In a nutshell atheism is a rejection of, or doubt in, the proposition that any deity exists. Unlike secular moral philosophies like Secular Humanism or philosophical naturalism, atheism makes no other claims.
People become atheists in very different ways. It is possible to be born in a family who does not support or discuss religion, with the result that one born in such a family grows up not thinking very deeply about belief or doubt. It is possible to reject religions because the tenets or dogma of religions often conflicts with a person’s values or the way that they wish to live their lives.
It is also possible to become an atheist after a period of investigation and deep thought.
This is not the method that Lee Strobel used to become an atheist. In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ” he says:
For much of my life I was a skeptic. In fact, I considered myself an atheist.
He goes on to explain that earlier in his life he found “too much evidence that God was merely a product of wishful thinking”. He explains his doubt in miracles and his faith in science and evolution (without explaining how – or if – he actually understood these concepts.) He writes the very telling sentence, “Doesn’t scientific reasoning dispel belief in the supernatural?“
But the most important statement about his atheism is this one:
But that’s all I had ever really given the evidence: a cursory look. I had read just enough philosophy and history to find support for my skepticism – a fact here, a scientific theory there, a pithy quote, a clever argument. Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them: a self-serving and immoral lifestyle that I would be compelled to abandon if I were ever to change my views and become a follower of Jesus.
A recent article on Christianity Today explains how Strobel as an atheist with an investigative journalist background, “… embarked on the project to discredit the veracity of Christ’s resurrection and dissuade his recently converted wife from life as a Christian, but in the end he was the one who was powerfully converted.” The article goes on to quote Strobel, “As my investigation unfolded, my atheism began to buckle.”
Science writer and physician Ben Goldacre once wrote that, “You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.” Lee Strobel did not come to atheism through reason. He fell into atheism by accident, and decided to stay there because he had a taste for hedonism. His wife had recently converted to Christianity, and Strobel was a writer. What could he do? Maybe he could strengthen his marriage and discover a lucrative new career as a published evangelist.
In “The Case for Christ” Strobel is said to have piled up evidence for Jesus and the resurrection. I won’t get into his research here, except to point out that he takes the Bible at face value, and that everyone he interviews in his book is a devout Christian. Since he frames his research as a sort of legal trial, I will just point out that it is a trial in which only the Prosecution gets to speak, and the Defense is never called to the stand. There are plenty of take-downs for “The Case for Christ” online, many of which do so point by point.
I am pointing out that Strobel has become famous for a simple flaw – he never based his atheism on any sort of reasoning. He equated atheism with immorality, and completely skipped any sort of secular moral philosophy. He used atheism as his excuse for living an immoral lifestyle. He didn’t reason his way into atheism, he lacked theistic belief because he never gave it any thought.
Strobel is also guilty of falling for Pascal’s wager – the idea that we are all betting that Christianity is true, or nothing is true. In doing so, Strobel misses a multitude of other possible religions that might also be true.
And last, let us acknowledge that evangelical Christianity is a lucrative business model. And one of the best ways to sell yourself in this business is to claim a dramatic salvation from a sinful life. The most profitable evangelists seem to have the most dramatic salvation.
In his online biography, Lee Strobel bills himself as “Atheist-turned-Christian”. There is no reason to doubt that he once was an atheist. But there is every reason to believe that he fell into atheism without the benefit of critical reasoning or any deep thinking.