Unpacking Lee Strobel’s “Atheist Past”

I recall during my first year of college, a fellow Christian/Bible study attendee explaining to me that he just read a book by a guy who set out to disprove Christianity and in the process, realized the Bible was true and subsequently became a Christian. This author according to my Christian comrade, had completely dismantled all of the anti-Christian arguments. I was excited to hear this at the time and over the years I would hear the “Lee Strobel narrative” again and again. To this day I see it passed on as a meme (“Atheist sets out to disprove Christianity. Becomes Christian.”). But how true is it?

According to his own testimony, Lee Strobell ‘became an atheist because of high school biology (see video below). And according to wikipedia “he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian.” Emphasis added.

So there we have it. Assuming there’s no lying/embellishing involved, Strobel’s atheism was never an intellectually involved position. He never published anything as an atheist (it’s not like Richard Dawkins suddenly becoming a Christian, where we’d have access to his past atheism) so we have no ideas what his views were. Did he ever absorb and ponder the anthropic argument? Was his atheism a result of being exposed to the ‘problem of evil?’ In all likelihood, he was an ‘atheist’ by mere default. He never bothered to engage on the topic until his wife because Christian after which he coincidentally became one himself (happy wife, happy life!).

What’s more, if “Case for Christ” is any indication of his research methodology, it’s clear that confirmation bias drove him to Christianity from the get go. Taking on the theme of an “investigation,” Strobel investigates the merits of Christianity by interviewing several Christian apologists. There is also a “courtroom” scene where the alleged authors of the New Testament are cross examined as witnesses, and it is noted that their testimonies are also corroborated by other witnesses (which of course strengthens their case).

But of course, the gospels were written several decades after Jesus’ death and were based on the oral traditions that had been passed on (and in comparing these gospels in chronological order of the years they were written, it becomes clear that the oral tradition changed as time passed). So the gospels are nothing close to eye witness accounts. And the idea that the gospels are corroborated by many witnesses comes from the fact that the gospels SAY that there were many witnesses! Yeah, no flaw in that argument!

Of course, the joke is not on Strobel who has gained a large, loyal fan base, sold a few books and probably a nice chunk of cash. The joke is on the gullible saps who fall for this.

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