How Science Brought Another Atheist to Christ

John T. Tolbert, an evangelist in Asia (click for credit)

If you have been reading my blog long, you probably know that I was once an atheist. However, the more science I learned, the less intellectually tenable that position became, so I eventually came to believe in some sort of Creator. Over time, lots of additional study led me to believe in the God of the Bible. As a result, I am always interested to learn about other atheists who became Christians. Indeed, I have a category about such people on this blog. I am especially interested in those, like myself and others (see here, here, and here, for example), whose spiritual journeys were particularly influenced by science. I came across another example just a few days ago.

His name is John T. Tolbert, and he is currently working as an evangelist in Asia, primarily with the Vietnamese people. However, he wasn’t always interested in bringing people to Christ. As a child and young man, he thought that there must be a God, but his parents were divided on the subject (his father was an atheist and his mother was Irish Catholic). Because of his mother, he spent eight years in Catholic school, but he says that he never even opened a Bible. Then, when he was in basic training for the Vietnam War, he was given Mark Twain’s book, Letters From the Earth. The book was published after Twain had died, but its content focuses on his disdain for Christianity. Despite having never read the Bible, Twain’s book convinced Tolbert that there is no God.

After the war, Tolbert went to university and eventually studied to be an attorney. He ended up practicing law in Wilmington, Delaware. That’s when his life took an amazing turn. According to him:

…our law firm was retained by the pastor of a church and I was assigned the case. This pastor always brought a Bible with him, and often prayed about decisions that had to be made – right in front of me, and out loud. I had never experienced such a strange thing.

However, thinking I was so much smarter than he, after a few weeks, I challenged him. I picked up his Bible put it right up to his face, and said “How can you believe the Bible when it is wrong in the very first chapter?” He smiled, and responded, “What do you mean, Mr. Tolbert? Evolution?” I said “Yes. Six day creation, Noah’s Ark. Come on!” He smiled again, and asked me a question that changed my life. He said, “You’re a lawyer right? Do you always form conclusions before you’ve studied both sides of the evidence?”

Obviously, that statement made Tolbert realize that he had never properly investigated Christianity. So, the pastor gave him some resources that were focused on the scientific evidence for creation. As an attorney, Tolbert was familiar with the fact that evidence can be “twisted” to fit a particular view, so after reading the books, he checked their sources to see if they were being honest about the data. As he says:

There was no distortion, twisting or misquoting. I slowly pushed my chair back from the table covered with all the original source materials, and said to myself, “Evolution is the biggest fraud that has ever been perpetrated upon the world. I have been deceived.”

Now, I don’t completely agree with Tolbert’s last statement. Evolution itself is not “the biggest fraud that has ever been perpetrated upon the world.” When we knew little about genetics and the details of the cell, evolution as a creation story actually made some sense. However, the more we have learned about the details of biology (especially molecular biology and genetics), the less tenable it has become. Add to that the fact that the fossil record speaks strongly against it, and you end up having a hypothesis with little scientific merit. However, the hypothesis itself is not a fraud. I would say that the certainty with which some promote it is a fraud, at least from a scientific point of view.

Nevertheless, Tolbert’s story is fascinating. While he is not a scientist, he was trained to examine and evaluate evidence. He was given the scientific evidence for a Creator, and he ended up finding the evidence persuasive. That led him to Christ. God calls to all of us in different ways, because He desires that we all come to know Him (2 Peter 3:9). I pray that you come to know Him as well!

8 Comments

  1. Marshall Wall says:

    “Add to that the fact that the fossil record speaks strongly against it…”

    Could you point me to some entry level resources showing this? I feel most evolutionists think the fossil record is one of their strongest supports.

      1. Marshall Wall says:

        Thank you, Dr. Wile!

  2. Ken says:

    Thanks for sharing this remarkable story! I don’t remember exactly how I came to your blog or how long ago it has been since I first came here. I was under the impression that you have always been a Christian and a firm believer in the Bible. Do you feel that the way evolution is taught its meant to exclude God out of the picture? That’s the way I see it. With Darwinian evolution, time and nature is all that’s needed. Kind of replaces the idea of a creator and special creation. I came across a website that looks like there’s evidence that humans are closely related to an ape-like ancestor. Can you check it out and let me know what you think about it? That’s if you don’t mind. Thank you and God bless.

    http://peacefulscience.org/evidence-and-evolution/

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ken. I don’t think evolution is necessarily taught for the purpose of excluding God. Certainly, it can be taught that way, and some people do teach it that way. However, many people teach it as the means by which God created. I have colleagues at the university where I teach who teach it that way and honor God in the process. So I think whether or not evolution is used to exclude God depends on the teacher.

      As for the article you link, it is simply not correct. It relies heavily on arguments by Dennis Venema, which have been shown to be quite wrong. For example, the author claims that the similarity between human and chimp genome is too close to be explained by anything but common ancestry. We know that’s incorrect. He is concentrating on the protein-encoding regions, which are very remarkably similar. However, from a common design standpoint, that isn’t even surprising. Humans and chimps require the same basic sets of proteins, so their protein-encoding genes must be very similar. As we know, however, it’s the rest of the genome (many evolutionists used to think it was junk, but we now know better) that strongly affects how those genes work to produce an individual, and that’s the main thing which separates human and chimps. Thus, one has to look at the entire genome. When you do that, you find that they differ by a minimum of 150 million base pairs. Consider how long it would take for random mutations to occur and natural selection to fix 150,000,0000 base pair changes. It is far too long, given the length of the primate generation and the “mere” handful of million years ago that the human and chimp lines were supposed to have diverged.

      He also seems to think Neanderthals are different species from humans, but DNA evidence clearly says that is not true. We also know that the chromosome 2 argument doesn’t even require common ancestry, and it and is probably wrong. Overall, I think if one is evaluating the data from as unbiased a view as possible, they argue strongly against common ancestry between humans and other primates.

  3. Bill McClymonds says:

    Dr. Wile, you made a statement that makes sense when you wrote the following sentence. “As we know, however, it’s the rest of the genome (many evolutionists used to think it was junk, but we now know better) that strongly affects how those genes work to produce an individual, and that’s the main thing which separates human and chimps.”

    From the standpoint of the genome your point is well taken. I’m not sure how you classify the comparative brain development between humans and Chimps, but I think that there is a huge difference between human and chimp brains that may not be able to be attributed to the genomic differences. Very similar central nervous system cells are produced in both species but they develop into significantly different connectomes (brain wiring patterns) and neuron numbers that produce a very marked difference in humans and chimps. Music, math, problem solving etc. are a few of the significant differences everyone recognizes.

    The reproductive capacity of cells is certainly related to the genomic information, but what about the potential 10,000 or more synaptic connections and neurochemistry of each neuron that specify how the information received by each brain is processed and stored? I’m not sure that can be attributed to the genomic information, but it is a huge part of what makes humans and chimps different. My tendency is to think that this type of information is more epigenetic in nature than it is specifically genome related. If so, I would be inclined to think the main thing that separates humans from chimps may not be in the information of the genome itself, but in the epigenetic information that somehow organizes and orchestrates the connectomes of each species and their functional synaptic interactions.

    I’m not writing this as an argument against what you have written, but I am very interested in your opinion of genome versus epigenetic as the main thing that separates humans and chimps. Obviously both areas are important, but I wondered where you would put the greatest emphasis if you agree that functional brain differences are more epigenetic in nature.

    Thanks.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      That’s a good point, Bill. I don’t think we understand epigenetics enough to really know how much of a role it plays in brain development, but it certainly has the potential to play a significant role. While new brain cells are produced throughout a person’s life (contrary to what I was taught as fact at university), the main way the brain develops is to make synapses between neurons. It is very possible that the making of new synapses is either influenced by or produces epigenetic modifications to the genomes of the neural cells. That, of course, could account for a lot of the differences between people and chimps.

      At one time, it was thought that the hearing genes are mostly responsible for the cognitive differences between chimps and people. Of course, that was falsified when the western lowlands gorilla was shown to have hearing genes that are nearly identical to people.

      1. Bill McClymonds says:

        Thanks for the reply Dr. Wile. I agree that brain development related to epigenetics is not well understood at this point in time. In addition to your comment about gorillas and genes for hearing, there has been a lot of emphasis on comparative brain sizes in humans and apes. There is obviously much more than brain size that differentiates degrees of intelligence. As you know, chimps and cows have brains of approximately the same size but chimps are generally considered significantly more intelligent. Whatever it is that is responsible for the wiring and neurochemistry of brain development is well beyond our ability to fully comprehend at the present time. Based on the difficulty of computing all the possible brain networks, it is something that may always be beyond the scope of what science is able to fully investigate. I’ll put a link below from marclab.org to illustrate what I mean.

        http://marclab.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Connectomics-and-Eternity3.001.jpeg

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