Confessions of an Athiest: The Challenge

As an introduction to those who might be wondering whether I am a “true scientist” or how Science and Religion might be seen to be in “conflict” at least in my life, it might be worthwhile to start by saying that I have 16 US patents and 8 pending patent applications in the fields of chemistry, nanotechnology, semiconductor technology and clean energy.  I have more than 10 peer-reviewed publications in the same fields and I have a Master’s Degree in Chemistry.  I have more than 25 years hands-on scientific experience in these fields plus I have worked with dozens of top scientists to develop their own ideas into new patents.  Further, I believe that the scientific method is an incredibly useful tool to understand the Universe.  Throughout my career I have honed these skills and come to understand many technological fields outside my specialties because I have always had a ferocious curiosity to learn about the Universe in general (and many other fields, e.g. history).  However, I have also come to understand that the “typical” scientific search for facts can obscure or neglect a more basic search.  As two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus said:  “Science is the search for truth”, without any further qualifiers.

A commonly accepted definition for Science among many scientists is the search for understanding about the Universe WITHOUT ANY REFERENCE TO A POSSIBLE ROLE FOR GOD.  This means that Science can be misinterpreted as being a method to explain the Universe without any possibility of invoking a Creator.  For example, the “Big Bang” is interpreted as a “Big explosion” that “just happened” rather than the possibility that a Creator caused it to happen.   Also, since Science is commonly accepted as being authoritative, many people can be deceived into believing that Science legitimizes the Non-Existence of God (or at least that God has no possible Scientific proof).  That is a limiting assumption.  A better and much less limiting definition of Science is to use the tools of science AND imagination AND ALSO faith to search for the Truth of the Universe WITHOUT LIMITING ASSUMPTIONS!!  That is the true definition of Science.  Unfortunately, not everyone (or even not many) scientists accept this.  The following Witness is an explanation of how a curious scientist came to question that limiting assumption about Science and some other intriguing questions….

For those who already believe in a Creator, and as your brother in Christ and someone who has not always or even often acted that way, I am writing this to you in the hope that it will help you in your journey to the Lord.  As you consider the role that you will allow the Lord to play in your life and how you need to respond to the call that He is offering, perhaps the long journey that He has taken me on may be helpful to you.  I pray that it will uplift you just as the Grace and Mercy that He has shown in my life (although I often was oblivious to it).  For those who do not believe that there is a Creator, I hope that you will read the following true narrative with an open mind and perhaps seek to know more and to ask questions as I (eventually) did.

I will begin with the most significant misperceptions that I accepted as a child in becoming a steadfast Atheist, despite the contradictions that that implies.   My early church life did not impress me at all and I was MUCH more interested in Science and things associated with Science.   As a young boy I had been fascinated by Dinosaurs and therefore I saw it is inevitable or “reasonable” that Evolution would provide a perfectly adequate explanation for the existence of the Earth and the life on it (or so I thought at the time).  It is strange and ironic that my “faith in Science” led me to accept Evolution and the seeming irrelevancy of belief in God and ultimately a complete denial of His existence WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE.  That is a completely unscientific assumption.  No evidence underpinned my belief in God’s non-existence and the adequacy of Science and the “coolness of modern technology” to explain the Universe and life on Earth.  I just “believed” the lie without any evidence!!  Not very scientific (or wise) of me!

Despite my belief in the adequacy of Science to underpin my belief structure and irrelevance of Faith, I still felt (again without evidence) that it was “a good idea” to be kind to people and to be honest (more or less-more often less than more).  Further I didn’t begrudge other people their belief in God.  I thought that the world was a tough place and if people needed a “misguided belief” in God to get them through their lives then they were welcome to it.  There was much condescension in this belief because I felt I was “more enlightened” and had “no need of a false belief in God”.   This attitude persisted throughout my life despite many attempts by people who loved me to get through to me.  In retrospect, I see God’s hand very vividly in many of these efforts and in many such circumstances, but I was completely oblivious to them at the time (or perhaps those efforts were being “deflected” – the latter seems more likely, but please keep reading and you will come to understand why I now believe that).

