My Background

As you may have gathered from the name of this blog/website, I am struggling through some very severe doubt in my Christian faith. I thought it best to give you a quick background of myself and a brief glimpse of the evolution of my doubt.

I grew up in a very nurturing Christian home. I went to a Christian grade school, a Christian high school, and a Christian college. I was baptized as an infant. I made profession of faith as a teenager. I went to many Christian youth outings. I gave myself to Christ. I married a fantastic Christian woman. I was again baptized as an adult. I was pursuing sanctification. I joined a church and a care group. I firmly believed I was a Christian. Sure, all through this time there were spiritual highs and lows, but the lows were always followed by a re-awakening. And looking back, those re-awakenings were associated with an emotional high and a feeling of hope.

I’m also a scientist. I always have been. From a very early age I wanted to be either Spider Man or a mad scientist who would turn into Spider Man. Specifically my focus has generally been in biology. However, I have a very broad training that encompasses Cell biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Development Biology, EvoDevo and even Analytical Chemistry.

As a scientist I work and examine the natural world. I believe things based on the evidence. I try my best to think critically. It should come to no surprise that I believe in evolution and that all living things arose through common descent. As creationists define it, I believe in micro and macro evolution. I believe that humans had a common ancestor with the other great apes. I don’t believe there was a Noah flood, and I don’t believe there was an Adam and Eve.

For most of my life I held in balance the best I could, my belief in God and in the evolving world around me. The constant arguing with fellow Christian creationist and IDers caused my stumble into doubt. I continually asked myself, “If they are misrepresenting or lying about a non-salvation issue like evolution, are they misrepresenting or lying about salvation issues such as Christ resurrection, the existence of a loving God, etc.”

Normally my stumble into doubt would soon fade away as I would find some reason to believe. However since the beginning of 2007 my doubt has became more and more severe. Questions that I struggled with in the past resurfaced and became more troubling. If first part of Genesis is not literal, how much of the rest of Scripture is not literal? Was Christ resurrection just symbolic? The problem of evil becomes more problematic if Humans have been around some 250,000 years. That means God let humans suffer for 248,000 years before sending a Savior. Just think about all the pain and suffering that has gone on before “Adam and Eve’s original sin”.

Evolution has dealt a death blow to general revelation. God could have easily made Himself known in creation so that things couldn’t be explained by evolution and the idea of a creator would be necessary to explain the world around us. Why is God so hidden? Why isn’t it obvious that there is a God? Why is the one thing He supposedly gave us (the Bible) so hard to understand? Why can people read so many different things into it; resulting in many denominations and even cults? Why didn’t Jesus specifically write down what He wanted us to do and make that text physically unchangeable? Such as a stone tablet, or having the printing press invented in Jerusalem. Instead He relied on flawed people to hand write His message. If the first part of Genesis (at least 1-10) can’t be taken literally, what part of the Old Testament can? What part is “true” what part isn’t?

Broader questions arose too. What kind of relationship is it that we’re forced into an extreme decision: to believe and love Him, or be punished for eternity? My life seems too short and I feel too uninformed to base a decision that will affect the rest of my eternity.

Atheism seems more logically in tune with what I experience day to day. Things reproduce, grow, die, and then fade away. If we are so close to apes, what make us think we have a soul and they don’t? What about a dog, or a fish, or a tree? We’re here for a moment, and then we’re gone. Poof. Nothing more than a rotting body. No “after life”, just nothing.

Why should I believe otherwise? Oh yeah, that book that some people long ago wrote. What was their motivation to write that stuff? Was it to come to grips with their crappy life? To make themselves feel better about their lousy lot in life? Is it just another religion with a promise of an after life? And just because Christianity has the best (religious) story doesn’t make it true.

These are just a few of the painful, gut wrenching thoughts that go through my head. So as of today I go back and forth of whether or not I’m a Christian with severe doubt, or an agnostic. So, I’ve started this blog to help capture some of my thoughts, and hopefully can make progress one way or another.

This entry was posted in Doubt, Evolution/Creationism/ID, Resurrection. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to My Background

  1. Like a child says:

    I found this blog after seeing it linked at Evan’s blog. I found it interesting how similar our journey’s compare. I linked my blog. I’d love to see an update on your journey.

