One (More) Journey From Atheism to Christianity

To the many stories of those moving from atheism to faith in Christ, we add the following, a story of a highly-educated Oxford grad who was faced with an intellectual challenge to what he believed. You can read about it over on bethinking.org, which you can read about here.

As part of the article says about C. S. Lewis, “As he rightly points out, we cannot complain about the existence of evil and suffering, and use that as an argument against the existence and goodness of God, unless we first believe that the standard of right and wrong by which we judge and condemn our world is an objective one. . . But if this is the case, what explains the existence within us of this inner moral code or compass? According to atheism, human beings and all their thinking processes are simply the accidental by-products of the mindless movement of atoms within an undesigned, random, and purposeless universe. . .

In other words, Lewis argues, atheism cuts its own throat philosophically, because it discredits all human reasoning, including the arguments for atheism. ‘If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.’

This story of the atheist who turned theist is added to the many more thinking atheists who did the same thing, not the least of which are Anthony Flew, C. S. Lewis, J. Budziszewski, Lee Strobel, and Frank Morison.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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10 Responses to One (More) Journey From Atheism to Christianity

  1. R.Ross says:

    C.S.Lewis is well worth reading but it’s also a bit easy to compare the extreme religion of atheism, which is what it has become, to extreme versions of Christianity. They represent polar opposites – the important ground is the middle ground. Anyone who goes too far in one direction will have the opposite extreme at work as a Shadow which is why extreme views lead to fanaticism and rigid dogma – the latter being required to stave of the terror of that which is at work in the psyche’s shadow, that which seeks to balance the extreme position.
    Lewis is a brilliant read but also says some things which are sourced in the limited nature of his times and his religious beliefs – he does however have the gift of humour – something which often seems to be missing in those who take extreme positions, which C.S. Lewis did not. It is his humanity and struggle which endears him.

    • humblesmith says:

      “the important ground is the middle ground”

      I’m afraid that the middle ground on the question of God’s existence is quite impossible. It’s almost like the middle ground on being pregnant……either God exists or he doesn’t.

      But I do share the belief that there are some extreme views that we should avoid. Extreme emotionalism on either end rarely leads to level-headed thinking or respect for others.

  2. Robert says:

    “But if this is the case, what explains the existence within us of this inner moral code or compass?”

    This moral code or compass the writer refers comes from a number of socially contingent factors, experience, and evolutionary programming. But simple observation shows that there has never been a single moral code to which people appeal (i.e., an objective moral law ‘written on our hearts’). How long was slavery viewed as a perfectly moral practice, even by Christians, before humans began to see it as immoral?

    Yes, I know Lewis believes that there has never been “totally different” moralities, but he posits a false choice: either all moralties are essentially the same, or they’re all totally different. In reality, many moral codes do contain common elements, but they also contain elements that are wholly at odds with those found in other codes.

    “In other words, Lewis argues, atheism cuts its own throat philosophically, because it discredits all human reasoning, including the arguments for atheism.”

    I don’t follow the writer’s logic here. How, precisely, does the discovery the universe has no meaning discredit human reasoning? There seems to be some unstated connection between meaning and reasoning that I don’t see.

    “This story of the atheist who turned theist is added to the many more thinking atheists who did the same thing, not the least of which are Anthony Flew, C. S. Lewis, J. Budziszewski, Lee Strobel, and Frank Morison.”

    I don’t think Flew actually became a theist; he seems to be more a deist.

    Is it your opinion that the number of atheist conversts to Christianity exceeds the number of deconverts?

