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Have any FAMOUS atheists ever converted to Christianity? C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell

Thomas Cook writes:

Hi guys,

This is going to be a pretty dumb question. But... Was CS Lewis ever an atheist? I was just briefly watching a show about him, and I thought the show hinted that he was an atheist.

I looked on the net, but I only found pro Christian stuff.



ED BABINSKI: There are Christians who consider themselves "former atheists," but certainly not "famous ones," aside from Madelyn Murray O'Hair's son, Bill, who converted to Christianity while an adult alcoholic. But he was merely famous for being the subject of her lawsuit to remove prayer from the schools, and he was quite young and immature of mind when he was "famous." Aside from him there are no famous atheists I can think of who have later converted to Christianity, certainly not after having penned some impressive atheist books, or been atheist leaders. While there ARE a few famous Christians, like Charles Templeton who was one of the most impressive preachers in all of North America, had the biggest Youth for Christ group, preached on alternative nights in Europe with Billy Graham during the Youth for Christ crusades in Europe, and even was chosen by the U.S. Council of Churches to represent them, the first official "Evangelist for the U.S. Council of Churches," and had his own religious TV show in the 1950s, "Look Up and Live," who later "walked away from God," and who wrote a book about why he did so.

Lewis, like Josh McDowell, became "famous Christians," but were never "famous atheists," and in fact they didn't begin to speak of themselves and firmly picture themselves as "former atheists" until they became Christians. But for all of their "former atheism," neither Lewis, like McDowell, wrote anything noteworthy on the subject prior to becoming a Christian. I seem to recall in Lewis' autobiography, SURPRISED BY JOY, that he had been raised Anglican, and, quote, "decided to rejoin the church" during a trip to the zoo. Lewis apparently had no firm or well thought out beliefs of his own until he became attracted to Hegalianism in college, a type of theistic philosophy. Then still later he read Chesterton's THE EVERLASTING MAN which is the book that Lewis credited with making him consider the historical truth of Christianity, probably since Chesterton's theme is to try and prove that in this one stance, "myth became reality," and Lewis was a huge student of mythology, he loved myths before he ever loved the Gospels. Till his dying day, when asked to suggest books on why to become a Christian, Lewis wrote letters back to people suggesting they read Chesteron's book. Lewis even stole and expanded upon Chesterton's own "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" argument. But in the end, neither Lewis nor Chesterton were aware of Biblical scholarship in anything but the most cursory Sunday School sense. They both loved myths and stories though.

Lewis also wrote a novelistic version of his religious journey, Lewis' earliest semi-autobiographical Christian work, titled, THE PILGRIM'S REGRESS, an updated version of Bunyan's Christian classic, THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS. I don't believe Lewis pictured himself as an "atheist" in that book, but as a sort of Everyman, as Bunyan also pictured his main character. Though the main character in Lewis' novel did meet and chat with "Mr. Atheist," I believe.

"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable."

-- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Great admission, though Lewis then went on to add, "...but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith."

Unfortunately, Lewis merely "dithered" around with not much more than your average Sunday School knowledge of the Bible and Gospel comparisons, and believed that the Gospels were history because they "didn't seem like myths," i.e., to Lewis.

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  1. Gabrielle Carey - Australian author of Puberty Blues who was raised atheist but converted to Catholicism,
    Antony Flew - Philosopher and one of the most respected atheist thinkers of the 20th century, became a deist.
    Moses Hess - Socialist philosopher and Left Hegelian who first influenced Karl Marx in his criticism of religion, but who later tried to combine the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza with Hegelianism.
    Anne Rice - Best-selling American author of Gothic and religious-themed books. She returned to Catholicism, and remained as such for many years, but has since announced that although she still believes in Christ she no longer considers herself a Christian.
    J. Neil Schulman - Libertarian science fiction writer who states he met, or experienced, God and that this ended his atheism. The first such experience would have occurred when he was 35. That stated he remains skeptical of "the church" and does not belong to any religion.
    Dave Sim - Comics writer and anti-feminist. He converted to, or created, his own mixture of Abrahamic religions.
    Ted Turner - Media mogul who stated that he is no longer an atheist or an agnostic. He has not embraced any specific religion.

    1. Hi HL, You're making my case for me. Most of the people in your list did not convert to Christianity.

      Second, the only person in your list who was famous as an atheist thinker and writer prior to changing his views was Antony Flew. (Anne Rice was a novelist, not famous for her atheistic thinking, and she no longer considers herself a Christian).

      Third, Antony Flew remained in doubt of the omni-goodness of the deistic "creator," and also died without believing in an afterlife. Lee Strobel did a video interview with Flew toward the end, and Flew admitted he had no belief in an afterlife, and even questioned why anyone would want to live forever.

      I'm agnostic myself. And if you want my take on conversions and the non-uniqueness of the Christian Experience please read

    2. I suppose you can throw this one in for the record as well. Famed for their rabid dislike of religion, historically the Communist party infiltrated the church. Today, religion and faith apparently infiltrates the communist party.

      Capitalist minded as China seems to be, perhaps they know a supernatural belief system which incorporates hope, inspiration, morality and virtue is good for society, good for business so to speak.. that is, to continue good business relations with the outside world, all of which are heavily influenced by spiritual belief.

  2. I was quite impressed. Apparently there's a list of former Atheists and Agnostics at which includes a list of "notable persons who formerly identified as either atheists or agnostics, but then developed belief in a deity or deities." Madalyn Murray O' Hare was rather famous, perhaps her son's conversion to Christianity would count as significant. Or, Jane Fonda, conversion to Christian, as wife of once-Atheist Ted Turner and Atheist brother Henry Fonda.

  3. Lee Strobel. Charles Darwin. Kirk Cameron. Norma McCovey. Patrick Greene

    1. Strobel and Cameron were not famous for their atheism prior to converting. And, Darwin never converted, that is an urban myth that was even disproved in the Creation Research Society Quarterly.

    2. The original question is not asking for persons who were famous for their atheism, but who were famous people who were atheists, but later on accepted Christ. There is a difference. I get your confusion from the title, but from the actual post:
      "This is going to be a pretty dumb question. But... Was CS Lewis ever an atheist? I was just briefly watching a show about him, and I thought the show hinted that he was an atheist."
      it can be understood that's not what the person meant.

  4. What about Peter Hitchens? (brother of Christopher Hitchens)

    1. What did Hitchens publish about atheism prior to his becoming a Christian? He wasn't a famous atheist. The only ones I know of were famous as atheists prior to their views changing is Antony Flew and O'Hair's son, and Antony never became a Christian, only a deist who doubted an afterlife, doubted written revelation, and admitted the problem of evil still remained. While O'Hair's son was an alcoholic and famous for being O'Hair's son, an atheist famous via having a famous atheist mom.

  5. Who cares if someone was famous as an atheist before becoming a Christian. Is that truly the litmus test for a genuine experience? Surely, you see the simpleness of this kind of argument?

    1. Hi Noel, The first point to remember is that everyone has genuine experiences, or experiences that seem absolutely genuine to them. And conversions can move in any direction.

      However, LARGE scale changes in belief for people who already have a belief system are among the lowest percentage of such changes. Meanwhile, changes within the same religion, from denomination to denomination or from conservative to moderate to liberal, are far more common.

      Also, in the case of people converting from atheism to Christianity, the majority of those don't seem to have had a deeply thought out belief system already in place, which also is true of the majority of converts from a naive form of Christianity to atheism.

      This constitutes evidence that once a person has a well thought out belief system or point of view it is difficult to get them to change radically, and it grows that much more difficult for them to change for every year they grow older.

      In fact Christianity Today ran a piece about how unlikely it was for people over 20 to convert to Evangelical Christianity since most converts to Evangelicalism are in their teens, and the percentages of conversions drop exponentially for every year after 20. So it takes minds that are young and lack a well thought out belief system that remain the most vulnerable to the most radical types of conversions. While adults are less vulnerable to radical conversions and more likely to simply re-arrange the furniture in whichever world view they have integrated into their psyches. Like I said, the older you get the less likely to make radical changes in world view, since it's more likely you'll simply move to another denomination in the same religion, or move from conservative to moderate or liberal within that same religion.

      I'm not impressed by the majority of tales of former "atheists" like C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, since such folks seem to have lacked a well integrated world view called "atheism" and lacked much knowledge of religion or biblical studies. McDowell admits in his conversion story that he was a sophomore in college who didn't know much about religion at all, just mocked it, and was drawn by a young woman's smile and wanted to be as happy as she was. His search for "evidence" came later. In fact he admitted in his earliest two testimonies in editions 1 and 2 of ETDAV that he was a scatterbrain before he converted. Not impressive as a testimony.

      C. S. Lewis was a medievalist and a philosophical idealist just prior to converting. And he'd been raised Anglican in his early youth. He was probably "atheistic" for a while during his younger rebellious years. But he doesn't seem to have studied or pondered atheism of entertained a world view around it. He mentioned a general text on mythology like The Golden Bough, but Chesterton (light on biblical scholarship, and a fellow lover of medieval lit.) convinced Lewis that Christianity was a myth that came true. There's no evidence Lewis had a well thought out atheistic world view before converting to Christianity.

      Lee Strobel started going to church to humor his wife during a rough time in their marriage. He has no record of having been anything more than a scoffer prior to converting, and then he began reading works by conservative, usually inerrantist, Christian apologists, and I.D. folks.


