Why Do Some Believe and Others Don't?

Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins are two of the World’s leading scientists.  One of them, Collins, is a Christian, an ardent believer.  The other, Dawkins, isn’t.  He’s an avowed atheist.  Both are experts in the same discipline of science, evolutionary biology.  Both look at the same evidence.  Based on the same science, however, one believes in Jesus and the other doesn’t.  How can this be?  If there is a God, if Jesus is God incarnate, shouldn’t the evidence make this clear to anyone who examines it?

Blaise Pascal was one of the World’s leading scientists of his day, the Seventeenth Century.  One of the most brilliant people to have ever lived, he is responsible for discoveries that led to everything from the vacuum to modern statistics.  At the age of thirty-one, he became a Christian.  And a zealous defender of the faith.  To him, the evidence was abundantly clear--Jesus is the Son of God.  In his theological writings, he eloquently explains the rationale he found for his faith. 

Unfortunately, most people only know Pascal from his famous “wager”, which tries to show that faith in God is the safest bet in life.  But Pascal’s reasoning went way beyond hedging your bets on eternity.  Fortunately, the other thing Pascal is most remembered for is the way he addresses this question of why some, looking at the same evidence, believe and others don’t.  And, as a leading scientist, he was in a great position to understand how scientists can differ on this question. 

Here is what Pascal said: “Willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, God so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given indications of Himself which are visible to those who seek Him and not to those who do not seek Him.  There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary discipline.”

In other words, this is the way God has designed it.  There is enough evidence for the sincere-hearted seeker who truly desires God to believe.  But, at the same time, there is enough obscurity, enough ambiguity, for the person who doesn’t truly desire God to find intellectual reasons to doubt. 

But why would God do this?  Why would he make the evidence so ambiguous?  Why would He remain so hidden?  The answer is simple: To preserve free will.  See, if God made the evidence unequivocal, if it was so clear it erased any question, we’d have no choice in the matter.  Out of sheer self-preservation, sheer terror and dread of offending Him, we’d be compelled to respond to Him.  Or, out of sheer self-interest, sheer desire that He give us our “field of dreams”, sheer desire for a magic genie, we’d feel compelled to get on His good side.  But either way, our response to Him wouldn’t be free, wouldn’t be out of desire for Him, to love Him.  It would be coerced, manipulated, completely devoid of love.    

But love can’t be compelled.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be love.  And this is the reason God created us--to know and love Him, freely.  To respond to His great love for us, freely.  This is why He remains hidden--so that we can enter into a genuinely loving relationship with Him. 

But, as Pascal found, in creation and through revelation, God has left enough “indications” of Himself, enough evidence for His existence, that those who want to see it can.  While He remains hidden enough so that those who would find the Gospel Bad News can find plenty of reasons to maintain their doubts, at the same time, He has provided enough “light” for those who would find the Gospel Good News to see abundant evidence that it is true.  By enabling them to see how compelling the evidence and logic are, He makes Himself known to all who would want a God like Him.   

This isn’t proof, per se, that Christianity is true.  But it is perfectly consistent with the Christian worldview.  If the God of Jesus Christ is real, this is exactly the way we’d expect things to be.  This is exactly how the Universe would be ordered.  This is exactly the way we’d expect God to reveal Himself. 

There’s one thing I’d add to this.  It’s not just those who desire God that He reveals Himself to.  It has been my experience that He reveals Himself to anyone who simply desires the Truth, who is open to wherever the evidence may lead. 

I didn’t want Christianity to be true.  But I was willing to stake my life on wherever the evidence led.  If it pointed to atheism, I’d be an atheist.  If Taoism, I’d be a Taoist.  (By the way, this is the religion I most wanted to be true when I examined the World’s Religions.)  And, as I pursued the evidence openly, I eventually saw the “light” God has provided in creation and through revelation.  I eventually saw how overwhelming the evidence for Christianity is.     

And I’m not alone.  I know and have read of many others who’ve shared a similar experience.  The most recent one I’ve come across is Paul Williams who tells of his conversion from Buddhism to Catholicism in his book, The Unexpected Way.  Though he grew up nominally Anglican, he found Christianity incoherent.  In his young adult years, he began to gravitate toward Eastern Philosophy, eventually becoming a Buddhist.  His passion for Buddhism was so strong, he became a scholar of Buddhist thought. 

For twenty years, he lived blissfully as a Buddhist and a highly regarded Buddhist professor.  But, somewhere along the way, he began to have some nagging questions about the coherence of Buddhism.  Christianity wasn’t on his radar screen at all.  But, with a single-minded desire to resolve his questions and find the Truth, he eventually became persuaded that the Christian worldview was the most coherent one.  Although it was an incredibly painful decision, although it involved a lot of risk to his career, many of his closest relationships, and his reputation, he converted to Catholicism. 

So, along with Paul Williams and many others, I would say that God is willing to reveal how compelling the evidence for Christianity is not only to those who desire for it to be true--which could simply be construed as wishful thinking.  He is also willing to reveal Himself to anyone who simply desires Truth above all else.  Anyone who is willing to go wherever the evidence leads.  Even if they don’t necessarily want Christianity to be true. 

Does Pascal’s explanation make sense to you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  You can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave any comments, questions, and/or feedback you have there.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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