Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Dr. Yingguang Liu is on the faculty at Liberty University. (click for source)
Dr. Yingguang Liu is on the faculty at Liberty University. (click for source)

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.”

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An Atheist Becomes a Christian After Reading The Lord of the Rings

The view from inside Bag End. (Photo by Kathleen Wile)
The view from inside Bag End. (Photo by Kathleen Wile)

If you hadn’t already guess it by now, I am a nerd. As a result, you will probably not be surprised by the fact that I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings since I first read the series in the late 1970s. More importantly, however, I am married to one of the world’s biggest fans of the trilogy. She knows pretty much everything about the books and their talented author, and in her mind, they tell the best fictional story ever told. She also liked the movies that were made based on the books, even though she had some issues with them. As a result, when we went on a speaking tour of New Zealand several years ago, we wanted to see at least some of the sites where the films were made.

Pretty much the only place that looks anything like it did in the movies is Hobbiton, the town where Bilbo Baggins lived. My wife and I toured it eagerly and were thrilled to learn that we could actually go into Bilbo’s “home,” Bag End. In actuality, the inside of Bag End seen in the movies wasn’t at the Hobbiton set. It was on a sound stage somewhere else. However, the owners had excavated a small cave behind Bag End’s entrance. We went in, and she took the photo you see above, allowing us to always remember the view from Bag End.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I ran across a very interesting article entitled, I Was an Atheist Until I Read “The Lord of the Rings.” The title alone is intriguing enough, but longtime readers of this blog are probably aware that I collect stories about atheists who became Christians. If this story isn’t a perfect fit for my blog, then, I don’t know what is!

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Secular Jew Becomes a Christian

Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)
Andrew Klavan is a prolific writer and commentator. (click for image source)
A very good friend of mine alerted me to a book that sounds incredibly interesting. It’s entitled, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, and it is written by Andrew Klavan, a rather prolific writer and political commentator. I have ordered the book and plan to review it as soon as I can, but I decided to do a bit of “background reading” first, and I ran across this thought-provoking interview that he did with Jews for Jesus. The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it.

If you aren’t familiar with the organization, Jews for Jesus is a group of Jewish people who have come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, and they want others to learn this as well. As a result, they do what they can to spread the Gospel within the Jewish community. Since Andrew Klavan is a reasonably famous Jewish person, it only makes sense for them to promote the fact that he has come to believe in Christ as the Messiah. What makes the interview interesting to me, however, is the fact that he described himself as a secular Jew before his conversion. In fact, he says:

After my bar mitzvah, I was done with the religious part of Judaism. Or any religion. I was always comfortable as a cultural Jew, though. I kind of liked being a bit of an outsider in that way. It didn’t mean very much to me but it was there. As for God, as I became more of an intellectual, I became an agnostic. For a brief, though important time, I was an atheist.

Note that he makes a distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist. This is an important distinction that is (unfortunately) lost on many theists. An agnostic claims neither belief nor unbelief in God, while an atheist specifically says that he or she does not believe in God. Klavan is obviously aware of the difference, and if I am interpreting his words correctly, it seems that he went from agnostic to atheist and then back to agnostic again before becoming a Christian.

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Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.  (click to view the article, from which this image is taken)
Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.
(click to view the article, from which this image is taken)

I have been pretty busy with the thermodynamics class that I have been teaching at Anderson University, as well as finishing up the last book in my elementary science series. As a result, I haven’t had a lot of time to write blog posts. However, I did want to share a very interesting article that I recently saw in Christianity Today. It is about another atheist who became a Christian. Her name is Nichole Cliffe. She is a journalist who grew up in Canada and went to Harvard University. She has written for different websites, including Slate, The Hairpin and The Toast, a website she co-founded.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I collect these kinds of stories, because I am fascinated by the many ways that God reveals Himself to people. This one is a bit different from the others that you will find here, however, because it has little to do with science or philosophy. Indeed, the author has no regard for apologetics. She says that coming to Christ involved figuring out what she already knew. It’s an interesting viewpoint, and I encourage you to read what she has to say:

Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

Kirsten Powers: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Kirsten Powers's picture on Twitter (click for credit)
Kirsten Powers’s picture on Twitter
(click for credit)
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I collect stories about atheists who have become Christians. I don’t do this because I think that they “prove” the truth of Christianity. Instead, I do it because I find such stories fascinating. As I read them, I become amazed at the many, many different ways God breaks down the barriers in our souls.

The latest story I have run across comes from Kirsten Powers, a columnist and TV political pundit. She began her career as a Democratic Party staff assistant in 1992, helping with the transition between president Bush and president Clinton. She continued to work with the Clinton administration through 1998 and then worked for the Democrat Party in various roles. Eventually, she transitioned to being a full-time member of the political media.

In 2013, Powers wrote an article for Christianity Today. Here is how it begins:

Just seven years ago, if someone had told me that I’d be writing for Christianity Today magazine about how I came to believe in God, I would have laughed out loud. If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion —especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt.

I have to say that her statement comes as no surprise. As far as I can tell, most members of the media don’t believe in God and hold evangelical Christianity in contempt.

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Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)
Dr. Wayne Rossiter holds a Ph.D in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. (click for credit)
Over the holidays, I started reading a book entitled Shadow of Oz. I have yet to decide whether or not to post a full review of it, but I did want to point out what I have found to be the most interesting part of the book so far: the conversion story of its author, Dr. Wayne D. Rossiter.

Dr. Rossiter earned his Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University in February of 2012 and is currently an assistant professor of biology at Waynesburg University. One thing I found so fascinating about his conversion story is that it is rather different from mine. Science caused me to doubt my atheism, and an investigation of the evidence led me to a belief in Christianity. For Dr. Rossiter, however, it was not science itself that caused him to doubt his atheism. Instead, what he saw as the consequences of atheistic science caused him to fall into the Savior’s arms. Here is how he begins his conversion story:

…I had developed into a staunch and cantankerous atheist by the time I got to Rutgers to pursue a Ph.D. This was aided by an equally atheistic advisor who was of Dawkins’s ilk. Advanced education at our best universities is surprisingly insular. Like bobbleheads, we tend to read and agree on the same things, and give little to no countenance to critics of our views. (pp. 3-4)

I couldn’t agree more with his take on the insular nature of advanced education in the U.S. I vividly remember several instances from my early years in academia where a “senior” member of a research group would make fun of a position with which he disagreed, and the rest of us would bob our heads in agreement without even trying to suggest that there might be good reason to at least examine that position seriously. At the time, I didn’t understand how anti-science such actions were, but now that I look back on them, I shake my head at the sorry state of our advanced education system.

What caused Dr. Rossiter to doubt his atheism? After achieving an important milestone in every academic’s life (publication in a major journal of his field), he and his wife celebrated. He stayed up after his wife went to bed, and he became plagued by the “big questions” about life:

On what rational grounds could I care about the state of the planet (or even my family) after I’m gone? And what did I even mean by “good” or “bad”? I couldn’t argue that any objective morality existed apart from our subjective experiences. Any moral laws that might objectively exist – whether or not anyone ascribes to them – would be beyond our grasp, and we would have no objective or rational reason to obey them if they did exist. Nothing mattered. This is Dennett’s “universal acid,” and Darwin’s ideas applied that acid to the human condition. If molecules led to cells, and cells to organs, and organs to bodies, then the “molecules-to-man” hypothesis was true. We really were just wet computers responding to external stimuli in mechanical and unconscious ways. No soul, no consciousness. Just machines. I was completely and utterly devastated. (pp. 4-5)

This led to some serious soul-searching, which included psychiatric counseling. His counselor was a Christian, and that intrigued him, so he read some intellectuals who found belief in God to be both rational and compelling. This caused him to doubt his atheistic view of science, and eventually, he became a Christian. The university at which he now teaches is a Christian university.

I have to say that I have never been impressed by the argument from morality, which is one of the issues he touches on in his quote above. I recognize that there are many who see it as the most convincing evidence for God’s existence, but it never swayed me as an atheist. Even now that I am a believer, I don’t see its power.

However, I do agree strongly with the last part of his quote. As I see it, if you believe that life is simply a collection of molecules whose interactions are guided by natural forces, there is no way you can believe in free will or consciousness. After all, if my brain is all there is to my mind, then there is no way for me to choose my beliefs or my actions. Indeed, my brain is simply a collection of cells, and those cells interact according to strict chemical and physical laws. There is no way to deviate from the outcomes required by those laws, so none of my actions or thoughts are my own. They are simply the consequences of the initial conditions of my brain and the interactions of its parts.

While this logical conclusion never convinced me to doubt my atheism (I was happy to be an automaton), I can see how it would cause others to do so. I thank God that it helped Dr. Rossiter to see the Light!

Another Atheist-Turned-Christian

Dr. Sarah Salviander has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is currently a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy.
Dr. Sarah Salviander has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is currently a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy.
As regular readers of this blog know, I collect interesting stories about atheists who have become Christians. This is partly because I was once an atheist myself, and it is partly because I find it fascinating how God reveals Himself to people in so many different ways. Recently, I ran across the testimony of Dr. Sarah Salviander, who holds an earned Ph.D. in astrophysics and is a research fellow at the University of Texas Department of Astronomy. She has a healthy list of publications in the peer-reviewed literature and characterizes herself as a scientist, apologist, and author.

In her testimony, she says that her parents were atheists who preferred the term “agnostic” and that religion played no part in her life as she grew up. Indeed, only three of the people she met by the time she was 25 had identified themselves as Christians. She says:

My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial.

This is something Dr. Salviander and I had in common. When I was an atheist, I viewed religion as a crutch. It was okay for people who didn’t have the intellectual fortitude to face reality, but for someone who was knowledgeable about science and philosophy, it was absurd. Like Dr. Salviander, I eventually learned how wrong such a position is.

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Counting To God: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist (click for credit)
Douglas Ell, MIT graduate and former atheist
(click for credit)
Douglas Ell graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with degrees in math and chemistry. He then went to the University of Maryland, where he earned a Master’s degree in theoretical mathematics. Not satisfied with only three degrees, he also went to law school and graduated magna cum laude. After that, he began his career as an attorney.

When he was a child, he went to church, but the older he got, the less he believed in God. By the time he was in high school, he wrote to his minister and stated that he no longer believed in God. His minister wrote back and gave him a book to read, but Ell never read it. By the time he got his law degree, he was a full-fledged atheist. In his new book, Counting To God, he describes what he believed at that point in his life:

It seemed you could explain just about everything with logic and science. It seemed God had no place in our modern world. I treated God like a joke. (p. 19)

In his early thirties, Ell had a son, and this caused him and his wife to start attending church. Ell treated it like a social club, but he did notice something: Many of the people in the church he attended (including the minister) had an inner peace that he could sense. He wanted that peace, but didn’t see how he could have it, because he didn’t believe what they believed.

In his mid-forties, a new career opportunity forced him to spend a lot of time on airplanes. As a result, he started reading about science, mathematics, and religion. The more he read, the more he saw a connection between the three. He eventually saw seven specific ways in which science and mathematics support the existence of God:

1. The evidence that the universe had a beginning
2. The apparent “fine tuning” of the universe
3. The complexity of life and our inability to discover a naturalistic explanation for its origin
4. The fantastic, futuristic technology that exists in all of life
5. The mounting evidence against neo-Darwinian evolution
6. The specialness of earth
7. The mathematical nature of the universe

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Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist.  (click for credit)
This is Guillaume Bignon, a French theologian who used to be an atheist. (click for credit)
Because I was once an atheist and became a Christian, I am fascinated by stories of other atheists-turned-Christians. I have written about several over the years, and I plan to continue to write about them as I find out about them. Well, I ran across another one a few days ago, and his story is different from the others. For one thing, it starts in France!

Guillaume Bignon was born near Paris. He says that his family was “nominally Roman Catholic,” but none of them seemed to take it very seriously. By the age of 13, he decided that he no longer wanted to go to church, and his parents had no problem with that. As a student, he studied math, physics, and engineering, eventually graduating from an engineering school and working as a computer scientist. He also played volleyball for a national league. Here is how he sums up his life at that point:

An important part of young male French atheist ideals also consisted in female conquests, at which I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life, and in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing (let alone believe) the Gospel were incredibly slim.

Obviously, God can conquer the odds, no matter how slim.

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An Atheist Detective Who Became a Christian

Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.
Cold Case Christianity is written by a homocide detective who works cold cases.
Those who read my blog regularly know that I like to discuss the stories of other atheists who have become Christians (see here, here, here, here, and here.) This post adds to that list of stories.

J. Warner Wallace is a successful homicide detective. He specializes in cold cases – unsolved murder cases that remain open, waiting for someone to examine them in a new way that will lead to finding the killer. He has been trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA), which is a methodology that examines a person’s linguistic usage to determine the veracity of what he or she is saying when being interviewed about a case. He also used to be an atheist. As he says in his book, Cold-Case Christianity:

My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview… (p. 16)

However, a fellow officer kept inviting him to church. He was able to avoid going for a while, but he eventually felt obligated to accept the invitation. He says that he managed to ignore most of what the pastor was saying during the service, but he noticed that the pastor painted Jesus as a smart guy with a lot of good things to say. As a result, Wallace purchased his first Bible, just to see if this Jesus fellow was the great teacher that the pastor made him out to be.

What Wallace found changed his life.

As he began to read the Gospels, he noticed something:

I had interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects. I had become familiar with the nature of eyewitness statements, and I understood how testimony was evaluated in a court of law. Something about the Gospels struck me as more than mythological storytelling. The Gospels appeared to be ancient eyewitness accounts. (p. 17)

Of course, it didn’t take him long to realize that he could treat the Gospel accounts like one of his cold cases. He could evaluate the testimony of those claiming to be eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Jesus, look for corroborating evidence, and try to determine whether or not the accounts are accurate. When he did that, he came away believing that the Gospels are, indeed, accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. As a result, he became a Christian.

His book takes you through his analysis, so that you can see exactly how he evaluated the “cold case” of the Gospel accounts. To make sure you have all the requisite skills necessary to follow his analysis, he gives you 10 tips on how to be a good detective. They are all great tips, but his first one is the best. He tells the story of the first homicide case he ever worked: a woman who had been murdered in her bed. A seasoned detective who had seen far too many cases took the lead, and as soon as he saw the crime scene, he thought he knew what had happened. Based on his experience, he concluded that the husband was the killer. However, as they investigated the crime, they found that the woman was single. All the signs that pointed to the husband as the killer (no forced entry, the victim didn’t put up much of a fight, etc., etc.) ended up being explained by a completely different killer (a friendly neighbor).

This taught Wallace to avoid presuppositions. The lead investigator let his presuppositions guide him in the case, and for that particular case, those presuppositions were completely wrong. Following them hampered the investigation. Each case is unique, and you should avoid any presuppositions you have about it. This is his first tip for any detective, including anyone who is trying to determine the veracity of the Gospel accounts. If you avoid presuppositions, you can allow the evidence to guide you.

After giving you his 10 tips for being a good detective, he then shows you how he evaluated the Gospels. He shows you why he thinks the Gospel accounts indicate that the sources for the four Gospels were actually there at the events discussed in the Gospels. He then shows you what he considers strong corroborating evidence for the eyewitness reports. He then ends with a discussion of the possible biases in the eyewitness accounts. I have read many, many Christian apologetics books, but I honestly think that this one has the best analysis of the Gospels.

Even though this is primarily a book showing the evidence that supports the veracity of the Gospels, there is also a lot in it for believers. Indeed, it taught me some new things. In evaluating whether or not the accounts in the Bible are authentic, he spends time discussing the “little details” that show the sources for the Gospels were actual eyewitnesses to the events reported. He notes, for example, that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s mother is never called by name. She is simply called “Jesus’s mother” or “the mother of Jesus.” Why is that? He explains:

The answer might be found in the nineteenth chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus entrusted Mary to John at the crucifixion. Jesus told John that Mary was now his mother, and He told Mary that John was now her son. ..Writing the Gospel of John many years later, it just may be that John was uncomfortable calling his own mother by her formal name. (p. 91)

This is something I never noticed, and had I noticed it, I am not sure I would have made the connection that Wallace made. This is just one of the many nuggets found in this book.

In addition, I strongly encourage all Christians to learn how the Bible came to be. In his book, Wallace goes through a “chain of custody” for all four Gospels, to make sure that the Gospels we read today have not been significantly altered from their original form. This chain of custody provides the best concise description I have ever read of how the Bible came to be. That section alone is worth the price of the book.

In the end, I think this book is one of the best additions to Christian apologetics that has come out in a long time. I strongly recommend it to everyone, but especially to skeptics of the Bible. If you are interested in what the evidence says, it is worthwhile to hear from someone whose career is devoted to following the evidence, regardless of where it leads!