Why Am I Not Convinced?

1428009190280.1I do not believe that God or gods exist. For anyone who has read this blog, that much should be obvious. I was not always an atheist, however, but was once a Christian, who was raised in a non-denominational Protestant congregation. The story of my deconversion is a complicated one, which spans a number of important moments in my life.

These moments include: 1) my original conversion experience to Christianity when I was about five years old, 2) my initial deconversion to atheism when I was thirteen, 3) my reconsideration of the Christian faith in my mid-twenties, during which time I studied the New Testament and Christian theology in graduate school, 4) my ultimate decision, as the result of my research, to not only remain an atheist, but to further become a metaphysical naturalist, and 5) where I stand on the matter of religion and theology today, as a Ph.D. candidate writing a dissertation on the genre of the canonical Gospels.

It is important to understand each of these moments in my religious history, since I am an atheist and a naturalist today for very different reasons than when I first deconverted. Over the years my perspective on religion and Christianity has changed considerably. I do not argue that my personal journey, which has led me to atheistic naturalism, should necessarily convince others to share my views (especially since there are others who have had very different journeys in the direction of Christian theism, as well as other religions), but I think that it is worth discussing my experiences here, for readers to understand some of the work that I do on this blog.

After originally posting this essay in January 2013, I have updated it over the years to include some of my new life experiences, as well as links to some of my more recent arguments and essays. Below is the story of “why I am not convinced,” and why I am an atheist and a naturalist, even after studying the arguments of several Christian apologists and theologians. I shall start at the very beginning, when I first converted to Christianity.

1) The Early Days 

I still remember when I first consciously became a Christian, even though I was very young at the time, since it was very important to my life and early identity. I believed fully what I had been taught about the truth of the Bible and of Jesus. I prayed in order to ask for the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus offered, confessing my sins, without feeling any mental or intellectual reservation. As Jesus is reputed to have said (Mt. 18:3): “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” As a child I fully sought Jesus, and yet, as I grew older, studied the world around me, and analyzed the religious beliefs that I was raised in, I began to have doubts.




In my early church days, the congregation that my family belonged to was highly conservative, and likewise had charismatic and apocalyptic tendencies. Our church was located in a very isolated community, being furthest from the bright center of the universe in Trona, CA (population: 2,742) in the Tatooine-like Mohave Desert. There, I only knew Christians and was even discouraged from making friends with children outside of my church, lest they not have our spiritual enlightenment. In fact, I went to a private school managed by the church, in which I had little to no exposure to anyone outside of our church community. It was naturally assumed among all in the community that the Christian God existed and anyone who did not believe in and follow him was a moral and spiritual monstrosity, living in sin, and ultimately bound for eternal torture in the depths of Hell. Our preacher was very apocalyptic, urging us to always prepare for Jesus’ second coming. As such, Jesus was always on my mind!

My first doubts about my faith were not intellectual, but experiential. I could never feel anything during prayer, even though it was taught in our charismatic church that you would feel spiritual transformation during prayer. I would see those in church around me speaking in tongues and appearing to have the Holy Spirit filled within them, and I would seek the same communication with God. In fact, I yearned for this connection. But prayer never felt like anything spiritual to me. No matter how devoted I worked to become, no matter how much I tried to genuinely pray to God, it always felt like doing nothing more than closing my eyes and talking to the wall. I did not think this insolently and say, “Prayer is stupid!”. To the contrary, I felt that maybe something was wrong with me. Maybe it was my fault that I could not experience the Holy Spirit through prayer.

Then there was reading the Bible. I considered without doubt that the Bible was true and contained great wisdom. But, I could never discern any of this when studying the Bible. When I read the Bible, its teachings often seemed rather odd, obscure, and not very similar to real world around me. Parts of it seemed very severe and violent, but, as my pastor taught about the impending apocalypse, I figured that violence was something that we all had to expect. I also accepted that billions of people were going to suffer eternally in Hell for not following Christ. I won’t deny, this was very scary to me as a child, but I never doubted the Bible’s truth. Once again, I thought something must be wrong with me, if I cannot see the Bible’s wisdom.

I did not spend all of my pre-adult years in this congregation. My family moved to Arizona in 1997. I still remained Christian after the move, as did my whole family, but being taken out of my highly insular Christian environment, I began to be exposed to new ideas. To begin with, I had never even heard of the concept of “atheism.” Whenever I was taught about people outside the church, we were taught that those people were consciously rejecting God and Christ’s salvation. I was never given a balanced enough view to believe that some might intellectually doubt the existence of God or the truth of Christianity.

2) Becoming an Atheist 

My first experience with an atheist was during my freshman year of high school, when I had a class taught by an atheist creative writing professor. He was a cool teacher, who was very open to talking to students in class and facilitating discussion about current events, philosophy, and spiritual beliefs. I learned during these discussions that my teacher was an atheist. Growing up in a Christian community, I was always taught to accept the truth of Christianity without question. But my teacher introduced a new way of examining my faith: Why is it true? What evidence supports its truth? Do you have actual knowledge or experience that has led you to believe it is true, or are you merely believing what you have been told?

I realized that, if I were to examine my religion as an outsider, I would never believe it was true. Prayer didn’t work. The Bible made no sense. There appeared to be no reason or evidence at all to believe in God. The more I reflected on it, the more everything about the religion I had been raised in felt incredibly fake. Like the exact sort of thing you would expect people to invent and make up–especially if they lived thousands of years ago in primitive and superstitious time. I realized that, had I not been told that Christianity was true from as early as I could remember, I would immediately recognize it to be myth.

But, above all, I knew that I had sought Jesus with all of my heart, prayed, repented, prayed more, and had done everything that I could to be a Christian. And yet, I had experienced nothing. Literally nothing. God was completely silent, completely unreachable. His telephone seemed broken. It was almost as if, maybe, just maybe, God didn’t actually exist…

Eventually, I could no longer consider myself a Christian. I had no reason to be. Nothing suggested to me that God exists, and, actually, when I stopped believing in God, I became much more intellectually interested in the world around me. Deconverting was both an intellectual and personal awakening for me. Coming out of Christianity, I soon had a new curiosity that drove me to craft my own philosophy and shape ideas greater than the superstitious ones that I was raised with. At the same time, however, I was (for the most part) completely alone. My whole family was and still is Christian.

Excursus 1: Evaluating My Initial Deconversion

What I have described above, thus far, is only the first part of my deconversion story. It does not end there, however, since many more of my doubts about theism and Christianity emerged in later years, when I had the time to academically study the Bible in both Hebrew and Greek, as well as the theology of Christian philosophers, such as Augustine and Aquinas. I discuss my teenage deconversion above, however, to raise a couple of crucial points:

First, one of the reactions that I have received over the years is that I deconverted due to emotional reasons. When strangers make this claim, my first thought is that they know nothing about me. It is true that my first doubts were experiential, and not intellectual, but “emotional” is the opposite term that I would use. Rather, I deconverted from a profound lack of emotion, from the utter shallowness and vapidness of my Christian experiences. I would have loved to have an emotional experience involving God when I was a Christian. Instead, Christianity felt profoundly fake, like something that was silly to believe in. When I deconverted from Christianity, I felt no anger towards God. Rather, I believed that God simply does not exist.

Something that should be said on this point is that psychological studies on the origins of religious disbelief have identified intuition as a major factor that shapes both belief and disbelief. As Norenzayan and Gervais in “The Origins of Disbelief” (pg. 20) explain:

“Cognitive and evolutionary theories of religious belief highlight the evolved cognitive biases that predispose people towards religion … According to this view, if the mind-perceiving and purpose-seeking brains of human beings effortlessly infer the existence of invisible agents with intentions, beliefs, and wishes, then disbelief lacks intuitive support. Therefore, atheism is possible, but requires some hard cognitive work to reject or override the intuitions that nourish religious beliefs.”

An important point that Norenzayan and Gervais bring up, however, is that many people lack this intuitive predisposition. Rather, the existence of supernatural agents, such as God, can feel highly unintuitive to many individuals. Norenzayan and Gervais (pg. 23) explain:

“Intuitive difficulties in understanding religious agents arise from deficits in mentalizing that erode the intuitive foundations of belief in a personal God, spirits, and other religious agents with rich mental states who are believed to interact with humans and respond to their wishes and concerns (such as in prayer).”

I think that this latter group describes me rather well. The idea of God existing has always felt highly unintuitive to me. God has always felt like an imaginary concept that human beings simply invented. I would say, therefore, that my early atheism was caused more by a lack of intuitive belief in God, than it was from any bad emotional experiences that I had with Christianity.

On the other hand, I can understand where this reaction might come from. To some, my experiences above might sound quite emotional, especially if you are not familiar with charismatic versions of Christianity. I was raised in a charismatic and apocalyptic Protestant congregation, where it was taught that you would experience the transformation of the Holy Spirit within you, and that you would also see signs and miracles of God in daily life. I thought that the Christian faith was something you would experience, not just believe.

But, not all Christian denominations adhere to this exact view of prayer or salvation. When I grew older, I studied the theologies and doctrines of other Christian denominations–such as Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Unitarian, and less charismatic Protestant denominations. There is a much greater diversity in modern Christendom than what I was raised with. I do not take it for granted today, therefore, that all Christians believe that you will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit during prayer, for example. Although, given that speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:1-25) and expecting Jesus’ imminent return (1 Thess. 4:16-17) were major features of 1st century Christianity, I think that my church actually held views closer to what the earliest Christians believed than what most modern denominations believe today.

