By James Bishop| Richard Morgan was born in a tiny village in North Wales. He went to college in Nottingham, and lived and taught, as a music teacher, in Nottingham and Manchester. He then moved to Toulouse, France in 1984. There he became an English teacher. What is striking about his conversion story is how he was converted to Christianity on Richard Dawkins’ website, a place where one wouldn’t expect to find such conversions (1).
Morgan was brought up in a nominally Christian family. He attended Sunday school but when he became a teenager he met two Mormon missionaries. He was converted to Mormonism and served two years as a Mormon missionary in France. It was there that he actually began to doubt his beliefs, and a few years later after he returned to Wales he realized that he had lost all his faith in Mormonism. That’s when he first met Richard Dawkins (2),
“I moved to France and fairly shortly afterwards I read Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, and what was fantastic for me, and this is a real epiphany experience, was to realize that of course, all these years of searching for something spiritual, or Godlike, were bound to be completely frustrating, because God didn’t exist!”
He thus saw belief in God as nothing more than something “hard-wired” into the brain, “It seemed to me there were very sound psychological reasons why God existed – the ultimate Alpha Male, if you like… But I think evolution explained why people became to believe in God.”
It wasn’t that Morgan somehow became an atheist after reading Dawkins’ book but rather that it was the first time he realized that he had always been one, “I didn’t feel like I became an atheist, the feeling was more that I realised was that I always had been… I get the feeling that I never actually believed in God or anything else invisible, but I was looking—for some unhealthy psychological reason—and once I discovered and identified that reason and I had good explanations which showed quite clearly that obviously God didn’t exist.”
Having enjoyed the book he went and read all of Dawkins’ other books and “found him to be an absolutely fascinating writer – so easy to read.” Because Dawkins at that time was most well-known for his writings on evolution (and much later his books attacking God and religion), Morgan became very interested in the subject of evolution. The explanatory power of evolution helped him to understand the nature of living things around him, if not the whole universe. It was just scientifically fascinating.
Morgan found that one’s lack of belief in any religion was quite at home in France, “I need to point out that I was living in France at that time, and France is a very unreligious country. It is perhaps one of the most secular societies in the world today. Nobody cares whether you believe in God or not. Religion is not discussed. You can, you know, in polite dinners you can talk about politics perhaps, you can talk about economics and after a few glasses of wine, you can talk about sex but not religion. You just don’t talk about it in polite society. It just didn’t matter; it was a non-subject.”
In fact, it is interesting to note that although 51% of French people declare themselves to be Catholic, half of them don’t even believe in God (3). That means that half of all the Catholics in France are atheists and they don’t find that a problem at all, “For them,” explains Morgan, “Catholicism is a kind of condition, a state of being, the way you are. It is a social thing. But really, for at least a century in France, religion has not been an issue. You know if you go to church that’s your affair but nobody will ask you, nobody will talk to you about it. And atheism is as it were, the default attitude for the majority of people.”
Around 2006 Morgan discovered a site called “the unofficial Richard Dawkins site” which was run by a Dawkins fan in New York, “It had a collection of Richard Dawkins’ articles, lectures, talks, links to his articles. Very, very interesting and I got quite involved with that. And then one day I discovered that there was an official Richard Dawkins website and I thought that was fantastic. Richarddawkins.net – an oasis of clear thinking.
This was really exciting for me ‘cause, you know, I felt this was my occasion to discuss evolution and all its implications with other people. With intelligent people, who, people who knew more than I did about this subject, which means just about everybody. And so I joined the forum, which was my first ever forum on the internet and I met these intelligent scientists and philosophers in this “oasis of clear thinking” and I was just absolutely horrified.
At least half the posters devoted their time to saying rude things about believers using really foul language, mocking, as David Robertson calls them, the “hate’n’bile” squad. I thought, this is, you know, why are they like this…
And there certainly were some very, very interesting discussions. But such a lot of, I’ve got to say it, pure filth and just mockery.”
