Tuesday, December 3, 2013

But WHY Did You Leave Atheism for Christianity?

I recently saw a post on the Thomistic Bent blog about an atheist who converted to Christianity. It is definitely an interesting topic to me, atheists and Christians argue back and forth all the time, but people actually changing their minds is pretty rare. What would make someone actually change their mind is certainly something I would like to read about. Furthermore, the opening line of the post is the following
(credit: 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team)
Another person has become Christian due to being faced with the message of the Bible and the strong evidence of Christianity.
Great! I would love to see what this evidence is. I of course expect that it will be the same apologetics that we typically see, but who knows. Perhaps it is something I've never seen before. Or maybe it's just put in a new way or something. I don't know, but I am definitely intrigued. He talks about how she fought to keep away from God but in the end God won out. Not what I'm looking for, but luckily he links to an article that she wrote about her conversion. Great! Now I can go find out what this evidence was.

There are a few ways this could go, as I said above it could be the standard apologetic arguments, another is personal revelation. But this one went the most annoying way (and unfortunately what seems to be the most common). She describes all of the strong evidence for Christianity that got her to convert, but she doesn't actual tell us what any of that evidence is. Here are some excerpts:
Tim Keller's sermon was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy.
Care to tell us what was in those sermons? Guess not.
Each week, Keller made the case for Christianity. He also made the case against atheism and agnosticism. He expertly exposed the intellectual weaknesses of a purely secular worldview. 
What was the case for Christianity? What was the case against atheism and agnosticism? If he made the case so well why not repeat it to us?
After about eight months of going to hear Keller, I concluded that the weight of evidence was on the side of Christianity.
Care to tell me what a single piece of that evidence is?
Then one night in 2006, on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, "Here I am." It felt so real. I didn't know what to make of it. I called my boyfriend, but before I had time to tell him about it, he told me he had been praying the night before and felt we were supposed to break up. So we did. Honestly, while I was upset, I was more traumatized by Jesus visiting me. 
Bible Study 1
Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)
Is this the real reason she converted? It seems to be, it's the only reason she really described in detail. Anyway, she had trouble processing the experience and a friend told her to go to a bible study, this is what she said about it [emphasis mine]
I remember walking into the Bible study. I had a knot in my stomach. In my mind, only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies. I don't remember what was said that day. All I know is that when I left, everything had changed. I'll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, "It's true. It's completely true." The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.
So this bible study completely changed her view of the world, but she can't remember what was said in there at all. This completely betrays that her reasons for converting were largely (if not completely) emotional. How can it be logical and based on reason if you can't recount what those reasons even are? How can it be based on evidence if you don't even remember what the evidence was? If you want to change your entire belief system based purely on emotion and personal revelation so be it, but don't try to tell me it is based on reason, logic, and evidence.


  1. Hausdorff...I believe there really is something to "personal revelation" I doubt anyone can understand unless it's happened to them. I wrote and published my controversial memoir to clarify why I feel this way...though my personal experiences didn't lead me to Christianity...they lead me to doubt it and finally give it up.

    "If you want to change your entire belief system based purely on emotion and personal revelation so be it, but don't try to tell me it is based on reason, logic, and evidence."

    I consider my reasons for changing my belief system to be based on reason, logic, and evidence. I was not alone, I had a witness during my most profound "personal revelation" and therefore I consider it "evidence" that there is more to life than what can be seen on the surface but it is very difficult to explain to anyone.

    1. I guess it depends on what you mean by personal revelation. Typically when I hear Christians talk about it, it's God talking to them, or being moved emotionally, usually in church. I would argue that these types of reasons for conversion are certainly not based in evidence. Given what we know about neuroscience there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that God did it. We know that our senses can be tricked, so personal experience is a pretty poor way to determine that god exists.

    2. When I refer to my "personal revelation" it has nothing to do with "God" speaking to me. It did assure me there is another realm we don't understand. I went to a psychiatrist with the story 20 years later and he gave me sodium pentothal (truth serum) and he determined that I was telling the truth about what had happened to me and my cousin when we were seven years old. It was not anything neuroscience can explain...the doctor assured me of that. It ultimately led me on the journey to becoming an agnostic. One who openly admits she has no idea what it's all about...only that I know "something" we can't normally see does exist.

      Do scientists or neuroscientist know for certain whether there is or is not other life or intelligence out there in the vast universe besides ours? No...they do not. Seeing it with your own eyes and having a witness is pretty darn convincing. :)

    3. Truth serum would only verify what you believe happened, not what actually happened, right? I certainly wouldn't think you are lying about what happened, but you could be mistaken.

      Obviously scientists don't know for certain whether there is a spiritual realm, but the things people give as evidence for a spiritual realm can generally be explained with natural things. It doesn't say for sure that a supernatural realm doesn't exist, but it certainly suggests to me that it doesn't. At least it doesn't in the way it has been claimed in the past. Ghosts are never caught on film, they never leave any real evidence, except that which can be explained by natural means.