Something significant did seem to change in my life when my wife Marie had a powerful conversion (she had been baptized Roman Catholic but she was certainly a lapsed Catholic when we married – we married in my mother’s Episcopalian/Anglican church).   Marie had a series of powerful dreams including that of a Dragon and a direct call from the Lord.  She became a regular church goer (several times a week) and this was so contradictory to her previous behavior that I had great difficulty accepting it (“Where is the woman that I married???”).  She even tried directly to convert me from Atheism to belief in God but after a series of arguments, she resolved to simply pray for me (quietly) and she did so.  For the next two years, Marie and her Sisters in Christ in the “Mothers in Christ” group led off their prayers every week with a prayer for me, the unbelieving Atheist husband!  Of course, I didn’t know it at the time.  It was the “heavy artillery” of prayer.  Never underestimate that!    Even though I was unaware of it at the time, the Lord was making good use of my wife’s prayers and setting me up for a big shock soon after that.  That big shock “happened” in April of 1995, but I will digress a little to explain another large influence on my life, i.e. a girl named Sharon who introduced me to her friend Marie in 1983.

I first met Sharon in 1975 in High School Physics class.  I thought of her as the prettiest girl in School.  She was vivacious and exciting and interesting in every that a young teen-aged boy could imagine.  She was a year ahead of me but we were in the same Physics class because I was trying to get ahead a year.   When I first entered that Physics class, I saw Sharon sitting at the middle table and I sat right across from her.  My plan was to impress her with my knowledge of Physics (rudimentary indeed in 1975) and see if I could manage to gather the courage to ask her out.   Well my plan “worked” (at least a little), and she seemed to be impressed with at least my energy level and I ended up offering to tutor her in Physics.  She was very bright, but simply the most disorganized person that I have ever met.  I helped improve her Physics grade and we became fast friends.  Also, despite my efforts, she continued to date many other boys but she always considered me a friend.  I continued to “be there” for her as she went through a succession of boyfriends.  I made no secret of my wish to date her, but she always demurred and I was content (more or less) to be her friend.  That continued for seven years!   Finally, she introduced me to a girlfriend of hers (Marie) and I fell hard for her instead.   Both Marie and I had a falling out with Sharon over a big phone bill (we were sharing an apartment at the time) and she was not invited to our wedding in 1985, to my shame.

In fact, I didn’t see Sharon again until 1994.  We had all become friends again as she had purchased a home in Vermont near our family cottage on Lake Champlain and we all met there a few times with our respective families.  Sharon had married a year later than us and had moved to Texas.  She had a powerful conversion of her own early in the 1990’s when she had witnessed an image of the Cross on the Moon.   So, in a quite interesting reversal of circumstances, she ended up visiting us with her family in our home in Ottawa, Canada during March of 1995.  So one night late as I was playing a computer game in the basement of our home, Sharon came into the computer room to speak with me.   She asked me a rather direct and disturbing question (at least to me).  She asked me why I did not believe in God.   I responded in a rather smug way, that I did not need a false belief to “comfort me”, and besides it was only because life was so difficult that people believed in God.   At that point Sharon made an observation about belief in God that had never occurred to me- WHY WOULD THAT BE THE CASE?  She remarked that perhaps it was the difficulties of life that OPENED UP people’s minds to the possibility of God because they realized that they NEEDED SOMEONE and that at other times, their minds were closed.  After thinking about this for a moment, I was shocked to admit that I had not considered this possibility.  Or at least, I couldn’t think of any hole in the logic of it and I admitted this to Sharon.  She responded with a challenge.  It was in fact “Pascal’s Wager” which is rather classic challenge to unbelievers, but of course I didn’t know it then.   Sharon asked me as a scientist to conduct an “Experiment”.  She asked me to pray every day in a quiet way to “God” that if he was there, that he would reveal himself to me in a way that I could see and understand.   She said that it was a “simple experiment” and that as a scientist I could be interested in both the results and the effort itself and that I certainly had nothing to lose in trying the experiment.  I didn’t want to appear unreasonable, and there were still feelings of affection for Sharon after all those years, and besides, I thought that the “experiment” would be an interesting one.   So I agreed to her challenge for the next three weeks.   She seemed content by this as I promised to perform the experiment (challenge) as she had suggested.

