Lee Strobel Answers Your Questions, Part 1

A long while back, you posed questions to Christian apologist and author Lee Strobel.

Strobel is the atheist-turned-Christian author of such books as The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for Easter.

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.

Here’s Lee:

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.


  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Lee, thanks for that frank post. Look forward to hearing more from you.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    BTW, someone will ask so I’ll go ahead and put these questions out there:

    1) Do you only act in a moral manner because you think God will punish you if you don’t? (I find that sad and frightening, actually.)

    2) Do you think Christianity is the only way to “salvation” and that non-Christians are going to hell?

    Thanks.

    Donna (former born-again Christian turned atheist)

  • sc0tt

    Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life

    What proof of God’s non-existence would be sufficient for you to change your conclusion? Would you return to atheism if science one day does produce life from non-life?

    If you were to become convinced that your religious beliefs are in error, do you think you would also return to your self-indulgent narcissism, or do you think you would retain the moral qualities you currently value?

  • http://candycolouredfrown.blogspot.com Jackie

    nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason.

    Logical fallacy. That’s a false dichotomy. Atheism doesn’t assert these “leaps of faith”.

  • http://pghblackandgold.com/ Justin

    Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that … randomness produces fine-tuning …

    What makes you think that what we see, what we know, is fine-tuned? Just one example, for a human to give birth naturally, the baby must make two separate 90 degree twists and squeeze through a hole smaller than its own skull. If an engineer were to design a system that poorly, he’d get fired.

    Plus, what Jackie said, but one thing at a time. :)

  • http://cheerfulatheist.ca/ cheerfulatheist

    (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.)

    Sigh.

    Why isn’t it possible for atheists to be good, moral people? Why can’t we choose to be nice, to benefit humanity, to help others, whenever we can? No, we are not being bribed nor threatened to do so and there will be no eternal repercussions regardless of how we choose to act, but that doesn’t instantly lead to hedonism. I don’t believe in divinely inspired absolutes but I do believe in humanity. I believe in letting others lead their own lives, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to lead my own life. We are humans. We are a social people. Our rules evolved to make us a cohesive group, to further our survival. What we do effects everyone else in society, it only makes sense to try to get along. The “me-first” ideology mainly applies if you think that humans are the reason the universe is here. As an atheist, I acknowledge that my existence – that humanity’s existence – is incredibly unlikely and that we are only one species amongst many. This is humbling, not empowering. And it makes me want to do everything to make our species, and thus our societies, the best that we can be. We only have a short time on this earth, why waste it?

  • http://mylifeintheblender.wordpress.com Laurie

    “Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life.”

    As a former militant Christian (who actually loved “Case for Christ” when it first came out and read it on my own and then again in Sunday school), this is actually one of the fundamental points that caused me to change my mind. I realized that both Creationist and atheistic viewpoints required faith: either you believe that life on Earth came from nothing or God came from nothing. It is easier for me to believe that the universe came from nothing than to believe that a god who created the universe out of nothing came from nothing. I heard the argument that it takes more faith to be an atheist many times (though in the past solely from people who were never previously atheists), but for me anyways, that is simply not true. I struggled with the Christian faith for so long and so hard, that it was easier once I simply let it go.

    As for morals, I do good things based on a genuine caring, not out of fear of punishment or from an effort to please God like I used to. So now when I do good things, I feel like a good person, not an evil person who is redeemed and trying to pass that redemption on. Good for the sake of good, I guess, not to help convert people or give a good name to Christians.

  • anony-mouse

    While I truly appreciate him answering honestly, I find the same things I keep hearing, the same misconceptions. My biggest problem with his answer is my main problem with religion as a whole. I feel that there’s a lack of true accountability within religion. I treat someone poorly and I deal with that guilt. For a LONG time. Religious people have the satisfaction and ease of mind “knowing” they are forgiven. For anything (!), according to Christianity. I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in Jesus as a virgin-born son of god, but Jeffrey Dhamer is going to heaven? (He claimed Christianity and denounced evolution in a TV interview before his prison murder.)

    I believe I live an ethical lifestyle. I am offended that, once again, atheism and non-belief are being talked about in a hedonistic context. I feel Mr. Strobel is using religion as a way to assuage his guilt over perceived “sins”. We don’t know what he considers “immoral” or “hedonistic”, so that’s personal for him.

    As the other person who commented– why does he not do “bad” or “immoral” things anymore? Why not just be a good person to be a good person, and not because he believes god says it’s bad?

    Most of the atheists I know are highly accountable people and serve others.

    -(Christian-raised atheist-leaning agnostic)

  • Brian E

    I agree with what the commenters have written thus far. If these are the basic conclusions that Lee has come to, then he has already lost my interest. To make the statement ‘nothing produces everything’ is patently ridiculous, and I don’t see how the answer ‘god did it’ is any more comforting than ‘I don’t know’. I like the answer ‘I don’t know’; we don’t know everything, and there’s a good chance we may never know, and I’m OK with that.

    However I might be interested in his book the Case for Christ; it’s shocking to me that anyone who has studied history in earnest would still come to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of god, especially if those studies included other cultures and mythology. The Gospel Jesus is such a pathetic rip-off of other gods it should be embarrassing to christians.

  • http://blocraison.blogspot.com Paul

    I am sure your books and videos go into this, but it is one thing to say that you can’t figure out how somethingness comes from nothingness without a creator (which I think is a false argument, but let that go), but it certainly doesn’t automatically lead to any particular faith’s dogma. (Unexplainable phenomena = Christ is Lord?)

    My stepmother-in-law is trying to convert me and has sent me your DVD, which I’ve promised to watch. No offense, but I have told her not to get her hopes up.

    Many thanks.

  • Grimalkin

    I have to agree with writerdd. The way you phrased your story makes it sound as though you behave well only because you fear punishment (or want to score brownie points). I find that to be an incredibly scary thought and I hope that I simply misunderstood.

    You say that it would take more faith to believe that “everything” came of nothing (by the way, you only need something to come of nothing – after that, everything else comes of something) than to believe that a deity created everything. I must ask you, however, where your god came from. The only reason your beliefs require less faith is that you are looking at the two situations unevenly. To be fair, you would have to look at the something AFTER it came from nothing and say “how much faith does it take for everything to come of this something” vs. “how much faith does it take for everything to come of this highly intelligent, functional, powerful deity”? Because either way, we have to start from a point of nothing from which either God or “something” emerges.

    And if you say “God is eternal,” then I can only say “maybe the universe is eternal.” Maybe time is a meaningless construct and everything came from everything; no god needed.

    You seem to have a commitment to intellectual honesty, yet you are blocking out some very fundamental questions. The world makes sense without gods, but as soon as they are introduced, things just get too complicated. I’ve already mentioned the question of “where did God come from?” but there’s plenty of others, such as “if Christianity is God’s true path, why were there no Christians before 2K years ago?” or even “why were there no Jews before 6K years ago?” Then you have the question of “if everyone who doesn’t embrace God goes to hell AND God is good (therefore, he doesn’t want people to go to hell), why did he only reveal himself to a small tribal group in a limited geographic area? Does God not care about Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Oceania? Does he only care about people in the Middle East? If God is all-powerful and wants to be worshipped, why wouldn’t he reveal himself to everyone? Why didn’t every continent/country/tribe get an Abraham?”

    Then there’s the theological issue of “how can we know what God wants?” Ask ten people to read the Bible and you will get ten different messages, messages that sometimes directly contradict each other. If the Bible is truly God’s word, or even just inspired by God, why did he not make it more direct? Less open to interpretation? Less contradictory?

    And then there’s the issue of whether we should accept the Bible at all! The Bible says: “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are” (Exodus 21:7-11 for the whole passage). I will assume that you reject the idea that daughters should be sold as slaves. Yet you claim that Christianity has made you a moral person. How can this be so when individuals must use their own internal moral compasses to navigate the supposed word of God?

    I know that it is unlikely that you will answer my questions (considering how many you must have received!), but I sincerely hope that you do. Really, all of my questions have fallen under the umbrella of “please explain further your statement that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian.” If you could write a response on that alone, even if you never touch any of my other questions, I shall be satisfied.

    Thank you for taking the time to write for us. I think I speak for most people when I say that we really appreciate it.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    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.

    Hardly. Where I cannot conceive of a beginning I am comfortable to say I do not know, that someday I may indeed know, but for now I do not, and leave it at that.

    Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take

    Yes, evidence seems to suggest that a so-called “first cause”, i.e. an effect that does not require a cause, is necessary for anything to exist at all. Fine, but in that case, where is your data that leads you to conclude that that “first cause” must be, is almost certainly, or is even remotely likely, a god and not some as-yet-undiscovered phenomenon of nature? If you can answer that it is a god, then why Christianity in particular and not Deism, Polytheism, or another Monotheistic tradition? Did you study all religious traditions with the same fervor and intensity that you spent on Christianity? Isn’t it true that you were more familiar with Christianity than any other religion due solely to geographic coincidence?

    In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.

    Is it your opinion, then, that if an account offers a more complete explanation for the evidence at hand than another, that that account is more likely to be the correct one?

  • Scott

    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).

    Please give me examples of this “affirmative case for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection” that don’t involve the bible (aka complete hearsay). In what way do you know that Jesus was even resurected?

  • http://fruitsofdoubt.wordpress.com/ tyaddow

    Look, I think it’s a nice sentiment that Mr. Strobel is willing to answer questions like this, but I think it will utterly fail to change any minds. Strobel’s work betrays a thoroughly generic approach to evidence which is typical of those who are inclined to magical thinking or religious belief. The whole atheist-turned-Christian-by-the-evidence thing, while probably an honest belief of Strobel’s, is more importantly an effective marketing tool. I heard Strobel speak at an apologetics conference- he’s a powerful speaker, truly engaging and charasmatic. However, all one needs to do is review his work with a critical eye to realize that, whatever other force is at work, it is absolutely NOT the force of evidence that turned him into a Christian.

