Reach for the Light: The moment I was no longer an atheist

April 15, 2009 | 25 comments

These cucumber sprouts my husband put on our window sill caught my eye this morning as I was washing dishes. I noticed that they were growing at an angle, reaching out towards the sun rather than standing vertically. It reminded me of a key moment in my conversion.

Somewhere in this plant’s DNA are instructions that say something like, “By default, grow vertically. Unless the sun can only be found one side; in which case, reach for the light.”


If I were to see these statements written on a piece of paper, I would understand them to be information. Instructions. I would take it for granted that someone wrote them. It would never occur to me to think that random forces constructed those sentences. The idea of creator-less information is an absurdity.

I remember back in 2005, when I had barely dipped my toe into the world of agnosticism after a life of atheism. I wasn’t sure if I believed in God or not, though I was leaning toward not. One afternoon I was reading about the subject of DNA, and I got butterflies in my stomach when I realized: DNA is information. It’s a set of instructions.

The implications of this realization could not be overstated. I leaned back in my chair, thought for a moment, and asked myself: “Can information — instructions — ever come from a non-intelligent source?”

I realized that the answer is no. And my life was never the same again.



  1. Jim T.

    That’s right sister, we look at these seemingly simple things and realize the implications. Our good Lord is so humble, he allows us to gently fall into his work and sometimes he knocks us off our horse.

  2. Sara

    I love how clear that became for you!

  3. Amanda

    I have recently decided to convert and your blog has been quite inspirational. It is nice to read the words of someone who has been where I am.

  4. veniteadoremus

    As much as I would like it to be, that’s not exactly true. Survival of the fittest takes you a long, long way when it comes to producing sun-nodding plants.

    Of course, I personally think it really awesome that God thought evolution was the best method to reach His goals. Textbooks like to undermine that by sticking in “blind” and “random” at every single opportunity, but the truth is that there isn’t a real proof that we can get from bio-molecules to snoozing cats without some direction going on.

    (Just as we can’t proof there has been direction, by the way, but a good scientist wouldn’t clamp to one thing he can’t prove just because he doesn’t like the other thing he can’t prove, and then call the supporters of the other theory idiotic bigots. Oooh, you touched a nerve with this subject, you did 🙂 )

  5. Mark Lefers

    Francis Collins would agree that evolution is true and that information/instructions can come from non-intelligent sources. To use your simplified example, the cucumber sprouts grow vertically and toward the light, because if they didn’t they would be dead, because cucumber sprouts evolved to be required to grow vertically and toward the light. Other things have evolved to grow horizontally and grow in the absence of light, and all these different types arose from a common ancestor. Pretty cool to think about.

  6. Joanne

    Well, this is lovely, and has me tearing up first thing in the morning. Every time you write about being an Atheist as recently as 2005, it blows my mind. My husband was not an Atheist, but he wasn’t really a Christian either, when he came into the Church in 2004 and now it seems like he’s always been Home. And you too.

  7. Anonymous

    don’t they look happy
    like they are thriving and they know it

  8. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    “As much as I would like it to be, that’s not exactly true. Survival of the fittest takes you a long, long way when it comes to producing sun-nodding plants.”

    Good point. I don’t disagree that God has used evolution and survival of the fittest as part of his plan. But what about the first organism able to reproduce itself? Surely that didn’t come from random forces.

    Thanks for the comments!

    (Sorry for my duplicate comments. Having formatting issues.) 🙂

    • Jane Doe

      Goalpost moving

  9. Roxane B. Salonen

    The thing about faith is that, while you need to make logical sense of it up to a point…sometimes, you just need to take the plunge. You look at those lovely little sprouts reaching toward the sun, and you know, somewhere down deep, without thinking too much about it, that it is symbolic for something inside of you that is also reaching for light. At that point, science and religion can join together in a full embrace, because the same source created both. We can analyze and analyze and analyze, and then there is a point at which we just turn our face toward the sun and smile.

  10. A Philosopher

    Is there an actual argument that information can’t come from a non-intelligent source?

  11. Rebecca

    Jennifer – I LOVE this post…and your follow-up comment.

    As a cradle Catholic, I’ve always believed in God, but I’ve certainly challenged this too, wanting to learn more and know why. One of the clearest moments to me was taking off in an airplane out of LAX on a foggy morning, as we approached the coast (when you take off out of LAX it is to the West and then you turn back to the East)and you could see the Mountains through the fog, then fog clearing, and then the valleys – it was a moment where very clearly, I knew that I knew that I knew it was not an accident. That God had deliberately created this Earth to be the way it is.

    Your follow-up comment is so in line with what I believe…why can’t BOTH be right? Why can’t God have used evolution and survival of the fittest to Create? The first were created by Him, the rest have evolved by Him.

    Thank-you for such a great post!

  12. Anonymous

    You are also in OSV APRIL 12….on conversions.I also liked IN THAT EDITION the article about THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST and THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS.

