Lee Strobel

 

Is there a Designer?

 

Fast facts on Lee: He lives in Trabuco Canyon with his wife Leslie. Their grown daughter is a school teacher and novelist. Their son just finished his first Master’s degree in Philosophy of Religion. His latest book has already hit 30 on the New York Times bestseller list. Phil and his son Steve met Lee in California while the two were suffering on a golf vacation. After Phil and Lee exchanged pleasantries, the following conversation ensued…

 

You’ve said science paved your way to atheism? How?

I remember the exact place I was sitting in Prospect High School, 1966, the biology classroom when my teacher told me about the 1953 experiment that recreated the atmosphere of the early earth and shot sparks through it and created amino acids which are the building blocks of life. And I thought, God’s out of a job. If you can explain the origins of life without the need for a supernatural creator, then there’s no need to believe in God. As someone who didn’t want to be held accountable for my life, I gravitated toward Darwinism as being an intellectually defensible way of embracing atheism. And so that moment more than anything else crystallized my atheism. 

 

You’ve also said science paved your way to God.

My journey toward God came when I responded to my wife’s conversion and began to look at science in a new way. Instead of ruling out the possibility of a Creator I decided to go wherever the evidence pointed. I think it’s much more logical and reasonable to follow the scientific data wherever it points and if it points toward the Creator of the universe and an author of life, we ought to be willing to consider that possibility. When I took off the restrictions of ruling out God at the outset, I began to see cosmology and physics and astronomy in a new way.

 

What more than anything convinced you?

I looked at evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines, but if I had to boil it down to one, I think one of the most compelling arguments in favor of a Creator goes back to a Muslim philosopher almost a thousand years ago. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, states that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Scientists now concede that the universe did begin to exist and therefore the universe must have had a cause. It’s convinced many that not only is there a cause behind the universe, this must be an uncaused, beginning-less, timeless, immaterial personal being endowed with freedom of the will and enormous power. And that, of course, is a good starting definition for God.

 

How much did people have to do with your journey toward faith?
It was really the positive changes in my wife’s character and values that prompted me to begin investigating whether or not Christianity was credible. The transforming power of faith in her life and her authentic, passionate and deep commitment to Christ really was the beacon that drew me to Him and prompted me to use my journalistic and legal background to investigate the evidence. When I did my original investigation and began calling experts out of the blue and doing research in libraries and studying archaeology and ancient history and science in all its various facets, there were lots of people who contributed either a piece of information or a bit of encouragement or one way or the other pointed toward God. My conclusion as to what the evidence points toward really is the product of piling on fact after fact after fact until you realize that the most logical and rational conclusion is that God exists and that Jesus is His Son.

 

Are you trying to eradicate evolution from our schools?

On the contrary, I want more Darwinism to be taught because I don’t want just the arguments in favor of it to be taught; I want the other side to be told as well. I honestly believe when you assess the entire scope of the evidence, it just does not support the grandest claims of Darwin, it clearly doesn’t. So I want more of Darwinism to be taught and I want the door to be opened up for students to consider any conclusion that is supported by the data. I think the clear conclusion is the existence of God.

 

Time recently ran a cover story on the Big Bang as further proof of evolution. Does the Big Bang offer proof of creation?

I think it is powerful evidence for the existence of a Creator. It used to be that the secular scientists maintained that the universe was eternal and it was the Christians  who said, no, based on what the Bible tells us, the universe had a beginning. And the Christians were arguing against the scientists for a long time. Now in the last 50 years the evidence of cosmology shows us that there was a beginning to the universe. Now we can argue about when that was. But Stephen Hawking said not long ago that, “virtually every scientist now concedes the universe had a beginning.” That takes us back to that powerful argument that whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist; therefore the universe has a cause. That’s a very persuasive argument. I don’t think Christians should shy away from the Big Bang or think that it somehow disproves the existence of a Creator. I think quite the opposite is true; it helps us to have confidence that there is a Creator who brought the universe into being. One of the biggest failures of naturalism is to come up with any logical alternative to the Big Bang that’s supported by evidence. There’s a great quote by Robert Jastrow who was an agnostic astronomer: “The chain of events leading to man commence suddenly and sharply at a definite moment of time in a flash of light and energy.” That’s a description from science of what happened and certainly it’s consistent with what we’re told in the Scripture.

 

Are there any other scientific findings that give your faith a boost?

There are so many. I’ll mention one. God left His autograph on every cell of your body. Each of our one hundred trillion cells has a six-foot length of DNA coiled up inside. The DNA contains a four-letter chemical alphabet that spells out the precise assembly instructions for every one of the proteins out of which our body is made. Darwinists have absolutely no explanation for how this information got into the cells. Naturalistic processes can create patterns but they can’t create information. Whenever we see information of this sort, whether in a book or a computer code, we know it came from an intelligent mind. Therefore when we see it in every living cell, I believe it’s persuasive evidence that we came from an intelligent mind.

 

How much of Darwinism is simply a desire to remove God and replace Him with just about anything?

When I was young I wanted to live my life my way. I didn’t want there to be a God to whom I might be accountable and I was looking for an escape hatch. I had a bias, I had a motive, and when I heard about evolution I latched on to it as an intellectual pretense for rejecting God.

 

To what level do you believe Darwin’s theories are ingrained in the church?

Unfortunately, I think they have in a lot of different ways. Some very explicit ways where people will say, “I’m a Darwinist and I’m a Christian. I think that God merely used evolution as his mechanism for creating the world.” And they try to harmonize Darwinism and Christianity. I find that impossible personally because I was told that the evolutionary process is, by definition, undirected. So to me that automatically rules out the possibility of a supernatural deity behind the scenes who’s pulling the strings. In fact, if you go to the textbooks themselves, many of them are explicit about that. I love this quote from one that says, “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous.” I personally have a problem trying to reconcile Darwinism with Christianity. I think the evidence from science points much more compellingly to an intelligent designer.

 

How do you handle Christians who are at least to some extent Darwinian in their beliefs?

This is not an issue of faith versus science, but an issue of science versus science. I don’t think they would believe in evolution if they understood all the evidence that points against it. And so it’s instructive, I think, that recently a hundred scientists with doctorates from leading institutions signed a full-page magazine ad that said, “We are skeptical of the claims of Darwinism.” In effect they said the emperor of evolution has no clothes. Christians who blindly accept what they were told in school about evolution and try to reconcile it with their faith don’t understand that the best evidence today does not support the claims of Darwinism, but it points the other way toward intelligent design.

 

Many believers still view science as a barrier to God and scientists as enemies of faith.

James Tour from Rice University is a brilliant scientist who made a very interesting comment: “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” That’s what I’m finding, that more and more scientists are opening their minds to the possibility of a creator without the restrictions that tell them to avoid that possibility and are coming to the conclusion that the evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines support faith, it doesn’t detract from faith, but it builds our faith stronger. Dick Rollman says it is through exploring our world we understand the invisible qualities of God from what He has made, those things we can explore and see and touch.

 

Which requires more faith, evolution or faith?

I think there’s no question it requires more faith to maintain a belief in Darwinian evolution today than it does to believe in a supernatural Creator. I don’t say that flippantly; I honestly believe that’s true. I’ve studied this stuff both when I was doing my original investigation as a skeptic and then as I retraced it for this book. You come to the conclusion after looking at the claims at Darwinism that if you were going to embrace Darwinism and its underlying premise of naturalism you would have to believe, first of all, nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I just don’t have enough faith to believe that. Yes, there is a step of faith we must take. But I believe faith should be a step   that we take in the same direction that the evidence is taking. And when the evidence of science points so powerfully and persuasively towards the existence of a creator, then I think it’s logical and rational to take a step of faith in that same direction by embracing that creator as our personal God.

 

So it’s possible to be an intellectually fulfilled creationist?

Absolutely. A thinking Christian can stand up straight and tall and say with confidence that the findings of science are fully consistence with the teachings that he has received from the Bible. This has never before happened in human history. At this point in time Christians are in a position like never before to be able to say that the evidence of science supports faith. For a long time Christians were arguing that the universe had a beginning which scientists said it never did. Now the evidence is in favor of Christianity and we’re seeing more and more scientists, people like Allan Sandage, probably the greatest observational cosmologist on the planet, who has now become a theist, a believer in God because of the scientific evidence that he encountered. We’re seeing more examples of that because people are willing to examine the evidence and have the courage to go wherever it points.

 

Many young Christians are taught to mock the theory of evolution. Is that something you would caution against?

