Richard Dawkins and Josh Timonen

Richard Dawkins’ Disciple Josh Timonen Comes to Christ

10 July 2023

5.7 MINS

Josh Timonen reveals his long journey from Dawkins to Jesus.

Richard Dawkins is the world’s most famous atheist. During my university days, students were recommended Dawkins’ books. I distinctly remember seeing my peers reading Dawkins’ 2006 title The God Delusion – which has sold more than three million copies – before lectures.

Josh Timonen was at the centre of Dawkins’ work at that time. In fact, from 2006 to 2010, he was one of Richard Dawkins’ closest companions.

Timonen’s Rejection of Christianity

Josh was raised in a Christian home, but coming into his late teen years, “like a lot of people, I started drifting away”. There were exciting things that he wanted to do “that the church didn’t really line up with”.

With the choice between this and a boring church experience, the writing was on the wall for Josh.

During that time, he was exposed to Dawkins’ arguments against God which seemed “pretty plausible” to him. It was this intellectual opportunity to reject God which gave legitimacy to his desire “to do what [he] wanted to do”. So, just as one sheds the belief in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, Josh ‘grew out of’ Christianity.

Although he didn’t realise it at the time, in hindsight Josh describes his situation like this:

“Atheism is a really useful worldview for weak men. Externally you are going with the flow. You are part of the secular culture. You’re in agreement. And that’s a very safe herd position to be in.

“The flip side of that is that internally, it’s complete freedom. In my own inner life, there are no consequences, there’s no reason for me not to do what I want to do in my inner life.”

Teaming Up with Dawkins

Whilst watching “Root of All Evil?” – a documentary written and produced by Dawkins arguing that society would be better off without religion in general, and Christianity in particular – Josh realised that Dawkins didn’t have his own website.

Amazingly, one of Josh’s contacts had Richard’s email address. Josh emailed him to ask whether he could build a website platform. Dawkins “was excited for that” and it resulted in Josh comments, “I think we just clicked really easily.”

Richard and Josh in the Galapagos Islands

He also went on to build Dawkins’ Foundation website and filmed and edited most of his online content.

Josh also designed the famous ‘A’ logo. The single red capital letter was a simple and short-handed way to represent and promote atheism. The ‘A’ was then placed on a T-shirt with the URL underneath. Josh’s creative prowess was on display on a global scale.

Dedication for Josh TimonenDawkins’ admiration for Timonen’s work is clearly evident in his 2009 book titled The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Inside the front cover is this simple dedication: “For Josh Timonen.”

The handwritten note in Josh’s own signed copy reads, “For Josh. No book of mine ever had a worthier dedicatee. Richard.”

A Severed Relationship

In 2010, while working on a documentary on Westboro Baptist Church, Josh relates:

“There were some people in Richard’s orbit that were a bit unstable, and we had some issues with. They started ejecting themselves into us trying to film this documentary. It kind of blew up into disagreement. And things fell apart a bit.”

Josh and his wife had been working on the documentary. But both felt that it was time for a change:

“Both of us felt that we were at the end of the story with this stuff. We were just kind of over it.”

Josh notified Richard of their decision, but it was here that their relationship made a turn for the worst. Josh was accused of “embezzling hundreds of thousands of pounds” and Dawkins ended up suing Timonen. Nevertheless, the case was easily dismissed, and when Timonen and his legal team counter-sued for defamation, Dawkins’ team ended up settling with him outside court.

The whole process did not shake Josh’s atheism. That would come only about a decade later.

Things Go Bad in Portland in 2020

Josh was working as a software engineer in Portland, Oregon. But then the pandemic hit, followed closely by the BLM riots and looting. It shook Josh to the core because he was seeing

“new evil on display all around me. But it was the acceptance of the evil from people I was friends with, people I worked with. And then the government as well in the city were condoning it, participating in it to some extent.

“It was a moment when I looked around [and thought], ‘Who are these people? I thought we agreed with these guys? I thought we were on the same page. I’m not on this page.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I decided we were going to look for some other place to live.”

There was no moral foundation to explain what was happening in Portland. The boat was rocking and Josh was uncertain how to get off.

Josh and his family decided to move to Waco, Texas – a place that seemed a little bit safer. At that time, they were home-schooling their daughter who was about six. The Timonen’s were looking for a place for good socialisation for her – something very different to what they had experienced in Portland. “We were just trying to get to solid ground.”

Atheists Go to a Texas Cowboy Church

The thought began, “What if we showed up at a church?” And they began looking around at churches. Strange indeed – and Josh readily admits that they didn’t know what they were doing – he describes it as being “in a fog”. All he could think was, “It seems better than what we were doing.”

Josh Timonen's family

They found a ‘cowboy’ church – where in true Texas style, the pastor wore a cowboy hat! To Josh, the whole thing sounded “just weird enough. Where we could sit back and nobody would notice us.”

“As atheists not believing in any of this, but [we thought] maybe we can steal some of those benefits, those social benefits. The nice community and the nice people.

“[So we] just decided to start going, and seeing what it was like and got my daughter into Sunday School so she could be doing that.”

Months passed, and Josh was still an atheist. But he could see that the church community was beneficial. And this led to him asking questions beyond simple pragmatics. He thought:

“Okay, I see how it’s benefitting the people who are going; maybe I should give it a fair shake.”

Atheistic Assumptions Crumble

Josh started reading the Bible – beginning in the New Testament. After he’d read it through, he thought,

“Well, that’s something, but there’s still a lot of crazy stuff in here that I don’t think I buy… And I thought back to… watching a documentary called The God Who Wasn’t There that had a whole section on Jesus not existing. And I remember how I just bought that as soon as I watched it. It’s not that I studied it… I thought: ‘Well, do I buy this or not? Do I believe Jesus was a person? Did he live?’ And I had written that off when I was younger, that he didn’t live at all.”

He read Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ. Surprisingly, he found there was significant and undeniable evidence for Jesus’ life. The Bible wasn’t just an accumulation of mythological made-up stories. And the gospels were written close to the time of Jesus by people who were actually there.

“I had to deal with the fact that it was real, that Jesus was real. To me, that’s the defining piece. Jesus actually lived. He actually died. And I have to deal with that. I can’t just push that aside and say it’s a myth.”

All this was going on during 2020 and into 2021. But once Josh knew that Jesus is Who He says He was, he then knew that the Bible was asking him to do something.

“The fact that he lived a sinless life is a big piece of character witness. He’s also telling you a bunch of other stuff, a lot of crazy stuff, you might say. But who else are you going to believe than somebody who has lived a sinless life? He has a perfect character witness.”

Josh now “accepts Jesus is Who He says He is” – Messiah and Saviour of the world. Let’s pray that Dawkins – now 82 years old – follows in the steps of his former protégé.

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  1. Warwick Marsh 10 July 2023 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Wow!!! Fantastic story and very well written article!!!!

    • Samuel Hartwich 11 July 2023 at 9:46 am - Reply

      Thanks Warwick, it is a wonderful story, and incredibly fascinating.

  2. Kim Beazley 10 July 2023 at 10:54 am - Reply

    I’ll never forget when in 2007 my friend Roy Williams, at the launch of his book “God, Actually”, written as a response to “The God Delusion”, reported that his book was already being ridiculed on the blogsite on Dawkins’ website (titled without even a hint of irony as “a haven for clear thinking”), even before its release. Evidently a follower of Dawkins who worked in a bookstore had seen it being unpacked for sale the next day.

    So Roy invited people to defend the book there, which I and others did. And that’s where I gradually came to understand the fundamental logical flaws in every atheist argument.

    Incredibly, that “haven for clear thinking” eventually had to be closed down due to the extreme levels of vitriol expressed there, even allowing for the fact that every single thread was moderated. But, when the moderators are as “clear thinking” as the perpetrators, then the outcome is “clear”.

    • Samuel Hartwich 11 July 2023 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Thank you, Kim, and I completely concur about ‘The God Delusion’. I read critical reviews (many from atheists or referencing atheists) who thought the quality of Dawkins’ arguments was poor. I thought so too during and after my reading of the book, back in 2006/7.

      About the website and its troubles, I do not know whether this is the case, but I do wonder whether issues like that were present when Josh decided to pursue other avenues of work away from Dawkins. Josh seems to at least have run into something like that, which he refers to in his interview.

      Whatever the case, what a wonderful story, and of something good coming out of Portland riots, etc., in 2020!

  3. Faith 11 July 2023 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    So he turned from an unpopular militant atheist to an unpopular evangelical, and the catalyst was a bunch of people impoverished by systemic injustice reacting to said injustice?

    So he decided to become a weird libertarian in response, but also something something Jesus?

    No, please don’t attempt to tell me that I wasn’t there or whatever. If you have never been in a situation like that before yourself then you’re just telling me how sheltered you are and how you don’t have the experience to make these kinds of statements meaningfully to begin with.

  4. Warwick Marsh 17 July 2023 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    Congratulations. Samuel Number One! Totally deserving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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