Asymmetry of Conversion

(This page is in progress whilst I continue my researches....)

  • Background
  • My question
  • The email I sent
  • Summary of subsequent emails
  • The question is asked on the Internet Infidels discussion board
  • Atheists Who Converted... Some more discussion from Farrell Till
  • More comments.
  • I ask quality Christian websites.
  • I find an example of a previous member of atheist organisations who subsequently became a Christian.
  • Some responses
  • Absolute numbers or proportions of converts/de-converts?
  • Discussions from Brian Holtz
  • "Hard core atheists/anti-Christians become Christians"
  • Victorian hard-core reconverts to Christianity. My review of Prof. Larsen's book "Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England" and my discussions with the Author.
  • Possible Candidates for deflating asymmetry You tell me...
  • Possible Candidates for Reinflating the Asymmetry of Conversion (!!) You tell me...
  • The asymmetry of conversion ignored .
  • FAQ

    Background

    In my email debate Seek and ye shall find? (which took place on the Xtianity mailing list) my debating opponent claimed "Skeptics become Christians and Christians become skeptics with disturbing regularity."

    At the time a number of contributors commented that although many people convert to Christianity they were not aware of skeptics converting to Christianity. One correspondent described how during his years of debating online he had seen many Christians deconvert due to the arguments used against Christianity (some of the contributors were such people) but had never seen an atheist debater converted by the arguments of Christians. The Christians on the list suggested William J. Murray. However, he does not seem to be anywhere near the calibre of the professional Christian deconverts (see here, the follow ups to this and below).

    Also, on the ex-tian mailing list we had been discussing sceptics becoming Christians following somebody objecting to the supposed arrogance of a claim that no "true" atheist becomes Christian. We then all racked our brains to think of anyone known or known of who had been through what we had been through and had returned to Christianity, or indeed anyone who had used our arguments and converted to Christianity - i.e. a mirror example of ourselves, someone who had used the gamut of arguments against Christianity and eventually concluded they were wrong.

    With all our backgrounds in Christian apologetics we could only come up with one case that we couldn't quite be sure of (a friend of someone who "tried all kinds of ideas" and was currently engaged in a Buddhistic version of Christianity). So Christians (and well churched ex-Christians) have already been asked this question and so far have not come up with any quality converts. For [2 years I ran a poll] including an area for any ex-atheist members of freethought organisations who later became Christians to register and contact me. So far nobody has answered. (Update - Feb 2000. I now have 2 positive replies. One is definitely genuine and is discussed here. The other is probably a mistake and is discussed here). I check any answer with the organisation that they claim previous membership of and ask for copies of the material they published critical of Christianity. Nevertheless, my second wave of research (Update - Jan 2000 - now begun) will be to ask Christian organisations directly, rather than just Christians on debate lists and ex-Christians.

    There may be examples out there (but where?) but certainly we couldn't come up with the numbers corresponding to all the ex-Missionaries, ex-Clergy, ex-apologists, ex-fundies, ex-Baptists, ex-evangelicals, ex-liberals, ex-Catholics, ex-Episcopalians, ex-Anglicans, etc. etc. on the list, not to mention all the documentation to back this up.

    The more I thought about this, the more it intrigued me. In order to find a secular counterpart of a well-churched Christian, I thought of members of secular organisations. Such people should be as aware of the arguments against Christianity as a minister or missionary is of Christian apologetics. Since well-churched and professional Christians leave Christianity, I thought that if a review of the main secular organisations could find only a handful or no examples of their members becoming Christians versus the large number of well-Churched Christians leaving Christianity then this should be compelling evidence that something is wrong with Christianity, even without understanding the arguments against Christianity. It would suggest that a powerful reason for leaving Christianity is simply the discovery of information about why it is so untenable. Once this is understood the information can hardly be unlearnt. Hence members of secular organisations are highly unlikely to convert to Christianity whereas someone poorly educated in the arguments against Christianity could convert. Meanwhile, no matter how good the Christian apologist, they may stumble on reasons why they can no longer believe. This certainly seems to be what is happening from my own experience and researches. However, I decided to test this idea which is falsifiable if the data is against it.

