After I rejected the strong atheism of my upbringing, I spent many years wondering what the truth was about the existence of God. I investigated several theistic and spiritual systems. At one point I became fascinated with Jewish mysticism; I read several books on Buddhism; I listened to relatives who had delved deeply into Indian religion; I learned transcendental meditation. (I even peeked into Scientology – and I fled.)
All of this convinced me that there really was something that existed beyond the material world studied by science. I called this something “spirituality”. I began thinking that maybe the idea of “God” was the immaterial manifestation of this spiritual reality. But I was also getting the sense that if that was true, God was a very distant and unknowable entity. Both the Kabballah and the sayings of the Buddha seemed to confirm this.
I found myself standing on the shores of a sea of mystery, certain that the waters hid treasures of beauty and goodness, but with no way to see them for myself.
And then, prompted by a friend, I read the Gospels. I had read some of them before in school, but only as an exercise to reinforce my atheistic scorn at the stupidity of Christianity. Back then I was focused on the magic, the contradictions, the naiveté of the ignorant who believed in scientifically impossible events like the resurrection.
When I read the Gospels the second time, my mind was open, freed of the ideological certainty of atheism. I still saw the contradictions, but now they appeared as evidence for truth, the kind of differences one would expect in true eyewitness accounts. I still saw the magic, but now it confirmed for me my new-found conviction that science is not the only pathway to truth. And now I saw the figure of Jesus Christ, and reading His words, I realized that God must have seen me standing on the shore, staring helplessly at the waves. Jesus Christ rose from those waters and held out His hand to me.
“So you want to see God?” He asked me. “Here I am.”
The above is a poetic image, but something very similar actually happened to me, in a dream about a frightening cliff, and in another about a beautiful garden. Jesus was there in both, showing me a new reality, helping me find the gate. Jesus Christ was real, He was the incarnation of God, and He was calling me.
Well, let’s take a deep breath. I was at the time, as I had been long before and remain today, a scientist. And by most objective measures, a fairly successful one. I know that dreams are images produced by neurophysiological and psychological factors, and, like so many subjective experiences, they can be easily explained as materialistic phenomena. So perhaps I had those dreams (and other subjective experiences) because I wanted to (as I have since been told many times).
That explanation was the one I had used as a young man to dismiss several similar experiences that I couldn’t readily make sense of at the time. But now I rejected it, as I rejected atheism as a failed worldview.
I thought of the widespread belief among scientists of the late 19th century that there wasn’t much else to learn about the physics of the universe, and the idea that the origin of life would be a simple problem of chemistry to solve. What replaced all these beliefs was not something simpler and more elegant, but theories that are far more complex and perhaps even semi-mystical, bringing into question our reliance on pure materialism as the universal truth of nature. I expect the same to happen with the current popular notion that consciousness is nothing but an illusion,
To say that dreams are just neurological impulses is like saying a Kandinsky painting is just paint and canvass, a Beethoven symphony is just sound waves, and love is just a trick of hormones. One could as easily say that the ideal gas law or the Schrödinger equation are just letters and symbols with an equal sign in the middle. And what you’re looking at now is merely the geometrical arrangement of two-dimensional symbols against a white background – “reading” is an illusion.
Which brings me back to my reading of the gospels. The figure of Jesus was powerful and produced a sense of awe in my soul. But perhaps even more important to me were the mortal characters in the story. Acts of the Apostles, which I read for the first time, brought these people into sharp focus. Peter, the man who denied Christ and abandoned him at the end, and Paul, the archenemy of the new faith, sprang off the pages as real people, not the subjects of a mythological propaganda piece. I was quite used to the stories of Soviet heroes from my childhood – they were so perfect that even as a child, I suspected that there might be just a touch of exaggeration there. But Peter was weak before he became strong; Paul was headstrong and vicious before he became virtuous (if still headstrong).
It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that produced the transformations of these men. It was the same event that brought them together and called out to so many people of the time. It was the event that led within less than 100 years to the growth of a new religion to over a million believers – despite persecution, the murders of their leaders, and the destruction of Jerusalem, the original center of the new faith.
There was no doubt in my mind as I finished Acts that the resurrection was the central point of Christianity, that it defined who Jesus was and who we are. Because I saw myself in Peter, and even more so in Paul. Not because of the great work they did after the resurrection, but because of Peter’s weakness and Paul’s intransigence. And as I finally came to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior (the details of which, along with those of my dreams I have written about elsewhere), I saw that I and all of suffering humanity are perfectly reflected in the transformed lives of these apostles.
But how can a scientist believe in miracles? That question has been asked and answered numerous times, and I have not much wisdom to add. I rejected scientism a long time ago, even while still an atheist, so I have no problem understanding that science has limits, and that miracles, by definition, are not addressable by science. Even my father, a communist, atheist, strict materialist, and also a physical chemist, told me that the scientific method is not able to address all questions in life and nature.
Science has been my lifelong passion, but I have always been enamored of history, and while I never considered making it an official professional relationship, my attachment to the lure of historical scholarship has also been a lifelong affair. Everything I have read about the history of Christianity confirms my subjective belief in the reality of Christ’s resurrection and divinity. Again, this case has been presented by many, and I can only add that I found it convincing from the time I understood the historical reality of the first century.
I believe in the resurrection of Christ because I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God on earth, and I believe in the redemption of human beings like Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, myself, and you. If there was no resurrection, there would have been no Christianity, and history would have been entirely different, probably without science, hope, or moral progress. As C.S. Lewis so famously said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”