A long while back, you posed questions to Christian apologist and author Lee Strobel.
It’s been a long time coming, but he is responding to the questions I sent him (your questions from the posting) — in depth — one-by-one.
So this is Part 1 in what I hope will be a recurring series. Others will soon follow. Hopefully, the dialogue initiated by Strobel’s responses will lead to an interesting discussion between atheists and Christians, including one of the most famous and prolific Christian apologists. While the question below offers more background on Strobel, future questions are more specific about claims he makes in his books.
I should point out that any hyperlinks in his response were added by me (unless otherwise noted) to provide references when needed.
First of all, thanks to Hemant for initiating this process and to everyone who submitted a question. I really appreciate your patience. I had several projects I needed to complete before I could begin offering responses. Almost all of the questions seemed to be sincere and honest inquiries, and so I’m glad to provide my perspective and then allow you the opportunity to respond and comment. With that basis of mutual respect, I believe we can interact in a meaningful way.
Hemant asked me to try to answer the questions in the order they were given to me. So here’s the first one:
What is your own background with atheism? What caused you to become a Christian? Is there a difference between your former atheism and the “New Atheism” of today? In other words, how hard-core of an atheist were you?
My commitment to atheism essentially came in three steps. The first was when I was in junior high school and began asking Christians uncomfortable questions, like, “How can there be a loving God with so much suffering in the world?” And, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” And, “How can Jesus be the only way to God?” Rather than engage with me, they basically told me to keep my questions to myself. I quickly concluded that the reason they didn’t want to discuss these matters was because there were no good answers from the Christian perspective.
The second step came when I began studying neo-Darwinism in high school. I was particularly struck by Stanley Miller’s 1959 experiment in which he recreated what he thought was the original atmosphere of the primitive Earth, shot electricity through it to simulate lightning, and discovered the creation of some amino acids, the building blocks of life. I naively concluded that Miller had proven that life could have emerged in a purely naturalistic way. To me, that meant God was out of a job!
I started considering myself an atheist in high school, but the third step that cemented my position came when I took a college course on the historical Jesus. The professor, who relied in 19th century German paradigm, convinced me that there was essentially nothing in the New Testament that could be trusted.
Along the way, I read a lot of atheistic literature, which served to deepen my commitment to spiritual skepticism and give me a more systematic basis for my atheistic convictions. I was especially captivated by Bertrand Russell’s book Why I am Not a Christian and Antony Flew’s The Presumption of Atheism. And I was quite sympathetic to many of the church/state issues raised by atheists.
However, in the interest of total disclosure, let me add that my problems with faith were not solely intellectual. I had a vested interest in the non-existence of God because I was living a rather immoral lifestyle and did not want to be held accountable for my behavior. To me, atheism opened up a world of hedonism that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable to God if he existed.(Let me be clear: I’m not saying that all atheists are hedonists. I’m just saying that, for me, atheism cleared the way for me to live a self-indulgent, me-first, narcissistic life. And to be honest, to this day I can’t figure out why atheists would choose any other path, although I know many do.)
Was I “hard-core”? I’m not sure how to define that. I was recently contacted by a woman who had been an acquaintance of mine in high school. She said she was “the good Catholic girl” and reminded me how I used to taunt and belittle her because of her faith. So I guess I was more aggressive at a young age than I remember!
At the same time, though, I didn’t have the kind of scorched-earth militancy I see in some of the “New Atheists” you referenced. While a lot of the issues they raise are the same ones that vexed me, I was not on a mission to wipe all faith from the face of the planet. I was happy to peacefully coexist with Christians and people from other belief systems.
How did I become a Christian? My wife’s conversion to Christianity (which deeply troubled me at first) resulted in a lot of positive changes in her attitudes and behavior, which I found winsome and intriguing. She invited me to a church, where I heard the Gospel explained in a way I could understand it. While I didn’t believe it, I realized that if it were true, it would have big implications for my life. So I decided to use my journalism experience and legal expertise (at the time, I was legal editor of The Chicago Tribune) to investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity or any other faith system.
For nearly two years, I investigated science, philosophy, and history. I read literature (both pro and con), quizzed experts, and studied archaeology. On November 8th, 1981, alone in my room, I took a yellow legal pad and began summarizing the evidence I had encountered. In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I came to the conclusion that it would have required more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.
Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection (and, hence, his divinity). In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.
Years later, I wrote three books that retraced and expanded upon my original journey. The Case for Faith examines the eight big objections to Christianity that bothered me all the way back to my junior high years. The Case for a Creator looks at the affirmative evidence for the existence of God from cosmology, physics, and other fields of science. And The Case for Christ recaps the historical evidence for Jesus, including his resurrection, through which he validated his claim of divinity. Those books, nearly a thousand pages in length, summarize the basis for my conclusions.
Having said all of this, I do believe strongly that despite our fundamental disagreements, it should be possible for atheists and theists to engage in constructive discussions instead of resorting to name-calling or the imputation of bad motives. While I now believe atheists are wrong in their conclusions, I’m confident that they still matter to God and therefore deserve respect. As a former spiritual skeptic myself, I can appreciate their viewpoint and I try to give due weight to their objections and arguments. Thanks for your willingness to engage in the same way.