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EPISODE 68: Reasoning Towards God

Former skeptic Joshua Rasmussen left Christianity to pursue truth through reason and philosophy. Over time, his intellectual pursuit led him back to a strong belief in God.

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Transcript


Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics slip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or a skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our website at sidebstories.com. We also welcome your comments on these stories on our Facebook page and through our email at [email protected].

As a reminder, our guests not only tell their stories. At the end of each episode, these former atheists and skeptics give advice to curious skeptics as to how they too can pursue the truth and reality of God. They also give advice to Christians on how best to engage with those who don't believe. I hope you're listening in to the end to hear them speak from their wisdom and experience as someone who has once been a skeptic or atheist but who is now a believer. We have so much to learn from them. Also, please know that many of our former atheists and skeptics have made themselves available to talk with anyone who has questions about God or faith. If you'd like to connect, again please email at [email protected], and we'll get you connected.

None of us want to be deceived, to believe what is not true. None of us want to be taken in by a false narrative. We want to believe what is true. We want to think that our beliefs are true, that they match with reality. These days, it seems that truth can be hard to find amidst claims coming from many different directions. But when you pursue truth above everything else, when truth becomes the clear path through the fray, sometimes it can lead you to beliefs you thought you would never hold.

As a seeker of truth, Josh Rasmussen valued rationality and reason above all else. Although his intellectual questions first led him away from Christianity, his continued search led him back to a profound belief in God. He now holds a PhD in philosophy and helps others discover the truth that he has found. I hope you'll come along to hear his journey from Christianity to skeptical agnosticism and then back again.

Welcome to Side B Stories, Josh. It's so great to have you with me today.

Thank you. It's just great to be with you. I've been looking forward to this.

Excellent! As we're getting started, so the listeners have an idea of who I'm speaking with, why don't you tell us a bit about who you are, a bit about your education and what you do for a living.

Yeah. Thank you. So my name is Josh Rasmussen, and my work centers on trying to understand things as deeply as I can. So I've been doing work on the foundations of existence, of a deep explanation of why anything exists. That’s been a project of mine. And then more recently, thinking about the nature of our minds, how we think, where thinking comes from. Can atoms produce thinking? How does that work? And I would say kind of the theme of my work is to really try to get wisdom that can be a treasure for people. I got my PhD from the University of Notre Dame. Currently, I'm a professor at Azusa Pacific University. And I just love my job because I'm doing the thing that I love the most, which is to think about big questions and try to help people get a little more wisdom about things that really matter to people. So that's about kind of who I am.

No, I love that! So formally speaking, would you say you're an analytical philosopher?

Yeah. You could describe that as analytic philosophy, kind of using the approach of logic and trying to make clear distinctions. At least that's our goal. As well as, I think more recently, I've been paying a lot of attention to the kind of observation approach that scientists lean into. And I think this is really important in my work, where you combine the analytic, the analysis, with observation. But yeah, analytic philosophy would be kind of my area.

Okay, wonderful. All right. Well, I'm curious. You're obviously a deep thinker as an adult, but I bet if I had to ask or… we're going to venture back into your childhood, that you were probably always a curious child. But let's start back in your home, where you grew up. Tell us about your family. Was there religion, any understanding or belief in God in your home?

Yeah. So I was raised in a home that made me feel safe. We had a garden outside, and I had my own little sandbox. And I remember I could go out there and just build and create and even begin sort of my earliest thinking about, you know, what am I? What are people? And I'm just kind of playing. And I remember just having that feeling of safety. My parents let me play. They let me explore. They let me go free. I never felt like I had to stay inside or I had to stay in a box. I always felt that way. And it's really cool because my parents, both, they're Christians, and they raised all of us—I have three siblings—in the values of seeking wisdom, loving people, cultivating joy. That would be a message that my dad would often model for us. He would talk about it, and then he would model it. He would tell us, “Don’t waste your pain.” If you're suffering, if you're feeling pain, you can control your attitude. You can control your response. And so he talked about how to cultivate joy in trial.

So, yeah, a religious home, a loving home. Even that word religion sometimes gets associated with more of like a limiting frame or like, don't explore, don't be free. Maybe a little bit more rigid in some circles. But for me, it just was not that. It really felt like I was free to explore, to be who I am. And I always felt loved, unconditionally loved, by my family.

