Jacob Nie
To satisfy popular demand, I have here a slightly edited version of the testimony I gave on 12/22/2019 at my baptism. Following that, I have two addendums titled "Miscellaneous Counterclaims" and "Sources".

An Evolutionary Exception

Apparently me being baptized was a pretty surprising thing for some people. But that's okay. Maybe it's because I'm a pretty science-oriented guy, which can sort of rub against more orthodox Christian ideas. So I thought it would be nice if I began with example from scientific history.

I'd like to take you all back to the tail end of the 19th century. During this time, physics was considered a very stagnant subject. Newton's law of gravity had been verified countless times, classical mechanics was very well developed, and Maxwell had just finished his formulation of electromagnetism. Many people believed that physics was essentially a closed subject, kind of like tic-tac-toe, where there was nothing left to discover.

However, there was a slight discrepancy in the mathematics. Long story short, hot objects were not radiating heat in the way that physicists thought they would. It sounds like kind of a boring thing, but it was an important gap in the theory. Unfortunately, theories are right until they're wrong, and now it was wrong. A new theory was needed to explain everything, and that was quantum mechanics. Suddenly, physics went from being a very stagnant field to an absolute explosion of new science, just because things weren't radiating heat in the right way.

In scientific history, moments like those are known as paradigm shifts, when discrepancies in existing theory force the consideration of entirely new frames of thinking.

We as people undergo similar paradigm shifts in the process of collecting experience. Today I'd like to talk about my paradigm shift, which came from observations of this thing that we call love.



You know how when you look at a word for too long it starts to look kind of funny? Like suddenly you're not sure if it's spelled the right way? That's sort of how it was when I thought about love. I grew up thinking it was a pretty normal thing, but it's really not when you start looking at it a bit more critically.

Now love makes sense in a lot of ways. If a mother didn't love her child, the child would die. In evolutionary contexts, this kind of love is a positively selected trait. The love between a man and a woman is what allows children to be born. Another positively selected trait. But other kinds of love just don't make sense at all.

The apostle Paul speaks of a very selfless love that "bears all things and endures all things." (1c 13) Now this kind of love is very bad for you. If you love like that, you're going to hurt yourself. It's painful and impractical. It doesn't make you live longer, and it doesn't make it easier for you to have a kid. By all biological means, this kind of love should not exist.

But it does. And we even consider it to be one of the greatest things in our lives. That's pret-ty trippy.

One of the first times I ever paid attention to this strange, selfless love was on a backpacking trip with my friends here today Daniel and Jeffery. I remember we were camping behind some trash cans, illegally, one night in Yosemite, and Daniel and I sat there in the dark watching the moon above El Cap. We talked a lot about girls and stuff like that, but we also talked about our fathers, which is something I had never talked about to anybody before. I could really tell he cared about me, even though he really had no reason to do so. This was an incredibly strange thing to me at the time.

Over the years I continued to experience glimpses of this very strange love that seemed to me as being very unnatural. It made no sense in the context of my existing frameworks. Now I was pretty atheist during this period and I hated the sort of archaic-ness of religion, but there was one thing I hated more than religion, and that was being wrong. Many things happened later, for which I don't have the time to share today, but I finally accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. After that, love wasn't so confusing anymore.

You see, the love that the apostle Paul speaks of is one of the most unnatural things in our world. That's why we find its source outside of our world. And that was the key to my paradigm shift. As Christians, we make sense of this very unnatural love by believing it comes from a very unnatural place, the Holy Spirit that is given to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. The apostle John writes: "Let us love one another, for love is from God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (1j 4)

I hope today can be a celebration of this beautiful love, both through our love for one another and God's love for us.




Miscellaneous counterclaims:

But Jacob, why can't this just be a manifestation of some biological need to form groups? Isn't the community forming nature of this friendship-esque "love" also a positive thing for selection?

Yes, you're right. This kind of thing exists in our world to a much larger extent than the love I speak of here. Please don't get me wrong. The unnatural love I refer to here is unbelievably rare. You are lucky to ever receive it.

How do we distinguish the unnatural love from the natural love? By motive. I'm sure you have tried to be friends with somebody before just because you felt the need to socialize, to not be lonely. This does not qualify. This would fall aptly under your category of innate group-forming instincts that are certainly present among all animals. Similarly, acts of "love" that are done for the intent of some kind of social acceptance do not qualify.

Admittedly, this "unnatural love" is rare. Not only is it rare, it is hard to discern. In my experience, it is characterized by a deep sense of incredulity, as the recipient. If you don't think you've ever felt that, don't be worried. Just pay attention in the future. Be on the lookout. You will see it someday.

Fine. A source outside of our world. But how did you get from that to Jesus? It smells like a logical jump.

You are correct in smelling the logical jump. Unfortunately, going from theism to Christianity cannot make use of the same logical gymnastics we utilized here.

Why? Suppose there was existed a story about a guy named Chuck, born in Bethlehem in the 5th century to a virgin mother, who claimed to be the Messiah to the Jews. In the story, he does all the same things Jesus did in the Bible, and his followers form the Church of Chuckology. They believe everything that Christians do, except their Jesus is Chuck, the only difference being that he was a different person born in a different time.

So now in this hypothetical, we have two competing stories. By definition, they are equally compelling. Which do we choose? What credence would we as Christians have to select Jesus over Chuck?

There can be only one way to choose. That is if we knew Jesus was a real person and that he actually did everything we think he did. Then we can safely choose Jesus over Chuck and be able to fall asleep soundly at night. I believe this is the only reasonable way to go from theism to Christianity - through history. I encourage you to examine the facts and arguments on your own, from a neutral, academic perspective. (I do not fit that criteria, so I will not attempt to convince you. You should not believe me.)




Sources

This argument is an original one that I thought up in the spring of 2019 (while shooting hoops, interestingly enough). However, it may have had subconscious roots in some of the writings of C. S. Lewis, since I read some of his work as a kid.

You might note that this argument shares similarities with the traditional apology based on the existence of a common morality, perhaps best explained by Lewis in his book Mere Christianity. Both Lewis's argument and mine note a strange unexplained aspect of human nature and try interpreting it in the context of some divine source. (I have some issues with his argument. I think the confounding factor of culture's influence on morality severely weakens the argument. Furthermore, the degree to which these different moralities coincide is not at all near the specificity of the moral law espoused in the Bible, or any religion for that matter.)

The interesting observation of love's lack of evolutionary purpose was one I came up with on my own, but I later found the same observation in Lewis's book the Four Loves, except he used the term "friendship". I don't know if it was a remnant of my subconscious, or whether I had even read the book before. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it's an observation that has been in existence before I wrote this piece. Here's the quote from Lewis:

"Friendship is - in a sense not at all derogatory to it - the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale. It is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd. Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it. ...

"This (so to call it) "non-natural" quality in Friendship goes far to explain why it was exalted in ancient and medieval times and has come to be made light of in our own. ... Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship - in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen - you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels."


The Four Loves - C. S. Lewis


You probably already notice, but my argument does appear to be an interesting amalgamation of two of Lewis's ideas. I have not seen anybody else put the two ideas together like I did, but if you notice somebody who has done so, feel free to let me know.