Page 1 of 30 12311 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 293

Thread: Common theist argument: "You know, I used to be an atheist myself..."

  1. Top | #1
    Elder Contributor Underseer's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Chicago suburbs
    Posts
    11,413
    Archived
    39,172
    Total Posts
    50,585
    Rep Power
    73

    Common theist argument: "You know, I used to be an atheist myself..."

    It seems like every other Christian that I talk to claims to be a former atheist.

    Here's the first problem with that: there can't possibly be that many ex-atheist Christians out there. Anyone who has seen the statistics knows this. Throughout the Western industrialized world, the number of Christians is shrinking and the number of non-theists is growing. The number of Christians who become atheist per year in a given Western society is actually kinda small, and the number of atheists becoming Christian is even smaller. We know this must be true because the number of Christians keeps shrinking while the number of nontheists keeps growing.

    I run into so many Christians who claim to be ex-Christians, and I know from the statistics that they must either be confused about what an atheist is or lying.

    So why do they do it?

    I suspect it is because they don't understand what an appeal to authority fallacy is. I think they believe that if they claim to be former atheists, this will cause their arguments to be more convincing. I think they believe this because everything they believe to be true comes from an appeal to authority fallacy (e.g. the Bible says X is true and the Bible is an authority, therefore X is true; the preacher says Y is true and the preacher is an authority, therefore Y is true). If everything they believe to be true comes from an appeal to authority fallacy, then it is natural that they would expect everyone else to also be convinced by appeal to authority fallacies.

    Of course, if they were actually former atheists, they would know that using logical fallacies makes their position less credible, not more, which is especially ironic. An ex-atheist would know that there are no good arguments to use and would certainly not rely on a logical fallacy which would instantly make the person they're talking to more suspicious of their position. An ex-atheist would know that it's best to make purely emotional arguments and hope they caught the atheist at a moment in their lives when everything is going wrong. Most atheists are ex-Christians and most became ex-Christians precisely because they went through a period of intense study and found that all of the apologetics arguments are bad.

  2. Top | #2
    Elder Contributor Keith&Co.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Far Western Mass
    Posts
    16,224
    Archived
    24,500
    Total Posts
    40,724
    Rep Power
    74
    "Most atheists are ex-Christians and most became ex-Christians precisely because they went through a period of intense study and found that all of the apologetics arguments are bad. "

    That might be a big driver, too. Every so often, I see apologists try to say, "Well, if you were a believer, you'd know..." but they can't speak as the only authority in the room if the atheist used to be a believer. So they try to keep the atheists from being the only authority on atheism in the room, by claiming to have once been a nihilist, too. And describe their atheist time as they think atheists believe and feel...

  3. Top | #3
    Super Moderator Bronzeage's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Deep South
    Posts
    6,698
    Archived
    7,568
    Total Posts
    14,266
    Rep Power
    39
    After thinking about this for a few minutes, I can't recall a single Christian who claimed to have once been an Atheist. There are plenty who became Christians after a fairly short life of not giving it a lot of thought, one way or the other.

  4. Top | #4
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Chochenyo Territory, US
    Posts
    2,336
    Rep Power
    9
    This claim will be found in any apologetics debate between any two religions, with vayring degrees of veracity.

    I think you have a shaky grasp of mathematics, though. A net loss tells you nothing about how many people have been wandering from one tradition to another, only what the overall ratio has been at the end of it.


    Let me help you:

    Suppose I have ten apples, and you and a friend both have three oranges. I trade you five apples for two of your oranges. Your friend trades me two oranges for one apple. Then you and your friend trade, with you offering two additional apples for one of his oranges, and one of his apples. Finally, I trade with your friend all of the oranges that I have accumulated, in exchange for three of my apples back.

    On average, which of those apples or oranges is an exclusive and dichotomous religious identity that you are thinking about in a very fuzzy fashion?

  5. Top | #5
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    16,484
    Archived
    42,293
    Total Posts
    58,777
    Rep Power
    86
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    After thinking about this for a few minutes, I can't recall a single Christian who claimed to have once been an Atheist. There are plenty who became Christians after a fairly short life of not giving it a lot of thought, one way or the other.
    Well, I'm sure that there's more than a few. If people are questioning and thinking about theological positions, you're going to have a wide range of things that they go through.

