If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I collect stories of atheists who became Christians. This one is very interesting to me for two reasons. First, I know Dr. Kramer personally. He and I met several years ago at a conference that we both attend regularly. He was familiar with my books, so he introduced himself to me. I got to know both him and his wife, and we became friends. I always look forward to seeing them at the conference. Second, as the title indicates, atheism was more of a “transition point” on his journey. I have encouraged him to write about this for some time, and I am thrilled that he has. I hope you enjoy reading it:
Dr. Sy Garte holds an earned Ph.D. in biochemistry from the City University of New York and a B.S. in chemistry from the City College of New York. He is an accomplished scientist, with over 200 publications in the peer-reviewed literature. Throughout his career, he held several very important positions, including Division Director of Physiological and Pathological Sciences at the Center for Scientific Review, which is responsible for thousands of grants that provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support important medical research. I didn’t know anything about him until one of my readers sent me an article he wrote in Christianity Today. I was immediately hooked by its title:
I Assumed Science Had All the Answers. Then I Started Asking Inconvenient Questions.
Essentially, Dr. Garte was raised a communist and an atheist. As a result, he relied on science to provide answers to all his questions. However, as he got older, he started asking questions to which science has no real answers. He then met some scientifically-minded Christians who led him to church. That led him to read the Bible, which he says he knew was false, even though he had never read it. Not surprisingly, he was surprised by what he read. Eventually, an Evangelical preacher on the radio led him to his Savior.
Because I am a scientist, I know a lot of people who think like Dr. Garte once did. Some of them believe science has all the answers because they were indoctrinated to believe it and simply won’t consider how absurd such an idea is. Others believe it because science has produced a lot of wonders that make our lives healthier, easier, and more enjoyable. Others believe it simply because they think it’s “cool” to say inane things like, “I believe in science.” I have many Facebook “friends” who fall into that last category. However, like Dr. Garte, anyone who understands science and thinks deeply about it will end up agreeing with Dr. Erwin Schrödinger, the man who gave us our modern view of the atom:1
…the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
Obviously, Dr. Garte came to agree with Dr. Schrödinger, and he has now turned to the Source of real Truth, which is wonderful!
Dr. Garte has a blog that discusses science from a theological and philosophical point of view. Based on what I have read, there are a lot of things about which we disagree. However, I applaud what he is doing, and I agree 100% with how he summarized what he has learned since becoming a Christian:
I learned about the power of the Bible as a guide from God to the central questions of our existence. I learned that the true purpose of science is to describe how things are, not to engage in misplaced speculation about why the world is the way it is. I learned that modern atheist taunts about the purposelessness and meaninglessness of the universe and our own existence are not only false but destructive. Most importantly, I learned that nothing I have learned came through my own merit, but only from the grace of our Lord, whose love and mercy are beyond understanding.
1. Erwin Schrödinger, Nature and the Greeks and Science and Humanism (Cambridge University Press, 2014) p. 95.
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I have always been amazed by the many different ways God calls His people to Him. For me, God used science to convince me that there had to be a Creator. From there, I came to realize that the Creator is the God of the Bible. For others, it’s specific people who are influential in their lives. For others, it’s a specific experience or a long list of experiences that add together to lead them home. To see what I mean, read some of the accounts I have written about atheists who became Christians.
This account is of Bill Hayden, a famous politician in Australia. He worked in government for 35 years, ending his storied career as the Governor-General of Australia, the highest executive office in the land. His atheism became well known throughout Australia when he was sworn in to that post. Usually, the Governor-General swears an oath on the Bible, but Hayden ignored that tradition and simply gave an affirmation. In addition, by tradition, the Governor-General is also the Chief Scout of Australia. However, Hayden refused that position, since his atheism was incompatible with the Boy Scout Promise. Instead, he took the role of National Patron for the Australian Boy Scouts.
Why was Bill Hayden an atheist? In an interview, he gave several reasons. His father was an atheist, but his mother was a devout Catholic. He had some bad encounters with pastors and priests. He couldn’t believe some of what he called the “tall stories” in the Bible, such as Naoh’s Ark. However, the turning point in his life came when his five-year-old daughter was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street after Sunday School. A kind priest tried to help him find comfort in prayer, but he found no comfort there. That seems to be the moment he decided he was an atheist.
What called him back home to God? Once again, there were several factors. However, the biggest seemed to be a nun named Sister Angela Mary Doyle. She worked with him to pass what is now called Medicare, Australia’s socialized medicine program. In the interview, he said that when he was with her he thought:
I had been in the presence of a holy one, a holy person. I felt it was something that suffused my system. My chest felt heavily congested with the feeling that I have been lucky…that I had been with a particularly holy person.
That gave him something to which he could relate, and he eventually shed his atheism to follow Christ. Towards the end of the interview, he gives some sound advice to those who are having doubts about Christianity:
Understand your faith. Don’t let your faith be damaged by the failure of a few agents who never allowed their faith to guide them.
As a young man, he certainly didn’t understand the faith. The “tall stories” to which he refers are not hard to believe at all. In fact, they are easier to believe than the tall stories that one must believe in order to be an atheist. However, to see that, you must understand the Scriptures. When his daughter died, he didn’t understand his faith enough to see how it should have comforted him in his time of grief. In addition, we must all keep in mind that many individuals who claim to represent Christ do not actually follow Him. We should not use their actions to judge the faith that they claim to represent.
Rosalind Picard is a Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is also a Fellow with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which is one of the highest honors that an engineer can receive. She even invented an entire branch of computer science called affective computing. She is obviously an incredibly smart woman who is a very successful in her field. She is also a Christian.
Several months ago, one of my readers on Facebook sent me an article Dr. Picard wrote. It describes her journey from atheism to Christianity, and I loved reading it. I really wanted to write about it as soon as I had finished reading, but every time I had a chance to blog, there was something else that I thought I needed to cover. Then I forgot about it. I was probably distracted by something shiny. That happens a lot. Recently, I was reminded of her story, so I want to share it, because in many ways, it is a lot like my own.
Of course, the best way to read her story is to just click on the link above, but I will add a bit of my own “color commentary,” just because I relate to so much of what she has written. For example, aside from the grade school part (it was junior high for me), the first paragraph of her story could have been written by me:
As early as grade school, when I was a voracious reader and a straight-A student, I identified with being smart. And I believed smart people didn’t need religion. As a result, I declared myself an atheist and dismissed people who believed in God as uneducated.
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!
In 2009, one of the largest German events celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, was headed up by Dr. Günter Bechly, a world-renowned paleontologist with an incredibly impressive list of original research published in the peer-reviewed literature. At the time, he was the curator of the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, and he wanted to show, in no uncertain terms, that there is absolutely no scientific dispute about origins. As a result, one of the displays in his museum’s celebratory exhibit (shown above) was a scale with creationist and intelligent design resources on one side and Darwin’s book on the other. Darwin’s single book tipped the scale, indicating that the weight of the scientific evidence was in evolution’s favor.
There was only one small problem. Dr. Bechly had not actually investigated any of the resources that were on the “light” side of the scale. Oh sure, he had read other evolutionists’ views on those resources, but he had not actually investigated them himself. He decided to do so, and he was surprised by what he found. As he explains in the documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines:
…and what I recognized to my surprise is that the arguments I found in those books were totally different from what I heard either from colleagues or when you watch Youtube videos where the discussion is around intelligent design versus NeoDarwinian evolution. And I had the impression on one side that those people are mistreated – their position is misrepresented and on the other hand that these arguments are not really receiving an appropriate response. And they have merit.
He ended up being scientifically convinced that Intelligent Design is the better explanation for the amazing world he had been studying his entire career, and he made that decision public in 2015. Then he faced a firestorm.
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.
As many readers probably know, I was once an atheist but was “argued into the Kingdom.” Because of this, I tend to collect stories of other atheists who have become Christians. What intrigues me about these stories is that few of them are alike. God seems to use many different means to call people to Him, which is both wonderful and fascinating. Every now and again, however, I find a story that is similar to mine. Recently, I learned about Dr. Patrick Briney, and while there are some differences between his journey and mine, there are some similarities as well.
In his personal story, he talks about wanting to be a medical doctor from an early age. When he went to university to start pursuing his dream, however, something happened. A young lady who eventually became his wife called him to tell him that she had become a Christian, and she put him in contact with a person on his campus, the University of California, Irvine. According to Dr. Briney, this
…led to Bible studies, discovering answers, and eventually my salvation about two years later.
In this version of his story, he is short on the details, but according to another article he wrote, creation science played a role in this process. As I read that article, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities (and differences) between his story and mine.
In a previous post, I discussed Andrew Klavan’s conversion story and mentioned that he had written a book about it. I said I would read and review it when I had the chance. I read it a few weeks ago, but the book requires quite a bit of reflection to review, so I have only now come to the point where I can actually write my thoughts about it. It’s not that the book is hard to understand. It’s that the book is a real mixed bag.
First, let me say that Mr. Klavan is a masterful writer. When you sit back and think about the way that he is expressing his thoughts, you realize what an artist he is with words. However, what he says varies from shamefully self-indulgent to amazingly profound. There were times I got so annoyed with the self-indulgence that I nearly put the book away, but his flashes of brilliance kept me going. He says that his first draft was nearly twice as long as the final copy and that his wife helped him clean it up. I am glad she did, because I don’t think that his flashes of brilliance would have gotten me through nearly twice as many pages!
Now don’t get me wrong. I really am glad that I read the book, and I think that lots of people should read it. I am just warning you that there are times you will roll your eyes and think, “Please don’t give me another detailed account of another memory.” Of course, I understand the problem. He’s telling you about how he made the dramatic change from a Jewish person who didn’t believe in God to a Jewish person who started following God’s Son. That’s a remarkable change, and it requires a lot of backstory. I just think Mr. Kalvan gives you too much backstory. However, dealing with the backstory is well worth it, because the overall story is both compelling and important.
I recently read a very interesting interview with Dr. Yingguang Liu, who was born and raised in rural China. From as early as he remembers, he was taught atheism, and he didn’t know anyone who had religious beliefs. He lived an impoverished life but was an excellent student. Upon graduating high school, he was accepted into medical school and ended up earning his Bachelor of Medicine degree. Because he had experienced patients with hepatitis, he wanted to find a cure, so he earned his Master of Medicine degree in order to do medical research. However, he quickly became disillusioned. In his words (which are similar to those of Dr. Judith Curry):
During those years, I learned something about the negative side of science. The equation for a scientific career was: Science + politics = grants = fame + fortune. I was disillusioned by the monopoly and hypocrisy of the scientific community.
As a result of his disillusionment, Dr. Liu decided to work as a physician. He spent four years as an infectious disease expert at Jinan Infectious Diseases Hospital. He then moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. at Ohio State University, and that’s where he first met Christians.
A Chinese Bible Study group had printed advertisements for a picnic, and he attended it, not really knowing what the group was all about. He said that he was he was attracted by their friendliness and welcoming smiles, so he started attending their Bible study. During their first winter break, he went to a Chinese Christian Conference in Chicago with the group, and at the end of one of the messages, he accepted Jesus Christ as his “Saviour, Master, and Friend.”