conversation with John Clayton
The original article is from the August 2007 print edition of
the Christian Chronicle.
This copy of the article was modified from their Web site:
A FORMER ATHEIST,
Clayton travels the country, telling people how science points us to
God exist? John Clayton used to think he didn’t.
Clayton, who grew up in an
atheistic home, was well-educated in scientific theory. He earned
degrees in education, with emphasis on physics,
chemistry, from Indiana University and holds an additional master’s in
geology and earth science from the University of Notre Dame.
His interest in matters of faith started in science class. He routinely asked his
professors for their thoughts on the origin of matter and the beginning
of the universe. Time and again they refused to answer, saying those
were matters for theologians—not scientists.
At the same time, Clayton met a dedicated Christian named Phyllis, “the
most bull-headed, stubborn, cast-iron willed individual I had ever met
in all my life,” he said. After untold hours of arguing, she persuaded
him to pick up a Bible. He read it through four times, determined to
use science to tear its claims apart. He even planned to write a book
about the experience, titled “All the Stupidity of the Bible.” But the
more he studied, the more it made sense. He lost his argument with
Phyllis—and eventually married her.
Baptized in his early 20s, Clayton insists that “science and the Bible
do not conflict, only some scientists and some preachers in their
respective interpretations.” He’s lectured countless times at colleges
and universities across the nation on matters of science and faith. He
also speaks about 20 times per year at churches
His “Does God Exist?” ministry has produced countless books, pamphlets
and videos. For 35 years, the Donmoyer Avenue church in South Bend,
Ind., served as the ministry’s base of operations. In 2001
Clayton moved the ministry to the Dowagiac, Mich., church.
John and Phyllis Clayton have a son, two daughters and five
How did you become an atheist?
I tell people I was an atheist for perhaps the same reason they are
what they are religiously—because I was brainwashed.
My parents were atheists. I was never in a church building of any kind
until my late teens, and I remember my mother saying, “Only stupid
people believe in God. You don’t want to be stupid, do you?” By the
time I was 8 years old, I was saying, “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe
in God.” I had an inherited faith.
How did your ministry in Christian
When I was an atheist, I conducted debates and gave lectures to prove
belief in God was foolish. I found it pretty easy to destroy people who
claimed to be Christians, because they didn’t know why they believed
what they believed. They were what they were because that was the way
they were raised. Many kids today assume that the only reason adults
are what they are religiously is because they were born into it.
Later, after becoming a Christian and a science teacher in a public
high school, I found that many of my students and their parents
believed that science and faith were antagonists and that one had to
choose between the two. I began teaching a class showing that faith and
science were friends and that they supported each other. That was the
beginning of what later led me to this ministry.
What are the greatest challenges to
people’s faith today?
Atheism. Atheism is more aggressive than it has ever been, and
religious people are mired in apathy about faith issues.
Churches are arguing about worship format while their kids are being
bombarded with atheism, naturalism and false religions. Many young
people assume there are no reasonable answers because they are not
being taught in a contemporary way that what God says is true and that
faith is reasonable.
Explain what you mean by “taught in a
I mean using language the kids understand, reputable science from
credible sources and a full, honest, candid approach to even the hard
What is a typical year like for you?
Since 1968, I have averaged 40 lectureships and 400 presentations a
year while teaching full time. After 41 years in the public schools, I
retired in 2000 to devote more time to the massive e-mail volume, the
growing correspondence course program, and to the production of more
video materials. In the past few years we have reduced our lectureship
numbers by concentrating on evangelistic outreaches and doing fewer
Vacation Bible School programs, retreats and camps. My wife’s health
has also been an issue in reducing how much I am on the road.
You hear from a lot of teens across
the country. What have you learned from them?
I get probably 200 e-mails a week from kids that are in spiritual
crisis. Our teens are begging for good answers. There is a lot of bad
information out there with bad science and bad theology mixing to make
a total mess. They have either left the church or are in the process of
They know that some of what they have been told cannot be true, and
when I show them what the Bible actually says and what the evidence
actually is, the response is profoundly positive.
We need to dissociate ourselves from our denominational creationist
friends and stick with what God says. God created the cosmos, and God
gave us the Bible. They can’t conflict. If there is a conflict, there
has either been bad science or bad theology—and we have had a lot of
The victims are our kids.
What kind of a reception do you get at
your public lectures?
Our public programs are always conducted on neutral ground, usually in
a college auditorium or a motel meeting room. We avoid a worship
atmosphere and start with a standard science approach —
talking about cosmology, relativity, quantum mechanics and logical
conclusions to draw from these disciplines.
We always have an open-ended question-and-answer session that can run
as long as nine hours (that’s the record) but usually goes two or three
hours. Our audiences on Friday and Saturday are mostly non-members of
the church, and usually 25 to 50 percent of those come on to Sunday
services. We have had some incidents, but people are generally polite,
surprised, curious, interested and searching. I would say the reaction
is very positive.
You have had a lifetime of involvement
in key roles in the church. What do you see for the future of Churches
I am very optimistic. We are going through some readjustment, as we
I have worked with every kind of congregation you can imagine and a few
I doubt you could imagine. What I see are good people who want to serve
God, but who are torn between what worked in the past and the radical
change happening in our society which is making new demands of all
kinds on the church.
We will make it, but we are struggling like everyone else with the
radical change that is characteristic of the time in which we live.
Patience, love, forgiving, forbearance, emphasis on unity and putting
others first are all things we must work at.
INFORMATION on the “Does God Exist?” ministry, including videos, books
, correspondence courses and lectureships, write to: 1555 Echo Valley
Drive, Niles, MI 49120 or go online to doesgodexist.org. All materials
are free or can be borrowed.
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