THREE YOUNG CONVERTS TO FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANITY WHO HAD LITTLE KNOWLEDGE OF RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY, WHO WERE RELATIVELY EASILY AWED BY FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIAN ARGUMENTS, AND WHOSE CONVERSIONS FIT THE PROFILE OF ADOLESCENT "MOTIVATING FACTORS" THAT SOCIOLOGISTS HAVE KNOWN ABOUT SINCE THE 1800s: 1) RALPH O. MUNCASTER, 2) DON BIERLE, 3) JOSH MCDOWELL
BY EDWARD T. BABINSKI (author of LEAVING THE FOLD: TESTIMONIES OF FORMER FUNDAMENTALISTS -- edwardtbabinski.us)
1) RALPH O. MUNCASTER (author of A Skeptic's Search for God, and founder of "Strong Basis to Believe")
Muncaster's website states that "1,456 hours of Sunday school and church turned Ralph Muncaster into a hard-core atheist."
Assuming only one hour spent in Sunday school and one in church every Sunday, isn't "1,456 hours" equivalent to only 14 years? I emailed Muncaster and asked how old he was when he converted, but never received a response. If indeed he converted in his teens, then he fits the "standard profile" for adolescent Protestant Christian converts as noted in an article in the Evangelical Christian publication, Christianity Today:
"In the late 1800s, Edwin Starbuck conducted ground-breaking studies on conversion to Christianity. Ever since then, scholars, attempting either to verify or disprove his findings, have repeatedly demonstrated them to be accurate. Most observers agree that what Starbuck observed is to a large extent still valid. From these studies we learn two significant things: the age at which conversion to Christianity most often occurs, and the motivational factors involved in conversion. Starbuck noted that the average age of a person experiencing a religious conversion was 15.6 years. Other studies have produced similar results; as recently as 1979, Virgil Gillespie wrote that the average age of conversion in America is 16 years. Starbuck listed eight primary motivating factors: (1) fears, (2) other self-regarding motives, (3) altruistic motives, (4) following out a moral ideal, (5) remorse for and conviction of sin, (6) response to teaching, (7) example and imitation, and (8) urging and social pressure. Recent studies reveal that people still become Christians mainly for these same reasons. What conclusions can be drawn from this information? First, the average age of conversion is quite young. Postadolescent persons do not seem to find Christianity as attractive as do persons in their teens. Indeed, for every year the non-Christian grows older than 25, the odds increase exponentially against his or her ever becoming a Christian.
Second, the reasons people become Christians appear to have at least as much to do with sociological factors as with purely "religious" factors (for example, conviction of sin)." [Larry Posten, "The Adult Gospel," Christianity Today, August, 20, 1990, pp. 23-25
2) DON BIERLE (author of Surprised by Faith, and speaker for "Faithsearch") Dr. Don(ald) Bierle is a young-earth creationist. Like Josh McDowell, Bierle converted during his college years, a confusing and vulnerable time in many people's lives, and Bierle's conversation account is equally as superficial and shows how simplistic his knowledge of philosophy and religion was at the time he converted, as well as demonstrating that his conversion exemplifies sociological "motivating factors" typical of adolescents as mentioned above. Here, for instance, is Bierle's account from Surprised by Faith:
"During my undergraduate and early graduate studies in the natural sciences, I was cynical about faith and religious people. I viewed faith as anti-intellectual, an excuse for a lack of hard knowledge. Science, on the other hand, dealt with objective truth in the real world. Religious faith was not truth; it was personal preference and opinion. The strongest faith was that which a believer held on to without real evidence, indeed, in spite of evidence to the contrary! Furthermore, I caricatured faith as an emotion. It was a kind of security blanket for the less informed and insecure. These people used religion to generate a false confi dence. But I suspected that it was an illusion. In reality, I thought, there was little substance there. It was my third caricature that revealed the most about me. I felt that religious faith was a crutch for weak people. My science associates agreed. It was okay if it helped those who were not able to handle life, but as for me, "'I was very successful without it, thank you!'"
