Saturday, October 23, 2010

There are no ex-atheists

I guess this is the atheist equivalent of the Fifth Point of Calvinism: There are no ex-atheists. People who claim to be atheists but became Christians weren't were never REAL atheists in the first place.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.- I John 2:19. 


Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Absolutely incredible. He makes such blanket statements that are ludicrously and demonstatively false.

No "famous" former atheists? Well, how about T.S. Eliot, who converted to Christianity as a middle aged adult, and subsequently wrote some of the greatest Christian poetry of all time. I would cound him as pretty famous.

They didn't leave a single word from their time as an atheist? Once again, consider Eliot's "The Waste Land" - quite possibly the most famous poem from the entire
20th Century, and atheist through and through!

Some people think that just typing something out makes it true. Give me a break.

steve said...

That's right, Victor. So-called ex-atheists are like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They look just like real homo sapiens on the outside, but under the skin the internal anatomy is alien.

shiningwhiffle said...

Agreed: this is nonsense, and quite offensive.

I find the stipulation that they be "famously" atheists peculiar, not to mention his stipulation that they become "famously Christian" to count. As if only famous people count!

But then the fact of the matter is that anyone who gets famous for their views has a stake in keeping those views. How many famous Christians famously convert to atheism? Only a handful, and they're coming from a much larger pool.

Then there are those who only really come into the limelight after changing their views.

It also conveniently leaves out Anthony Flew, who left atheism, not for Christianity but for deism — but surely that counts for something? That atheists are often so hung up on Christianity or Islam — usually just acting like every other religion must be exactly like those with some of the names changed — is quite disturbing to me.

unkleE said...

I would have thought, on this blog of all places, someone might mention CS Lewis.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Did Lewis ever publish any arguments against theism or Christianity before he went back to his Christian roots?

In response to the article, obviously the guy needs to get out more.

Victor Reppert said...

Lewis is too obvious to mention to this audience. Though when we were discussing the Outsider Test as it relates to Lewis, someone on here, predictably, said that Lewis was never REALLY an outsider.

I know that Lewis's early letters and poems have been published. In the Outsider Test exchange Eric (not you) made this post.

Tim said...

Aside from petulance and poor reasoning, the piece linked in the OP also displays a lamentable ignorance of history. The case of the Secularist lecturer John Henry Gordon comes to mind, as does that of the celebrated atheist lecturer, debater and author Joseph Barker. In Confessions of Joseph Barker, A Convert from Christianity (1858), Barker writes:

Of higher beings than man, and of other states of existence than the present, I know nothing: I believe nothing. The last remnants of my old religious faith are gone. The doctrine of a personal God, and of a future life, appear to me to rest on no proof. I look in vain for anything in nature or in history to justify a belief in them. I am compelled to regard them as the offspring, not of the understanding, but of the imagination and affections. . . . My old religious and clerical associates warned me, when I refused to be bound by their creeds, and resolved to investigate the foundations of the common theology for myself, that I should become an Atheist. And so I have in the common acceptation of the word. . . . I have come, at length, by slow degrees, after a thousand struggles, and with infinite reluctance, to the conclusion, that a personal God and an immortal life are fictions of the human mind. . . . One thing is certain: I have no desire to be a Christian again. . . . Atheism, or pure unmixed Naturalism, alone accords with what we know of the present state and the past history of the universe.

And again, from the same work:

So completely does the old belief appear to be without foundation in truth or fact, so utterly worthless do all the pretended evidences of a divine or super-human origin appear -- so numerous and decisive are the proofs of an imperfect human origin, that it seems an impossibility that I should ever be capable of a re-conversion, except in the case of such a change as turns the man into a child again.

Four years later, the supposedly impossible happened: Barker started on the road back to Christianity. In November of 1863 he gave a lecture to a Secularist congregation with the title, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ." From 1864 onward he appeared in print as a convinced Christian, gradually embracing views of increasing orthodoxy. In 1873 he published The Bible: Its Great Worth and Divine Origin; in 1874, he issued his autobiography, Modern Skepticism: A Journey through the Land of Doubt and Back Again. A few days before his death in 1875, he dictated a statement of faith to his lawyer and two additional witnesses:

I feel that I am approaching my end, and I desire that you should receive my last words and be witness to them. I wish you to witness that I am in my right mind, and fully undrestand what I have just been doing; and, dying, that I die in the firm and full belief in Jesus Christ, and in the faith and love of His religion as revealed in His life and works, as described in the New Testament; that I have an abiding faith in and love of God, as God is revealed to us by His Son Jesus Christ, and I die trusting in God's infinite love and mercy, and in full faith of a future and better life. I am very sorry for my past errors; but during the last years of my life I have striven to undo the harm I did, by doing all I was able to serve God, by showing the beauty and wisdom of the religion of His Son Jesus Christ. I wish you to write down and witness this my last confession of faith, that there may be no doubt about it.

Readers interested in more case studies will want to consult Timothy Larsen's brilliant book Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England.

Gregory said...

As a note on the 1 John 2:19 verse:

What St. John is referring to is not simply "saved Christians" (i.e. referring to those "of us"), per se; but, rather, to those who, by their own free action, persevere. John is simply saying that if "they" had persevered, then "they" would be "of us" (i.e. those that stay/persevere). That is true by definition.

As for those who don't stay (i.e. "not of us"), there isn't anything in this verse indicating whether their absence is permanent or not. It might be, but not because of anything that God has etched-in-stone regarding their "fate". Remember the story Jesus told about the "Prodigal Son". Also, there was the strange case of King Solomon's falling away...and, especially, of his repentance. Even Revelation 18:4 is a reminder that even though we have become sullied by the world, God is still calling us to repentance (i.e. there is no such thing, in this life, as a 'point of no return').

Those people whom have acted as "dogs returning to their own vomit" (2 Pet. 2:18-22), need to remember that God is more than willing to forgive "apostasy". And "apostates" have a free-will by which they can turn from the "mud". Still, God cannot make someone turn against their own will. Therefore, He calls all to repentance (Acts 17:30).

Jesus' lesson of the "Prodigal Son" needs to be kept firmly in mind before, and above, any so-called "theology" of perseverance. And any theology that contradicts God's will for all men to possess "faith", "hope" and "love"---by a "theology" promulgating despair (i.e. irrevocable apostasy)---ought to be rejected outright.

Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but I think it's very important.

Isfs said...

I'm confused now. I thought an athiest was someone who didn't have beliefs, but merely *didn't* believe theism. An athiest merely has unbelief. But the linked article insists that a true atheist has a coherent belief system. Doesn't this mean an atheist cannot exist, because he is a self-contradictory concept?

Nathan said...

So he's actually posting the no true Scotsman logical fallacy on the internet without mentioning the logical fallacy?

R. R. Edwards said...

Every human is born an atheist because it is the default position. It can't be until a person is indoctrinated with the dogma of some religion that they could every become theists in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Writer fails for assuming all atheists were raised as some sort of theist and chose to be atheist in adulthood, only to change back. I personally can't imagine why someone as an adult would honestly come upon a new belief in God but I have seen it happen, and to deny that people do this is pretty asinine to say the least.

I don't care to guess how often it happens though...

Anonymous said...

I don't see what's wrong with what he is saying.. if you come to believe in a grand design or creator, then you weren't atheist.. you were agnostic, you may not have believed in a god, but you were never sure that there isn't a god

There is a difference between living without a god.. and knowing that there is no god

If you were to suddenly start believing in SantaClaus then I would be inclined to think that somewhere inside you always had a little doubt as to his existence.. same thing

without the presentation of fact confirming evidence your new opinion on the matter is simply the result of an ever evolving stance.. I AM an atheist.. and nothing short of god actually coming down out of the sky would ever change that for me

Anonymous said...

Having come to this blog from Fark, I'm not sure if the blogger is just being silly. But sure, there are ex-atheists. Not a whole lot, but some. Why is this even interesting? People change their minds about every conceivable thing.

Anonymous said...

EVERY religious person is an ex-atheist... nobody believes in god straight out of the womb.

David James said...

Life has taught me a completely different lesson and I'm personally embarrassed that I ever held that opinion (and, dude, it IS an opinion) .. it feels so freakin arrogant.

I know EXACTLY where you're coming from; I could spot a 99% atheist from a mile away and for a while enjoyed paying the "this is an atheist; this is an agnostic .. you are the latter (and now I'll prove it with my brilliant mind)"

In my opinion you couldn't be more wrong ...

In my opinion the only path to real faith is DIRECTLY through staunch, arrogant, unrelenting (evangelical even) atheism.

Real faith is built inside you, has no name or church or 'scholars' or anything but you and your thoughts

David James said...

If I do my job right I'll raise two new atheist for you to preach to though.

Ron Moses said...