  • mikespeir

    Arguing against these few comments would be like arguing against a straw man. I’m sure Strobel can make a better case for his faith than he does here. I’ll just say that, unlike him, I was a Christian and ardent Bible student for many years before, at the age of 48, I finally had to admit to myself there was no good way to arrive at a Christian faith without starting with Christian faith. Painful as it was at the time (no longer), I turned around and walked away. I’m glad I finally summoned the nerve to do it.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Scott,

    In what way do you know that Jesus was even resurected?

    Strobel goes into detail in The Case For Christ. From what I remember, the basic premise is that he has it on good authority from very intelligent scholars that the Gospels are reliable, and that as an investigative journalist he agrees with their methods. Everything else is loose evidentiary support for the historicity of the New Testament in general, and circular logic that falls back on the Gospel accounts for support.

  • Aj

    Lying for Jesus never gets old.

  • Scott

    TinyFrog did a series of posts where he (actually I have no idea what its gender is) picks apart the arguments in A Case for Faith.

    I recommend checking them out.

  • Zar

    Question:

    1) Given Christianity’s history of misogyny, why should a woman bother with the church?

  • http://ordover.wordpress.com orDover

    I find it very interesting that in nearly all of the atheist-turned-Christian stories I have read, the converts claim that they were atheists basically to support their selfishness or hedonism. That aligns perfectly with the popular Christian teachings that atheists know intuitively that there is a god, but that they don’t want to submit to his will. They want to “place themselves upon god’s throne,” as the phrase goes.

    Why is this hedonistic attitude to prevalent in atheists-turned-Christians, but utterly lacking in either life-long atheists or de-converted Christians? I’ve read dozens of de-conversion stories and never does a person write that they wanted to escape the will of god or be able to live their life according to selfish impulses. Likewise, of the atheists I know, none are what I would call selfish or hedonistic. They are wonderful, giving, caring people.

    It makes me wonder if the atheist/hedonist link is not a straw man perpetuated by the church and then accepted in an after-the-fact “realization” by converts. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any real evidence for it.

  • Wes

    Lee Strobel’s conversion story comes across as so cliched and so typical of right wing apologetics that I’m inclined to doubt its veracity.

    When I was in fundamentalist private school as a kid, we were frequently bombarded with exactly this kind of apologetic. They follow the same basic schema: (1) I was a firm atheist, committed to believing in science and reason and that all Christians are dumb. (2) I was living a sinful lifestyle because of my vain belief that God would not hold me accountable. (3) After seeing Christianity transform the life of a loved one, I became curious. (4) I decided to do a fair and balanced investigation of “both sides”. (5) I discovered that the evidence proves creationism, biblical literalism and the salvific grace of Christ’s sacrifice. (6) I left atheism behind and went out to share my new-found peace and joy with the world.

    Apparently, all right wing apologists experienced precisely identical conversions, which is simply preposterous. These kinds of testimonials are usually highly embellished, or entirely fabricated. Nothing in Strobel’s reply leads me to believe that his is any different. In fact, it follows the script so closely I’m inclined to believe it was constructed from the script.

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  • http://www.myspace.com/youreundoingmybeltwronghun Tim D.

    I was going to drop in and post some thought, but it seems all of my points have already been covered….hmm….

  • Polly

    Re: Urey-Miller.

    Just because there is controversy surrounding the makeup of the atmosphere of early earth does nothing to invalidate the results of Urey-Miller which showed that inorganic molecules CAN and DO produce organic biomolecules in the right environment. So, the building blocks of life can come from non-life.

    Does anyone else know of other, more recent experiments?

  • DSimon

    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.

    Can you go into more detail about what you did as an atheist that you now feel was immoral?

  • Jeff Satterley

    I think it’s important to realize that Strobel never said atheists cannot be moral or altruistic, he said he doesn’t understand why any atheist would be anything but hedonistic. He makes it clear to point out that he knows many atheists do not have a me-first attitude, but he feels that it makes MORE sense to be hedonistic if God doesn’t exist.

    I think Strobel misses the point that being altruistic and moral is more beneficial over the long run than hedonism. Without being helpful to others, others will be less willing to help you. We are a social species, and that characteristic is an important reason why humans are able to accomplish so much. So in fact, being altruistic is more of a selfish act (although a more long term one) than having a me-first attitude all the time.

    Even if some specific altruistic acts seem harmful, from an evolutionary standpoint, it most likely has to do with the fact that universal altruism was a good-enough approximation when the trait evolved. We helped everyone because the only people we met were part of our tribe and would likely be available to help us in return. So, humans have a natural tendency to WANT to be helpful, even if we don’t expect anything immediately in return.

  • Fideism

    Hi Mr. Strobel, I’m glad to see you’re still around and look forward to reading your replies (and especially to my question :) )

  • PrimeNumbers

    My questions would be:

    “If your wife converted to Islam, would you now be a Muslim, rather than a Christian.”

    “How can God be good, when he has no choice to be otherwise? Surely a choice is necessary for an action to be moral?”

    Lee’s comment: “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.” disturbs me greatly. If you can’t figure out why it’s good to be good without the threat of divine retribution or hellish eternal punishment, or the infinite carrot of heaven, I’m quite shocked.

  • http://writingsofaliberatedmind.blogspot.com/ Christine

    I think this sort of honest discussion is commendable. However, I see one major contradiction in Mr. Strobel’s reason for being atheist and current reasons for being religious. Neither quest answers the question of certainty. In his state of atheism, his motivation was to live an immoral lifestyle, not (or so it seems) to recognize that humans do not have all the answers and should not jump to conclusions about deities (what they look like, what they think, what they say, etc).

    Atheism embodies this proof:
    1. The universe exists
    2. Everything that happened was caused by something else (causality).
    3. Therefore something caused the universe to exist. Logic does not follow that an intelligent being caused it or that Zeus caused it or even that a tiny unicorn caused it. “Faith” is the leap that is necessary to jump from logical observations about the universe to myths and suppositions.

    The humility of Atheists to acknowledge the puzzle of existance and to continue searching for answers through science is more commendable than abandoning reason and creating an imaginary deity to explain what is unknown. In that sense, all religion today is on par with past religions that worshiped the sun and moon because they did not understand them.

  • Matthew

    To make the statement ‘nothing produces everything’ is patently ridiculous, and I don’t see how the answer ‘god did it’ is any more comforting than ‘I don’t know’. I like the answer ‘I don’t know’; we don’t know everything, and there’s a good chance we may never know, and I’m OK with that.

    “I don’t know YET”, is the appropriate response. We don’t know all the answers and it’s OK to say we don’t know something, but that we hope that science will explain it soon.

    Things that we used to assign to God:

    -Lightning
    -The ability for bumblebees to fly
    -The diversity of life on Earth (ok, some still assign this to God)

  • Herk

    I have a question: When you are knocked unconscious, is your “spirit” knocked unconscious, too? Where do YOU go when your body is injured?

    This may seem an odd question, but if there’s a soul or even something like it, is it not continuous? Nobody’s yet read the note on top of the operating room lamp while having their out-of-body experience.

  • Still in the Closet

    [...]When I was in fundamentalist private school as a kid, we were frequently bombarded with exactly this kind of apologetic. They follow the same basic schema: (1) I was a firm atheist, committed to believing in science and reason and that all Christians are dumb. (2) I was living a sinful lifestyle because of my vain belief that God would not hold me accountable. (3) After seeing Christianity transform the life of a loved one, I became curious. (4) I decided to do a fair and balanced investigation of “both sides”. (5) I discovered that the evidence proves creationism, biblical literalism and the salvific grace of Christ’s sacrifice. (6) I left atheism behind and went out to share my new-found peace and joy with the world.

    Apparently, all right wing apologists experienced precisely identical conversions, which is simply preposterous.[...]

    Actually, this is a lot more common that you’d think, in part because it’s so generic that it can be applied to pretty much anyone. From my own story:

    1. I wasn’t an atheist, I was a pagan. I didn’t see any real need to limit my magical thinking to one particular deity, even though I was raised Christian.

    2. This is a retroactive interpretation of life pre-Jesus. Christian dogma teaches that everyone is a sinner in need of a savior, so when you become a Christian, you look back on your life and see sin. This is as true for the jail house converts as it is for the lilly-white choir girls.

    3. Most people become interested in Christianity because of a close relation. Two of my best friends converted in college, and that’s why I started poking around.

    4. One of the things people don’t realize is how *hard* it is to do a fair and balanced investigation. People attack an issue though their own biased world view, even when they don’t realize it. Many of the people who end up converting to Christianity are the types who *want* it to be true, whether they realize it or not.

    5. Similar to point 4, the people who tend to convert to Christianity also tend to be the type of people who seek out confirming information. Likewise, those who do *not* convert tend to be the type to seek out refuting information. In my own “fair and balanced” investigation, I tended to see out information that refuted atheism (or Catholicism, or Hinduism, etc), but didn’t work quite so hard to find the chinks in the Evangelical/Pentecostal armor, because that’s the stream my friends belonged to. When you factor in that Christianity is something a loved one already believes in strongly, and that they offer you a loving, supporting community, as well as a sense that you’re one of the “special, chosen people,” it’s a very short train ride.

    6. I had some pretty extensive training in Scripture and theology, and preached for a couple of years.

    All that being said, Strobel’s conversion story probably sounds familiar because it, or a version of it, is very, very common. I can apply almost the the exact same outline to my own conversion story. The difference is, with me, all of that training led me to realize how flawed the Christian faith really is, and eventually turned me into an atheist.

  • marty

    I think its sad that his wife needed to become a Christian to become the “better person” she became. Also, where’s my hedonistic lifestyle?

  • Aaron

    Conversion stories are completely irrelevant, and prove nothing either way. People convert to and from different religions, every single day, for many different reasons. I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but I suspect that by counting all the conversions and de-conversions that go on in a certain period of time, it’d probably end up being a wash.

    Secondly, people use personal testimony as “evidence” for all religions, which can only lead to one conclusion: personal testimony is unreliable. Every religion has numerous conversion stories just like Mr. Strobel’s. I don’t doubt people’s sincerity, but I do doubt their objectivity. The brain is in many ways poorly designed because it is so easily deceived.

    In short, no conversion story is a valid argument for any ideology, the facts need to stand on their own.

