Conversation with a teacher on a plane

Today, I was on a plane trip for business and was sitting next to a person who is a teacher of Electrical Engineering at a community college and also works at a local university. Initially, there was just the normal chit chat, then she started to sleep for a while, and I started to read the book that I brought with me:

Is God Just a Human Invention?
And Seventeen Other Questions Raised By The New Atheists

It is a fantastic book – this is my second time reading it – and while she was sleeping, I made it through chapter 1 (Is Faith Irrational?) and was starting to read chapter 2 (Are Science and Christianity at Odds?), when the flight attendants came by and asked if we wanted a snack or to order any food, which woke her up and got me to stop reading.

So, after we were given our snacks, we both started to eat and then started to engage again in some conversation. There was a lot of talk about why there are not that many women in technology fields and other various topics.
Then at one point I saw an opportunity to bring up a “theological term” in the context of our conversation (which I then explained). That gave her an opening to ask me about the book I was reading. She’d noticed it and was curious what it was about. I read the title to her and she asked who the author was. So, I handed her the book, (open to the table of contents) so she could see all of the titles of the chapters. she also took note of the editors/authors, Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, from the back of the book.
After taking note of that, she asked me, “So what’s your position on these topics?” That was a good sign, that she was willing to talk about these topics! I’m guessing that she thought maybe I was a skeptic, who was investigating the truth of the Christian worldview. So I told her that I was a Christian.
What ensued over the next 1.5-2 hours was an in-depth conversation about science, religion and (specifically) Christianity. It was a great conversation – we were very respectful, calm and engaged, listening to each other as we learned about our respective worldviews.
We started this part of the conversation talking about the existence of God. I quickly found out that she is a person who, though being in a technical field herself, believes that there are many truths, and many realities. Each person can have their own truth that is meaningful to them. I also found out that she doesn’t really find the questions about God as relevant to her daily life. I suggested to her that questions of our ultimate destination are in fact meaningful to everyone on the earth. That is one issue that we will all have to face. assessing what we will experience on the other side of the door of death. She, however, feels that our behavior and how we get along as people here on earth, and well as preserving the earth are the most important things. During the conversation, I tried to explain to her, the nature of my faith – that, all humans are like jurors who are hearing both sides of a case from opposing “expert witnesses”. We have to evaluate what is said by the opposing expert witnesses and determine which case seems more reasonable. So, my faith is not a “mystical” thing – not a blind faith – but rather that I view the existence of God and the Christian view of the nature of Jesus to be the best inference from the evidence that we have available.That being said, I do have faith in Jesus, which is really a synonym for trust. This seemed to really puzzle her, and she communicated that she does not believe that there’s any evidence for the existence of God and that faith is an individual thing that is meaningful to the person. She was curious to know what I thought was evidence for the existence of God. So I talked about the universe and the fact that it had a beginning – that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. We now know from science that the universe began to exist – that is – all space time and matter came into being at the Big Bang. So, whatever was the cause of the universe had to be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. She seemed to take issue with me saying it had to be. Additionally at this point, she brought up the question of who created God? To which I responded, since the beginning of the Big Bang was the beginning of time, the cause of the universe must be timeless, that is eternal.
She was wondering what the current scientific response to what I was saying was. I explained that the current thinking is what is called the multiverse. She was completely unfamiliar with that term. So I explained that the multiverse is a sort of universe generator, which supposedly has generated innumerable other undetectable universes, and that we just happen to be in the universe that appears to be designed for life, and thus, are here and able to observe it. Then, she was curious about my statement that the universe appears to be designed for life. So, I explained about the cosmological constants and quantities that are fine-tuned to particular values which, had they been different, would prohibit the existence of life in this universe. She seemed to understand these constants and quantities, and I didn’t have to give any further explanation on that topic. But oddly enough, she was very hesitant to agree that the Big Bang is actually the explanation for the beginning of the universe. She clarified that this is the best that scientists can come up with right now, and that future scientific discoveries could change that.
