Apologist: My Calling?

Being involved with apologetics for several years now, I’ve had several people suggest I should seriously consider making it a career. What truly excites me is when a person whom I respect suggests this.

I’m graduating this December with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from Georgia Tech, specializing in Information Networks and Artificial Intelligence. With this milestone comes the question: Now what?

I always thought I would get a well-paid position with a cool company and produce high-quality software making the world better in some way. Or, creating my own company and solving problems that are interesting, highly marketable, and make life easier for the world. Most of those product ideas revolve around automating some aspects of regular life. I’m highly influenced by the Minecraft mod scene where the motto is “Automate ALL the things!”66722167 When I see some task a robot could do, I want to create a robot that actually does that task and sell it to the world.

In Minecraft, I create these incredibly complex bases where every material is automatically farmed, mined, created, or what have you. The only problem I have to solve is how to further automate things. Raw materials and survival is quickly not an issue in-game. In fact, one of the largest issues is dealing with the sheer quantity of raw materials that the machines produce. Even the process of creating items is automated, so I only have to concern myself with teaching my machines how to create new items. Think of the replicator from Star Trek: it can replicate anything so long as it knows the design and has the raw materials.

Back in the real world, my question is: why can’t a machine automatically do X? Where X can be anything from mow the lawn, wash clothes and dishes, and make dinner? Now, we have many machines to make these tasks easier for us humans, but I am referring to full automation. I should not have to think about the grass getting too high. I should have a robot that takes care of it and lets me focus on other things. Like making more robots to automate other things, so I can make more robots.

I’d be rich, I’d have tons of free time, and I’d probably be somewhat famous (due to everyone buying my robots). Not a bad career path/dream, right?

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I’ve always been a big believer in being a Christian as you lived your life. Full-time pastors, evangelists, and church staff usually came off as a bit fake to me. They also usually struggled with having enough time, money, and resources to do whatever they were trying to do. The people I most respected had full-time jobs, were fairly successful in their field or business, and devoted time to learn and teach Christianity and lead their church. If I ever had a question regarding Christianity or life, I went to those people.

I’m also a big proponent of doing things with excellence. Not doing many things decently, but a few things with excellence. It really isn’t worth doing if you aren’t going to do it well. In my experience, doing something to a high standard usually means a spending lot of these things: time, thought, effort, and money.

Now, when was the last time a full-time pastor, church staff member, or evangelist encouraged you to spend a lot of time, thought, effort, or money on an endeavor?

So, why would I ever want to become one?!


While on an internship in Westin, FL, I gave a presentation on creationism to the local church college group I was part of. Creationism is an integral part of my Christian testimony and I had studied on my own extensively for about five years before giving this presentation.

The presentation proper lasted about 50 minutes. It wasn’t the best I’d given, but it was one of my better presentations. Then came the question time. There’s always a few questions in these kinds of presentations. However, I was blown away at the engagement of my audience and how many questions they had. The Q&A session lasted over 40 minutes.

I loved every minute of it.

It was like God was saying, all of that time spent studying Genesis and science is valuable and people have questions they need answered. This can be fun and it is needed more than you know. I wanted to do more! Months after, I still found that presentation filled me with a sense of purpose and meaning.

Fast forward a year or two. I’m back at Georgia Tech, getting ready to graduate in about a year. I’m heavily involved with Why Should I Believe, an apologetics organization on campus. I’m using my technical skills to help promote the group. I’m helping lead as a club officer. I’m giving more presentations. Then the founder of the organization takes me aside and asks, “Have you ever considered doing this full time?”

Why, no, I haven’t, but that sounds interesting. Tell me more!

His vision of full-time apologetics ministry looks something like this: graduate from Georgia Tech, enroll in graduate program in an apologetics-related field (philosophy, biblical studies, etc.), and I basically become the leader for a new chapter of Why Should I Believe at another college campus in Georgia.

This sounds awesome! I get to do what I love and change the world? Sign me up!

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But, I don’t get to make robots. Not professionally, at least. Full time ministry plus graduate school means not a lot of time left over for much else. Certainly not time for a full-time job. A master’s and then a PhD from a good school isn’t cheap—and I have to eat and put a roof over my head—so I’ll have to find donors to fund my ministry, further cutting into my time. Oh, and there aren’t any particularly good philosophy programs in Georgia.

Okay, that’s not what I was expecting. Was this what those spiritual people meant by God asking for his children to give up something for him?