Second, I have encountered a number of apologists over the years who have accused me of never being a “true Christian” (many of whom have not even known me personally, but have merely made this assertion upon mere acquaintance). Beyond the fact that those making this claim are usually committing a “no true Scotsman fallacy,” I raise the points about my early experiences above to illustrate the sincerity with which I believed in Christianity. I never experienced any “intellectual doubts” when I was younger, but instead fully poured myself into the Christian teachings that I was raised with. I believed in the Holy Trinity, that Jesus Christ was the sacrificial lamb, who had been sent by God to die for our sins, that he did die and was raised from the dead on the third after his crucifixion, and that you cannot work your way to salvation through deeds, but only by accepting Jesus as your lord and savior, and receiving the salvation that he offers. I prayed sincerely to Jesus Christ in order to receive this salvation when I first became a Christian.

If I was not a “true Christian” then, you might as well say that I am not a “true atheist” now, since I believe what I believe today with equal sincerity as what I believed when I was a Christian. So, as far as I am concerned, I was a “true Christian” before my deconversion–as much as there can be such a thing.

I should also note that, when I first became an atheist, I was not a naturalist. I still believed that there might be other kinds of supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts, out of body experiences, clairvoyance, and even mild forms of telekinesis. I suppose you could have called me an atheist who was still a supernaturalist. I don’t know why I believed in that stuff. Maybe I wanted to live in a more magical and mysterious universe than plain old naturalism. But, it’s important to know that the beliefs I hold today are very different from those when I was a teenager. It’s difficult to talk about my deconversion sometimes, because I was so young when it happened. Then again, I can’t exactly help that I started to disbelieve at that age, rather than later in life, but my journey does not end there.

Excursus 2: My Introduction to Christian Apologetics 

When I first became an atheist, I received disapproval from many Christians, especially from church-going adults whom I still knew through my family. But, not many seriously tried to debate the matter, until one day I had my first introduction to apologetics. One of my friends had told his father that I didn’t believe that Christianity was true. The man immediately had a barrage of talking points and slogans to smack down upon this rebellious teenager. He was very aggressive and did not seem interested in connecting with me personally. Instead, he presented me with supposed “facts” and evidence (which I later learned upon research were complete baloney). The man very clearly wanted to squash my doubt. In fact, we talked for many hours that night. Leaving was awkward, since he seemed to not want to let the issue go until I had confessed Jesus’ resurrection and reconverted. I did not.

The reason why is that, no matter what this man had told me, I still knew what I myself had experienced. No matter how certain he was about the truth of Christianity, I knew that I had poured my whole being into becoming a Christian, and still felt a deafening, utter nothing. But that does not mean that I did not listen to and consider what the man had to say. In fact, I paid a great deal of attention to his arguments, not just accepting them, but planning to check them out for myself later. Could the man be right?

Even if Christianity spoke to me in no personal way whatsoever, maybe there was still objective evidence that could confirm its truth. Maybe, even if I felt nothing, there could still be evidence outside of myself that showed how Christianity is true. I was open to this possibility, and it was a new way of looking at the Christian faith. I would still reconvert to Christianity today if I believed that demonstrable evidence supported its truth, and so my early experiential doubt was no longer enough of a reason to disbelieve. Being barraged by a ton of talking points, I couldn’t help but feel that I needed to re-examine the issue. So, I did research to see if his arguments and evidence held up.

What I found was that the man had no idea what he was talking about. He had given many reasons to believe in God and the truth of Jesus, but none of them could stand up to scrutiny. It was almost as if he was trying to give after-the-fact rationalizations as his pretense for belief, when it appeared that he did not reach these conclusions through evidence, but instead through faith. The man had merely used dubious evidential arguments to retroactively justify this faith. This was the exact opposite stance from which I was approaching Christianity. I had no reason whatsoever to believe on faith. As I’ve said, Christianity felt completely vapid and fake to me. But, I would still believe in the religion if objective evidence were presented. This second approach, however, is still skeptical and not merely looking for a rationalization, which is why I think Christian apologetics has never been persuasive to me.

Many of the man’s talking points focused on the “historical evidence” for the Christian faith. But, when I did research, I found that his claims were either false, exaggerated, or merely half truths. “Three hundred contemporary authors say that Jesus rose from the dead!” was one of the man’s claims. I still have no idea how he came to the number, but I later learned from studying scholarly resources like the Oxford Annotated Bible that neither contemporary sources nor eyewitness accounts exist for Jesus. He also claimed: “There isn’t one contemporary source for Julius Caesar, but you believe in him!” I later learned that we have Julius Caesar’s own writings in his Gallic War and Civil War commentaries. Wherever this man had gotten his information, he was wrong, and he seemed far less concerned with actual evidence, rather than seeking to paint me as ignorant or dishonest for not believing in his religion, so that he might pressure (more like bully) me into reconverting.

My friend’s dad was an amateur, but, when I later entered college at the University of Arizona, I was surprised to learn that there are “professional” apologists, people who are paid and funded, and sometimes given faculty positions at Christian colleges, to go out there and try to do the same thing that my friend’s dad had done. Once more, I found that they had an arsenal of talking points and slogans to try to defeat atheists in a debate. But, when these talking points were examined, the points did not hold up, and those making them came off far more like trying to convert people to their religion, rather than actually searching for evidence and truth.

01_3_1The first professional apologist that I encountered was Cliffe Knechtle. Just like my friend’s dad, he had grandiose claims to smack down on the skeptic: “42 sources mention Jesus within 150 years of his lifetime, but only 10 mention the contemporary Roman emperor Tiberius! Tiberius was the most famous man of his day, and yet you are going to tell me that you don’t trust the evidence for Jesus!”

Now, here is the thing: At the University of Arizona I studied Classics (the study of the ancient Mediterranean world), and I was actually doing research at the time on the Roman emperor Tiberius. I asked Cliffe to name his sources, he pulled a list of his pocket (that I later learned he had merely copied from apologist Mike Licona), and read out his 10/42 statistic. As someone studying Classics, I knew a number of sources that Cliffe had missed, and I tried to communicate to Cliffe the problems with his comparison.

But, pumped up with his microphone and camera crew, Cliffe would not have it. He tried to talk down to me and to distract me, and he mocked me when I pointed out that I had Classical training. I later learned that he even put up an online video (starting at 7:30), which repeated the 10/42 statistic, and that his film crew even edited this video to show my comments out of context. The man literally did not care at all about the truth, but only attacking those who did not convert to his religion. Finally, I made a video response, meticulously documenting all of the mistakes that Cliffe had made. Eventually, after my friend later showed Cliffe the video, Cliffe posted a very brief apology (at least it was something), in which he did nothing but ask me more questions, and state that he would pray for me to one day “come to trust in Jesus Christ” (so patronizing, condescending, and hubristic, especially when there was a time when I had trusted in Jesus, long before I caught factual errors in Cliffe’s rhetoric). Nevertheless, I still responded to the questions in his response.

I was utterly confounded by this event. To begin with, Cliffe missed a whopping 77% of the literary sources for Tiberius within 150 years of his (I list all of these authors in my refutation of the 10/42 apologetic), and did not know that, when one re-crunches the numbers in terms of contemporary, quality sources, the ratio comes out to 14/0 in favor of Tiberius (in addition to the fact that Cliffe did not know that there are hundreds of contemporary epigraphical and papyrological sources for Tiberius, and yet none for Jesus). While I do think that an obscure (and otherwise unmiraculous) historical Jesus existed, I knew that Cliffe’s comparison was an extreme exaggeration and that there was no way that one could use ancient historical evidence to “prove” Jesus’ resurrection. Every Classics and Ancient History professor that I know realizes that historians cannot prove paranormal claims, which we wouldn’t even accept in news reports today, using millennia-old texts.

This really bothered me, because how could someone without Classical training ever fact check Cliffe’s claim? It was only because of my knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Classical databases that I was even able to show just how wrong Cliffe was. But how much does the average man on the street have the ability to evaluate these claims? How many people in Cliffe’s audience even know how to assess the validity of his arguments? This event also reminded me of my high school experience with my friend’s dad, and I started to see where people were getting this false information.

I knew that Cliffe had not done his own research, but had only copied the number from someone else. I later discovered, upon research, that the claim originated in apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (pg. 128). Reading the book, it came off as nothing more than a manual for how to intimidate non-believers with big numbers like the 10/42 apologetic and how to smack down any skeptic who dares to not believe the claims of Christianity. And yet, it was spreading completely inaccurate information.

My suspicions that the book was really designed to attack non-believers, rather than to give actual evidence, were later confirmed. I read another statement from apologist Mike Licona, when he was being interviewed by apologist Lee Strobel in The Case for the Real Jesus (pg. 136), in which he made the following remark about people who doubt Jesus’ resurrection:

“Sometimes it’s moral issues. They don’t want to be constrained by the traditional Jesus, who calls them to a life of holiness. One friend of mine finally acknowledged that Jesus rose from the dead, but he still won’t become a Christian because he said he wanted to be the master of his own life–that’s the exact way he put it. So in many cases–not all–it’s a heart issue, not a head issue.”

