Talk:"I used to be an atheist"

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this would be better as a generalized argument[edit]

under something like "experience-based epistemology" or "experience-based knowledge" or "lived experience" or "proof by conversion" or something idk -- the same argument is made by atheists who used to be religious, by liberals who were conservative and vice versa, and so on. everyone does it αδελφός ΓυζζγςατΡοτατο (talk/stalk) 03:28, 24 August 2016 (UTC)

Sub-set of anecdotal evidence. Scarlet A.pngDon't click here 09:52, 24 August 2016 (UTC)
Indeed it is -- but it may merit its own article. Herr FuzzyKatzenPotato (talk/stalk) 12:28, 24 August 2016 (UTC)
I know this thread is old, but this sounds like a good idea: it's a psychological phenomenon that goes beyond the specific case of "I used to be an atheist". I think there's also a generalized element of comparing yourself to those who currently think the way that you used to think, and smugly feeling that you're more "evolved" than them because you've "moved on" and they haven't (and perhaps that it's only a matter of time before they join you), but I'm not sure if there's a name for this thought process. Would this info have a place in an article about "experience-based epistemology" (or alternative title) - not to replace this "I used to be an atheist" article, but to complement it? --Butter Melon Cauliflower (talk) 01:53, 11 April 2022 (UTC)


I thought we already had an article on this exact rhetoric? Reverend Black Percy (talk) 21:18, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

