Edward Babinski On the Conversions of C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel

Ed Babinski agrees with me that very few Christians, if any, have converted after being intellectually committed atheists who fully accepted evolution and its implications, and none as far as I can tell, have converted to being card-carrying inerrantist evangelicals. I consider Ed to be the expert in conversion/deconversion testimonies, having written a fantastic chapter on The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience, and having edited a book of deconversion stories titled, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Here's what Ed wrote:
LOFTUS HAS A POINT when it comes to questioning the way some Christian converts play up their former "atheism."

Psychologists note how memories are not simply recalled but rewritten each time they are engaged. We also change as people over time and so it becomes a different person recalling a little different story each time, from that new person's perspective.

I have read the conversion stories of well known Christian apologists like C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel which made me wonder what the value was of their proclaiming themselves to have been "atheists" prior to converting since none of them appear to have converted primarily for intellectual reasons, nor do they appear to have had much knowledge about the Bible or Christianity prior to converting (Lewis being an exception, since I'm sure he knew far more about the Bible than McDowell or Strobel prior to converting but Lewis was also never a biblical scholar so much as a lover of fantasy, as he admits), so they all strike me as relatively easy marks for apologetic salesmen and their arguments, which is probably about all that the latter two read prior to converting.

C. S. Lewis mentions the enormous effect reading The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton had on him, a book featuring unimpressive arguments in my opinion, yet Lewis continued to regard it highly and suggest it to others even near the end of his life. McDowell and Strobel have not shared any information concerning what they read prior to converting. Nor do either of them admit how little they knew about religion and philosophy prior to converting. But they play up their "former atheist" cred to a wince-worthy degree, McDowell being among the worst such offenders. But I'll also mention why Strobel and Lewis are also wince-worthy below.


In the first edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict McDowell's testimony was titled, "I've Got a Satisfied Mind," while in the second edition he rewrote and lengthened it, and titled it, "He Changed My Life." Neither tale sounds impressive. I should add that unlike Strobel and Lewis, Josh never says he was an atheist but rather an agnostic.

Based on those two early versions of his testimony in two of his earliest apologetic works, and based on the date McDowell himself supplies for his conversion one must conclude that he converted when he was a mere sophomore at an unimpressive college and in a mere matter of months. Neither was he studying religion or philosophy, but co urses in preparation for law school. He says that in college he met a girl at that college with a beautiful smile and he wanted that happiness. He adds, "My new friends challenged me intellectually to examine the claims that Jesus Christ is God's Son." But I wonder when McDowell ever found the time and mental composure to rise to that "intellectual challenge." His conversion took place by his own admission, "Dec. 19, 1959" at the end of the first semester of his college sophomore year. He did not spend years studying the evidence, JUST MONTHS.

Even worse, he admits repeatedly that he was easily distracted and/or had great difficulty concentrating prior to converting: "I hated to be alone...[was] frustrated...empty ...circumstances [made me feel either] okay or bad...If my girl loved me, I was on cloud nine; if she broke up with me, I was really down...I had a bad temper...and still have the scars from almost killing a man during my first year in the university...had a lot of hatred...hated my father [who was a wife-beating alcoholic]...had a lot of restlessness in my mind, and I always had to be somewhere, or with someone. I just couldn't be alone with my own thoughts. My mind seemed like a maze...I used to be constantly on the go because of restlessness...I always had to be occupied. I had to be over my girl's place or somewhere else in a rap session. I'd walk across campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing off the walls. I'd sit down and try to study or cogitate and I couldn't." (Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 1st &2nd eds.) http://www.infidels.org/librar...

How could Josh thread an intellectual needle if he was in such an unstable state of mind?

THEN... 39 years after converting (in 1999) his testimony changed to a more intellectual sounding one in which he writes for the first time the following...

"I left the university and traveled throughout the United States and Europe to gather evidence to prove that Christianit y is a sham. One day while I was sitting in a library in London, England, I sensed a voice within me saying, 'Josh, you don't have a leg to stand on.' I immediately suppressed it. But just about every day after that I heard the same inner voice. The more I researched, the more I heard this voice. I returned to the United States and to the university, but I couldn't sleep at night."