      Of the recent atheist with a well thought out atheist world view who did convert to a form of theism late in life, Antony Flew, he was convinced after reading some books by intelligent design advocates, books containing arguments that other scientists had rebutted, but Flew admitted he didn't have the time at this stage in life to follow the whole debate. Neither did Flew become a Christian, for he still rejected revelatory religious writings, said that the problem of evil remained a problem, and said he did not believe in an afterlife.

      On the other side, there have been well educated Christians who have been to seminary or with degrees in biblical studies who were highly educated in theology and Christianity, some of whom also spent decades preaching as ministers, but who left the fold. In fact, not just Christian ministers and scholars but entire seminaries founded on the basis of conservative Christian views have changed over the years, growing more liberal and secular, such as Harvard, and Yale (founded by ministers afraid that Harvard had grown too liberal, but now look at Yale), Princeton (whom some profs left in the 1920s because they felt it had grown too "modernist" and not retained its fundamentalist inerrantist roots). In fact, all of the most conservative Christian seminaries and colleges are fairly young institutions, many founded during the 1920s. But after about 200 years of attracting bright profs and students, and interacting with the wealth of scholarly questions out there, such institutions wind up more moderate, or liberal and/or secular. Calvin's seminary that he founded was being run by devil-denying deists two hundred years after its founding.

      The argument for me is that basing a religion on faith and beliefs does not seem like a very rational thing for a "God" to do, and will inevitably get loads of people damned and/or saved simply because they were raised by particular parents who exposed them to it, or raised in a particular culture, and absorbed a specific world view as a result, one that they retain into adulthood, after which the odds of abandoning it grow exponentially smaller as each year passes.


      The case of Robert M. Price is also interesting. He converted to Evangelical Christianity in his youth, hellfire Baptist religion, went to seminary, read apologetics, theology, and even visited his favorite apologists, kind of like the journey Strobel made, but in the end the questions outweighed the answers for Price, and Price went on to obtain two Ph.D.s, one in NT theology and another in NT history. His earliest book in which he began asking such questions is online, titled, Beyond Born Again: Towards Evangelical Maturity. He has authored many books since then, taught at a very moderate-liberal Christian seminary, and hosts two Bible-related podcasts. If anyone can claim to have been a Christian and known all about Christianity, having studied it seriously and completely prior to leaving the fold it is Price. But even his story is not uncommon. There's also Bart Ehrman, and theologians of the past who began raising scholarly questions in faith, not due to their atheism nor from a wish to deconvert others.

  6. There are also 'famous atheists' whatever that means that converted to beliefs other than Christianity if that was a point to be made.

    However, there are other so called 'religions' they have converted to as well. Realize, 'religion' is man-made, and at the core what a man/person chooses as being central to defining who and/or what He is and why. So ask, what is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of life? Why and what is life exactly? What is time? Does time exist? Why does a flower turn and open to the rising sun, knowing nothing? How can a seed, a tiny seed become a sequoia tree? How did all that Life get in there? For that matter, science is man made and the concept of 'time' is man made too. Science is the study of what already existed/exists in the first place, nothing more, and putting labels on it.And then once we can 'define' what is already there to begin with, we attempt to understand it, and make some sort of sense of it. Good luck getting to the end of it, it's endless forever. We tend to nearly always put the cart before the horse to make sense of things in our own minds. What is reality? Understanding, any feeble attempt to define what man calls/labels "God" is man-made too. Is intelligence man-made? Impossible. The bigger question is, why are so many people in the annuls of time, very very famous people who believed off the bat or did as they reached a point in time when discovering that a point in time came that life was in the long-run, meaningless otherwise, and had to ask the big honest questions from the heart and not the head , billions of people around the world,loving or at least believing of a "God", when there are so comparatively few that cannot? There is another answer though. God Reveals Himself to people in a special way. At least to some. Some people trust Him to be True, but there are others who receive him, no doing of there own due to divine intervention that surpasses understanding. We do not define Him, as one discovers who 'suddenly' changes/converts, they find quite the oppposite - that is God whom defines them! That experience is completely, fully, and totally undeniable, and when they 'perceive' through this form of Knowing (i.e., Gnostic, ever wonder where agnostic comes from? It's NOT knowing, ignorant, blind) It just hasn't happened 'at' some people , yet. Agnostic ain't so bad for starters, I was a bit there for a while. Although, it's completely irrational. There is darkness between the lines of logic and the lines of reasoning. But there is no reasoning or logic involved. Logic and reasoning cannot think a person out of a paper bag, nor understand how the mind can be so imprisoned by them. You can search YADA etymology. People don't pull this stuff up out of thin air. It happens, and like science, words are put to describe an experience so that form fits function.