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    When I was a Christian, I read his books with fervor, and fancied myself a budding apologist.

    But let me get this straight, Strobel decided that there was more evidence for the existence of god than for the non-existence of god.

    Therefore, according to Strobel, it must follow that Christianity is the one true religion?

    Please.

    For someone who prizes evidence so highly, this, to me, seems flimsy at best.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, can’t… can’t get fooled again (had to throw in a bushism)

  • Eric

    “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.”

    *groans*
    You do realize that life is not a property something possesses right? You only have to look at viruses to know that the definition of life is funny and that some things exist in between. I know that the randomness and chaos arguments are anti-evolution, too bad that evolution isn’t random (but I will concede it’s chaotic). Too bad that these chaotic mutations have produced new information (nylonase is a good example). I can’t answer the consiousness question as I’m not familiar with neuroscience. I’m also avoiding the big bang because I am in no way a physicist or cosmologist.

    I also see a complete and total lack of the evidence that persuaded you. Just strawman against science and atheist philosophy (for lack of a better phrase). I still don’t see why you would worship such an egotistical being that despite being all-powerful is so weak that he demands your adoration. Naturally, this loving being enforces worship by threat of torture.

  • Kc

    I just dislike when theists say that they were leading an “immoral” lifestyle before they turned to theism. What were these people doing? Raping and pillaging?

    And I’m not an atheist because I “don’t want to be held accountable for my actions”. I’m accountable to myself, and I think that is more powerful than being accountable to someone/something else.

    It’s almost like they think atheists have the mindset that we don’t have anyone to behave well for, so we might as well misbehave. I work in a place where they videotape the employees (and customers), but take away those cameras and I wouldn’t change my behavior. I still have ethics and morals, and lacking a deity doesn’t negate them. I just wish they would understand that.

  • llewelly

    … scorched-earth militancy …

    You know. I’ve come to love the smell of strawmen.

    Later I find 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.

    ‘imputation of bad motives’? Like, say, claiming the other side has a scorched-earth attitude?

    And this:

    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.

    is a grotesque distortion of what the relevant scientific evidence shows.

  • Aj

    You can tell the “I used to be an atheist” people were never atheists because they can’t deal with unknowns, they can’t contemplate being an atheist, they don’t know what it’s like to be an atheist. Their “conclusions” are all in defence of belief not in establishing new beliefs based on evidence. How dare they talk about mutual respect and constructive discussion when they demonstrate this level of dishonesty.

    a) Intelligent Design Creationism has never, and will never, generate evidence it’s only an argument from lack of imagination. It’s not science, it’s not falsifiable and doesn’t deal with any evidence.

    b) The “something from nothing” etc… ridiculous straw atheist is an argument from personal incredulity. A lot of those phrases either don’t make sense, presume a creator, or presume something about the universe. Only theists think like that, create false dichotomies from unknowns, and fill gaps with “fine-tuning” gods.

    Did this guy actually read Russell or did he just eat the pages of Why I Am Not a Christian? His claims to being able to appreciate an atheist’s viewpoint are optimistic. Russell expressed alternatives to his straw atheist nonsense. This guy doesn’t seem to have considered any sensible atheistic arguments at all to this day, let alone years ago.

    c) You don’t come to standard Christian apologetics from personal investigation into the evidence, i) apologetics is a defence of existing beliefs, ii) apologetics do not include evidence.

    d) “…that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable to God if he existed.” Forgot that you were an “atheist” for a second? This is hilarious. This “atheist” goes straight past deism, into theism, then monotheism, resting at the Christian God? That doesn’t sound like any atheist to me.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Lee, thanks for that post. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

    Given that you have a bunch of other questions from the April post to respond to, I know it’s unlikely that you’ll be responding to the numerous responses this post has provoked. Still, I’d like to add my voice to the chorus asking for more description of what sort of immoral lifestyle you had before converting, and why you felt it OK to do immoral things as an atheist. I don’t doubt that you’re honestly describing your experiences as you see them, but like many other readers here, I’m have a lot of difficulty understanding your experiences. What immoral things did you do as an atheist that you now wish you had done differently?

    I can understand if your conversion changed your view of what things are immoral (e.g. same-sex relations, dancing, promiscuity, drinking, gambling, etc. . .), and that this meant that becoming Christian meant that you had to give up these enjoyable activities. But most things that I would view as actually being immoral (e.g. stealing, polluting, killing, lying, being mean, etc. . .) are based on the Golden Rule, which is just based on basic human empathy, and so which is pretty universally held by atheists, Christians, and non-Christian theists. When you were an atheist, did you rarely/never bother to factor in the rights or feelings of others when deciding what to do? Did you lack empathy for other humans? If so, how did becoming a Christian create empathy for other humans where there was none before? Or do you have the same level of empathy, but just a realization that violating the Golden Rule will lead to punishment in the afterlife?

  • TygerFish

    The bit about being unable to find a moral bearing outside of the prescriptions of ancient mythical beings is… troubling. (Have no Christians actually read the Bible? It’s full of morally repugnant stuff.) But I think the flaw in reasoning lies here:

    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

    Conflating chance and natural selection is an unfortunately common error. One need not believe that “randomness” leads to order and life, only that natural selection provides a mechanism by which order can come into being without being designed. And that it best explains the data. There’s no faith in that.

    But I would graciously thank him for taking the time to respond! It’s only through cordial dialog that these things can be cleared up.

  • http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/leaving_the_fold/babinski_agnosticism.html Edward T. Babinski

    Hi Lee,

    I remained a born again believer throughout college and only left the fold several years after college after much study and discussion with other former Christians. I edited, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (33 testimones). My book is cited by Scott McKnight, and also Dr. Hempdon of Harvard, in their works on deconversion and Evangelical Disenchantment.

    I noted your questions about how one can believe that higher things arose from lower things with “God” as the answer in all cases (indeed not just “God” but the “God of the Bible”). As an agnostic I do not claim to be so sure as to where things came from, and I certainly have difficulty imagining the war God Yahweh fashioning even a single atom without his jealous temper flaring, I mean this is the god who is depicted as destroying an entire planet, men, women children, fetuses, animals and plants, rather than targeting specific sinners. This is a god who comes down to see what some men are doing building a city and a tower, and “confuses their language” because of a lot of brick-laying. And still after the Flood and the confusion of tongues, things didn’t work out. At one point during the book of Exodus this god tries to slay Moses at an Inn, and fails, and later after the exodus from Egypt this god tells Moses that He wants to slay all the Israelites and start over just with Moses’ own direct offspring. Such stories lead to a lot of questions. I just don’t see that kind of god fine-tuning anything, rather I see the god, Yahweh, flooding whole planets and flinging brimstone at cities and turning people to salt because the Flood didn’t work at eliminating evil. Change of plans, etc. Not to mention “giving” people land that was already occupied.

    But more important than the question of lack of foresight and impulsive character traits above, we do have evidence of simple things leading to more complex ones:

    We see stars arising from nebulous clouds of dust.

    Astronomers see galaxies evolving when they look at the most distant quasars.

    We have evidence that even creationists accept that demonstrates stars forge elements like carbon via intense heat out of the simplest element, hydrogen. Stars form many of the basic elements simply out of gravity and hydrogen, and then when a star explodes even heavier elements with more electrons and protons are formed. So the whole periodic table of the elements arose out of gravity and the simplest element, hydrogen.

    And all those elements cling to one another naturally forming molecules and those molecules cling naturally to one another, forming planets, some with liquid water. Water itself has been discovered to be more abundant in the cosmos than previously believed, so have planets.

    In the life sciences we see that nervous systems span a spectrum of size and complexity. The species with the largest brains include mammals such as whales, porpoises, elephants and apes. One great ape species in particular, one primate that is, is man, and our large brains appear to have led to the greatest advancement in consciousness due to upright posture, free hands with opposable thumbs and language, whereby we have learned how to store information for future generations to build upon. And that knowledge was hard won over millennia.

    Neither are our genes far different from those of our nearest genetic cousins, the chimpanzees. They are so close in fact that we are as near to chimp DNA as sibling species of fruit flies are to one another’s DNA.

    Here’s a thought experiment, exchange a single DNA base-pair at a time until you have changed a chimp to a human being. Would you agree that at some DNA base-pair change the chimp actually became a human being, or would you disagree? Or do a reverse experiment in your head, exchanging human DNA with chimp DNA, would you agree that at some point the human actually became a chimp?

    Some creationists admit there are great difficulties introduced by the fact of chimp-human DNA nearness and evidence of common ancestry such as shared pseudogenes, shared retroviruses, shared chromosomal numbers, lengths and banding patterns:

    Creationist Admits “Problem” — “The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity” by Todd Charles Wood

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/09/creationist-admits-problem-chimpanzee.html

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Thank you, Lee, for answering questions for us. We appreciate it.

    I always find atheism-to-theism conversions to be rather anti-climactic. I am, of course, morbidly curious how someone might start where I am, and then move from here to there. But alas! I cannot really imagine ever being convinced by the same arguments myself. For instance, I am already very familiar with the cosmological argument:

    Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything

    Not really, you just have to believe that if there was a thing that produced everything, it probably wasn’t what we call God. We could define “God” to mean that which produced everything, but that would commit the equivocation fallacy.

  • http://martykay.blogspot.com marty

    I’ve been thinking about this “used to be an atheist but now I’m in the bosom of Jesus” types. At a risk of raising the “No True Atheist” flag, I don’t think they were atheists.

    I think they are Apatheists. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in god, but they just didn’t care. Maybe paid lip service, or attended church with family pressure, but otherwise it was either too hard or too boring or too much to believe, and so by the definition of their old faith, they label themselves as Atheist.

    They accept the label, maybe learn some of the ways Atheists act or think, and try that on: in a way, they treat Atheism as if it was a faith, a religion. They read the books other Atheists tell them about, they go to the sites, they nod in appreciation at the witty comments and condemn the god-bothering trolls… but, still, they start to feel something missing still. It doesn’t occur to them that the missing thing is them letting go of faith, but rather they start to feel the missing thing being god. They feel that its great to be out of the moral code of their old religion, and for some that freedom means going the other way, over to drinking to excess or sex sex sex. Because they are free now, free from that church they had been in.