Does 'the type of atheist you used to be' matter? And what if you are 'reverting to the faith you were brought up in'? (talk) 21:23, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
Matter for what, you mean? Reverend Black Percy (talk) 21:28, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
This article seems kind of pointless. Yes, quite a few theists used to be atheists; and conversely, quite a few atheists used to be theists. That's just a fact about the world. Now, a person could possibly try to use that fact in a fallacious way; the article suggests a number of Christian apologists do that, but it provides no quotes from them and hence no ability to evaluate its suggestion that these apologists are guilty of such a fallacy. Furthermore, the wording "who claim that they were once atheists, before converting to their religion" is rather bizarre; if a person gives us claims about their personal history, we ought to assume those claims are true unless there is some unlikely or unbelievable aspect to them or we have some specific reason to believe that person is being untruthful. So, if a Christian claims they used to be an atheist, I think we should accept that claim at face value, just as we should if an atheist claims they used to be a Christian. (((Zack Martin))) 22:57, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
Again, the whole phenomenon of saying "I used to be a [MEMBER OF OPPOSING CAMP] myself..." in order to bolster one's position is already known as zeal of the convert. It should stay in that article, methinks. Reverend Black Percy (talk) 23:03, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
To the extent there is a difference between this article and zeal of the convert (zotc) it is that of the examples listed, Lee Strobel's depiction of his former atheism in Tha Case for Christ casts serious doubt on whether he ever was an atheist at all. Thus, the question is one of whether the purported change of heart took place at all or at least was as radical as subsequently claimed. Still, I think that this article should probably be merged and redirected to a section in zotc as specific, related type of argument.
As for Zach's suggestion that "if a Christian claims they used to be an atheist, I think we should accept that claim at face value, just as we should if an atheist claims they used to be a Christian" I disagree with it exactly because of examples such as Strobel where not only is there no evidence of his prior atheism, but the motives for and contents of this supposed prior atheism as described by Strobel himself dovetail exactly with the cartoonish stereotype of atheism and atheists prevalent among Strobel's (current) co-religionists, i.e. US fundamentalist, inerrantist Protestants. I would be just as suspicious of an atheist claiming that (s)he used to be a Christian and then painted a similar caricature of his/her supposed former beliefs. ScepticWombat (talk) 10:24, 8 October 2016 (UTC)
Not every atheist is a particularly sophisticated atheist. Conversely, not every Christian is a particularly sophisticated Christian. Poor stereotypes of either camp are probably met by some individuals; and, the unsophisticated members of each camp are possibly the most likely to be converted to the other. When Strobel presents himself as once following a rather unsophisticated and poorly thought out atheism, and now he's swapped it for a rather unsophisticated and poorly thought out Christianity, I'm inclined to believe his account of himself, there's nothing about it that seems implausible to me. (I own a copy of Strobel's The Case for Christ; I tried to read it once, but gave it up part way through because it was just too painfully stupid to continue with.) (((Zack Martin))) 11:33, 8 October 2016 (UTC)
The problem with Strobel's claims of atheism isn't that they suggest an unsophisticated version, but one that simply is incomprehensible and incompatible with anything that can fairly be called atheism. They include such well-known creationist/fundamentalist canards as evolution explaining the origins of life (first, it has nothing to do with atheism, second, it's not supposed to explain the origins of life), or this little gem:
"To me, atheism opened up a world of hedonism that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable to God if he existed."
Here, Strobel clearly indicates that he actually thought the likelihood of not only a god's but the specific Christian God's existence was so high that he chose atheism in order to avoid God's specific moral precepts, but this is a nonsensical position if you don't believe in the existence of any gods in the first place. Thus, this cannot be an accurate depiction of anything that can plausibly be labelled atheism. Strobel might as well have argued that he was only an atheist to avoid the Jewish Yahweh's proscription on eating pork and shellfish as this also suggest an a priori belief in a specific god, rather than actual atheism. Sure, Strobel probably had some sort of conversion experience, but his prior beliefs were likely some vague form of "cultural Christianity" without any firm commitment to a specific branch of thought (a sort of "ad hoc cultural Christian agnosticism" if you will), rather than outright atheism.
It's analogous to a Nazi claiming, without any evidence, that he used to be a Communist, but only held those beliefs in order to ride the Judeo-Bolshevik gravy train run by the Rothschilds and the rest of the international Jewish conspiracy. This would obviously not only be an inconsistent worldview, but an extremely implausible and nonsensical one that is suspiciously similar to the stereotypes of Jews and Communism prevalent among (some) Nazis. ScepticWombat (talk) 12:20, 8 October 2016 (UTC)
I think you are being unfair to Strobel here. It is worth keeping in mind that he is describing his past views from the viewpoint of his present views, and his present views skew and bias his presentation of his views of the past. If you could go back and time, and ask him to explain his atheism at the time he actually believed it, he might have made basically the same point, but he would have made it in rather different ways. For example, he might have said that "Atheism leaves me free to enjoy my life without worrying about offending against the primitive and arbitrary rules of an ancient Near Eastern tribal god". It is more or less the same point, just stated in language which is closer to the language he would likely have actually used to defend his atheism at the time.
I don't think his reference to the origins of life is quite the canard you think it is. Suppose you have been told by people (maybe he was, I don't know) "Without God, the existence of life can't be explained; evolutionary theory can't explain life because it is incoherent nonsense; living things and non-living things are fundamentally different categories which no natural process can bridge, hence divine intervention is the only plausible explanation for life's existence." You might accept those arguments and believe in God on that basis. Later, you learn more about evolutionary theory and the theory of abiogenesis, and realise that they are well-thought-out and well-evidenced theories, not the laughable nonsense they were formerly presented to you as. In such a scenario, learning more about science might be a genuine causal factor in becoming an atheist. (Also remember that while evolution and abiogensis are strictly speaking distinct theories, a lot of people lump them together as one, not just Christians – many less well educated atheists don't understand the distinction either – Strobel might not get this, or maybe he does but he is presenting things poorly.)