    If this idea was wrong then there should be something in Christianity that non-Christians have missed. I should therefore find Christian converts from atheist, freethought, humanist etc. organisations as people discover this secret. They would be the lost sheep the shepherd puts so much energy into finding. However, if a review of the main secular organisations could only find a handful or no examples of members becoming Christians versus the large number of well-Churched Christians leaving Christianity then I think that should be compelling evidence for many Christians that something is wrong with Christianity, even without understanding the arguments against Christianity.

     

    The question

    Many well-churched Christians leave Christianity. Are there any examples of members of atheist/humanist or freethought organisations who convert to Christianity?

    The email I sent


    From: <Steve Locks>
    Sent: 21 July 1999 22:45
    Subject: Conversions

    I am doing some research for my website "Leaving Christianity" at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/decon.html

    The site is basically a resource of "testimonies" from people who have left Christianity telling why they left in their own words. Mostly it links to sites already containing some collections of these stories. In the process of my research I have been struck by an asymmetry between the large number of professional Christians who deconvert (ministers, apologists, missionaries etc.) verses the lack of their atheist counterparts, such as members of humanist or atheist organisations, who convert to Christianity. However, to date I have only anecdotal information on this and so I would be very grateful for any statistics from your organisation or any other organisations you know of.

    I am particularly interested in the conversion and deconversion of informed people from both the theist and non-theist camps who are well aware of the arguments from their particular side, rather than the lesser educated public. i.e. the conversion and deconversion of trained theist and non-theist "apologists", as it were, particularly those for and against Christianity. So my question is: What percentage of your members leave your organisation each year because they convert to Christianity? Also I would be interested in anybody who leaves because of conversion to other religions. My estimate is that the number is very small, if not zero, although in the spirit of honest enquiry and to test my ideas I am asking for direct information on this. If any of your members have left for religion then I would be interested in any details you could provide and email addresses if possible, so that I can follow up on the reasons why.

    Thank you very much for any help you can give. My idea is that the case against Christianity is pretty good and that it is difficult to deny once appreciated. I would not expect many people who understand the seriousness of the problems with Christianity to then convert to it. A falsibiable theory which I am putting to the test! Conversely I have already tested the theory "all who seek [Jesus] will find" and have found that falsified in the testimonies I have collected.

    Thanks again for any help.

    Regards,

    Steve Locks

    Summary of subsequent emails

    From the British humanist Association
    From: Robert Ashby <robert@humanism.org.uk>
    Sent: 22 July 1999 16:09
    Subject: Re: Conversions

    Many thanks for your interesting e-mail;  in fact I can honestly say
    that no one here (or in the main records going back to the 1890s)
    has any trace of a member of the main humanist organisations
    converting to Xtianity, or any other theistic religion. Some have
    drifted towards non-theistic Buddhism (but drawn by the meditative,
    Dalai Lama approach, rather than reincarnation etc.).

    The Sea of Faith organisation can provide you with case studies
    in the opposite direction (it has a very good recent book on it too).

    I personally know many church leaders (Bishops etc) who have
    privately said they no longer believe in God (or the Trinity) as
    given in reasonably traditional doctrine.  They face a very difficult
    time, as they see value in religion as a human creation  -  and
    they have my sincere sympathy.

    All best wishes  -  Robert Ashby director BHA

    I think this is the book referred to. Here are some excerpts.

    My reply to the American Atheists
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: <Ejonband@aol.com>
    To: <Steve Locks>
    Sent: 02 August 1999 04:17


    <<  I do not know of any Atheists who have become religious.  >>

    Hi Ellen,

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    << I have received less than five e-mails and I think it is about 3 who
    have said that they have but I have doubted it from the context of their
    e-mails.  >>

    I am interested only really in those who were previously members of an
    atheist/freethought/humanist organisation who then became Christians. If
    any of these people claim that then I can check it by writing to the
    organisation that they claim to have been a member of. I'm not really
    interested in those who have not studied the arguments against
    Christianity very well, so I'm using membership of an organisation as an
    indicator that they were probably quite well read. If an ignoramus is an
    atheist then they may later become a Christian - not something I find very
    interesting! However I think the asymmetry between well-churched
    Christians including ministers, missionaries, apologists etc who leave
    Christianity versus the (so far in my researches) zero members of
    atheist/freethought/humanist associations who leave for Christianity to
    be a very telling observation.

    << I was always left with the impression that they were not telling the
    truth ( oh you should see the e-mails we get--).  >>

    By all means forward those 3 emails to me if you still have them.