Dear God,

Is this what you meant by becoming a full-time apologist?

  • Not make robots
  • Not have a $100k+ salary with plush benefits
  • Spend ~10 more years in school
  • Move—possibly across the world—to go to graduate school
  • Go from a profession that your family and friends would say, “That’s a great field. You’ll be able to great things and make a lot of money with computers.”
    To a profession that people don’t understand?
  • Rely on family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and anyone-I-can-convince-to-give-me-money for my income?

Yours Truly,

– Aerom Xundes

Each of those bullet points goes against many things that have been integral to my life so far. It would take several paragraphs each for you to understand the depth of what is being asked here. Suffice it to say, this list represents a radical shift in both the direction I’ve been heading and where I’d ever thought I’d go. It’s more than a career change. This asks me to give up things I’ve dreamed about for my entire life.

Now, I’ve heard plenty of sermons and personal stories how God called them to do something radical and it turned out better than they could have imagined. I’m not dismissing the benefits of doing the work of the Kingdom. I know if this is truly my calling, nothing else will be more fulfilling. Perhaps not the rock-star life of a cool, hip programmer with tons of money, but a fulfilling life with purpose and meaning.

Yet, I don’t know if this is actually what God wants me to do.

Ever the analyzer, optimizer, and questioner, I wonder if it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Can I be the rock-star robot-builder at the same time as an apologist? There’s plenty of examples in the Bible of people having their regular job and also being a prophet or evangelist for the Lord.

Could I build a robot-making business for a year or two then go to graduate school once I have a study income from my business? Perhaps go work for IBM, Google, Microsoft, or some other tech giant and help create an amazing artificial intelligence? It’s every geek’s dream to create an AI like Cortana from Halo, Jarvis from Ironman, or even a (friendly) GLaDOS from Portal. The list of AIs in popular fiction is nearly endless. Just being on the team to create a self-driving car is a highly coveted position among computer scientists. Can I do that for a bit?

I can even provide reasons why doing something like that would be beneficial to my apologetic career. Likely just rationalizations, but they sound good!

  • I can make $100k+ a year as a software developer. I have no debt and no family (yet), so I can save a lot of money for those 10 years of school.
  • At the moment, I want to research the philosophy of information. I believe there a new argument for God’s existence in the form of a generalized design argument based on the properties of information. Experience with real-world artificial intelligence systems and information networks should help me with my research.
  • If my robot business is successful, then that adds to my credibility. Think Elon Musk who goes around talking about information theory and Christianity.

I could continue to add to this list, but I think I’ve made my point. We could also then make counterpoints to each and debate each of its validity and my underlying motivations. The point is that it makes good sense to not give up my computer science career. Yes, you immediately come back with, “God’s plans don’t always make sense to us.” Then why did I spend the last 13 years working with computers? My resume literally has a line that says “10 years programming experience”. Why spend 5 years in college to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the #5 ranked program in the world?

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A portion of my skills list on my resume.

Yes, I hear you. Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:5, and all the others. Is it so bad to ask the question?

Apologetics is all about answering the question “How do you know that?” So, how do I know that this is God’s will for me?

I need an answer quickly. Career fair at Georgia Tech happened last week. I have multiple companies pursuing me. Big companies. Respectable companies. Companies that tell me they will pay me a lot of money to do what I have wanted to do since I was 13. These companies won’t wait for long. I’ll be the rock-star developer. I’ll have more money than I’ll know what to do with. Can I have it all?

Something tells me there will be some kind of sacrifice in all of this. There aren’t many Bible stories where God’s man gets everything he wants here on Earth. I’m (somewhat) okay with that. It’s the not knowing that gets to me. Can you tell I don’t like uncertainty?

It’s not that I don’t want to become an apologist. I really want to. I do believe God has called me to be an apologist. However, I want to be a computer scientist too!


 

Post Script:

In the course of writing this piece, I’ve moved a bit on this subject. However, it still gives a good overview of the different issues that I am dealing with as well as a glimpse into my emotions.

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7 thoughts on “Apologist: My Calling?

    1. I started this piece by giving context around my computer programming (building robots). But, I think I realize now that it is more than context and more of the reason why I build the applications I do. I’ve always had plenty of (what I think are) marketable ideas, so creating a company is something that I can see myself doing. After writing this piece, I am more in favor of that.

