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

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

  1. There was a time when I thought all Christians should study and learn apologetics so they could be more effective witnesses. But having been involved in apologetic encounters on the internet for almost two decades now, I’m starting to have serious doubts. Since apologetics has become so popular, I see a lot more Christians doing it, but unfortunately most of them are doing it poorly. What I’ve noticed is that the result of all this poor apologetics is that it has destroyed the reputation of the whole enterprise. Now that more non-Christians know about apologetics, but are unimpressed with it due to the fact that so many people do it poorly, that they have no respect for it. They assume apologetics is sophistry and that apologists are dishonest or ill-informed. Also, when presented with terrible defenses of common arguments, like the KCA, or arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, they become closed to ever hearing a GOOD defense of these arguments. Having heard the BAD defense, they’ve come to the conclusion that the arguments themselves are bad, and they see no reason to look any further. I think bad apologetics does more harm than good, so I’m starting to have serious doubts about whether everybody should get into it or not. Or maybe we should just encourage people not to talk about things they aren’t pretty heavy on. I don’t know what the solution is, but it does concern me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Sam. I have encountered many Christians who haven’t even taken the time to study systematic theology. I had a Christian woman tell me that God doesn’t judge. WHAT? What it seems like, to me anyway, is that Apologetics has become more of the trendy thing for Christians to do. It is exciting and worth studying. But they misunderstand the concept of an apologetic argument. Many times, their arguments are rooted in a prideful nature and if you expose their errors, they get highly upset. CONVICTION!

      On that note, I hate the idea of “doing” apologetics as if it is separate from defending and presenting the Gospel. Look at Paul in Acts 17. He gave an apologetic argument but came right to the point: the resurrection.

      Many Christians who engage in trying to be apologists should first learn whom they are defending and why rather than thinking their argument will change the atheists or skeptics mind. You would be surprised that many can’t even tell you about the attributes of God. Oh, they know God is a God who loves, but that is about it.

      The first verse I learned about apologetics is Isa 1:18  Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

      The obvious here is ‘reason together.’ But many don’t do that. It is like they have some magic phrase or argument that is new and improved and they present in a fashion that is less than acceptable.


  2. IMHO, everyone, everywhere, no matter where or when they were born, know five things:
    1. There is a God.
    2. He is righteous.
    3. They are not.
    4. Someday they will die.
    5. When they die, they will be judged by this righteous God (and presumably be found guilty).

    How do people respond to these things?
    1. They kill the Judge (atheism).
    2. They profess uncertainty about the above (agnosticism).
    3. They invent ways to suck up to the Judge/earn brownie points with Him, hoping to avert His righteous judgment (religion).
    4.They realize that they cannot save themselves, and fling themselves on the mercy of the court to be saved (Christianity).
    This is why Paul said men are without excuse (Rom. 1).
    This is not to denigrate apologetics, not at all. Only to say that a poorly presented argument for Christ is NO EXCUSE for unbelief.
    If people will not believe, their blood will be on their heads, not ours.


  3. A Christian can say they will research an answer too.

    Many of the bad answers came because people tried to have immediate answers to al things even of they never considered it before. Or if you don’t want to research that area they can be pointed to those that will and can

    If you look at many of the cars of those that came through faith by apologetic methods it is not like a few minutes of street ministry and then done. It is a long time maybe even years of committment and friendship


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