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« Operation Gratitude Continues | Main | Dismantlement by Press Release »

December 28, 2007


John Allen Paulos

I appreciate the link to the excellent Wolpe-Harris debate in your comment on my "consistently cloying" book, Irreligion. "Cloying," in my opinion, however, is an adjective more readily applicable to religious discourse. Is not, to cite a single salient example, Francis Collins' epiphany that a frozen waterfall somehow pointed to the truth of Christianity cloying in the extreme? Anyway, thanks for your perspective. It seemed honest and heartfelt.


Francis Collis, the head of the Human Genome Project, described his turn from atheism to religion as follows (http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/08/07/collins/print.html):

“I became an atheist because as a graduate student studying quantum physics, life seemed to be reducible to second-order differential equations. Mathematics, chemistry and physics had it all. And I didn't see any need to go beyond that. Frankly, I was at a point in my young life where it was convenient for me to not have to deal with a God. I kind of liked being in charge myself.

“But then I went to medical school, and I watched people who were suffering from terrible diseases. And one of my patients, after telling me about her faith and how it supported her through her terrible heart pain, turned to me and said, "What about you? What do you believe?" And I stuttered and stammered and felt the color rise in my face, and said, "Well, I don't think I believe in anything."

“. . . . [I read] "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. And within the first three pages, I realized that my arguments against faith were those of a schoolboy. . . .

“Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me. After I had struggled with this for a couple of years, I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. . . . At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me.”

Collis says the waterfall had three parts to it, which he treated as “the symbolic three in one” of Christianity, and the next morning he fell on his knees and accepted Christianity as true.

The wonder of a waterfall might occasion a receptiveness to religious faith in general, not simply Christianity. In any event, it does not seem cloying for him to describe the moment in which he began to see with eyes not blinded by reliance solely on human reason.

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