Wow, that's an amazing testimony to your family of origin. I mean, so many people would love to be able to tell that story. So as you were growing up and your parents were Christian, did you embrace their faith at all? Did you believe in God as a child? Did you pray? Did you go to church?

Yeah. Absolutely. They modeled it, and it made sense to me. So, yeah, part of it is I didn't really have kind of alternative large-scale worldviews to compare with. That came later, as I met people who represented different ways of thinking about the world, which ultimately led me to have my own kind of crisis of faith or reexamining of my own worldview. But yeah, Absolutely. I shared their values and loved God, would pray, would go to church, these sorts of things.

And did that extend into your teenage years? Or when did you start to question this belief in God or the views of Christianity or whatever it is that you were believing at the time?

Well, it's interesting because, in some respects, I feel like I was always kind of questioning things. I remember, in second grade, looking at my classmates and kind of thinking, “Well, I'm pretty sure they're real, but how do I know that?” I was questioning that in my mind.

Okay.

I was always kind of questioning things. I remember asking my dad about the numbers and how high they go. And somewhere somebody suggested that God is infinite, but then the numbers are infinite. So I wanted to know, are these the same infinite? Are the numbers bigger than God? They go up higher than God? And so I remember questioning that and asking about that, how does God relate to the numbers? I still think about that sort of thing.

Wow! In second grade. That’s extraordinary.

Well okay, somewhere around that age, yeah.

Right! No, yeah.

Thinking about that. Yeah. Because I was really fascinated with the numbers, how high they go. I remember looking up at my mom and just asking her, like, “What is the highest number?” “Well, they go up forever.” “Oh, okay. They're infinite. Kind of like God. I thought God was supposed to be greater than everything else, so how does that work?” So I had these questions, but it really wasn't until in about high school age where I had conversations with people who represented different views of the world. And that kind of changed things for me, because now these representations of different views of the world, they weren't abstract characters in my mind. I wasn't thinking about the category, non-theist or Muslim or whatever it was from another culture. Here I am having friends in class who were just talking with me as real people, raising their questions, representing different views. And that really caused me to reexamine my own view, especially because I remember just realizing I can't just take for granted the view that I was sort of raised with, especially if other people have a different view. They’re raised with a different view. How can I just privilege one view over another?

And it's not that I didn't have some thoughts about these things. I remember thinking about the design of the universe. I remember thinking about the beginning of the universe, needing some kind of a cause. But when I was talking with—this was is in a biology class in particular. I was talking with a friend, and I asked him kind of what he thought about the cause of the universe, the design of the universe, and his answer was just so striking. I didn't really anticipate this. He just said, “I don't know. I'm not sure. I just don't know.” He said, “Maybe there's some cause of the universe. Maybe that's right. Maybe beginnings have causes. I remember he said that. I'm not really sure what its nature would be.” He said, “I would love it if the cause loves me and knows me. I would love that. But I can't just believe what I want to be true, and I just don't really have the evidence there.” And there was something about it. It just intrigued me, just like, “Oh, man. He seems very, very sincere.” And I remember wondering, “Okay, God, do You want him to believe in You? Could you give Him more obvious evidence?” And that was already then sowing doubts in my own mind, because if God's not more evident to Him, then I'm wondering, “Well, is God really good? I mean, does He want us to know Him?”

And then I started having my own questions about, “Well, is my evidence good? I mean, sure, maybe beginnings have a cause, but how do I know the nature of the cause?” My friend was asking that question, and this led me to really just worry and wonder. Part of my worry was that I realized that reality doesn't just have to conform with what I want.

I came home from school, and I was kind of feeling worried about the nature of reality, purpose of life. I remember lying on my bed, looking up at my ceiling fan, and just wondering. What happens when I die? Is this world safe? Is the nature of reality good at the base? And I just remember thinking, “I don't know the answer to that. I don't really know for sure. Don't know.” And not only didn't know for sure, it was like… because then I was asking, “Well, is there a probability?” And it felt like it was pretty much 50/50.

