Sy Garte: From Atheism to Agnosticism to Christianity

The assumptions of materialism he carried with him into the study of science were challenged by the science, itself


Sy Garte grew up in an atheist household. His ancestors for generations were atheists. His lateral relatives were atheists, and the people close to him in his life were atheists. He assumed atheism was normal. He didn’t question atheism or materialism as the basic assumptions of his life.

Sy Garte earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and BS in Chemistry from the City University of New York. He has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh. He has written over 200 scientific publications in genetics, molecular epidemiology, cancer research and other areas, and he is the author of five books, and numerous articles published in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) and God and Nature.  He is retired from a senior administrative position at the National Institute of Health. (See his biography at Biologos)

Wait a minute… articles on science and Christian faith?

He was an atheist and a scientist. So, what happened?

Well, Dr. Sy Garte has written a book about “what happened” – The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith. I recommend the book, though this article more closely follows the interview embedded below, and it’s a pretty interesting story. I also added an interview of Sy Garte hosted by a once professed Christian turned hardcore atheist (the kind who isn’t content to allow other people to remain Christians) for an interesting exchange from two people who switched poles in their beliefs.

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God Meets Us Where We Are

God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….”


I have come to realize God meets people where they are.

When I was growing up, the concept of “finding yourself” was a popular idea. I thought I needed to go out into the world to find myself, and that’s what I did. I launched myself on that journey, even before I left high school, reading poetry, philosophy, literature – anything that seemed to have some some hint of a claim on truth.

I remember the old adage that the wind can’t carry a ship at anchor, or a ship at anchor can’t be steered (or something like that). That idea became a guiding principal, and I have given that guidance to my children. You have to get up and move, even if you don’t know precisely where you are going. (That’s what Abraham did when God called Him.)

I think it’s generally good advice. It has held me in good stead. If we wait around for the perfect opportunity to come our way, it may never come. We even find wisdom along those lines in Proverbs (16:9)(NASB):

The mind of a man plans his way,
    but the Lord directs his steps.

When I set out to search for truth as a young adult who had squandered his teenage years in reckless drinking, drug use and risky behavior, I thought the truth was “out there”. I just had to go search for it and find it.

In more recent generations, the conventional wisdom might run along the line of finding the truth within. Oprah Winfrey and other popular prophets of modern wisdom would say we don’t need to go searching for the truth “out there” because the truth is within us.

In my latter days now, as a journeyer who moves a bit slower, I have come to see things slightly differently. Neither paradigm rings completely true. I think we can find truth “out there”, and we can find truth “within”, but truth is not limited in any one “place”. Truth is part of the fabric of reality – the world God created.

I certainly don’t want to make light of the search! The search is critical. We have to want it. We need to orientate our hearts toward “finding it”. We need to value the truth for its own sake and be willing to let go of anything that runs counter to it – even if we don’t like it, even if the truth doesn’t look all that attractive to us… even if the truth is hard.

At the same time, truth isn’t necessarily “out there”, and it isn’t “within” either. I am (you are) not the arbiters of truth. “My truth” doesn’t mean anything in the face of reality. We don’t talk about “my scientific truth”, and we shouldn’t talk about “my spiritual truth” – if we are really interested in truth at all.

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