by John N. Clayton
Author’s Note: This booklet is a written copy of a part of a series of lessons presented in the Does God Exist? lecture series by John Clayton. At the urging of many people, we have put it into booklet form — hoping that it may be helpful to someone whose faith is quivering in the winds of stress.
Of all the lessons that I present concerning the existence of God and of all the material that I try to make available to people to learn about God’s existence, the present lesson, “Why I Left Atheism,” is the lesson in the series that I frankly do not like to present. I guess none of us like to look back in our lives to a time when we made poor judgments and foolish mistakes — when we took rather really idiotic positions — and admit this, especially to people we are not well acquainted with. I present this lesson, however, because it is my fervent hope and prayer that perhaps by exposing my mistakes and by pointing out the things that were a part of my early life, some who might be following the same paths (to a greater or lesser extent) might not make those same mistakes. Someone once said that nobody is totally useless; if we cannot do anything else, we can at least serve as a bad example. That is sort of my situation. I am hoping that by presenting these materials and telling you something about my early life, some of you may be able to recognize the lack of wisdom and perhaps the poor judgment that is involved in rejecting God and living a life that demonstrates such a rejection.
Most of the time when I speak to religious groups or to people who believe in God, someone will ask me somewhat incredulously, “Well, were you really an atheist? Did you really not believe in God?” I want to start by asserting that the answer to that question is a very affirmative “Yes.” At one time in my life, I was totally and firmly convicted that there was no such thing as God and that anybody who believed in God was silly, superstitious, ignorant, and had simply not looked at the evidence. I felt that believers in God were uneducated and were just following traditions, superstitions, and things that really made no sense to a person who was aware of what was going on around them. Of course, that kind of life and conviction led me to do and say things and to be something that was really very unpleasant. I lived a life that was immoral and which reflected a lack of belief in God. I lived in a way that was very self-centered and that satisfied my own pleasures and desires regardless of whether or not other people were hurt in the process of what I was doing. In the process of doing this, I did a lot of things that affected me through my whole life. It is because of this that I present these materials hoping that perhaps some of you will not make the mistakes and suffer the consequences that I have suffered. I cannot clearly remember all of the events that took place or the proper sequence of events because I was not taking notes. I never expected that I would be trying to recall these things, much less tell someone else about them. Still, I can recall in a general way much of what happened, and I am very sure of the concepts. The concepts are what will be most useful to you.
I guess the reason that I was an atheist is the same reason that many of you are believers in God if you are. That was because I had been indoctrinated in that particular persuasion. My background, the variables that were exposed to me as a child, led me very strongly in that direction. Just as many of you believe in God because your parents believe in God and because they instilled this belief in you, I also questioned, challenged, and rejected God because that was the kind of indoctrination that I received as a child. I can remember my mother saying to me as a child something like, “Do you really believe there is an old man, floating around in the sky, blasting things into existence here upon the earth? Do you really believe that crummy looking structure on the corner could be something beautiful called ‘the church?’ Do you really believe that there is a hole in the ground that I am going to be thrown into and burned eternally if I do not live just the way some preacher thinks I ought to?” Of course, I could not conceive of these things as a child and did not know enough to realize they are not what the Bible teaches. Consequently, I came to believe that anybody who believed in God was just silly, superstitious, ignorant, and unlearned. You may wonder how it would be possible for a person coming out of this type of background and kind of learning situation to become a strong believer in God today, devoting his life to trying to help people to understand that there is a God in heaven and that the Bible is his literal and verbally inspired Word. It is the purpose of this booklet to try and point out at least some of the things that entered into my acceptance of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible as God’s Word.
My high school career was one in which I grew quite rapidly academically. I enjoyed science and decided that I wanted to be a scientist of some kind. I entered Indiana University majoring in the field of physical science. It was actually at this point that one of the great changes that occurred in my life took place. I enrolled in a course in astronomy at the feet of one of the great astronomers of our day. In that particular course, we were studying the problem of origins — the creation of matter from nothing. As we discussed this particular subject, we went into all those theories that are in that particular material. We talked about the big-bang theory, the quasistatal theory, the continuous generation theory, the planetessimal theory, etc.
When we got to the conclusion of that discussion, I asked the professor which of the particular theories was the one that is most acceptable and that satisfactorily explains the creation of matter from nothing. He leaned over the desk and looked me straight in the eye and said, “Young man, you need to learn to ask intelligent questions.” That rather upset me. I did not appreciate that and I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “This is not a question that a scientist tries to answer. This is a question for the philosopher or theologian, but this is not something that falls into the realm of science.” In today’s discussions of black holes and parallel universes, things have not changed. The basic question of the creation of matter/energy from absolutely nothing is not an area that can be scientifically explored. I was very disturbed by that answer. I had always felt that science could ultimately answer all the questions that man had — that there was nothing that science could not eventually take care of as far as what man might challenge and want to know about. Yet this learned man, an expert in his field, said that this was an area that the scientist should not even try to answer — that it was totally beyond the capacity of science to explain and explore. Read on from source