    • humblesmith says:

      In the book Abolition of Man, Lewis deals at some length with the distinction between the underlying morality and the application of the moral law. In short, he demonstrates that while the application of the moral law is indeed different from culture to culture, the underlying moral code is the same. I will refer you to his book for a more lengthy and better answer than I am able to give here.
      But in effect, universal moral law is quite easy to demonstrate. While cultures disagree on how many wives are acceptable, no culture believes a man can have any woman he wants. Further, I have issued the following challenge for quite some time: If anyone truly feels that stealing is but a social norm, please tell me when you’re not going to be at home and leave your door unlocked. So far, every single person has universally and objectively felt it wrong for me to steal their stuff. Some must think it OK to steal my stuff, for they have stolen some, but so far I’ve not met anyone who thinks it OK for me to steal their stuff…..at least, not enough to take me up on my proposal.

      In the appendix to Abolition of Man, he lists quite a number of laws and codes from various times and countries, showing that we all do indeed have very similar laws. And the body of the work deals with the differences between cultures, so he has anticipated your objection.

      As Lewis goes on to point out, everyone has something that they hold to be truly, universally wrong…..something that they feel ought not be done, and they hold this to be more than mere instinct, opinion, or social contract. If atheism were true, and all that exists is physics and chemistry, then we never would have come up with the concept of “ought” in the first place. The word would have no meaning, and “ought” never would have been been discusssed in any context whatsoever. I have dealt with this at some length in several blog posts; try searching for “morality” in my search box.

      The connection you speak of becomes apparent when read in context; Mere Christianity spends some time laying out Lewis’ objections he had when he was an atheist. One of his main objections against God was that the world was so cruel. But if God does not exist, then all that exists are natural forces, and cruelty is not a concept that arises in chemistry and physics. I’ve explained the logic, and how it refutes itself, in this post: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/does-the-existence-of-moral-evil-prove-or-disprove-god/

      You are correct about Flew. I stand corrected.

      I also do not wish to come across as knowing how many atheists or theists have switched sides; if I came across that way I did not mean to. I merely meant to demonstrate that some thinking atheists have indeed become theists. I make this point because I’ve had atheists tell me that all thinking people become atheists, and they’ve never heard of a thinking person who became a Christian. The list proves that view false.

  3. Robert says:

    But in effect, universal moral law is quite easy to demonstrate. While cultures disagree on how

    many wives are acceptable, no culture believes a man can have any woman he wants.

    That does not seem correct. Many cultures throughout history have been ruled by men who regard their subjects

    as mere servants or property, and in that sense, do believe they “can have any woman they want.”

    Further, I have issued the following challenge for quite some time: If anyone truly feels that

    stealing is but a social norm, please tell me when you’re not going to be at home and leave your door

    unlocked. So far, every single person has universally and objectively felt it wrong for me to steal their

    stuff.

    It’s not clear what you mean by “social norm”. Could you elaborate? I undersand it to be implicit or

    explicit rules specifying what behaviors are acceptable. If stealing is explicitly forbidden, I can

    legitimately feel it’s wrong for you to steal my stuff. Why there exists such a social norm is quite easily

    demonstrated; just do a little research on property rights.

    Also, I won’t be home tomorrow between the hours 8:30 am to 6 pm. I will keep the door unlocked. I have not

    given you permission to enter my home, however. Will you be dropping in?

    It should be noted that stealing someone else’s stuff has long been considered perfectly legitimate –

    particularly when that stuff belongs to another nation, culture, or tribe. This is perhaps the leading cause

    of warfare, which has been rife throughout human history. How does one square this with the alleged existence

    of a divine “natural law”?

    In the appendix to Abolition of Man, he lists quite a number of laws and codes from various times

    and countries, showing that we all do indeed have very similar laws.

    Upon a review of the appendix, it’s clear he does not show we “all” indeed have very similar laws. Lewis has only shown that some cultures at

    various times have had similar norms. Except for a couple obscure “Redskin” references, for example, all of the Americas are not represented.

    And the body of the work deals with the differences between cultures, so he has anticipated your objection.

    If you’re referring to the section following Lewis’s question,

    And is it, in any event, possible to talk of obeying what I call the Tao? If we lump together, as I have done, the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew, shall we not find many contradictions and some absurdities?

    I do not see where Lewis actually explains or answers the contradictions in moral codes.