    Just so long as they're being honest with themselves about where they are at each stage of their journey, it's all good. Unless they become Mennonites, of course, because those assholes can just wander off and fuck themselves.

  6. Top | #6
    Veteran Member James Brown's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Texas
    Posts
    2,832
    Archived
    5,844
    Total Posts
    8,676
    Rep Power
    55
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    After thinking about this for a few minutes, I can't recall a single Christian who claimed to have once been an Atheist.
    It's a standard line among outspoken apologists: C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, etc.

    Notice, by the way, the distinction from another favourite genre:“I used to be an atheist, but . . .” That is one of the oldest tricks in the book, practised by, among many others, C S Lewis, Alister McGrath and Francis Collins. It is designed to gain street cred before the writer starts on about Jesus, and it is amazing how often it works. Look out for it, and be forewarned.
    --Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

  7. Top | #7
    Shrunken Member WAB's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Lake Havasu City, AZ
    Posts
    2,522
    Archived
    2,174
    Total Posts
    4,696
    Rep Power
    60
    Too many attempts at mind-reading going on, and too much over-simplification and convenient classification.

    I was an atheist from my late teens until 2011, when I underwent a conversion, which I now consider to be caused by a mental event or a mental disorder. My conversion is documented on these boards. I was a Christian and talked about Christ being my Lord and King, the whole shebang.

    Years of concentrated effort - of introspection and research into religious mania, brain disorders producing religious experience, etc, caused me to come back to myself.

    Consequently, I also came back into deep depression. The faith I had or thought I had was exciting and new. It gave me a purpose and rejuvenated me. I may have been crazy, but I was happy.

    In a way I miss those feelings.

    I am sure, Underseer, that some of those Christians who claim to have been atheists are telling the truth.

    No doubt there are also those who say it for the reasons you and Dawkins mention (though there's no reason to think Dawkins was right that the three theists he mentions were/are lying about formerly being atheists. He ought to stick to science and put the crystal ball away).
    Last edited by WAB; 11-05-2018 at 06:20 PM.
    If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to a library. - Frank Zappa

  8. Top | #8
    Formerly Joedad
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    PA USA
    Posts
    5,079
    Archived
    5,039
    Total Posts
    10,118
    Rep Power
    74
    In my experience it's some stressful life event that causes a person to convert one way or another. Speaking personally it was simply the stresses of life, raising a family, nothing in particular except the ultimate realization that if there was a god my life would not be so challenging, painful, and stressful. And stupid idiocy such as ostensibly witnessing children die because they have original sin.

    So I became convinced that gods were not real.

    "Atheist" is certainly a religious word. By definition I am certainly atheist but certainly do not consider myself religious.

    I have met many people who stated they were once atheists, usually it's an early/late teen thing, kinda like saying they were once virgins.

  9. Top | #9
    Elder Contributor Underseer's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Chicago suburbs
    Posts
    11,413
    Archived
    39,172
    Total Posts
    50,585
    Rep Power
    73
    Quote Originally Posted by Bronzeage View Post
    After thinking about this for a few minutes, I can't recall a single Christian who claimed to have once been an Atheist. There are plenty who became Christians after a fairly short life of not giving it a lot of thought, one way or the other.
    You don't talk to many apologists then.

    I can only assume that someone out there is telling Christian apologists that this is a good strategy because I run into so many claiming to be ex-atheists.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    This claim will be found in any apologetics debate between any two religions, with vayring degrees of veracity.

    I think you have a shaky grasp of mathematics, though. A net loss tells you nothing about how many people have been wandering from one tradition to another, only what the overall ratio has been at the end of it.


    Let me help you:

    Suppose I have ten apples, and you and a friend both have three oranges. I trade you five apples for two of your oranges. Your friend trades me two oranges for one apple. Then you and your friend trade, with you offering two additional apples for one of his oranges, and one of his apples. Finally, I trade with your friend all of the oranges that I have accumulated, in exchange for three of my apples back.

    On average, which of those apples or oranges is an exclusive and dichotomous religious identity that you are thinking about in a very fuzzy fashion?
    The net loss doesn't tell you how many, but the statistics do. The rate of change is relatively small in any given year. You have to look at many years together before you see large changes.

