|by Jeff Smith|
At seven I decided I was an agnostic. I knew I wasn't an atheist, because I wasn't sure if God existed or not. I knew I wasn't a Christian, because my parents didn't go to a church and the one time I did, for my cousin's wedding, I didn't see God there.
I was very aware of evolution. Like most boys, I loved dinosaurs. I could pronounce ``pachycephalosaurus'' by the time I was five. I loved to read, and I read about dinosaurs and, indirectly, evolution. I remember scanning our elementary school library for dinosaur books when I was in second grade and finding a nice fat one at the top of the shelves. It basically traced the known history of life through the dinosaurs. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said ``paleontologist.''
With evolution, there didn't seem to be much need for God, so I just ignored the subject until I was twelve. Along the way, I got interested in outer space, rocketry, science fiction, astronomy, cryptozoology, and flying saucers. This was the '60s, by the way, and the U.S. space program was in full bloom. (For you Internauts, the space program was the Internet of the '60s.)
Cryptozoology is the study of ``hidden animals'': the Abominable Snowman, sea serpents, the Loch Ness monster, and many others. I was rather surprised at the vehemence with which cryptozoologists were attacked by other zoologists. Both groups appeared to be scientists, but the scientific method seemed to be lost when emotions became involved. I saw the same thing as I read about flying saucers. There seemed to be some credible sightings, but these were vigorously contested by scientists who hadn't been there. Gradually it dawned upon me that science wasn't just the cool pursuit of truth: people brought along their emotions, opinions, and beliefs too.
At that time, 1968, I had just gotten a clock radio. I was an avid radio listener for sports, sports programs, and talk shows about flying saucers and the paranormal. There was a talk radio host who specialized in those subjects, and while I was looking for him one evening, I ran across a man vigorously and confidently attacking evolution. ``Well, let's hear what the religious nut has to say,'' I thought. He was convincing, but I wasn't convinced. Still, I became a regular listener of Garner Ted Armstrong on the World Tomorrow program.
I learned some basic anti-evolution arguments. There is the problem of theevolution of the eye, where any less efficient structure means the creature cannot survive in the wild to evolve further. Then there is a fish named anableps: it has four eyes, which it uses to scan the air above and thewater below while it cruises at the surface. Without both sets of eyes, it cannot survive attacks from above or catch fish from below. The issue is how such a structure evolved and why, when fish without these eyes survived and co-existed with the four-eyed fish.
The evolution of whales was also a puzzler: As they evolved from surface to the water, their young had to flip from head-first births to tail-first. This had to happen the first time they gave birth in the water and every time afterward, or they would die as a species. At the same time, their nostrils had to move from their faces to the top of their heads-any other location and they would die. At the same time, inthe fossil record there was a lack of ``intermediate forms'', as Charles Darwin put it. There was no evidence of ``pre-whale'' forms. Whales just appeared, soon after the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
I was troubled by these arguments but not convinced. All the scientists in the world couldn't be wrong, could they? But there was no systematic defense of these attacks. Rather, the evolution texts I read just seemed to ignore the difficulties. At the same time, I became friends with a Jehovah'sWitness. He loaned me an anti-evolution tract, which I found convincing. At the same time, I read some Seventh-day Adventist literature, which was also against evolution and pro-Bible.
I began to study cosmology, which is the study of the history and origins of the universe. There were two prevailing theories at that time (1969): the steady state theory and the big bang theory. In the steady state theory, as the universe expanded, hydrogen atoms were created in the spaces left behind. This theory accounted for the creation of hydrogen and also the ``hidden'' matter that seemed to make up much of the universe. The observable universe seems too low in mass to account for some of observable properties, such as the gravitational constant and the rate of expansion.
The big bang theory proposes that all the matter was gathered together at one time in the past, and that it expanded from that point to the present universe. The observation of the background radio wave radiation predicted by this theory has pretty much confirmed it. Steven Hawking's theories about the expansion of the early universe have pushed back the account to a fraction of a second after the explosion-or more properly, expansion, since its development seems to have been smooth and orderly, leading to the structure of our current universe, with galaxies of stars, groups of galaxies, groups of groups, and perhaps even groups of groups of groups.