Seriously? People doubt the resurrection of Jesus because of heart issues, when Mike Licona himself was actually circulating false information? It was very clear to me that apologetic claims like this are only designed to smear atheists who do not convert to Christianity. To his credit, when Licona was later informed about the errors in the 10/42 apologetic, he too publicly acknowledged making the errors (thankfully, in a tone that was much more sincere than Cliffe’s brief apology). I thanked him personally for this, but I am still completely against the claims that these apologists circulate.

I did more research into Christian apologetics to see where all of this stuff was coming from. I learned that most apologetic “research” is done at faith-based universities with doctrinal statements requiring adherence to Christian beliefs. Apologists who were trying to pass off their arguments as objective research were doing nothing more than circulating the claims of biased Christian universities, when Religious Studies, History, and Philosophy professors at secular universities would very often not accept their outlandish claims.

Other apologists told me to check out the works of Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and C.S. Lewis, all former atheists who (allegedly) saw the evidence and later became convinced of Christianity’s truth. After being gifted by my sister’s pastor with a copy of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, I applied my Classical research again and found numerous research errors and false information in Strobel’s arguments.

I wondered if Strobel, McDowell, or Lewis had really taken the effort to study the strongest arguments on the other side, or to familiarize themselves with atheist philosophers and historians. I later read Ed Babinski’s research on these men’s conversion experiences, in which he shows that neither Strobel, McDowell, nor Lewis did extensive research into the arguments on the other side. All of them had simply gained popularity and sold books by pulling the “former atheist” card when marketing to a built-in Christian audience. I also learned that there were many former Christians, who actually received university training in the New Testament, such as Bart Ehrman, Hector Avalos, and Robert Price, and who later deconverted due to intellectual doubts and a lack of evidence.

I did more research and found that apologists like William Lane Craig actually discourage their readers from reading the writings of experts, like those listed above, who are not Christians. Craig even describes the writings of skeptical non-believers as “literally pornographic,” and says the following about people who deconvert from Christianity:

“I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures.”

I couldn’t believe it: The more I studied it, the more I realized that professional apologists are only in the business of attacking non-believers, in an effort to paint them as intellectually dishonest, while providing after-the-fact-rationalizations (even if inaccurate) to those within their religion. They did all of this through abusing and misrepresenting more legitimate academic disciplines.

Let me make one point clear: I do not think that this behavior from apologists reflects on all Christians. Not all Christians believe that atheists are intellectually dishonest or irrational for their disbelief (for a more representative picture of what Christianity looks like as a global religion, see here). Apologists represent a very small fraction of Christians, who engage in aggressive evangelism in order to convert people to their religion with arguments. I was very troubled by the rhetoric of apologists, not people having faith in and practicing Christianity.

There are also Christian scholars, whom I have met over the years, who set a very different example than the professional apologists described above. One is Robert Burns, who is a Religious Studies professor that I met at the University of Arizona during my freshman year (Spring 2006, to be precise). I was taking one of his courses on the Abrahamic religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–and I visited him during his office hours to get his opinion about many of the claims that I had heard from Cliffe Knechtle. Dr. Burns is a Catholic priest, and so I was curious to see if he would agree with Cliffe’s “historical evidence.” Quite to the contrary, he disagreed with many of Cliffe’s assertions and pointed out that apologists like him frequently exaggerate the evidence for Jesus, when they are trying to convert people to their religion. I realized, talking to Dr. Burns, that there is a much bigger picture out there than the shallow and oversimplified slogans that I had heard from apologists.

3) Reconsidering the Christian Faith 

Despite the fact that Christian apologetics left a very sour taste in my mouth, I still gave Christianity a second chance, due to the important influence of one particular person: the love of my life, Camille. I first met Camille during her freshman year at the University of Arizona (2009-2010), when I was about to enter my M.A. program in Classics, studying ancient history. To be sure, some of my experiences with the Christian apologists described above overlapped with this (if you want a precise chronology, I was encountering apologists at UofA from 2005-2012), but none of these apologists even came close to making the Christian worldview seem persuasive.

Camille was a much more sincere individual, however. When I first met Camille, she was a Christian at the time, and I started to attend church with her on a regular basis. This time, I did not attend a highly conservative congregation, such as the one of my childhood, but instead a more moderate and humanistic Protestant congregation that emphasized charity, and did not evangelize aggressively. Camille and I prayed together. We went through all the steps that we could think of, to do what you were supposed to, if Christianity were true.

It was during this time that I began to take the Bible and theology much more seriously. I studied the New Testament in Greek, and Camille and I even traveled to Rome in 2012, in order to study Biblical Hebrew at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. As a graduate student in Classics, I also helped to teach a class about the entire canon of the Bible (including even the Catholic Apocrypha), and you can still access my PowerPoint slides, here. I likewise traveled to Milwaukee in the summer of 2011, in order to study spoken Latin with one of the Pope’s former Latin secretaries, Reginald Foster. During this summer, I studied the theological arguments of Thomas Aquinas in Latin. More recently, I have written a lengthy essay on why I do not find Aquinas’ Five Ways for proving God’s existence to be persuasive, here.

GenieCamille and I likewise traveled to Jerusalem in the summer of 2012. It was an incredible learning experience, but overall I found the Holy Land to be highly unimpressive in a spiritual sense. Much of it was superficial, such as the numerous gift shops, selling things like water from the Jordan River (if it even came from there), to passing by tourists. But that was nothing compared to the massive cathedrals that were built on every alleged holy site. I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher–the supposed site of Jesus’ resurrection–and merely found it to be a goady place, filled with tons of gold and other expensive decorations. It kind of felt like the genie cave in Aladdin. Visiting the Vatican in Rome was much the same. As I traveled through its museum, staring at the endless heaps of art and gold, I could not help but think, “How many human beings must have suffered under European Christendom, merely to build this place?”

Camille and I tried to make sense of the Christian faith, but we ultimately could not find any intellectual reasons for believing in it. We studied the Bible, and found that it contained a massive amount of violence and barbarism, which could not be excused except through the most strained of interpretations. Camille was able to illustrate to me just how sexist the Bible is, with its almost exclusive focus on male protagonists and its blatantly antiquated views about the role of women. Even if one accepts a liberal view of scripture, however, I likewise studied theology and found the philosophical view of theism to be highly unpersuasive. I studied cosmological arguments for God, and found that their claims did not hold up to the secular explanations offered by cosmologists. I studied the moral argument for God’s existence, and found that there are better secular accounts for human moral behavior, such as the social contract. I studied the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection, and found that all of the paltry evidence that historical apologists offer could easily be explained in natural terms.

What really convinced me of atheism, however, was studying the arguments of atheist and secular scholars. I studied philosopher of religion Graham Oppy’s Arguing about Gods, for example, and found that he could easily counter many of the theological arguments for God. I watched ethical philosopher Shelly Kagan’s debate with William Lane Craig, and saw him easily demolish the moral argument for God. I read Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted, and found that his methods for studying the Bible were much closer to those I had learned as a Classicist, rather than the methods that I had seen used by historical apologists, who treated the Bible differently than any other ancient text that I had studied. More recently I have been studying under NT scholar Christine Thomas at UC Santa Barbara. She is a former Christian who deconverted to atheism after academically studying Christian origins and the historical Jesus. What is incredible about talking to her is that she can counter almost any apologetic argument that I bring up to her, with considerable ease, due to her sheer knowledge of the subject matter.

I realized from these scholars that there are a ton of thoughtful, knowledgeable, and sincere individuals who doubt Christianity for intellectual reasons. Despite all the lambaste that I have heard from apologists about needing to study the evidence, I have found numerous individuals who are thoroughly familiar with that evidence, and yet do not see it as pointing to the truth of the Christian faith. 

I likewise studied the worldview of metaphysical naturalism, through resources like Richard Carrier’ Sense & Goodness Without God and Jack Ritchie’s Understanding Naturalism. Through these resources, I was not only able to reject religion and the supernatural, but was also was able to start building a positive worldview of what I actually do believe about reality. I was no longer just an atheist, but also a naturalist. I had a worldview that could explain things like cosmology, ethics, and aesthetics, all without appeals to religious explanations. The question was no longer about whether God exists, but whether theistic explanations are necessary to explain anything at all. I found that natural and atheistic explanations could explain almost everything about my reality, and that God and religion were simply not needed.

Nevertheless, not many people are familiar with the scholars that I have discussed above. And so, I created Κέλσος as a resource that critically examines the arguments of professional apologists and offers atheist/naturalist/secular responses.

4) Why I Remained an Atheist

And so, after academically studying the Bible and the theological arguments for God, as well as Christian history, liturgy, and philosophy, I chose to remain an atheist, and even became a metaphysical naturalist. I’ll freely admit that when I first deconverted from Christianity, at age thirteen, I had not studied theology and all of the arguments out there pertaining to religion. Who could at that age? But, my journey did not end there. My first doubts about Christianity were experiential, but as I grew older I found many more intellectual reasons to doubt the religion. When I was asked by apologists to look at the evidence, I did so, in a rigorous academic setting, and I found it to be highly unpersuasive. What choice should I have made then, other than to remain an atheist?

