When CS Lewis became a Christian, he described himself as the most “reluctant convert in all England.” When I converted, I felt as if that title had passed on to me.
As a child I had been taken to church off and on. I found it boring and cold, and I hated being made to sing songs with silly actions. Church definitely wasn’t for me. However, I wasn’t an atheist. Deep down I felt that there must be a god and, as I got older, I found myself more intrigued by who that god might be. As I approached adulthood, I had even started trying to talk to this god, feeling ridiculous as I did so, even though it was in private. At some point during school I had been given a Gideon New Testament which I began to flick through. I found the stories intriguing, but I couldn’t accept it as anything more than that – just stories, with perhaps some wise advice for life thrown in.
When I had to choose which areas of study to specialize in, I knew I wanted to focus on science. Academically I was better at English and humanities, but I’d always been fascinated by the world, by nature, and most of all, by humans. Perhaps that draw towards the measurable and the natural, was one of the reasons I consciously rejected the Christian story. The presence of God was a strong possibility and the Bible contained some interesting stuff, but virgin birth and resurrection? A god who had become human – eaten fish and flipped tables? No. That wasn’t for me.
At 18, I went to university to study Biological Anthropology. In the first year I was doing modules on earth science, animal classification, statistics, and human evolution. I was also living in a four-person flat with three Christians from three different backgrounds: Catholic, Evangelical, and Seventh Day Adventist.
Until then, my image of Christianity had been shaped mostly by my experience of church as a young child. Christians were normal people who chose, for some reason, to do something really boring with their Sunday mornings. Suddenly, I came across a different kind of Christianity. Other Christian students were coming to our flat. They were singing songs and talking about God and praying for each other. This was real. It was their whole life, not an hour on a Sunday. I still had questions and I felt embarrassed about my own tentative attempts to find out about God, but I was moved by their commitment and their willingness to talk to me about it. I was struck in particular by Philip (the Seventh Day Adventist) who answered my questions and took any barbed comments about Christianity I threw his way. He wasn’t judgmental, but he also wouldn’t soften his faith to appease me.
By the time I was a year into my degree, I was becoming uncomfortable with my own beliefs. If I took as my hypothesis that the Christian message was true, was it right to reject it based only on my personal incredulity? I decided to look at the evidence for Christianity. I bought a book–The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel–and set to work proving to myself once and for all that the gospel wasn’t true. That book, combined with my own clumsy attempts to pray again, brought me to a conclusion I wasn’t ready for: Jesus was the Son of God; the gospel was true.
In the immediate aftermath of finding faith, I also found myself reeling. There was so much in the Bible or in the attitudes of Christians I saw in the media that I found difficult to accept. I couldn’t think of myself as a Christian – it was too alien. Christians were “they”, not “I”. I felt defensive, confused. Telling family and friends, the people I went to lectures with and studied with in the labs, was hard. Some of them–though not all–started questioning my intelligence and my ability to think for myself. These people changed their opinion of me from smart student to brainwashed fool. I wasn’t who people thought I was, but I didn’t know who I was either.
One thing that was immediately troubling to me was how to reconcile my new faith with my lifelong love of science. Most Christians I met seemed to fall into two categories: those who took the Bible and the story of creation completely literally, and those who didn’t think it mattered whether it was literal or not. I was told over and again that it wasn’t an important issue. But it was an important issue to me. It mattered because it would inform the entire way I interpreted the Bible–my whole, fragile faith rested on this.
Then, I was given a book.
It was actually an atheist friend of mine who gave me The Language of God by Francis Collins. She gave it to me as a gesture of support and encouragement in a faith she didn’t share, but didn’t condemn. As soon as I saw the image on the cover–a DNA double-helix unraveling to form a necklace with a cross on it–I knew I was going to love it.
The book opened my eyes to a side of Christianity I hadn’t known existed. I discovered a world where science and faith were not enemies, and where scientific research and service to Jesus could go together.
I then discovered the BioLogos website and found a community who would not judge me as unscientific for being a Christian, or unfaithful for being a scientist. I hadn’t realized there were so many people who were happy to study both the natural world and God’s word. I spent hours on the website finding answers to my questions. It wasn’t that BioLogos had the definitive answer on every matter of how theology related to the universe. But they had some answers, and they weren’t dismissive of the questions. It took months of uncertainty and defensiveness before I felt happy in my faith, but The Language of God and BioLogos helped steady my footsteps while the world was shifting around me.
In my final year at university, I had to design a campaign for some issue related to the public understanding of science. I naturally chose to create a course to explain the basics of evolutionary science to churches—giving all the credit to BioLogos. There were some snickers in the room when I explained that I hadn’t chosen this theme because I wanted to prove Christians wrong, but because I was a Christian—and for the first time I felt contentment in my profession.
Although I went on to become a writer, rather than to pursue a career in science, I never lost my sense of wonder both at the natural world and at the God who created it. I am still a scientist at heart, if not as part of my day job, and I still get excited about scientific breakthroughs. Over a decade since I first reluctantly accepted the gospel, I no longer have any conflict over my identity: I am a Christian, I love science, and I am OK with that.