    As Lewis goes on to point out, everyone has something that they hold to be truly, universally

    wrong…..something that they feel ought not be done, and they hold this to be more than mere instinct, opinion,

    or social contract.

    Where is Lewis’s evidence for this claim? I can agree that everyone has something they hold to be truly

    wrong, but the “universal” part seems incorrect. For example, one may consider “bearing false witness” to be

    truly wrong, but also hold that it’s justified in some circumstances (to preserve innocent life, for example).

    The other trouble, of course, is the example of slavery I initially raised. If the “natural law” informs us

    this is a truly universal wrong, then why was it widely practiced up until relatively recently? I cannot find an explanation from Lewis.

    If atheism were true, and all that exists is physics and chemistry, then we never would have come up with the concept of “ought” in the first place.

    This would be an extreme strawman view of atheism. Besides, we can frequently infer “oughts” from simple observation of cause and effect when coupled with the value of the preservation of well-being.

    The connection you speak of becomes apparent when read in context; Mere Christianity spends some time laying out Lewis’ objections he had when he was an atheist. One of his main objections against God was that the world was so cruel.

    Sorry, the connection remains invisible to me. The problem of evil does not seem relevant to my question: “How, precisely, does the discovery the universe has no meaning discredit human reasoning?”

    Also, your post “Does the Existence of Moral Evil Prove or Disprove God?” does not constitute an accurate portrayal of the problem.

    I make this point because I’ve had atheists tell me that all thinking people become atheists, and they’ve never heard of a thinking person who became a Christian.

    That’s indeed a weird claim and self-evidently false. I would, however, say that insofar as scientists are proxies for what we may consider “cutting-edge human thinkers”, most such people do become atheists.

    • humblesmith says:

      Sorry if this is so long.

      “Many cultures throughout history have been ruled by men who regard their subjects
      as mere servants or property, and in that sense, do believe they “can have any woman they want.”

      My Reply: Again, if women are viewed as property, no one believes their property can be taken by anyone. Not even strict ideological communists ever believed that. They might have what we consider a very low view of women so that women are viewed as pure property, but as soon as you go try to take their property, they’ll get quite upset, and say that this was a wrong act.

      “t’s not clear what you mean by “social norm”. Could you elaborate? I undersand it to be implicit or explicit rules specifying what behaviors are acceptable. If stealing is explicitly forbidden, I can legitimately feel it’s wrong for you to steal my stuff. Why there exists such a social norm is quite easily demonstrated; just do a little research on property rights.”

      My Reply: By social norm I am referring to one theory of moral foundations called Social Contract Theory, which says that the foundation for morality comes from agreements that social groups make amongst themselves. The idea is that the reason we take any given issue as morally wrong is because society, for whatever reason, has determined that particular issue should not happen. There are several issues with social contract theory: 1) it does not explain how we got the concept of “ought” in the first place (more on this later); 2) social contract theory would mean that that all issues are morally wrong only because the society has deemed it so, but every person has some issue that they feel is wrong no matter whether society agrees on it or not. 3) social contract theory would prevent us from looking at any other society and saying “they are wrong.” We would give up the ability to look at any other culture, Nazi or otherwise, and say their view is wrong. Again, no one can hold this view consistently.

      “It should be noted that stealing someone else’s stuff has long been considered perfectly legitimate – particularly when that stuff belongs to another nation, culture, or tribe.”

      My reply: Very true. But that’s not the argument. The argument is that no one thinks it Ok for me to steal their stuff. As I stated, they might think it OK to steal my stuff, but would not think it right if I were to steal theirs. That you did not give me permission to enter your home and did not give your address shows that you do not feel it right for me to steal your stuff. Stealing is universally and objectively held to be wrong, as long as it is against one’s own self.