"University?" He was taking legal prep courses at Kellogg Community College, and converted only a few months after bumping into a happy Christian girl there so he must be one heck of a traveler to travel "throughout the United States and Europe" in a few months.

But things grow even stranger when Josh updates his story once again, this time 48 years after converting. In Josh's newest retelling, published in 20 parts(!) on his website in 2008, he embellishes his tale further by adding travels not just to the U.S. and Europe but to "the Middle East," and notes the exact time within a half hour when he heard "the voice in the library":

"The whole reason for writing my first book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, was to write a book to make an intellectual joke of Christianity – to refute those students and professors I had encountered in the university. I thought that would be easy. I left the university. I traveled throughout the United States, England, and the Middle East. I gathered evidence to write the book. I was sitting in a library in London, England. It was late on a Friday afternoon around 6:00 or 6:30, and something happened that never happened to me before. It was like a voice spoke to me. Now I don’t normally hear voices, but it was like a voice spoke to me. It said, 'Josh, you don’t have a leg to stand on.' I immediately suppressed it. Do you know what was interesting? Almost every single day after that, I heard the voice." http://joshmcdowell.blogspot.c...

Josh is now portraying himself as a highly focused and well traveled intellectual researcher p rior to converting, having traveled, "throughout the United States, England," and now he adds, "the Middle East." But that was absent from his testimonies from 1981-1992. This stuff appears for the first time in 1999, 39 years after his conversion. A lot of traveling to do in a couple months: http://uncrediblehallq.blogspo...

Judging by the way Josh's testimony has changed, I'd say he is living proof of how people change along with their memories.

Josh did spend time studying Christianity, or at least gathering together the most fundamentalist apologetic rejoinders he could stuff together between two covers, but he did that AFTER he converted. He spent 13 years going to libraries working on his earliest apologetic works. And I'm sure his ministry has taken him to places throughout the U.S. Europe, even the Middle East, but there is no evidence he did so BEFORE HE CONVERTED while still a Sophomore studying law in college and all in a mere matter of months, after which he converted. And whatever work Josh did in libraries even after converting, he left a lot of his "research" to others whom he acknowledged in Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

In fact in Josh's book, Reasons Skept ics should Consider Christianity, Glenn Morton (an undergrad at the time) ghost wrote the young-earth creationist arguments featured in that volume, not Josh. Mr. Morton later gave up young-earth creationism. But Josh never had the brains or inclination to do so but still believes in both a young-earth, a literal Adam and Eve, dinosaurs existing besides humans, and probably a literal garden with magical fruit, Flood geology, a literal confusion of tongues at a literal Tower of Babel, and an inerrant Bible that he imagines he has harmonized all the errors out of. Just read his website today. Meanwhile the undergrad, Glenn Morton, who ghost wrote large portions of one of Josh's books now has a Ph.D. in geology and debunks young-earth creationist arguments, and even defends the evolutionary idea of common ancestry.

McDowell's conversion does not appear to have been based on his "intellectual" honesty so much as on his lack of knowledge, lack of emotional stability, lack of concentration, and lack of well thought out convictions of his own. In such a state, he was easily overwhelmed by a few pro-Christian, pro-inerrantist, even pro-creationist arguments that he "never knew existed."


Strobel is one of the oldest converts I've encountered among Christian apologists. Most had contact with Christianity since birth, or began to feel on fire for Jesus in their teens or first year of college, both of which are common ages at which to convert among the apologists whose stories I have read on the web. But Strobel started looking into Christianity about four years later than most, at age 25, and converted at 27. He was not well read in religion, philosophy or biblical studies but apparently began reading books suggested by his wife and/or her pastor since she converted and began attending church before him, and it was her new found happiness that inspired him to look into Christianity. Unfortunately, Lee won't say which books he read during those two years. All he says is that after "almost two years" studying Christianity, he became a Christian. That was in 1981. 6 years later, in 1987, he became a teacher pastor. Then 6 years after being a teaching pastor (in 1993) he published his first apologetic book, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary: How to Reach Friends and Family Who Avoid God and the Churc h. Then 5 more years latter, or nearly 17 years after he had already converted and 12 years after having been a teacher pastor in his church, Strobel wrote The Case for Christ. So it was a book composed by "pastor Strobel." That work and his subsequent books are filled with conservative Christian arguments he read during the 16 years after he had already converted. I doubt we'll ever know what he read prior to converting, how many or few books, what their titles were. But since he apparently had little knowledge of religion and philosophy to being with I bet he swallowed some howlers in the beginning. Also who can be impressed by The Case for Christ, his first book, composed by an investigative journalist who only interviews conservative Christians? Some investigation.


Lewis' "atheism" and "conversion" to Christianity is not very difficult to fathom. His mother was the daughter of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest who baptized Lewis. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. And from boyhood, Lewis immersed himself firstly in Norse, Greek, and, later, in Irish mythology and literature, then became a professor of medieval literature. Lewis says he became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically "very angry with God for not existing." His early separation from Christianity began when he started to view his religion as a chore and as a duty; around this time, he also gained an interest in the occult.

So Lewis was a Christian up till age 14, than became an "atheist" at the age of 15, which consisted of a dislike of church and too much God talk, but he was also included in the occult. Merely two years after becoming an "atheist" he discovered an amazing book that baptized his imagination and that he admits played a large role in his decision 15 years later to rejoin the fold. One might note that Lewis' brother rejoined the fold just prior to him and was with him at the zoo the day Lewis decided to also rejoin the fold.

About that amazing book... The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Volume I, features a letter Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves dated March 7, 1916 in which he tells him about an amazing new book he had just bought seemingly by accident. He explains to Arthur: 'I have had a great literary experience this week. I have discovered yet another author to add to our circle—our very own set…. The book, to get to the point, is George MacDonald’s “Faerie Romance,” Phantastes, which I picked up by hazard … on our station bookstall last Saturday…. Whatever the book you are reading now, you simply MUST get this at once.'

During the ensuing fifteen years after Lewis’s discovery of Phantastes, Lewis became a professor of Medieval literature, a theist, then became a Christian after reading the apologetic work, The Everlasting Man, by an author who was just as enthused as Lewis over the Medieval period, G. K. Chesterton.

I daresay Lewis was ripe for the picking, and admits he practically became a universalist like George MacDonald (in fact, in Lewis' theological fantasy, The Great Divorce, one of the visitors joyfully chooses to stay in Heaven), and practically became a Catholic like Chesterton (Lewis admitted his attraction). But in the end he simply reclaimed the youthful imprinting of his Anglican baptism and his happy childhood with mum, his brother, and his minister grand-dad.

Lewis was more honest than Josh McDowell or Lee Stobel in admitting there were times he had doubts (but he preferred suffering them more than suffering the doubts he had suffered as an atheist). Lewis also admitted that He'd rather believe in a good God and an errant Bible than try to defend the inerrancy of every biblical tale of God commanding or performing atrocities. He also admitted near the end of his life, "I envy you not having to think any more about Christian apologetics. My correspondents force the subject on me again and again. It is very wearing, and not v. good for one's own faith. A Christian doctrine never seems less real to me than when I have just (even if successfully) been defending it. It is particularly tormenting when those who were converted by my books begin to relapse and raise new difficulties." C. S. Lewis to Mary Van Deusen, June 18, 1956 http://e dward-t-babinski.blogs...

Speaking of just how affected Lewis the fresh teen atheist was after reading McDonald, note what Lewis wrote in 1946 in his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology:

'It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought—almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions—the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier... The whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certa in quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize (that was where the death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later and with the help of many other books and men. But when the process was complete—by which, of course, I mean “when it had really begun”—I found that I was still with MacDonald and that he had accompanied me all the way and that I was now at last ready to hear from him much that he could not have told me at that first meeting... I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.'

In The Great Divorce, Lewis imagined in fiction his own encounter with George MacDonald in heaven::

'I tried, trembling, to tell this man all that his writings had done for me. I tried to tell how a certain frosty afternoon at Leatherhead Station when I had first bought a copy of Phantastes (being then about sixteen years old) had been to me what the first sight of Beatrice had been to Dante: Here begins the new life. I started to confess how long that Life had delayed in the region of imagination merely: how slowly and reluctantly I had come to admit that his Christendom had more than an accidental connexion with it, how hard I had tried not to see the true name of the quality which first met me in his books is Holiness.'