BreakPoint: Saved by an Atheist

Do Humans Matter or Not?

Find out how a famous atheist started a secular humanist on the road to faith in Jesus Christ.

Sarah Irving-Stonebraker was on the fast track to academic stardom. A native of Australia, Sarah had won the University Medal and a Commonwealth Scholarship to undertake her Ph.D. in History at King’s College, Cambridge.

Sarah’s secular humanist perspective fit right in at King’s, and her views of Christians—that they were anti-intellectual and self-righteous—seemingly were confirmed.

Yet, as she details in an eye-opening testimony from the Veritas Forum, a strange thing happened to Sarah inside her secular bubble. Somehow, the truth got in. After Cambridge, Sarah said she attended some lectures at Oxford by the atheist public intellectual and Princeton ethics professor Peter Singer.

Singer, as you probably know, has stirred worldwide controversy by advancing the notion that some forms of animal life have more worth than some human life. Singer doesn’t believe in God, and therefore he sees no basis for any intrinsic human dignity.

During the Oxford lectures, Singer asserted that nature provides no grounds for human equality, pointing to children who have lost their ability to reason through disability or illness. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker’s comfortable secularism was suddenly rocked.

“I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo,” Sarah writes. “I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.”

A few months later, at a dinner for the International Society for the Study of Science and Religion, Andrew Briggs, a Professor of Nanomaterials and a Christian, asked Sarah a perfectly reasonable question: Do you believe in God? Again, Sarah was flummoxed, fumbling something about agnosticism. Briggs replied, “Do you really want to sit on the fence forever?”

“That question,” she now says, “made me realise that if issues about human value and ethics mattered to me, the response that perhaps there was a God, or perhaps there wasn’t, was unsatisfactory.”

Fast forward to Florida, where Sarah was conducting research. She began attending church as a seeker: And she was overwhelmed by Christians living out their faith:  “feeding the homeless every week, running community centres, and housing and advocating for migrant farm laborers.”

And when she started reading the likes of Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, she saw the intellectual depth and profundity of their Christian faith. Then this: “A friend gave me C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and one night,” she wrote, “I knelt in my closet in my apartment and asked Jesus to save me, and to become the Lord of my life.”

Sarah’s journey from doubt to faith—which you can read in full by coming to our website and clicking on this commentary—reminds me a little of another formerly atheist denizen of Cambridge and Oxford—C.S. Lewis. Lewis saw the bleak implications of his worldview, stating, “Nearly all I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real, I thought grim and meaningless.” And just like Sarah, Lewis had good, well-informed Christian friends and colleagues such as J.R.R. Tolkien to point a disillusioned atheist gently to Christ.

As Chuck Colson would say, while there are many good ways to share the good news with people, even scholars, one is to help them follow their worldview assumptions to their logical conclusion. The fact is, the grim, atheistic worldview simply can’t carry the weight of human significance on its bony shoulders.

Created in the awesome image of God, men and women know that life has a meaning beyond “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” People everywhere see the True, the Beautiful, and the Good and long to know their source. And, thank God, He has revealed Himself!

 

Further Reading and Information

Saved by an Atheist: Do Humans Matter or Not?

As Eric points out, contrary to an atheistic viewpoint, the Christian worldview starts with the foundation that human beings have worth and are created in the image of God. And that truth can resonate even in the halls of academia. For more on Sarah Irving-Stonebraker’s story, click on the link below.

 

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Resources

How Oxford and Peter Singer drove me from atheism to Jesus
  • Sarah Irving-Stonebraker | Veritas.org | May 22, 2017
C.S. Lewis: Scholar, author, and apologist
  • Christian History | Christianity Today
The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis's Journey to Faith
  • Art Lindsley | C. S. Lewis Institute | Winter 2002
Mere Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis | HarperOne

2017-06-09 11:30:43

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Just one of many voices

    Amazing testimony.

    One can only hope people like Singer will soften up some day. I wondered when I read the paragraph about the loss of ability to reason via disability or illness: Could there be a “disability” when it comes to one’s capacity to lay down pride, show humility, gentleness, & understand differing points of view.
    Scientists are label-crazy when it comes to all the mental disabilities.

    That’s a different topic though for a different day. Thanks for sharing an encouraging story!

  • Zarm

    Amen!

  • In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer makes the case for animal equality along the lines of secularist Thomas Jefferson arguing against slavery, an institution which Christians upheld and defended for over 1800 years. Today there are Christian vegans and pro-life atheists. Like pacifists and/or pro-lifers, vegetarianism, in itself, is merely an ethic, and not a religion. Respected pro-life columnist Nat Hentoff was a self-described “liberal Jewish atheist.” Not your stereotypical pro-lifer! The pro-life movement desperately needs religious diversity, and Hentoff gave it credibility in secular circles.

    In a 1995 article appearing in the Atlantic Monthly, George McKenna wrote: “Within the liberal left, from which the Democrats draw their intellectual sustenance, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the absolutist dogma of ‘abortion rights.’ Nat Hentoff, a columnist in the left-liberal Village Voice, wonders why those who dwell on ‘rights’ refuse to consider the possibility that unborn human beings may also have rights.”

    Another liberal Jewish atheist, Peter Singer, concedes this point. “The fallacy involved in numbering abortion among the victimless crimes should be obvious,” concedes Singer. “The dispute about abortion is, largely, a dispute about whether or not abortion does have a ‘victim.’ ”

    So even Peter Singer, who can hardly be called a right-to-lifer, concedes that the abortion debate centers on whether or not abortion is “victimless.” Nat Hentoff’s observation was correct!

  • Shane Egan

    Why do Christians abrogate their own morality so quickly and surrender the judgment over morality to ‘god’? If Christians so mistrust their own moral assessments then how do they know that their view that ‘god is good’ is valid?

    As an atheist I use empathy, data and reason to make moral judgments all the time. Do Christians really believe they would suddenly go around raping, stealing and killing if they did not believe in God? Or would they go around raping, stealing and killing if god said it was OK (like he did in the old testament)? I don’t think so – I think most would say ‘I don’t like to hurt others’ using their inbuilt (animals display it too) empathy, and use data and reason to minimise the harm they cause – just like most atheists.

    Finally, the issue of morality has nothing whatsover to do with being an atheist. Theists, even Christians, can hold very different views on morality, citing holy texts and scholars up as the rationale for their thoughts. They can take the same ‘holy words’ and come to very different conclusions about the actual meaning and intent. The ‘no true Scotsman’ argument cannot apply when it comes to religiously inspired morality because the people who commit the worst atrocities of torture, abuse and genocide (even Christians) can hold up the ‘words of god’ and use it to explain, justify and sanction their actions.

    One of the interesting things about people is that, when surveyed regarding people they believe deserve to go to heaven, they consistently rate saints, clerics, civic leaders, martyrs, beloved heads of charities and so on lower than one other person – themselves.

    • gladys1071

      I am a Christian, I want to say that a lot of what you say resonates with me. You make a lot of sense.

  • Shane Egan

    You are right – just as slavery, genocide and rape are explicitly condoned by the god of the old testament. However, in the case of the old testament the ‘ruling’ is clear – killing, raping and slavery are ‘good’ when god says it is. I don’t agree.

    I can define rules and scoring methods by which one may objectively rate certain actions – such as murder – and in cases determine that it is a ‘non-good’ act. It may be justified in some cases – such as when it is necessary to save the lives of innocents – but it is never ‘good’ to my system whereas for example, slaying the males of tribes at war with Hebrews was not only ‘good’ according to the bible, so was taking the virgin women and girls.

    By your ‘logic’ you would have said this is a ‘good’ thing, perfectly just and righteous. Similarly you would believe that Jews have the god-given right to own humans of other tribes for life as slaves, and be free to beat them so long as they don’t die from that beating in a few days (a week is OK I guess). Not only that you get to own and use their children forever as well. In my system of morality this is not ‘good’ – according to Jesus this would be ‘right’. Is slavery moral to you? If not, why do YOU disagree with Jesus? Is it right to slaughter whole tribes of people, apart from the virgin girls? If not why do YOU disagree with Jesus? Please answer clearly so I can understand and please have the honesty to ‘stand with Jesus’ and admit that these things are all explicitly sanctioned by your ‘loving’ god in your own ‘big book of morality’.

    • Robert Cremer

      Everything the Bible reports is not condoned by God. While the Bible makes statements on morality everything the Bible says is not a statement on morality.
      Please tell me know the specific verses in the Bible where Jesus said that “slavery” was morally right.

      • gladys1071

        actually morality is ambigious in the Old Testatment. God did command the israelites to do morally questionable things like kill every man/woman, child and animals of the Amelikites. I am sure God had his reasons, but i am just saying that their does NOT appear to be an objective moral standard purported in the Old Testament.