Should I Check My Brains at the Door When I Go To Church?

By Keith Miller | August 13, 2010

Keith: I’m a new Christian.  I’ve recently been talking to some of my atheist friends, who agree with some atheist scientists who are very brilliant men who say that surrendering to God is very naïve intellectually since neither the existence of God nor the “characteristics” of God can be proven scientifically.  .  The question I have to ask you is, do I have to check my brains at the door when I go into a church, or is it intellectually in the ball park to believe in God?

Good question.  But it seems strange to me for people who claim to be scientists to assert with great confidence that there is no God, because the non-existence of God cannot be proven for the same reasons.  In my experience, there is a lot more evidence in favor of there being a God than that there is no God.  Although it will be impossible to explore this matter in any depth in a short blog, I’m going to suggest an alternative way to check the validity of a serious “faith-in-God” journey.

Basically, there are two kinds of science.  Theoretical science involves applying mathematical methods and concepts in theoretical modeling.  It is amazing what has been done through this sort of scientific thinking in the material world that occupies so much of our time and effort.

But another branch of science is experimental science.  These scientists use what is known as the “scientific method,” that consists of forming a hypothesis and developing an experiment to either prove or disprove the hypothesis.  Their conclusions are based on deductive reasoning. 

For example, a doctor’s reported experience with the healing properties of a certain herb might lead an experimental scientist to hypothesize that eating a certain amount of this herb will cure a known disease. The experiment might be set up using two groups of people who have been diagnosed as having similar symptoms of the disease.  Everyone in one group takes a medicine made from the herb in a certain prescribed way over a period of time.  Everyone in the other group also takes a pill, following the same regimen.  But the pill given to members of the second group does not contain the herb or any other medicine—it is a harmless “neutral” substance.

If the first group (taking the herbal medicine) has a significant number of people who either are healed or show significant improvement, and members of the second group (taking the harmless pill) show no improvement or get worse, then there is some evidence that the herb is, in fact, doing some good.  At that point the herb has begun its journey toward becoming an approved treatment for the disease.  However, if the group that did not take the herb also shows improvement or healing, this would cancel out the evidence from the improvements in the health of the people in the group taking the herb. 

But even experimental science is not what many people think it is.  Since the conclusions are based on deductive reasoning, one must evaluate the validity of the reasoning being done by the scientists. 

For example, even though the herbal remedy experiment may support the fact that it can heal or alleviate symptoms of a certain disease, in a majority of cases, there may be some bad side effects from the herbal remedy in some people.  This past year after some surgery I warned the surgeon that I am allergic to narcotics.  So he chose a new non-narcotic pain pill which was administered after the surgery.  My body swelled up with edema, and I was miserable and in much pain until I was given a diuretic.  Even though I lost eight pounds of fluid in first nine hours, it took a long time to get rid of the rest of the swelling and the serious pain.  Then because of complications with the first surgery, I had to have a second surgery soon after that.  I warned the physician to be sure to give me a different pain medication, but the second new drug had the same effect.  These medicines had been tried and used successfully by thousands of people, but just didn’t work for me.  Notice how many of the advertisements for the sale of medicines on TV warn the buyer about side effects, and about conflicts with other medications or other physical conditions (i.e. high blood pressure, impotence, heart attacks or even death). 

What I’m saying is that “exact science” is not exact, in that it makes claims that are not a hundred percent applicable.  And a “tested” medicine may injure or kill certain people.  So when people observe abusive or antisocial behavior in men and women who call themselves Christian without testing the behavior of thousands of Christians whose influence is quietly beneficial to millions of people all over the world, it causes me to suspect that such observers and critics have not been scientific in their investigation of a serious life of faith in God, since Christianity is not a theoretical idea about God that can be proven by applying mathematical methods and concepts.

By its nature its validation must be “scientific” in that one must take the hypothesis that God is real and experiment in one’s ongoing life.  And with Christianity, these additional hypotheses should be taken:

1.  Jesus Christ was conveying the love of God in a way that we could understand and incorporate into a way of living in response to that love. 

2.  The Bible contains what God is said to have instructed his people to do to have a good life that is loving, honest and less self-centered than a life based on materialistic values.

So if I were a scientist and was interested in finding out if God is real, I would take these hypotheses, bet my life on them, and conduct an experiment. 

I’ve been a Christian for over fifty years.  I have tested the faith as if it were an hypothesis in every area of my life that I could think of.  Early on I had some horrible relationships and was depressed and unhappy because of my self-centeredness.  But by taking the hypothesis that God is real and that the biblical record contains sound and healing ways to live and relate to other people and to the inevitable changes and challenges of living, my relationships and state of mind today are different and much better.

I remember making a comment during a lecture I gave at Baylor University years ago that, although I was as committed to God with my whole heart as I could be, I still had arguments with my wife. Afterward, a very self-confident young woman came up to me and said, “Mr. Miller, I don’t think that’s right.  I think you can have a life of marriage without arguments if both people are Christians.”

