One of the more colorful scientific de-conversion stories comes from Jerry Coyne, a professor of genetics and evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. It happened in 1967 when Coyne, then 17, was listening for the first time to the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while lying on his parents’ couch in Alexandria, Va.
Suddenly Coyne began to shake and sweat. For reasons he still doesn’t understand, it dawned on him at that moment that there was no God, and he wasn’t going anywhere when he died. His casual Judaism seemed to wash away as the album played on. The crisis lasted about 30 minutes, he says, and when it was over, he had left religion behind for good. He went on to study how new species evolve, and found the Darwinian view of nature perfectly in tune with his abandonment of faith.
That Coyne’s conversion came from listening to the Beatles also means his conversion had nothing to do with reason or evidence and instead occurred because of some sudden, intuitive insight. Yet, to this day, Coyne tries to make it sound like he is an atheist because of reason, evidence, and science.
The most significant part of the story is that Coyne is like Dawkins and Myers – they all became atheists when they were teenagers. This means it was “adolescent logic” that led to their atheism. For example, having abandoned belief in God at 17, it’s safe to say Coyne has never given any serious, open-minded thought to God since he was 17. To this day, when he thinks about God and argues about God, he does so with the mind of a 17-year-old (or an adult trying to explain why a 17-year-old’s logic was right). And that explains why his arguments about God and religion are the arguments of an adolescent – demanding signs and magic while treating religious people, and those not hostile enough to religion, as if they are not part of the right clique.