I went on and continued to explain other evidence for the existence of God, such as the argument from the design of DNA (the informational equivalent of roughly 8000 books inside every DNA molecule) and the complexity of biological life at the cellular level.
During this conversation, we talked about many other topics and she raised many other objections against Christianity and theism in general – again, this was all done in a very congenial and friendly conversational way. There was no animus in the conversation at all.
Here’s a summary of what I think she believes.
She believes that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person (or someone like him actually existed).
She believes that the Bible was written so long ago that it’s hard for her to see it as being real. I clarified that the important time Gap is the time between the events, and when they were recorded, not the time between the events and today. We also had, at this point, and discussion about how she knows about the existence of George Washington, and his doings. I was trying to get her to agree that the same way she knows about (and trust the accounts of ) George Washington, is the same way she can know about Jesus.
She completely rejects all miracle reports. In response to this, I asked her, “if there is a God who created the universe and everything in it, isn’t it reasonable to believe that the Being who created the universe and established all the laws that govern it could alter how things occur inside the universe?” She countered with an example that, if a woman gives birth to a baby, does that mean the woman can control everything that happens inside the baby? I acknowledge that that was a good point, but the human mother and the baby are of the same species. But God in the universe are completely different. So I think the analogy fails.
She finds it more difficult to believe in the existence of a Creator of the universe than she does to believe that Jesus existed. At this point, I referred back to the cosmological argument that I’d talked previously with her about. I also emphasized that, if you think about it, there must have been something that was eternal, whether that be God, or the universe itself. One of them must have been eternal. Otherwise, there would be nothing at all. I asked her to consider the point, why is there something rather than nothing? She had a problem understanding the question, then I explained it and, again, she didn’t think it was irrelevant question. she, unlike me does not think about questions of our origin, or our destination.
Even if Jesus existed, and there were eyewitnesses of him, she doesn’t think that what he is reported to have said in the Bible is necessarily what he actually said. At this point, I spoke a little bit about the fact that the Bible was written as 27 books by 9 authors, over a period of 50 years, within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. so, with that information, what you have to evaluate is the reliability of these eyewitnesses. much in the same way that our criminal justice system evaluates eyewitnesses. Were they there and available to observe the event? Do they have any reason to lie?Is there corroboration from other sources? We also talked a little bit about the nature of eyewitness testimony and that diverging details are to be expected in authentic eyewitness testimony. In the case of the eyewitnesses that wrote down the historical accounts of Jesus, they were willing to go to their deaths proclaiming an account that they knew whether it was true or false.
She stated that the people who wrote it down wrote it down long after he lived.She also stated that these people couldn’t even write. In response to these assertions I explained that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is not even mentioned in the New Testament.So, that is evidence that the writing was before 70 AD oh, well the other eyewitnesses we’re still alive. also I mentioned to her that the apostle Paul, who wrote one half of the New Testament books was a scholar, so yes, he could write.
She talked about wars in the name of religion, and she talked about people who are “true believers” who do horrible things. I readily agreed with her on this point, that there are those who, throughout the history of Christianity, have done horrible things in the name of Christ. That grieves me as well.
She contrasted the behavior of atheists, with that of Christians, and suggested that sometimes, the atheists actually behave better because of the way that they were brought up. In response to this point I talked about how there is no one perfect, and that according to the Christian worldview, everyone has sinned.we are all guilty before God. She admitted to not really understanding what sin was. I explained that anything less than perfection was sin. I asked her if she had ever told a lie? She said yes but only in a moral dilemma where it was better to lie than to tell the truth so as not to hurt someone. I asked her about stealing and lust. She would not admit to doing anything wrong (wow). But yet, when she agreed that no one was perfect, I explained that God’s standard is perfection, so in this sense, everyone is guilty before God. And I went on to emphasize, that wouldn’t this be a wonderful world if everyone did follow those rules listed out in the ten commandments, that they would love their neighbors theirselves, that they would respect and honor their parents, that they would not lie, steal, commit adultery and she agreed that this would be a utopia if that were the case.

