In Christian apologetics, there’s a very popular type of story that could be described as ‘The Scoffer Is Convinced’. (It isn’t, as far as I know; I just invented that name. But it could be.) The three most famous examples are Lee ‘The Case For…’ Strobel, Josh ‘Evidence That Demands A Verdict’ McDowell, and, of course, our old friend J. Warner ‘Cold Case…’ Wallace. The basic format is thus:
The person in question was once not just a nonbeliever but an utter stereotype of skeptics (although the ‘stereotype’ part isn’t pointed out). They felt nothing but derision for Christianity, laughing at the utter foolishness of it all. Then they actually started looking properly at the evidence for Christianity… and were astonished to find how solid that evidence actually is. Convinced by the overwhelming evidence, they eventually convert to Christianity, henceforth to lead a happily transformed life and possibly write a multibook series about it all.
I’ve never either derided or converted to Christianity, but my story does have one significant thing in common with the stories above: I’m also a nonbeliever who made the decision to look properly into the evidence for and against Christianity and weigh it up as fairly as possible. I spent years of my teens and twenties doing this. And – as you can probably deduce from the fact that I’m here on an atheist blogging platform – I reached the opposite conclusion from Strobel, McDowell, Wallace and their ilk. As a result of all my reading and thinking, I reached the firm conclusion that Christianity is not true.
This seems, by the way, to be an unusual way of doing things; not the ‘deciding Christianity isn’t true’ bit, which is reasonably common, but putting that amount of time and effort into the decision only to stay on roughly the same end of the theological spectrum. I’ve read accounts from people who made the Convinced Scoffer’s journey in the other direction, starting out as Christian and losing their faith as a result of putting thought and research into it. I’ve read about people who convert from Christianity to a different religion. And, of course, I’ve read about people who start out as nonbelievers and stay that way without feeling the need to put much in the way of research into checking out other options. I just can’t remember any other accounts I’ve heard of nonbelievers who put this much time and effort into deciding that, yes, they’re still nonbelievers. There must be others out there, I suppose; I guess we’re just few and far between.
Anyway, I’ve told part of this story already; how I looked at the arguments for believing in (the Abrahamic) God and couldn’t find any convincing ones, leading to me eventually becoming agnostic and then atheist. However, during this time I was also looking specifically at the arguments for or against believing in the Christian faith. (And, no, this was not the same question. On the one hand it would have been logically possible for a god to exist yet for Christianity to be wrong, as per the many other forms of religious belief in the world; on the other hand, the fact that I couldn’t find convincing evidence for a deity’s existence anywhere else didn’t mean that I wouldn’t find it in Christianity, which did after all specifically claim to have such evidence.) That’s a story I haven’t yet written; effectively, the anti-Strobel-et-al story, in which a skeptic genuinely and thoughtfully looks at the evidence and ultimately reaches the opposite conclusion.
So this, for what little it’s worth, is my story; what one teenage skeptic made of Christianity on giving it an honest examination, and why I reached the conclusions I did about it. Not a conversion story or a deconversion story, but a nonconversion story.
While I do not anticipate any multibook deals out of this one, it has certainly run into a multipost story, and a long one. I didn’t want to take my usual route of spending months or years dribbling the posts out one at a time, so I’ve actually drafted them all already, and plan to post them on probably a daily schedule, linking each one back here as I post. (This might well be the only time I ever use the phrase ‘daily schedule’ regarding this blog, so allow me to take a moment to relish it.) Tomorrow’s post will be about the background; how I grew up nonreligious but not anti-religious.
Part 3: About scriptural (un)reliability
Part 8: In accordance with the prophecies…