      As for the Abolition of Man, Lewis answers your criticism. If you read the first paragraph in the appendix, he says that he intentionally included a list of sources available to non-historians, and makes no pretense of exhaustiveness. He gives a list of diverse cultures sufficient to demonstrate his point, and sufficient to refute his critics. He also doubts whether his case could be made by rigid philosophical deduction, since you would have to view every culture that ever existed at any time, past or future, which is not possible. In summary, he quotes enough sources to destroy the oppenent’s postion he is describing in the rest of the book. The fact that you merely note a culture that he did not consider does not refute common natural law, especially when their law is not dealt with. Read the rest of the book; I think he deals with all your questions, for the thrust of the book is dealing with how we discern between the underlying Natural Law (which Lewis calls Tao) and the obvious differences between peoples’ views. While he does not deal with every possible issue, the principles cover all ethics and morality, whether it be slavery, stealing, murder, or all other applications of the Natural Law. Standard moral discussions deal with the foundations for all morality, and don’t try to deal issue by issue. But I warn you, Abolition of Man is quite dense, and you’ll need to take it slow and careful or you’ll miss his points. You might want to start with his other book, Mere Christianity.

      ” ‘If atheism were true, and all that exists is physics and chemistry, then we never would have come up with the concept of “ought” in the first place.’ This would be an extreme strawman view of atheism. Besides, we can frequently infer “oughts” from simple observation of cause and effect when coupled with the value of the preservation of well-being.”

      First, it is not a strawman by any stretch. I find myself continually explaining to atheists the conclusions of their positions, and doing so by quoting the atheists who write on the subject. Here are but a few: “The widespread acceptance of the doctrine now known as the ‘causal closure’ or the ‘causal completeness’ of the physical realm according to which all physical effects can be accounted for by basic physical causes.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/. ““… with an intellectual conviction that the material universe exhausts all reality.  The natural world, being all there is …” http://www.naturalism.org/history.htm. ““An atheist in this sense [of philosophical naturalist] is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand.” Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, page 14. ““Everything we are and do is . . . described by physics. We are the evolved products of natural selection, which operates without intention, foresight or purpose. Nothing about us escapes being included in the physical universe.” http://www.naturalism.org/tenetsof.htm. ““We are fully physical creatures, fully caused to be who we are. We don’t have free will in the sense of being able to choose or decide without being fully caused in our choices or decisions.” http://www.centerfornaturalism.org/descriptions.htm. ““Individuals don’t bear ultimate originative responsibility for their actions, in the sense of being their first cause. Given the circumstances both inside and outside the body, they couldn’t have done other than what they did.” http://www.naturalism.org/tenetsof.htm. “we do not have what many people think of as free will, being able to cause our behavior without our being fully caused in turn.” http://www.naturalism.org/tenetsof.htm.

      The atheist position, by definition, is that physics and chemistry is what shapes all of reality, including ALL of human thoughts and actions. Once all spiritual causes are eliminated, and all that is allowed is physics and chemistry, then every human thought and action is caused by physics and chemistry. This is held by Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, B. F. Skinner, William Provine, and host of other prominent atheists. It is the standard atheist position, whether or not all atheists have thought through the issue.

      Second, in a purely physical and chemical universe, all that we could say is what is, we would never get to the idea that things ought to be different. It appears I’ll need to post on this again to get across the point, but all other explanations for the foundations of morality, including the ones you allude to, are refuted when we consider a purely naturalistic system posed by atheism.

      “Besides, we can frequently infer “oughts” from simple observation of cause and effect when coupled with the value of the preservation of well-being.”
      My Reply: I’ll expand on it in another blog post soon, but the foundation of the answer I’ve already posted: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/atheists-morality-again/
      To summarize, if all that exists are physical causes (“is”) then we can never get to what ought to be. The concept of ought would not have arisen. Again, I’ll try to expand on it, look for a post soon. But meanwhile, I suggest reading Mere Christianity.