  7. I'll save you the trouble since you'll probably not find the full definition unless you know what to ask. "The Problem to the solution and the solution to the issues lies not in the answer, but in asking the right question" YADA , Knowing, as opposed to not knowing Agnostic, - ability (1), acknowledge (4), acknowledged (2), acquaintances (5), acquainted (1), aware (6), becomes known (1), bring forth (1), cared (1), chosen (2), clearly understand (2), cohabit (1), comprehend (1), concern (2), concerned (1), consider (3), declare (1), detected (1), directed (1), discern (2), disciplined (1), discovered (3), distinguish (1), endowed (3), experienced (4), experiences (1), familiar friend (1), find (5), found (1), gain (1), had knowledge (1), had relations (6), had...relations (1), has (1), has regard (1), has...knowledge (1), have (4), have relations (3), have...knowledge (2), ignorant* (1), illiterate* (1), indeed learn (1), inform (1), informed (4), instruct (3), instructed (1), intimate friends (1), investigate (2), knew (38), know (542), know for certain (4), know with certainty (1), know assuredly (1), know well (1), knowing (5), knowledge (4), known (65), knows (54), knows well (1), lain* (1), leading (1), learn (7), learned (1), literate* (1), made himself known (2), made it known (1), made myself known (2), made known (10), make himself known (1), make his known (1), make it known (1), make my known (1), make myself known (4), make them known (1), make your known (1), make yourself known (1), make known (14), notice (2), observe (2), perceive (1), perceived (1), possibly know (1), predict (1), professional mourners (1), provided (1), raped (1), read* (1), realize (1), realized (5), recognize (2), recognized (1), regard (1), satisfied* (1), seems (1), show (3), shown (1), skillful (3), sure (1), take knowledge (1), take note (1), take notice (1), taught (2), teach (6), tell (3), tells (1), took notice (1), unaware* (1), unawares* (1), understand (10), understands (1), understood (3), unknown* (1), very well know (1), well aware (1).
    Many people hear the call of God which comes through His revelation of Himself through two things—the creation and the conscience within us. But only the "few" will respond because they are the ones who are truly hearing. Jesus said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35)

  8. Ed: You don't understand Lewis. He most decisely turned away from God and Christianity in his youth, and was EXTREMELY well read by the time he returned to both in his mid to late 20th. (He had been teaching philosophy at Oxford, for one thing -- get that gig, yet?)

    I think he understood NT criticism better than most of its more radical practitioners do, as evidenced in his Fernseed and Elephants. (A tract I kept coming back to, while writing my Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could -- he absolutely nailed those guys, before some were born.)

    Of course few famous atheists convert in the US; since there are few to begin with. The fellow I did my PhD on, though, taught Marxist philosophy in the Peoples' Liberation Army in China, and helped lead the Democracy Movement, before becoming a Christian. He was a pretty famous atheist. He even wrote a long atheist book in his youth.

    1. David, From my reading of Lewis, and I read all of his theological works as a Christian, he was raised Christian in his earliest youth, rebelled in his youth, then swallowed Orthodoxy whole as served up on Chesterton's platter (they both shared a love of medievalism and literature as well, which probably helped them connect).

      C. S. Lewis was not a famous atheist, he was not famous for his atheism when he converted. His head was in the medievalist clouds, like Chesterton's. Yet in contrast to that, many Christian theologians of the highest scholastic calibre, and also seminarians, and biblical scholars, have grown quite liberal or even mystical, agnostic, or atheistic, after studying the Bible.

      While Lewis was neither a theologian nor a NT scholar, he admitted as much: "I have no claim to speak as an expert in any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads." [Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979), p. 22.]

      On the other hand Lewis was no fundamentalist, he knew enough about biblical studies such that he was neither an inerrantist nor a creationist, and he even admitted that Jesus made a faulty prediction regarding the near final judgment of the world. I wish Lewis had also studied the history of the concept of hell, including the way it and Satan rose in prominence during the inter-testamental period, which might have allowed him to make a further concession to God's accommodation in having Jesus teach such things rather than taking Jesus literally in that respect as well.

      And further on the negative side, Lewis also swallowed Chesterton whole, regarding The Everlasting Man to be a fine apologetic work of high calibre that he continued to suggest to people even just a few years before his death. Lewis, like Chesterton, had no qualms about swallowing the sayings and doings in the fourth Gospel whole, while biblical scholars continue to debate its merit compared with the synoptics.

      Lastly, concerning your Marxist convert, didn't every teacher teach Marxist philosophy or had to abide by it or incorporate it into their teachings in the People's Liberation Army? So what if someone converts from one brainwashed point of view to another? Marxism and religion have more in common that you seem to recognize, though Eric Hoffer and many others since then had recognized it.

    2. One more thing, Marshall, let me add to what I wrote about. . . "many Christian theologians of the highest scholastic calibre, and also seminarians, and biblical scholars, have grown quite liberal or even mystical, agnostic, or atheistic, after studying the Bible," and say that prior to the invention of the printing press, followed by the Enlightenment era, people were prosecuted by law for questioning Orthodoxy. The early Roman critics of Christianity had their works destroyed, as did every "heretical" questioner after them for centuries. So even being allowed to ask questions concerning the Orthodox opinion and interpretation of Christianity was an event centuries in the making.

