What Is Happening to All the Atheists?

Many former God-haters have either converted or passed on:

There is an old religious joke about a few quotations graffitied on a bathroom wall. The first reads as follows: “‘God is dead’ – Nietzsche.” Below that are these words: “‘Nietzsche is dead’ – God.” Atheists, like everyone else, will sooner or later die. Either that or they will renounce their misotheism and turn to God, if not to Christ.

A few months ago I wrote about this, asking where all these atheists have gone. Once all the rage, the new atheists seem to have lost some of their lustre over recent years. It appears that many folks are now rejecting atheism, just as once many were rejecting Christianity. See that piece here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/01/17/where-have-all-the-angry-new-atheists-gone/

There are plenty of people we could mention in this regard. I have seen a number of them over the course of my lifetime either become Christians or pass away. A very short list of a few well-known names can be briefly discussed here. But let me mention why I am penning this piece now.

Just this week we learned of the death of one famous atheist: Daniel Dennett (1942-2024). The 82-year-old passed away last Friday. He of course was famously known as one of the ‘four horsemen of the new atheism’. He is the second of the four to have passed away. Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) had earlier died of cancer, aged just 62.

He had been in friendly conversation with various believers later in his life, including Douglas Wilson and Francis Collins. And in 2016 another friend, Alex Taunton, penned the book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens in which he discusses whether Hitchens had found faith in his final days.

The two remaining figures are of course Sam Harris (1967-) and Richard Dawkins (1941-). While the American philosopher and neuroscientist Harris is just 57, Dawkins is 83, so he too will soon enough join Dennett and Hitchens in discovering that he is no longer an atheist.

It seems that in his old age he might be mellowing a tad, having come out recently talking about how he now is actually a ‘cultural Christian’ and that he now sees Islam as the real threat, not Christianity. I discussed all that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/04/02/atheism-civil-religion-and-the-fate-of-the-west/

Let me mention that I have a growing list of famous figures that I daily pray for, especially that they might come to know Christ and the forgiveness and new life that comes in a relationship with him. Dawkins, Dennett and Harris have long been on that list. Now of course Dennett is no longer on it. I hope I do not stop praying for the other two because they have died, but because they have become Christians.

But there are so many other atheists and non-believers who have abandoned their hatred of God and embraced him and his great love for them. The following individuals were all either atheists or hardcore agnostics who all turned to Christianity. Let me present just some of them, roughly in chronological order.

Albert Henry Ross (1881-1950) is much better known by his penname, Frank Morison. He had set out as a sceptic to debunk the claims of Christ – especially the resurrection. But the more he delved into the evidence, the more he became convinced that the gospel accounts are fully accurate and reliable.

He wrote this up in the 1930 volume, Who Moved the Stone? It has been reprinted numerous times, and it helped to lead to the conversion of folks like John Warwick Montgomery (1931-) and Josh McDowell (1939-) who both went on to become leading Christian apologists.

One name MUST be included here. Before Dawkins was on the scene as perhaps the leading atheist in the West, there was Antony Flew (1923-2010). He was known world-wide as the main philosophical opponent of theism. Yet he also shocked the world when in 2004 he renounced all that. And in 2007 he even released the book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

In it he discusses how he turned to theism. He even featured there the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ by N. T. Wright. Whether he went on from theism to Christianity in his final days is not clear. But see my review of this important book here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/11/21/a-review-of-there-is-a-god-by-antony-flew/

One of the most important and influential cases of an atheist who fully renounced his past and fully embraced the Christian faith of course is that of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). He told his story in Surprised by Joy (1955). I discuss him and his conversion here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/04/11/checkmate-god-and-c-s-lewis/

And an atheist and one-time member of the American Communist Party who left all that for the Christian faith would go on to be married to Lewis for a few brief years. Joy Davidman (1915-1960) was a noted author, with her most famous book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments (1954) greatly influenced by Lewis. Indeed, his earlier letter writing to her helped her come to faith.

Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) was a former Communist who turned conservative and Christian. In his famous autobiography Witness he speaks of his conversion. That story alone is worth the price of his book. He had been looking at his daughter’s ear while sitting at the breakfast table.

He was so deeply struck by what he saw. As he wrote: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature. They could have been created only by immense design.” You can read more about this man and his story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/10/02/whittaker-chambers-witness-and-hope/

Another noted English author is Malcolm Muggeridge (1902-1990). The journalist and media personality went from rugged agnosticism to full-on Christianity. Like others, he left his earlier fascination with Marxism. I discuss his incredible story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/07/17/notable-christians-malcolm-muggeridge/

Like his brother Christopher, Peter Hitchens (1951-) was once an angry atheist, as well as a Trotskyite. But he saw the light some years ago now, and even wrote a book about his conversion. Called The Rage Against God (2010) it provides an amazing look at his life and that of his brother. I discuss it in some detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/14/a-review-of-the-rage-against-god-by-peter-hitchens/

The noted American philosopher and educator Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001) eventually left his agnosticism to become a Catholic, having long been interested in the work of Thomas Aquinas. His many dozens of important books include the 1981 volume How to Think About God.

