Researcher Jana Harmon shares how neuroscientist Dr Rich Suplita found his New Atheism wanting, prompting him to look for answers in Christianity 

We are all susceptible to rationalising what we want to be true, even if it’s not. Of course, our desires and objective truth may line up, but sometimes it’s good to be sceptical of our own beliefs, to look more deeply at why we believe what we believe. Dr Rich Suplita was compelled to examine his own beliefs, first as a Christian, and he found his beliefs wanting. Then, as a militant atheist, he became sceptical of his own scepticism. 

As a neuroscientist who was a deeply introspective, contemplative thinker, he became willing to look at his reasons for atheism and returned to a much stronger belief in God and Christianity than he once knew.

Science challenges faith

Rich was raised in a small West Virginia town attending church three times a week. Although he believed in God, he thought God was displeased with him and wasn’t approachable. Yet, he wanted “to be on the right side of eternity”, so he participated in the rituals and rhythms of church life although without deep personal change. 

As an undergraduate student, Rich became exposed to different ways of thinking about the Universe that conflicted with his Christian upbringing. He began to question the truth of Christianity and of the Bible, wondering how science and faith could be reconciled. 

Studying psychology at graduate level, he became deeply sceptical of religious belief through the disarming, convincing views of a professor whose naturalistic philosophy was starkly counter to the Christian worldview. He came to believe that the human mind was not separate from the brain, but purely physical and mechanical in nature. Christianity became more marginalised as science became more convincing. He recalls: 

What was really resonating to me was science. “I’m a neuroscience student. I do scientific research. The Bible is outmoded. It’s outdated. Maybe there are some good things in there. Religion’s not all bad. It can give a person a sense of culture and the background, a way to connect with family and certain friends, but in terms of it being objectively true, I had pretty much checked out at that point.


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Deconstructing towards atheism

At the same time, his marriage was falling apart and with it, his Christian views began to deconstruct:

At that point, on the question if God exists, I probably would have said: “I don’t know. There’s probably not a personal God who is described in these books that we call the Bible. That’s probably much more myth and legend, embellishing different nationalistic stories in the Old Testament, a lot of wishful thinking in the New Testament among desperate people.” 

The combination of intellectual doubts and emotional pain began to fuel his encroaching militant atheism. He explains:

For me personally, in my own situation, I really do think it was a disappointment with God more than a disbelief in God. I was disappointed in this God for my own failures, for the failures of my marriage, my family and the fact that I was not going to be a daily presence in the life of my three daughters anymore. That was the big one. There was really a sense in which God or the Universe or whatever you want to call it, my higher power had failed me or let me down.

For eight years, he thought there was never a possibility of ever calling himself a Christian again. It would have been laughable to him. He became deeply ingrained in New Atheist thought through the books of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and especially Daniel Dennett. As a neuroscientist, Rich connected with Dennett’s work on the mind as purely physical. 

Rich also spent many hours watching Matt Dillahunty’s podcast, The Atheist Experience on the internet, becoming more entrenched in his New Atheist identity. 


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Becoming skeptical of skepticism

Over time, Rich began to become sceptical of his own atheistic perspective. Naturalism didn’t seem to be able to explain his personal sense of genuine ability to freely choose. And what of his experience of being a father to three daughters? Was there really no real love in their relationship? He also became troubled by the difficulty of living an objectively meaningless life. 

Did life really hold no real meaning? Rich intuitively knew that his life mattered, that his choices mattered, as did his daughters. He believed that there was inherent human worth and dignity and value, but he could not ground those notions on the naturalistic worldview he had come to accept as true. 

Cognitive dissonance and surprising doubt led him away from militant atheism towards agnosticism. He even became open to the idea of a “non-descript higher power”. With these new doubts, he was compelled to resign his position as faculty advisor to the campus student atheists and pursue a resolution to the intellectual and existential problems that now confronted him, exploring spirituality on his own terms. 

Around the same time, one of his daughters invited him to attend her baptism. With mixed emotions, he accepted, wanting to support her although not supporting her beliefs. Most of all he wanted to be a good father. 

Becoming open to God

Attending his daughter’s baptism was a turning point. Still an agnostic, Rich experienced a “real core joy” that his daughter had embraced Jesus. The unexpected joy that welled up in him simultaneously caused confusion for him. Shouldn’t he be angry at her making a bad decision to accept something that is false? 

He decided to become even more open to spiritual possibilities. The door opened further when he was approached by an on-campus ministry to take a spiritual interest survey. Although he had “checked out” of atheism, he gave them atheist answers but was willing to talk with someone about Christianity.

He sat down with Pastor David Holt who began to ask questions about his scepticism and how he became an atheist. After a few meetings, the discussion narrowed on the most important question of all, ‘Who is Jesus?’ Encouraged to take the 21-day challenge and read the gospel of John, Rich read it in one evening. 

Although the text was familiar to him, Rich read of Jesus’ life and words with a new perspective. When he arrived at the story of Lazarus in chapter 11, the familiar turned into something that was deeply true. Martha questions Jesus as to why he wasn’t there to keep her brother Lazarus from dying. Jesus responds with a statement about himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” 

Then Jesus said: “Do you believe this?” Rich knew he was speaking to Martha, but that question also penetrated his own heart. In that moment, he knew that Christ was who he said he was. Rich suddenly believed in spite of himself, saying:

I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But I knew I believed that. It was a huge seed that was planted. I knew that my recognition of the truthfulness of who Jesus was and is, that he wasn’t just making a proclamation of what he had the power to do. He was talking about his identity. He didn’t say: “I can raise the dead,” he said: “I am the resurrection.” And I had never seen that before. I knew that verse. That verse sounded familiar to me, but I’d never, ever seen it in that light before. What I realised at that point in time was: “This truth is going to have to change everything about my life.” 

And change his life it did. Although there was a point in time where he later tried to go back to atheism about two years later, he could never turn his back on Jesus:

I could never turn that off in my mind, in my heart, this truth of Jesus is the Son of God. He died, and he rose again. Everything was stripped away, back to that, but it ultimately was that truth that brought me to a point of completely surrendering my life, not just my mind, but also kind of getting off the fence of cultural Christianity. It really was that truth that was the anchor. 

Rich went on to lead a Christian student group on the university campus called Ratio Christi, Latin for ‘a reason for Christ’. He has found great purpose beyond the “radical individualism he used to live for” and now understands his life is meant for much more.


If you’d like to listen to Rich Suplita tell his full story, tune into the Side B Stories Episode #45. You can find it on the Side B Stories website


Jana Harmon hosts the Side B Stories podcast where former atheists and sceptics talk about their turn from disbelief to belief in God and Christianity. She is a teaching fellow for the CS Lewis Institute of Atlanta and former adjunct professor in cultural apologetics at Biola University where she received an MA in Christian apologetics. Jana also holds a PhD in religion and theology from the University of Birmingham in England. Her research focused on religious conversion of atheists to Christianity and related book is entitled Atheists Finding God: Unlikely Stories of Conversions to Christianity in the Contemporary West.