      Even moving from traditional Matthean priority to the view of Markan priority (which seems to have finally been adopted even by many Evangeliical scholars) has been a fairly recent bow to biblical scholarship among Evangelicals as is also the extremely recent development among some Evangelical scholars who have studied ancient Near Eastern wriiting, of viewing Genesis 1 as non-historical.

  9. Ed: Sure, Lewis was a Chesterton fan -- so am I, the man was brilliant. I don't think that had much to do with his critique of radical Jesus criticism, which he explains brilliantly in Fernseed and Elephants (slicing and dicing modern skeptics before some were born), without saying anything very Chestertonian.

    Everlasting Man IS brilliant apologetics, deeper far than any Gnu apologetics I can think of.

    Lewis was BOTH an imaginative genius, AND a highly rational thinker -- a combination not unknown to Oxford, Lewis Carroll being a prime example. No, he wasn't famous before he became a Christian, but he was well-read and accomplished already.

    Oh, I have recognized that Marxism (and Secular Humanism) can be classified as religion for decades. What does that have to do with anything? Yuan wasn't "programmed" into Christianity, he adopted it as freely as any newly minted secular humanist you can name adopted their new faith.

    As Lewis pointed out, Jerome already recognized that the Genesis story was in the style of a myth -- no great surprise, there.

    Why do you bring up ancient persecutions of atheists? Is this the point at which I'm supposed to bring up more recent, and more large-scale, persecutions of Christians by atheists? Nobody has been burnt at the stake in our country, in our lifetimes -- or for almost 400 years.


      Lewis said that at the age of 15 he "became an atheist" because he felt churchgoing was a chore and he was angry at God for not existing. That does not sound like a rationally mature "conversion to atheism," on top of which Lewis admitted that at that same time he became "interested in the occult." Lewis also said that one year later ("around 16") he was already on his way back toward Christianity thanks to a George M. novel having baptized his imagination. It's obvious that you couldn't produce even a slim volume featuring Lewis' written musings an an "atheist":

      Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically "very angry with God for not existing".

      His early separation from Christianity began when he started to view his religion as a chore and as a duty; around this time, he also gained an interest in the occult, as his studies expanded to include such topics. Lewis quoted Lucretius (De rerum natura, 5.198–9) as having one of the strongest arguments for atheism:

      Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam
      Naturam rerum; tanta stat praedita culpa
      Had God designed the world, it would not be
      A world so frail and faulty as we see.

      Lewis's interest in the works of George MacDonald was part of what turned him from atheism. This can be seen particularly well through this passage in Lewis's The Great Divorce, chapter nine, when the semi-autobiographical main character meets MacDonald in Heaven:

      ...I tried, trembling, to tell this man all that his writings had done for me. I tried to tell how a certain frosty afternoon atLeatherhead Station when I had first bought a copy of Phantastes (being then about SIXTEEN YEARS OLD) had been to me what the first sight of Beatrice had been to Dante: Here begins the new life. I started to confess how long that Life had delayed in the region of imagination merely: how slowly and reluctantly I had come to admit that his Christendom had more than an accidental connection with it, how hard I had tried not to see the true name of the quality which first met me in his books is Holiness.

      Anyone on Wikipedia could have discovered that Lewis' "atheism" was about as immature and negligible an "atheism" as one can imagine.

      Look at things the opposite way: If someone told you they were a "Christian" because for a year when they were 15 they attended church and they read one book of Christian apologetics, but then soon became interested in primate studies and the endless questions of philosophy, and their imagination was baptized by reading science fiction and fantasy by non-Christian writers, you'd surely find little that was compelling in their story about being deconverted from Christianity.

    2. Christianity by it's very nature does not naturally lend itself to fame. By the same token, many people who are famous for any length of time would have a hard time giving up many of the things of this world. Many of the "famous" atheists are people who have been singularly driven to success by a belief in themselves and have not felt a need for God.

      People who are very logical often have a hard time with faith. "Prove it to me." Faith is believing in what one cannot see. Ironically, people believe in air and it cannot be seen without a microscope (except in New Jersey and LA).

      The Big Bang Theory defies all other scientific logic: our entire universe was created from nothing.

      Even if proof was provided (as I believe Jesus did), it would still need to be provided to people repeatedly. Even then, there would still be people who would not believe in anything but themselves.

  10. As mentioned in the Bible; "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". Has any living scientist found a way to communicate with dead atheists to confirm this! Instead of wasting time communicating with aliens!!

  11. As mentioned in the Bible; "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord".

    Has any living scientist found a way to communicate with dead atheists to confirm this! Instead of wasting time communicating with aliens!!

