What Larry Alex Taunton Learned from Atheists Isn’t the Least Bit Surprising

Larry Alex Taunton is the executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation, a Christian organization that seeks “innovative ways to defend and proclaim the Gospel.” In his own words, he considers atheism “historically naive and potentially dangerous.”

Taunton recently conducted interviews with several college students who led their campus atheist groups and, while his research isn’t scientific in the least, he claims that he learned some very surprising things about why they became atheists. The results may be surprising to him, but certainly not to anyone who has given the subject any thought. In fact, Taunton provides us with no new insight.

Take this conclusion, for example:

They had attended church

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.

Umm… well, yeah. We live in America where Christianity is the dominant faith. Of course we react to it instead of, say, Hinduism.

There’s also this:

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism — people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.

Again, not surprising at all. Unlike some Christians, one book probably isn’t going to change our minds. It’s the constant hammering home of the idea that religion is wrong — which you get from the Internet — that has a stronger impact than, say, a Richard Dawkins book. Even if the books helped, I haven’t met people who were religious when they started one and atheists when they put it down. The books were only one of many factors.

Here’s one I really couldn’t believe made his list:

Ages 14-17 were decisive

One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

Maybe this is a shock to him because we weren’t indoctrinated with atheism growing up. Many of us became atheists only when we were finally old enough to understand and question religion. The teenage years are precisely when we develop our opinions on all sorts of issues.

What was he expecting us to say? We became atheists at the age of five? When we were 20? Maybe Taunton is used to hearing six-year-olds say they’ve been saved and he takes them seriously, but you need to have somewhat of a grasp on what religions even offer before you can reject them and, for most people, that comprehension doesn’t come until they’re more mature.

There’s one more that bothered me:

The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one

With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well.

Those two things go hand in hand, so it not as surprising as one would think. I initially began questioning my faith after my family moved and I had to leave my close friends. Of course it was a very emotional time for me. But that’s what started a longer, rational journey to atheism.

Unlike Christians, there wasn’t a moment when I became “unsaved.” I think a lot of us can point to moments when we first began questioning whether God really existed. We weren’t atheists yet, but once we followed that train of thought, atheism wasn’t too far away.

After reading all of this, the only question I’m left with is: Why did The Atlantic see this fit for publication? It’s just promotional material for Taunton’s group disguised as serious analysis of atheists.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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