That's utterly absurd. We are all born atheists. There is no purer form of atheist than a newborn. That many of them eventually turn to theism is all the debunking this statement requires.

David James said...

Ron Moses:

I know people who were raised, say, Catholic and decided to be atheist and know people who went the other way .. either way bringing kids into this conversation isn't cool.

Let's draw the line at the age of the Jewish "you're an adult now" parties (13 or 14 I think)

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that no true atheist becomes a non-atheist later on in the same way that no true Scotsman starts a war?

Anonymous said...

Is weak atheism considered agnosticism in these parts? The author fails to consider those who do not believe a god exists but do not believe a god cannot exist.


Skunkwerks said...

"Absolutely incredible. He makes such blanket statements that are ludicrously and demonstatively false.

No "famous" former atheists? Well, how about T.S. Eliot, who converted to Christianity as a middle aged adult"

How about not?

"On June 29, 1927 Eliot converted to Anglicanism from Unitarianism,"

Unitarianism =/= Atheism.

Greg Scott said...

I can only guess at the faulty logic underlying this unsupported assertion, but perhaps it is something like this.
All theists are rational people.
Belief in God is not rational.
(Rational people cannot change their beliefs?!)
Therefore, atheists can never believe in God.

gluefish said...

Then there's the Apathists: We who don't give a flying figleaf whether someone is a follower of the Hairy Thunderer, the Cosmic Muffin or The Great Nothing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of you act like being a believer in anything is some sort of crime.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's all that difficult to get from atheist to theist.

From atheist to Christian is a long way to go, for sure, but the trip to theism is a short little hop of philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Isn't everyone an atheist at birth? You're a human, but you don't know religion until it is taught to you, or your baptized, or whatever you believe.

Anonymous said...

It seems it may be helpful to know some background of the author to shed light on some things that may be over-looked.

For example: the notion of atheism and how the author would describe it.

It seems the point the author is most likely making is his definition of some one who is "good" at being an atheist is someone who has some robust experience in and reflection on their existence as well as others', and has come to the completely and utterly unavoidable conclusion that "theistic belief" is no longer possible and extremely likely to stay that way; rejecting belief in the existence of a deity/deities.

I believe his ending comment:

"If people tell you that they used to be an atheist you should tell them that they couldn't have been very good at it."

...suggests this more "robust" amount of evidence for rejecting theism is "good atheism" verses having an lessor amount or amount that could be easily removed, as not being "...very good at it."

I think a lot of the confusion comes from the varying amount of belief and the direction of logical labels any one person can hold at the same time. For example:

Atheism has been used to describe someone who believes there is/are no deity/deities of any kind...
(assertion of belief)

...or... a more general (and I believe more logical) form: someone who rejects belief in the existence of a deity/deities.
(rejection of a belief)

Using the latter definition, one can be atheist and agnostic at the same time. (rejecting certainty in belief of deity/deities existence while claiming no certainty in deity/deities non-existence.

I also understand agnosticism to be on a gray scale...

white/complete-belief B=%100/theism/(assertion of knowledge)

...gray-area/varying amounts of partial-belief %0>B<%100/agnosticism/(no assertion of knowledge)...

black/complete-belief in non-existence B=%100/atheism[NOTE:as it seems sometimes used, but in my opinion not what logically follows from the word atheism]/(assertion of knowledge)

Personally I'm close enough to the black to pretty much see black. Any deity I have ever heard of or contemplated makes to me about the same or less logical sense to exist as Santa Claus.

Yet, I do watch out for absolutes in theory, for they just beg to be more complex. Of course there are some seemingly unavoidable ones like wanting to not die and doing things that are seemingly "absolutely" necessary to stay alive (avoid things believed to lead to a faster death).

I would also like to point out that I don't find it necessary to completely believe anything to contemplate it as a possible absolute, and behave accordingly.

A neat idea I like to keep in mind involving thoughts of things that transcend life/existence as-we-know-it; like this notion of belief currently under discussion--is that we know there are many celestial phenomena that occur regularly but exceed the time-scale of our existence. So, so far, our existence has yet to coincide with their existences. And if we die-off for whatever reason, we will have been aware of the existence of something that never existed for us, but has existed before us and very likely will after life, as-we-know-it ends.

Calvinist said...

I don't think you understand Calvinism at all.

Calvinism is the idea the your christianity is pre-determined. Calvinist efficax gratia is simply determinism.

It's nothing about not being Christian in your mind the whole time but your life being pre-understood by God.

Correct that because it's misleading.