  12. Malcolm Muggeridge was a well-known British journalist, writer and television personality – and a self-described "vociferous unbeliever" – who converted to Christianity and was received into the Roman Catholic Church in November 1982.

    1. Hi Brian, I wrote that I knew of no "famous atheists who converted to Christianity, certainly not after having penned some impressive atheist books, or been atheist leaders." Muggeridge was an irreverent journalist and writer for Punch magazine, and had penned no impressive atheist books, nor been a leader of any atheist group. On the other hand, 'there ARE a few famous Christians, like Charles Templeton who was one of the most impressive preachers in all of North America, had the biggest Youth for Christ group, preached on alternative nights in Europe with Billy Graham during the Youth for Christ crusades in Europe, and even was chosen by the U.S. Council of Churches to represent them, the first official "Evangelist for the U.S. Council of Churches," and had his own religious TV show in the 1950s, "Look Up and Live," who later "walked away from God," and who wrote a book about why he did so.' And there have been many Chrisitan ministers who lived and breathed Christianity for decades and nothing else, totally devoted, before leaving the fold.

    2. Hi Ed, Granted, Muggeridge was not an atheistic leader, nor did he write any significant books on the subject – leaving aside his sympathetic study of Samuel Butler, whom he characterized as the "earnest atheist." But the original question was about famous atheists who converted to Christianity, and Muggeridge – certainly in Britain, at least – was well known for his atheistic views before he converted.

  13. Thanks, Was Butler an "atheist?" His views seem a bit more complex than that: I read Muggeridge's autobiography and also his biography of famous Christians, written after he converted. But prior to converting, Muggeridge's book on Butler was not exactly an atheist manifesto, in fact Muggeridge was criticizing Butler's views left and right.

    Muggeridge's journey toward Christianity seems to have begun with being entranced by Mother Teresa, and also by a halo effect seen in several photos taken of Mother Teresa, though I seem to have read that the latter were explained later as natural creations of that camera's lens. And also that Mother Teresa herself lived a life of spiritual dryness and tremendous doubt for decades after the youthful spiritual experience, but her diaries tell of great doubt, and perhaps her energy for the church was devoted to quelling that doubt.

    1. See also these words from Butler, "Theist and Atheist"

      And this description of the phases of Butler's thoughts:

    2. Also this interesting tidbit about Butler's views:

  14. There's a list of about 100 of them on wiki....but famous?

    I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than hand full of Atheists who are famous period !
    Stalin, Mao, and a just about every famous serial killer were atheists.

    It is absolutely the Norm for atheists to eventually become believers in God though. Its not like it would be a shock. Believers turning to atheists is the abnormal path. Now, when I say believer..I dont mean one who worships Jesus Christ. No one can turn from that. Im talking about pretenders or just plain old Theists.
    I just read that Francis Collins, head of the DNA genome project, now is a believer.

    I would like to say that believing in a god, in the end, is essentially a difference that make no difference in comparison to the atheist who keeps his mouth shut. (Obviously, those who spend their life mocking God and his followers are gonna pay dearly for their wickedness.)

    But simply believing in God doesn't deserve any special credit because it so freakin obvious. If it wasn't...then why would the overwhelming majority of all humans who have ever lived have come to that determination?

    You just cant craft a pretend god who just happens to agree with everything you think. God has revealed himself in history through Christ and the knowledge that Christ was exactly who he said he was is available by simply turning to God and asking him for the truth. Its as a Fact in my mind.

    God confirms our faith. Because that truth is available to everyone..there will be no excuses. If you really were seeking the real God..He would make sure you find Him. If you dont...then maybe its YOU you want to see on the throne. But simply put..God doesn't make if you haven't found him..then you dont want the God of the Bible to be God.

    1. John, Please tell us more about what you have experienced of "God" exactly. Or send a link.

      We can't discuss everything you wrote here, but you might want to explain why so many Christians continue to have questions or are not so sure as you are about the Bible, Christ and God, or are moving toward the progressive/moderate spectrum and away from the conservative one according to the Pew pole of the U.S., the biggest such poll in the last decade. And why there are so many books now published by Baker and Intervarsity Press and other Christian presses that point out all the differing Christian interpretations.Evangelical Christian publishers admit Christianity's "image problem," "postmodern turn," differing rival "views" within the Evangelical fold, and speak about "hopeful skepticism" and "questions" rather than dogmatic truths:

      Neither were Stalin and Mao famous for their atheistic arguments as much as for their political views, their communism, a view that advocated violent overthrow of the wealthy and of factory owners who were exploiting people to death in "Satan's mills" as the Christian mystic and poet William Blake called the smoke filled dangerous factories of his day. Communism also seems near to religion in that it promised a worker's paradise, and projected fears and blame onto the "wealthy" which became it's scapegoat, its Satan. It's is also true that mass movements from Christianity and Islam to Communism and Fascism attract enthusiastic followers for many of the same reasons: Neither are all communistic ideas necessarily bad even to Christians since the church of Jesus Christ according to Acts consisted of members who held all in common.

      I also suspect that there are excuses for religious views being so diverse, even in the Christian world.

      See also, Why We Believe in a Designer, a tongue in cheek piece that you may find too full of questions considering your present level of certainty concerning all such matters:

  15. I think the closest to "famous atheist converts to Christianity" would be Dr. Richard Lumsden (who went from being a biology professor to Tulane to a full-on Young Earth Creationist) and Dr. Rosaria Butterfield (who was a professor of women's studies at Syracuse but now is a member of an ultra-conservative Presbyterian denomination).
    Lumsden's testimony:

    1. In what ways were they famous for defending atheism? Because that would be the definition and case I would be most interested in reading. While on the opposite side we have people of advanced degrees in biblical scholarship along with entire institutions of higher learning that move quite regularly in the opposite of greater appreciation of questions rather than absolute answers

    2. That's why I qualified my statement-although Lumsden comes pretty close since he (at least according to his testimony) used to criticize young earth creationism. OTOH, the number of atheists famous as advocates of atheism is fairly small (even if you include agnostics and freethinking Deist types such as Paine and Voltaire).

    3. Even if they were not famous to the general public, I am most interested in atheist speakers or writers who had contributed writings and speeches to movements in freethought or humanism before leaving that point of view.

      In contrast, one can find many testimonies by former Christians who were seminarian, preachers for decades and biblical scholars who eventually left the fold. The same goes for the history of institutions devoted to conservative Christian beliefs that grew more moderate/liberal/secular over a period of about two centuries, all the while interacting with the scholarly questions at other such institutions around the world and attracting the brightest professors and students.

      Note that in the case of Antony Flew, he merely exchanged atheism for a form of deism, not Christianity or even a belief in a personal afterlife. There was also the case in the 1800s of someone who was a member of a British freethought organization, who spoke and wrote for them, and became a Christian, but he did not become an inerrantist, and even doubted eternal punishment if I recall.

  16. I'm not really sure what you mean by "famous." By excluding anyone whom you have never heard of, or someone who is not "world famous" seems to be using it in a rather subjective sort of way. Also, to limit the list to those who were actually defenders of atheism is also a bit imbalanced considering the fact that most pastors or preachers are not actual world renown apologists. To tell you the truth, I have been involved in church my whole life and I never heard of Templeton except in reference to him being an atheist.

    Furthermore, I think the overall analysis must take into account the number of pastors and preachers who have walked away from church leadership in general, without any direct connection to theology. Not only that, but from a naturalistic perspective, that is to say, biological determinism, one must consider the type of persons who would naturally gravitate toward either belief or non-belief and how that would relate to conversion and deconversion because that would also have a determined effect on such a research project. I think pride also plays a role. If it is determined to be factor high among prominent atheists, then this could be as much of a decisive factor as say evidence, intuition or personal experience.

    At any rate, I have been working on a Youtube playlist on the subject of atheists who have become Christians and theists. One of the arguments that I have heard atheists offer is that everyone is an atheist until they become a believer. If this is the case, then that would certainly broaden the list exponentially. I have chosen to limit my list specifically to those who have claimed to be atheists and agnostics. I have only been working on the list for about a week, so it is not complete and obviously the list only includes actual videos on Youtube.

    1. What I mean by famous is someone known for having spoken and written in favor of atheism, and hence known for being an atheist activist in the same sense as a minister is known for being a theist advocate.

  17. Maybe Dean Kenyon. (but not really) God calls the lowly, dumb, and blind. He is not a bitch for the rich and famous. Scientists can't go around bragging that they discovered God. They don't carry him around in their backpockets. God is love. Hell is not biblical. All will be saved. Here is a good website

  18. After reading over this, one thing is certain. There are many people whose lives were better after they accepted Christ as their savior.

    1. There are also people whose lives were better after they became Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses. Christian Scientists, Scientologists if you read online testimonies of former alcoholics and addicts claim that some new belief systems helped them concentrate on eliminating illness and negativity in their lives. See, The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience (?)

      And speaking of the negative aspects, Christianity can sometimes contribute to making a person's life hell, via child abuse in the name of godly discipline, avoiding medical care for one's children, taking one's children into dangerous missionary territory, fathers who cannot accept their children have doubts or are homosexual. Christianity also helped fill the western world with the notions of demonic causation/demonization of enemies and thought control, i.e., Christianized Roman emperors decreed in their law books that anyone who doubted the truth of the Trinity was "insane, demented," and were subject to the Emperor's wrath, including Imperial decrees that the books of skeptics like Porphyry and heretics like Arius be burnt. Henceforth anyone daring to question the new Christian status quo was persecuted.