I agree that even as an atheist Strobel was a "cultural Christian"–growing up in a mostly Christian culture, it is natural to assign a higher probability to the truth of Christianity than other religions–that's true even if you don't believe in Christianity, and even though it isn't really rationally defensible it is just a fact of human psychology. In such a culture, many atheists may nevertheless have some nagging doubt that maybe some religion is true, and have that doubt more about Christianity than other religions. (This is nothing specific to Christianity – if they grew up in a Muslim culture, they'd feel that way about Islam instead.) I don't see cultural Christianity and atheism as incompatible – Richard Dawkins has described himself as a cultural Christian. And, some nagging doubt or guilt related to Christian moral views he was taught in his childhood (e.g. no premarital sex or masturbation) might remain with a person even after they have no longer believe in the God whose alleged commands those views are based on.
I think you may be incorrectly assuming that all or even most atheists are as rational as you are. But, for every one person who reads atheist books and comments on atheist blogs and goes to atheist meetings and so on, there are dozens of people who don't believe in God but don't give their non-theism anywhere near as much thought, and as a result this later group of people often have rather confused views. For example, I know one person who is an atheist–she says God doesn't exist–but she insists that ghosts and an afterlife do; another person I know also says that God doesn't exist, but he believes in UFOs, Roswell conspiracy theory and the works of Erich von Däniken; these people are genuinely atheists, no matter how crazy their other beliefs may be–holding totally irrational beliefs is totally compatible with atheism, and more common than you might think–try to get out of the high education bubble in which I exist, and you probably do too, and talk to unskilled labourers who never finished high school–many of them are atheists, but as you'd expect they will often hold other questionable beliefs in conjunction with atheism, or give rather poor arguments in defence of it. While Strobel, unlike such people, has a university education and obviously did read some atheist books, he may still have never thought out his atheism as thoroughly as you or others have. I can smell "No True Scotsman" in the air. (((Zack Martin))) 05:39, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Addendum: This Disqus comment, I don't know who made it, but I agree with it. (((Zack Martin))) 05:58, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Sorry, Zack, but I still don't find your "Strobel was just an irrational atheist"-argument persuasive in the least. Had Strobel been like your acquaintance and believed in conspiracy theories, that would be wholly compatible with atheism, but if you start' from the point of not believing in any gods, it makes absolutely no sense to claim that the reason you don't do so is that it allows you to avoid specific precepts tied to one specific god. That line of reasoning simply points to Strobel having been a "lapsed Christian" (in the sense of not following his current Christian ideas, there is, after all, quite a wide latitude within Christianity when it comes to what is considered acceptable behaviour). Not only is this a nonsensical argument for atheism, but it fits the US conservative fundamentalist apologetic stereotype to a tee.
Similarly, Strobel claims that it was his knowledge of evolution and abiogenesis that made him an atheist, not his ignorance. Again, this particular link is a favourite in fundamentalist US apologetics, and Strobel just happened to be an real life example? What are the odds... (no, literally, what are the odds)?
So, not some but all of his current depictions of his former atheism fit the "cartoon atheist" stereotype and beyond vague anecdotes, Strobel has not provided any evidence of his former (lack of) beliefs, despite his claims that he was very public, bordering on the obnoxious, about his atheism. When what we have is zero evidence and a version of atheism that is straight out of popular, conservative US fundamentalist apologetics literature, I don't think I'm being hyper sceptical when I'm not just taking Strobel at his word.
I don't doubt that there are atheists who become Christians, or irrational atheists, or unsophisticated atheists, but neither do I doubt that there are outright liars. My point is that your charitable approach is a good general rule, but that it cannot be applied across the board, because some apologists will simply lie when it suits their arguments (my pet peeve William Lane Craig is an(other) example) and that because we have quite good reasons for harbouring strong suspicions based on his own depiction of his former atheism, Strobel is a likely candidate for the latter category. It is not just about one of his claims, but about the their totality and cumulative contents. Strobel is either lying about being an atheist or he's lying about his motivations for having been one and nowhere has he provided anything like an actual discussion of his journey to his current branch of Christianity beyond these brief apologetic cliches.
As for cultural Christianity, I consider myself an atheist, but that doesn't prevent me from being a member of a Protestant church for reasons that has nothing to do with my (lack of) belief and everything to do with my historical interests (my church tax goes mostly to preserve church buildings, which I concur with as these are culturally and historically significant monuments). I can easily understand a wishywashy vague sort of atheism muddling through within a "cultural religious" framework, but I just can't make this scenario fit the picture Strobel is painting. ScepticWombat (talk) 06:43, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── In the Disqus comment I linked to, J. J. Ramsey (whoever they are), presents the following hypothesis about Strobel: he was an unsophisticated atheist, but then his wife converted to Christianity, and that in order to protect/further his marriage, he used motivated reasoning to convince himself that Christianity was true. Is there anything inherently implausible about that hypothesis? J. J. Ramsey sees that as more plausible than the competing theory that Strobel was always a Christian and is lying about formerly being an atheist; I'm inclined to agree. I simply think that self-deception is far more common than outright lying, so if the evidence is equally compatible with both possibilities, the former is more likely. And again, if his description of his own atheism is vague and sounds like a bad caricature, which is more likely – that his own memories are being coloured and distorted by his current beliefs, or that he is outright lying about the memories he claims to have? You doubt "his claims that he was very public, bordering on the obnoxious, about his atheism"–but, given he converted to at age 22, this must have been mostly during high school and university, and plenty of high school and university students over the years have been obnoxious in defence of their beliefs (whether that belief be Atheism or Christianity or Communism or whatever) yet that obnoxiousness is not reported in any publically available sources, simply because it is the sort of boring personal fact which no one seems worthy of recording. (The guy who sits next to you in class can't stop ranting about X and it drives you crazy? Who cares! It's not going to be reported in newspapers, nor in the history books.) (Especially since this was during the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of the Internet and social media, so ordinary people left far less of a paper trail regarding their beliefs than they do now.) (((Zack Martin))) 07:19, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

The problem is that Ramsey jumps right into the false dilemma Strobel has set up: Either Strobel was an atheist or he was a professing Christian. My point is that he was probably neither an out and out atheist (because the picture he paints makes no sense), nor a Christian (as in being a self-declared and -aware believer). Furthermore, if Strobel had already latched onto his current branch of fundamentalist Christianity at age 22, I have an even harder time reconciling this with his image of being immersed in evolution and abiogenesis, not to mention the topic of the historical Jesus, and these interests leading him to atheism.
Remember that Strobel claims that his actual conversion happened on November 8th, 1981, when Strobel was 29 so what the hell happened in the intervening 7 years? It also sits ill with the his claim that his switch to Christianity at age 29 came in the wake of "nearly two years" of investigating "science, philosophy, and history", whereas all the stuff about evolution, abiogenesis and the historical Jesus must have happened before he turned 22 or...? I really can't make this chronology fit at all. Sure, it isn't impossible but it doesn't exactly sound very plausible either. It doesn't get better when you consider that Strobel's nearly two years' worth of investigation of diverse topics with him depicting himself as a tough journalist who was the "legal editor of The Chicago Tribune)", no less, left him with this understanding of atheism:
"Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection (and, hence, his divinity). In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview."
Given that Strobel's chronology is dubious, his picture of his atheism is a nonsensical caricature, and that his vignettes about his atheistic exploits are as vague as his fellow apologists' stories about their encounters with college professors (another classic apologetic trope used to scare the flock away from actual education and siphon them into fundie schools, such as Strobel's current employer, HBU), I find the plausibility of Strobel's story to be low. By contrast, I think his conversion story, if probably a little embroidered, sounds basically plausible as told. ScepticWombat (talk) 09:07, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Correction: It is 29 he says, not 22. I somehow had got it in my head he was born in 1959 instead of 1952. (((Zack Martin))) 09:58, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Ah, okay, that clears up the chronology, but this means that the question of the lack of any trace of Strobel's fervent atheism becomes more acute, since he, according to his own narrative, was a diehard and outspoken atheist until his 1981 epiphany at age 29 and a journalist to boot. Odd, then, that he can't point to anything more solid than vague anecdotes. ScepticWombat (talk) 06:47, 19 October 2016 (UTC)