William J. Murray (1946-) is certainly famous because of who his mother was, the notorious atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995). But in 1980 he became a Christian and a Baptist pastor. He told his story in the 1982 book, My Life Without God. He is the chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition.

Lee Strobel (1952-) was a noted atheist and journalist for the Chicago Tribune. After his wife became a Christian, and while investigating the biblical claims about Jesus Christ, he too converted at the age of 29. He has released a number of important works on Christian apologetics. See here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/02/21/798/

The former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969-) rejected her religion and became a celebrated atheist. Her story is told in Infidel (2007) and Nomad (2010). Yet just recently she renounced her atheism and said she is now a Christian. I wrote about that story here : https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/11/12/are-we-seeing-some-major-christian-conversions-here/

One academic at Oxford University who used to be both a Marxist and an atheist is Alister McGrath (1953). He has PhDs in science and theology, and has written many dozens of important volumes on Christianity, science, apologetics and historical theology. I discuss the path he has been on here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/12/29/the-spiritual-journey-of-alister-mcgrath/

Rosaria Butterfield (1962) is a former university professor, feminist, lesbian and agnostic. But now she is a committed Christian, a homeschooling mother, and the author of a number of important books. I review one of them here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/10/05/a-review-of-five-lies-of-our-anti-christian-age-by-rosaria-butterfield/

And consider Josh Timonen, who for a number of years was the “right hand man” of Richard Dawkins. Well, no more. Last year he shocked the world by announcing that he had become a Christian. His conversion came about after he begin reading Scripture and The Case for Christ by Strobel.

As can be seen, most of these folks were/are noted public figures. Not only were they all either atheists or agnostics, but quite a few were also Marxists, Communists or socialists as well. I might add that I too was once not only a firm agnostic but a young revolutionary and socialist. My story is told here in this four-part article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/

The list I have offered in this piece is very short indeed. Many more names could have been mentioned. And I also could have discussed some leading public figures who all seem quite close to becoming Christians – or perhaps already have – people such as Jordan Peterson, Tom Holland, Douglas Murray, Russell Brand and many more.

God is clearly not dead. Many atheists are however. Or they have seen the light and left their former darkness. I will continue to pray for many of these current well-known atheists and agnostics. You should too.

And we must recall that twice in Scripture we read about what an atheist is really like: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1). Pray that more of these foolish unbelievers soon become wise believers before it is too late.

[1558 words]

5 Replies to “What Is Happening to All the Atheists?”

  1. Fabulous list. Praying for such people to get saved may not be as pie-in-the-sky as it seems!

  2. Thanks for that list, Bill.
    Some of those people I already knew about, a few I was unaware of.
    Worth praying for people’s salvation right to the last minute, as shown here.

  3. Great article Bill. And let’s not forget to what the COVID fraud has produced in many folks – a gradual awakening to God as a response to the unimaginable and unarguable presentation of coordinated evil. Likes of Russell Brand, James Delingpole, Joe Rogan, Naomi Wolf, and more…

    When pastoring during COVID, I got an email from an angry atheist – “Quick – call me. I’ve just got saved!” I phoned to learn of the middle-aged woman’s retreat from raging atheism to surrender to Jesus – the catalyst? Evil in the form of COVID tyranny. On the same day that she quietly accepted Christ, unbeknownst to her family members, her daughter sat down with her and said, “Mum – I know you’re an atheist, and might get mad at me … but I downloaded the bible a few months back and I’ve been reading about Jesus. I want to become a Christian.”

    During lockdown in Melbourne 2021, I exercised some civil disobedience, opened the church, baptised these two (mum and daughter) with a teary husband present watching on, filled with the wonder of it all. It was quite a beautiful moment. We’re still praying for the husband, who is tender to the gospel.

  4. To Peter Jackel

    Wonderful to hear. As believers who have our hope and await to be gathered with our Lord, it is amazing to see what God does through tragedies, tyranny, war, hard times etc.
    I too have seen more and more people open to spiritual realities (evil as well as good) and more open to what the bible has to say

  5. A wonderful list of leading figures who came (or are still on the road to) the Christian faith. I expect you have heard the moving account of Jordan Peterson’s wife Tammy. She received healing from what she had been told was a fatal type of cancer, and, as a result, came to faith and was received into the Catholic Church this Easter. Surely this will have a great impact on her husband. Jordan Peterson already does so much good in the world; I can hardly wait to see his impact once he becomes a full-fledged believer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *