12 Jun 2016

Two Former Atheists Talk About Experiencing God

Religious 31 Comments

We certainly do not claim to be theologians, but I think this discussion with Steve Patterson turned out well. I definitely got into things I haven’t talked about publicly (though I’ve written on them, a bit, here at Free Advice).

31 Responses to “Two Former Atheists Talk About Experiencing God”

  1. Gene Callahan says:

    Is there a transcript? I do not fancy long web broadcasts.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      No transcript that I know of, Gene, and also–on this particular issue–I think it helps for people to hear us actually saying it.

  2. Dexter Morgan says:

    I don’t believe in God, I’m an agnostic moral nihilist. But you will get comments from atheists making fun of you for thinking you can feel God while at the same time they run around claiming they ‘experience moral intuitions.’

  3. Jim says:

    Calvinist???!!!!!! … welcome aboard. 🙂

  4. Bob says:

    Around 36:20 you describe in outline why you went from atheist to Christian. Are the details written up anywhere? Or more broadly: is there anything you can suggest which might convince an atheist to become a Christian? i.e. does it all come down to the personal experiences you had, or is there anything you can point to in terms of process, arguments, etc. Said another way: you’ve got a lot of skeptical atheist materialist friends out there, are there any pointers you can give them?

    • Marc Cohen says:

      Bob, needs to make a commercial promoting Christianity like those Proactive commercials for acne free skin.

    • Guest says:

      Read the Bible like you would like any other book. Objectively and chronologically. IF you don’t like it then never read it again.

      • Jim says:

        This is bad advice. It’s not ‘a’ book, it’s many books. It’s not chronological. It’s not a modern narrative. If you care at all about what it says, read it in all of its contexts: historical context, literary context, geographic context, cultural context, etc.

        • E. Harding says:

          Jim is right.

          • Bob says:

            Thanks guys. I have read the Bible cover to cover and studied it a bit (e.g. historical context, literary context, geographical context, cultural context, etc). I’ve tried to do so objectively and with an open mind. Though I didn’t find it persuasive in terms of making me a Christian. That’s why I was interested in what Dr. Murphy was talking about in the video because he seemed to converted for reasons other than having read the Bible. Part of what he talked about was a sort of spiritual experience. I, too, have had spiritual experiences of a sort, but nothing that turned me into a Christian. On the topic of spirituality I quite enjoyed the book “Waking Up” by Sam Harris.

        • Guest says:

          Advising to read the Bible is bad? Lol. And yes it is basically chronological. And yes, all 66 story’s in the Bible are glued together and bound by 1 spine therefore making it 1 book.

  5. Marc Cohen says:

    I was wondering about your conversation experience for awhile, Bob. But, I must say I am underwhelmed. You think god cleared up your skin on your face and then you heard a voice saying they forgave you?

    • E. Harding says:

      Yeah; pretty weak.

    • khodge says:

      That is a harsh misstatement of what Bob said.

      Let”s take a an entirely hypothetical example:
      Pretend that there is a Nobel Prize/John Bates winner who writes for a well-known daily publication;
      Suppose this writer is a Keynesian Democrat who tosses excrement at opponents because they don’t agree with him;
      Suppose he finds this one little insignificant issue that suggests that his entire paradigm is screwed up.

      I would consider, in such a world, that it would be extremely unlikely that said economist would take a vacation (say a 7-day Cruise to the Caribbean – remember he has, in this hypothetical, a history of awards so he does doesn’t need half a year of study) to brush up on his Austrian economics. He most likely would examine the anomaly, begin to review his past work; and slowly, slowly stop referring to IS-LM and start throwing bits of ABT in until his readers, who think he is Hari Seldon in the flesh, are suddenly calling Murphy a neo Austrian.

      Conversions begin with a spark (sometimes big, sometimes small) and, over time, take root and grow, like, for example, a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which grows into one of the mightiest of trees.

  6. Marc Cohen says:

    *conversion experience that is.

  7. Guest says:

    Not sure why Gentiles spend so much time on OT? Faith not flesh/law is for the Gentiles. Go NT!…

    • Khodge says:

      Jesus was an OT Jew. To understand Jesus, you must first know how he was formed, who his God is.

      Jesus did not magically appear and start teaching and performing miracles…He spent 30 years of his life in formation by his parents and rabbinic teachers. (To say otherwise would be gnosticism, the first heresy officially condemned by the Church that He founded.)

      • Guest says:

        Jesus did magically( divinely) appear, God sent His Son Jesus to Save us. To believe Jesus is a man from the dirt, is laughable. Jesus is Spirit.

  8. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, I’m deeply religious myself, but with respect I agree with the atheists that the experiences you describe don’t seem all that impressive. I heard four pieces of evidence in that interview:

    1. The skin connecting your nose to your cheek cleared up within 24 hours of you feeling good about yourself.
    2. Your back stopped hurting in the same time frame.
    3. You rented a bunch of movies from Blockbuster that had religious themes.
    4. You heard a voice in your head saying “I forgive you.”

    To that I would add another piece of evidence you gave in an earlier blog post:
    5. You were walking around pondering the notion that God doesn’t violate the laws of physics, when you saw your son’s rocking-horse in the middle of the room, even though you were walking earlier where it would have been.

    In my view, none of these experiences are even in the same ballpark of what it ought to take to change your most fundamental beliefs about reality. I do think that it is possible to convert atheists to believers, and I can easily imagine possible evidence that would convince me if I were an atheists. But these pieces of evidence seem far too trivial.

    • Jim says:


      Heh. Since when is “experience” a good basis for belief? I personally had no conversion experience. I’ve believed in God for as long as I’ve been a libertarian. Which is as long as I can remember.

      Bob says he’s a Calvinist. Then when someone asks “why do you believe in God?” he should answer the same, wholly unsatisfying to any interlocutor, manner. Why? Because God wanted me to. 🙂

      Of course, when I’m asked that question I’ll usually request clarification and ask “are you asking my whey *I* believe, or why *you* ought to?”

      Personally I could never be an atheist. It’s always seemed irrational.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        “Heh. Since when is “experience” a good basis for belief?” Well, good or bad, sensory experience is the basis of a great many beliefs that humans possess. It’s foundational to scientific theories, for instance. In any case, I agree with your that sensory experience is in some sense not the “right” basis it ground belief in God(s), but I daresay that a lot of atheists would be able to be converted to religion on the basis of experience alone.

        “I’ve believed in God for as long as I’ve been a libertarian. Which is as long as I can remember.” Yeah, I’m the exact same way; I’ve been a Hindu from birth. (I’m not a libertarian though.)

        “Bob says he’s a Calvinist. Then when someone asks “why do you believe in God?” he should answer the same, wholly unsatisfying to any interlocutor, manner. Why? Because God wanted me to.” Well that would be like answering, “Why did that car accident happen?” with “Because God wanted it to happen.” There is still the question of what were the specific processes that led to it happening. Asking someone for the internal epistemic reasons for their beliefs is a perfectly meaningful question even if you think that all believers were divinely selected (which I also believe).

        • Jim says:

          Hi Keshav,

          >“Heh. Since when is “experience” a good basis for
          > belief?” Well, good or bad, sensory experience is the
          > basis of a great many beliefs that humans possess

          My apologies for a lack of clarity. I basically meant a subjective emotional experience.

          > “I’ve believed in God for as long as […] I can
          > remember.” Yeah, I’m the exact same way; I’ve
          > been a Hindu from birth.

          I wasn’t raised in a belief system I still hold. You can argue it’s close, I guess. My parents were functioning secularists and nominal catholics.

          > There is still the question of what were the
          > specific processes that led to it happening.

          This is a good point.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Keshav, with similar respect, it sounds like you wouldn’t have believed Moses (right before he first went to Pharaoh) either. I mean, he claims he heard a voice communicating with him and saw a bush violating the normal laws of nature. Big whoop.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, it seems to me that a bush which burned but was not consumed would just seem to be a phenomenon several orders of magnitude more impressive than the skin connecting your nose and your cheek clearing up or a rocking horse being in a position which was contrary to what your memory was. That is to say, it seems several orders of magnitude more outside of the range of normal life experience than what you’re describing.

        Perhaps the voice in your head thing might be more impressive if you described the experience in greater detail. Was it accompanied with some profound mystical experience, or was it just an auditory experience? I’m not asking what feelings you had in reacting to it, like relief that your sins were forgiven or love for God because he loved you so much. I’m asking whether the voice itself was accompanied by some profound feelings, even before you started reacting to it. And I don’t just mean emotions, I mean higher states of consciousness or whatever else was going on in your head.

        • Dan says:

          Did you listen to the same interview? When I heard him discussing the skin issue, it was more in the context of it opening him up to how powerful positive thinking and belief could be. I took it the context of him describing the first step of hundreds of steps, and you guys are breaking it down like the first step of 4 or 5.

        • Dan says:

          I mean, it didn’t even shake his belief in atheism. He simply said it made him start looking at biblical events in that same way. That maybe there was this guy, Jesus, that cured illnesses, but not with Godly powers, but with the power of belief. And that led him down a path which eventually ended up with him becoming a Christian.

          The significance of that event is not that God cured him. He didn’t believe that at the time. It just opened up his way of thinking, and that led him to see how the events of the bible could’ve happened, and then seeing the events in those lights opened him up in a different way, and so on.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Dan wrote:

            I mean, it didn’t even shake his belief in atheism.

            Dan, it takes away most of the fun of these things if you actually listen to what I said. You’re such a spoilsport sometimes.

  9. ax123man says:

    My own experience I’ve seen is that this type of change in beliefs tends to coincide with a change in social circles. People rationalize the change in order to fulfill one of our strongest emotional needs: social acceptance.

    • Jim says:

      ax man,

      I’ve always wondered how people could accept atheism. Great explanation.


      • Bob says:

        It seems clear that people become theists or atheists for all sorts of reasons, not only to rationalize their need for social acceptance. One of the most common answers you will get from atheists is that they don’t find any of the arguments presented for theism to be compelling, so they’re simply atheists by default. i.e. people will read the Kalam cosmological argument, then read refutations of that argument from an atheist. The same for the teleological argument, Pascal’s Wager, argument from improbability, argument from first cause, argument from personal experience, etc, etc. There are various robust counter-arguments against popular arguments in favor of theism. So one needn’t end up in the theist or atheist camp merely as a rationalization for social bonding needs. For some people they’ve really thought through the issues and studied it seriously and determined they were theists or atheists based on their perception of the merit of the arguments presented by both sides. We are wise to be humble about what we think we know, especially about the internal minds of others. We can be better people to the extent we assume our interlocutors are well-meaning reasonable people we can collaborate with in a mutually-enriching search for truth. Maybe some of the people we talk to believe what they believe for bad reasons, like social conformity. Though we shouldn’t assume that. Maybe they know the truth and we are mistaken. Maybe we think a particular person believes what they believe for social reasons but we’re mistaken.

  10. Guest says:

    Everyone of you has been Judaized, especially Bob. So sad.

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