Seemed So Sensible

As a Christian writing online primarily about technology-adjacent things, my fuzzy little ears always perk up when those worlds collide. So I read with interest Paul Boag’s article, But you seem so sensible, in which he expounds on his logic for being a Christ-follower. Paul is pretty high-profile in the techosphere, and it’s unusual to read Christian apologetics from someone in that position. Let’s face it, it’s not the kind of thing you hear a lot of from well-known industry figures, because identifying yourself as a theist is rarely a fantastic personal branding gambit. As Paul says, the reaction is likely to be:

How can somebody who they respect on a professional level have such ridiculous beliefs?

He goes on — at some length — to walk through the various logical touchstones of his intellectual journey towards faith. None of these points would be particuarly surprising to anyone at all versed in apologetics, nor even any atheist who has made an honest attempt to understand the opposing position.

I think I understand the motivation behind his post. There are many criticisms leveled at Christians in the public technology sphere (to which, well, no one ever said it was supposed to be an easy or popular thing to be) but one of the ones that really frustrates me is the charge of illogicality.

You can disagree robustly with any amount of things that a Christian might believe, but it’s simply not the case that the position isn’t logical. It’s a common enough misconception that if you just sit down and work it out you’ll disprove the existence of God with logic. Paul’s post is an attempt to say, look, I have actually thought about this.

It’s comfortable to assume that everyone would be an atheist if they were just educated enough.

The Education Fallacy

If we could only educate people they’d get it.

This is the common fallacy behind so much discourse on the internet. You see it play out in a hundred different Twitter arguments: people restating their position over and over, bludgeoning the other person with the same reworded phrases. It never works out as well as they hope, because they miss this essential truth:

Given the same set of facts, two different people can draw two different conclusions, consistent with logic.

Taking it upon yourself to educate another person can be (intentionally or not) an extremely arrogant thing to do. Writing them off as an idiot is even more so.

This is why I had to stop watching Cosmos, the science documentary series. It really pained me to do so: there is so much to really love about it. The graphics and animation are fantastic. The topics covered were right up my alley — I found it largely fascinating.

After a few episodes of Tyson’s brand of subtle and not-so-subtle anti-religiosity, though, I had to reluctantly give it up. The whole series is shot through with a constant undertone of faux-patient disparagement of those idiots who attribute things they don’t understand to God. Now we know better, ho ho ho. And look at all the ways the Church stifled the march of progress through the centuries.

It would have been annoying enough if it had merely been an undertone, but of course it goes further than that. The program actually goes all out to twist and distort history just to get its heavy-handed point across: people that follow religion are neanderthal idiots or cynical, evil powermongers, and Science is just interested in truth.

Give me a break. The tired old Science vs. Religion trope is patently nonsense, if you bother to do more than wallow in your own sense of superiority. The amount of people I know who think Christianity is synomous with blind devotion to Creationism, for example, is staggering.

For a thinking Christian there is no conflict between Science and Religion, because they are just two facets of man’s interrogation of the universe around him. But of course, for Tyson and his ilk, the warm fuzzies to be had from disparaging theists are too nice to resist.

It’s supremely arrogant, and foolish at the same time. The sneeringly anti-religious are like giraffes laughing at monkeys in the zoo. Those monkeys are idiots because they think that the food comes from some benevolent god, when any moron can see that it’s naturally replenished from the trough.

It turns Science — a grand adventure in exploring the world around us — into something limited and petty. And it’s annoying as hell to be someone willing to believe in a God (no great stretch unless you’ve been indoctrinated against it) and constantly run up against the belief that you must be an uneducated mooncalf who just needs to be shown the facts in the right light.

So I get where Paul was coming from.

The heart

The logical aspect isn’t the whole story, of course. To assume that it is would be like me explaining that I’m married because it fulfils a number of the biological imperatives that I’ve evolved to possess. There is more to it than that. (Thank God, or I doubt my wife would put up with me.)

In an apposite commentary on Paul Boag’s piece, Chris Bowler (a respected member of the techosphere, in his own right) made this point:

After reading the piece, something didn’t sit quite well with me for the rest of the afternoon. While taking this analytical, logical approach to defend having faith in the Bible and the claims it makes about God can be helpful, it’s not enough.

He’s absolutely spot on. Faced with two possible interpretations of the facts, what should be the main factor that tilts one towards Christianity (or religion, I suppose) is that ineluctable, unquantifiable variable: the heart.

What affects the heart is twofold: the longing within us all for some greater meaning, and the relationship with God that begins to satisfy that longing. I’m not sure I would go so far as Chris in saying that “only after this change of heart occurs can the mind follow.” Personally, my faith is intellectual at its core, and the heart and intellect work upon each other in the whole. Sometimes the mind leads, and sometimes the heart.

I’m delighted that Paul chose to broach this subject (although looking at his Twitter stream I’m not sure he’d feel the same way…) It takes guts to stand up and profess an unpopular belief — I mean a really unpopular belief, not just liking a different operating system. Like Chris, I’ve been surprised and pleased to find that so many of those in the tech industry also believe as I do.

Frankly, I expect that the more obvious my Christian faith is to those I know online, the more negative effects I’ll experience. But do I really want to project a palatable, pleasant, false impression of myself? Not really.

I spend all day (I work at a Catholic publisher) knee-deep in my religion. Generally when I’m on Twitter or writing here I prefer to talk about other things that I’m interested in. I think that’s totally fine, and I don’t feel called to have every conversation be about the divine, or overt evangelization.

But this is who I am, and I don’t want to hide it either.