Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sarah Salviander’s Reasons for Converting to Christianity: A Response


Jim Hutchison
1,918 words

Introduction
An email came across my computer earlier today from something called the “Atheist Republic”, an on-line web based community of atheists who support and educate like-minded people.  The headline read “Christian Astrophysicist Has 5 Reasons She’s No Longer an Atheist”. This undoubtedly caught my attention, as the usual pattern is the opposite - that as we become more educated, particularly in the sciences, the less likely we are to believe in anything that has no evidence or backing by the scientific method.

Admittedly,  my bias in this area had me pre-judging her reasons and motives for such a paradigm shift, but being a truth seeker with an open mind, I was very curious to find out how and why she “flipped” from one end of the spectrum to the other. My pursuit of truth and meaning keeps me on my toes, as my beliefs are from a constant evaluation of the latest and most accurate facts and evidence. Facts and evidence divorced from any emotional need to feel comforted by any kind of non-truth.  I’d rather believe in the right things for the right reasons and be miserable, than the wrong things for the wrong reasons just for the sake of feeling all cozy and comfy.  There’s nothing more sacred than the truth.

The email was actually a link to a video blog with two participants from Atheist Republic who discussed her five reasons for turning from atheism to Christianity.  Their treatment didn’t go deep enough for me, so I delved into her writings, testimonies, and various articles on her web sites (references below), and have come away with what I think is a good understanding of her reasons and motivations.  I’ll touch on each one, and add my own comments. Her reasons are:

1 – Genesis is consistent with science
2 – The legal-historical case for Jesus is strong
3 – Christianity is the source of things I cherish
4 – Christianity is the best explanation for evil
5 – Christianity gives me meaning and hope

There’s two groupings in these reasons: her facts as she describes them, and personal reasons.

Her Facts
Statements 1 & 2 are claims of fact.  Let’s deal with the fist one, as this is the most contentious between scientists and creationists.  Firstly, it is important for the claimant to define their position; i.e.: are they claiming the bible to be literal, or allegorical? It’s a very important distinction, in that the allegory stance could conceivably be shoe-horned into a natural explanation of the origins of the universe, earth, and humans, although the order of events in the bible still contradict modern science’s knowledge of our origins thanks to generations of geological, botanical, anthropological, and cosmological study.  But it suits many people who have a prejudiced belief in the god of the bible.

The second option is belief in a literal 6 day creation, which is a huge problem for the most fundamental and simple laws of science and physics.  Reconciling a literal take of the first two books of the bible with modern science requires such denial of facts that it requires them to be thrown away and dismissed as man-made foolishness; the result of man worshipping his own intellect and holding it above god’s authority.  (Their words, not mine.)  It is patently obvious that to believe this, one must possess such strong prejudice and favouritism towards belief in the god of the bible, that all else is nothing in comparison. It’s called confirmation bias, and anyone possessing it will dismiss and explain away (usually quite poorly) any and all evidence to the contrary.  The most silly one I’ve ever heard is “Well, it’s a mystery. Who can know the mind of god?”

Ms. Salviander’s interpretation of the bible is to take it literally.

“How can someone with such education have strong favouritism for something so easily disproven?” you may ask.  The answer is actually in items 3 to 5, but I’ll get to that after I address point 2.

“The legal-historical case for Jesus is strong”.  No need to spill a lot of ink (...pixels?) on this one, as the historical basis for Jesus’ existence is muddied with enough doubt thanks to the geo-politics of second and third century Christianity that even biblical scholars don’t agree on.  There are well articulated arguments on both sides - that Christ was a real character, and his followers started a massive following with enough inertia that Constantine had to declare Christianity the official religion in the 3rd century.  The flip side of this story (again, argued well by scholars) explains his existence as a contrivance of religious clerics for the purpose of controlling the masses through fear of hell.

There is a palpable lack of any history of Jesus’ life, especially considering the apparent impact he had on his contemporaries.  No Roman writings, or otherwise. The only “proof” of his existence outside of the bible are the writings of a historian named Josephus, who wasn’t born until after Jesus death. His references to Jesus are strongly suspected to be identifiable additions after his death.  More fodder for the theory of Jesus’  life being non-factual.

So with substantial evidence on both sides of the debate, the claim of item #2 isn’t so iron-clad.

Items 3 to 5: Personal and Emotional
These next points clearly indicate the absence of scientific critical thinking; they are founded purely on the emotional need to feel coddled and safe.

Christianity is the source of things I cherish.”   Someone please explain to me how the foundation of this statement in any way justifies converting to Christianity other than a need for emotional security and comfort.  Put another way, it seems her psychological requirements trump fact, evidence, and truth.  She says so herself in not so many words.

