This erstwhile atheist’s intellectual path may explain why the leading atheists are, to a man, so philosophically incompetent:
I was ready to admit that there were parts of Christianity and Catholicism that seemed like a pretty good match for the bits of my moral system that I was most sure of, while meanwhile my own philosophy was pretty kludged together and not particularly satisfactory. But I couldn’t pick consistency over my construction project as long as I didn’t believe it was true.
While I kept working, I tried to keep my eyes open for ways I could test which world I was in, but a lot of the evidence for Christianity was only compelling to me if I at least presupposed Deism. Meanwhile, on the other side, I kept running into moral philosophers who seemed really helpful, until I discovered that their study of virtue ethics has led them to take a tumble into the Tiber. (I’m looking at you, MacIntyre!).
Then, the night before Palm Sunday (I have excellent liturgical timing), I was up at my alma mater for an alumni debate. I had another round of translating a lot of principles out of Catholic in order to use them in my speech, which prompted the now traditional heckling from my friends. After the debate, I buttonholed a Christian friend for another argument. During the discussion, he prodded me on where I thought moral law came from in my metaphysics. I talked about morality as though it were some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans existed on. He wanted to know where the connection was.
I could hypothesize how a Forms-material world link would work in the case of mathematics (a little long and off topic for this post, but pretty much the canonical idea of recognizing Two-ness as the quality that’s shared by two chairs and two houses, etc. Once you get the natural numbers, the rest of mathematics is in your grasp). But I didn’t have an analogue for how humans got bootstrap up to get even a partial understanding of objective moral law.
I’ve heard some explanations that try to bake morality into the natural world by reaching for evolutionary psychology. They argue that moral dispositions are evolutionarily triumphant over selfishness, or they talk about group selection, or something else. Usually, these proposed solutions radically misunderstand a) evolution b) moral philosophy or c) both. I didn’t think the answer was there. My friend pressed me to stop beating up on other people’s explanations and offer one of my own…. It turns out I did.
I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth.
It is both interesting and informative to once more note that whereas the religious-to-atheist transformation is closely associated with adolescence and reactive intellectual immaturity, the converse one is much more often the product of emotional maturity and intellectual exploration. And, as I’ve noted before, a higher percentage of children raised atheist convert to Christianity than children raised Christian convert to atheism, as was apparently the case here.
But those are merely observations. My main purpose was simply to share her testimony and wish her well in her ongoing walk with God.