  2. Drew Smith says:

    Hello Mark,

    My name is Drew Smith. I’m new to your blog and have been looking over some of your posts for a couple of days (particularly the ones concerning your thought on evolution and creation). First, I would like to say (as a believer) that I can sympathize with many of your struggles and genuinely respect your honesty. Honesty to oneself can be very hard, especially at times intellectually. Please know you are not alone in your struggle with doubts. It sounds like a fair amount of my significant doubts have been sufficiently addressed and yours have not. One of mine was trying to reconcile my belief in God with the ever growing plausibility of the evidence for evolution (including common descent). You may have already visited this site, but if not, the biologos foundation and the American Scientific Affiliation have helped me tremendously in my thinking in this area. biologos.org and asa3.org. Also…Dr. Denise Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution almost single-handedly restored my confidence in the complementary nature of religion and science. Here is his website http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/. I know that sending people a barrage of resources can make them feel sometimes overwhelmed, but it seems one your interests lies here and with you being a scientist, you might be able to respect and possibly come to see his position as tenable. Anyway…thanks for letting me post such a long message. BTW…I enjoyed Evolving in Monkey Town too

  3. Mark Lefers says:

    Drew,
    I lived most of my life believing in both God and evolution. I am familiar with ASA and biologos, but for me my issues with evolution are secondary effects. For example, it lessens general revelation, it is hard to believe Christian scholars who in one breath say the resurrection happened and in another say evolution is wrong, evolution complicates many other theological issues (problem of evil, original sin, made in God’s image, etc.). Also living and working in science, I have developed a naturalistic worldview. I cannot see, observe, or see evidence for something supernatural. Where is the evidence? That is why I doubt.

    Thanks for the Lamoureux info. I’ll have to check it out. Looks to be a good resource.

  4. Drew Smith says:

    Hello Mark,

    Thanks for your response. I really appreciate your openness with me, a total stranger. It means a lot. I’m intrigued by your comment that evolution “lessens general revelation.” If you have some time, would you please let me know why you think that, because I don’t necessarily see that following from the fact the evolution has occurred? What kind of criteria are you looking for so that general revelation would have sufficient persuasive power? I would concede that perhaps our UNDERSTANDING of general revelation has become somewhat differently understood the more we explore and learn about the world and cosmos. If one has been conditioned to think (as I once did) that general revelation cannot/should not be seen through primarily natural processes, then I could see how some people (especially those who are scientists like yourself) could easily become disallusioned and skeptical about the explanatory power of general revelation. In other words, I think a significant part of this problem has been the way general revelation has been understood by some prominent theologians who did not adequately understand the role of science.

    That being said, I also believe that the SCIENTISM/NATURALISM that Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others espouse does not sufficiently understand the reality and importance of metaphysical and even plausible theological underpinnings that gives the scientific enterprise its coherency. I really believe there are abuses on both sides of the debate. I would like to think I’m trying to navigate the waters between these two extremes faithfully, but I don’t know for sure. I meant to recommend the following book yesterday along with Lamoureux’s. The book is called The Mind of the Universe:Understanding Science and Religion by the late Spanish Catholic priest Mariano Artigas. He held 3 PHD’s in physics, theology, and philosophy and his book is fair, articulate, humble, learned, and I think persuasive (I’m not a scientist, but I think this could be an important work coupled with Lamoureux’s). He absolutely believes in macro evolution and sees general revelation in terms of an Integral Naturalism. Their is an important difference between methodological and Ontological naturalism, the former being a process used by (I presume) most scientists and the latter being a philosophical position about the character of the whole of reality. This distinction was crucial in my thinking. Artigas recognizes the explanatory power of science and also recognizes the importance of metaphysics/theology to make sense of science and express it’s richness.

    In my limited experience (I’m 28) I have found that many of my significant problems with doubt came because I was ignorant (and still am) of the the men and women who have looked at the same problems and dealt with them in different ways by thinking and using different language to frame the problems and solutions. This might come across as “convenient”, but by allowing my faith to have some plasticity to it, I have been able to (I think) become much more intellectually honest with the data in front of me.