3) JOSH MCDOWELL (author of More Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and head of "Josh McDowell Ministeries") McDowell's own conversion account(s) demonstrate that he had only superficial knowledge of religious and philosophical questions prior to his conversion. His conversion also exemplifies the same sociological "motivating factors" typical of adolescent converts to Protestant Evangelical Christianity. See the article.
Steve Lock continues to investigate the asymmetry between the large number of well-churched Christians who leave Christianity versus the scarcity of those educated in the problems of Christianity who later become Christians.
Ralph Muncaster writes:
Your presumptions about my age of conversion are quite in error--it was mid thirties, not teens, which invalidates the conclusion in my case. Your assessment of hours and years (14) is about right--from age 5 to college--when I became an atheist.
All of this is recorded in the book A Skeptic's Search for God, as is the in-depth, intelligent and rational approach to deciding that (1) God exists, and (2) who God is. For me this didn't start as some "emotional" journey. I'd encourage you to read the book.
Sorry for not responding to your email. I get hundreds of them a day, and cannot possibly respond to all. (I write books because I can't possibly answer each individual question--but people can find the answers in my books. My ministry encourages everyone to research the answers before jumping to conclusions)
Thanks very much for the quick reply! Since I had not received a reply to my earlier inquiry concerning the age at which you converted, I am afraid I falsely assumed you might have been in your teens when you converted. I will drop you from that article and list.
My own "deconversion" took place only after I had graduated from college and over the following 5-8 years. I was in may late 20's, near 30 when I left Christianity for deistic agnosticism.
Since you say at your website that listening to Sunday School and your pastor over a period of 15 years made you an atheist, I wonder exactly what kind of church you were brought up in. I also noticed that you are not a young-earth creationist like McDowell or Bierle (I think Bierle is a YEC, but I may be wrong about that, fact is his website is not exactly very informative, it's more of a bookstore than a place to acquire information on the web). Perhaps the fact that you converted at an older age also has something to do with the fact that you are an old-earth creationist? *smile*
Were you brought up in a young-earth creationist church, or an old-earth creationist church? (I was a YEC myself, and read OEC books and arguments, but had learned much else about Genesis by that time that made me doubt it represented literal history.)
The reasoning behind my error was that Ralph's website stated, "1,456 hours of Sunday school and church turned Ralph Muncaster into a hard-core atheist"
I calculated that "1,456 hours of Sunday school and church" constituted "14 years" of Sunday school and church, and Ralph agreed, he became a "hard-core atheist" in his early teens. However, that is not when he reentered the church, but when he left it. Elsewhere at his site, it is written, "Ralph Muncaster spent 15 years conducting research to dispute the Bible." I assumed erroneously that Ralph had conducted those "15 years" of research to dispute the Bible, during the SAME "1,456 hour" period, which was nearly the same number of years in length. Ralph corrected me and told me that the period of "research" began AFTER he had become a "hard core atheist."
I don't want to make another error here, but based on those two brief statements at his website, when Ralph moved away from Christianity (during the first 15 years of his life), he did not think his way out of the church into atheism, the church made Ralph an atheist. It was only during the following 15 years that he says he thought his way back in again.
I wonder what questions Ralph wrestled with during that time, what his progression of thought was, his main thoughts and emotional struggles, both before he became an atheist, and when he started leaning toward rejoining the church, what friends, ministers, preachers, teachers, writers, books and articles affected him most, and exactly what types of literature on the Bible, history and science he was exposed to during both periods in his life. I would ideally like to see Ralph compose something like my own in-depth testimony in Leaving the Fold, or like the following in-depth online testimony by a former missionary and Bible translator:
-- Kenneth Daniels' journey, including insights into the depths of his prayer life as he struggled with doubts and the respectful way he dealt with his critics.
Captivating, sincere, detailed, and dramatic! Further articles documenting Kenneth's views and journey.
Edward T. Babinski (I include the "T." as my middle initial not for aggrandizement, but simply because there are a few other "Edward Babinski's" on the web)