    And suddenly because a family member makes them or there’s a sign or they burn toast and it looks like Jesus; and we have another Atheist turned Christian doing the lecture route. They couldn’t keep to their original faith in the first place, and the new one (which could be the old one, but is more likely a revivalist or evangelistic church) isn’t boring, they say the right things, couch answers in easy to understand (and wrong) logic. A(pa)theist becomes Theist again.

    Apatheism is not atheism.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Strobel wrote

    (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.)

    Translation: “I was and still am a moral midget, and I can’t figure out why everyone else isn’t a moral midget, too.”

    So far this is pretty pathetic.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    (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.)

    For me this is stuff is pure lulz. I mean, no one in their right mind actually thinks that gods come down and enforce morality – because almost all religions have the same basic values (against theft and murder, for instance) and almost all religions are mutually incompatible. Therefore, at the best, it’s not god but the belief in the moral authority of religion that makes these people moral (to the extent that they are moral – most religions also have very primitive, often sexist and racist and homophobic and classist; most atheists are really light years beyond the moral values that religions teach, just light years). Obviously, if it is belief in moral authority – not the actual existence of a god – which keeps people in line all one needs is a moral authority. Say, a code of laws enacted by a secular democratic government . . .

    Still, it amuses me that their arguments can’t be held straight from the beginning to the end of a sentence. It’s really just sloppy thought. A lot of other people have pointed that out – such as how atheism doesn’t assert abiogenesis, merely godlessness – but it’s really just funny to me how poorly even the best educated of them think. I mean, this man is a professional, here! He’s written books, given thousands of talks, and certainly in that time someone has called him for his various bad reasonings, but there he is, still regurgitating them as if by repetition they’ll gain in strength. Amusing.

    And, of all the reasons to become an atheist, to fuck strangers and take drugs (if that’s what he’s talking about when talking about his hedonistic lifestyle, I mean, I wouldn’t mind some specifics, but I’m lurid like that), I mean, that’s really just a pathetic reasons.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Still in the Closet:

    This is a retroactive interpretation of life pre-Jesus. Christian dogma teaches that everyone is a sinner in need of a savior, so when you become a Christian, you look back on your life and see sin. This is as true for the jail house converts as it is for the lilly-white choir girls.

    It’s also an example of the “spreading effect” in cognitive dissonance theory, where there is a tendency to exaggerate the positives of the choice chosen and/or exaggerate the negatives of the choice not taken. Between evangelical Christianity’s emphasis on how we are sinners and the common straw man of atheists as selfish hedonists, there’s an easy path to exaggerate the negatives of one’s past.

    I’m suspicious of the “No True Atheist” type arguments that I’ve seen here. Not all atheists are particularly good thinkers, and having his wife become Christian is a great psychological motivator to (possibly subconsciously) gloss over the problems with the evidence for Christianity.

  • SarahH

    I think “Still in the Closet” makes some excellent points, especially about the difference between seeking out refuting vs. confirming evidence.

    I’m sure Strobel can make a better case for his faith than he does here.

    Why didn’t he then? If he has a better case to make, what’s stopping him?

    And finally: I have to heartily disagree with those who argue that being an “apatheist” doesn’t qualify as being an atheist. I think it’s simply a subset of atheism that implies little thinking on the subject of god or religion. Apatheists don’t believe in god, but they also don’t go around reading books about skepticism or thinking about proofs and evidence – they’re apathetic on the subject.

    I think when an apatheist starts getting interested in this subject matter, they either end up seeking out refuting evidence or confirming evidence, and so they may, like Strobel, convert. That doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t believe in any gods beforehand.

  • Morgan55

    Strobel says, “While I now believe atheists are wrong in their conclusions, I’m confident that they still matter to God and therefore deserve respect.”

    How nice. Just where does this confidence in understanding what matters to this god come from? This is the same jealous, vengeful, genocidal, baby-killing god of the christian bible, right? Is it based on “the evidence”, or only legally available by prescription?

  • mikespeir

    Why didn’t he then? If he has a better case to make, what’s stopping him?

    Surely, Sarah, you don’t think his condensed answers to a few questions can deal as exhaustively with the matter as his books do. That’s all I’m saying. What I’m not saying is that he makes a convincing case, even in those books.

  • Ray

    Lots of good comments. I was hoping to find something interesting in Lee’s answer but only saw god of the gaps. I’m disappointed and hope there is more substance in future postings.

  • Aj

    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.

    No true scotsman argument doesn’t apply. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. Not having belief in deities, the supernatural creator kind. There are a number of phrases and ideas that betray a belief in God. No true atheist believes in God.

    a) Do apatheists read lots of atheistic literature and have a “systematic basis” for “atheistic convictions”?

    b) Do atheists know what God would or wouldn’t find acceptable?

    c) Does skepticism in gods relate to morality to atheists?

    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.

    Why I Am Not a Christian and much of atheist literature addresses directly addresses this nonsense, provides alternatives, and shows the fallacies. No one “especially captivated” by Russell’s essay would write this nonsense. Only theists see the universe in terms like fine-tuning, chaos, and unconsciousness with a convenient solution. Only theists see unknowns as game changers, atheists have lived without the answers to everything.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Chaos is when deterministic systems display apparent randomness. Chaos is not random though as chaotic systems can show distinct patterns and order.

    Dismissing evolution or the development of the universe as order from randomness is not a good argument. Order comes from chaos as a natural product and needs no further explanation, and certainly no gods.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj, what Strobel wrote was, “To me, atheism opened up a world of hedonism that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable to God if he existed [emphasis mine].” It’s a stretch to use this to argue that Strobel wasn’t an atheist. Even the question, “Do atheists know what God would or wouldn’t find acceptable?” doesn’t really help you, since we atheists are often told by believers what God would or would not find acceptable.

    Aj: “No one ‘especially captivated’ by Russell’s essay would write this nonsense.”

    Russell’s essay has three paragraphs on the argument from design, and most of their content is really about the problem of evil. His essay isn’t bad as a thumbnail sketch of reasons not to believe, but it isn’t something that would be an insuperable obstacle to an apologist’s razzle-dazzle. I don’t think that you have enough evidence to argue that Strobel is lying rather than engaging in fuzzy thinking.

  • http://learninfreedom.org/ tokenadult

    I thought I wrote a post in reply to this yesterday, but it seems not to have appeared.

    Props to Hemant for inviting Lee Strobel over to visit. My conversion has been in the other direction: from childhood Christianity to recent atheism. I first became aware of Lee Strobel’s writings at about the time when I was growing increasingly skeptical of writings of that nature. But over the years I have read a lot of writings both from the pens of people who agreed with me at the time and people who didn’t agree with me at the time (and some people who take positions I have never agreed with). Inasmuch as this is the Friendly Atheist blog, not the Dismissive, Arrogant Atheist blog, I would have expected a warmer, more welcoming tone and more insightful, specific responses to what Lee Strobel wrote in the comments here than most of the comments that appear above. That’s regrettable. There are a lot of Christian people who start out with Christian presuppositions because they were brought up with those presuppositions, and remarkably few atheist people who care enough to try to understand those presuppositions and grapple with them.

    Perhaps some people who haven’t posted yet can give some examples of FRIENDLY disagreement with Lee Stroble that is factual and dispassionate and informative to show the way forward. Maybe some of the people who have already replied can try to imagine what their words would look like to them if written by someone who disagrees with them. Practicing being both friendly and convincing is always a good idea.

  • Aj

    J. J. Ramsey,

    …since we atheists are often told by believers what God would or would not find acceptable.

    There are many gods, we aren’t atheists toward a particular god, we lack belief in all gods or we are not atheists. Even the Christians can’t agree what their god would want. He was concerned about the feelings of the God he would later believe in? How convenient! For an atheist, considering what one god, any god, would find acceptible doesn’t make the slightest lick of sense.

    I don’t think that you have enough evidence to argue that Strobel is lying rather than engaging in fuzzy thinking.

    For someone to say they were “especially captivated” by the essay then show a complete lack of understanding of it is disturbing. Fuzzy thinking is fine, incomprehension is fine, but we were led to believe differently.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    tokenadult:

    I would have expected a warmer, more welcoming tone and more insightful, specific responses to what Lee Strobel wrote in the comments here than most of the comments that appear above.

    Aside from those on the No True Atheist(TM) tack, I’d say that most of the commenters were reasonably friendly. As for the lack of specific responses, I’d say that is (1) only half-true and (2) due to Strobel’s arguments being stuff we’ve all seen many times before, and we don’t feel like reinventing the wheel.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “There are many gods”

    Ah HAH! You were only pretending to be an atheist, but you are really just one of those New-Agey neo-pagans. Almost had us there, but you slipped up. :P

    Aj: “we aren’t atheists toward a particular god”

    Sure, in principle, atheists reject all gods, but in practice, it is easy for an an atheist to think of a god or gods in terms of their environment’s local religion.

    Aj: “Even the Christians can’t agree what their god would want.”

    This is an overstatement. Sure, Christians differ over when to baptize, or whether the bread and wine (or grape juice) in communion are “really” Jesus’ body and blood or are just symbolic, but over moral issues, there is usually broad agreement: no sex before marriage, no pornography, no cursing, no stealing, no murder. I doubt that Strobel would have had much of an issue with the last two, but the rest could easily have been an issue for him.

    Aj: “For someone to say they were ‘especially captivated’ by the essay then show a complete lack of understanding of it is disturbing.”

    Yes, it is disturbing, but human beings are disturbingly capable of failure to think things through.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Why didn’t he then? If he has a better case to make, what’s stopping him?

    SarahH, as mikespeir pointed out, he can’t give as complete answers here as he does in his books. In fact, my feeling is that there’s not so much point in debating with him about the details of things like how a “God of the Gaps” argument works. Even in the unlikely event that he has the time to answer everyone’s arguments, we’d essentially get back one of his books, but in post form. The arguments (on both sides) are fairly predictable.