    <<  Unfortunately we don't have statistics on how many people have "left"
    religion for Atheism or how many have always been Atheists.
        We are working on a survey now of our members and supporters.  That is
    a very good question to add and I will.  >>

    Thanks very much for your info. Reliable statistics could be difficult. If
    a member of an atheist/humanist/freethought organisation did leave
    for Christianity then they might be quiet about it. On the other hand,
    there are Christians who triumphantly claim previous atheism - e.g.
    Josh McDowell, William Murray, C. S. Lewis, that if there were any
    ex-atheist/humanist/freethought organisation members, then I would
    estimate that we should have heard of some of them. Even if they
    were quiet themselves I would have thought that as soon as the
    evangelical Christians hear of any such person, they would publicise
    it. However neither McDowell, Murray or anyone have written
    articles critical of Christianity before they became Christians to the
    knowledge of Farrell Till.

    I saw that someone asked my question to Farrell Till's "Skeptical Review"
    at http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1996/3/3mail96.html and
    http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1997/4/4mail97.html (you
    will have to do a text search for "Ulm" - the author of the question - on
    each page to find the relevant portion). I think it could be difficult to
    obtain a definitive answer, and no answer seemed to be forthcoming in the
    rest of the mailings following the URLs above. However, if a review of
    the main secular organisations could only find a handful or no examples
    of members becoming Christians versus the large number of well-Churched
    Christians leaving Christianity then I think that should be compelling
    evidence for many Christians that something is wrong with Christianity,
    even without understanding the arguments against Christianity.

    Please feel free to forward this email to your members if you think it
    would help in your survey (or anything!)

    Regards,

    Steve

    From the Council of Australian humanist Societies
    From: Ray Dahlitz <rayday@vic.bigpond.net.au>
    Cc: Nick Renton <ner@melbpc.org.au>
    Sent: 26 July 1999 21:05
    Subject: Leaving Xianity for Sanity

    Dear Steve

    1.I reviewed your "Conversions" email of 26 July.  I will reply in greater detail after surveying our membership more thoroughly on "Leaving Xianity." Generally speaking, I can vouch that within our group there is only a one-way traffic.  Most remain as "unbelievers" - none re-enter any of the churches as deconverts  --- most retire into  non-attendees of anything!  There are no death-bed conversions these days! Those that move to Humanism usually remain Humanists.

    2.I have just downloaded your "Leaving Christianity" and want to record my gratitude for your work! On the basis of this material it is appropriate that I introduce myself as the President of the Australian Humanists. I am also the first Australian board member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, (IHEU) now based in London, previously Utrecht.. We Australian Humanists are organised as the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, (CAHS) and comprise affiliates based in all States of the Commonwealth.  Two atheist societies and two Rationalist groups exist. They are separate entities and most members are also members of our organisation.

    3. I am also the author of "Secular Who's Who," a  three-tiered book which details the history of all the major Freethought/Atheist organisations in Australasia.  The book traces the origins and growth of Secularism (last Century); Rationalist, this century; and Humanism (the modern-day version of our Freethought heritage.

    4. I could reply specifically to your request for some names and details those that have deconverted from Religion, especially Christianity.  However, in the first instance I would  leave these details for you to read in my book. 
     I will send you a copy once you have sent me a collecting address.  Most of these listed below are still living. A larger biography will be gleaned from "Secular Who's Who."  First, four Ex-Catholics : the first three former priests;  - Colin Goodwin, Ian Guthridge, Dally Messenger, Stephen Maxwell; then Professor J. J. Carswell Smart, (Anglican) and then Professor Peter George Woodcock, (Jehovah's Witness.)  There are many more in my book!  If interested. I could compile a further list of those who can be emailed.  That should give you a key to the main players for your collection.  However, unless we launch a survey I don't know how else we can get the statistics you call for.  More on this point later.

    <snip>

    With best wishes.

    Ray Dahlitz

    From the Humanist society of NSW
    From: Victor Bien <vbien@tpgi.com.au>
    Sent: 27 July 1999 07:55
    Subject: Re: Conversions

    On Sun, 25 Jul 1999 21:49:52 +0100, Steve Locks wrote:

    >So my question is: What percentage of your members leave your
    >organisation each year because they convert to Christianity? Also I would

    Hello Steve,
      Thanks for the interest.  The answer is none that I know of but then
    members have dropped out over the years and we lose track of them.

