Will My Faith Survive the Facts?
Last Monday, I had the opportunity to meet On Faith Co-Moderator Sally Quinn at a luncheon debate where she was joined by fellow Co-Moderator Jon Meacham.
The event, hosted by the Templeton Foundation, had a prestigious guest list. It featured authors Christopher Hitchens and Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete grappling with a potent question: Does science make belief in God obsolete?
Mr. Hitchens, an outspoken atheist and journalist, recently published the anti-God apologetic God is Not Great. Monsignor Albacete, who is a priest and a physicist, wrote a collection of spiritual vignettes called God at the Ritz in 2002.
Their hour-long discussion was something of a wash: while the Monsignor spoke with confidence, grace, and humor, he did not do much to advance the argument for the existence of God. Mr. Hitchens, in his acerbic, take-no-prisoners style, argued that a God who talked like the God of the Bible and was big enough to back up his words would be a menace, and this world would be hell.
Msgr. Albacete would only say that belief in God was inexplicable, "like falling in love," and that he had never seen anything in his scientific career to dissuade him from his faith. The monsignor was so passive in response to Hitchens' negative characterization of Christian doctrine, Mr. Hitchens replied, "I am very sorry for accusing you of being a Catholic!"
After the debate, I maneuvered up to the front of the room to greet Mr. Hitchens. I met and interviewed him last year when he took part in a debate at my school. I told him I liked his book. His style is exceptional and his arguments are formidable by sheer volume alone.
He told me he had been surprised at the warm response his book had received, and that he constantly received messages from people who had been dissuaded from faith after reading it. "It must have been a much better book than I realized," he said. The arguments against God, Mr. Hitchens said, were smarter than he was. By contrast, arguments for God were poor material to start with, and a clever debater would be hard-pressed to defend them.
Mr. Hitchens also recommended Chapel Hill professor Bart D. Ehrman's writings on the Gospels. If God is Not Great interested me, he said, these would keep me up at night.
It sounded like a challenge and I readily accepted. He said he would be interested to hear from me if I did lose my faith.
At this point, we were chatting in a nearby cafe, and I needed to return to class. I promised to read what he recommended and get back to him when I finished. I left quickly, a little flustered from the conversation.
Since then, I have been playing with the idea in my head: could I lose my faith if the evidence convinced me? It is a weighty question, and I am a little afraid of it. But, here is what I think: I believe I have experiences and have known things in my life that transcend my weak powers of intellect and reasoning. The God I know transcends evidence and apologetics, though I do believe the facts bear him out.
The God I know is living, active, and discoverable. And he loves to surprise the hardest skeptics among us on our "road to Damascus," and confound our plans irresistibly with his own.
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