Trefil and Robert Rood in their book 'Are We Alone?' Ward and Brownlee conclude that microbial life is probably common in the universe. But they also conclude that so many things have to progress perfectly in order for intelligent life to evolve, the odds against its existence are astronomical.

-         The Accidental Universe, by Paul Davies - Davies is a top-rate cosmologist. Like Barrow and Tipler (see above), Davies is a non-Christian who recognizes the "apparently miraculous accidents of nature that have enabled the universe to evolve its familiar structures: atoms, stars, galaxies, and life itself." He tries to explain this in purely naturalistic terms without reference to God. One of his proposals is the many-universes theory. This theory states that if there are an infinite number of universes, then of course one of those universes will exhibit the amazing coincidences that make life possible, and we just happen to live in that particular universe.

-         Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler - This book, written by a Christian professor of theology, is more philosophical than scientific. It first discusses how we can know what is true, then proceeds to demonstrate that only the Christian worldview satisfies the philosophical criteria for objective truth. It concludes with a historical verification of the claims of Christianity, including the historical reliability of the Bible and the deity of Jesus.

-         The Creation Hypothesis, edited by J.P. Moreland - This is a collection of seven contributions that discuss scientific evidence for the existence of God. The first three chapters are philosophical and the last four chapters are scientific. The four chapters of scientific evidence include astronomical evidences, the information content of DNA, evidence from the fossil record, and the origin of human language.

-         Scaling the Secular City, by J.P. Moreland - This book, written by a professor of philosophy of religion, presents a good mix of philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. The book explores the relationship between science and religion and offers arguments for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

-         The Creator and the Cosmos, by Hugh Ross - This book shows that many characteristics of the universe are fine-tuned for the existence of human life. It expresses many of Barrow and Tipler's results, and Davies' results, in more readable terms. It includes personal notes by the author describing how he became a Christian and why most scientists refuse to convert to Christianity even after seeing the evidence of fine-tuning. Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist who founded Reasons to Believe, and I recommend all of his books.

-         The Fingerprint of God, by Hugh Ross - This is similar to The Creator and the Cosmos but it contains a more varied treatment of the same topics. Written by an astronomer, it includes historical material related to the roots of cosmology and scientists' initial reluctance (in the early to middle 1900s) to accept the big bang theory. It also discusses Biblical material, including an in-depth analysis of the Genesis creation account. The author debunks young earth creationism and shows that the Bible's account of creation is consistent with scientists' view of the beginning of the universe and the beginning and evolution of life.

-         Show Me God, by Fred Heeren - This is an interesting and readable book that discusses scientists search for extraterrestrial life, the big bang theory, and the fine-tuning of many cosmological constants. The author is a science writer who uses interviews with many top scientists (almost all of whom are non-Christians) to bolster his argument that only God could account for the design that we observe in the universe. You can read my review of the book on the American Scientific Affiliation's web site.

-         Science, Life and Christian Belief, by Malcolm Jeeves and R.J. Berry - This is a collection of 13 essays on broadly ranging areas related to the integration of Christianity and science. The interesting and informative essays cover topics such as the influence of Christianity on the rise of modern science, the creation/evolution debate, analyses of human nature from the perspectives of science and Christianity, the implications of science for theology, and the implications of theology for science.


Professor Simon's Home Page

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Cleveland State University


Last Revised: June 9, 2015