I grew up in the Bible belt where saying, “I’m a Christian” was just another way of saying, “I’m a good person.” It didn’t have much to do with the way you thought or how you lived your life.
I grew up in a “Christian” home of that sort. Christianity was the background noise–the assumption we all lived with–but we were not church going people, and it didn’t have much to do with our day to day lives. Every now and then my dad would decide we ought to go to church, but it only lasted a few weeks at a time.
During one of those times, when I was 13 or 14, I got baptized. I remember back then being excited about it. I read the Bible off and on during high school and had periods of religious excitement followed about religious apathy, which frustrated me.
I joined the Navy right after high school, and for a while after bootcamp, I entered my most apathetic period. In the Navy, I went through the nuclear power program and studied nuclear physics among other subjects. The things I learned in nuclear power school would have a major effect on my thinking, which I’ll explain in a bit.
During the Navy, I had my first exposure to people with a variety of religious beliefs, including Wicca, which was quite the novelty to me. It was during that time that I had a lot of my beliefs challenged, and I came to the realization that I had always believed in Christianity for no other reason than I had never been given any reason to think it was false. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like there was no reason to think it was true, and it was quite possible for the whole thing to be false. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt partly, I suppose, because I wanted it to be true.
After I got out of the Navy, I moved to Austin, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, which required everybody to have an email account. The internet was brand new to me back then (1997). I started going to chat rooms for my first time and debated with a lot of people of various religious persuasions, as well as the non-religious. That’s when I started referring to myself as “agnostic.” Sometimes I would call myself a “Christian agnostic,” which just meant that I gave Christianity the benefit of the doubt, or I considered myself a Christian, but I really didn’t know whether it was true or not. Like most agnostics, I thought agnosticism was the only honest position on God, and all honest people ought to be agnostic about it.
I remember clearly what sort of sealed my agnosticism and I also remember clearly what abruptly ended it.
What sealed it was a show on Austin Cable Access called “Christian Answers.” There were these three apologists taking questions from callers, and I remember them saying over and over in the program that “a creation implies a creator.” They acted like it was the most obvious thing in the world that God existed.
But the glaring problem I saw in their argument was the enormous unwarranted assumption they were making, which was that the universe was in fact created. I saw no reason to suppose the universe hadn’t always existed. If the universe has always existed, there’s no reason to suppose that it was created by a God. That sealed my agnosticism.
There are three models of the big bang that have been popular in the cosmology of the 20th century–the open universe theory, the closed universe theory, and the oscillating universe theory. The oscillating universe theory was particularly attractive to me because it refuted the notion that the big bang was the very beginning of the universe. Instead, it posits that the universe expands and collapses over and over again. The universe is expanding now, but eventually, gravity will slow it down, and then cause it to collapse. And then it will bounce back in another big bang.
The oscillating theory seemed to do away with any reason to posit a God as an explanation for the “creation” of the universe. Without a reason to posit a God, any belief in God was just an assumption, wishful thinking, a mere possibility, a matter of blind faith, an internal nudge, or whatever. I often questioned why I continued to call myself a Christian and continued to say that I believed in God.
The thing is, even without any sort of proof, I couldn’t shake the idea that there might be a God out there, and that everything I knew about Christianity might still be true. There were times when I’d go for walks, and I’d say to myself or out loud “there is no God’ just to see how it felt to say it. But it felt really bad, even scary. And I could hardly even THINK about denying Christ without feeling a shiver.
Have you ever stood at the edge of a building, looked over the edge, and thought, “You know, one small step could end my life.” And then have you ever imagined it? How easy it would be to do one small thing that would end your life? Like standing on the edge of a highway, and stepping in front of an 18-wheeler? Well that’s how Christianity was to me at the time.
I constantly toyed with the idea of saying really blasphemous things, or denying Christ, or something. They were only words, after all, and if I didn’t believe, then how could they even be offensive to anybody? I mean my imaginary friend isn’t going to be offended if I hurl insults at him. But I just couldn’t do it. The thought of it put butterflies in my stomach. I suppose something like Pascal’s wager kept me from outright denying Christianity.
One day, I was out walking, and I was thinking back to my Navy days. Since I had gotten out of the Navy, I had begun to quickly forget everything I had learned in power school. I found nuclear power and the physics associated with it to be fascinating, and I didn’t want to forget about all I had learned.
This day I was thinking about the first and second laws of thermodynamics. According to the first law, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy is conserved in every process. The energy of the universe was constant. And everything in the universe is energy. Even mass is a form of energy, which Einstein theorized, and which nuclear physics proved. Converting mass to energy is really what nuclear power is all about. So the entire universe is just energy existing in various forms–mass, kenetic energy, potential energy, heat energy, etc.
But even though the amount of energy in the universe is constant, every process increases the total entropy of the universe. That means energy can’t be used over and over again. It gets expended. That’s the second law of thermodynamics. Whenever anything at all happens, energy is being converted from one form to another. But no energy conversion is done with perfect efficiency. Every time something happens, there is some energy that is no longer able to do work.