I looked up at my ceiling fan, and I still remember this, just thinking, “Okay, God. If you could just move that fan, just move it, that will give me a sign, give me an indication that you are really there.” And so I prayed. I asked God to move that fan. And I mean, to this day, let me just say I'm grateful that the fan didn't move, because it led me on a track that I think broke a limited box of view that I had of God and of the world. That broke. And I think moving that fan would have sort of kept me in that box that needed to break, so I could go on the search, see a greater world, come into a worldview type that I call this the meadow type of worldview. So you got the box worldview that's got these nice, safe boundaries. And the meadow worldview is very beautiful, but it goes out to the horizon. You don't actually see the edges. So there’s more and more truth, beauty, and goodness to see out in the meadow.

But at the time, I was very worried because I remember just wondering, “Well, God, I mean, if You really do want me to know that You’re real, just like with my friend, if you want the friend to know that You’re real, could You just be a little more evident?” And let me just say, I was not hiding a secret sin or trying to run from God in this moment. At least as far as I could tell, everything within me just wanted some assurance. In fact, that very desire for assurance is part of what created the pain point for me, because I was so worried that my desire to have reality conform to what I want was blocking me from being honest about reality. I would watch these documentaries by these scientists who were displaying a curiosity and an honesty to face reality, whatever it is.

Right.

And I actually think this experience helped put me into contact with the value of honest truth seeking, sort of by contrast, because I felt the pull of my desire. And it also gave me this appreciation for my friend from school that I didn't have before. I didn't understand what it was that he was attracted to, facing reality, being honest with the evidence. And so that led to both a decision and then a search. The decision was… I remember the decision. It’s like in the Christian circles you talk about deciding to follow God? Well, in this moment, I decided to follow reason to the truth, whatever it is, to seek the truth. That's what it was. And I couldn't ask God to exist because if He doesn't exist, He can't make himself exist. And if He already exists, He can't answer the prayer. He already exists. I can't ask Him to exist. I did have a prayer like this, like, “God, if you're there, please be real.” That prayer makes no sense. You can ask Him to show Himself. You can ask for clues. But for me, it was a decision to really seek the truth. So that kind of led to the next path of my journey.

Yeah. That sounds like a significant turning point in your journey. As you were mulling over these things in your mind, did you pursue…. I'm just curious how how you pursued your truth. Not your truth, how you pursued truth. Your parents, were they a source of wisdom or understanding or knowledge to be able to engage you in the way that you needed to be engaged? Or how did that look?

Yeah. I love this question because it brings me back to the value of my upbringing. For me, both my mom and dad, they were a source of support, emotional support and safety. I never felt like they were worried about my questions or that they were upset about them or they needed me to come to a certain conclusion. I remember talking with my mom at the kitchen table, kind of sharing with her my worries. And I never felt from her any sort of ideas that would help me answer my questions, if that makes sense.

Right.

But I also felt from her that there was just that safety. She wasn't alarmed by it. And same thing with my dad. Now, my dad, he's a thinker. He's a reader and a teacher, and in fact, he's been teaching at churches as a pastor, so he knows the language of these things.

So my dad gave me a book. And this book went very deep into kind of how to explain things, the causes and the effects. And it went past some of the, let's say, first level and second level kinds of objections that my friend was raising, that I was raising. It demonstrated an insight. Also on my own I went to a library and checked out some books by non-theist philosophers arguing for atheism. I remember J. L. Mackie’s book The Miracle of Theism, reading that. I remember. Kai Nielsen, a book. Quentin Smith; he has got a book. Many other philosophers. And it was very interesting for me to kind of take notes. I was outlining the different books, and they would talk about similar arguments, like an argument from cause and effect or an argument from design, but they would talk about them kind of from different angles. It wasn't the same. It wasn't like, “Well, here's the argument, and it fails because of this reason.” It's like, “Here’s an argument. We'll give it this name. Here are some objections.” But wait a second, this author over here presented an argument by that name, but they had a little bit of a different angle. Those objections don't really touch that version of the argument. But then there are other objections.

So I'm like sorting and thinking and exploring. And I think, for me, this journey into the books, there wasn't a lot of internet in those days. The internet was new, so I couldn't just go out search the internet, which I think was actually good, because the books go a lot deeper than what you find on social media or on YouTube or usually on the internet. So I think that helped me to see, first of all, that I can explore these things. There's a freedom to do that. And second, there's a bigger picture of reality that's not limited to that box that includes a larger meadow.