      But our experiences profoundly affect how we view the world, you had an experience when you were 7 that convinced you that a spirit world exists. At the very least, I would hope you can agree that your experience would be poor evidence for ME to believe. If person revelation is a valid avenue for finding such truths, we would each have to have our own for it to be convincing. I certainly am not going to believe based on someone else's personal revelation.

    4. Like Hausdorff said, I believe you that you knew what you thought you saw, it's not a made up story, but sodium pentothal doesn't really prove anything.

      The idea behind sodium pentothal and other sedatives was that sedatives slow down the rational thought processes of a person, and that the cognitive processes involved in keeping up with a story that was a lie would become impossible.

      There's two problems with that. One is cases like yours, where you know what you experienced, know what you saw, and so therefore, from your perspective you are telling the truth, because you're merely recounting what you experienced with your senses, and how you interpreted that. The account will remain consistent, even though it wasn't factual.

      Second, if someone is a pathological liar/sociopathic tendencies, or they have told the lie, lived it long enough, it will become as natural to them as if it were the truth, sometimes, they may actually convince themselves of it.

      Either way, the tactic of drugging people to get the facts of them fails in either instance.

    5. Thanks Hausdorff and Sheldon for your feedback. I have no idea what I told the shrink during the session, only what he told me afterwards. It was the tragic death of my hero cousin when we were 27 that sent me to the psychiatrist...and it is several more phenomena throughout my life that makes me stand firm as far as to what we 'saw." I know most folks don't believe in the paranormal but I have a number of good reasons as to why I always will. :)

  2. Was she originally a Christian? Because usually when I see people who claimed to be atheists converting to Christianity, usually one of two things has happened:

    1. The person was originally a Christian, left because of some crisis in their life, or doubts, and didn't know what to call themselves in the meantime, so they just choose the label of atheist or agnostic. Then, they start to recover emotionally, and their old roots start to pull on them emotionally, and they come back, kind of a Prodigal Son/Daughter situation.


    2. They were raised in a non-religious, or mildly religious home, and only considered themselves atheist, because they really didn't care one way or another about religion. Then someone convinces them to join a religion.

    1. Yup, the other thing that I will see sometimes is they will be told that atheist = bad person, and so they left the church and got into drugs or something like that, and they call themselves an atheist for that. Then they go back to church and get back on the straight an narrow, and are comfortable calling themselves a christian again. Granted, that doesn't appear to be what happened in this story, but it is something I've come across. In fact, stuff like that is exactly why I think it is important to hammer home the idea that atheism is simply lack of belief in god.

  3. I see people who claim to have been atheists and converted to some religion all the time, but like you, they are never able to point out exactly what convinced them that their new religion was true, they only speak in vague terms and refuse to get into specifics. While yes, these people were atheists, in the most default sense, I never get the sense that they were rationally-driven, intellectually-based atheists or that they demanded that their new religion meet the rigors of scientific and logic before they accepted it.

    So yes, you might have been an atheist and you might now be some religious persuasion, but that's not something that impresses me.

    1. Yeah, one thing this reminded me of, on the atheist experience a few months ago. Tracie (I think it was her) was talking about when she was trying to maintain her faith, and the reasons she would find to keep believing in God. She said she would say she experienced a miracle, but she would rarely tell people what the miracle was, because deep down she knew the miracle was lame and that it was a poor reason for believing.

      It makes me wonder if that is what is going on here (and as you said, this happens a lot). The reason we don't hear what convinced them is some part of them refuses to give details because they know it wouldn't be convincing at all.

    2. Oops! I should have read all your replies, not just the one to me. It took me ten years to write my "revelation" story and the first publisher who read it published it. A link to ALL my "confessions' is on my blog,,. or if you rather Hausdorff...send me an email to the link also on my blog under my profile and I'll send you a free PDF copy complete with family photos. :)

    3. haha, I did the same thing, I replied to your other comment without reading this one. That sounds really interesting, although getting to it is probably not very realistic for me right now given time restrictions. Reading blog posts are doable as they are short, anything very extensive is hard to make happen :) Perhaps I can get to it when the munchkin gets a little older.

  4. I like to bug that guy who writes Thomistic Bent from time to time. He makes the same old standard apologetics I've heard a hundred times. Seems like this experience of a conversion is about as authentic as Joseph Smith's visit by the angel Maroni. And I've heard a few Tim Keller lectures on YouTube. Mostly bad arguments about how without god there is no hope, so atheism must be false. Religion is all just emotional porn for the faint of heart. You can quote me on that.

    1. Yeah, I would assume the stuff Keller says is pretty standard, it didn't occur to me to look him up on youtube. Even though I could look it up, I wish the original article would have mentioned what aspect of it she found convincing. But I guess she knows her audience, they don't care about the specifics, the fact that she found something convincing is enough.

    2. "Religion is all just emotional porn for the faint of heart."

      Ha ha ha ha !!!

      Were you ever religious at one point, Thinker?


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