      Augustine of Hippo set forth the principle of Cognite Intrare ("Compel them to enter," based on Luke 14:23). Cognite Intrare would be used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the Church's suppression of dissent and oppression of difference.

      Christian persecution of pagans--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

      Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

      Reformation Christian persecution of fellow Christians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

      Christian persecution of American Indians--exceeded the pagan persecution of early Christians

      Decrees of Christian Emperors against non-Trinitarians [at bottom of this piece]

      Protestant and Catholic defenses of the necessity of persecuting heretics, blasphemers, infidels, etc.

      Things Christians Have Been Against

      Christianity's Failure to Add Much That Was New to the World

  19. I think the use of the word "famous" to describe former atheists who later converted to some form of devout Christianity is misleading. The criteria that I use to determine whether a Christian apologist who defines themselves as a "former atheist" has anything relevant to persuade me that lack of belief in their current version of god is mistaken is whether they can show that their previous form of "atheism" has anything in common with the one I developed *after* being familiar with their current form of Christianity. Can they show that during the time that they say they were atheists that they
    (1) identified themselves by that term or something comparable (like non-theist)
    (2) were aware of the major objections to biblical literalism
    (3) had read all of the Bible, or were at least familiar with the problematic moral passages in both the Old and the New Testament
    (4) were familiar with major objections to god belief, such as the problem of evil
    (5) were familiar with the major objections to Christianity as stated by outsiders to the faith (Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Free Thinkers, etc.)

    I read all of the apologetic and literary works of C.S. Lewis while I was a committed practising evangelical Christian. It failed to prevent me from losing my religious beliefs years later because Lewis had no answers to the questions that I began to ask. Clearly, his form of previous atheism did not include any in depth knowledge of the topics and information that led me to question and then to abandon my belief in the Christian god, and then in any god.

    This same kind of superficial "atheism" and superficial knowledge of Christianity and the range of other god beliefs is the hallmark of apologists who claim to have been "former atheists". There arguments may seem sound to those who are already converted but they have nothing to offer to those who currently refer to themselves by the term "atheist" and who have arrived at their lack of belief in gods due to an investigation of the basis of Christian and other supernatural beliefs.

    In other words, apatheism and various naive and superficial forms of atheism that are not well thought out is very different from the kind of skeptical mindset that is the hallmark of atheists who used to be Christian apologists.

    The skeptical mindset is a one way street from religion to lack of faith in the supernatural. Atheist apologists do not become Christian apologists. On the other hand, there is an increasing flood of former Christian apologists who have traveled the long and often painful road of investigative fact checking in the presence of intellectual integrity who have reached the end as atheist apologists.

    1. I agree. I would add that I too read all of C. S. Lewis' apologetic works as a Christian and the Inklings and Chesterton and George Macdonald, but still left the fold. Lewis himself admitted he was no biblical scholar nor theologian. I have lots of posts on C. S. Lewis in my blogs if you google babinski blogspot C. S. Lewis

      As for "famous atheists" I do specify what I meant. Someone who was know FOR their atheism/agnosticism. There are a few people from the Victorian era who were members of British freethought groups who might actually fit the bill, since they were speakers or leaders of such atheistic groups in Britian. Tim Larsen did a book about them. But he also admits that when they reconverted to Christianity it was not to an inerrantist or hellfire version of Christianity. I also have run across a few cases of atheist philosophy professors converting later in life. But such late converts also tend to convert to more liberal forms of Christianity. Even the famed atheist who became a deist later in life, Antony Flew, never converted to Christianity, and admitted he found the problem of evil remained great, and he also could not belief in an afterlife.

  20. The best I can figure out from this is there are no famous athiests.

  21. You seem stuck on the "were not famous for their atheism..." - Perhaps that is because it was nothing to get excited about, was nothing worth expounding on, was not a strongly held belief to begin with...whereas these men {& women} found Christianity quite worthy of getting excited about & expounding on.
    I believe the real, original point was whether or not famous people who were atheist, then became Christians {whether famous for doing so, or not; their fame - generally speaking - seemed to be the point}.
    I also have read C. S. Lewis extensively, & suggest that you read him again...because I noted a great deal in his writings that you seem to have missed.

    1. I meant prominent atheists known for explaining and defending atheism in print. Well thought out atheists. Lewis's atheism was adolescent, read how he remained in love with imaginative ideas, how his imagination was baptized the year after he declared himself a teen atheist, his love of medievalism, his interest in the occult. He shows no signs of ever having been a well thought out atheist, and he returned to the same Anglican Church into which he was baptized, following on the heels of his brothers conversion.

      I have read every Christian book and essay Lewis wrote and engaged with his Cardinal difficulty for naturalism on my other blog.


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