Most of the people that I know who claim there is no God have never investigated the issue. They believe there is no God because others have told them so. Maybe it was their friends or parents or perhaps a teacher. And I suspect those people themselves had never investigated God’s existence. For those who neglect the research, the opinions of others become the measure of reality.
That was my experience as well. I did not come from a religious family. When I went to college (Penn State), I did not have the matter settled in my mind. I majored in biology and over the next four years listened to theories about how the world atheistically evolved into the complexity and diversity of life that we see today. In addition to the numerous biology classes for my major, I also took classes in astronomy, chemistry, geology, physics and anthropology. The science in these classes made sense, but when the topic turned to the origins of life or the cosmos, the theories were lame. There were too many inexplicable leaps of logic that made little sense or could not be adequately explained. While I majored in biology, I concentrated on genetics and here the problems were magnified. Genetic change is the foundation of atheistic evolution and, in my mind, it was practically impossible for these changes to bring about a progressive upward development of life without God being somehow involved. That belief did not bring about a conversion at that time. I was surrounded by professors and fellow students who had swallowed the whole atheistic thing. I thought that perhaps they knew something that I had missed. If this was as certain as they claimed, there must be more to the story.
After I graduated from Penn State, God began to disclose himself to me in subtle ways. I was not looking for God, but the evidence for God’s existence cropped up in unexpected places. I’ve learned that God will not foist himself upon anyone, but for those who inquire, God will respond. At a police station where I was working, I borrowed a book entitled Life after Life (1975) by Raymond Moody. Moody was a psychologist and physician who studied near death experiences. These were cases where people were pronounced clinically dead but had somehow survived. The patients reported similar experiences of afterlife encounters with God. The similarity of these encounters from such a variety of people (many of whom were not religious) struck me as authentic.
Sometime later another book fell into my lap (I do not recall how). Robert Jastrow, was an astronomer, NASA scientist and former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As a professed agnostic, Jastrow wrote God and the Astronomers (1978). This book really hit home for me, since he was the first scientist who, in my opinion, honestly addressed some of the questions that had puzzled me. At the end of the book Jastrow claimed: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” . . . . . After some thought, I sat down on the mountain with them. I love sitting at the top of the mountains. It may take a lot of work to get there, but the view from the top is breathless.