I wouldn't consider the two articles to be duplicates of each other. One is about a motivation of the convert to be so zealous, and the other is about part of a sales pitch that converts make. These are two totally different (albeit related) topics. Kind of like how red and green are two totally different colors, even though they might both be part of a plaid shirt. L's Ideology (talk) 14:38, 8 October 2016 (UTC)

Age of conversion[edit]

I wonder what the typical age of conversion is, of those who turn from atheism to Christianity. I'd guess most of them are fairly young when this happens. L's Ideology (talk) 12:43, 8 October 2016 (UTC)

18 or less. Check out PRRI's recent study. Cømяade FυzzчCαтPøтαтø (talk/stalk) 15:45, 8 October 2016 (UTC)
Do you have a link to that study? Some random data points (which of course are simply a string of anecdotes, telling us very little about what the average case is) – Strobel says he converted at age 22 29. I'm a theist, I've never been a believing Christian (even though at some points in my life I've hung around various churches), but I don't think there was ever a sudden switch for me between atheism and theism – at 15 I was confident God didn't exist, at 30 I was confident God did, and there is more or less a smooth continuum between these two points. Antony Flew changed from atheism to deism in his early eighties. (((Zack Martin))) 08:03, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Not to be imposing, but I don't see any obvious "smooth continuum" between mutually exclusive ("lack of belief" vs "belief system") opposites ("there is no God" vs "there is a God"). Care to elaborate? Reverend Black Percy (talk) 09:28, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Epistemic probability assigns real numbers to propositions between 0.0 and 1.0 – 0.0 is certainty the proposition is false, 1.0 is certainty the proposition is true, 0.5 represents having no idea either way. Obviously these probabilities are not absolute, but relative to a particular agents at particular points of time–for a theist, P(God exists) will be close to 1.0, for a (strong/hard/positive) atheist it will be close to 0.0. When you look at it in that way, do you see the smooth continuum? (((Zack Martin))) 10:08, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Well, I myself am a former atheist (don't worry, I'm not going to tell you guys to convert, I put a high value on individuality), I contemplated joining a liberal church since I was 15-16 and I converted at 17. So, the given age range seems to apply to me. I feel like I should note the reason I converted was due to wanting forgiveness from others and to forgive myself for my own actions. I'm still the same as I was pre-conversion except that I put a higher value on forgiveness. I wanted to go off-topic to list every reason why I'm not this article, but I dunno if that's part of discussion policy. Brittonbubba (talk) 17:24, 16 October 2017 (UTC)


Somewhere I came across the term 'lapsed atheist.' Might be useful on occasion. Anna Livia (talk) 14:19, 6 November 2017 (UTC)

Can I remove the External Link?[edit]

Anybody mind if I remove the external link in this article? I was going to make snarky comments about the author claiming C.S. Lewis, Antony Flew and George R. Price were not real Scotsmen, but then I lost my sense of humor. Do we really want to link to a blog in which the author comments that being raped by somebody you know is not as bad as being raped by a stranger with a knife? If I may combine Akin and Orwell, do we want to encourage the idea that all rapes are legitimate but some rapes are more legitimate than others? Heck, this man doesn't even have the decency to say that he would prefer to be forcibly penetrated by somebody whom he knows, whom he possibly trusted and whom he will have to encounter and deal with in his regular life again and again rather than being forcibly penetrated by some unknown stranger with a knife; this guy (and his supporters) lay out such an opinion as a categorical fact! --Bertrc (talk) 21:43, 7 November 2017 (UTC)

@Bertrc, I've removed it, even if he hadn't said this the link wasn't necessary. Christopher (talk) 22:14, 7 November 2017 (UTC)
Thanks! I was feeling a bit of . . . pressure . . . behind my eyes, so I did not want to rashly excise it on my own. --Bertrc (talk) 22:21, 7 November 2017 (UTC)

On my opinion, this type of argument could be possible[edit]

What difference would it be compared to someone converting from Christianity to Paganism, Buddhism to Islam, Judaism to Christianity or Gnostic to Hindu. Why would this not be possible. --Rationalzombie94 (talk) 02:56, 4 July 2018 (UTC)

@Rationalzombie94 From what I understand there article addresses a fallacious use of the phrase, in addition to Atheism being the lack of religion rather than "just another religion". To explain the article's position more clearly let me give you an example using one of your scenarios listed above. Let's say person A claims to have been Jewish, but then claimed to have converted to Christianity. Now while this is possible let's also throw in some other factors such as Person A now promoting Christian apologetics, YEC, and Biblical literalism. And that they now regularly go around trying to bully Rabbis into debating them, and that when they actually end up in a debate they pull out the "I used to be ____" card and give examples that sounds suspiciously like stereotypes of Jewish people. If you were a critically thinking individual, knowing all of these factors, would you still be inclined to believe them? ☭Comrade GC☭Ministry of Praise 03:26, 4 July 2018 (UTC)

All I said it could be possible for an atheist to choose religion. Likely? I don't know the statistics on the topic. --Rationalzombie94 (talk) 19:55, 16 December 2018 (UTC)

Qur’an claims[edit]

Nowhere, anywhere within or without Islam, does anyone claim that Muhammad ever wrote anything. By all accounts he spoke the words of the Qur’an and other individuals wrote them down. Just like John Milton used amanuenses instead of taking pen in hand himself. This is one thing that has never been in controversy. This article's assertion that Muhammad "wrote" it is a strawman. I'd like to edit that whole sentence right out, because it lowers the IQ of the article. Ipazia (talk) 13:18, 31 August 2022 (UTC)