I was more sympathetic to the steady state theory, because it quite obviously required creation of matter, and by inference, a Creator. I was mildly surprised to discover that I actually wanted God to exist. As I thought about this, I realized I wanted there to be a higher power, Someone who could and would step in and straighten out mankind's mess. However I wasn't convinced-until the day I realized that the Big Bang theory also required aCreator. Both theories require matter to come from nothing. This was further strengthened when I realized that the matter of the Big Bang should be a black hole, from which nothing would escape. Why had it expanded against gravity? Unlike the other forces of the universe, gravity is endlessly additive, ever increasing in strength until it overcomes all other forces, even the strong nuclear force.
When I realized that God had to exist for the universe to exist, I was delighted. I had hope that the world wouldn't continue to spiral downward into war and crime.
Then I became sick with the flu and had to have bed rest for a couple of days. In boredom, and because of Mr. Armstrong's urgings that his audience read the Bible, I read theBible, going from Genesis to Chronicles, with Revelation thrown in as well. I started thinking, ``I need some help to understand this.'' I wrote away forThe Plain Truth magazine, published by the Worldwide Church of God. Mr.Garner Ted Armstrong was replaced by his father, Herbert Armstrong, on the radio. He was even more assertive of my need to develop a personal relationship with God and the need to study the Bible. I wrote away for the Bible Correspondence course. Mr. Armstrong spoke of prophecy, especially concerning the United States, so I wrote away for booklets on prophecy.
The first key prophecies I learned about were proofs of the Bible: the fall of the ancient city of Tyre, which was predicted in Ezekiel 26 to be covered by the sea and never rebuilt to this day; the fall of Babylon and its continuous desolation, described in Isaiah 47; and the sequence of world kingdoms from the book of Daniel: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. All tied closely to world history and convinced me that the Bible was God's word.
I began to realize that I had to do something about the things I was learning about God, the Bible, and Jesus. By this time, I had read the Bible through and had gotten a modern English New Testament. I realized I should keep the Ten Commandments, and I also realized I was guilty of breaking them and hundreds of other commands in the Old Testament and New Testament.
I was now a sophomore in high school. One of my acquaintances had become a ``Jesus Freak'', or as we would say today, a ``born again'' Christian. He wore a large wooden cross on his neck at school. He came up to me and apologized for his past behavior to me. He said that I had to give my heart to Jesus. He said that I had to ask Jesus to come into my life. At the same time on the radio, Mr. Herbert Armstrong was urging people to look to Jesus as their high priest for forgiveness of their sins. He was quite emphatic: ``A hundred years of perfect commandment keeping won't wipe out one sin. But Jesus can.''
So I prayed for the first time, late at night, on my bed. I felt really awkward, as if I were talking to myself. But I knew God existed, I knew the Bible was His word, and I knew He heard what I said. I gave myself to Him, and asked Him to come into my heart. It seemed like I prayed a long time, but it was only five minutes.
Later, after I was attending the Worldwide Church of God, I was baptized into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The minister laid hands on me,and I took that as the conveyance of the Holy Spirit into my mind. I didn't feel anything-spirit cannot be felt. But I was thrilled because I knew I had eternal life. Somehow, despite all my sins, God wanted me to live forever,and counted me as righteous.
Years later, when I had doubts about whether I was really saved or whether Christianity was real or a big lie, I thought, ``How did the big change in my life come about?'' Before I was converted, I was normal: I was focused onmyself, my goals, my pleasures, without concern for other people, except how they affected me. And I was unhappy. After God had worked with me, I focused on others' needs and on making them happy. And I discovered that by giving to others, I was happy. What was the motivation for a selfish person to become unselfish? Why would I change directions? Why would my mind change? How did I become absolutely sure of God's existence and the truth of His Bible? In the book of James is the answer-God gives faith (James 1:17; see also Eph. 2:8). God gave me belief in Him and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ``No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him'' (John 6:44). That is the reason I am not an agnostic. I have evidence in my own life and in my own mind of God's work.