“Surely enlightened reason offered a more coherent cosmos,” he wrote, explaining how he used to think. “Surely, Occam’s razor cut the faithful free from blind faith. There is no proof of God; therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.”

Dr. Paul Kalanithi was at the top of his field: he was a neurosurgeon at Stanford’s Department of Neurosurgery and a fellow at the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. He got his M.D. at Yale School of Medicine, plus two master’s degrees in English and History of Science from Yale and Cambridge respectively.

And though he had grown up in a devout Methodist Christian home, early into his time in academia he had been firmly convinced that there was no God, a position he later called “ironclad atheism.”

That is, until God touched him in a profound way – and now he’s sharing his story in a bestselling book.

In the middle of his medical studies, his wife says something changed in him suddenly one day. “I had a religious, religious experience,” he told her, she says. She explained: “He had a moment in which faith made more sense to him than not.”

Although he had spent years embracing a materialist world view – one that denied the existence of the spiritual world and only accepted material reality – he realized that this perspective simply could not explain human experience.

“The problem, however, eventually became evident,” he wrote, “to make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning — to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in.”

“That is not to say that if you believe in meaning you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn’t have any. In other words, existential claims have no weight; all knowledge is scientific knowledge.”

He was also drawn to “the central values of Christianity — sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness.”

“There is tension in the Bible between justice and mercy,” he wrote. “The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”

Then, in 2013, his newfound faith was tested: he was diagnosed with cancer. His wife, however, says this didn’t change his mind about God: “He was sort of unwavering in that dimension. He, himself, observed that it was interesting to see that his faith didn’t become stronger or weaker throughout his illness.”

With a bad prognosis, he took to writing and produced a memoir. He died in early 2015, leaving behind a wife and daughter. Though he hadn’t been a writer, his manuscript was published post-humously in January of 2016  by Random House as When Breath Becomes Air – and spent several weeks on The New York Time‘s bestsellers list!

His wife said the example of Jesus in his passion was a comfort to him in his illness.

“The example of Jesus Christ taking on suffering for a reason — His being whipped, in addition to being humiliated, in addition to being crucified — [shows] there are all these layers of physical and emotional suffering that Jesus endured that we are taught to witness and understand.

“I think the example of Jesus bearing suffering, from what I observed, that was a helpful example of the mortal suffering of Jesus. That was sort of why Paul was able to tolerate and bear mortal suffering.”

[See also: A Night of Fire: The Mystical Vision that Converted Scientist Blaise Pascal]

[See also: This Agnostic Scientist Converted After Witnessing a Miracle at Lourdes]

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