      “Sorry, the connection remains invisible to me. The problem of evil does not seem relevant to my question: “How, precisely, does the discovery the universe has no meaning discredit human reasoning?”
      My Reply: Your question goes a bit too far. He’s not saying that “the discovery the universe has no meaning discredits human reasoning.” What he is saying is that if the universe has no meaning, it cannot be evil, and by implication, cannot be good. Lewis is describing how, as an atheist, he felt the universe was cruel. But if God does not exist, and therefore the universe is merely random physical causes, then “cruelty” would not be a concept that would arise. Whatever exists would merely be the case. If vinegar and baking soda react on my kitchen counter, we do not say it is cruel. In a purely physical universe, “evil” has no meaning. Well, the atheists are saying that all that exists is physical and chemical causes. The post I linked does indeed present an accurate logical portrayal of the problem. http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/does-the-existence-of-moral-evil-prove-or-disprove-god/

      It looks like I’ll need to post more on this subject.

      • Robert says:

        Humblesmith wrote,

        My Reply: Again, if women are viewed as property, no one believes their property can be taken by anyone.

        Well, yes, but that wasn’t your original assertion, which was, “While cultures disagree on how many wives are acceptable, no culture believes a man can have any woman he wants.”

        The above assertion is false. There have been cultures in which a man can have any woman he wants because women were regarded as his property.

        By social norm I am referring to one theory of moral foundations called Social Contract Theory,

        A norm and Social Contract theory are not the same. The first describes implicit or explicit rules; the second attempts to explain and justify those rules. Regardless whether you agree or disagree with a particular theory, there’s no disputing that norms exist, and because of their existence, one may derive a sense of “wrongness” if a particular action violates them.

        For example, say your city has passed an ordinance requiring dogs to be leashed at all times. Nothing in Divine Command theory, Natural Law theory, or the “Tao” justifies such an ordinance, yet I’m positive if you saw an unleashed dog, you would feel that’s wrong. At least, many would.

        My reply: Very true. But that’s not the argument. The argument is that no one thinks it Ok for me to steal their stuff.

        Well, ok. But most creatures on earth think (or at least react like they think) that it’s not OK for you to steal their stuff either. Do these creatures possess the Tao too? Seems more instinct that “objective law”.

        As for the Abolition of Man, Lewis answers your criticism. If you read the first paragraph in the appendix, he says that he intentionally included a list of sources available to non-historians, and makes no pretense of exhaustiveness.

        I was criticizing your assertion that “In the appendix to Abolition of Man, he lists quite a number of laws and codes from various times and countries, showing that we all do indeed have very similar laws.”

        That’s false; he doesn’t show that. He merely shows that some cultures at various times have had similar norms. And it’s a fairly trivial task to show that the same cultures have had norms or laws that contradict those of the others’.

        He gives a list of diverse cultures sufficient to demonstrate his point, and sufficient to refute his critics.

        That’s your opinion. What’s more, he doesn’t show these are “universally and objectively” held. Notice how Lewis picks and chooses sources for his alleged Natural Laws. For example, why aren’t the sources in “The Law of Justice – Sexual Justice” the same as those found in other alleged Laws? At least some of these alleged Laws are not even followed any longer.

        While he does not deal with every possible issue, the principles cover all ethics and morality, whether it be slavery, stealing, murder, or all other applications of the Natural Law.

        Curious, then, that prohibition of human ownership, which is the basis of slavery, does not make Lewis’s list of alleged universal and objective laws. In fact, in the same manner as Lewis, I can readily quote a number of sources from a wide variety of cultures and time periods which allow human ownership. Is human ownership against the Natural Law, or not?

        The atheist position, by definition, is that physics and chemistry is what shapes all of reality, including ALL of human thoughts and actions.

        Again, your original claim was that “all that exists is physics and chemistry”. Now you claim that “physics and chemistry is what shapes all of reality”. None of the sources you cite actually make any of these claims. The only quote that mentions the word physics comes from naturalism.org, and in context, doesn’t support what you think it means. Here’s the full quote:

        This version of naturalism asserts that the world is of a piece; everything we are and do is included in the space-time continuum whose most basic elements are those described by physics…Nothing about us escapes being included in the physical universe, or escapes being shaped by the various processes – physical, biological, psychological, and social – that science describes.