      There is one case that is a slight exception in that they dropped out to
    be consonant with Jewish culture for the enculturation of their children.

      I'll pass your query to other Humanists for their comments.

    Regards
    Victor Bien

    From Positive Atheism
    From: Positive Atheism <atheism@aracnet.com>
    Sent: 21 July 1999 22:58
    Subject: Re: Conversions

    Let me think about this one. It's not like they would tell us (unless they
    become evangelicals, and then they still could be timid about it). Like
    you said, it's anecdotal evidence. Author Patrick Glynn ("God: The
    Evidence") flaunts the fact that he is an ex-atheist, but after having
    read his book, I notice that he was a *nihilist*. Jeez -- I think even
    Evangelical Christianity might look appealing from that perspective! So,
    there are more than a few out there. Remember Madalyn Murray-O'Hair's son.

    Perhaps I'll send this out to the list for a Q&A. Still, I think we will
    not get better figures than the rates of growth and shrinkage of church
    membership and the statistics for the number of atheists in the world.
    There is a great article about this in Microsoft Encarta, titled
    "Atheism." We have posted it at:

    http://www.aracnet.com/~atheism/writ/martin.htm
    Cliff Walker
    "Positive Atheism" Magazine
    P.O. Box 16811
    Portland, OR 97292
    http://www.aracnet.com/~atheism/
    atheism@aracnet.com

    "As soon as you're born
         They make you feel small..."
                -- John Lennon (1940-1980)

    "Changes take place, not independent of
       man's will, but on account of man's wills.
       Civilization has progressed by man's
       interference with material conditions."
                -- Gora (1902-1975)

    "The legitimate powers of government extend
       to such acts only as are injurious to others.
                -- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

    My reply to Positive Atheism
    From: <Steve Locks>
    To: Positive Atheism <atheism@aracnet.com>
    Sent: 22 July 1999 23:38
    Subject: Re: Conversions

    << Let me think about this one. >>

    Thanks - I look forward to any further information you may find.

    << Author Patrick Glynn ("God: The Evidence") flaunts the fact that
    he is an ex-atheist, but after having read his book, I notice that
    he was a *nihilist*. Jeez -- I think even Evangelical Christianity
    might look appealing from that perspective! >>

    Indeed! Do you know if he was ever a member of a freethought/atheist etc
    organisation, though? I'll do a websearch for him, but any extra info you
    may have would be interesting.

    << Remember Madalyn Murray-O'Hair's son. >>

    I link to his site http://www.wjmurray.com/ from mine for balance but
    must say that I thought his brand of Christianity seemed pretty vacuous,
    and would be surprised if he had a firm grasp of the problems with it.
    Mind you, I'm not sure if Madalyn Murray-O'Hair's attitude pushed him to
    it and I also don't know how much she carefully explain problems
    with Christianity to her son William. After all there is a large
    emotional response in religion and if Madalyn Murray-O'Hair was really so
    acerbic as reports say then atheism could well have looked like it was
    "missing something" to him. He also had a pretty shallow and chaotic
    life at home from reading his website. Maybe another case of
    "Evangelical Christianity might look appealing from that perspective!" He
    also displays typical right wing Christian homophobia in his comment that
    his mother said "it is better to be a homosexual than a Christian." So I
    am dubious as to his generosity of spirit and intellectual awakening!

    << Perhaps I'll send this out to the list for a Q&A. >>

    That would be great if you did.

    << Still, I think we will not get better figures than the rates of growth
    and shrinkage of church membership and the statistics for the number
    of atheists in the world. >>

    We might not be able to get a definitive answer, but I think it's
    interesting enough to give it a try.<snip>

    Regards

    Steve

    From Positive Atheism
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Positive Atheism <atheism@aracnet.com>
    Sent: 23 July 1999 00:13
    Subject: Re: Conversions

    Bill Murray is not the brightest light in the harbor. Add to that the fact
    that MMO'H raised him. Add to that the fact that the family was viciously
    persecuted and hounded all across the nation. The Christians were able to
    exploit him to the hilt.

    > << Author Patrick Glynn ("God: The Evidence") flaunts the fact that
    > he is an ex-atheist, but after having read his book, I notice that
    > he was a *nihilist*. Jeez -- I think even Evangelical Christianity
    > might look appealing from that perspective! >>
    >
    > Indeed! Do you know if he was ever a member of a freethought/atheist etc
    > organisation, though? I'll do a websearch for him, but any extra info
    > you may have would be interesting.