He realized that the atheists at the site would say and write things over the internet that they probably wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. Instead, they hid behind their anonymity, “I realised that the internet is a place where people can hide behind their anonymity and just say rude things and enjoy themselves. As David Robertson says, for some of these people, you know, it is a therapy.”
Robertson evidently had a big influence on Morgan. He is a Scottish Pastor in Dundee, Scotland, who is active in the fields of apologetics and theological writing. He penned a response on his church website to the first chapter of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion (4).
This response, and others like it, came to the attention of the atheists on Dawkins’ site, “And we started criticising it and generally laying into him. And then one day, lo and behold, David Robertson himself appeared in the discussion, defending the points that he made in his book and answering the questions and criticisms that had been made against him… I don’t know how many hours he must have spent just replying, very calmly and politely, to people who were issuing, sending out the most vile insults and criticisms. He just kept coming back and coming back, occasionally with a few words of Scripture thrown into his general discourse.”
Although Morgan considered Robertson a potential “fruitcake” and “attention seeker” he took exception to one atheist who accused Robertson of being a liar, “he sounds perfectly honest and polite and so I did a very silly thing. I asked publicly on the site,
“Um, where has David Robertson actually lied?”” The atheists then turned on Morgan, “I got shouted at in my turn! You know, “What is wrong with you?” “Of course, he is a liar.” “Everybody can see he is a liar!””
But the insults and hate worsened when it came to one mistaken Russian prophet. This prophet had predicted the end of the world and convinced a group of people to hide in a cave with him in order to avoid it. However, when the day came and the world continued to exist he tried to commit suicide by beating himself over the head with a branch. This was subject of much laughter and mockery at Dawkins’ website,
“I realized that the members of the discussion board would mock him and make fun of him and generally take advantage of the situation to prove and show how all religious belief is deluded. And of course, they did. But a few of them went as far as to say, “What a pity he failed in his suicide attempt.” They said they would have preferred him to die. I just could not believe my eyes when I saw that.
How could any civilized person say they want to see somebody die? And so I posted a protestation. And in reply, one of the most intelligent members of this discussion board just quoted a few of my words and wrote after it, “LOL” – Laughing out Loud. Just laughing at my protestation, my appeal to some form of humanity. And at that point I really began thinking,
“Do I want to really be amongst these people?” And I realized I didn’t!”
Morgan was left both disturbed and disappointed by the behaviour of his fellow atheists. However, he was impressed by several aspects of David Robertson’s participation in the debate, “Firstly, he always kept coming back. And sometimes he said that he got up two hours early in the morning to give adequate responses to the criticisms… he did defend himself and he defended himself in a fairly robust manner several times and he didn’t hesitate to wish us well… I can assure you that David Robertson is “God’s Scottish Terrier”, because once he gets his teeth in, he hangs on. He does not let go!”
Impressed by Robertson’s responses and willingness to engage on the forum, Morgan printed out 70 pages of the transcript. He then sat on the balcony of his apartment in the south of France and with a cup of coffee in hand read through them, “I found no lies, no lies at all. I found a lot of humility, a lot of intelligence, a lot of sensitivity. I was a bit embarrassed by references to the Bible because that didn’t seem to make any sense to me. But I thought, you know, this guy has something! There is something going on here; he is worthy of my respect at least!”
What made him believe in God
Morgan emailed him saying that although he did not believe in God because he was an atheist he did appreciate his comments and responses. Morgan conceded that he wasn’t a happy atheist and that he didn’t want to be an atheist. But he was one because he couldn’t believe in God. Much later, however, Morgan said that Robertson was careful in his response because he occasionally received emails from atheists pretending to be somebody on the point of conversion who would take his responses back to their own atheist websites to mock him, “And so he told me later that we was cautious in his reply and he sent me one of his fairly standard replies.”
Robertson’s response asked two general questions. The first one was, “Why don’t you believe in God?” and the second one was, “What could make you believe in God?” The first question struck Morgan as a bit silly since he already believed that most intelligent people didn’t believe in God. So that wasn’t an issue for him. In response to the second question Morgan’s answer came into mind spontaneously “which completely surprised me. My answer was, “Certainly not reason and science.””
But it was reason and science all along that he assumed justified his atheism, however, he soon found that science and philosophy on their own could not ground transcendental truth, “Science is very, very, good. Science in fact is the best thing I know on earth for doing science. Philosophy is a wonderful thing for doing philosophy. But neither of those bring you to any kind of meaningful, personal transcendental truth. Only a relationship with God can bring us to that.”
Realizing this brought him to an understanding of “amazing grace.” This opened the floodgates “I could not understand what was happening. I could not understand. I was certain, without having any rational explanation for it, that God existed, that He loved me without waiting for me to love Him. That he loved me unconditionally without waiting for me to deserve it, or be worthy of it in any way, and at one level that made complete sense, because I know that, as human beings, we cannot give what we have not received, and we cannot give love unless we have received love…
And now almost three years later, I am still as amazed. I feel the love of God even more.”
A few atheists from Dawkins’ website had learned about Morgan’s transition away form atheism. One of them, in a far kinder fashion than one might expect, wrote to him urging him to receive counselling. Another wasn’t so nice alleging he had had “a temporary brain infarction.” Morgan says that he can’t remember who said the latter but that “this temporary brain infarction is obviously not very temporary. I must still be having it, because I still feel the love God as strongly today as I did three years ago.”
Moreover, there have been big positive changes in Morgan’s life. He has been released from the shackles of atheism and the meaningless, empty philosophy that accompanies it, “it was a total life changing experience. I mean I did not wake up the same way every morning. I started feeling these unusual things like joy and feeling a sense of belonging, you know, and I just wanted to fill myself up with this more and more, as you can imagine.”
But what of the arguments against God’s existence that were presented on Dawkins’ website? There Morgan had encountered a number of them, “I still understand the same philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I’m still aware of what are supposed to be the scientific ‘proofs’ against God but it is as if there is an added perception being put into my mind to see beyond that and to see how limited and inadequate all these explanations are.”
Part and parcel of belief in Christianity is to embrace the Bible as God’s inspired Word however one might come to define inspiration, “When I look at the Bible now I’m not surprised that in the Bible, we do not find adequate explanations of the theory of gravity; I’m not surprised that we don’t have an explanation of the Big Bang, the initial singularity and the number of plank units there are in the universe, because the Bible is all about God’s relationship with man.
And I’ve always understood that, before being intellectual creatures, human beings are relational creatures. Everything that matters in life, in the last analysis, comes down to our relationships with others and as I now know, the ultimate relationship, a relationship with God. So, in the early days of course, my main interest was filling myself up, filling myself up with more and more understanding and knowledge – knowledge of the Word of God and the experience of other Christians.”
Becoming a Christian also didn’t require Morgan to shut off his cognitive capacities that so many atheists allege, “I didn’t forget everything I’d learned about evolution and evolutionary processes. I didn’t all of a sudden lose interest in the Large Hadron Collider that was promising to bring us proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson, the elemental particle which existed at the beginning of the Universe. I knew all this. I was aware of all this but I was aware of how limited it was. How it could not answer man’s deepest basic needs.”
But Morgan sees this from a new, and very real, vantage point, “I’m aware of the presence of this God-shaped hole, that only the love of God can fill it. That when you desperately try and fill it with so many other things – scientific knowledge, many kinds of activity, drugs, cigarettes… people try and fill that space, that God-shaped space in the heart, with so many kinds of things but none of them satisfy. Only the love of God can fill that hole and answer man’s basic needs, regardless of his culture, regardless of the country in which he was born.”
Morgan, with some experience behind him, appeals to atheists, “whenever I read atheist posts on Christian sites, I can understand what they are saying; I know where they are coming from. I just want to reach down and say, “Yes, I know what you’re saying; I know where you’re coming from. I’ve been there!” This wonderful argument that you’ve just written about explaining how God can’t exist, I know it so well, I’ve used it a dozen times myself. But that’s not true! There is more to it than that!”