6th place (tie): College essay contest — Hannah Hawkins

My journey from Christianity to atheism

FFRF awarded Hannah $1,000.

Hannah Hawkins

By Hannah Hawkins

I was 14, an eighth grader anxiously awaiting my first year of high school, when famous science educator Bill Nye debated Creation Museum founder Ken Ham on the scientific legitimacy of biblical creationism. Having watched “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in many of my science classes in school, I was curious to see Nye outside of the whimsical setting of his show. Having also been raised devoutly evangelical, however, I had decided before I had even watched the debate that I would not listen to anything Nye had to say. I distinctly remember giving myself a pep talk before listening to the debate, telling myself, “even though you like Bill Nye, he’s going to try to tell you things that aren’t true, so don’t listen to him.” As I watched the debate, I disregarded all of Nye’s seemingly logical arguments, and instead rallied behind Ham’s warped scientific understanding and staunch presupposition that the bible is infallible. By the end of the video, I was more confident than ever that the biblical creation story was true and was supported by scientific evidence.

When my mental health deteriorated in my early teens and my suicidal ideations reached their boiling point, I turned to God and the bible to help me stay afloat.

After watching the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I delved deep into the world of Christian apologetics and anti-evolutionary rhetoric. I would spend my free time reading books like Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator and looking up answers to tough questions posed by atheists. I engaged in several heated debates with atheist classmates about the legitimacy of intelligent design.

In my mind, I was a defender of truth in a world that sought to destroy my faith. Even if I hated everything else about myself, at least I was right about this one thing. This passionate conviction kindled the flame in my heart just enough to keep my depression from overtaking me, and kept it aflame long enough for me to eventually realize how wrong I was.

During my sophomore year of high school, it slowly dawned on me how fiercely I was twisting the bible’s words to narrowly align with modern science. I grew tired of reading parts of the bible and trying desperately to understand them from a scientific perspective. I had lost my energy trying to explain why evolution was false and never having a solid enough answer. My mind was plagued with doubts that became harder and harder to ignore. Eventually, it stopped being atheists who questioned the validity of my faith, but myself. Instead of researching why creationism was right, I started researching why it was wrong. Instead of looking to the bible or Lee Strobel for the answer to my questions, I started looking to credible scientists. Instead of blindly believing Ken Ham’s words on how the bible is backed by science, I rewatched the debate and saw the logical fallacies and confirmation bias behind his arguments. That same confirmation bias had blinded me to the truth for my whole life until that point.

I am now 20 years old in my junior year of college and an atheist passionately against pseudoscience and the indoctrination of children. Religion shaped my life and worldview in a way that stifled my intellectual growth, left me reliant on an ancient text for my personal well-being, and gave me a false sense of superiority over nonbelievers and skeptics. As an atheist and freethinker, I am no longer bound by the words of the bible or the opinions of the church. I see the value in myself and others, untouched by religious prejudice. When I hear dissenting opinions, I incorporate them into my own viewpoint instead of ignoring their words altogether. Best of all, my journey as a freethinker did not end when I denounced God. A freethinker’s journey never ends.

Hannah, 20, is from Shelby, Ohio, and attends Shawnee State University, majoring in simulation and gaming engineering technology and minoring in information systems. “I am passionate about separation of church and state, women’s rights and gender equality in the technology field.”