So, Sharon went home to Texas and as I walked to work each day after that, I did as I had promised and I prayed to “God” (if he was there) to reveal himself to me in a way that I could understand in a clear way.   At the time, I had not considered the circumstances of her challenge or her visit to us or anything surrounding the events to be in any way significant.  Of course, I didn’t expect the prayers to “do anything”, but I had promised and I did as I had promised.  Now why would I consider keeping a promise to be important without a belief in God?

So nothing appeared to change, except that by an interesting “coincidence” I had a business trip to Texas two weeks after Sharon’s challenge.  I called Sharon before I left for Texas and told her which hotel I would be staying at.  She seemed distracted at the time on the phone but I thought nothing of it.  I continued my seemingly irrelevant prayers to God.   I arrived in Texas on a Friday evening and very soon after I arrived in my hotel room, the phone rang and it was Sharon.  She was crying despondently on the phone because of something that her husband had done.  She pleaded with me to come to her house and to help her and her family.  I wanted to help as Sharon seemed so devastated so I did as she asked.  When I arrived, Sharon and her children were crying and she told me what happened.  It seemed that her husband has been unfaithful to her and had announced to Sharon that he was abandoning her and now had a relationship with a stripper.  Furthermore, she would now be on her own with the kids!!   This was completely devastating to Sharon and she could not deal with it.  She also asked me to speak with her eight year-old son, who was also completely devastated.  After the kids were put to bed, I asked what I could do to help.  Sharon asked me to read out loud to her from the Bible.  I had never done this, but in wanting to do SOMETHING to help, it seemed like a very little thing.  I opened the Bible she gave me and read random passages as they appeared to me.  I was very surprised at the depth and meaning of the words and they seemed very relevant to the circumstances at hand (which seemed crazy to me).  I was impressed with the clarity and conciseness of the words in the Bible and their subtle power.  Sharon asked me to stay with her family until my business trip ended and so I did (I continued to pray my prayer every day as I had promised).  By another interesting “coincidence”, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was shut down for 48 hours by a very unseasonal ice storm in March and I was forced to stay with Sharon and her family (minus her husband) for another two days.  During that time, I continued to read from the Bible to her and her kids and she prayed out loud for her family (and for me!).   At the end of my stay, nothing had been resolved with Sharon’s husband and she was still devastated, so I encouraged her to return to Ottawa as soon as possible so that Marie and I could continue to try to do something to help.

So I returned home to my family and in a few days Sharon followed after arranging for her housekeeper to watch the kids for a couple of days.  By this time, Marie was very pregnant with our 4thchild, Sierra.  On the day after Sharon’s arrival, I was at work but I came home for lunch.  It was within a few days of the end of the three weeks that I had promised to continue praying to God for him to make a difference in my life.   When I arrived home for lunch, Marie met me in the kitchen and said that Sharon was in the basement and that there was something very wrong with her.  Marie was very busy with the kids and groceries and sent me to find out what was wrong.  When I went downstairs, I found Sharon curled up on the floor in a ball sobbing inconsolably.  She didn’t respond to my urgent request to find out what was wrong, so I picked her up and put her on the couch.  She then began to beg me to take care of her children.   I was confused but she was SO insistent and I wanted to help her so I finally agreed to her strange request.  Then she admitted what had happened.  It seemed that she had called her husband and he had informed her of his plan to take his new mistress to Europe with him.   She was totally unable to accept this and after he hung up on her, she decided to take her own life.  The only thing that kept her from this was her love for her kids and which is why she had asked me to take care of them.   I told her FIRMLY that I would not let her do this and BESIDES, “Where does it say in the Bible that when life gets too difficult that it is OK to escape by taking your own life?”  Now of course, I hadn’t read the Bible enough to know what it actually said and I didn’t know where the idea came from to say those words (Where do you think it came from?).  However, it had the desired effect.  Sharon was somewhat encouraged and I went on to say that we would get her some good counseling.  We found Sharon a Christian counselor in Ottawa and I escorted her to the sessions each day for three days.  The counselor was wonderful (Eastern Orthodox) and she prayed with both of us for ten minutes before each session.  I was very impressed indeed and Sharon recovered sufficiently to resolve to proceed with her life as a single mother and she returned home to Texas with the promise that both Marie and I would be available to speak with her at any time.

Two days later, which was a day before the end of the three weeks that I had promised to pray to God to make his presence known in my life, Sharon called me at work.  She was very angry with her husband.  She had been trying to speak with him to tell him how his actions had affected her, but he would no longer take her calls.   She was very angry and frustrated, as she could not tell him how bad she felt about his actions.  I did not know what to do, but in a strange flash of insight, (from where?), I suggested to Sharon that for the purposes of the phone call, I would take the place of her “sinning husband” and she could take out her anger on me.  I would take his “punishment” and the anger that he deserved.  Of course, I had no thought of the parallel to Someone Else who might have taken the punishment for me (and us).  I just thought it was a “good idea” (from where?).   So Sharon did as you might expect.  She shouted and screamed and swore and got out her anger on me.  After about five minutes of this she stopped, thanked me profusely and said good-bye.  I was rather pleased with myself as I considered that I had performed a good deed (Good Samaritan).  Of course, I didn’t think that there would be any other consequences.   This was NOT to be the case.  My prayers (and those of my wife and Sharon) were being answered but I didn’t know it at the time.

So that very day at work and as I walked home early I began to feel a terrible pain in my abdomen.  I didn’t know where it had come from and it was a pain unlike any I had ever felt in my life.  When I arrived home, Marie sent me to bed early (which never happens to me).  As I lay there in bed at around 7PM with Marie by my side, Sharon called us to thank me for my actions earlier in the day.  She told Marie what I had done for her and she was very grateful.  Marie told Sharon about my terrible stomach pain and she was surprised by this.  She felt that I should have been rewarded by God for being so generous in accepting someone else’s punishment and she asked Marie to let her speak with me.   Marie handed me the phone and Sharon explained to me that I should be rewarded for my actions and not to be punished.   I explained to her how I was feeling deeply weakened and even “under attack”.   As I said this to her, something totally unexpected happened to me and I have never heard of anything like it.   Although I was physically lying in bed beside Marie and speaking on the phone with Sharon, my awareness of that physical fact receded to nothing and I was “transported” out of my bed into another, very, very dark place.  This experience was NOT a dream, a daydream or an act of imagination, all of which I am very familiar with.  I had absolutely no control of this “journey” and I had no sensation of my body at all.   In fact, although I was completely unaware of it at the time, Marie was hugging me tightly and my body was flopping around like a fish out of water on the bed, but again I had absolutely no sensation of my body and I could not feel Marie or hear anything from her and I was not even aware of being in bed (the “physical world”).   The only thing that I was aware of (acutely spiritually aware of in that “spiritual world”) was that I was in a dark, dark cave or other horrible place.   The other overwhelming experience was of a terrible “apparition” in front of me of a huge malevolent dark “creature” with piercing red eyes.  He was perhaps seven feet tall with long clawed arms and black wings and his gaze with those red eyes was completely terrifying.  In my mind I recalled a childhood imaginary creature called the “Balrog” in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  I thought of this demon as a “Balrog”.  He loomed over me and stared at me with those terrible and horrible red eyes.  He looked into my soul and saw terror there and he laughed in a  terrifying manner.  I understand with a horrible certainty that the “pain in my stomach” was not a pain at all, but simple and complete abject terror.  I understood the sensation of being “scared to death”.  I was in terror to the point of feeling that I would die.  His laugh was not a normal laugh but rather a form of direct spiritual attack.   It left me feeling completely alone, and utterly helpless as well as terrified.     However, in the far distance as if someone was calling from outside the World itself, I could still hear Sharon’s voice on the phone calling insistently (but I had no feeling of a phone near me at all).  She somehow knew that I was being attacked spiritually. She “somehow” knew what to do about it.  She told me to trust her and she went to get her Bible.   She came back to the phone and she opened the Bible randomly with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance to find the correct passage.  It opened to the passage in Ephesians about Spiritual Warfare that she was looking for and that I needed very desperately.  She then told me in that terrible dark place to repeat the words from the Bible and to place my trust in Jesus.  I did as she said very eagerly indeed, because at that moment I was extremely desperate.  This is the passage from the Bible that I recited in my mind in response to her guidance:

Ephesians 6:10-17:

“Draw your strength from the Lord and from His mighty Power.  Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  For our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand fast with your loins girded in the truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.   And take the helmet of salvation and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”

As I repeated those words in that terrible dark place, I felt an overwhelming power and strength come over me from somewhere outside myself.  Even though it was still dark in that cave, I become clad in bright armor, on my left arm I gathered in a shield with a red cross upon it, and as I repeated the words “Sword of the Spirit”, there appeared in front of me on the ground a very long and incredibly bright sword.  I leaned over and tried to pick up the Sword but it was too heavy to do more than lift the hilt.   However, the power and electricity of those words and the real strength that they gave me (not from me but from SOMEONE ELSE) gave me Hope.  The Balrog in front of me STOPPED laughing, he turned away from that Sword which I had tried to hold in front of me.   He retreated somewhat and turned away looking over his shoulder with a look of clear fear and hatred as he shrank back from me or rather from the Sword.   At this, I was overcome with a sense of jubilant elation and my fear was cast out.   The terrible pain of deathly fear was removed from my body.   I knew then that that Demon no longer had total power over me although he was not dead.   As I stood there wondering at the incredible things that I was witnessing I became aware of another light in that dark place (other than the Sword).  Over my left shoulder I felt a presence and I could see a light.  I turned towards the light and saw a young man with great wisdom and compassion in his eyes, with long flowing hair to his shoulders and completely “surrounded” by light.  He looked at me with incredible empathy and a mixture of love and sadness at the things that I had had to experience to come to know the Truth.  Finally, I saw a strange bit of humor in the sparkle of his eyes at the ridiculous “Scientist” who had had to experience the powerful truth of the spiritual world that we all live with in addition to the physical world.   This spiritual world that is more real than the physical world.  For that brief instant, I knew that I was seeing Jesus himself and I will always remember his expression and his love for me.   After that instant of recognition, I was immediately sent back to my bed, to the physical world and I became aware that my wife Marie was hugging me.  I was initially unable to explain what had happened to me, but after a time of shock, and a few words of explanation as to what had happened to me, Sharon expressed her joy on the phone for my conversion.  She said that now she knew why she had had to suffer, in order to bring me to Christ.  She was relieved that there had been a good purpose for her suffering.  I was ashamed at my lack of belief and that she had had to suffer so much to help raise awareness of the truth through my thick stubborn skull.

Upon reflection, I realized that all of the “coincidences” had been the Lord’s direct intervention in my life.  The prayers of my family, Sharon and even my own prayers had allowed the Lord to show me the true state of my soul prior to that date, i.e. spiritually under the control of that terrible Demon.  In showing it to me, He gave me the incredible gift of knowledge that Demons are real, they are powerful (and smarter than us) and that Jesus is also very real, incredibly loving and more powerful as long as we let him into our lives (he will not force himself upon us as that would be a denial of love).  I also knew that the final act of offering to take the place of that husband for his punishment (or at least a small part of it), had been the final act to bring the Lord directly into my life since his more subtle efforts had not penetrated through my cynicism and my active acceptance of the lies from Satan.  I was embarrassed that it took such direct intervention to “shake me up” and “wake me up”.  However, I am very very grateful for everything that He has done and IS doing in my life.

The story did not end for Sharon with her marriage in ruins.  Her husband came back on his knees and begged for forgiveness. I had judged him very harshly but it turned out that he had been an adopted child and had never known the truth of his biological family.   He and Sharon were reunited at least for a time and they had another wonderful little girl.   I realized that the three week challenge by Sharon (“The Experiment”) had ended rather successfully (to say the least) and that the prayer I had prayed for those three very eventful weeks had been truly answered in the more powerful way than I could ever have imagined.

So always know that the Lord is doing something in your life EVEN if you don’t know what it is!!   May the Lord Bless you with Faith and Hope and Love for Him and for your brothers and sister in Christ.

 

Your Brother In Christ,

Ian Wylie, Naperville, IL

P.S.  I went through RCIA two years later and I have always felt myself to be MOST FORTUNATE to have experienced His Love in such a clear way!!!

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