    I think the more interesting questions are more Strobel-specific: how he sees his morality as having changed upon conversion to Christianity, why he made the decision to interview the “authorities” that he did for his ID book, etc. . .

    I agree with tokenadult. A large number of responses, particularly those claiming that Strobel must be lying about having been an atheist, or that he wasn’t a True Atheist, strike me as rather dickish.

    And, of all the reasons to become an atheist, to fuck strangers and take drugs…I mean, that’s really just a pathetic reason.

    Chris, you misspelt “awesome reason” :)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I now believe atheists are wrong in their conclusions

    Says it all, doesn’t it? The sad thing is, many Christians cannot come across as any less damning than this. We’re not mistaken, misinformed, or at an impasse. We haven’t just gotten it wrong on the one point of the existence of gods. We are, simply and fundamentally, wrong.

    Well Lee, I believe you are wrong about there having to be a god based on the evidence, but I’m pretty sure there’s a number of things you get right, too. I’m also sure there’s plenty I’m getting wrong, too. And I’m just fine with that.

  • Aj

    It’s not the no true scotsman fallacy. People are suggesting that what he writes suggests that he did believe in a god. Pointing out that atheists can’t believe in gods is not an example of the fallacy.

    J. J. Ramsey,

    Sure, in principle, atheists reject all gods, but in practice, it is easy for an an atheist to think of a god or gods in terms of their environment’s local religion.

    That doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t understand how an atheist would start thinking of what a god they don’t believe in thinks. Writing that you knew what this particular god would be thinking (if he existed) is implausible for an atheist. I don’t see how to even entertain that kind of error. The same with becoming an atheist because of not wanting to follow your god’s laws. That’s just plain backwards, and obviously from someone looking from the outside in.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “People are suggesting that what he writes suggests that he did believe in a god.”

    Yes, based on tenuous claims on what a True Atheist(TM) would or would not say.

    Aj: “Writing that you knew what this particular god would be thinking (if he existed) is implausible for an atheist.”

    So it’s implausible for an atheist to hear what Christians say about their god and conclude that if their god existed that he wouldn’t like certain things. Okaaay …

  • Aj

    You have decided to stop replying to what I write, so I’ll stop replying to what you write. Accept in my case I won’t deliberately misrepresent what you write.

  • Tao Jones

    Aj, I’ve agreed with most of what you’ve said here but I’ll have to disagree on your last point.

    Having been raised Catholic, gone to a Catholic school for 14 years, been an altar boy for 9 years and a Sacristan for 4, I have a deeper understanding of the Catholic view of God than I do, say, the Coptic view.

    I don’t have to believe the stories to understand them — or a particular denomination’s interpretation.

    As you can expect, I’ve been to hundreds of Catholic funerals. Last week I went to my first Anglican one and it was downright flaky in comparison.

    I also wouldn’t even attempt to articulate the thought process of Shiva or Odin because I’m not as familiar with their stories.

  • Grimalkin

    Aj : I both agree and disagree with you.

    I disagree that atheists can’t have a particular image in mind when thinking of “god” or “supernatural.” For example, I generally think of myself as not believing in Christianity when I think of myself as an atheist. Obviously, I don’t believe in Islam, Hinduism, or any other religion as well – but I started off a Christian in a Christian society. So when I think of “the god who doesn’t exist” and “the god who doesn’t make any sense,” I am thinking of the Christian god (one of his versions, anyway). When I think of the scriptures that I disagree with, it’s the Bible that immediately comes to mind, not the Quran and not the Diamond Sutra.

    It’s kinda like when I think of cats, the image in my head is of my own cat because she’s the one I’m most familiar with. The religion I think of is the one that is culturally “mine.”

    Now, as for the No True Scotsman thingy. My gut instinct is to agree with you. He clearly came from a standpoint that assumed the existence of God (a particular version of the Christian god, obviously). From there, he decided to pretend that his god didn’t exist to excuse his behaviour – in the same way that I might pretend my mom doesn’t exist after I’ve broken a window, allowing me to enjoy my freedom before she finds out and punishment descends. But then he returned to belief when the opportunity presented himself.

    That being said, that’s still a brand of atheist. Maybe he wasn’t a strong atheist, maybe his motives were repulsive, and maybe (quite likely) the idea that God exists was always on the back burner – but that’s still a brand of atheist. I know that I, myself, sometimes wonder “what if God really exists?” (note that it is God, referring to the Christian God – never in my life have I wondered if Allah exists; bringing us back to my first point). That doesn’t make me any less of an atheist – nor does his eventual answer of “yes, God does exist” make him any less of an atheist up until that moment.

    Phew, verbose!

  • Aj

    Tao Jones,

    I don’t have to believe the stories to understand them — or a particular denomination’s interpretation.

    That’s not what I took issue with. It’s not the understanding that’s the problem, I understand some religions more than others. It’s obvious that people brought up in a religion will know more about it.

    It’s an atheist viewing their behaviour as a rejection of a particular god’s morality that’s the problem. Only theists view other atheists as rejecting their god’s morals. Rejecting a gods morals you lack belief in doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to say you didn’t want to be held accountable to a God you didn’t believe in.

    Another issue is that as an atheist you equally lack belief in gods. You don’t lack a belief in a specific god. It doesn’t make sense to say that for example, if a god existed he’d hate homosexually or loved mime artists. Since when do atheists think like that? There’s not one possible god if it exists, and it just happens to be the God that Strobel believes in now.

    Where are the atheists out there that think “I don’t believe in gods, but if one religion was right, then a conservative form of Christianity would definitely be it”? This isn’t the first time I’ve come across these “conversion” stories and it probably won’t be the last. That’s not to say I doubt all conversation stories, but some just don’t seem right.

  • Aj

    Grimalkin,

    I completely agree, that’s not what I was trying to say. Yes, as an example I will use Christianity before Islam. I’ll think about Yahweh before Zeus, although perhaps in time I can start thinking in terms of Cthulhu and FSM.

    You explained the situation better than I have, it is like he’s pretending that something doesn’t exist even though he believes it. I disagree that he’s still a “brand” of atheist. I can ignore the rain, pretend that I won’t get wet, but I still believe I will get wet.

    Wondering to me isn’t the same as believing, and atheism isn’t something you can be more or less of, you either are or you aren’t. You’re allowed to be conditioned and biased towards these thoughts. As soon as you start giving a shit whether a god wouldn’t like what you’re doing you’re obliged to hand your members card back.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    As soon as you start giving a shit whether a god wouldn’t like what you’re doing you’re obliged to hand your members card back.

    I didn’t know we had a roster. In any case, from time to time I still lay awake at night scared as fuck of the God I no longer believe in reassembling and reanimating my dead body, making it immortal and fireproof, and sending me off to suffer in agony for eternity, despite recognizing that fear as irrational.

    So I guess that’s it then. See you other fake atheists in church tomorrow. Where do I go to turn in my card?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Where are the atheists out there that think “I don’t believe in gods, but if one religion was right, then a conservative form of Christianity would definitely be it”?

    Most atheists have a background idea based on their culture about what God would be like, and at least subconsciously, think “I don’t believe in any religion, but if one religion was right, it would probably look at least somewhat like the dominant religion of my culture.” I don’t believe in Santa Claus, or psychic powers, but I still have culturally-based predispositions as to what they would be like if they existed. I’ve seen many times on this blog atheists argue that all religion is nonsense, and then base their arguments on the implicit assumption that religion involves a belief in a personal, benevolent, monotheistic entity. That’s not logical, but it’s pretty human. Is it really so difficult for you to understand that an atheist might wonder if one religion was right, and would tend to focus on one specific religion when wondering? You seem to have this weird idea that when you believe something, you must believe it with such 100% certainty that no stray contradictory thoughts ever cross your mind.

    Keep in mind that in Strobel’s case he’s not even an atheist describing his thoughts as an atheist. He’s a Christian reconstructing his thoughts at an earlier time. It’s easy to believe that, even if he was previously a “True Atheist” (as you define it) he could look back and honestly think “I claimed that Christianity was false then, but deep down, in my heart of hearts, I always knew it was true.”

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj:

    It’s an atheist viewing their behaviour as a rejection of a particular god’s morality that’s the problem

    As has been pointed out by others on this thread, that can easily be Strobel looking back on his past through a Christian lens. Greta Christina, in her blog post “True Love Waits… And The Rest Of Us Get On With Our Sex Lives,” expressed gratitude for having sexual freedom that many conservative religious don’t have. It could easily be that Strobel had felt more or less as Greta did when he was an atheist, relieved that he needn’t feel constrained by religious morality, especially the parts of it that he didn’t think made sense. When he looks back on that feeling of relief from his current perspective as a Christian, he sees it as an expression of his not wanting “to be held accountable.”

    Aj:

    Where are the atheists out there that think “I don’t believe in gods, but if one religion was right, then a conservative form of Christianity would definitely be it”?

    Remember that he converted to Christianity after his wife did. Offhand, what I think happened was that he was motivated by his wife’s conversion to convince himself that the brand of Christianity to which she subscribed was true. The desire to be closer to his wife would be a motivator to discount criticism of theistic arguments and seek out the affirmations of apologists. This sort of thing is a common phenomenon, and in cognitive science, it is called motivated reasoning.

    I find it far easier to believe that he came to Christianity through garden-variety cognitive error than that he made a special effort to put on a charade.

  • Tao Jones

    Aj, my comment was in response to the first part of the last paragraph of your comment here where you said:

    “I don’t understand how an atheist would start thinking of what a god they don’t believe in thinks.”

    Except Strobel, presumably, already had that knowledge of what the god he was raised with would think. This is decidedly different from accepting, rejecting, or even inferring a morality from these stories.

    Lets also not forget that Strobel is only now describing his experiences — as a somewhat famous Christian author. Of course he’s going to paint his past experience with atheism in colours consistent with his current Christian worldview.

  • Aj

    Autumnal Harvest,

    You’re confusing many different concepts. There’s a difference between belief and wondering. People are going to use familiar religions as examples, they’re also going to be lazy and not draw proper boundaries instead relying on implication. I do have this weird idea that people can’t believe in and lack belief about the same thing at the same time. I can be certain (not totally) of something while still having contradictory thoughts, but we’re not talking about them. None of this really applies to what Strobel was writing about.