I asked, “Are you married?”

“No,” she answered, “but I’m just about to get a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family.”

I said, “Well, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I know more about marriage than you do as far as how the intimate relating is experienced when negotiating the adjustments of the parties to each other and married life.  If you are not married, I do not believe you can really know the pressure that happens within a marriage.”  She left, somewhat upset, but our conversation helped me see that unless a person is willing to risk taking an hypothesis and entering an intimate long term relationship like marriage or a life of faith in God, that person will always be intellectually naïve and far from knowing the inherent and life transforming possibilities of either.

So how would an experiment work that would test the hypothesis that God is real? This is one experiment:  Give as much of your life as you can to as much of God as you know, in Christ.  Then you do the things he said to do.  For example, you love God and other people, you pray every day, you confess your mistakes, you thank God for the blessings in your life.  You enter and share the experiential journey with a small group of others who are also surrendering their lives to God.  You refrain from doing things that are against the way of life that Jesus portrayed, such as murdering, stealing, and so on.  But you also don’t take advantage of people, you become interested in those who are disadvantaged.  And you try to eliminate habits and goals or activities that keep you from loving God and other people.  Jesus said that he would meet us through those people that we try to love, and particularly through reaching out and caring for those who can’t care for themselves.  In fact our lives will be evaluated not on the numerical quantity of our devotionals or what we have accumulated, but by the way we have loved.

Some people who have been mentors to me personally and in their writings, such as C.S. Lewis and Elton Trueblood and Paul Tournier, were very intelligent people with advanced degrees.  They committed their lives to God in Christ and their lives changed.  And two of these three went to great lengths to love me and guide me as a young man.  People I’ve known who did not share their lives and love with others (who are seeking to know God) often find their old age miserable and boring by comparison. 

The last thing I’d suggest for anyone trying to verify the reality of a life centered in God is to check with some people who have tried this experiment and are positive, loving and happy.  And as I’d suggest not evaluating the validity of marriage by interviewing people who have never been married, but rather by talking to people who are happy, loving and happily married. In other words, find someone who has a strong faith and talk to him or her—or read books by people like those I’ve mentioned.  For example, I read Mere Christianity when I was struggling with this years ago and it helped me enormously.  I later wrote a book called The Taste of New Wine which is about beginning the experiment of committing as much of your life as you can and how this can affect your life in business and your family and various areas of your life. 

This intimate relationship with God is a lifelong adventure that for me has transformed the experience of living.  If somebody tells you that it is naïve to believe in God, my experience and study would indicate that that person is not personally well informed about the transforming power and healing nature of a relationship with God—or at least is a person not willing to risk taking the hypothesis and probably not personally living an experiment of faith in his or her own life..

There is more than I have time to discuss in this brief blog.  But if any of you want to ask other questions about the issue or difficulties you’ve had when considering a life aimed at being intimately connected with God while discovering God’s character and purposes, I’d be happy to share from the sixty-year experiment I’m still on.

Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the freedom to choose to surrender my life to you or not, to question, to wonder, to open or close my mind.  Without this freedom of choice there would be no “surrender,” and there would be no experience of love, but only a robot-like conformation to your will.  Grant me the strength, will and grace to continue to risk surrendering my life to you in this ongoing experimental journey of faith in you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

“Because science says that it cannot handle a certain aspect of life, scientists or onlookers have no right to say that therefore it does not exist.  That is either confused thinking or willful blindness, and the fault is not that of the science, but of science so-called.” Nels F. S. Ferre, “Faith and Reason”

“Who can sense the mind—hear it, see it, taste it, feel it?  Yet who says it is not real?” Nels F. S. Ferre, “Faith and Reason”

“Our problem is not lack of knowledge to conceive of God, it is lack of power to commit to him and the life we instinctively feel must be available to man in his ordained fulfillment.” St. Augustine

4 comments | Add One

  1. Paul Rooker - 08/13/2010 at 10:25 am

    Keith, I continue to marvel at your insite into the complexities of the Christian life. Pauline and I will celebrate our 63rd year as a married couple of attempting to live the Christian life September 5th.GOD IS GOOD and he has helped made our lives GOOD.

  2. Kim - 08/13/2010 at 11:34 am

    What I tell my kids repeatedly while studying their science books, stands here “Science doesn’t prove anything.” You are still dealing with people and they have a bias one way or another. If you do your homework, even to disprove there is a God, you will find much more evidence to the contrary. I thank God, I believe by faith, His word and what He demonstrates to me each day that confirms His word. “I believe” Most people don’t want to believe, so they will believe anything else, so called facts before even seeking out God’s word.

  3. Kathy R. - 08/13/2010 at 8:41 pm

    I look forward to receiving Keith’s blog each week. It not only strengthens my belief, but, also helps explain some things I’m not sure of. Thank you.

  4. Caren Upshaw - 08/14/2010 at 10:44 am

    always insightful, Keith, you are an author of the bible that I read in my life.

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