An Accident of Birth?

“I was a fire-breathing atheist.”

Photo courtesy D.E. Winget.

I was raised in the church. On Sundays, we went to church in the morning and evening. We went to Wednesday night prayer meetings, too.

By the time I went to high school I began to resent going to church so often. Reluctantly, my loving and devout parents stopped insisting that I go. I drifted away from the church.

I went more and more in that direction. When I was 16, I started at the University of Illinois.
As a very young child I knew I wanted to be a scientist, and specifically an astronomer. I looked here for the answers to the mysteries of life.

When I studied Anthropology at the university I began to get a broader perspective on world religions. I began to feel the only reason I was a “Christian” was because of an accident of my birth, if I had been born in Japan or China or anywhere else, whatever my family there would have believed, I would have believed.

So I was questioning my own “Christianity” and looking at all the religions of the world – all claiming to be correct and I thought, this couldn’t be the only truth or maybe it’s not true at all because the truth that people hold are contradictory because this can’t be the one truth.

I gradually drifted to being an atheist.

I started out arguing and then debating. While waiting for an astronomy open house, I started debating the Scientologists. That went from shooting down Scientology to shooting down Christianity. I studied the Bible quite a bit as a child, and I knew Scripture so that made me dangerous in debates. I had a list of 50 things I would use where I thought the Bible was contradictory. I would bring that up. I considered myself a “fire-breathing atheist.”

A Moral Compass For My Kids

My wife and I had 5 kids. She was a cultural Christian. I challenged her faith and she became an atheist. Sometime later, it was obvious that our two oldest boys didn’t have any real spiritual or moral compass. My wife and I talked about that a lot and worried over it. We didn’t get our respect of our spiritual world compass setting at school – that happened for both of us in childhood going to church.

So we thought we needed to find some religion of the world and use that to guide our kids and get involved. We just wouldn’t dump them and drive off.

We would have to find some place to engage.

So it had to be some place that was at least plausible. So once again, the second time, my wife and I both started investigating world religions. And with my background in anthropology, what we were looking for was a religion that wasn’t archeologically falsifiable. Our youngest son had to go to daycare and the only one we found would take him was a Baptist Church. We ran in to the pastor and realized that this is someone to talk to about Christianity.

He would meet us for coffee and each time we met, he encouraged us to go a step further. He recommended a few books to read: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Christ. What was interesting to me was in Lee Strobel’s book, he dealt with archeological evidence and extra biblical evidence for Christ. One by one, I found in the many, many years since I began debating as an atheist, each and every one of my major objections fell away.

“Are You A Christian?”

We went to Nashville over spring break to visit one of my former graduate students, and discuss our scientific collaboration. I was caught off-guard when he noticed books by C. S. Lewis and Philip Yancey in my car and suddenly asked me in an uncharacteristically aggressive tone, “Are you a Christian?”

I steeled myself for an intellectual attack, the kind I had dealt out so many times myself, and found myself compelled by the example of Peter to say, “Yes, I am a Christian.” He was shocked I was a Christian, but the attack never came. He, too, was a Christian.

I was more shocked than him, however, because I had reached a decision. I knew that I believed in Christ as my Savior. The key for me was that in that instant, I discovered that it took more faith to disbelieve than to believe. I might as well argue that gravity didn’t exist, or the Earth was flat as deny Christ.

Even though my parents would say, “Don, why don’t you just pray? I never could because I didn’t consider it plausible. But once, I considered it plausible, I could pray. It sounds so simple in hindsight and that’s when I knew. For me it was being able to pray and to talk to God and ask God and there would be a response from God.

Would You Like to Know God Personally?


Don is a University of Texas Astronomer. He is involved with Cru’s Faculty Commons.