    If nearly everyone in society was changing from atheist to theist or the reverse, don't you think society would look very different right now?

  10. Top | #10
    Elder Contributor Underseer's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Chicago suburbs
    Posts
    11,413
    Archived
    39,172
    Total Posts
    50,585
    Rep Power
    73
    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    In my experience it's some stressful life event that causes a person to convert one way or another. Speaking personally it was simply the stresses of life, raising a family, nothing in particular except the ultimate realization that if there was a god my life would not be so challenging, painful, and stressful. And stupid idiocy such as ostensibly witnessing children die because they have original sin.

    So I became convinced that gods were not real.

    "Atheist" is certainly a religious word. By definition I am certainly atheist but certainly do not consider myself religious.

    I have met many people who stated they were once atheists, usually it's an early/late teen thing, kinda like saying they were once virgins.
    I've read scores, possibly hundreds of deconversion stories. I'm fascinated by them because I was raised without religion and don't know if I would have had the courage and intellectual honesty to overcome such emotionally-manipulative indoctrination. Thus, I can say with confidence that most deconversions are not caused by some traumatic life event as Christians imagine.

    For most ex-Christian atheists, it is the result of a long and difficult attempt to really find out which side has the better arguments. It often involves study of apologetics, the origins of the Bible, Christian theology, etc. In most cases, it's not caused by some traumatic life event: it's caused by an attempt to genuinely know what's true.

    A good example is Matt Dillahunty.

    He was thinking about becoming a preacher. He had an atheist roommate. He had trouble countering the atheist roommate's arguments. So he set about really studying apologetics so that he could help his atheist friend see the light once and for all. Because he was confident that Christianity was in fact true and because he was expecting to convince an atheist, he made an honest look at the arguments from both sides. After long study, he came to the conclusion that there were no good arguments on the Christian side, and therefore no good reason to find Christianity true.

    Many theology schools need to hire crisis counselors to help students keep their faith despite the things they learn about the origins of the Bible.

    Sometimes studies cause doubts. In other cases, doubts cause study. Some people might feel their faith starting to slip and take upon a study of the Bible, apologetics, etc. in an attempt to hold on to their faith. It doesn't matter what causes the study, if they are intellectually honest, they find that there are no good arguments on the Christian side and lots of good arguments against.

    The main exception is something I call instant deconversion, and it's usually triggered by an incredibly bad argument from one's own side.

    Richard Feynman is probably the most famous example. He was reading the scriptures as a child and thought "Wait. If he died alone, why doesn't the story end with his death?" (I don't think it was Moses, but I don't recall who). He asked his rabbi how that particular account could possibly continue to describe events no one else was around to witness. The answer he got was so bad that he became enraged and deconverted on the spot and was an atheist for the rest of his life.

    Aron Ra is another example. He started out life as a wishy-washy Mormon. Went through a period of experimenting with Eastern religions, European paganism, etc., before becoming a born-again Christian. He was really, really excited about the whole born-again experience. So he asked the friend who converted him to evangelicalism how he could tell if the things he was feeling were real, or just imagined. That was when the friend used the classic "fake it 'till you make it" argument. He became so angry that his friend would use such a disingenuous argument that he deconverted on the spot and has been an atheist since.

    The third example is a prominent Latino-American atheist activist whose name escapes me. There was a long Hangouts discussion Aron Ra had with a bunch of prominent Latino atheist activists. The most recent deconvert explained that he was an Evangelical who was deconverted by the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate on evolution. His girlfriend was losing grip on her faith, particularly on the topic of evolution (evangelicals insist that if you don't believe in creationism, you can't be Christian, which itself causes no small number of deconversions). He assured her that the Ham-Nye debate was coming up and that Ham would convince her creationism was true. The couple watched the debate together, and needless to say he found the creationist position lacking in that debate. Then the debate reached that infamous point "What would it take to change your mind?" Nye answered "evidence," while Ham answered "Nothing." That made him very angry, and he instantly deconverted on the spot.

    In every case, anger is involved, but it's not the anger nor some traumatic life experience that causes this. Rather, the rage is caused by someone on your own side making an incredibly bad argument.

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 04-29-2018, 08:33 PM
  2. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 10-24-2015, 04:01 PM
  3. Replies: 25
    Last Post: 03-25-2015, 09:50 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •