Emily Parker spoke with author and presenter Justin Brierley about his new book 'Unbelievable', and why he still believes in God after 10 years of conversations with atheists on Premier Christian Radio.

Justin Brierley
Justin Brierley

Emily: Tell me about yourself and your radio show at Premier Christian Radio.

Justin: I've been a presenter on Premier Christian Radio for getting on for 13 or 14 years now. In that time I began a show that aimed to get beyond the Christian bubble, because Premier Christian Radio broadcasts across the UK, and is very good at talking to Christians about Christian things. All of that's good and important, but I had an idea some 11 years ago for a show where we would talk to non-Christians and see what they had to say, and start some conversations. That show was called Unbelievable, and still is today.

It's very simple. It's where I sit down with a Christian and a non-Christian, usually, to talk about why one believes and the other doesn't. We see what the listeners think about that. It's become pretty popular in that time, in fact a lot of non-Christians are now listening to the show via podcast. That's been where it's really grown over the years. That's been an amazing privilege, and also a challenge at times because after 10 years of hearing significant objections to the Christian faith, you obviously have to work out your faith for yourself as well, and that's essentially what the book is about; why I'm still a Christian after all of these conversations.

Emily: Tell me more about when you started asking questions about faith and God.

Justin: I decided that I wanted to hear what non-Christians have to say, because I had an experience of Christ in my late teens that brought me to faith. It was very much something that I experienced in a first-hand way. It was an emotional, heart experience if you like that convinced me that there was a God and that Jesus loved me. But when I started to tell my non-Christian friends, they'd often say, "Well that's great for you Justin, but I need something that I can think about and talk about." They hadn't had this experience. So that's when I began to first look into, are there good reasons to believe in God?

One of the most fruitful ways I eventually found of digging into that, was to post these conversations between Christians and non-Christians, where one would explain why they did and didn't believe. That can manifest itself in all kinds of different discussions. Is the Bible reliable? Is there evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? What about some of the philosophical arguments for God's existence? Do they hold water? And so many more besides.

That's where the show has been for a long time. It's really scratched an itch for many Christians who, I think, really wanted to be equipped to have those kinds of conversations with their friends. Because when they were asked, give me some evidence, I think a lot of Christians are a bit flummoxed; they don't quite know what to say. It's been really good in terms of challenging non-Christians to consider the claims of Christianity too.

Emily: Do you remember what one of the first questions was that you thought, I want to find out more about that?

Conversations Between Christians And Atheists

Justin: Where do you begin? I suppose one of the big revelations for me early on in the programme was that there's some amazing evidence from science for the existence of God. Now that's not to say that it's proof that God exists, but I think we're all looking at the universe, whether we are a Christian or a non-Christian and asking what does this evidence show us? Does it show us that we're just a random by product of an uninterested cosmos, or are we actually meant to be here in some way?

So when I discovered something, and this is where it gets a bit technical, but I'll try and keep it reasonably straightforward, I discovered this thing called 'the fine tuning of the universe'. I'd never heard of this before I started the programme. I started to get these scientists on, Christians and atheists, who would talk about it and it turns out, the universe we live in is incredibly finely tuned to allow us humans to exist within it. We're talking about the most extraordinary numbers that needed to be just right with all of these kinds of fundamental forces of the universe, in order for it simply to have the potential to produce any life at all. It's far more likely, in a sense, that the universe would be sterile, there'd be nothing living or breathing in the universe. But as it happens, we're here and that alone is almost miraculous when you look at the science behind it. So you have to ask yourself, what's the better explanation of this: that we live in a completely meaningless, random universe, or is there something behind it, a mind behind it, something that intended for us to be here? And I feel that the evidence points towards there being a reason for us being here, that there is a force beyond the universe that intended for us to be here.

Emily: A word that you use quite a lot in your book is the word 'apologetics'. What does 'apologetics' mean?

Justin: It sounds a bit like you're saying sorry for something, doesn't it? But that's not what it means. It comes from the Greek word 'apologia', which means to make a defence of something. It's the word that's often been used, to talk about making a defence of Christianity. It's the sort of thing that you're doing when you try and explain to someone why you believe. Essentially, it's saying here's a reason why I think it makes sense to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that God exists, or that there's life after death. Any time you do that you are doing what is called 'apologetics'.

Emily: Why do you think there's always debate that continually goes on about apologetics and about the whole science area that you were mentioning earlier?

Justin: Inevitably these things are controversial. In the last 10 years especially, the timeline of the show really, we have had the rise of what's sometimes called the 'new atheism'. That's a very strong critique of religion led by people like atheist biologist Richard Dawkins. They've very much held sway in the culture over the last 10 to 15 years, saying belief in God is just a delusion; that there's no evidence for it; that we would be better off without religion and that kind of thing. Inevitably there's been a lot going on in the press and in culture and I've often been responding to that.