Believing is Seeing

Do you need to see concrete evidence for something before you believe it?  Most people would say they do.  Michael Guillen has written an insightful book arguing that, in fact, that’s not the case – that before you can actually see and accept something as true, you have to first believe it is true.

Guillen is a Ph.D. in mathematics, physics, and astronomy (Cornell).  After completing his degrees he went on to teach physics at Harvard, and while there was recruited to be the on-air science reporter for CBS News.

His book is a guided tour for the reader on the journey of how one who started as a self-described “scientific monk” and committed atheist ended up as a devout Christian.

Worldview Challenge

Worldviews are the interpretive filters through which we process information coming to us from the world; information from our formal education, information from our interpersonal relationships, information from our parents, and perhaps, information from spiritual friends or a church.

In his youth, Guillen had no relationships (thus the “monk” characterization) and his near-exclusive source of new information was his compulsive study of all things scientific.  The worldview he built during these formative years was one of scientific orthodoxy – that everything was knowable if one was simply disciplined and methodical in his experimentation of the physics of things.  He calls it “a systematic, evidence-based strategy”.  It was a safe, rational mindset to hold and, crucially, one that carried with it a certain hubris that things not knowable through this rational scientific inquiry weren’t actually true in the first place, let alone provably true.  So this way of thinking ruled out God and made atheism the only logical choice.

Confronting Unknowns

As he pursued his graduate studies at Cornell, he began encountering unknowns – paradoxes that defied the tools of the trade he was developing.  Perhaps foremost among these was the irreconcilability of Einstein’s General Relativity theory, and the by-then increasingly established field of Quantum Mechanics (QM).  The best minds in physics and mathematics had struggled for decades to reconcile the two without success.  Both were provably true.  But, their interrelationship – how they can both be true at the same time — remained inscrutable.

Another major setback in Guillen’s otherwise well-ordered worldview of a knowable reality was the emergent problem of there being a huge amount of “missing mass” observed in the Universe, a characteristic later identified as “dark matter”[i].  Added to this conundrum was the inexplicable acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, a condition explained by something termed “dark energy”.   Therefore, of all the physical energy and matter existing in our Universe, 95% of it we can’t see and can’t explain.

These and other mysteries led Guillen to dive into the study of Eastern religions; in fact, all religions, in search of some wisdom that would help him break through the imponderables of his rational worldview.

After beginning his new quest for insight, Guillen was approached by a co-ed who was similarly interested in things spiritual and was playing with new age beliefs.  In the course of their early relationship, it was revealed that she had been raised a Catholic and he had been raised by Pentecostals, but that neither had ever truly read the Bible.  So they agreed to do so, together and completed the exercise after two years.

Worldview Transformation

What Guillen found in the Bible resonated with his understanding of the inscrutability of the physical Universe he was grappling to make sense of.  Some parallels were quite plain.

For example, Guillen (and everybody else who had studied the subject) was quite familiar with the theory of the inception of the Universe (as attested by the cosmic background radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson in the 1960s) – the so-called “Big Bang”.  And, right there in the first sentence of the Bible, the pair read:

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

So Guillen could chalk up this point of agreement between the reality of the Bible’s worldview and his own[ii].  But of course, there was a lot more.

Guillen had been deeply challenged by his studies of QM and its very strange behaviors such as duel wave-particle behaviors, and the dependent “action-at-a-distance” between quantum particle pairs – a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.  How can something, potentially on the other side of the Universe, billions of light-years away, instantly “know” what its quantum partner is doing and therefore what it must do?

Such inexplicable behaviors helped him sympathize with the figure of Christ who, the Bible claims, was both God and Man; who did inexplicable physical “miracles” including reviving dead people to life, feeding 5000 from five loaves of bread and two fish, walking on the surface of the water, etc.  And, who rather than rising up in righteous fury against the Romans’ charges and His subsequent torture, instead silently endured; Mat 27:

14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

To this Guillen added in Christ’s claims to forgive sinners to enable them to join Him in eternity, His instruction to love our enemies, his maxim that the first would be last and the last first, etc.  It was the anti-logical nature of Christ that conformed to the anti-logical physics Guillen knew well.  Guillen labels such paradoxes “translogical”, meaning they transcend our common Aristotelian logic.  They reveal the truth, the deeper reality we are all members of.

Assuming Christ said and did these things, they were no more strange than what the physical Universe all around us was doing all the time.  As he notes:

“Just because something isn’t logical doesn’t mean it’s nonsense.  If you insist on limiting your analysis to matters of sense and logic, you risk overlooking the most profound truths about yourself and the universe.”

But if these claims (as well as many, many more examined in the book) were true; if they were, in fact, reality, then, Guillen reasoned, he had to abandon his old worldview and adopt one that recognized the existence of, and his relationship to, the Creator of the Universe.

Guillen goes on to explain the inter-workings of two distinct types of knowledge: what he calls “IQ” (our normal, rational intelligence quotient) and “SQ”, our spiritual “intelligence” or understanding.  In explaining SQ he says:

“Among other things, I explained that SQ is a cognitive superpower unique to Homo sapiens sapiens.  It allows you and me to sense, however imperfectly, Gödelian[iii] truths and translogical realities that cannot be seen, proven, or even imagined.”

He states that one requires both of these “knowings” working together to adequately perceive reality.

His Conclusions

Guillen characterizes his twenty-year search for the best way to see and understand reality this way:

“But I chose the Christian worldview for at least two major reasons that are still true today.

One, the Christian worldview best answers my questions.  Not all my questions – no worldview can do that, not even science.

Two, the Christian worldview best squares with the scientific worldview.  It’s easy for me to be both a scientist and a Christian.”

The second rationale is not the party line of most scientists and is quite shocking.  Perhaps other scientists simply have not devoted as much time and effort to researching the question and thinking it through as our author.

Recognizing the Centrality of Faith

Guillen goes on to articulate his case that everyone has faith in something.  He says faith is belief in the truth of things we can’t see or prove, but that best lines up with all of the information we have on the subject.  So it is “enlightened”.  It doesn’t believe fantasies that are self-evidently or provably untrue.  His point is that we need to pair our “IQ” with our “SQ” to filter out the fantasies.

Guillen then goes on to examine a range of IQ-postulated theories, such as life instantiation, evolutionary speciation from a single source, values of key physical constants in the Universe, etc. to ask, in essence, what’s easier to believe: infinitesimal probabilities somehow yielding us within this world, or a Designer of ourselves within this world?

The balance of the book then looks on a variety of Biblical topics from the perspective of Guillen’s newly minted, rationalized worldview in which there is an author of physical reality and its spiritual reality.  He concludes that to perceive reality – to “see” – one has to have faith that what he’s looking for is true:  Believing is seeing.

Recommendation

If you’re a STEM[iv] kind of person on the outside of the Christian faith, this book is for you.  If you’re a Christian perhaps in relationships with STEM folks outside of Christianity this book is for you.  If you’re simply a Christian who would like to see how one of the most academically accomplished people in America made the journey from abject atheism to a love for God, then this book, too, is for you.  It’s certainly not the average Christian’s path.

But saving faith is a strange, powerful, possibly “translogical” thing.

One of the key takeaways for me was that the seminal moment in this man’s journey was his decision to read the Word of God seriously.  He had the interest and motivation to read it.  It wasn’t an assigned task or chore.  He wanted to know.  That was the beginning of enlightenment, and salvation.

[i] Scientists estimate that of all the matter in the Universe, 85% of it is invisible – “dark”.

[ii] He had also discovered that none of the other of the world’s religions claimed their deity created the universe; only Judaism/Christianity.

[iii] By “Gödelian truths” he here is referring to truths that, as Gödel showed in his Incompleteness Theorems, can never be proven.

[iv] “Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics”