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John N. Clayton

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 him. 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 have 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. It is the concepts that 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. 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. 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 come to be 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." 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.

Not too long after that, I enrolled in a course in biology at the feet of one of the great primitive life scientists in the country. As we discussed the initial beginning of life upon the earth in that class, we talked about the synthesis of various primitive chemical materials such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). As we discussed this, I once again asked a question related to the one that I had asked previously. I asked this professor what the process was by which the original life--the original living cells upon the earth--came into existence. How did the structure or generation of DNA occur? Once again, this man said, 'Young man, that is not a question that falls within the realm of science." I guess what was happening to me was the same thing that Lord Kelvin, a very famous British scientist, described in his writings when he made the statement, "If you study science deep enough and long enough it will force you to believe in God." That is what happened to me. I began to realize that science had its limitations--that science, in fact, strongly pointed to other explanations than natural ones to certain questions.

It was about this time when another thing happened in my life and that was that a woman entered it. A lot of things begin with women (some things end with them, too). In this particular case, this young lady was by all means the most bull-headed, stubborn, cast-iron willed individual I had ever met in all my life. I can make those statements because some six years later I married her. This was the first girl I ever met that I felt I could respect. Sometimes you will hear preachers who know absolutely nothing about what they are talking about from the role of experience make statements such as, "If you hold on to your virtues and maintain your moral standards, a man will respect you more." Let me tell you, as one who has lived on the other side of the fence and has thought as one who is alienated from how God thinks, that statement is true. I will guarantee you that I never thought seriously about marrying anyone until I met this girl who I could respect--who really stood for something. Not only did she stand for something morally, she believed in God and read her Bible. Though she could not answer all my questions, she kept going back to the Bible. I did not seem to be able to break her faith as I had been able to do with other people and the thing that happened was that as a result of her stubbornness and refusal to reject the Bible, she forced me to read the Bible.

I read the Bible through from cover to cover four times during my sophomore year in college for the explicit purpose of finding scientific contradictions in it. By that, I mean statements in the Bible that were false that I could throw back at her to show her how ridiculous it was to believe in God. I had even decided to write a book called All the Stupidity of the Bible. Something amazing happened as I did this. As I considered and thought about these things, I found that I could not find a contradiction. I tried that whole year and years after to find a contradiction--to find some kind of scientific inaccuracy in the Bible. I just simply was not able to do it. I gave up writing the book because of a lack of material! It is amazing to me that as I talk to people, I find many who claim to be Christians and who perhaps claim to have been Christians for many years who have not read the Bible through cover to cover once. I find it hard to believe that they believe in God very much if they do not even want to know what He has to say.

As I read the Bible through again and again, I began to realize that all the things I had been told about God and religion were not what the Bible said. They may have been what organized religion said or what some men taught, but not what the Bible itself said. For example, the Bible did not say that God was an old man floating around in the sky, blasting things into existence here upon the earth. The Bible said, "God is