Former Atheist Uses Reason to Find God

by Micaela Ricaforte ’20

Josh Rasmussen, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Philosophy who specializes in analytic metaphysics with a focus on basic categories of reality, such as objects, ideas, and necessary existence. Rasmussen describes himself as “a truth-seeker at heart who values collaboration across disciplines and perspectives.” His pursuit of truth and reality led him first to atheism, then, ultimately, back to God.

You went from being a Christian, to becoming an atheist, to becoming a believer again. Can you share your journey?

My journey is motivated by my desire to find truth. Growing up, I sought a deeper understanding for myself, instead of just believing what my parents believed. My father was a pastor so I was raised in church. My worldview fell apart in high school. At that time, I began to ask questions about the existence of evil and the presence of suffering in a world created by God, and what happens when young children and people in remote areas who never had a chance to hear the gospel die. When I talked to my parents about these questions, they didn’t have straightforward answers for me.

Around the same time, I had a friend at school who wasn’t a believer because he said that Christianity couldn’t answer his questions. He said he wished for a being who created the universe and loved him, but he simply didn’t have any evidence to believe that. And I thought, well, yes, if there was a God, why wouldn’t He be more evident to my friend? I was dissatisfied with the evidence presented to me by the Church, so for a while, I stopped believing. But that led me to begin a search for truth where I discovered my love for philosophy and reclaimed my belief in God.

What key factors did you come across that shaped your thinking?

I went to the library and checked out a bunch of books and read about these topics myself. I think that’s the best thing you can possibly do. Two books from different sides heavily influenced me. The first was Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler, and the second was The Cosmological Argument, by William Rowe. Both featured the cosmological argument, which is based on cause and effect.

Rowe’s book attempts to explain why anything exists at all, and he uses cause and effect to state that a foundational piece of reality is necessary to account for anything else. Though Rowe didn't believe in God, at the end of the book, he writes that the cosmological argument could lead someone to believe in God.

Geisler helped me see that there were Christians who thought about these things with a lot of depth. His thinking is very clear, organized, and systematic, so I was able to follow his logic and that was instrumental in helping me believe again. Giesler went into detail describing the ultimate cause of things.

I think of my journey back to God as clues that led me to more clues. I discovered recent scientific breakthroughs about the fine-tuning of the universe, the developing of virtue, the value of natural irregularities, soul-making, and more. These things, along with my questions, helped me shake off my limited view of God. It also helped me become more inclusive, seeing how different cultures can experience God’s love and grace even though they may not realize it.

Your latest book provides a step-by-step guide to Christianity through reason. Does faith play a role in Christianity to you?

There are different definitions of faith. When I ask the students in my Philosophy and Religion class to define faith, it’s almost always different. Then I’ll put up the biblical definition found in Hebrews 11:1, which says that, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the assurance of things not seen". There’s a contemporary notion that faith is a leap beyond what you see, but I think the biblical notion of faith allows you to actually have sight and still faith.

People think of reason as human reasoning and they think of faith as from God, but I think that’s a mistake. I think that reason is from God. Jesus is the logos, and that’s logic, the very nature of who He is. It points to God. Jesus Himself pointed to the evidence of his miracles to give people a reason to believe Him. I think faith fundamentally comes from trust, but also that trust can be based on evidence. Reason is a form of evidence.

If reason leads to God, why are many scholars and philosophers still atheists?

Francis Bacon once said, “A little bit of philosophy leads you to atheism, but depth in the philosophy leads you back to religion,” and that’s certainly been my story. The more that I study philosophy, the more I see that points to God. Often I wonder, why don’t all philosophers believe in God? The evidence is so powerful. A lot of it is sociological. Part of it is the believer's’ responsibility. Many of my skeptical friends felt judged and condemned by Christians when they stopped believing. In my own experience, my parents didn’t make me feel that way. Instead they gave me resources, and that helped me come back to my faith.

Others who feel alienated find a group of like minded people, and they derive a sense of virtue about being skeptical. When I have a conversation with an atheist, many times they will not have considered all the aspects for the existence of God. I realize that they may associate theism and dogmatism with blind faith, and since they want to be intellectually virtuous, they disregard that.

What guidance would you give college students as they journey to find out what they believe?

I’d advise people to do their research and trust their instincts. You can be curious, and think it through for yourself. I want to encourage people to pursue the truth. If you have questions, that’s good, because it takes courage to ask these questions. If you are genuine in your pursuit of truth, you will always find it.