I Was an Atheist

Spiritual enlightenment comes to an intellectual.

by George Mulfinger as told to Muriel Larson

“Is there really such a thing as an atheist?” some Christians have asked me.

I can testify that there is, because I was an atheist for four years. I did not believe a god existed — or rather, the only god I believed in was myself.

Starting of a slide

I grew up attending Bible school and church fairly regularly, though I cannot truthfully say that the good news of Jesus Christ was presented in the churches I attended. When I was a teenager in one church, I served as Bible school pianist for five years.

Then I started attending the church my parents went to. There I probably started my slide into atheism. The minister convinced me that the miracles in the Bible — the parting of the Red Sea, the special food provided for the Israelites in the wilderness — weren’t really miracles. And if one could not believe that part of the Bible, could he believe the rest? I concluded that I couldn’t even believe in God.

Dangerous studies

At Syracuse University I studied to become a scientist. One of my professors said something that impressed me: “If you can’t prove anything with an equation or a slide rule, don’t believe it.” I couldn’t prove the existence of God that way!

I began reading books that promoted atheism and evolution. Ernst Haeckel, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, wrote in his book The Riddle of the Universe something else that convinced me there was no God. “If a thing doesn’t follow the all-pervasive law of substance, then it’s not real.”

I didn’t realize at the time that twentieth-century physicists had rejected this thesis. I accepted the basic framework of this nineteenth-century writer’s thinking and continued in my atheism.

Misguided clique

It wasn’t long before I joined a little clique of atheists on campus. “Religion is childishness. The mature mind has put these things aside” was our philosophy. Our fellowship was nothing like that of Christians, because atheists have an entirely different way of thinking. They have a tremendous amount of pride and competitive spirit. Our idea was that if we climbed over enough people, we could get to the top and be the supreme being ourselves.

One day an Inter-Varsity Christian guy walked by our little group.

“Look,” said one of my atheist friends, “there goes a fundamentalist.”

“What’s that?” I asked naively.

“Oh, that’s someone who believes the world is flat,” came the answer.

“It’s hard to believe anyone is dumb enough to believe that,” I commented.

I entered graduate school in a state of complete unbelief in God and with an uncharitable, competitive attitude toward everybody. I needed no god as did those who were uninformed and unsure of themselves.

Great debates

Then something happened that shook my faith in my invincibility. I came down with a mysterious ailment for which there seemed to be no diagnosis. I lay in the hospital for several months. The illness brought me down from my lofty sureness.

But God also used another means of working on me. He saw to it that a Christian student named Peter occupied a nearby bed. This guy was no slouch. He was Ivy League and the type of person I had always admired — an intellectual.

We talked about the claims Jesus Christ had made for Himself and whether or not He had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. “It seems to me,” I said, “that Jesus could have simply read the Old Testament prophecies and then fulfilled them.”

“Perhaps,” Peter agreed. “But how did He arrange to be born in Bethlehem? The prophet Micah predicted some 700 years before His birth that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.”

“Well, I guess you have something there,” I conceded.

“And other prophecies came to pass after His death over which no ordinary man could have had control,” pursued Peter. “Christ’s resurrection, the Day of Pentecost, the spreading of Christ’s good news over the entire world.”

Personal revelation

I started reading a Bible my family had brought me while I was in the hospital. Peter was getting through to me, and the Bible started getting through further.

Suddenly I remembered what one of my Bible school teachers had said when I was a boy: that Jesus Christ had died on a cross so I might be reconciled to God. After all Peter had told me about Christ and the Bible, I understood. There is a God! I thought. And I must be one of the worst sinners who ever existed, because I’ve completely denied Him and put Him out of my life!

It was dark; the other guys in our ward were asleep. I slipped out of my bed and fell on my knees. “O God,” I prayed silently, “forgive me for my sins. I believe that Jesus died for me!”

A peace I had never known flooded my soul. Then I knew that Jesus Christ really had risen from the grave — and that He lives!

Several days later, I was able to leave the hospital a well man — physically and spiritually. This atheist became a Christian at the age of 22.

The perfect mate

Shortly after this, I began praying God would give me a good wife. Several weeks later I met up with Joan, whom I’d known when we were children. She had recently come to know Christ as her Savior through a Christian group at Eastman School of Music. She had been praying that God would give her a good Christian husband.

Since Joan taught in a school near Syracuse, we began dating. When I graduated from the university, I took a position as a math and science teacher at a school near hers. We were married the following June. Eight years later we joined the faculty of a Christian university.

Spreading the word

Since then I have given lectures and held conferences in which I show with facts of science that what the Bible says concerning God’s creation can be believed. I also have authored textbooks on science for Christian schools.

Who can testify more to the truth of the Bible than an ex-atheist whose whole way of life has been changed by it?


Meet George Mulfinger

Meet Muriel Larson