I sat down to lunch with the atheist engineer and felt—awkward!
His wife had suggested that we meet together since he was skeptical about the whole God thing and about the church his wife was starting to attend.
But we had nothing in common. He was a scientist and I was, in his view, a religious nut. Worse, I was a professional religious nut, since I was the pastor of the church. In his mind, I was paid to be irrational.
And he was, above all else, a rationalist—and proud of it.
We swapped superficial pleasantries as we ordered from the menu, but both of us felt uncomfortable. So with an industrial strength level of self-confidence, he barreled ahead with what I felt to be a patronizing comment.
“Well, my wife suggested that we have lunch and talk over my questions about the rationality of religion. You probably haven’t heard these comments before, so I hope you won’t be offended.”
“Oh pleeease,” I moaned inwardly, “he thinks he has me pegged. He has no clue that I studied Ph.D.-level philosophy at a secular university, or that I’ve talked with many, many skeptics over the years. Plus, I’m a pastor, so I should be better at this whole patience thing by now, so get a grip and listen…”
I knew that arguments don’t lead to changed hearts. Plus, I knew something he didn’t: that we both actually believed in and cared about many of the same things. I’ve learned to find common ground with skeptics and atheists, and prompt them to think deeply about the things they value.
But my goals were to aid his wife and not alienate him, so I simply said, “Well, give me your best shot.”
So he talked. And talked. About science, about the big bang, and about Bertrand Russell and his fixation with that fig tree.
But this wasn’t my first rodeo, so I knew that arguments don’t lead to changed hearts. Plus, I knew something he didn’t: that we both actually believed in and cared about many of the same things. Over the years I’ve simply learned to find common ground with skeptics and atheists, and prompt them to think deeply about the things they value.
So I began with science. “I’m glad you love science and always seek to follow the scientific method. I love science too. But I’ve noticed that there are some things the scientific method just can’t prove.”
“Well, there are many, but this is a big one: you can’t prove the scientific method by the scientific method.”
So I asked, “Who are your all-time favorite scientists?”
“Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein,” he responded.
“Me too. Incredible geniuses, every one. And, by the way, all of them believed in God. Especially Newton, who wrote more pages on biblical studies than he did on science.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“It’s true,” I said, “Also, did you know that the scientific method developed only in western civilization because it was based on Christian principles?”
“That’s not true.”
“Well, I have graduate degrees in philosophy and theology, and there are some fabulous books by science historians that verify this—one just published recently from Oxford. Would you be interested in reading it with me, and discussing chapters over lunch?”
“I would love that!” He exclaimed, “And so will my wife!” We both laughed.
In the years that followed, he and I read dozens of books together. And he became a close friend—and, in time, a fellow believer.
Since then I’ve had numerous encounters with other skeptics and have always found that we share much in common. We love music, whether classic rock or jazz; we enjoy movies and books, from sci-fi to zombies; and we like sports or museums. Plus, we strongly oppose sex trafficking here and around the world, we despise people who are cruel to animals, and we think Hitler was evil and deserved to be defeated.
But the biggest surprise of all was when I looked deeper into these diverse likes and dislikes, and I found that each of them, in their own unique but definite way, pointed to God. That is, each made more sense in a theistic worldview than in an atheistic one.
I’ve learned that God is indeed real, but he hides in our deepest likes and loathings, ready to reveal himself to us in the very parts of life that we care most about.