Below is a three-part treatise on why I doubt many of the arguments for God and Christianity, which I wrote back in January 2013. Since then, my views have become more elaborate and sharpened, but I think that the discussion below still provides a good summary of why I chose to remain an atheist, following the research of my mid-twenties.

Apologists have dozens of talking points that supposedly prove their deity, but what is remarkable is that many of them rely on identical formulas. I have noticed three trends that most apologetic arguments fall under, which I believe are all grounded in commonly flawed reasoning and assumptions:

I. The God of the Gaps

Tried and true, the god-of-the-gaps formula is where belief in deities first began. Humans live in a biologically diverse environment where our ancestors were continually threatened by living predators. Evolution designed us to personify the murmurs that came from dark places, in case they be signs of an intruder. Hear a noise at night, think that it is an intruder, check to only find out that it is only the wind, and you have merely wasted a little energy. Hear a noise at night, think that it is merely something impersonal, don’t check it out to discover that it is an intruder, and you are dead. Our minds are selected to presuppose that personal forces lurk within the gaps of our knowledge, since on prehistoric earth that was a safer (even if not more likely) bet. This intuition helped us at one time, but it does not help us much in understanding the greater universe. Earth is a tiny biological exception in a vast universe comprised of non-living, impersonal forces. See a light flash in space and the cause is almost certainly impersonal. But our knowledge of the universe has only recently caught up to understand how most of it works.

The gaps of our knowledge were once very great: Lightning was caused by gods, volcanoes were acts of divine wrath, agricultural cycles were at the mercy of invisible beings. For everything that we did not understand there was always a supernatural and often sentient explanation. However, the marvel of our modern age is that, despite all this superstition, science has done an incredible job explaining the previously unexplainable through impersonal, observable, and predictable forces. Behind nearly everything we observe in the external world, natural explanations have succeeded in demonstrating that previously deemed supernatural phenomena are actually the result of causes that can be reduced to space, time, material, and physical laws. The success of methodological naturalism in eliminating these gaps and explaining what previously lied within them has shown beyond most doubt that ontological naturalism is probably true.

Nevertheless, we do not know how everything works and there are still gaps to be filled. Apologetics for the last several centuries has kept moving the goal post. Whenever a natural explanation is found for a supposedly divine event, then the event right before it must this time have the supernatural explanation! Take Michael Behe, for example: In the face of overwhelming evidence, he had to concede the truth of evolution from common descent, only to argue that the complexity of biochemical structures must this time be the magical ingredient! The goal post merely moves in the face of methodological naturalism’s success. Today, the god-of-the-gaps has so completely retreated into the corners of our knowledge that he is hiding behind things like the Big Bang or the numerical values of our cosmological constants. God is always just beyond the horizon, just one step further than we can see. However, when the cause of every phenomenon right up until that gap has been successfully explained by physical, natural forces, and the supernatural has never been demonstrated, what is the likelihood that just the next step will be supernatural, unlike the thousands of natural ones leading up to it? And further, why assume a highly specific supernatural entity, when any billions of hypothetical ones are possible in the case of complete ignorance? The whole argument is a backwards approach, from the beginning insisting on the exact deity that apologist believes in, and only bothering to find evidence as a tedious afterthought.

Why am I not convinced by the Cosmological Argument, the Fine-Tuning Argument, or Intelligent Design? Because they are all little more than reshuffled terms applied to the same common misconception: for everything that is currently unknown, Goddidit. What’s worse is that those making these arguments often ignore the current state of science that does explain, or at least provides viable theories, for these phenomena. The multiverse theory, while still theoretical, provides a plausible explanation of our universe’s origins (along with many other secular cosmological explanations that are plausible), and could also explain alleged examples of fine-tuning in our universe. Likewise, natural abiogenesis is the most plausible explanation of life’s origins, and modern evolutionary biology has explained (as scientific fact) the common descent of species on earth. Many are not aware of this information, but dedicated apologists make pot shot objections at small portions of these theories, insisting that that their magical God explains things better. But as I explained in my first essay on this blog, “God Mode,” once you assume an omnipotent deity capable of doing anything, you can explain anything with minimal effort. Assuming that an omnipotent deity causes currently unexplained phenomena is an easy epistemic shortcut. Actually explaining the universe with evidence and observation takes work, but has succeeded in eliminating gaps and showing how everything once within them can now be explained in natural terms. The god-of-the-gaps is merely a temporary argument, relying on our ignorance, constantly moving the goal post, and ultimately seeking to find room in an ironically massive universe for evidence of a God that from all visible vantage points does not exist.

II. The God of History

So God’s involvement is completely undetectable in the world today, but what if we could demonstrate God’s involvement in a historical event? We can’t directly observe many events in history, but we still assume that they happened, right? The god-of-history is the effort, once science has failed to prove God, to rely on the method of history. The problem, however, is that history, particularly ancient history, is a much inferior epistemology. History relies on hearsay, the bias of sources, speculation into lost events, probing the psychology of long dead persons, and ultimately a rough guess over what probably happened in the past. Moreover, history can simply be made up. If an ancient source says that something took place, then it becomes a piece of evidence, even if it had been purely fabricated. Why do we use history? It is often the only method that we have to learn about things that we can no longer observe directly; if we could observe them directly, that method would beat history in a heartbeat.

Nevertheless, the god-of-history formula is more interesting to me than other apologetic formulas, simply because it at least tries to use real evidence. If God were parting the seas for us, coming down to earth and rising from the dead, and giving us tours of Heaven like John, then that would be very compelling evidence for his existence! The problem is that these types of events only seem to have happened prior to more reliable methods of documentation. Today we have cameras, videos, scientific instruments, and countless ways to document God’s involvement through corroborating media. Sure, hoaxes could be invented and forgeries made, but we could test them far better today than we can ever test literature from thousands of years ago. God could indisputably prove his existence to us today through all kinds of documented evidence. So why did he only directly interact with us in the past, during a period of inferior methods of documentation? As David Hume once astutely stated about the supernatural events of ancient history, “It is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days. But it is nothing strange, I hope, that men should lie in all ages.”

Why do I not believe in the miracles of the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus? Because it is simply far more probable that these stories were invented rather than that they actually took place. The underlying flaw of the god-of-history formula is that while hypothetically an ancient act of God may have been recorded, it is far more likely that it was simply fabricated or misunderstood. Furthermore, why would a God who supposedly wants us to know him choose an inferior method for revealing himself? Why give us papyrus scraps as evidence when he could use the same kind of miracles today to prove his existence? Perhaps God doesn’t want us to have that much evidence and certainty that he does exist, but what kind of deity playing games with us and constantly allowing seeds of doubt to blossom is worthy of worship and praise anyways? Ultimately, the god-of-history formula fails, because even if there could possibly be a God who interacted with us in ancient history, although he has mysteriously withdrawn from us in modern days, there is a far greater precedent for humans merely inventing false and imaginary concepts.

III. The God of the Unwarranted Premise

This last category I have observed to be on the rise as a new fad in apologetics. Once beaten in the fields of science and history, apologists need to retreat to philosophical deduction. The more tangible the evidence, the worse the case becomes for God, but the more abstract, the easier it is to sneak in the concept of a magical deity. The god-of-the-unwarranted-premise follows this basic formula:

Major Premise: X cannot exist unless Y exists

Minor Premise: X exists

Conclusion: Y exists

Plug in whatever value that you want for X: absolute truth, objective morality, free will, reason, abstract objects, the uniformity of nature, math. Y will invariably be God, specifically the apologists’ exact God. The god-of-the-unwarranted-premise argument is attractive to apologists since it relies on mere assertion. So long as they can repeatedly say something like, “You can’t have objective morality without God!”, merely repeating the major premise over and over again creates the illusion that an actual argument is taking place. However, the first premise in the syllogism merely creates an arbitrary and fabricated connection between X and Y. Consider a similar use of the formula for a concept other than God:

Major Premise: Trees cannot exist unless Unicorns exist

Minor Premise: Trees exist

Conclusion: Unicorns exist

This argument clearly fails because there is absolutely no basis for the major premise. One merely asserts it. However, because the idea of God creates an epistemic shortcut through assuming omnipotence (something that would seem rather like magic), God can not only be used to explain the gaps of science but furthermore abstract ideas. In effect, apologists can sneak God into almost everything as supposed “evidence.” In fact, I have seen apologists argue before that nothing can exist without God, in effect arguing that everything is proof of God! But this is once more just an assertion of the major premise without any basis.

Nothing about absolute truth, objective morality, free will, uniformity, or math by any logical necessity requires a deity to exist. Often times, the minor premise is flawed as well: I do not believe that indeterminist free will exists to begin with. Many times, it is actually the reverse where Y cannot exist unless X exists: If absolute truth does not exist, then how can it be true that God exists? Thus, God is in fact dependent on the concept of truth, not vice versa. As even the theist philosopher Lotze once said, “Our ideas concerning even God and divine things can satisfy us only when they are in harmony with those general laws of thought and those truths which reason sets before us to judge.” Thus, reason does not require a magical deity for us to use it, when, in fact, the concept of a deity itself depends upon reason to be valid.

