Douglas Ell: how an MIT atheist found God through math
There are several Twitter feeds labeled “God,” and they all more or less offer the same material. @TheGoodGodAbove, for instance, shot out a sly tweet this month suggesting that humans all give up religion for Lent. Or there was the one where “God” said there was no use praying to him to help you win the lottery, because he couldn’t even help starving children in Africa.
Plenty of people enjoy treating God like a joke. One of them was Douglas Ell. Sure, Ell had grown up in a church, but as he matured, he shed his faith. By the time he was a teenager, he was comfortable labeling himself an atheist – and was courteous enough to mail his pastor to tell him so. The minister sent Ell a book to read, but Ell was beyond doing any additional homework on God: he had far too much homework ahead of him on the topic of science.
Ell grew up a self-described nerdy kid, writing out long numbers for entertainment and devouring books on complex, intellectual topics. So of course, after graduating High School, Ell rolled up his sleeves and got to work on higher education. At MIT he achieved undergraduate degrees in math and chemistry, then trotted down to the University of Maryland to obtain an MA in theoretical mathematics.
Despite his great talent for the subject, it proved to be quite the abstract field, and the jobs were much like the numbers: theoretical.
Ell obtained work for a few years as a computer programmer before figured out what he really wanted to do for a job, and went to law school, graduating magna cum laude.
Ell’s rise in the legal field was rapid and prominent. He achieved such noteworthy accomplishments as drafting the first 401(k) plan in professional sports. He became a sought-after attorney to nationally recognized corporations, unions and pension plans. Beyond large business, he litigated before Congress for the rights of employee benefit laws. And, of course, spent his spare time looking down with the suitable amount of disdain towards the idea of God.
But there was a small inconvenience for Ell’s atheism: his son. After having a child, the decision was made that a family should go to church. And so, despite his disbelief, Ell and his wife attended a local congregation for the sake of their son.
Ell decided to treat the church like a social club. This was, after all, simply a community of friendly and supportive families meant to create a nourishing environment for his child’s development. No sense letting the little matter of beliefs get in the way of cordiality.
However, Ell found it a bit confounding, the easy inner peace that the Christians around him seemed to have. It wasn’t something he seemed to have access to, and it wasn’t something he could easily explain either.
As time went by, Ell’s career pushed him to further travel, and he fell back into his boyhood pattern of reading on the sciences. However, this time he added the topic he had specifically ignored in his youth: religion.
One would expect science and Christianity to be like oil and water: strictly refusing to cohere. But Ell was surprised to find the opposite. After much reading on the topic between plane terminals and in crowded compartments, Ell found that Christianity drew the sciences together for him in seven distinct ways:
1.) Evidence for the beginning of the universe
2.) The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3.) The specified complexity of life, and the lack of any reasonable explanation for its origin
4.) The futuristic “technological” nature of life
5.) Evidence against Neo-Darwinian evolution
6.) The unique and special nature of Earth
7.) The universal language of Mathematics
Ell’s training in law had educated him in how to construct cogent and considerate arguments, and the more he considered it, the more science pointed toward God’s existence and the truth of Christianity. Finally, Ell accepted that Christianity must be true, and joined the community of the church he attended in earnest.
More than just joining them, however, Ell was excited to share how the existence of God – and truth of the Christian worldview – had brought together the sciences for him. Ell began speaking at his church and others about his developing argument for the truth of Christianity, based in science. As his message caught on, Ell sat down to truly work on his argument. The conclusions he came to were astounding.
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