Sunday, December 28, 2008

On Conversion

Recently, the atheosphere lost an atheist blogger - The Raving Atheist has converted to Christianity.

Here are some reactions from the atheosphere: PZ, God is for Suckers, and The Raving Atheist forums. Additionally, Daylight Atheism and The Uncredible Hallq soured on his blog long ago, with both PZ and Pandagon predicting his conversion, and assuming it isn't a joke, they have now been proven right. There are some Christian blog reactions as well: The Curt Jester is rooting for him to convert specifically to Catholicism, and Think Christian has a fairly brief review (with hilariously stereotypical comments).

I'm certain that an explanation for his change of mind will shortly come to light, but it seems instructive to note his strong abortion views and his attempt to ground them in metaphysical terms (specifically, dualism) claiming that humans are more than the sum of their parts (sadly, the the concept of emergence was ignored while magical souls were invoked) and that the mind is more than a "bubbling cauldron of cranial soup". From there, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to Jesus.

Well, actually, it's not really that easy, which is why I find the process of conversion fascinating - it's not just changing one's mind on a single idea (whether or not a god or multiple gods exist), it's quite the leap of faith in quite a number of areas - what kind of God exists, whether God has any offspring, whether any sort of afterlife exists, if miracles occur, if angels exist, which books are holy, etc, etc. It's quite surprising that such a turnabout would happen simultaneously in all areas. Alternatively, I suspect that conversions are frequently more about social psychology, purely pragmatic reasons (for example, converting for marriage) and emotional/ideological hooks than rational contemplation - religious avowal seems more like an Asch conformity experiment than an honest appraisal.

But this kind of thing does lead to no small amount of (forgive the pun) soul-searching. Conversions (and deconversions) happen ever day - someone wakes up one day an atheist and an evangelical Christian on the next (or vice versa), or converts to Scientology or Hinduism or Islam. The joke is that Americans change their religion about as often as their long-distance plan (and phone companies hassle people far less!), a whopping 44% if you include shifts from one Protestant domination to another.

As a deconvert, I consider myself fairly resistant to conversion - I've already peeked behind the curtain and figured out the whole great and powerful Wizard of Oz shtick. You can't unlearn that sort of thing. Emotional appeals don't work (only the facts matter, and they either support the conclusion or they don't) and pragmatic pressures fail (I refused to compromise what I believe, even when it may be substantially in my interest to do so). Barring the unlikely event that I look out an airplane window and see God, complete with attendant angels merrily playing their harps, I consider my atheism fairly secure.

For thousands of years, theists have insisted that a God created the cosmos, and for thousands of years, no one has ever been able to give the slightest confirmation of such claims, and certainly not for a lack of trying, but tricks of logic (the tastiest possible steak dinner would have to exist to be delicious, therefore it does exist) simply do not convince. Sure, I might be wrong about a million other things, but when it comes to the supernatural, I'm betting on black.


Vince R said...

BH, I tried to logon to the "Raving Theist" site with the link you provided but it just spazzed up my pc big time. All that came up was the stereotypical jesus and kids photo. Just check it out and please delete the piece of shit.

Hydra said...


Just the photo? It works fine from over here. It's kind of slow to load because of the large pic and there's ~500 comments. Not much I can do about that though.

Vince R said...

BH, you are quite correct, the fault lies with the comments page itself. It is just one looooong list that takes forever to load. I gave up trying to comment after the
3rd attempt. I have not been following this debate but it surprises me that the conversion of RA should be to orthodox christianity. Why not Taoism, Hinduism, Islam or any other of a dozen religions? It seems to me, if the RA is being serious (and not planning on doing a double whammy on true believers)it is just a reversion to type, an atavism. The "engrams" implanted in youth are playing out their script and RA is just blindly responding! Pathetic really. At least, when we heard of the conversion of Anthony Flew, it turned out to be just a form of Deism. See ya.