Why am I not convinced by the Transcendental Argument, the Moral Argument, and Presuppositional Apologetics? Because all of these arguments merely beg the question, connecting philosophical concepts through unwarranted premises to theism. They are not actual arguments, rather than mere assertions. While the god-of-the-unwarranted-premise can create specious and often emotional appeals, it is in truth a desperate, fourth-quarter Hail Mary attempt to rescue the concept of God, when all tangible evidence has suggested otherwise. Think about it: Why try so hard to attach Y to the more established concept X, unless you problems with proving that Y exists? The god-of-the-unwarranted-premise formula attempts to hijack more established philosophical concepts merely to drag along the unnecessary baggage of a deity.

RabbitMy friend Michael Torri often calls these types of arguments “cartoon proof,” stressing the artificial and made up nature of the supposed “evidence,” as if by taking a crayon and drawing a picture of car, I would have a car. The god-of-the-unwarranted-premise merely draws arbitrary connections across the canvass of nature in order to create an illusionary image of something else. An impersonal universe governed solely by physical laws may be unappealing to apologists, but it is the only background that we demonstrably have to work with. If apologists think otherwise, let them give demonstrable evidence, not a priori assertions from the arm chair.

So why am I not convinced of the existence of God? If God did exist, he would not have to be defended by such bad arguments. An omnipotent deity that wishes for us to know him has the least excuse to be unprovable. The Christian God could prove himself with the snap of his fingers, and yet his influence is completely undetectable within the universe, defended only by flimsy arguments all based on commonly flawed assumptions.

I wrote the three-part treatise above back in January 2013. If you are interested in a more updated version of my counter-arguments to theology and apologetics, however, see my “Counter-Apologetics FAQ.”

5) Where I Stand Today

It has been a number of years since I first started blogging here on Κέλσος. In that time, I have held three recorded debates with professional apologists and Christian scholars–on topics such as the naturalist worldview, the dating and reliability of the canonical Gospels, and the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus–all of which can be viewed here. Almost every day over the last couple years I have read and considered the evidence presented by theologians and apologists, and responded to them with counter-arguments. It’s been a long journey, but I must admit that I am more of an atheist today than I ever was before. Studying Christianity’s history and the theological arguments for God has only strengthened my disbelief, contrary to what many apologists asserted would happen, when I first began my journey.

You are welcome to disagree with me, if you do not agree with my arguments or conclusions. That’s fine. But there are two critical responses that I will immediately disregard:

First, I will immediately disregard anyone who claims that I haven’t studied the evidence. I have studied the evidence for Christianity vastly more than the average individual. I have taken graduate seminars on Christian origins and the New Testament, studied the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, and have likewise studied the arguments of medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas in Latin. I am currently working on a dissertation on the genre of the canonical Gospels. The truth is that I’ve studied Christianity more than most Christians. That said, it is also true that there are people who have studied these issue much longer than I have. Of course. There are scholars twice my age who have been dedicated to these pursuits for twice as long. But, I can’t exactly help when I was born. Regardless, I have still given Christianity a more than thoughtful consideration and found its arguments and evidence to be unpersuasive.

I’m also annoyed when people make this response, because I wonder how much they expect anyone to look into these issues. I am a graduate student who has the funding, training, and leisure to spend my time investigating the claims of theologians and apologists. But what if I didn’t have that time? What if I had to work full-time on minimum wage? What if I were a single mother? What if I had a brain injury that caused learning disabilities? It’s unfair to demand that everyone spend hours upon hours researching Christianity and apologetic arguments, simply to come to the conclusion that they don’t believe in the religion. There are many other beliefs that I doubt, which I have not spent nearly as much time looking into. People are free to reject Christianity without doing any research at all, and it’s not because they are dishonest or ignorant, it’s simply because many people have better things to do with their time.

Second, I will immediately disregard anyone who claims that I only don’t believe because I am angry at God. Since my earliest childhood, I have not been angry at God, but numb and callous to God. As I have said, religion has always felt counter-intuitive to me. When I first doubted Christianity, it was because it felt immensely fake, not because I had experienced a bad emotional experience. But that doesn’t matter anyways. My early teenage doubts occurred a long time ago. Now, in my late-twenties, I have spent many years studying both theology and the Bible. My reasons for disbelieving are much more sophisticated than when I first deconverted from Christianity.

Likewise, I did give Christianity a second chance in my adult years. Looking back, I don’t think that it deserved reconsideration. A major reason why I have given the religion so much thought is because other people have urged me to. My church in Trona urged me to, my family and their friends have urged me to, the apologists and preachers that I met at the University of Arizona have urged me to, and several strangers that I have met online have done the same. But, if it were just me, and nobody had told me to believe this stuff, I doubt that I would have ever given it serious consideration. There is nothing in my life experience that even remotely leads me to believing in Christianity. I have only given it so much consideration and attention to meet the demands of others. And, at the end of the day, I have to follow my own beliefs and convictions.

Of course, you can make what you will of my story. Personally, I don’t place much stock in conversion or deconversion experiences. What matters most is the evidence. Going after someone’s personal motivations for believing or disbelieving is simply an ad hominem attack. Likewise, I don’t believe that my personal experiences make a case against the existence of God. Only my arguments can do that, not how I came to believe in them. But, I’ve decided to share my story above so that readers of this blog can know who I am and where I come from.

A final question that someone may ask is, if I don’t believe in God and Christianity, why do I spend so much time writing on the subject? Truth be told, there are many other things that I would rather do. I first became interested in Classics and ancient history, not because of Christian origins, but because of Roman history, and especially the emperor Tiberius. But, I think that my skills are useful for communicating with both believers and unbelievers. When I first started to study Christian apologetics, I would have loved to have found a blog like this, which presents counter-arguments, and directs people to the best research of secular scholars. I did find a couple of resources that were like that, such as the Secular Web and Bart Ehrman’s Christianity in Antiquity. But, I felt that the Internet could use more of them, especially since there tend to be more websites and organizations out there focused on Christian apologetics. So, I started Κέλσος to simply be one more voice and resource on the secular side.

I’ve come a long way, and I am going to continue to study these issues for decades to come. Perhaps my views will change. But, as far as things stand now, I am an atheist and a naturalist, and I have reached these views after years of studying the arguments and issues. That’s the story of “why I am not convinced” of theism, Christianity, and religion, and you are welcome to make what you will of it.

-Matthew Ferguson

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19 Responses to Why Am I Not Convinced?

  1. Pingback: On the Cutting Room Floor | The Caveat Lector

  2. Jim Self says:


    As a Christian, I appreciate that you don’t hold all Christians accountable for the actions of those apologists you met. You seem genuinely interested in finding proof, as well, which is a good place to be. No one likes an unreasoning zealot (either for or against God.)

    I notice that your deconversion is like every other that I’ve heard, that you first encountered a personal problem with your religious beliefs. I wonder if, from your perspective, there’s a reason for that consistency? If you had been raised in the teaching I was, you might not have ever faced those doubts (as we do not believe in modern speaking in tongues or miraculous laying on of hands or getting an emotional sensation from prayer.) Yet you are a truth-seeking person. Would you have had trouble remaining a Christian without the conflicts in your experience that you mentioned? In other cases, I’ve heard that people had bad relationships with other Christians or that they faced condemnation for their actions, and this was the reason they left their faith, and I wonder the same thing about them.

    I think the premise of defending the truth of the Bible is a difficult proposition. Like you say, how is a lay person to know who is telling the truth? I don’t see how one person can be an expert in history, science, and philosophy to the point that they could answer all of their own questions. On the other hand, one only needs to encounter a single issue in any field that seems to contradict the Bible before they doubt that it is a document of pure, divine truth. (It doesn’t help that those apologists were using an approach that they could never know was true or final. Stating that a certain number of documents exist becomes irrelevant as soon as more are discovered, and it ignores that we can’t know how many originally existed. As you say, using our own lack of knowledge as proof is just poor logic.)

    I don’t think I agree with you that retreating to philosophy is a sign of weakness, though. There won’t ever be physical or historical or scientific proof that the impossible has happened or that an unseeable God exists (likewise for disproving it.) But like you say, those arguments haven’t been presented yet.

    • Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your comment and questions!

      “I notice that your deconversion is like every other that I’ve heard, that you first encountered a personal problem with your religious beliefs. I wonder if, from your perspective, there’s a reason for that consistency? If you had been raised in the teaching I was, you might not have ever faced those doubts (as we do not believe in modern speaking in tongues or miraculous laying on of hands or getting an emotional sensation from prayer.) Yet you are a truth-seeking person. Would you have had trouble remaining a Christian without the conflicts in your experience that you mentioned?”

      The story above is a little bit simplified (I had to generalize about time that spanned a couple of decades), so allow me to add more clarity to the role that personal experience played in my deconversion:

      First, I became atheist when I was very young. 13 years old to be precise. I do not think that I had necessarily looked at all of the arguments or fully thought out my beliefs at that age. But I had spent my whole life in the church among Christians up until that point, and I had made multiple efforts to pray, seek Christ’s salvation, and to allow the Holy Spirit into my life. These experiences, however, felt unreal enough to me that, even when I was 13, I started to disbelieve. It just all felt fake, at a deeply intuitive level.

      However, I did give Christianity a second chance about 5 years ago in 2009-2010 (even after I had had many bad experiences with apologists before then). The reason I gave Christianity a second chance is a bit complex.

      First, I began dating my partner at that time, and she was a Christian when we first met. I attended church with her and we tried to pray together and make sense of things (she later became an atheist too, when we explored the issues more).

