Atheist gets her PhD in astronomy and astrophysics and finds evidence for God

Christian apologist Terrell Clemmons tweeted this testimony by Sarah Salviander, a research scientist in astronomy and astrophysics at the prestigious University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Salviander writes:

I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did well in school.

I just want to point out that I hope that all you Christian parents are taking seriously the obligation to make your kids do well in school, because even if they start out as atheists when they are young, they can still find their way back to God through study, as Sarah did.

She had a bad start, that’s for sure:

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 remember how fascinated I was by the original Star Wars trilogy. It had almost nothing to do with science—it’s more properly characterized as space opera—but it got me thinking about space in a big way. I also loved the original Star Trek, which was more science fiction. 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. 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.

She documents a phase of following Ayn Rand and embracing “Objectivism”, but eventually she rejects it for failing to answer the big questions of life.

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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. They weren’t like Objectivists—they were joyous and content. 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.

This is why I think it is so important for Christian parents to raise their children to get advanced degrees… either to become professors themselves, or to finance others (e.g. – our own children) to do advanced degrees. It is so important for university students to see Christian professors on campus. And failing that, it’s important that we bring Christian speakers in to debate non-Christian speakers on the important issues. This will not happen unless we recognize how important it is, and then make a plan to achieve it.

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I had joined a group in the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences (CASS) that was researching evidence for the big bang. The cosmic background radiation—the leftover radiation from the big bang—provides the strongest evidence for the theory, but cosmologists need other, independent lines of evidence to confirm it. My group was studying deuterium abundances in the early universe. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, and its abundance in the early universe is sensitive to the amount of ordinary mass contained in the entire universe. Believe it or not, this one measurement tells us whether the big bang model is correct.

If anyone is interested in how this works, I’ll describe it, but for now I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that an amazing convergence of physical properties is necessary in order to study deuterium abundances in the early universe, and yet this convergence is exactly what we get. I remember being astounded by this, blown away, completely and utterly awed. It seemed incredible to me that there was a way to find the answer to this question we had about the universe. In fact, it seems that every question we have about the universe is answerable. There’s no reason it has to be this way, and it made me 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.

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.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite, favorite books as well, and had the same impact on me as it did on her.

OK, that’s enough for this post. Go read the rest, and please share it.

I spoke to her recently and she told me that she is working on several projects that are designed to get people more familiar with science and Bible issues. This woman is an expert Christian apologist and her life will have an influence. Are you going to be like her? Will you mentor others to be like her? Will you marry someone like her? Will you raise children who are like her? I think we should all have a plan to study the areas that are important and have an influence for God with what we learn.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Have you ever read the Bible in order to find out what God thinks?

Two authors came to my attention while browsing tweets this week. The first is Rachel Hollis, who presents herself as a Christian but who isn’t (see below). The second is by Sarah Bessey, whose book contains a chapter where the author urges God to help her to hate a certain group of people solely because of their skin color. What is causing people who claim to be Christian to buy these books?

I found this list of progressive Christians on Alisa Childers’ blog. Childers is very reliable, having written a detail-filled book about attempts by progressives to distort the gospel.

She writes this about Jen Hatmaker, a progressive:

Since its launch in 2017, Hatmaker’s podcast has been a veritable “who’s who” of progressive Christian leaders such as Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Pete Enns, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Richard Rohr, Jeff Chu, Mike McHargue (“Science Mike”), Barbara Brown Taylor, Austin Channing Brown, Lisa Sharon Harper, Rachel Hollis, and Glennon Doyle.

I want to talk about Sarah Bessey and Rachel Hollis. Are these authors working from within a Christian worldview?

Hollis:

Anne Kennedy was bemused to find Rachel Hollis’ best-selling book, Girl, Wash Your Face, in the Christian living section of the bookstore next to the Bibles. Hollis describes herself as a Christian but her self-help advice is anything but Christian, Kennedy believes.