Christianity is the best explanation for evil.  People can be so sickened by man’s inhumanity to man that they disassociate the action from the person, and blame an external entity for such behaviour.  He’s called “the Devil”, and if I were him and god really existed, I’d be complaining about all this unwarranted accusation.  I jest of course, but people are quite capable of evil all on their own.  It’s easy to see as an outsider that when we and/or those we love experience incredible harm, there’s a need for an explanation; a focal point for our anger and sense of injustice.  But, shit happens, and sometimes so randomly, that finding an explanation is futile.  That irks us, so we invent “evil” as its own force and entity.

All that said, there’s an interesting verse in the old testament that was quoted in the Atheist Republic’s v-blog:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah 45:7, KJV.

Christians seems to miss this one... if blame for evil is to be placed anywhere, it’s on the god they say created everything from scratch.  So technically, Ms. Salviander is correct in that her belief indeed explains evil.  Perhaps not the way she thought, but I can’t put words in her mouth.

Christianity gives me meaning and hope.  Nice for her, but again, these are emotional - albeit legitimate - needs we all have and share as humans.  Logically though, she is putting the cart before the horse by believing in something for its selfish benefit, rather than basing a belief on its merits alone.  It’s just like Fox Mulder’s poster on his office wall in the TV series “The X-Files”.  It’s an illustration of an out-of-focus UFO, with the words “I Want To Believe”.  This is blatant confirmation bias, where evidence is filtered for the sole purpose of supporting a predisposed and foregone conclusion.  The absolute opposite of the laws of logic and science.  Discovery of facts and evidence are meant to formulate and support a postulate with eventual confirmation of a theory - which then becomes established as scientific fact.  Like I said, item #5 is just the opposite.

Ms. Salviander’s Testimony
In her own words, Ms. Salviader’s eventual conversion is hallmarked by feelings and emotions, often precipitated by loss and pain.  You know where I’m going with this... Like any and all such conversions, they stem from the experience of needing meaning, explanations for things science can’t articulate, and the comfort of finally relinquishing the fate of your own life into the hands of god.  It’s a huge relief (ask me how I know), and the resulting sense of “finally coming home” is nothing more than adult thumb-sucking.

Three quotes from her web site:

(Following her daughter’s death:)
“I finally had a clear vision of our little girl in the loving arms of her heavenly Father, and it was then that I had peace. I reflected that, after all these trials in one year, my husband and I were not only closer to each other, but also felt closer to God. My faith was real.”

“I 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.”

“[But] the only way we are free is if the universe and everything in it was created, not by some unconscious mechanism, but by a personal being—the God of the Bible. The only way our lives are unique, purposeful, and eternal is if a loving God created us.”

Please visit her web site to see that none of these quotes are taken out of context, and you may gain a better understanding and explanation of her beliefs.  Most of it is based on a couple concepts.  1) The big bang is proof that Genesis is correct, in that the universe had a beginning, therefore it had to be created (quite a stretch, I know), and... 2) The first days of creation are accurately described as such because it was GOD watching the clock, not us... the expanding universe bent time enough to equate billions of years to 6 days.

All interesting theory if you’re trying to shoe-horn facts into a bias that is rife with preconceived ideas, concepts, and conclusions.

Conclusion
So yes, my initial take on her 5 reasons proved true after careful examination.  Scientists of her ilk (and I’ve known some personally) use Aristotelian logic, but with unfounded assertions and highly theoretical associations between "facts".  One example being how the stretching of time due to universal expansion explains the literal 6 day creation story.  Additionally, what’s not explained is the messed up order of creation; that the earth existed before stars were created.  I didn’t find an explanation for that one, though I’m sure the creationists find some way...

So, the current world view I adhere to has been undergirded by yet another poor attempt at using the bible to explain everything by a mindset firmly grounded in god-belief.  Justification for this belief is so full of logical fallacies, that someone seeking truth outside themselves, free of bias and need for comfort, can only conclude that Christianity (well, all three Abrahamic religions really), base their foundation on centuries old fables, fiction, and regurgitated legends written by (perhaps) well-meaning authors trying to understand the age old archetypical search for meaning and purpose.


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Quotes and research from:

  • https://jamesbishopblog.com/2015/05/23/former-atheist-astrophysicist-sarah-salviander-explains-her-journey-to-christianity/
  • https://sarahsalviander.com/
  • https://sixdayscience.com/
  • http://evangelicalfocus.com/science/881/Sarah_Salviander_The_journey_of_an_atheist_astrophysicist_who_became_a_Christian


1 comment:

Jason Bean said...

This is an excellent rebuttal and evaluation of Mrs Salviander's conversion claims. It is unfortunate that the human mind is so capable of holding and compartmentalizing such widely disparate ideas. Even someone as learned as she can be convinced that such illogical ideas can be true. No matter how much objective evidence there is to the contrary.