I had a wonderful dinner with my teen-agers the other night. We try to eat dinner together anyway, but my wife was out of town on business, so the three of us brought home take-out and sat down together to eat.
At one point, the conversation drifted to church stuff. My 14–year old daughter announced, with a twinkle in her eye, that she believed a lot of the things that she knows I’m skeptical about, precisely because I don’t believe them.
Her older brother immediately challenged her. (Several years ago he declined to be confirmed with his class because of his own skepticism, only to announce a year later that he was ready.) That led to a few minutes of banter.
My daughter then asked: So just what do you believe, Dad? She must have been serious, because both kids tease me about my occasional tendency to try to make sure they really understand things. (I remember the time my daughter responded to one of my mini-lectures with, “TMI, Dad.” Puzzled, I asked, “TMI?” With just a hint of a knowing smirk, she shot back, “Too Much Information.”
Whether or not she was serious, I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity like that.
I explained that from where I sit, the scientific evidence strongly points toward the existence of a Creator. I had my daughter light a match and explained a little of the chemistry and physics involved. I commented that there were an awful lot of “cosmic coincidences” in the laws of nature, including those we saw by simply lighting a match (more about that to come in a later posting).
I said it was hard for me to believe that these cosmic coincidences were purely the result of random chance. I told them about atheist-astronomer Fred Hoyle’s remark about a super-intellect monkeying with the numbers. To me, that adds up to the likely existence of a Creator.
I said it seems very plausible to me that the Creator is at least roughly analogous to a loving father. I said that as far as I could tell, this Creator has an unimaginably wonderful and exciting construction project going on — a project in which we actually get to participate.
* * *
I said that I was a Christian because Jesus of Nazareth, whatever he might or might not have been, seems to have hit the nail on the head about some of the most crucial aspects of life:
- Loving God above all;
- Loving our neighbors as ourselves -- I pointed out how a close counterpart to this concept, reciprocal altruism, evidently has been a critical driver in the development of life;
- Recognizing that we don't know everything, and that what we think we know could be wrong -- which calls for staying alert to what’s really going on in God’s universe, as opposed to treating our own imaginings as "reality";
- Being willing to recognize when we're not on the right path, and changing our minds and our lives when that seems to be called for.
All these things seem somehow to be part of the fundamental fabric of the universe, I said. And on top of that, Jesus trusted in God, and was faithful to him, even unto death, and that's worthy of admiration and emulation.
* * *
I couldn't be 100% sure of these things, I added. But every day we make bets about life: Will it rain? Will I be able to find enough to eat? If I try to cross the street, will I make it, or will I be hit by a car? We have to make these bets, even though we're less than 100% certain about how they will turn out. If we didn't make such bets every day, we wouldn't have much of a life -- if we had any at all. And if our ancestors hadn't made similar bets, we wouldn't be here.
As to the particular things I had been talking about, I said I was confident enough about them that I was making my bets that way.
* * *
The above summary probably makes it seem as though I talked longer than I actually did. And it wasn't just a soliliquy; both kids asked questions and made their own comments during the discussion.
Eventually we cleared the dishes away and cleaned up the kitchen. As we headed upstairs, both kids volunteered that they’d enjoyed the discussion. That was gratifying.