And this larger meadow, I want to describe it as more profoundly beautiful, more profoundly interesting than I could witness within my original box worldview. It's a greater vision of reality, and it's one that I continue to explore and to unpack. And I think for me, when I realized I didn't have to choose between the value of seeking the truth and discovering truths that could be real treasures. Everybody has maybe their own set of treasures. There are universal treasures, but I think people have certain treasures may be unique to their purposes. I think usually the tensions and the problems people wrestle with are connected to their own treasures that they have, for themselves and for others. So for me, a treasure to understand that reality is actually very sturdy, there's a base to it, and that it has power. The powers don't have artificial limits or boundaries. There's an intelligence to the base of reality. This can help explain fine tuning of the universe, which is something that I was not aware of earlier in high school. Just going deeper into that, and that there can actually be just a bigger picture, a bigger view of reality that does inspire hope and encouragement and safety.

It's actually greater than I was thinking. It includes the intellectual virtues. And this is where I just have such a heart of, I want to say, admiration for those seekers who are on these paths where they're wanting to face reality. I feel like there's such value in that. And sometimes you see that value through the contrast. It's like, “This reality that I'm facing is not what I want to be true.” Well, that's going to amplify the courage, the value of the courage, to face the reality. This is why I say that it takes courage to seek truth even if it's uncertain whether the truth is going to be a treasure, it’s going to be encouraging.

So you were at a crossroads where you were willing to take a diligent search, and it sounds to me as if you were a genuine truth seeker. You were reading books by atheists, and you were reading books by theists. I wondered, during this period of time, because you're sitting here as a former atheist, I’m wondering-

Or agnostic.

… or agnostic. So you were in a genuine search, skeptical in a good way, because you had the courage to actually look for truth wherever it led, it sounds like. When you were reading-

I desired that, yeah.

I'm also curious, because the theistic and the atheistic or naturalistic worldview are really quite different in the way that they do look at, say, origin of the universe or how they explain fine tuning of the universe, the things external to ourselves, but also how we explain ourselves and our own humanity. There's a very different way of understanding who we are as whether we're just merely physical beings or whether we actually have a mind or whether we have value that's inherent. And all of these things. There’s such a contrast between those two worldviews. Were those differences becoming clearer as you were navigating through these two very different perspectives? So that it made you, I guess, as you were seeking truth, truth became clearer to you as you were looking at the differences between the two.

Yeah. I love this question so much because my answer might sort of surprise you in a way. What I found is, if we can distinguish between maybe two versions of naturalism. So one version of naturalism would be explicitly saying reality is fundamentally mindless and meaningless, and out of these mindless particles and fields, there emerge beings in some way. Okay? This kind of mindless first naturalism.

So, having said that, yes, absolutely. We could talk about the mindless first vision of naturalism that does result, I think, in all sorts of important and striking differences. That we're organized out of just mindless causes. And there's not a deep purpose that precedes us. Maybe we can make our own purpose, but there's not something deeper in. Reality is not fundamentally safe or caring in that respect. And that is, I think, a very, very important difference.

But a lot of naturalists that I'm talking with, they're talking about how we can have meaning, we can have value, we can have these great treasures. And then I'm thinking, “Well, that's great.” I don't want to compete with that. I want to provide a home for that. I want to illuminate that. I want to highlight that, show how theism can amplify that. Because to be honest, that was what was helpful for me in my journey, was the freedom to explore, to find these treasures and see, “Hey! These treasures don't have to be removed from the table. There's a meadow view of reality that includes more.” And this kind of makes sense if you really think about God as sort of bigger than any person, any even culture. It's bigger than that. We limit Him to our culture. We limit Him to maybe our first vision of who He would be, our first upbringing. And it's not surprising that, if God is actually real, that we would keep discovering new sides of God, new angles of God, new understandings. We don't have it all figured out. I mean we can see some things with some clarity while also maintaining that curiosity to keep exploring, to keep searching.