“She does mention Christianity and her faith in Jesus but in terms of the book itself, there’s really nothing that would distinguish it from any other kind of self-help thing that’s on the market and there’s lots of them. She quotes some Bible verses but she doesn’t really rely on a Christian worldview at all to motivate behavior,” Kennedy… said on a recent Christian Research Institute podcast.

[…]“I don’t think she’s a Christian at all,” she commented.

[…]“Her worldview is in no way representative of classical Christianity. She’s inclusive, affirming of LGBT, all religions are fine, doesn’t have any even vague understanding of what redemption and the cross and faith in Jesus were to actually look like. She invokes the name of Jesus periodically, she quotes some verses but nothing that she says at all represents a Christian worldview. So it is interesting to me that she is marketed as a Christian.”

And the Bessey devotion book has this:

“Dear God,

Please help me to hate wh1te people. Or at least to want to hate them. At least, I want to stop caring about them, individually and collectively. I want to stop caring about their misguided, racist souls, to stop believing that they can be better, that they can stop being racist.”

[…]”Lord, if it be your will, harden my heart. Stop me from striving to see the best in people. Stop me from being hopeful that White people can do and be better.

[…]”Let me see them as hopelessly unrepentant, reprobate bigots who have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and who need to be handed over to the evil one.”

Why are these books so popular? I think that the problem is that we’re not reading our Bibles to get the author’s intended meaning. Instead, we’re selecting the parts of the Bible that affirm what makes us feel good and look good to others.

Consider this post from Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason:

You never open the email, skip the first three pages, and read just one line on the fourth page. No one, in fact, takes that approach with their mail. By skipping the context of the email and ignoring the flow of thought, you wouldn’t know what that line meant on the fourth page. If it’s wrong to read your friend’s mail that way, then why do we read God’s mail that way?

We open the letter to the Philippians, skip the first three chapters, and read verse 13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Message received. Close the letter. We’re done here!

We even plaster that verse on a mug, publicizing our mistake. I call this “Coffee Cup Christianity,” and it’s killing our biblical literacy. We’ve become accustomed to seeing isolated Bible verses and presume we know their meaning. Too often, however, we merely insert our own meaning into a Bible verse, thereby overwriting what God was trying to tell us.

[…]Sadly, Coffee Cup Christianity violates one of the most basic and well-known principles of interpretation: context. It’s a principle known not only among Bible readers. Many people in our culture understand it. Tragically, we apply it when reading man’s word but neglect it when reading God’s word. Coffee Cup Christianity leads to three dangerous problems.

Here are the problems:

  • Coffee Cup Christianity overwrites God’s intended meaning with your own
  • Coffee Cup Christianity leads to missing important lessons from God
  • Coffee Cup Christianity models bad interpretive methods

So, here’s what I recommend. My Bible study partner and I are going through New Testament letters. Our goal is to find out what God wants us to be doing by reading the advice given to early church Christians. We’re trying to learn how to recognize life situations that God has an interest in, and make decisions that respect his values and goals. We want to put ourselves second in those situations. And we’re holding each other accountable to the author’s intent in those books of the Bible.

For each book, we always pick out a good commentary. For 1 Peter, we’re using Joel B. Green’s “1 Peter“, which we got free from Logos Bible study. We read the full chapter, then the commentary, prepare our points in advance. Then meet to compare. We always pray first, and often afterwards. Here’s what we did for 1 Peter 1.

So, that’s our approach. If your Bible study just has people showing up without reading anything, without preparing anything, and then twisting the text to make them feel good or look good, then I think you need to get out of that Bible study. Do better.

What is it really like for a young woman to regret her gender transition?

A few months ago, I blogged about this British woman who sued the NHS  after they transitioned her when she was still very young. At 16, the NHS gave her puberty blockers and testosterone injections. At age 20, they gave her a double masectomy. She regretted what they did to her, and won a case against them in court. She’s posted an article at Persuasion telling her side of the story.