      Also, to add even more backstory, I had attended a variety of churches even before then. When I first entered college, I looked into what a variety of Protestant sects, Episcopalian, Unitarian, Easter Orthodox, and Catholic services were like. This was so I could educate myself on what the rest of Christianity was like outside of the small church that I was raised in, since I had been raised in a somewhat unusual non-denominational church (with charismatic tendencies).

      Now, when I did this, I was an atheist and I had not believed in God for quite some time. I also wasn’t necessarily looking to rejoin. I was coming at it as an open-minded outsider, willing to be convinced, if there were strong arguments and evidence, but still skeptical and critical. It was at this point that I became a naturalist (you might call it a second deconversion, though I hadn’t really converted again).

      During this second chance I gave Christianity, I studied related scholarship in philosophy, science, and history that pertained to a lot of apologetic arguments. I was also already a Classics M.A. student at the time, so working in ancient history was something that I was already familiar with. It was after this research and reflection that I became a metaphysical naturalist, which reaffirmed my decision to become an atheist at 13 (though, I wasn’t really a naturalist back then, since I was still open to the possibility of ghosts and other spooky stuff at that age, even though now I am a hardcore materialist).

      Now, how much did personal experience play a role in this? It’s hard to say.

      Obviously personal experience played a huge role for my first deconversion. When I gave the issue a second consideration, however, I tried to step outside of myself. Even if I had had bad experiences with Christianity, there might still be external, objective reasons to believe it.

      I interacted with a number of apologists, preachers, and religious thinkers at this time. I found that I did not agree at all with evangelical Protestant apologetists, such as Cliffe, especially when they made egregious exaggerations about historical evidence. But I also found that I strongly disagreed with an Episcopalian apologist at our university (a chaplain), who believed in evolution, didn’t think that he could prove Jesus’ resurrection, and was centered on theology. I found his theology to be deeply unsatisfying and a bad approach to philosophy. I also interacted with Catholics and found nothing about their beliefs particularly appealing. I also interacted with liberal Christians, ones who didn’t believe in Hell and had reformed views of God. I didn’t agree with their views either. It just came off as watering things down that made one uncomfortable, while just keeping whatever sounded good.

      What I found is that there was not a single Christian author, intellectual, scholar, church, sect, text, or movement that I agreed with or connected to. All of them had problems one way or another.

      Let me be clear that this does not mean that there are no Christians whom I respect and admire. There certainly are. But there are no Christians whom I admire for their religious beliefs, spirituality, or theology. I just find naturalist philosophy to be far more convincing, and atheistic worldviews, ethics, and authors to connect with me far better.

      “I don’t see how one person can be an expert in history, science, and philosophy to the point that they could answer all of their own questions.”

      I agree. Take, for example, William Craig’s common proofs for God in his debates: 1) the cosmological argument, 2) the moral argument, and 3) the resurrection of Jesus.

      Now, am I supposed to be an expert cosmologist, ethical philosopher, and historian of early Christianity all at once when countering this flow chart? Craig can just fill in “Goddidit” for each of these issues, but to give a full defense of atheistic cosmology, atheistic meta-ethics and normative ethics, and a natural origin of Christianity all in one debate is very, very difficult. That’s why Craig’s opponents always get distracted and caught on tangential issues. Craig (in my opinion, deliberately) has designed his flow chart to confound people as much as he can by shooting them in multiple directions.

      When Craig debates experts on a single issue, however, such as in his debate with ethical philosopher Shelly Kagan (which was just about the moral argument), he does far worse.

      I am planning with my graduate work to be skilled in ancient history, the New Testament, early Christianity, and ancient and modern philosophy. That doesn’t cover everything, but it is the kind of broad base that one needs to counter multiple apologetic points at once.

      “On the other hand, one only needs to encounter a single issue in any field that seems to contradict the Bible before they doubt that it is a document of pure, divine truth.”

      I won’t deny that many atheists and sketpics are like that. That is why I try to cover a wide range of issues on this blog. My hope is to make a cumulative case for naturalism and against Christianity, rather than base it on any single issue.

      “I don’t think I agree with you that retreating to philosophy is a sign of weakness, though. There won’t ever be physical or historical or scientific proof that the impossible has happened or that an unseeable God exists (likewise for disproving it.) But like you say, those arguments haven’t been presented yet.”

      I’m not saying that making philosophical arguments is a weakness. I just think people need to be clear that some kinds of arguments are more empirical/demonstrable than others.

      Jesus coming to earth this moment, walking on water, and flying to heaven again before a live televised audience would be far, far more persuasive evidence than someone saying, “There can’t be morality without God, so God must exist!”

      One is demonstrable evidence, the other is abstract conjecture that has more to do with definitions and how we articulate terms than it has to do with external/empirical reality.

      So, I like to force apologists to be more upfront about the kinds of arguments that they make. A lot of what they claim is “evidence” is not really appealing to posterior considerations of data, rather than a priori assertions that they make from the armchair.

      • Jim Self says:

        Thanks for your long response. I think there are very few points where we can come to a good conclusion in debating the existence of God, like I said above. If you accept the story of the Bible, you accept that things happened that we can’t reproduce. So, people don’t normally believe because of something provable, but because they have a gut feeling that it’s correct rather than fake. I think enough of the Bible is provably true (accurate) or undisprovable that most people won’t come to having the kind of dissonance that forces them to resolve the details. I don’t think that there will ever be the smoking gun that proves “It’s all 100% true!” or “Nothing even similar to the Bible account could possibly have happened!”
        For my own faith, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about probability. The probability of a planet like the Earth forming, for example, or the probability of life evolving to a higher level of complexity. And those things all compound on each other to produce the improbability that you and I would exist. I don’t take these thoughts and say “Therefore God,” though. I like to consider things skeptically and I ask my self “What is the minimum this proves? What is the minimum this suggests?” To me, it suggests that something is bringing order to our world. That could be God, or a benevolent ham sandwich, or uncountable other things. Almost anything is more likely than a long series of just-so events.
        I’ve also abandoned the possibility that I’d fully understand much of anything. “Fully” is a measure that keeps getting deeper and deeper the more we uncover. I don’t know if you’ve read much about string theory or superstring theory, but they raise a lot of interesting questions. What exactly is gravity? Why is it related to mass? And so on. There’s a big gaping void in our understanding of even the basic forces we’re aware of and have some means of measuring.
        (I also keep asking myself the “Why?” question, even though I know it’s not very useful logically. Q: “Why do I exist?” A: “There is no why. You’re a collection of magnetically and chemically bonded atoms.” That answer annoys me. Again, not very useful logically. Religions answer the “Why?” question, which is probably a big reason why people are religious.)

        • Justin says:

          Religion does not answer the why, it is a placeholder for others to actually find the answer too. Heck, i’m sorry that you don’t like the truth but your dead puppy on farm story doesn’t fly in the real world. All we have reasonably discovered is that we are composed of chemically and magnetically bonded atoms. If you see otherwise then go out and find that answer, do not suppose god or any other unsupported answer or make quick judgements until evidence presents itself.

  3. Galacticexplorer,

    This is my response to your comment and questions on my other article:


    “Aaah ACE curriculum. I suppose you are familiar with Jonny Scaramanga then, the guys doing the admirable work of exposing ACE for the drivel that it is and even legally challenging some of their schools for false advertising. That “curriculum” seems like truly near the bottom of the barrel in terms of misinformation and obnoxious moralizing.”

    I had not heard of Jonny Scaramanga before you mentioned him, but I am glad that he is exposing the ACE curriculum. When I was growing up in my religious private school in Trona, CA we all learned out of the ACE textbooks. Basically, we children would all sit in a room reading the textbooks silently (there was very little instruction, as most of the adults supervising us had no college education or qualifications to teach), and then we would grade our own answers, using an answer key in the side of the room that we could ask permission to visit when we were done. It was, needless to say, rather mind-numbing. I wish that I could remember the textbooks better, but I left this system when I was 10 years old. There were a ton of moralizing cartoons in them, however, basically depicting Christians as immaculate moral paragons in comparison to secular people, who were always depicted as sinful, less reasonable, and even wearing casual dress (the protagonist Ace always wore an orderly suit, whereas the secular kids would wear T-shirts and baseball caps. Heaven forbid!).

    “The main problem with my form of schooling was the isolation and fear-mongering that were designed, as you said, to indoctrinate me in a religion. You hit the nail on the head when you said that there is no concern for the child as an individual when it comes to this sort of thing. The important thing is to make them complicit with your religious code. Their individuality is a THREAT to this. That’s why we didn’t have a TV, didn’t listen to music, were terrified of anything that had not been pre-approved by our parents, were told that everything in “the World” was the devil, until eventually I became the jail keeper to my own cell. I was too afraid of what was “out there” to even ask questions or investigate anymore. I would stop reading books halfway through and put them back if I got scared that there might be sex in it somewhere. I would not look up answers to my own questions if I was not sure that I was “allowed” to know them. I was wracked with guilt for years (not kidding) because I watched the care bears at a doctor’s office and it had not been pre-approved by my parents so I was scared I had watched something bad. The funny thing is, I think I restricted myself much, much more than my parents had even intended to restrict me. But that’s what that sort of isolation and fear-mongering will do to you. It will kill your own ability to question and seek and, in my case, I didn’t even realize it. Of course, I still had a natural curiosity and drive, but I only applied that to “safe” things. My mind was too poisoned against anything else.”