Yes. So as you were searching and exploring and reading and contemplating and expanding, really, your horizons about all of these significant issues, particularly the big question at that time for you is—I presume you were looking whether or not God was real. I know you've taken Him out of the box into a more meadow view, but during that process, did you find yourself kind of moving away from a theistic understanding of God or moving towards, like there really is grounding here, more so than I thought. Which direction were you heading?

Yeah. For me, definitely moving towards. And towards in the direction of a greater picture. So in a way, it's moving towards that theistic understanding, through looking at the line of fine tuning was one of the early lines that was very interesting to me, but also the causal structure of reality, and going into that. And these lines were moving me towards the belief in God and a larger vision of reality, kind of at the same time, if that makes sense. So in a way, maybe moving me away from a certain maybe smaller concept. And I think everybody experiences this. I mean, as they go through life, experiences advance our understanding of all sorts of things. So that’s what I was feeling was that, okay, this concept maybe is too small, but hey, there's a lot of evidence pointing to a larger concept. And yeah, definitely, I would say moving back towards… moving back and out. Back and out. I don't know. Am I mixing metaphors here? Back to hopeful inspiring vision of God and His love for us, but not contained in sort of certain concepts that I had.

Okay. Yeah. So for those listeners who are perhaps not familiar with what you're talking about, you mentioned a couple of strong… I don't want to call them arguments so much, but just the things that you were finding with regard to the origin of the universe or the fine tuning of the universe. Can you just touch on what those were? What you found that was compelling for you to move towards a theistic worldview?

Yeah. So there are different highlights. Let me see here. I have to distinguish between my recent thinking, my recent work, which adds various developments to things.

Right.

And then, you know, what was really in those earlier times that was really appealing to me? Let me tell you this: I remember taking a walk down into this canal where we lived, and this is a place where we would sometimes run, get exercise. We, as in my brother and my dad, we'd go down there and run. And I remember this one particular time, I was just down there, and I was walking, thinking about the universe. And I had watched this documentary. Stephen Hawking is a scientist. He was talking about the universe. He talked about the universe as a kind of closed system. There's no need for some kind of outside cause. And even then, in those days especially, I was thinking spatially. Like, if there's a cause, it's spatially located, like, outside, right? And we tend to do that, think spatially. And I remember just toying with this picture in my head, like, “Is the reality that I'm in just this kind of self contained universe? Or is there something transcendent?” And I could sort of see it both ways. It's like the duck rabbit. You see it as a duck. You see it as a rabbit. You just see it both ways.

But I originally got this idea from these people I was reading, more than just one, but there was a particular argument here that you can't have just an uncaused universe that has these particular boundaries and edges that are themselves uncaused. If instead we can have something that is uncaused, but it's self-existent, and it has a nature that doesn't call for further explanation, and it's a different kind of thing. And so then I remember coming down into that canal and then just thinking again about the universe being self contained versus not self contained and then realizing that I actually had a kind of symmetry breaker at that time to prefer a transcendent cause of a kind of finitely bounded universe. Now, if there's infinite qualities, then we can ask, “Okay, what's the nature of those infinite qualities?” And we can continue to think about what kind of a cause could be ultimate. But I realized I had a symmetry breaker for thinking that the ultimate base of reality, the cause, it's not going to have these finite parameters, but it's going to be unbounded in a certain way. It's going to have power, and it's going to be unbounded.

And then also I was reading a lot about the fine tuning of the universe for life, and this was giving me an inclination that this power is going to have resources to create a universe that's not just any random universe, but it's a universe in which life forms can emerge. And part of the fine tuning argument is recognizing, from physics—and I think there's a way of thinking about this just through reason as well—that any just arbitrary universe taken out of a hat, you’re not going to expect it to fall within these narrow parameters. The expansion rate of the universe. If it expands too quickly, it just expands out, and there's never places that form for life to emerge. If it expands more slowly, it collapses in on itself. And there's this parameter, this cosmological constant, it’s one example of a parameter that measures the properties of the universe, the rate of expansion. You change that one way or the other, you get no suitable life of any kind as as we understand it, anywhere in all of reality. We could talk about a multiverse, but then that kind of kicks back the question to what makes the multiverse itself within the parameters that there can be a life-suitable universe.

And so I was thinking about those things and reading a lot about those things, and these thoughts were giving me symmetry breakers, reasons to think that reality is not just a self-contained, finitely bounded universe that just emerged from nothing or that is even just eternal, but rather that the base of reality has powers and even powers of intelligence. This could help explain and predict the kind of universe that we live in. So those are some of my early thoughts that helped me break the symmetry. This is kind of early in college, but then later in college, then I discovered what philosophy is, and I was like, “Oh, I want to do this. This is great!”

So I kept going in further and further and further, exploring, exploring, exploring, but the broad outline is just exactly what I said. It was just kind of starting with this picture of self-contained universe. Maybe it's not self contained. I have no idea. I'm agnostic. And then finding these kind of symmetry breakers that led me to think, “Actually, if it's caused by something else, that's going to help explain the particular parameters.” It’s going to help give a deeper explanation. It’s going to help explain the fine tuning of the universe.

And more things than that. I mean, more recently now, thinking a lot about consciousness and persons and how it's not just a matter of getting a complex universe for complex creatures. There's also consciousness, the feeling of being alive, and what best explains that? So those are a few data points that really, for me, helped me in my journey. The consciousness stuff came later. That was more in graduate school, early in graduate school, taking courses on that. And good people come to different views on this, explore this from different angles, but I can just say, for me, things started to really make sense as I started making these observations about the nature of our reality and the things that exist and then understanding how we could explain this in terms of an intelligence that's powerful, it's eternal, it’s uncaused, these sorts of things.

So the pieces were coming together, in a sense that it made more sense to have this transcendent, all powerful, all knowing, spaceless, timeless, all of those things, than not, to explain what you were seeing, observing, in the universe. And like you say, even your own consciousness.

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

So, as you were moving towards the direction, I guess, of theism, there's a big difference between, I would say, understanding or accepting the… maybe the necessity is a good word for a power, as you're describing, in order to explain what we're experiencing in the world and the Christian understanding of our view of reality, with the person of God coming in the person of Christ to earth and having claim on our life. That's a big jump. So I'm wondering, in your journeying, obviously as a philosopher, you're putting the pieces together, but also, it's not just an intellectual exercise, because the things that you believe about reality, about ultimate reality, perhaps has some kind of existential claim on your life. Not only who you are, but more than that, that if God exists, and He exists in the Christian sense of wanting to be in relationship with you as an individual, as a person, as beloved, that is a much farther leap, I guess you could say, than just, again, an intellectual assent. So walk us along that journey.

Yeah, I really like how you put that, because I was just thinking here about how every topic in philosophy that touches the human experience is a topic of great significance, and yet somehow it's possible to sort of isolate the significance away. So we can sort of just concentrate on it, just using pure analysis, right?

But then once I've thought about them purely abstractly, I can stand back, and I can be like, “Wow! This is so important! If I exist, that matters. If my thoughts exist, that matters. If I'm the kind of being that's not reduced to a scatter of particles, that's huge.” That makes a claim on my life, because that implies something about my power, my power to discipline my mind, to take thoughts captive, to think about people, to think to honor people, to think positively, rather than to think, “Well, I have no power anyway. It's the mindless molecules churning in my brain that's making me do what I'm doing anyway.”

And so I love your question, because there is a kind of leap or gap between the pure intellectual description of, let's say, God as being real, loving me, entering into the world through history to demonstrate His love in specific ways. There's a way of thinking about that very abstractly. And then there's a way of thinking, “Oh, wait a minute! This applies to my life. This makes a difference to me.”

And I almost wonder… I've thought about this. My wife and I will talk about this, how to be able to darken your mind to the significance of something, it’s both a blessing and a curse, because I think that…. Well, the curse is sort of obvious. It's like you lose sight of everything that matters. You're just analyzing without any care about what this means, right? But I think the blessing is that you can actually get a certain power to not be distracted. And this goes back to that worry earlier in my journey about, like, I don't want to just believe what I want to be true. If I can darken my mind to what I want to be true, if I can darken my mind to why this even matters, and just think about the different theories, there’s a power in that, because then you can sort of see some things, clarify some things, make some progress that maybe if you're thinking a lot about its significance, it might be harder to do that. I'm not saying it's impossible to do that, but really, at the end of the day—this is the reason why I really like your question—these things go together. You can't just spin your webs of reason and come up with a theory and have it not ultimately make a difference.

