A pastor’s road to atheism
Published: 12 June 2006 (GMT+10)
Veteran Australian broadcaster Terry Lane is back on the airwaves again.
The long-time interviewer and presenter of ABC radio programs such as The National Interest has come out of retirement to do a ‘Big Ideas’ series of six interviews1for his former employer, the taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr Lane’s eloquence and general knowledge are widely admired and served him well in his career as interviewer, talk-back host, and newspaper columnist.2
But even among his most avid listeners, there would be many who would not be aware of the complete turnaround in the course of Mr Lane’s life and of the events and experiences that he identifies as being life-changing moments for him.
Was this ‘turnaround’ the type that Christians love to hear, of someone becoming ‘born again’?
Sadly, no. As Terry Lane explained in an interview with the ABC’s Geraldine Doogue (at the time of his retirement late last year),3more than thirty years ago he was a church pastor, having earlier graduated with formal qualifications in theology. But today, not only is he no longer a serving minister, he’s not even a Christian .
If Bible colleges are known by their ‘fruit’ (Matthew 7:16–20) then surely this is a tragic wake-up call about the need for them to teach a plain reading of Genesis.
Geraldine Doogue: [Y]ou came into the ABC , as you’ve revealed, as a minister of religion who had a little experience in broadcasting. You now have a lot of experience in broadcasting, and I understand (I’m not confident of this based on what you’ve said on air) but I understand you’re now an atheist.
Terry Lane : Yes.
Doogue: So what happened?
Lane: Look, it was a long process of moving away from religious belief. And of course part of it involved broadcasting because I got to meet and talk to people like David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins who made a big impression on me.
Now there’s a couple of famous names, renowned proponents of evolution. When Sir David Attenborough, possibly the best-known presenter of nature documentary programs in the world, was asked why he does not give credit to the Creator, he cited the oft-used argument that nature’s dog-eat-dog character is incompatible with ‘God’. And, consistent with his belief that evolution explains our origins, he recently gave his view of human extinction: ‘If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off,’4(compare his fellow evolutionist Eric Pianka).
So it’s not surprising that Terry Lane should cite Attenborough as being a factor in Lane’s acceptance of atheism’s bleak worldview of the meaning of life:
Lane: [T]he enormous privilege of doing this job is that you get to ask people questions that you don’t know what they’re going to say. So that for instance, I asked David Attenborough, who as we know, is on first-name terms with every living organism on the face of the earth; I asked him, ‘What do you think it all means?’
Now, I had no idea what he was going to say, because it was the ultimate question: What is the meaning of life?
And he said: ‘The meaning of life is life. It is just about being born, living, procreating, and dying. And that’s it.’
And what about Richard Dawkins—in what way did he make a ‘big impression’ on this former church minister? Lane explains:
‘Richard Dawkins is the English zoologist who is the author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. And, in The Blind Watchmaker, his proposition is that before Charles Darwin, we needed a “God hypothesis” to explain the phenomenon of life. But since Darwin we have no longer needed that “God hypothesis”. Now, that’s a very challenging idea, and I was moved by this.’
As have many others, too, who tragically did not understand that Dawkins is wrong— Darwin’s ideas did not, and do not, ‘explain the phenomenon of life’. But is Lane saying that it was his interviews with Attenborough and Dawkins that prompted his abandonment of Christianity? No, because he goes on to say:
‘But I think in some ways I can trace the origins of my disaffection with faith, back even to the days of my training in the Theological College .’
Theological college? Isn’t that where people go to build up their knowledge of God and to thus deepen their faith?
Actually, as we have pointed out many times before, it depends on what is being taught at those Bible colleges and theological seminaries—many perhaps better termed theological ‘cemeteries’ (as correspondents have told us) given the way students who go there can ‘lose their faith’ rather than strengthen it.
Lane recalls a college excursion into the real world as being highly confronting to his faith:
Lane: [F]or part of our pastoral training, we were taken to the Kew Mental Hospital in Melbourne. Now, bear in mind this is a group of … we were all males, we were all in our early twenties, we were all pretty naïve and uninformed in the ways of the world. And the purpose of taking us to the Kew Hospital was to introduce us to the phenomenon of mental illness which in those days of course still required institutional treatment or incarceration. And on one morning that we were there, we were taken into a ward without any warning, and this was a ward for hydrocephalic children. I think now when a child is born with the symptoms of the disease, that a shunt can be put into the base of their skull that drains the fluid away. But I’m talking 1960 or ’61, and here was a ward where every bed was occupied by the most extraordinarily disabled children with huge heads and tiny bodies. The only sort of communication that they could make was a little squeaking noise. The nurses had to turn them over, they had to be constantly turned. Of course they were totally dependent. It was absolutely shattering. Not one of us as far as I know ate any lunch, but after lunch we had another session with one of the resident doctors at the hospital, and he knew what we had seen and of course knew who we were, and he came in and he sat down at the table and he looked at us and he waited for a dramatic moment, and then he said: ‘Well, gentlemen, do you still believe in God?’
Now, the reaction to that was interesting, because those who were of a conservative or fundamentalist inclination immediately had an answer: these children had been born to test the compassion of other human beings. For those of us who were of a more liberal and sceptical turn of mind, that was an appalling answer. God does not create human beings in this condition so that other people can demonstrate how good they are. I mean it’s just a shocking explanation. Now that question, and I’m talking now, as I said, 1960, and that has stayed with me ever since. So I’ve always thought when I say there is a God, I have to explain that ward, and those children. And I think probably I got to the point where I said, ‘There isn’t any explanation’, or ‘There is no way that I can reconcile the idea of an almighty, all-knowing, beneficent God with what I saw on that day.’
Doogue : And yet you continued to go through your training and became a Church of Christ minister, despite all that.
Lane : That’s right.
It seems that the theological college had not equipped its students with a biblical worldview, which, by definition,5 must be firmly grounded in Genesis. Because without the knowledge that the Creation is no longer ‘very good’ but is cursed and ‘in bondage to decay’6as a result of the disobedience of the first man Adam, anyone professing to be a Christian will flounder when confronted with the reality of this present world. No wonder Lane and his fellow theology students were left struggling to reconcile the horrors of the Kew Hospital with the God of Love they’d committed their lives to serving. And in Lane’s case, look where it has led. If Bible colleges are known by their ‘fruit’ (Matthew 7:16 –20) then surely this is a tragic wake-up call about the need for them to teach a plain reading of Genesis. See ‘Crisis in the Colleges—A call for reformation’.
And note this: by Lane’s own admission, the seeds of doubt7were already afflicting him while he was still at theological college, yet this did not stop him going on to be a minister for six years.8So if Lane, as a church pastor, did not have answers to key issues of faith (1 Peter 3:15 ), one can legitimately wonder just what he was ‘feeding’ his ‘flock’? And how many other theological college graduates go on to pastor large (or small) churches, yet themselves are ill-equipped to encourage their congregations in the faith? No wonder so many young people in particular leave the church, saying: ‘I don’t believe!’
Lane is not the first church leader to take the slippery slide to unbelief. Charles Templeton, for example, who became a renowned evangelist while still a relatively young man, later walked away from Christianity, citing the same types of questions as Terry Lane. Sadly, Templeton went to his deathbed apparently unaware (or willingly ignorant?—2 Peter 3:5) of the abundant resources now available to readily refute his stated objections to faith. It’s also interesting that long-age apologists Lee Strobel and Norman Geisler proposed the right answer to Templeton’s specific arguments, oblivious to the fact that it flies against their long-age views.
For Terry Lane, however, there may yet be time. Time for him to be made aware that the claims of Attenborough, Dawkins and many others have been addressed and refuted in creationist literature and on websites such as this one. Time to know that the Bible explains why there is death and suffering. Time to abandon the wide road (Matthew 7:13 –14) for the Way to Truth and Life (John 14:6). Time indeed, to change Lane.
- Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, <http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bigideas/>, 7 June 2006. (The first of the six interviews was broadcast on Sunday 7th May 2006 , <http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bigideas/stories/2006/1629415.htm>.) Return to text.
- Terry Lane, Wikipedia, <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_lane>, 5 January 2006. Return to text.
- Terry Lane retires, Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue, ABC Radio National, <http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/saturday/stories/s1530414.htm>, 7 June 2006. Return to text.
- Attenborough’s anti-God musings, Creation 28(2):11, March 2006. Return to text.
- You can’t have a biblical worldview without the Bible, and Genesis is the seedbed of all Bible doctrine, giving us as it does the origin of sin, death, humanity, marriage, the Gospel, and much more. Return to text.
- Romans 8:19–22. Return to text.
- Cf. Hebrews 11:6, James 1:6. Return to text.
- Thus, outwardly in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly? (Matthew 7:15) Return to text.