    Finally, like you, my significant reasons for doubt in this area came from the theological realm as I wrestled with how I could conceivable reconcile the above doctrines with an understanding of evolution. The problem of evil is still one of the harder ones for me to handle as a believer, but in comparison to not having the right to call anything good or evil from a purely naturalistic standpoint, I find this problem more manageable. Maybe Lamoureux and Artigas might help you in some of your theological doubts. I hope I have not come across as having everything figured out. I don’t. Faith is a journey and there may come a point in time when I can no longer be intellectually honest with myself. If that day ever comes, I would hope I would have the courage to move into an open agnosticism. I leave you with the following quote by Dallas Willard:

    “[E]volution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order, precisely because its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors, as well as of an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered (law-governed) fashion, to determine which ones are allowed to survive and reproduce. Let us quite generally state: any sort of evolution of order of any kind will always presuppose pre-existing order and pre-existing entities governed by it. It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved. Given the physical world — and however much of evolution it may or may not contain — there is or was some order in it which did not evolve. However it may have originated (if it originated), that order did not evolve, for it was the condition of any evolution at all occurring. We come here upon a logically insurpassable limit to what evolution, however it may be understood, can accomplish.”

  5. Drew Smith says:

    Hello Mark,

    I was just wondering if you had got a chance to read my response above. I’m sure you are busy with 7 kids. Whenever you have some time, would you mind sharing your thoughts with me about my response? Thanks Mark. Hope you had a good 4th of July weekend.

    Drew

  6. Mark Lefers says:

    Sorry Drew for taking awhile to respond. I don’t know if you can imagine but my life can get pretty busy. Right now I’m trying to type, while holding kid #8 (6wks old). But thanks for the reminder.
    General revelation is typically defined as God’s general revelation to all people. This revelation is typically understood as through nature, philosophy, reason, and the sort. A lot of times it is called natural revelation because of the heavy focus on nature. The argument is that nature reveals the presence of God and His nature. At one time appeals to the intricacy of a flower, or the human eye, or a baby would be appeals to the divine nature of God. However, with science, and the understanding of evolution and development, these examples have naturalistic explanations.
    Life/nature (general revelation) to God’s nature is now a one way path. Biology/nature doesn’t point to God, but once you believe in God, one can easily fit biological findings into a Christian worldview.
    Regarding metaphysics, I agree that most agnostics/atheists don’t give metaphysics much time. And to be honest and show my ignorance, I don’t even know what qualifies as metaphysics. What does one study that is outside of nature?
    Regarding Dallas Willard’s quote, yes there is a limit to what science can study. But just pushing the questions to an area science cannot yet (if ever) address (what was before and what caused the big bang) doesn’t justify belief in a supernatural Triune God. Especially when all the other steps leading to that have naturalistic explanations.
    Again for me it comes down to where is the data that the Christian God exists?

  7. Drew Smith says:

    Hello Mark,

    I want to apologize up front. I’m sorry if I was too pressing for a response from you. I honestly have no idea what it would be like to have 8 kids. I sincerely didn’t mean to remind you of how busy you are. I will absolutely keep that in mind as we continue to converse (I hope). I will try to respond to your issues regarding natural theology and the explanatory scope of science over the weekend if I can. My initial thought is that there seems to be (at least to some degree) some confusion between what science “speaks” to and what philosophy/theology “speaks” to. I’m not neccesarily advocating Stephen Gould’s NOMA concept, but I think there are different ways of knowing and that there are different levels of explanation that provide a richer understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. I hope to unpack this a little more next time we talk. Thank you again Mark for your willingness to talk with a youngin like myself :) I really do want to continue to understand where you are coming from and try not to overstate my case for faith at the same time.

  8. Jason Sapp says:

    Hey Guys,
    I’m a 40 year old Christian, Software Engineer and a married father of 3. I’ve been struggling mightily with my faith for the past several months after having engaged an atheist in a very lengthy discussion about God and the Christian Faith. I’ve been a Christian for 16 years and always thought that I was on “firm” ground with my faith. I’ve read tons of apologetics books over the years (many by William Lane Craig) and have recently been on a book ordering spree from Amazon as well. I tend to find myself shying away from books written by any of the ID movement’s proponents, but still find myself gravitating to books written by scientists that are also Christians (like Francis Collins, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne and Freeman Dyson). I desperately find myself seeking out intelligent people who have somehow managed to reconcile their beliefs with their intellect. I think I silently believe/think that “if these guys can believe without throwing away their brains, then so can I”.
    I utterly hate having these doubts, but I’m starting to understand that it’s becoming a part of my reality (like it or not). I honestly don’t want to give up my faith and I continue to “fight” for it. But, if you both don’t mind, I’d like to get myself involved in this conversation (and your ongoing daily struggles).