Excerpt:

From the earliest days, my home life was unhappy. My parents—a white Englishwoman and a black American who got together while he was in Britain with the U.S. Air Force—divorced when I was about 5. My mother, who was on welfare, descended into alcoholism and mental illness. Although my father remained in England, he was emotionally distant to me and my younger sister.

I was a classic tomboy, which was one of the healthier parts of my early life in Letchworth, a town of about 30,000 people, an hour outside London. Early in childhood, I was accepted by the boys—I dressed in typically boy clothing and was athletic. I never had an issue with my gender; it wasn’t on my mind.

Then puberty hit, and everything changed for the worse. A lot of teenagers, especially girls, have a hard time with puberty, but I didn’t know this. I thought I was the only one who hated how my hips and breasts were growing. Then my periods started, and they were disabling. I was often in pain and drained of energy.

Also, I could no longer pass as “one of the boys,” so lost my community of male friends. But I didn’t feel I really belonged with the girls either. My mother’s alcoholism had gotten so bad that I didn’t want to bring friends home. Eventually, I had no friends to invite. I became more alienated and solitary. I had been moving a lot too, and I had to start over at different schools, which compounded my problems.

By the time I was 14, I was severely depressed and had given up: I stopped going to school; I stopped going outside. I just stayed in my room, avoiding my mother, playing video games, getting lost in my favorite music, and surfing the internet.

You know, the first thing I would do with a girl like this is get her to talk to a doctor about what she should expect. Maybe get her some medication to ease some of the puberty troubles. But mainly, just spend some time with her, talking to her, playing with her, and so on. But really the most important thing would be to tell her the truth about where she stood in terms of value, meaning and purpose. After all – how sad can you really be if Jesus gave his life for you, and has very important work for you to do? Young people seem to put so much emphasis on what their peers think of them, but on a Christian worldview, that doesn’t matter at all. What matters is what God thinks of you, and what he thinks is based on your character inside, not on how you look. He’s not selfish.

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Around the end of that first year post-surgery, something started happening: My brain was maturing. I thought about how I’d gotten where I was, and gave myself questions to contemplate. A big one was: “What makes me a man?”

I started realizing how many flaws there had been in my thought process, and how they had interacted with claims about gender that are increasingly found in the larger culture and that have been adopted at the Tavistock.

[…]I was also concerned about the effect my transition would have on my ability to find a sexual partner.

Then there was the fact that no one really knew the long-term effects of the treatment. For instance, the puberty blockers and testosterone caused me to have to deal with vaginal atrophy, a thinning and fragility of the vaginal walls that normally occurs after menopause. I started feeling really bad about myself again.

[…]Five years after beginning my medical transition to becoming male, I began the process of detransitioning. A lot of trans men talk about how you can’t cry with a high dose of testosterone in your body, and this affected me too: I couldn’t release my emotions. One of the first signs that I was becoming Keira again was that—thankfully, at last—I was able to cry. And I had a lot to cry about.

The consequences of what happened to me have been profound: possible infertility, loss of my breasts and inability to breastfeed, atrophied genitals, a permanently changed voice, facial hair. When I was seen at the Tavistock clinic, I had so many issues that it was comforting to think I really had only one that needed solving: I was a male in a female body. But it was the job of the professionals to consider all my co-morbidities, not just to affirm my naïve hope that everything could be solved with hormones and surgery.

Her article has a lot more information about her experiences with the NHS, and her court case. But what I wanted you guys to see was how important it is to not let children just say “I want this”, which is something they saw on TV, or heard from their peers, or read online. Instead, you need to find out what problem they are really trying to solve. Once upon a time, Christians thought that the Christian worldview and a relationship with God in Christ was the most important thing you had to offer people who were in distress. What happened to that? When did we stop offering truth, and start offering disinterested agreement and shallow affirmation? Did we just want to feel good and have people think we were “nice”?

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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