Another Journey from Atheism to Christianity

Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University (click for credit)

Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University (click for credit)

Two people recently shared with me a very interesting article written by Dr. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Western Sydney University. It is entitled, “How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus,” and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. While I can’t speak for Oxford University, I am safe in saying that Dr. Peter Singer would not be happy with that title. He is a fervent atheist and a champion of the idea that some human lives have little or no value. I am sure that if he learned he helped “drive” a fellow atheist to Jesus, he would be more than a little annoyed.

How did he accomplish it? He gave three guest lectures at Oxford University, where Dr. Irving-Stonebraker was a junior research fellow. At that time, she was an ardent atheist. She attended Dr. Singer’s lectures and was stunned by their content. Essentially, Dr. Singer believes that atheism tells us there is no intrinsic worth to human or animal life. An organism’s worth is contingent on the cognitive abilities of that organism. As a result, there are some animals (chimpanzees, for example) that have more worth than some humans (newborn infants and mentally disabled adults, for example). Dr. Irving-Stonebraker writes:

I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.

As a result of her “intellectual vertigo,” she began to explore avenues that she had never explored before, including theology. She began reading Dr. Paul Tillich and was attracted by the intellectual underpinnings of Christianity. However, she was not convinced.

How did she become convinced? Well, there were several things that nudged her to her Savior, but one of them was a bit surprising to me. She writes:

In the Summer of 2008, I began a new job as Assistant Professor at Florida State University, where I continued my research examining the relationship between the history of science, Christianity, and political thought. With the freedom of being an outsider to American culture, I was able to see an active Christianity in people who lived their lives guided by the gospel: feeding the homeless every week, running community centres, and housing and advocating for migrant farm laborers.

In other words, she looked at the lives of people who took their Christianity seriously, and she saw that there really was something different about them. They truly understood that all of God’s children are precious, and they showed it with their actions. Because of what she saw in these Christians’ lives, she began going to church. She was given C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, Mere Christianity, and eventually came to Christ in the privacy of her home.

I have cataloged the conversion stories of several atheists over the years, but this one is particularly intriguing to me. For one thing, I have a lot of friends who aren’t Christian, and in general, they have a rather negative view of Christians. They seem to think that Christians are an evil (or stupid) lot intent on making this society a terrible theocracy. It is nice to read of an outsider who observed Christianity in America and came to the opposite conclusion. I want to believe that her observations are closer to reality than those of my friends.

The other intriguing aspect to this story is that in doing a bit of background research on Dr. Irving-Stonebraker, I learned of a book she wrote. It is entitled Natural Science and the Origins of the British Empire, and it won the Royal Society of Literature and Jerwood Foundation Award for Non-fiction. It explores the relationships between Christianity, the pursuit of the natural sciences, and the rise of the British Empire. I have purchased the book and hope to read it soon. If I find it to be as intriguing as it sounds, I will write a review of it here.

H/t to The GeoChristian and Sallie Borrink.

4 Comments

  1. Kathy Mokris says:

    Christians in loving response is a big testimony. In the US, seems that a lot of Christians are often into arguing points and worldviews, and that usually gets nowhere. It’s when we respond in love that the world notices and asks, “Why are you the way you are?”

  2. Victor Da Silva says:

    I know it’s a little( to not say totally) off topic but I have a doubt about the Horizontal Gene Transference in bacteria. I know through that method, bacteria can give genetic information to another, but my point here is that I recently read about one which can eat plastic. Can that plastic-eaten bacteria give this trait to one that can’t eat plastic? Let’s think that this plastic-eaten bacteria live just in ground, and for those bacteria that live in water just? I’m asking this because of this post:https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431283-500-newlyevolved-microbes-may-be-breaking-down-ocean-plastics/

    I wish to know if it’s possible that our plastic eaten bacteria is guilty for it. And now, for further information:https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23794-plastisphere-microbes-go-to-sea-on-flotsam-fragments/

    In the above link we can read:”Linda Amaral-Zettler of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and colleagues collected microplastic from the north Atlantic and examined it with scanning electron microscopy and gene-sequencing techniques. They found a diverse community of bacteria quite different from those found in plastic-free water.

    Some of the bacteria could break down hydrocarbons (the building blocks of plastics), and the plastic fragments were often pitted. Amaral-Zettler says the bacteria may be slowly eating them away”

    God Bless you, Dr. Jay!

    1. Jay Wile says:

      I wrote about this issue a while ago. While the New Scientist articles you link say we don’t know the plastic is being eaten, I think the evidence is really strong. When the pits in the plastic conform to the shape of the bacteria, that’s strong evidence the bacteria are digesting the plastic. In addition, the bacteria on the plastic are quite different from the bacteria in the water. That indicates they are specialized for dealing with plastic.

      However, this probably has nothing to do with horizontal gene transfer. There are bacteria that are designed to break down the hydrocarbons in petroleum. They need to be in the ocean because oil naturally seeps into the ocean all the time. Without those bacteria, the oceans would become polluted. Since plastic is made from the hydrocarbons in petroleum, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those bacteria can also digest plastic. Thus, I don’t see how horizontal gene transfer is necessary to explain plastic-digesting bacteria.

  3. Dana says:

    People’s stories are always so interesting to read. People come from all directions through so many paths. We filled out this “spiritual family tree” thing for some small group activity. The point was about relationships and that these relationships are what bring people to Christ. I didn’t necessarily disagree with the point, but I couldn’t fill it out. The humans involved in my conversion weren’t Christian. It started with the teaching of evolution in the public schools. I was considering a career in biology (back in the day, sitting out on the tundra studying wolf behavior seemed like a dream job) and devoured everything biology and animal behavior related.

    The theory of evolution made no sense to me. Or at least the abiogenesis part. I could have accepted the rest of it, but an essay on panspermia drove me over the edge. Theoretical science wasn’t answering the question, just pushing the problem off our planet and leaving it to scientific laws that may not even exist.

    All to avoid God.

    And that’s where I first recognized Him.

    It took a while longer to come to the conclusion that if I didn’t believe in abiogenesis, then there had to be a God. And that if there were a God, only one of them made any sense. And if I truly believed that, than faith was the only rational response. But that’s where it started.

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