    Thanks so much,

    Jason Sapp

  9. Drew Smith says:

    Hey Jason,

    I personally wouldn’t mind you joining our conversation at all. I know I can always learn from others. This is one of the main reasons I was attracted to Mark’s blog. He seems to be very genuine and is truly interested in seeking for answers. I know I am learning from him as well. One book that almost single-handedly renewed my confidence in the complementary nature of science (particularly biology) and faith was a book Evolutionary Creation by Denise Lamoureux. It is about 500 pages, but he has a shorter version (approx 180 pages) of the same book called I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution. Excellent resources, especially if you like Polkinghorne. Here is his website http://www.ualberta.ca/~dlamoure/. Maybe it will help you to.

    Drew

  10. Drew Smith says:

    Hello Mark,

    I hope you have been able to get at least some sleep lately with arrival of the little one. Many of my friends have newborns and have told me recently how hard it is to find time to sleep. Anyway, I’d like to try and attempt a response to your comments concerning natural revelation.

    1. You said “The argument is that nature reveals the presence of God and His nature.” I will definitely agree with you natural revelation argues for the reality of the presence of God or an awareness of a transcendent reality. I’m a bit cautious though regarding your second statement as to natural revelation addressing God’s nature. I would have to check on this, but historically I don’t think natural revelations’ primary focus was on highlighting the nature/and or character of God (at least explicitly). Rather (from what I understand), natural revelation is an argument the speaks more to your first comment about presence. To be sure, one could (and many have) implicitly extrapolated what they see in nature to reflect God’s character. Many have done this explicitly as well. I tend to think that God’s character may be found (somewhat implicitly) in natural revelation, but explicitly spelled out so to speak in the character of Jesus via special revelation. This quote from Elton Trueblood has helped guide my thinking in this regard, “This historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” I could be wrong here, so please let me know if you think I am mistaken.

    2. You said “At one time appeals to the intricacy of a flower, or the human eye, or a baby would be appeals to the divine nature of God. However, with science, and the understanding of evolution and development, these examples have naturalistic explanations.” I guess I’m frankly and respectfully having a hard time understanding how showing the above examples and others to have “naturalistic explanations” makes the reality of God less probable, especially given the distinction I made between ontological and methodological naturalism. For me, the scientific enterprise no longer threatens the validity of my faith because I believe I have come to really understand the above crucial distinction. Science speaks to one part of reality (albeit an important part), but there are other parts of reality that are at least as important to humans, including purpose, meaning, character etc.. that cannot be justified or argued for on strictly scientific grounds. I’m not saying that science and theology/philosophy having nothing to learn from each other or that either discipline will never influence the other, but those who act as if the scientific enterprise has the innate ability to provide a comprehensive explanation for all of reality is (to my mind) misleading/unfair at best and false at it’s worst. This view is called scientism and has been at least severely critiqued if not sufficiently refuted by philosophers of science (both believers and non-believers). I realize that this does not demonstrate the reality of the Triune God of Christianity, but I now see this issue as a MAJOR unnecessary stumbling block for many thoughtful individuals (like yourself Mark) to entertain the possibility that one of the alternatives to faith in God ie. scientism is much less plausible, therefore, perhaps showing that at least theism may be a better foundation to build on.

    3. You said “Biology/nature doesn’t point to God, but once you believe in God, one can easily fit biological findings into a Christian worldview.” I’ll be honest. I sometimes wrestle with this issue more than I’d like to admit. I think you are right in saying that biology/nature doesn’t NECESSARILY point to God, but perhaps it does in terms of nature’s apparent telos (albeit sometimes haphazardly) we see in many living systems. I feel I’m a bit out of my league here, so I will try to come back another time with some concrete examples I’ve read from Mariano Artigas’ book called the Mind of the Universe. I would especially love to hear your thoughts here.

    4. You asked “What does one study that is outside of nature?” Good question. I would respectfully suggest that the following cannot be exclusively studied within the purview of science. Science may speak to some of these, but I don’t think it can it sufficiently explain them, because the tools of science were not meant to sufficiently address them. To my mind, they are 1. the mind 2. morality/values 3. important philosophical issues like epistemology, justification, coherence, freewill, dertiminism etc… 4. Telos or purpose

    I will readily concede that pushing back questions does not demonstrate the reality of the Triune God, but we also need to be aware and attentive to what KINDS of questions are being addressed in science and philosophy/theology. What if the questions are pushed back enough to where science can no longer way in because the nature of the above enterprises have somewhat different agendas? What if there are other grounds one must discuss these issues on? I think there are. I will concede that (right now) it is easier to see how theism is more plausible than naturalism, but it is harder for me to sometimes explain why CHRISTIAN THEISM is the correct choice. I think I have reasons for that, but I don’t think it is OBVIOUSLY correct like many Christians suggest. Anyway…there is my response. I know it is not perfect and and I’m sure somewhat mistaken. I’m enjoying our conversation and greatly respect and resonate with some of your struggles. Please don’t hesitate to point out where my thinking is flawed.

    Drew

  11. Mark Lefers says:

    Drew,
    Responding to your comments:
    1. I don’t have the reference in front of me but William Lane Craig has often argued for characteristics of God from nature (personal, transcendent, etc.). But your right, natural revelation is primarily focused on the existence of God.

    2. The typical formula was this: (unexplained natural phenomena) -> (God did it) AKA natural revelation. When unexplained natural phenomena are then explained naturalistically the number of “God did it” examples went down, and the evidence of God in creation decreased. Less evidence for a hypothesis (God did it) and more evidence for another hypothesis (naturalism) leads to making naturalism more probable and God less probable.

    You mentioned that science cannot address humans purpose, meaning, character, etc.; but it does. Although the answer is depressing, it doesn’t make it untrue. I’m not a fan of NOMA, because I think in practice it doesn’t work. If science found scientific evidence for God (like IDers do), Christians would be putting it up as proof of their religion. Science also addresses some of the big questions that typically are thought to be outside of science like explaining who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. I’m not sure I see naturalism as a stumbling block. I just see it as the one option with the most evidence. At best, I can say there is a possibility of a Triune God, but it’s just a possibility with not much evidence.

    3. Biology doesn’t point to God. Maybe cosmology does, but I don’t know if I’m just ignorant of the field, or if talking about infinity just makes it easier to just think of a First Cause.

    4. Science still tries to address them:
    the mind – neuropsychology
    morality/values – evolutionary psychology
    freewill and determinism – science is trying to address these (interesting stuff)
    Epistemology – science of knowledge
    Purpose – I’m not sure I have any, but I like to think I do :)

    You said, ”I will concede that (right now) it is easier to see how theism is more plausible than naturalism”. My issue is going from naturalism to theism. If God exists, I think Christianity is the best religion out there, and it has a much more cohesive worldview.

  12. Drew Smith says:

    Hey Mark,

    I haven’t forgotten about our conversation. You said some interesting things that have caused me to reflect on the nature of our conversation (which is a good thing). We might be talking past one another, so in my next post I hope to clarify and try to define some important words which may help both of us begin to think a little more clearly. I know that it is easy to assume the other person should understand where you are coming from, but that is typically not the case. I hope to remedy that. I hope to continue to try and genuinely understand where you are coming from. Recently, I found the following quote that has really influenced my thought process about the importance of sufficiently defining words. I always find good quotes helpful for my thinking.

    William Trufant Foster on Debate and Definition said…
    Argumentation and Debating (Houghton Mifflin Co.: 1908), pp. 145-6.

    “We have seen that the first step in argument is the interpretation of the proposition in order to resolve it into its essential parts; and we have seen that a first step in any such interpretation must be the definition of terms. Many fallacies are due to inadequate definition of terms, for the most dangerous source of verbal confusion and consequent dispute is our failure to set forth our meaning with perfect clearness, and the more subtle the misinterpretation, the greater the danger. The study and practice of argumentation is sure to reveal innumerable chances for confusion due to the lack of satisfactory definitions. We can seldom proceed far in any argument, no matter how simple it may seem to be, without feeling the necessity for this preliminary work of exposition. Without the protection of painstaking definitions, no point in an argument is proof against the insidious fallacies of ambiguity. When the two sides in a controversy use the same terms with different meanings or different terms with the same meaning; when colleagues are not agreed and consistent in the use of terms; when any man employs a term in one sense and later shifts to another sense, the result is a confusion which may carry in its train whole troops of fallacies. Clear and convincing definitions are fundamental requisites of sound argument.”

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