        Note that physics refers to descriptions of the basic elements of the space-time continuum. Note also the explicit reference to other shapers: biological, psychological, and social.

        To summarize, if all that exists are physical causes (“is”) then we can never get to what ought to be.

        I think this is self-evidently false. We can infer many “oughts” simply with recourse to preservation of well-being, or even self-preservation. For example, we can say why you ought not to weigh 300 lbs., or smoke 5 packs of cigarettes a day. We’ve learned through experience that these are inimical to your well-being. I look forward to your expanded article which addresses this objection. Alternatively, if Lewis addresses it, a citation would be helpful.

        My Reply: Your question goes a bit too far. (“How, precisely, does the discovery the universe has no meaning discredit human reasoning?”)

        Again, this was your assertion. If it goes too far, then that’s on you.

        The post I linked does indeed present an accurate logical portrayal of the problem.

        Your post suffers from a lack of discussion of natural evil. Also, this problem is an internal one to theology, demonstrating the incoherence of certain theisms (like Christian theism). Finally, you’re conflation of “God” with the Christian god is hasty; a similar argument could be made for Allah’s existence based on virtually the same claims.

        • humblesmith says:

          Read Lewis. You’re talking all around the same subject he deals with.

          Sure, if you assume a framework of rules, then then you can come up with an ought, but that does not explain why anyone felt the framework ought to have arisen in the first place. Saying we can get ought from social contract merely pushes the question backward one step, and does not explain why we ought to have set up the social contract in the first place. All of your examples do just that — push the ought back a step, assume a framework, then make ought statements within the framework you have presupposed.

          And no, I assert again, there are no societies that believe that women are purely nonconsequential property and no one cares who takes their property. The burden of proof is on you for this one. Sure, there are plenty where men believed that they could rape the other guys woman, and plenty of individual psychopaths that believed anything you can dream up, but that does not prove there are societies with no sense of natural law.

          As for the atheist version of free will and causality in the universe, it is too well attested. I will not spend my time dealing with it here. Go to any book source and search for “determinism” or “free will” and spend some time. If you’re trying to deny that atheism is fundamentally a materialistic causal closure of the universe, you’ll have to do better than a mere assertion that does not deal with the standard discussion of the issues. That most all atheists hold this is rarely contested in the literature; instead, they spend their time proposing frameworks that give us an ought without a god. Or at least attempting to.

          • Robert says:

            Read Lewis. You’re talking all around the same subject he deals with.

            You bounce back and forth between telling me to simply read Lewis, and describing Lewis’s arguments. If you’re not able to adequately deploy Lewis’s arguments against mine, may I humbly suggest it is you who should (re)read Lewis.

            Sure, if you assume a framework of rules,

            But I have not assumed a framework of rules. Rather, well-being is a self-evident value that all living things strive for. If you disagree, I would very much be interested in seeing your argument (or Lewis’s) for why well-being is not a self-evident value.

            Saying we can get ought from social contract merely pushes the question backward one step

            Where did I indicate agreement with social contract theory?

            And no, I assert again, there are no societies that believe that women are purely nonconsequential property and no one cares who takes their property.

            Again, this is a change from your previous assertion that, “While cultures disagree on how many wives are acceptable, no culture believes a man can have any woman he wants.”

            But to your new claim, if a woman was the “property” of one man (e.g., a father), and that man recognized the right of another man (e.g., a god/king) to take his “property”, then your claim is false. I believe such beliefs existed in a number of societies.

            As for the atheist version of free will and causality in the universe, it is too well attested.

            Alright, looks like I’ll never get an explanation why, as you said, “The discovery the universe has no meaning discredits human reasoning”. Nor will I get a defense of your claim that “atheists believe all that exists is physics and chemistry”.

  4. Robert says:

    Sorry for the bad formatting. You may correct it if you desire.

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