    This apparently was college daze rebellion from the nice conservative
    Christian upbringing.

    I joined the church for about three years. I think if I had belonged to
    (or been exposed to) a Humanist of atheist group that never would have
    happened. I was raised atheist, but never studied it until about ten years
    ago. <snip>

    Cliff Walker
    "Positive Atheism" Magazine
    P.O. Box 16811
    Portland, OR 97292
    http://www.aracnet.com/~atheism/
    atheism@aracnet.com

    Internet Infidels discussion

    Shortly after writing this page I found my same question asked on the Internet Infidels discussion board. However, since these discussions are removed from the Infidels server after 15 days I have made a copy here. Note that if a message is marked (nt) it means there is no new text in that particular message, the whole message is in the header.

    Atheists Who Converted...

    Later I also found some discussion in a letter disagreeing with Farrell Till in The Skeptical Review. Scroll to the Atheists Who Converted... section to find it in this link.
    Also see these links here and here (you will have to do a text search for "Ulm" - the author of the question - on each page to find the relevant portion).

    More comments

    Would the asymmetry of conversion be even more apparent without the Sin of Silence?

    I ask choice quality Christian websites

    More to come....... I am now (since 7th Jan 2000) asking this question of the webmasters from some Christian websites. The question is the same as above, only slightly rephrased. Here is an example. I have so far asked: I will put the replies up here as soon as possible after receiving them.

    I find an example of a previous member of atheist organisations who subsequently became a Christian

    There is much material discussed here and more will be added as soon as time and researches allow. The main point discussed is whether there was an empty tomb since pondering this is the main issue which Jordan (the person in question) makes claims for. He says "Many points convinced me of Christ's reality. The more I learned about the resurrection, in particular, the more solid my faith grew." I thought this important claim was worth examining and so this has developed into a substantial essay on the resurrection with many further resources. Click here for the detail.

    Some Responses

    Absolute numbers or proportions of converts/de-converts?

    A common criticism made of this page is that there are more Christians than there are atheists in freethought societies, hence I am bound to find an "asymmetry." However, I think this misunderstands my investigation which is really comparing the proportions of educated like with educated like. One also needs to consider the effect of the supposed "hand of God" in all this. I have discussed this with Mark McFall and will add to that conversation with further links here after another conversation is concluded that I am having at the moment...

    Discussions from Brian Holtz

    Atheist Deconversion - Conversion Stories of Christian Ex-Atheists (2003) as commented on by Brian Holtz. This includes discussions of some of those I have already commented upon. Also see the "Atheist Polemics" part of Brian's Correspondence page.

    "Hard core atheists/anti-Christians become Christians"

    See testimonies, of how atheists, agnostics and/or intellectuals came to believe in Christianity. For some skeptical analysis, 3 of the 4 "hard core" include G. Zeinelde Jordan, Josh McDowell and A.S.A. Jones.

    Victorian hard-core reconverts to Christianity

    Prof. Tim Larsen undertook some excellent research on high ranking Victorian members of secular/freethought societies and notable critics of Christianity who nevertheless subsequently became Christians.

    From the blurb on the back of Prof. Larsen's book Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England:

    "As sceptics, they had read, written about, and lectured on all the latest ideas that served to undermine faith, such as biblical criticism and Darwinism. Nevertheless they went on to judge that faith was more intellectually compelling than doubt and to defend Christian thought in their writings and lectures and in public debates with Secularists."

    Ed Babinski put Tim Larsen and I in touch. We had some initial emails. Later when Prof. Larsen's book was published I reviewed it and sent my review to  Prof. Larsen and he responded appreciatively. Follow this link for details.

    Possible Candidates for deflating asymmetry

    These are leads I am still following to find out what exactly their background was. Any information is much appreciated!

    Likewise... Possible Candidates for Reinflating the Asymmetry of Conversion

    Once again, these are leads I am still following to find out what exactly their background was. Any information is much appreciated!

    Asymmetry Ignored

    Why is Antony Flew's "conversion to deism" news, but the testimonies of scholars (and entire seminaries) that left behind formerly conservative bible beliefs, not news? by Ed Babinksi.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Following responses to much on this page and more, here is an Asymmetry of Conversion FAQ. (In progress...)


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