That’s not to say entropy can’t decrease in a given situation. Whenever you roll a ball up a hill, for example, you’re decreasing entropy. But you do it by adding energy to the system. You have to use energy to push the ball up the hill. The ball won’t roll itself up the hill. When you add energy in order to decrease entropy in one part of the world, you must accept that entropy increases somewhere else, and the increase is always larger than the decrease, so that the total entropy of the universe increases.
The same is true when water freezes. When water freezes, it crystallizes, created a more ordered state, and the entropy is lower. But it does it by releasing heat, which is dissipated, increasing the total entropy of the universe.
In a closed system, where energy can neither leave nor enter, things will eventually fizzle out. For example, if you set a hot cup of coffee in a cold box, heat will leave the coffee and fill the box, cooling off as it does, until the box reaches a state of equilibrium. The temperature of everything in the room will be the same. After that, no more heat flow can happen. The transfer of heat energy will stop.
That’s why heat engines must reject heat. A heat engine is a cycle where heat energy is added at one point, then that heat energy is converted to mechanical energy at another point, then the heat engine must reject some heat in order to keep going. So no heat engine can be perfectly efficient.
That’s why there can’t be perpetual motion machines. A perpetual motion machine would be like a situation where a battery turns a motor, which turns a generator, which produces electricity, and the electricity produced charges the battery and keeps it going. A machine like that will run down because these energy conversions (electric to mechanical, and mechanical back to electrical) can’t happen with perfect efficiency.
Nothing runs forever. Everything seeks a lower energy state. Upright things want to fall, and they don’t pick themselves back up again. Chemical reactions seek lower potentials. I was thinking about all this, and it got me to thinking about how everything dies, and how all stars will eventually burn out, and then I realized that even with an oscillating universe, the entire universe will eventually burn out. It doesn’t matter whether the universe is opened, closed, or oscillating. The end result is the same. Eventually, there will be no more life, no more stars, no more energy conversions or activity of any kind in the universe. I found out much later that what I’m describing is what cosmologists refer to as the “heat death” or the “cold death” of the universe. It’s inevitable.
But I got to thinking that if the total amount of energy in the universe is constant, as the first laws says it is, then the universe has existed for an infinite amount of time. Well, given an infinite amount of time, the universe should’ve already reached a state of equilibrium. And the thing about a beginningless universe is that no matter how far back in the past you go, the past is still infinite. So there’s really no finite distance in the past you could go and find the universe still ticking. The death of the universe would be just as infinite as its age.
The fact that the universe was still alive and well and apparently still had a lot of life left in it told me that either the first law of thermodynamics was false or the second law was false. At the time, I thought I had come up with an amazing discovery and I quickly went home and wrote about it.
Over the next few days, I continued to give these ideas serious reflection. Some people find the second law of thermodynamics to be hard to understand, but I think that to really understand it is to believe it. And to understand the first law is also to believe it. Things just don’t spontaneously pop in and out of existence without any conditions or set of circumstances to bring it about. Both laws seemed obviously true to me. But if the universe was eternal, one of them had to have been violated at some point in the past.
After thinking about it for a while, it became obvious to me that something had to exist other than the physical universe. Either the universe has always been here and was injected with energy to keep it alive or the universe was created. And, as they say, a creation implies a creator.
Whatever brought the universe into being could not itself have been part of the physical universe or else it, too, would be subject to the second laws of thermodynamics. Besides, if we’re talking about the beginning of the entire universe, we can’t explain it in terms of itself. You have to exist before you can do anything, so the universe could not have brought itself into existence. Something OTHER than the universe had to have done it, and if something OTHER than the universe did it, then it wasn’t a physical thing. It was SUPERnatural. And being supernatural, and not being made of energy at all, there’s no reason to suppose it would be subject to the laws of physics. And it must’ve been very powerful, too.
That was the end of my agnosticism.
It was easier for me to believe that Christianity was true at that point, but I wasn’t totally satisfied. After all, there was also deism, Islam, Judaism, and the unknown.
At some point, I started listening to the Bible Answer Man with Hank Hanegraaff, and I remember him talking about a book by Lee Strobel called The Case For Christ where Strobel made an historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. I was very curious about that, so I got a copy as soon as I could and read it in a matter of days. At the end of it, I remember saying out loud to myself, “It’s actually true!” Admittedly, I was an easy sell because I wanted it to be true. But I thought it was so persuasive that I bought several more copies to give away.
It was through The Case for Christ that I found out about William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and many others. Each chapter recommended books for further reading and I began to devour books. At some point, a big picture began to emerge, and I saw how everything fit together in a big coherent worldview. At that point, I didn’t think it would ever be possible for me to change my mind and doubt Christianity again. The Christian worldview was comprehensive and coherent and everything fit into it neatly. It’s hard to explain this experience, but it’s kind of like the sun came out, and the world gained color for the first time.
Gaining such intellectual confidence in the truth of Christianity greatly enhanced the personal aspect of it. Morality became a much bigger issue to me, and so did prayer and worship. I was no longer dealing with an abstract idea. God was real, he was interested in me, and Jesus really did die for sins and rise from the dead. There was somebody listening to my prayers. All the spiritual stuff was just as real to me as the physical world in my immediate vicinity. All of my studying broke down the dichotomy I used to make between the immediate physical world and the far off spiritual world. They were now all part of the same reality, and it all made sense.
I continue to learn and grow.
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