PAUL PRATHER: Seeing is not believing
“Seeing is believing” is one of the most familiar chestnuts.
But what if it’s wrong? What if we actually see what we have already decided to believe?
Recently I listened to a podcast again from 2021, an interview with Michael Guillen on “The Profile”, from UK’s Premier Christian Radio. (See tinyurl.com/2p975yxk.)
Guillen — a former Harvard physics instructor and Emmy-winning television journalist — told podcast host Justin Brierley about his slow, methodical conversion from atheism to Christianity, a conversion that took decades.
I mentioned “The Profile” in a few previous columns. The reason I like it is that it’s not your typical cookie-cutter, happy-talking religious show. Guests, drawn from various Christian and sometimes non-Christian traditions, tend to speak unflinchingly about their flawed lives and winding spiritual pilgrimages.
But Guillen’s interview, which first aired in September, is the one that stuck with me the longest. Obsessed with science, he became an atheist early in life and believed that he and his fellow non-believers were more enlightened than those with religious faith.
He was working on his doctorate in physics, mathematics, and astronomy at Cornell when he was embarrassed by what he saw as a contradiction in his worldview.
He also explained it last year in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. (See tinyurl.com/54v6jfch.)
“When I was an atheist, a scientific monk sleeping three hours a day and spending the rest of my time immersed in the study of the universe, my worldview rested on the fundamental axiom that seeing is believing” , he wrote. “When I learned that 95% of the cosmos is invisible, made up of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, names for things we don’t understand, that basic assumption became untenable. scientist, I had to believe in a universe I almost couldn’t see. My basic axiom became “believing is seeing. Because what we hold to be true dictates how we understand everything – ourselves , others, and our nearly invisible universe, including its origin. Faith precedes knowledge, not the other way around.”
This epiphany led him to a long exploration of spiritual worldviews, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. He eventually found a home in Christianity. It resonated the most with him personally, he said, but he doesn’t dismiss those other traditions, which he learned a lot from, or science, which he still loves.
He does not try to convert skeptics to his faith. He is not one of those who make it a sport to hold public debates with atheists. He said such debates accomplish little. They don’t open the eyes of people on either side. The participants made their decision before entering the discussion room and leaving as they entered.
His observations boil down to three things, he said in the Wall Street Journal article:
I. All worldviews are based on beliefs that cannot be proven. These core beliefs determine how we perceive reality. “Even reason itself…depends on faith,” he writes. “Euclid’s Geometry, the quintessence of logical reasoning, is based on no less than 33 axiomatic and unprovable articles of faith.”
II. All worldviews have their own diameter: “The worldview of atheism is relatively small, as it encompasses only physical reality. It has no room for other realities.
III. All worldviews are governed by a god or gods, a “who or what that occupies its central page”.
I probably find Guillen engaging because his observations reinforce mine.
In my graduate studies and later writing about religion as a journalist, I saw the same phenomenon as him. I realized that no matter what we pretend, we come to any situation with a preconceived worldview that determines how we will approach and interpret that situation.
For example, I once reported on a group of religious scholars who were trying to decide how many New Testament sayings and stories about Jesus might be factual. They excluded all stories of Jesus’ miracles as fiction – because these scholars assumed a closed universe in which divine intervention could not exist. Everything that smacked of the miraculous was therefore by definition invented.
You see the problem here. The New Testament writers assume an open universe in which God not only exists but interacts with people inside and outside the realm of what can be seen with the senses or, today, scientifically measured.
If you read these gospels assuming that the stories they tell are by definition impossible, you are bound to find that they are not true.
But what if you go into your review of the gospels assuming that we don’t know everything about the universe and that it’s possible that amazing things have happened that even our current scientific rules can’t to explain ?
Well, you’ll come away with a very different take on those same stories.
As Guillen said, we tend to see what we have already chosen to believe.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at