    That’s a relatively similar to my experience to my own. To begin with, the town of Trona already naturally isolated us (it’s a town of only a couple thousand people literally in the middle of nowhere). Moreover, we belonged to a church community of roughly 20 families or so. All of the children in the church went to the church’s private school, and we were forbidden from making friends with children outside the community (a good way to lock us in). We were allowed to watch TV and to play computer games (not much else to do in the desert). But, the adults were on the look out for heresies. I remember an incident when my sister had to have the horn of a unicorn stuffed animal cut off, making it a normal horse, because somehow unicorns were considered “un-Christian.” The few children in the school, including myself, were all highly sheltered. We had little contact with the outside world, and we only hung out with the Christian kids in our community, listened to Christian messages in our church, and were taught Christian curricula in our private school. I did not even know that atheists existed, and I’m not even sure if I was told about other religions (e.g. Islam) existing. We were simply taught that everyone who was not a true follower of Jesus was a sinner bound for suffering in the depths of Hell.

    “If you’re okay with still rambling away on this feed, I’d love if you could tell me a bit about what you used to believe about the rapture (since you mentioned it above) and how that affected you.”

    The closest thing I can compare Trona-style apocalypticism to is the Essenes living in the Qumran community by the Dead Sea. We were a small community of self-ostracized people living in the middle of the desert, awaiting the end times. Of course, Jesus was specifically going to come and reward our community (just as the Essenes thought that the Jewish Messiah would come and reward their tiny community).

    The pastor in the morning would often go out with a staff, climb a hill overlooking the town, and would then pray over Trona (kind of like Moses, or something). He also talked about how the end was near, but that no one knew the hour. I even remember that, when Hale Bopp comet became visible back in the mid-90’s, he said that Jesus might be riding the tale of the comet to come to Earth. “But we cannot know! He could come at any time and in any way!” The pastor would also read bizarre apocalyptic poetry (he did qualify that this poetry was not canonical biblical material, but only a fictional and philosophical interpretation of the apocalypse). I recall one poem that described the sinners of the Earth marching under the banner of Satan, with snakes at their ankles biting them, while the true warriors of God (i.e. Christians) were ascending some mountain in the name of God. The poem even included the detail that vultures were flying over them, carrying up demons in their talons, who would then urinate on the Christians ascending the mountain, in order to make them slip and fall. It was a rather disturbing concept, but the images of urinating demons and hosts of people with snakes biting their ankles made me realize that the apocalypse would be a very violent event.

    I accepted that there were fewer righteous in the world than there were sinners, and that when Jesus came he would be punishing billions of people. I used to remember staying up at night afraid of the second coming of Jesus. After all, I was told that he would come like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2; Mt. 24:42-44). Every night I went to bed I was not sure if this would be my last day on Earth, before it was torn apart by the coming war and destruction. I remember being afraid of ever hearing trumpets in the night (since that would be the sign). It was rather scary as a child, even though I find it laughably ridiculous to believe in now.

    “The only reason I would not classify my family’s actions as child abuse is that my experience was a very happy one, at the time. I don’t suppose that excuses it, but I have a hard time thinking back to how happy my younger years were and considering it child abuse, even though my parents were setting me up for a world of hurt when I actually had to grow up years later. I suppose each of us will see it differently.”

    When I say the experience could be considered “child abuse,” I use the term with a wide range of degrees, acknowledging multiple levels of severity. Obviously, my situation was not quite as bad as a place like Colorado City was (though, it was rather similar). I was never physically beaten of anything, though corporal punishment and spankings were common (I remember taking the paddle and the belt from my dad and other adults). There were also allegations that surfaced, sometime after my parents left the community, about the pastor sexually abusing some of the children. My parents also say that they knew the pastor was embezzling the church’s money.

    Certainly, there are many worse conditions for children to grow up in (e.g. in third world countries or the sex trade, etc.), but I still consider my experience to be a lesser degree of child abuse. Here is why: for one, I consider it abusive to teach children that they will be tortured in Hell if they do not convert to a specific religion. It was like having a gun held to my head telling me to convert to Christianity or face the terrible consequences. I remember having nightmares about Hell throughout my childhood (and my partner has reported similar experiences for her Christian upbringing). I also was not given a proper elementary education at all. Most of the adults were not qualified to teach, and one of the “instructors” (the woman in whose house the school was set) would deliberately give out detentions to children whose parents she hated. She would make them clean her house, or even hold large rocks out in the sun in the middle of the Mohave Desert. My parents, in fact, partially left the community because of how this woman was treating my older sister and later myself. The cumulative result of this experience was that I was made completely unprepared for the real world.

    You talk about “a world of hurt” when you entered the real world after 18. The crazy thing for me was that I experienced this at age 10. I was ripped out of my isolated cult and abruptly placed in the AZ public school system (one that is not very good school system compared to other states) at age 10. That was just old enough for me to become self-aware and to have gone through foundational childhood experiences, right before being placed in an entirely alien environment that I had not been prepared for in the slightest. Before that I had spent my entire life in small community with a dozen or so equally sheltered peers. Needless to say, that transition had a rather traumatic effect on me. I had a very difficult time adjusting to normal life, and I actually became a big trouble student for the teachers whose classrooms I was in (I was later even expelled from a public school at one point). Long story short, it definitely sucked.

    The only real role model I had during that entire period was an atheist creative writing teacher that I had at age 13. He was the only person that I met who had really taught me to critically think. Part of the strangeness of my childhood and young adult experience is that I can recall almost no role models that I looked up to among the older people that I knew. When my parents left Trona when I was 10 and admitted that the church community was wrong in its belief, I lost all confidence in them (at least philosophically; I still trusted them on practical day to day matters, etc.). After all, they had prepared me for an entirely different world than the one I entered. Most of the adult authority figures around me I knew from experience could not be trusted as well (there were some really bad teachers in the AZ public school system, some of whom I think actually deserved to go to jail for what they were doing, but that’s another story).

    I basically had to build my entire worldview from the ground up on my own. That’s probably why I became atheist as young as 13. Ever since then, my entire worldview, system of ethics, and character have been shaped independently of my parents and the communities that I was raised in (both in Trona, CA and in AZ). Most of the people whom I admired and looked up to were philosophers and historical figures that I read about in books. My dad is an engineer, my mom is a Math teacher, and I ended up going into Classics. Nobody besides me in my immediate family is atheist. Almost everyone that I have looked up to in life I have never met (there are some exceptions, especially after I entered college). They were usually thinkers and innovators that I read about on my own.

    “Fortunately, you and I both got to move on to more education. It still took me years in college to finally break down a lot of the mental barriers I had built over the course of 18 years at home. But here we are.”

    Yes, and things particularly got better for me when I entered the University of Arizona at age 17. I did not have a very good public high school experience either (though, for very different reasons than the Christian elementary school that I grew up in). College life is the only time that I ever felt like I was really myself. It was the beginning of my life really. I consider my childhood before then to largely be dead to me. I do not have many fond memories of that period and I was not a happy kid.

    But, when I finally got out on my own, I could live life the way I wanted to. Since then, I have done nothing but grow and improve. Things are a lot better now, living in Long Beach with my partner, and getting my Ph.D. at UC Irvine. I think that my experience was somewhat unusual, but it affirms to me that there is a lot of mistreatment of children in religious communities. That is one reason (though there are many others) that I do counter-apologetics work on this blog. The fact that you, growing up with a Christian textbook, were taught that there is more evidence for Jesus than contemporary Roman emperors tells me that my work is needed. There is so much misinformation out there and abusive ideologies being pounded into the minds of children, all in the name of converting them to their parents’ religion. Growing up as such a child, I have now reached a point were I am determined to fight back and to help others in similar situations.

    • Wow, your community’s view of the apocalypse is terrifying to say the least. So were you sort of an outsider in your community in this cult-like church, or was the general population of the town pretty comfortable with this? I could understand if you don’t really know since it seems you were pretty well isolated.

      I am also glad that you’re fighting against these systems and this sort of brainwashing. I attempt to do the same, although I keep the scope much smaller as I don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to it. I admire those who do. My interests particularly are with the homeschooling community as well as raising some amount of awareness among my peers that this sort of extremism does exist in the US, despite the fact that most people don’t see it.

      Here is Jonny’s blog about ACE if you haven’t seen it yet. You might get a laugh at some of the ACE morality cartoon nostalgia. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/ He does a great work in combating this shit, even resulting in several personal emails and complaints from the ACE administration. Good stuff.

      • Hey Galacticexplorer,

        The thing about Trona is that it is full of weird churches like the one that I grew up in, and so little happens out there in the Mohave desert, that you can’t help but become a little apocalyptic in that kind of environment. Heck, I was out in Trona just around a year ago, and simply driving around and seeing all the burnt out, abandoned buildings reminded me of the Walking Dead. And I am an atheist and a naturalist! I can only imagine that when you are a believing theist in that kind of environment, especially one who believes that there will be a second coming of a messianic figure, that you will be drawn to thinking about the end of the world. I don’t think that any other churches in Trona thought that our church community was particularly crazy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all little odd communities of their own, as well.

        • Wow, now I’m imagining it like some of the old ghost towns that I visited while I lived in New Mexico and, yeah, I suppose I can see that attitude being very pervasive in a place like that.

  4. Carlos Bovell says:


    Thank you very much for taking the time to write this. As a believer, I would say that you too are doing the work that God wants you to do. Please keep it up. (I am not being sarcastic and I do not mean to insult you.)

    Grace and peace,
    Carlos Bovell

    • Dear Carlos,

      As you can imagine, my status as an atheist means that I do not see any divine will or divine purpose behind my blogging. As such, I do not consider it “the work that God wants [me] to do.” I am just a guy on the 3rd planet of our solar system writing to other people about why I see no evidence for any of Earth’s religions, including Christianity, and also countering arguments to the contrary.

      Nevertheless, I understand that no insults were meant, and that you are saying this simply from your own perspective. Thanks for reading the blog!

      • Carlos Bovell says:

        Thank you very much for your response. I would like to comment and say that, without experience, I doubt that many people will be able to reason their way to God. So until God grants you an experience, I agree that you are absolutely better off doing what you’re doing, not believing, and showing Christian apologists where they are overconfident, or where they are making mistakes, or doing sloppy scholarship, etc. Somebody needs to do that, and within Christianity, a person could probably get into some trouble for arguing against the apologists, so I am glad that you are in a position to do it and taking time out of your busy schedule to do so. It helps everyone involved.

        Listen, I’m currently reading this book called, Waking, Dreaming, Being by Evan Thompson. Have you heard of it? In it, the author talks about how important the “direct experience” of consciousness is to the scientific method. He states that “there’s no way to stand outside consciousness and look at it, in order to see how it fits in with the rest of reality. Science always moves within the field of what consciousness reveals . . . Direct experience is primary and science secondary” (100). The scientific method, for all its strengths as the best method for figuring out how the physical world works, cannot give us a glimpse of consciousness without using consciousness, and even more interestingly, it requires the use of our own consciousness to identify–through empathy–another person’s consciousness. (So Thompson, who’s not a Christian, at least he doesn’t appear to be one.)

        I was thinking about this and thought to run something by you, If a human “God-sense” is somehow rooted in consciousness, perhaps natural theology is not the way to go, at least not without that God-sense already having been activated. If that’s true, then a faith-seeking-understanding approach seems to me to be preferred, a more meaningful one to take in philosophy of religion, because the God we are trying to understand is another form of consciousness, which is more adequately understood by empathy, which, in turn, comes through a more thorough, direct experience of our own consciousness. The point I’m trying to make, I think, is that, for whatever reason, your prayer times didn’t do anything for you, and you are very insightful to emphasize that that is why your are not convinced. Philosophy of religion isn’t going to get anyone fundamentally closer to God (another person), prayer is (opening up to the growing of a relationship with that person).

        Grace and peace,

        • Hi Carlos,

          When it comes to the “God as consciousness” approach, I should let you know that I do not buy the arguments of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga in God and Other Minds, where he makes a similar comparison, and likewise I have critically reviewed similar arguments made by theologian David Hart in The Experience of God:


          Basically, when it comes to the issue of consciousness, I stand with the 74.6% of philosophers of cognitive science who agree with mind-body physicalism and that consciousness is purely a physical and natural phenomenon:


          I also do not find the counter-arguments made by philosophers of religion to be very persuasive:


          Basically, at this point I do not know for sure whether hard reductionism, supervenience, epiphenomenalism, or eliminativism is correct (though I lean towards supervenience), but I think that all of these views are immensely more persuasive and plausible than idealism or any other form of non-physicalism.

          You point out that it is hard to really know other consciousnesses. And, yes, I can agree that it is hard for me to know your consciousness through my consciousness (except through inferences and empathy), but one thing that it is important to point out is that every apparent mind that I have encountered so far has always been dependent upon a physical brain.

          So, yes, I do have to infer that when someone is speaking to me, that they really are conscious too and are not a zombie. However, I can make this inference by seeing whether or not they have a physical brain. When a physical brain is present, I can thus reasonably infer that their consciousness somehow comes from physical states as well.

          The thing with God (or ghosts, souls, and demons, for that matter) is that there is no physical brain to connect them to. On top of that, I have never once had any experience in my life that has led me to believe in such non-physical consciousnesses. I not only prayed to God when I was a Christian, but I also worked in a cemetery for two years in college and used to experiment with Ouija boards when I was younger, and, well, nothing ever happened. I have literally never had any experience that would lead me to believe in immaterial minds, and I likewise explain in the following article why I think the widespread human superstition in such immaterial minds is due to a common human proclivity towards agent over-detection:


          I like how you note that natural theology will probably not be persuasive to someone who has never had an experience of God. However, I would like to add that I have never really found any approach to theism to be persuasive. Whether it be reformed epistemology, evidential theology, faith seeking understanding, presuppositionalism, or what have you, I have found all of these approaches to be immensely unsatisfying. In contrast, I have always found naturalist and secular philosophy to be far more rigorous, less speculative, and less built around after-the-fact rationalizations trying to defend ancient dogmas and traditions.

          The one main impression that theism and the idea of God has always left me with, without exception, is that it is man-made and a human fabrication. I first felt this not only when I was younger and began to have doubts, but also when I was older, studied professional philosophy, and re-examined my beliefs. All of my experiences with theology and theistic philosophy to date have led me to the belief that God is merely a false human superstition. If I had never been indoctrinated to believe in such things by my family and culture, I would probably be even more skeptical if someone approached me with such claims, and would doubt them immediately. However, since I have encountered so many people in life imploring me to “look at the evidence,” I have done so and come to the exact same conclusion.

          God and theism is simply extraneous and unnecessary to my life and worldview, in literally every single dimension that I can approach the issue.

  5. V says:

    I was delighted to find your blog today. Thank you for sharing it. I have linked it to a forum I belong to: abovetopsecret.com and also thought you might be interested in my website:

    THANK YOU again. It is important for all of us who have been disabused of the dogma that is modern “Christianity” to speak up.

  6. shelama says:

    Discovering this blog was a nice discovery this morning. Thanks.

    Why am I not convinced? Because, having been born into a believing family and being a Bible-reading believer all my life, after 35 years I finally began to actually study the Bible and was surprised about something that very early on became clear.

    Surprised because — on and off for two decades — I had had this nagging, recurrent, but short-lived thought that the atonement of Jesus for sin, on its face, simply didn’t make any sense. But every time it recurred (every year or two), within less than a day it would disappear, with me thinking only that, “God’s ways are not man’s ways and man’s ways are not God’s ways.”

    What happened with study of the Bible was that it became apparent within the Jewish scriptures (the “Old Testament”), that neither Yahweh Elohim, nor mankind created in his image, nor those Jewish scriptures themselves, had any need or use or interest in a bloody Jesus sacrifice to either forgive sin or reconcile his creation to him. VOILA!…. I had been right all along in those recurring intuitions. And nothing now makes that any more clear to than the proof-texting that Evangelists themselves use in their Gospels. Plus the obviously made-up “fulfillment story” that leads off the NT in Matthew’s virgin birth story. That’s now a neon sign revealing the m.o. of the Gospels and there is no Christian apologetic for it that isn’t cringe-worthy.

    “An Introduction to Judaism” class from local rabbis followed and confirmed my own findings. A person needn’t even be Jewish or have pro-Jewish bias to see it.

    Shortly after that, the Bible as the word of a god, and my belief in a god, collapsed altogether.

    What was left was a curiosity about the origins of Christianity and the New Testament. I still accept Jesus as a historical person. I also accept an early belief by some followers of Jesus, and later by Paul, that Jesus was the Jewish messiah and he had been raised from the dead. (I also accept Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptizer. Every time I think of Jesus and John now it makes me also think of Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza.)

    Whether CSLewis, McDowell, Strobel, Habermas, Witherington or Craig, or any other apologist, it all sounds strained and it all sounds like confirmation bias. And it’s always easy to find informed and educated and more persuasive alternatives, often from former believers. But it’s impossible to doubt the depth of belief and the passion and sincerity of the apologists. Or the power of whatever their personal, psycho-emotional religious experience — or “witness” — that led them to believe first and later undertake their apologetic.

    Everybody has exactly the same body of evidence but it seems like it’s persuasive pretty much only for those people who already believe, and theirs as exercises in confirmation bias. I don’t find credible evidence that many Christian — if any — have ever converted from Unbelief to Belief based on the conclusions of serious, honest, critical study of the Bible.

    (I think there are big problems with McDowell and Strobel making that assertion, for instance. Strobel’s website now has a totally different introductory page that no longer has his account of his descent from his childhood Christianity into what he called his atheism. His account of re-conversion from this atheism unmistakably included large emotional components, mostly from his devout Christian wife. And even now, his apologetic does not seem to reflect truly honest or critical study of the evidence. McDowell’s “atheism” seems a poorly veiled and misrepresented exercise as devil’s advocate.)

    Unlike other posters here, I don’t have anything more substantial or intellectual or scholarly than that. Just my 2¢.

    Terrific site and much appreciated.

  7. Quite a concise and interesting testimony. If you ever get a chance to peruse Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of former funrdmantalists, let me know. I might produce a second volume someday, though deconversion testimonies have grown increasingly more common since 1995 when my collection was first printed, the first of its kind. I guess I was simply ahead of the curve.

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