A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Harvard University student discovers apologetics
Harvard University student discovers apologetics

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.


I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

11 thoughts on “A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story from Christianity Today. It’s very encouraging. It’s also somewhat convicting, because it’s easy for Christians like me to presume that atheists are so closed-minded it’s no use investing time presenting evidence to challenge their assumptions. That assumption of the hopelessness of being at all effective is really just an excuse to avoid the effort and the risk.

    It was also encouraging to read that the book from U of Texas professor, J Bud had a big part to play in the young Harvard student’s awakening to the Lord. I work for Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ministry, and I was fortunate to spend a small-group session with J Bud and other “Centurions” from the Colson Center for Christian Worldview a few years ago. Professor J Bud’s specialty is the area of natural law, conscience, and how humans show evidence they know right from wrong, even if they plead ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ – they may have some mental issues, but they know if what they did was wrong.

    Thanks again. I have really been encouraged by both the content of your blog, and also the mere fact someone in the tech world is even blogging about the topics you do and taking the stands on issues you take.

    1. You’re welcome. Of all the apologists I’m friends with, about half are in the tech field. My inner circle is all STEM guys – computer science, engineering, nursing, environmental engineering, systems engineering, hardware engineering. We just love to read about this and fund these outreach events.

  2. Thank you for posting the link to her article, it really got to me. Great review as well ! I think this is actually why I started studying apologetics. I know God exists. I just don’t have the right resources to prove it to atheists or defend the word of God.

    But the phrase, “They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them.” is really eye-opening for me.

    I find myself scared to defend God’s word to atheists thinking that they will laugh it off and ridicule it. Then I think of 2 Timothy 1:8, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” and I just….yep, I need to study more apologetics!

    Have a nice day.

        1. Or purchase William Lane Craig’s ‘Reasonable Faith’ 2008 edition. Dr. Craig covers everything. I have never read a more thorough, up to date, comprehensive work of Christian Apologetic (just don’t be afraid of the math and science). No one comes close!

          1. WK,

            Lol! Yes! I read & enjoyed Dr.Craig’s book (I am also in the process of acquiring his book, ‘Time & Eternity’ 2001 ed.). You have to have a variety. I read paperback or hard cover books; I don’t like reading on electronics, as much as I enjoy actual print. My next reading project is 4 of Richard Swinburne’s book (Revelation, Faith & Reason, The Existence of God, & The Coherence of Theism).

            Speaking of variety, I encourage everyone to read Philip B. Brown’s ‘New Wine for the End Times’ and/or visit his website at http://www.newwine.org

          2. Thank you! I purchased the book WK recommended already but I will give this one a look as well.

  3. There is an interesting paragraph in the whole story.

    So I plunged headlong into apologetics, devouring debates and books from many perspectives. I read the Qur’an and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. I went through The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible and looked up Christian rebuttals to apparent contradictions. But nothing compared to the rich tradition of Christian intellect. I’d argued with my peers, but I’d never investigated the works of the masters: Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Pascal, and Lewis. When I finally did, the only reasonable course of action was to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    There is so much that can be concluded from this. The one thing I admired is her openness and objectivity. Note the names in that list. How many of the atheists that we encounter online ever read any of these works? And yet, they are easily accessible.

    Her journey is an inspiration and was a joy to read.

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