    That’s an interesting idea, that Strobel is going back and injecting his future Christianity into his previous self. I can accept that as an alternate explanation.

    Tao Jones,

    Except Strobel, presumably, already had that knowledge of what the god he was raised with would think. This is decidedly different from accepting, rejecting, or even inferring a morality from these stories.

    When you’re an atheist you think of it as knowledge of other people’s gods, what other people think about gods.

    Lets also not forget that Strobel is only now describing his experiences — as a somewhat famous Christian author. Of course he’s going to paint his past experience with atheism in colours consistent with his current Christian worldview.

    I agree, this could be the case, but either way this story seems manufactured to serve Christianity.

  • http://learninfreedom.org/ tokenadult

    Where are the atheists out there that think “I don’t believe in gods, but if one religion was right, then a conservative form of Christianity would definitely be it”?

    Based on the examples I know, they are among friends who are conservative Christians who treat them compassionately and care about them. I think a LOT of people are influenced in what they believe about fundamental, big-picture issues such as the existence of gods or not by the real-world examples of human behavior they know. That’s why I appeal to people here to, er, live up to the title of the blog (I was about to say, “practice the Golden Rule”), because atheists can communicate to conservative Christians, IF THEY ATTEMPT TO DO SO. All it takes is really caring about the other person, which to be sure is never easy.

  • Grimalkin

    Aj: Honestly, I’m really on the fence. I think that what Autumnal Harvest brought up is a big part of this puzzle – he isn’t speaking as an atheist, but as a convert. We have no idea what his feelings were then, or even if he would have thought of himself as an atheist. All we have is this “post-brainrinse” account that, as others have stated, is so obviously coloured by dominant Christian perceptions of what atheism is and what it means to be “born again.”

    I think a very telling factor in all of this is the sheer number of people who claim that they were once atheists until they accepted God. Have there ever been that many atheists? Or is it simply part of Christian-speak to refer to their pre-born again selves as “atheists” – whether they actually were as we would understand them, or simply “Christian, believe in God, but only as a default, never really gave it much thought.”

    As I read through this discussion, my opinion as to whether or not Strobel was ever an atheist in any form that would be recognizable to those of us who are currently atheists is constantly changing.

    It doesn’t make sense to say that for example, if a god existed he’d hate homosexually or loved mime artists. Since when do atheists think like that? There’s not one possible god if it exists, and it just happens to be the God that Strobel believes in now.

    Intellectually, I agree with you. However, I most certainly have thought “if there is a god, that god would believe X, Y, and Z.” Part of this is my culturally-informed understanding of what it means to be a god – namely, gods must be morally good. So while my fiction-god is informed by Christianity, the Christian god could most certainly never be my fiction-god (I find that rather funny, actually). If there were a god and that god weren’t morally good, itd wouldn’t fit my definition of “god.” It would just be “really powerful magician” or something similar.

    All this is just to say that atheists can and do think that way. I know this isn’t really what you meant, but we do have our constructs of what god would be.

    Obviously, it makes no sense if you look at it objectively. Looking at the universe doesn’t give us any clues as to the character of the divine whatsoever – this is because looking at the universe doesn’t suggest a god in the first place. So all we have to go on is our imagination, and I can certainly attest to the fact that atheists have that in copious quantities. In other words, we may envision that “if god exists, god exists in such-and-such a form.”

    Where are the atheists out there that think “I don’t believe in gods, but if one religion was right, then a conservative form of Christianity would definitely be it”?

    Like I said, I do. If one religion were correct, it would be something close to deism – at least for me. This is simply because it’s the only god I could accept (of the ones currently existing in the human imagination). All others that I know of, such as the Christian god or the Muslim god, are too horrific for me to even contemplate. So like I said, even if they turned out to be real, I could never accept such genocidal maniacs as divine beings, let alone beings worthy of worship.

    As always, very wordy…

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I do have this weird idea that people can’t believe in and lack belief about the same thing at the same time.

    Your idea is particularly weird in light of the fact that a number of atheists in this very thread have described how they actually do think that way at times. People aren’t reasoning robots. People’s descriptions in this thread of their actual experiences and thoughts make clear that however much you’d like to argue that atheists, logically, must think a certain way, in practice, they don’t. Or else a lot of us need to turn in our atheist cards.

    I’ll sometimes think to myself, “If there is a God, I bet he cares more about whether I’m decent to other people, than about who I have consensual sex with. I bet he really hates it when judgmental fundamentalists act like a-holes in his name.” Now, I recognize that this is not really rational. I don’t believe in any God or gods, so in the unlikely event that one or more exist, he/she/they might actually be obsessed with who I have sex with, my adherence to various food rules, my sacrifice of ghee, or my use of prayer wheels. Logically, all are equally false, but in the back of my head, I have some vague notions that some of these are silly, and some are what this non-existent God wants. Must I, like Derek and Grimalkin (and probably Tao Jones) turn in my atheist card?

    Grimalkin, as someone who tends to be wordy myself, it’s nice to for once to not be the most wordy person in the thread. :)

  • Grimalkin

    Autumnal Harvest – I’ll pretend that was a complement and add that I agree completely. As always, we humans do not live up to the ideal. We are, at times, very irrational. I think, however, that an important part of being a True Atheist(TM) is recognizing when our thinking has veered into irrational territory. As atheists, we may sometimes think about what god would be, but we always know to shake our heads and laugh at ourselves for being so silly.

  • PastorWay

    You can tell the “I used to be an atheist” people were never atheists because they can’t deal with unknowns, they can’t contemplate being an atheist, they don’t know what it’s like to be an atheist. Their “conclusions” are all in defence of belief not in establishing new beliefs based on evidence. How dare they talk about mutual respect and constructive discussion when they demonstrate this level of dishonesty. ~Aj

    Aj, your statements are ignorant of Christianity and seem to be more suggestive of atheism… In fact, using your rant above we can see that, in the same way, you can tell that the “I used to be a Christian” atheists were never truly Christian!

    How can I say this? Because:

    (a) Atheists by definition can’t deal with unknowns. We Christians live by faith in Christ alone. Dealing with unknowns by faith, believing the Word of the knowable God is how we exist! Atheists instead refuse to bow their knees in humility and repentance to trust the God Who obviously created all things (Read Romans 1 and I John).

    (b) Atheists can’t contemplate being a Christian because they have never been born again. Can you know what it is like to be a tadpole? Only if you are a frog. But a tadpole has no idea what it is like to be a frog… yet!

    (c) Atheists don’t know what it’s like to be a Christian. Again, we are talking about a spiritual truth that is received, not by scientific or mathematic hypothesis and discovery but instead by humble heart repentance and faith.

    (d) The atheist’s “conclusions” are all in defense of UNbelief… rather than in establishing evidence for their unbelief! If fact, (again by definition) NO evidence is available, or CAN be given for your unbelief! It is a moronic idea. Atheists say, “I do not believe in it! Therefore I will argue a case against it!” You atheists surely spend a great deal of time trying to evangelize against a God you say you do not believe exists!

    Where exactly would you say the dishonesty in Biblical Christianity is made manifest?

    I would argue that rather than focusing on your imagined issue with dishonesty in Christianity, you should focus on helping your fellow atheists out by looking less like the stereotypical hateful, anti-God madman, and show a little of the compassion that many atheists say they have for the poor deluded Christians!

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Er, why can’t atheists “deal with unknowns”? I mean, we say we don’t know it – but that’s dealing with it pretty well, I think.

    No Christian, furthermore, deals with the unknown when they deal with their religion. Their religion is made up of a lot of very concrete, very material things – Bibles and churches and pastors, all of them reinforcing a particular set of beliefs in regards to Christianity (which is not to say all Christians believe in all of them, of course). No Christian deals with the “unknown”. Though I personally believe that they are wrong to believe in their god, they nevertheless have a great deal of information about it.

    So, I always find that argument a little strange. The position of a Christian is one created by knowledge and experience of Christian things – books, people, organizations, buildings, etc. I find it very weird when they then say that atheists can’t “deal with unknowns”.

  • Still in the Closet

    PastorWay:

    The atheist’s “conclusions” are all in defense of UNbelief… rather than in establishing evidence for their unbelief! If fact, (again by definition) NO evidence is available, or CAN be given for your unbelief!

    This is actually untrue; it is sometimes possible to prove a negative.

    For example, numerous studies have been conducted on the efficacy of prayer, by both sceptics and believers. Because of these studies, we can say conclusively that “there is no God who answers prayer in a way that is distinguishable from ordinary statistical dispersion.” Not a Hindu God, not the Muslim God, and not the Christian God.

    You can conduct whatever study you like, within whatever religion or denomination you chose, and the result will be the same: “there is no God who answers prayer.” Therefore, we can confidently say that there is a positive reason to disbelieve in a God who answers prayer.

    Things like this are actually why I left the faith; I did not seek out evidence in support of atheism, but was instead forced, over and over again, to confront positive evidence for disbelief.

    This was a very painful process for me. Cognitive dissonance is never fun for anyone, and the possibility that I would lose my friends in the Christian world, along with the threat that my burgeoning doubts were damning my soul to eternal separation from God, all conspired to make me want to burry my head in the sand, but truth kept up its assault on me.

    I had no desire to reject God. I didn’t want to reject His morality, I didn’t want to reject His people, I didn’t want to admit that I had been wrong for years and years and years. But eventually, all of the evidence, all of the “problem verses” in Scripture, all of the unanswered prayers, all of the questions about Theodicy, all of it added up to one inescapable, painful conclusion: I had been wrong, and the only intellectually honest thing to do would be to change my beliefs.

    I once believed that there were only two kinds of atheists: those who had not been shown the evidence for God, and those who rejected that evidence for an emotional reason, It turns out, that was wrong, too.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    Also, many atheists have been Christian, “born again” (I, myself, am glad I got it right the first time), and I won’t even touch the unbelief thing because it’s so silly it makes my brain hurt. Ugh. You can disprove things, but proving something incompatible with a hypothesis.

