Transitions and Steadfastness – Part IV
As a final entry in our list of scenarios for transitioning (or not) between Christianity and atheism, we’ll take a look at the idea of atheists becoming Christians. This type of thing always brings joy to the church community for many reasons. One, perhaps somewhat “worldly,” reason is that it helps us to validate what we already believe to be true. Somehow, it seldom works the other way around, though.
There are, as is usually the case, many reasons that an atheist might become a Christian. Typically, however, all these cases will have at least one thing in common. That is, the willingness to at least accept the possiblity that God could, in fact, exist. If one pre-supposes that God simply cannot exist, I don’t believe there is any amount of evidence that will convince such a person otherwise because any evidence of God’s existence is discarded from their analysis.
In effect, it would almost be more accurate to say that these people were “agnostic” rather than “atheist.” Though, often we will hear people use the term “atheist” to descibe this group. In fact, they often will describe themselves as atheists. But, the first step to Chrisianity is having an open mind to at least the possibility of God’s existence.
For these people, perhaps they begin to be asked questions about where they stand on this. Or maybe a Christian friend or family member starts a dialog about their “faith.” Perhaps they are simply curious and wish to honestly examine what evidence there is in hopes that they have come to the correct conclusion. The caveat here is “honestly examine.” If they are simply looking for evidence that justifies their conclusions, they will discount any evidence that goes against these conclusions.
Whatever the case, the atheist begins his/her examination. Perhaps they read the Bible. Perhaps they begin to study the historicity of Christianity. Maybe they look at philosophical issues such as the origin of the universe or of life. Let’s take a brief look at a couple of these various things.
In the case of the atheist reading the Bible as research, I think this often goes hand-in-hand with looking at the historicity of Christianity and looking into how reliable are the biblical writings. After all, if one simply supposes that the Bible is true, there is little room for anything other than acceptance of Christianity. The question, then, is how do we know that the Bible is true? And how do we know that it has been accurately handed down to us through the centuries?
First of all, based on historical evidence, we know that the earliest writings that became part of our Bible were written around the years 40-50 A.D. This means, in the worst case, these writings were within about 17 years of Christ’s crucifixion. Scholars generally agree that it takes several generations for what they call “legendary development” (the idea that a story is exagerrated to the point of legendary status) to occur. In the case of Paul’s letters, 17 years is far too short a period of time for this type of thing to have occurred.
Secondly, these documents were written during a time when many of the people involved in these events were still alive and could have easily refuted the claims. Yet, the disciples did not, in fact, refute these claims.
Now, some may say, “Of course they didn’t! It was their story!” But that goes against a great deal of other evidence which suggests that these disciples truly believed what they preached was true. Historical scholars seem to be in agreement that the disciples all reported having seen Jesus raised from the dead and they all seem to agree that they died for this very belief.
It is highly unlikely, for one thing, that a large group of people would all willingly give their lives for a message if they did not believe that message to be true. It is also extrememely unlikely, if one looks at the historical and social context of these people, that they should so drastically and suddenly change their entire view of God and theology without a very strong reason to do so. We must remember that what Christ did flew directly in the face of a great deal of the teachings handed down by the Jews for hundreds of years.
Archaeologically, no actual discovery has ever been made to disprove anything in the Bible. Skeptical scholars in this area lean solely on the fact that certain things have “not been discovered” in order to refute biblical accounts. What we typically find in this area is, evidence just hasn’t been discovered yet. Any time discoveries are made, however, it just shows that what the Bible said was true all along. One example is the recent (relatively) discovery of a series of catacombs beneath Jerusalem which was reported by Samuel and used by David to sneak into the city.
Philosophers look at things like the Kalam Cosmological argument which states that 1) everything that begins to exist must have a cause and 2) the universe began to exist. Therefore, the only valid conclusion is that the universe had to have a cause. When coupled with other things such as the precise fine-tuning of the universe (the “Teleological Argument”) and the existence of objective moral values, it begins to build a case for an intelligent designer.
Based on these things, acclaimed atheist philosopher Anthony Flew came to the conclusion a few years ago that the universe was, in fact, designed by an intelligent designer and is now a theist. While he does not accept Christianity, it is still a major change in world-view to go from being an atheist to accepting the existence of a divine being who created the universe. From there, Christianity is only a small step away.
Most of the time, if we are to summarize these concepts, when an atheist begins to truly and honestly examine the claims of Christianity, it becomes quite clear that no other explanation offered by science, history, archaeology or philosophy has the same explanatory power or has as much explanatory scope as the acceptance of God as a real being.
This is not to say that, as a Christian, we are to just attribute everything to God and not bother with scientific exploration, writing off everything as a “miracle.” Christians need not be afraid of scientific discovery. Science is the study of the natural universe. We believe God created the universe and all of nature. Why not continue to gain a better understanding of His creation? None of these discoveries should threaten our faith at all.
So, let’s not check our brains at the door. Let’s allow discoveries to be made and follow the facts to the natural conclusion to which they would lead us. Even if they might be difficult to hear. But let’s also be careful not to assume that these discoveries somehow disprove the existence of God, as many people believed with the Big Bang Theory was developed. No scientific discovery that has ever been proven true has ever implicated God as non-existent.
Study the facts, follow the truth and let that lead you to an honest conclusion.
Grace, love and peace.