  13. Anonymous

    One of the things that fascinates me about your conversion story is that it seems to have begun entirely as an intellectual experience. I thought for a long time that people really can’t reason themselves into faith, but I guess I am wrong. In my case I simply could not stop drinking of my own power. It had become a life-long insurmountable obsession. In AA I learned to let go of control and God removed the obsession, virtually overnight. There was no intellectual wrangling. When people now ask me how I can have such faith I usually respond that faith cannot be sought with the mind because it is not an intellectual experience but a spiritual experience. I guess I’ve been wrong about that.

  14. Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft

    Lovely as usual. Thanks.

  15. Maiki

    Information is a weird term depending on what context you use it in. Maybe a better word is order (but in information theory, order is the opposite of information). Disorder = entropy = information. Eg. Saying all my books are in my bookshelf requires less information than saying one is on the floor, one on my desk, one in my bag and one on the shelf.

    I’ve always thought a good parallel to science and creation can be made to the laws of thermodynamics. Entropy of a closed system always increases (the disorder of the system). To make something more orderly, something else has to become disorderd. If you take the whole universe as one system, the whole thing is tending towards a maximum amount of disorder. Unless someone flipped a magical switch at the beginning of the world making the laws of thermodynamics null and void, where did the order come from initially?

    Obviously, I’m being overly simplistic, but these sorts of train of thoughts have always intrigued me, places where science slightly exposes itself. Not in an overly explicit fashion, but in a sort of mind-bending way.

  16. Anonymous

    OK. Now I am ready to take back what I said. Your conversion was not entirely intellectual in origin, but was, of course, a spiritual experience. I just read your interview in the National Catholic Register and it struck me that the thing that drove you to explore the existence of God in your life was the greatest of His gifts. You said, “The birth of our first child motivated me to seek the truth with humility. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Humility, true humility, is crucial to the conversion process.” Just like when I got sober and my obsession was removed by grace, your fertile mind was directed through the grace of new life. It caused your mind to seek its objective. The Baltimore Catachism asks, what is the object of the mind? Answer: to know God and to love God.

  17. Roxane B. Salonen

    Rebecca said: “Why can’t God have used evolution and survival of the fittest to Create? The first were created by Him, the rest have evolved by Him.”

    I am copying and keeping that. It’s how I’ve felt since high school, when I wrote a creation story in English about ATOM (ADAM). You’ve said it very succinctly here.

  18. Karen

    John 1:1 says that Jesus Christ is that light – and I’m saddened to come to the conclusion as I read your blog that you have traded Christ and His word for the teachings and traditions of fallible men. I hope that God grants you the grace to look past what you are caught up in to truly understand that Christ and His Word are all you need.

  19. Joyful Seraph

    I just found your blog a few days ago and I’ve been amazed by some things I’ve read already, thanks for writing.

  20. DrSaraPF

    I have Ph.D. in molecular biology. I spent years and years studying fruit fly DNA. I’ve never understood why so many scientists who study the same thing haven’t come to the same conclusion which you have just written about. The more you study DNA, the more obvious it becomes to me that there must be a creator. Amen!

  21. Shelley

    This is a great post. I got tingles when I read that last line. I’m a new reader. I write about faith as well. We have a lot in common. I’ll keep reading for sure!

  22. Ray Ingles

    What if you have experienced for yourself that information, order, cleverness can come about without intelligence?

    I'd read about a computer evolution simulation that sounded really cool. Being a student with time on my hands, I read the paper, and reimplemented it from scratch, myself. I even made some changes. Nothing was hidden in there, because I programmed the whole thing.

    And yet, when the little programs inside were evolving, they surprised me. At least twice they came up with neat tricks that I wasn't expecting. Not only did I not expect them, I didn't even understand them at first. I was like, "How the $&#* does that work?" It took me a while to even understand what was going on.

    So I'm sorry, but I have direct experience in my own life that information – design – can arise without an intelligence designing it.

    (Just to forestall one objection – yes, it took intelligence to set up the computer program. But I've seen a tornado simulator in a science museum that was designed by humans. Does that mean all tornadoes require direct intelligent intervention to form? Just because it takes intelligence to set up some circumstances in a way that's easy to study doesn't mean the same circumstances can't arise elsewhere without 'design'.)

    Details of the simulation and results here:

  23. Anonymous

    Ray Ingles' comment just made me chuckle. After describing the computer program, he suddenly noticed the gaping hole in his argument and tried to "forestall" the objection (that the computer program required an initial designer). Unfortunately, his forestalling made no sense. "Tornadoes simulations are made by humans, but does that mean that real tornadoes require intelligence?" First of all: huh? Second, to answer the question: Directly, no; but if the whole universe is based on an outside "designer," they would logically be part of that design. Your attempt to argue for intelligence arising on its own ends up proving Jennifer's original point.

  24. Ray Ingles

    Anonymous – I note that you used double-quotes there, but interestingly, you changed my words.

    There exist conditions whereby complexity and information – by anyone’s definition – can arise without intelligent intervention. That’s what the computer program and tornado simulators and so forth establish, unequivocally.

    Now, many people take it a step back, and say, “But can those conditions arise without intelligent intervention?” The interesting thing is that the preconditions are often surprisingly simple. Often so simple it’s hard to argue they couldn’t arise by chance. And if they do… the complexity after that isn’t so hard to account for.

    You can argue that the universe needed a designer – but information in DNA isn’t a support for that line of argument. You’ll need something else.


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