      While writing this piece, I never mentioned any kind of fulfillment from building AIs or robots. I *like* developing software and solving problems. But, I’m not sure I get fulfillment from it. The benefits I listed for a secular job are just material things and how other people view me. That’s not a good foundation for why to do something.

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    2. That was an excellent story, by the way. The giant metaphor was interesting. I saw it almost immediately. While I’m sure there are plenty of corporations that do sap the life out of work, I think the story took it a bit far for most companies.

      Additionally, computer science is quite a bit different than most disciplines in that there is a lot of creative freedom to solve problems. A skilled developer can go where he wants and work on the projects that most interest him. Even as an intern, I had the opportunity to somewhat direct which projects I worked on.

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  1. I submitted that first comment prematurely. The rest is:

    If you decide to try to have both, what is going to stop you from getting stuck in the giant? Once you get acclimated to a certain standard of living (by which I primarily mean “ability to buy things”), it’s going to be very difficult to leave that.

    “Back in the real world, my question is: why can’t a machine automatically do X? Where X can be anything from mow the lawn, wash clothes and dishes, and make dinner? Now, we have many machines to make these tasks easier for us humans, but I am referring to full automation. I should not have to think about the grass getting too high. I should have a robot that takes care of it and lets me focus on other things. Like making more robots to automate other things, so I can make more robots.”

    Have you thought through the implications of the above paragraph? What happens when everything has been automated? What becomes of culture, of humanity? Is widely implemented automation truly a good goal?

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    1. Automation means I don’t have to work as much. Make no mistake! A massive amount of work has to go into making that automation, so it is no like I am getting something for nothing.

      I don’t think *everything* can be automated. A lot can be, that’s for sure and we are continuously pushing that boundary. In the next few decades, there will be an explosion of automation made possible by advances in the field of artificial intelligence, mostly from machine learning. We are going to have a new industrial revolution. With or without me, fast food restaurants will switch to automation (and it will be quick if $15/hr becomes the national minimum wage). Trucking companies will switch to self-driving trucks, as will cab companies. Manufacturing is largely automated these days and we will see more.

      Work is a natural part of life. Yet, everyone would like to work less and do more leisurely activities.

      On a personal level, if I can build a machine to wash the dishes automatically without me having to lift a finger, that means all the time spent on washing dishes can now be devoted to doing other things like evangelizing, or family time, or whatever.

      On a global level, if we can automate making dinner (truly automate it), we could go a long way towards solving world hunger. Growing plants can be (mostly) automated, transporting food can be automated, cooking food can be automated… There are only a few places in the supply chain where it can’t be automated (yet).

      Automating transportation means more optimized energy use, fewer accidents, and cheaper and faster transport.

      Where is the downside?!

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      1. I think I will respond to this particular comment in a blog post of my own, soon, but I am surprised you can see no downside to what you envision. Have you read the Lord of the Rings? If so, consider what Tolkien said about Saruman (and Sauron, for that matter) and his penchant for mechanization.

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  2. For the most part, I’m already used to a fairly high standard of living. I come from a upper-middle class family. While there have been a dry spell or two, money has never been a problem. Several of my close relatives are multi-millionaires. This is one of the reasons why asking for money is a big turnoff for me. While my extended family is rich, they are independently rich. Wealth sharing is frowned upon for the most part. It’s going to be interesting as the elders pass and their inheritance passes down…

    However! There is a silver lining! I don’t have any debt. No student loans, no credit cards, no car payment. Nothing. While interning in Weston, FL, I made $40k/yr. I had more money than I knew what to do with. I budgeted just like Dave Ramsey taught me (parents listened to him on the radio) for a single month. My income so far outpaced my expenses that I didn’t bother afterwards. While this was supporting just one person (me), it shows that I’d be alright with a more modest income.

    …I was trying to not sound like a rich snob, but I think I failed.

    I don’t think a high standard of living is a bad thing. I want to take care of my family and friends and be generous doing it. Money is a means to that end. I can make a lot of money. I have the skills and education to do so. The question is how to balance the time spent making money and time spent on mission (while recognizing the former enables the latter to some extent).

    Then, there’s the entire question of God providing what I need. Honestly, I’ve never had to deal with such a question. But, I categorically deny that evangelists should spend all their time on the Great Commission while praying for God to send a paycheck. The Bible is clear on this: Take care of your family first (1 Tim 5:8). Additionally, the parable of the talents.

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