I Peter 3:15 says we always need to be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have, but to do it with gentleness and respect. When we can be respectful and listen, when we can engage on the issues in a reasonable and non-emotional way, we’re much more likely to influence people for Christ. We need to have an attitude of humility, not of condemnation but of encouragement, to kind of help nudge them down a direction toward God. I think so many people are turned off by those who seek to belittle skeptics or claim that they are intentionally suppressing evidence or whatever. I’d like to see us engage in healthy debate with Darwinists and let the evidence bubble to the surface and let people draw their own conclusions.

 

So to be an informed creationist, not an arrogant one?

Someone who is willing to be a friend to people who believe otherwise.

 

What is the best approach for me to take when I’m discussing this topic with a friend who is unconvinced?

You might say, “You know, I was reading a magazine article about a guy who was an atheist. He believe that evolution disproved the existence of God. Then he began to investigate the evidence in a more open-minded way and came to a far different conclusion that the data of science supports the existence of a creator. Wouldn’t it be interesting to look at the evidence that he found persuasive?” Use something like that as a point of curiosity and see if that might encourage your friend to want to read the book together and talk about it. There are lots of footnotes so you can explore other sources as well and make it a journey together that’s full of discovery and adventure, one that you can go on with him and sort of lead him down a path that you hope at the end will result in him meeting Jesus. I think people are curious: where do we come from? Where are we going? And these are issues that science does touch on so I think there is a latent curiosity in a lot of people. If we can encourage that sense of curiosity in people, God can use it to walk them down a path toward Him.

 

Critics of this book, and there will be lots of them, will ask why you only interview people who line up with your worldview. Shouldn’t you talk to some who hold a position contrary to yours? How do you respond?

People need to understand the format of the book. What I did is I stood in the shoes that I had as an atheist, having read the evolutionary literature and all the objections to the idea of an intelligent designer and I sought out doctorate level experts who are articulate in defending what they believe about science and I posed to them the tough questions I had. And then I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not they present a persuasive case for a creator of the universe. The intelligent design movement is not an exclusively Christian movement. As I first mentioned, it was a Muslim who first came up with the argument from cosmology for the existence of God. There are agnostics who are prominent in the intelligent design movement, there are Jewish people, there are people from other sects that you would not consider Christian, so it has a wide base. Secondly, I wouldn’t want to disqualify a scientist or philosopher from talking about the evidence from science just because they have personally become convinced by the evidence that God exists. Every scientist has a bias. He has a faith in God or in something else. So the fact that people are convinced by the evidence one way or another should disqualify them from being heard on the topic.

 

How much homework did you do on this topic?

I traveled 26,000 miles to talk to these guys. I have a lot of frequent flyer miles.

 

What more than anything have you learned?

Public opinion polls show that a lot of people intuitively reject Darwin’s claim that all of life has a common ancestor and that natural selection acting on random variation explains the diversity of life that we see on our planet. There’s something inside a lot of people that tells them that just doesn’t square with reality. And it rankles a lot of evolutionists frankly. It makes them really angry that there are so many people who object to these grand claims of Darwinism. I think there’s something—when I look up at the sky at night and see these dazzling stars and having studied now cosmology and astronomy and I know more than I ever did about what’s going on out there just in space, or you look at a leaf or the intricacies of the human eye and there’s something inside of you that says nature or “the heavens declare the glory of the Lord.” It’s pointing us toward something else. Science can help us understand a lot of natural processes and a lot of facts about the cosmos. But we ought not to stop there. We should look beyond that to where the evidence is ultimately pointing, toward the creator of everything and the author of life. He’s reaching out to us and is available for us to know both now and for eternity. I think my faith has been deepened by interviewing these experts and sitting sometimes with my mouth hanging open over the creativity and ingenuity of creating life. It is absolutely staggering. I was talking to one of the physicists I interviewed, Robin Collins, and he said the same thing. He said, “The more I learn about physics, the more amazed I become at how ingenious God is. The more we probe the complexity of life, of the cell we find more and more complexity. It doesn’t get simpler as we delve deeper into the cell, it becomes more complex. Every time we go another layer deeper, to me it’s just another reminder that we have a God who is unlike us. He is able to conceive of these mind-blowing biological contraptions inside of our bodies and in nature, but he’s able to create them. I walk away from that in wonder and in awe of who God is and the fact the He has allowed us through science to encounter Him. He has created a habitat so that we can explore it and through exploration come face to face with the Creator Himself.

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