    So, when someone says something like “you can’t prove that invisible storks don’t deliver babies” that’s nonsense. You disprove the statement by proving something else, you say that the process through which babies are conceived and brought to term is well known and does not involve invisible storks. So I guess I had something to say, after all, hehe.

  • Aaron

    To PastorWay:

    You state:

    “(a) Atheists by definition can’t deal with unknowns.”

    Perhaps we have different definitions of an atheist. An atheist is simply someone who does not believe there is sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that a god or gods exist. I don’t see anything about not being able to deal with unknowns in there. In fact, being an atheist makes it easier to deal with unknowns because we freely admit when we don’t know something, instead of having to concoct a magical explanation for it.

    “(b) Atheists can’t contemplate being a Christian because they have never been born again. Can you know what it is like to be a tadpole? Only if you are a frog. But a tadpole has no idea what it is like to be a frog… yet!”

    I was lucky enough to not be raised religious, but in high school I was saved and went to church regularly for a period of time. I really tried to be a true Christian. But in reality I wasn’t able to perform the mental acrobatics necessary to really, truly believe it. Believing in god just presented more questions than answers.

    But I think the point of this debate is that no one here can really pretend to know the sincerity of someone who claims whether they are atheists or Christians.

    “(c) Atheists don’t know what it’s like to be a Christian. Again, we are talking about a spiritual truth that is received, not by scientific or mathematic hypothesis and discovery but instead by humble heart repentance and faith.”

    A completely irrelevant argument, as “spiritual truth” is a completely subjective experience. People of all religions claim to be recipients of spiritual truth. The only thing these revealed truths have in common is the fragility of the human mind and it’s susceptibility to self-deception. Which, is the logical conclusion of an objective observer.

    “(d) The atheist’s “conclusions” are all in defense of UNbelief… rather than in establishing evidence for their unbelief! If fact, (again by definition) NO evidence is available, or CAN be given for your unbelief! It is a moronic idea. Atheists say, “I do not believe in it! Therefore I will argue a case against it!” You atheists surely spend a great deal of time trying to evangelize against a God you say you do not believe exists!”

    You have things backwards, sir. The burden of proof lies with the believer. I don’t have to prove my unbelief in Yahweh anymore than I have to prove my unbelief in pink unicorns. It’s up to Christians and Pink Unicornists to prove the existence of their deities.

    And lastly, we atheists wouldn’t even be wasting our time refuting the ideology of a glorified doomsday cult if their believers weren’t so hell bent on forcing their beliefs on everyone else. I don’t see any atheists spending time refuting Buddhists or Hindus, because they generally keep to themselves.

  • Still in the Closet

    A few points:

    First, Dawkins (in The God Delusion) wrote about a friend who was asked if he was “a Protestant Atheist or a Catholic Atheist.” Also, there is the standard Atheist line “(Christians) are atheists about every god that has ever been worshiped, except one; we simply go one god further.” Both of these, I think, play into the way Strobel describes himself.

    When I became an atheist, I didn’t reject Odin or Zeus or Allah, because I had already rejected them; it was never even a question to me. Even an American who isn’t a Christian probably has a somewhat Christian worldview; they might not acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, but they certainly don’t acknowledge the divinity of Ra. Even if they don’t believe in Jesus, their atheism towards him is weaker than it is toward the other flavors of gods.

    Now consider a born-again Christian looking back thirty or forty years: he didn’t believe in any of those “other” gods, and he didn’t believe in Jesus, so that makes him an atheist. He wouldn’t have to make the leap that “there are no gods,” because that question was already settled by his culture. Jesus was the only horse in the race. Even I still have to make a conscious effort to say “I don’t believe in a god” as opposed to “I don’t believe in God.” I’ve been elevating Jehovah over those other deities for years, and to now equate him with the rest is an unnatural, albeit appropriate, action.

    Second, considering that many of us are constantly confronted with claims about how God would feel about our actions, I find it totally believable that Strobel, or someone like him, would say “wow, I”m glad God isn’t real, because he’s be pissed that I’m sleeping with Sally.” And then, looking back post-conversion, I also find it totally believable that he would interpret his own statement as his “atheism opening up a world of hedonism.”

    Third, when I became an atheist, many of my other beliefs and attitudes changed, overnight. I instantly became a supporter of gay marriage, for example, because the only reason not to support it was gone, and I started going to wing night at the bar with friends from work, something I would have never done when I was a Christian. Every once in a while, I find myself thinking “what would my friends from Church think if they saw this,” and it isn’t a long train ride to “what would God think, if he saw this?” Even though you know he isn’t, that question can still pop into your head.

    Finally, I can see the more agnostic among us (as opposed to the positive atheists) making something like a reverse Pasqual’s Wager. “If there was a God, he’d probably be more worried about how I treated people than what gender my lover is,” and such. This is actually a rather powerful thought experiment, as it can help someone who isn’t ready to reject the concept of God at least become free from the shackles of a moral code drawn up by primitive men in the desert.

  • Tao Jones

    Well, I for one am not about to turn in my atheist card simply because I can fantasize or play “what if” about the nature of a fictitious supernatural being. (Actually, usually it’s “wouldn’t it be funny if…”) Being an atheist doesn’t mean my thought process is determined solely on Boolean operations. It doesn’t mean we need to give up fantasy, but that we must recognize fantasy for what it is (at the very least when it comes to deities). I don’t have to believe in God to make inferences on God’s nature any more than I have to believe in Romeo and Juliet to make inferences on their motivations.

  • Gribble The Munchkin

    It seems Lee has made some very unbiased decisions in his acceptance of christianity.

    He took a long look at the evidence (not long enough me thinks, but thats neither here nor there) and decided it required less faith to believe in christianity than atheism. Hmm, why christianity? Why not Islam? Or judaism, or Jain-ism (is that right?) or any other of the many world religions. Seems to me that he already divided the world into atheist and christian, hardly a rational viewpoint (kinda like a reverse pascals wager).

    Secondly, although i can understand (if not agree) the belief in god waving his magic fingers over the spontaneous creation of life, he then puts this as “everything from nothing”. If Lee had read and understood evolution, he’d know that it isn’t everything from nothing, its only “the very first thing, from pre-existing chains of amino acids”. Not quite such a dramatic sounding leap.

    As for Lee not understanding why atheists choose to live moral lives even without god to smack them down (and it worries me slightly that Lee apparently only lives morally because he fears divine retribution), this is easy, its clearly because human moral behaviour is not based on fear, its based on reciprocity. I don’t go around robbing, theiving, cheating and lying because i don’t want to live in a world where this is the norm. It even goes beyond intellectual decisions. We have evolved as social creatures because creatures that share and care live longer, better lives than those that don’t.

    When Lee goes on to say “In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus” I’d be really interested to see what he means. As far as i can see evidence for the resurrection of christ = The bible. and scientific (sounding) evidence for a creator = any nonsense written by Behe.
    I find this strange as usually investigating the origins of christianity and particularly the religious background of the time is an activity bound to cause doubt. When one finds out that the gospels were written from 30 to 80 years after the death of christ, by unknown authors, and that many gospels were removed by the council of Nicea, it tends to cast rational doubt on the contents of the text.

    Still, am looking forward to Lees next reply. And i hope he has the time to address some of the comments, i’m truly interested in what his answers may be.

  • Aj

    Grimalkin,

    Yeah I wasn’t talking about definitional or logical restrictions. The word god can have different meanings to different people, and atheists can imagine a premise for a god, and infer from there e.g. The God Delusion. In God is not Great, Hitchens calls someone who even if the god of the Bible existed would still be against it an anti-theist, that’s not problematic, believing and worship are different propositions. Of course you can imagine gods as an atheist, Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett make a living out of it. I don’t think Strobel was doing any of that, I wrote that I think that his phrases suggest actual belief in a god although as has been pointed out this might not be an accurate representation of Strobel as an atheist. Strobel could be injected his Christianity into his previous self.

    Still in the Closet,

    As written I don’t find Strobel’s account believable, but as you say, if his account is inaccurate then that would be a reasonable explanation. I’m glad that Strobel’s god is unlikely and there’s no evidence for it, I wouldn’t want it to exist. Things pop into my head all the time, I can imagine fictional characters opinions, you can be an atheist and imagine what a god would think (Cthulhu: mmmmmm, souls!). I think the “he’d probably be more worried about…” stuff is starting from a few premises and inferring from them, or even questioning the logical consistancy of the god.

    Tao Jones,

    I agree with you, apart from the “Boolean operations” statement, that just didn’t make any sense. I’m definitely pro-imagination.

  • http://mylifeintheblender.wordpress.com Laurie

    Pastor Way:

    My story is very similar to Still in the Closet’s. Saying I was never a Christian because I am not now is simply ludicrous. I am not some baby tadpole that is waiting to grow into a frog–I have been a Christian, I have been “born again” and I do know exactly what being a Christian is all about. I was deeper in the faith than just about every Christian I know. I prayed,worshipped, read my Bible, was used as an example in sermons, served, had a huge heart for missions and outreach, went to conferences on apologetics and creationism, and had a long list of Christian authors I greatly admired and respected. I was conservative and lived it–didn’t smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage, or participate in any other “immoral” behavior. I did my best to serve and please God and sought forgiveness for the many times I failed. There is simply no definition of Christian that anyone has that didn’t define me. I even went to a conservative Christian college and married a minister.

    Super long story, but when I began questionning my faith, I figured I would ultimately be strengthening it. It didn’t. Instead, I felt my faith slide farther and farther away from me, and I didn’t want it to! On top of spiritual reasons, I had huge personal reasons to want to keep it: my husband’s career, my family, my friends–my entire social network was made of fellow Christians. Losing it was incredibly scary. I can remember crying and begging God to help me with my faith, but it never happened. It took a very long time to admit I no longer believed, and it was definitely an incredibly painful process. But I am happier now! I am surprised at the many elements I once heard in other’s Christian testimonies fits me now–freedom, joy, a change in attitudes for the better, etc. I thought I had those things before, but I didn’t.

    So I just would have to disagree with your entire statement. I did know the love of God, knew every Sunday school answer in the book, etc. But it just didn’t work. So I imagine that if your version of god does exist, he must really just not want me! :)

  • Wes

    PastorWay wrote:

    (a) Atheists by definition can’t deal with unknowns. We Christians live by faith in Christ alone. Dealing with unknowns by faith, believing the Word of the knowable God is how we exist! Atheists instead refuse to bow their knees in humility and repentance to trust the God Who obviously created all things (Read Romans 1 and I John).

    That is simply a bizarre sentiment. You accuse atheists of being unable to deal with unknowns, and then defend this statement by saying that Christians deal with unknowns by putting blind faith in absolutes. If anything, your comment is evidence supporting the claim that (at least some) Christians can’t handle doubt and uncertainty, and lean on blind faith in absolutes as a crutch.

    (b) Atheists can’t contemplate being a Christian because they have never been born again. Can you know what it is like to be a tadpole? Only if you are a frog. But a tadpole has no idea what it is like to be a frog… yet!

    Not only can I contemplate being a Christian, I used to be one myself. Unlike Lee Strobel, I don’t have a generic by-the-numbers (de)conversion story. A lot of factors, both intellectual and emotional, contributed to my very gradual move away from religion. But when I was young, I was very devout. I became especially devout after my grandfather, who was a minister, died when I was ten. I prayed regularly, read the Bible every day, and earnestly believed that I could look forward to joining him in heaven with God. I know how it feels to believe.

    (c) Atheists don’t know what it’s like to be a Christian. Again, we are talking about a spiritual truth that is received, not by scientific or mathematic hypothesis and discovery but instead by humble heart repentance and faith.

    As I said, I know exactly what it’s like. But the fact that something feels good to believe does not make it true. Sometimes the truth hurts, and is difficult to accept.

    (d) The atheist’s “conclusions” are all in defense of UNbelief… rather than in establishing evidence for their unbelief! If fact, (again by definition) NO evidence is available, or CAN be given for your unbelief! It is a moronic idea. Atheists say, “I do not believe in it! Therefore I will argue a case against it!” You atheists surely spend a great deal of time trying to evangelize against a God you say you do not believe exists!

    That’s utterly bizarre. You’re saying it’s “moronic” to argue against something you think is untrue? Then why are you arguing against atheism? Atheists argue against the existence of gods because they think the proposition “God exists” is probably false, and they wish to make their point and speak their mind. It is not irrational to offer counterarguments against claims one thinks is false.

    Where exactly would you say the dishonesty in Biblical Christianity is made manifest?

    There’s a fundamental dishonesty in deciding beforehand that the Bible MUST be true and then scrounging around trying to make all the facts fit your preconceptions. An honest appraisal of the facts allows for the possibility that one’s own beliefs might come out false. Biblical Christianity does not allow for this possibility, and is therefore intrinsically dishonest.

    I would argue that rather than focusing on your imagined issue with dishonesty in Christianity, you should focus on helping your fellow atheists out by looking less like the stereotypical hateful, anti-God madman, and show a little of the compassion that many atheists say they have for the poor deluded Christians!

    The above is so ludicrous that I lack words to describe it. You, sir, are in no position to lecture others about compassion, as your comments above demonstrate no compassion or understanding whatsoever for atheists. And your post indicates that you do not have the moral high ground when it comes to calling others hateful madmen. Your comments ooze with smug self-righteousness.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    PastorWay:

    I would argue that rather than focusing on your imagined issue with dishonesty in Christianity, you should focus on helping your fellow atheists out by looking less like the stereotypical hateful, anti-God madman, and show a little of the compassion that many atheists say they have for the poor deluded Christians!

    You don’t have to be a “stereotypical hateful, anti-God madman” to find that Christianity doesn’t stand critical scrutiny. Furthermore, Aj not having done a good job of applying Hanlon’s Razor isn’t evidence of him being an “anti-God madman.” either. Save the complaints about atheists being stereotypically hateful for the cases where atheists really are being stereotypically hateful.

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  • ishmael

    I agree with most of what has been said above, even though I am not an atheist. I am most certainly a theist, but not because of any objective evidence like Lee. Rather, I believe because of my own subjective evidence which I freely admit is not good enough to convince anybody of anything. My beef is that there seems to be only way of being a theist, and that is the evangelical Christian way. There are others of us out there who are not trying to trash science in order to legitimatize their own personal take on religion.
    Personally, I don’t know if Lee is being truthful about is commitment to atheism or lack thereof before his conversion to Christianity. To me, it does not prove anything. I am sure that is possible for an atheist to become a theist and vice-versa, but in the end, it does not prove anything for anyone else.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Apologies if someone in the previous 91 comments has already made this point.

    In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus

    What evidence? Also even if there is evidence of a creator it does not follow that this creator is the Abrahamic God\Christian Jesus. It could just as easily be Odin who clearly made the world from the frozen bones of his slain father.

  • Call Out

    You can tell it’s a fake letter! LOL HAHAH
    Everything about it screams Christian propaganda… especially when he says things like “oh, I studied neo-Darwinism, and the Miller experiment proved there is no God…” or “I was an atheist because I wanted to sin” LOL HAAH

    I love SHAMS! :)

  • Call Out

    Of course Lee would say such a retarded thing… poor Lee, lying though his teeth when he wrote it.

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  • http://walkwithmen.blogspot.com Michael

    writerdd Says:
    January 2nd, 2009 at 12:14 pm
    BTW, someone will ask so I’ll go ahead and put these questions out there:

    1) Do you only act in a moral manner because you think God will punish you if you don’t? (I find that sad and frightening, actually.)

    2) Do you think Christianity is the only way to “salvation” and that non-Christians are going to hell?

    Thanks.

    Donna (former born-again Christian turned atheist)

    Hey Donna,

    Here is my response to your questions:

    1) There is an assumption here that is fundamentally wrong. The assumption is that you do good or else! I don’t act in a moral manner because God will punish me. I do it because I love the Lord and what he did for me on the cross. It’s his love that pulls me to act in a moral manner. I do it out of gratitude.

    2) There is an emotional stigma behind this question. I wouldn’t be born-again unless I believed that Jesus is the only way to salvation. You know that already as a former Christian. But even so, I don’t believe that all Christians who profess to be Christian will be saved. Only those who are elected by God–who have put their faith and trust in the works of Jesus Christ–will be ultimately reconciled with God forever.

    Michael

  • FlyingPig

    Wow…Talk about a bunch of uppity non-believers.  I do believe that if we were all 10 years old, you people would throw Lee to the ground and pile on top of him in an attempt to squash him like a bug.  I don’t know much about Athiests because I’m a Christian.  YEP…Faith alone has brought me to my place.  You can all discount me and shrug your shoulders as you pass me on the street.  Most Christians don’t really care. 

    It wasn’t until I was told by an aquaintance of mine that he was an Athiest that I started questioning him.  He told me that there were too many rules to be a Christian.  The told me that he didn’t like going to church and he liked to sleep in on Sunday’s.  He even commented that the Pope was a child molester.

    I just smiled and went on my way.  All I could think was.  YES…it is HARD to be a Christian.  Yes, we have rules.  Yes, we go to Church on Sunday’s and sometimes on Monday through Saturday too.  We have many denominations within our Christian Faith but that’s ok too.  It keeps us on our toes.  I happen to be Roman Catholic with  Buddhist in-law’s, a Pentacostal brother and a daughter who is an agnostic theist.

    Reading some of these comments is eye opening.  It seems like so many of you are angry and annoyed with us Christians.  Let me ask a serious question as all of you Athiests are so interested in why Lee has turned to Christ.  Why…if you have absolutely no beliefs based in Creationism, God, or Theism…do you care what Theists do?  Why are you wasting your time with us?  Why not just sit back and snicker at us in the back of the coffee shop as we rush off to Sunday Morning servied?  Why don’t you set you alarm clocks for 9am on Sunday morning JUST so you can slap the old snooze alarm once or twice…you can all smirk and think “those stupid Christians are all shaving and washing their faces for Church and I get to sleep in!!!”

    I realize that I have asked more than one question but most of them were rhetorical.  So here’s another.  Why do Athiests care if a group of Christians want to erect a Cross at the 9/11 site?

  • bartesam

    I don’t believe Lee Strobel was ever an atheist, for several reasons. First of all, he does not seem to know that atheism is a brand put on people not believing in god. Atheism has nothing to do with wether he believed in evolution or not, and he calls an experiment on abiogenesis neo-Darwinistic. So he’s really taking a creationist approach to the definiton of atheism.
    Second he says he led an immoral lifestyle and did not want to be held accountable for it. I mean, seriously.. That’s how creationists describes atheists. I’m an atheist, I don’t feel like I live an immoral life, and I AM accountable for my actions.

    And this is really rich: “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.” No, Lee, atheism is lack of faith in god. It has NOTHING to do with how life and the Universe came about. And not knowing how it happened does NOT make god and Jesus more credible. And the funny thing is that you DO believe everthing was produced by nothing, cause that’s how god must have done it. You believe god always existed, and he came to the earth as Jesus. You base this on an old book, written and told by people who had no knowledge of the science we have today. And you also make a list of things you find hard to believe, that does not represent the way science tells it.

    I’ve read the case for Christ, and it’s NOT critical journalism. All of the people who interviewed are christians, and they have agendas. He does not interview a single non-christian scientist, philosopher or professor. Lee accepts their explanations without question and moves on to the next. One chapter is about scientific evidence for Jesus. I was kind of looking forward to see what he had there. It seems the evidence are archeological findings. Some of the historical sites mentioned in the bible, are real. And since some people have found errors in the descriptions of places, that later turned out to be correct after all (like a place that had the correct number of pillars, or something), that makes the bible credible, according to Strobel. So, historical correct cities and structures are scientific evidence for Jesus being god…

    The evidence for the ressurection is that there were female witnesses. In those times, trusting female witnesses you would risk being ridiculed. So the fact that they still did, must prove that Jesus did ressurect.

    Lee Strobel was never an atheist, he just takes on that angle to seem more credible to doubters, I’d assume.


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