This is why I care about this so much, because these things do have a claim on our lives. It does make a difference. If God is real, and He is an intelligent power Who knows you and loves you and has demonstrated that in various ways in history, in culture, that means something about our lives. To me, it's a very inspiring thing. It implies that there's hope when we go through trials. It's not just a waste. All of this can be used for greater good. All of it is used for greater good because the fundamental reality has the resources to do that and has the intelligence to do that and is good. So it's going to be aimed to do that. And so that does make a lot of sense to me, but I almost have to be reminded of that, to be honest. I have to be reminded, “Josh, what's the significance?” Like, “Oh, I'm just interested in this puzzle over here. The significance is the puzzle and how you might solve it intellectually.” Well, that's my joy. I like to do that. I like puzzles, to be honest. I love it. But at the end of the day, what I hope is that that work that I do can then serve people, help ignite their fire of excitement to be alive in this world, that it's a bigger world, that there's a meadow of truth, beauty, and goodness out there, more of God to discover. And yet there's, I think, a confidence we can have if we're known, we're loved, if reality is designed in a way that supports us. It’s not just mindless or meaningless in the end.

Wow. Your story is so important, I think. Very significant in so many ways. I love from the very beginning, like you say, you were raised in a Christian home, but yet they gave you the freedom to go and explore when you had doubts. That there was a safety, there was a security there, there was still unconditional love. You took that path. You investigated in a very cerebral way, and it seems to me a very fair way, that you were looking at all sides of the issue because you were genuinely searching for truth. You wanted to understand and make sense of reality, and you're still on that journey. But that once the pieces started coming together, that it made more sense than not to have a transcendent mind and a source for everything you see and observe and that the pieces started coming together, that you were willing again to take that step, again towards truth, even though it was kind of back towards theism, in a direction you weren't sure you were going to go.

But it was more than just theism. It was like we were just talking about. It was something that and Someone who had a claim on your life. How old were you, or when did that happen? Did it just kind of happen gradually through your studies that you came to this sense of… it sounds like a fairly confident knowledge. Nothing is certain, right? But there was a confidence in what you were finding, that it moved towards God and the person of Christ in history and the claims that it made on your life, that you were finding that confidence through graduate school. It sounds like you were on a search for a few years to try to really…. Again, I get the real sense that you're never finished, quite finished with what you're learning because you're so open and you're so real towards and desirous of wanting to know what's true.

Yeah.

Right. Yeah, I appreciate that question because I think, for me, there was a kind of incremental process, and I think people can relate to this, where there's stones you turn over, and you kind of come back and check certain things. But it was not sort of an all-at-one sort of thing. I also want to add here that there are different kinds of questions.

So some things I have more of a confidence about than other things. One of the things that I think was pretty early, didn't even take years, was that there is a space of reality that has unlimited power and also has intelligence. That came pretty early. And it's not that therefore I didn't continue to think about that or analyze that. Obviously I have, but I would say later steps brought in more details and more thoughts about, “Oh, well, how does this relate—this fundamental intelligence—how does it relate to consciousness? How does it relate to my mind? How does it relate to numbers?” Going back to those childhood questions, right? Numbers, how does that go together?

So those are things that I would think about, then kind of continuing on. And then some things just seem clearer to me than others. Some things are kind of more on the edges of my thinking, which I end up liking to talk about those, because those are the opportunities for more exploration. But some things are clear, and I would say one of the things that has become quite clear to me is that mindless dust just cannot turn into conscious beings, that this is just not a possibility. There's ways of arguing for that in different directions, ways of being nuanced about it, but personally, this is one of those things where… that feels quite clear to me. So that's one of those things.

But there are other things that are maybe less clear, about how mind and body go together. I have some theories about that. How God's mind connects with mathematics. I have some ideas about that. Maybe more than ideas, maybe even some viewpoints about that. But they're not like the clarity things, the clarity that I exist, that consciousness exists, and that mindless stuff on its own doesn't just turn into conscious things. Those things have become pretty clear to me.

Yeah. Again, it's amazing to me that your curiosity that obviously was with you as a child has not stopped, but it just has grown. And I appreciate your appreciation for us as limited and finite, but capable and able to know certain things and to grow in our knowledge and to be open towards learning as we're pursuing truth. I just so appreciate that about you. 

Josh, I know that there are so many skeptics who are curious and actually really do want to know what is true, and perhaps they're not really sure how to seek as you have, and I wondered if you could speak to the curious skeptic who might be listening in and appreciating your very rigorous intellectual journeying. Would you have any words of advice for them, how to seek after truth?

Yeah. I think that, for me, I can kind of just speak from my own experience that what helped me the most was to feel this combination of a freedom to just search and to have no belief as being, in principle, not open to inquiry, just to not be afraid to just examine that, to let there be no fences that say, “Hey, you can't look over there. That's going too far.” And then also—I mentioned for me it felt like it took a certain courage to face truth, to face reality, whatever it might be. But I also felt like there was something about like not losing hope to look for meaningful truths that… I call these treasures. These are insights that would be valuable if they are true. There's always the worry, I think, for a skeptic, that you might be sort of biasing yourself in a way.

But, I mean, look, I met my wife Rachel, out of a certain kind of bias to find somebody who would connect with me whom I thought was beautiful, virtuous, awesome, like, the most exciting. And there was a time in that relationship where it was just uncertain. And all my friends said, “Yeah, I don't think I would pursue that kind of uncertainty.” My dad was the one voice who said, “You’ll never know what you're missing if there's a possibility here.” So I was biased. I pursued that. I pursued her. And there was a truth that that relationship not only could work, but would turn into a very beautiful relationship. That could have been a truth that I might have missed. It's interesting. I'll tell you this little story. I don't think I've ever shared this on any of my podcasts or anywhere. It has to do with secret messages. So people have heard that, before I married Rachel, before we even dated, I created a little scavenger hunt with clues leading to clues leading to a marriage proposal. So people know about that. So she found those clues.

But what people have not heard is that there was a previous relationship where I was in that relationship, and I put a clue in a note to her expressing my affection for her, but it was one of those clues that it wasn't obvious. It wasn't like I explicitly made it. You had to kind of decode something. She never found that. She never discovered that.

Okay. Yeah.

So she never…. There was a truth there about me, for her, that she never actually found. And that's okay. I mean, it's part of a greater story for me, because then I met Rachel, and for her, too, she found her path. But the point is that there can be truths out there that are treasures, and seeking those treasures can make a positive difference. Like, there are actual truths that the seeking of them can actually help you find those truths, and if you don't seek them, you might not even find them, even though they are there. That's why I say there's a risk in seeking for a treasure, because you might be disappointed. Absolutely. And many people maybe have been disappointed many times over.

And I want to suggest that, if you're disappointed many times over, let the box go. Don't try to find another path to that box. But maybe there's a view of reality that's bigger. Maybe there's a vision of God's love, God's nature that looks a little different from the box that you can't defend anymore. Okay. Because we all have these concepts of God, and I think some concepts have to break away for God's Spirit to reveal something greater for us.

So that's kind of my message. It's a message to my own self, in a way, to seek the truth and also seek the treasure. Do them both. Both take courage. Don’t give up. You're going to find the truths that are going to be so meaningful for you and for others. So there you go.

Yeah, no. That's beautiful. And it makes me wonder, Josh. I know that we commonly hear that there is no evidence for God, and so there is this sense in which there is no truth there to seek. And I wondered what you might say about or to someone who says there is no evidence for God.

Yeah. It would be sort of easy for me to say, “Well, there's lots of evidence for God.” And I do think that, but there's something else that I found personally helpful, and it has to do with seeking for the truths that are in line with your deepest pain points. And I think if you think of truths as a set of keys, truths unlock doors. Not every truth. And not every truth about God is the same, and not every key sort of is… I guess the most direct thing I want to say is not everybody needs or desires every key at the same time. I think we're all, in a way, missing more of the treasures in God's nature. Every single person, there's always more to see. And so this is why I want to emphasize the diversity of truths, the diversity of keys, and to say, “Yes, absolutely, there's evidence that's going to help you see the treasures.” Absolutely.

Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Josh's story. You can find out more about his work and his writings, as well as other information, in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website at sidebstories.com. I hope you enjoyed it, that you'll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.


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