She believes that the term Christian can mean whatever the person feels it too mean. She personally believes that Christian is more of a disposition, or a way of behaving. That we say that when someone is kind to another or charitable, they are acting “Christian”. I asked her, since she’s also an anthropologist, whether she knew what the origin of the term Christian was. Oddly, she thought that didn’t matter. I told her that Christian means follower of Christ, or little Christ. I also asked her at this point what she thought that Jesus would think about this issue. What would he consider a Christian?of course, since she doesn’t think that we have the actual words that Jesus spoke, she claimed to have no idea what Jesus would think about this.

We talked a little bit about evolution. She said she didn’t know whether I believed in evolution. I asked her, “what do you mean by evolution? If you mean change over time, I certainly believe it, it is undeniable. However, if you mean that all life forms on earth today descended from a single cell organism in the distant past, I don’t think that the fossil evidence supports that assertion.”. I went on to explain that in Darwin’s day, there was limited knowledge of the fossil record, but now over a hundred and fifty years later, we have explored much more of it, and are still unable to find the evolutionary precursors of many of the existing life-forms today. At this point, I also mentioned the Cambrian explosion. She was unfamiliar with it. I talked about how over 20 of the current phyla of animals came into existence in a “geological instant” – with no precursors found in the fossil record. This fossil evidence demands an explanation. She didn’t have an answer for this topic. However, she said that she thought Christians in the 19th century were against evolution, not based on scientific evidence, but rather, because it conflicted with their view of the world. She also mentioned that there are Christians who evidently believed that the universe is only 4,000 years old. So we continued on this topic and I explained to her the controversy between old earth creationists and young earth creationists. she was surprised to learn that there are in fact old earth creationists who accept the scientific dating of the universe and of the earth, yet still believe that God was the creator of the universe.I explained to her the different meanings of the Hebrew word for day and how there are many Christians who interpret “day” to mean “age” or “epoch”, not a normal 24 hour period. I also explained to her the young earth creationists contend that there are assumptions built into the scientific dating methods and therefore they are unreliable, and have shown at times to be unreliable when samples of known age are submitted to laboratories for testing and I received back with much longer ages than known age. At this point, I also talked a little bit about the historical situation in the 16th century with Galileo. How at that time there were the “fixed earthers” who believed that the sun rotates around the earth and who believe that the earth must be stationary, because the Bible says that it is fixed in space and rests on pillars. Then there were those (including Galileo) who believed that the earth rotated around the sun. Nowadays, hardly anyone, Christian or secular, believes that the earth is fixed in space. We unanimously believe the evidence which suggests that the earth rotates around the sun. It is non-controversial. I think that one day we may get there on the age of the universe, where all Christians come to accept the scientific consensus without controversy. We also talked about the problem of distant starlight. I told her that I typically try to stay out of those controversies about the age of the earth and the age of the universe. Normally I remain engaged on the topics of the existence of God, the design life, and the resurrection of Jesus.

So, all of this dialog occurred in a very respectful way, and was interspersed in our conversation. She didn’t bring up all these objections at once. During the course of the conversation, I tried to answer most of her objections. We spoke for a long, long time, so there was a lot of back-and-forth conversation. I wouldn’t even call it a debate.
I wish I’d had a tape recorder running, because I would’ve loved to be able to go back and hear all the things that she brought up and how I’d responded to them.I certainly did not list them all here. Overall, it was a very good conversation and we ended the conversation on a positive tone. It sounded like much of what I was telling her in response to her objections she had never heard before.
So, I think it was a successful encounter. Earlier in the day, I’d been praying to God for the opportunity to talk to someone on the flight. Then as all the passengers were boarding the plane, and I was already seated, while they were walking down the aisle, I was praying that God would be preparing someone to sit next to me who’d be ready to hear what I would have to say. I feel that He did answer that prayer! I will be praying for her, that maybe I put a stone in her shoe, and gave her something to think about, something to annoy her (in a good way). I didn’t share the gospel in a classic sense, but I did talk about God, Jesus, sin, heaven, hell, and faith, so we covered just about all the basics.
Thank you Lord for blessing me with this great opportunity. May you make it fruitful. In Jesus’ holy and precious name I pray, Amen.
Advertisements

One thought on “Conversation with a teacher on a plane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s