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Tag: Evolution

The Voices of Atheism: Richard Dawkins on the Value and Importance of Science

richard-dawkins

This is the latest installment in The Voices of Atheism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. Know of a good video that espouses atheism/agnosticism or challenges the claims of the Abrahamic religions? Please email me the name of the video or a link to it. I believe this series will be an excellent addition to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Today’s video features Richard Dawkins. Enjoy!

Video

Five More Questions from an Evangelical Pastor

good question

An Evangelical pastor whom I have known for over forty years recently sent me some questions, the answers to which appear below. He previously asked me some questions which I answered in a post titled, Four Questions from an Evangelical Pastor. I found his questions sincere and honest, unlike many questions I receive from Evangelicals. Far too often, ulterior motivations lurk behind some questions, but I don’t sense that here. Hopefully, readers of this blog will find my answers helpful.

Are there different levels of atheism? 

The short answer is no. Atheism is defined thusly: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. That’s it. Unlike Christianity — a hopelessly fragmented group — all atheists agree on one thing: atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From that point, atheist beliefs go in all sorts of directions.

There’s also what is commonly called the Dawkins Scale: the spectrum of theistic probabilities. Famed biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins spoke of this seven-level spectrum in his popular book, The God Delusion:

  • Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of Carl Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”De facto theist.
  • Very high probability but short of 100%. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”Leaning towards theism.
  • Higher than 50% but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”Completely impartial.
  • Exactly 50%. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”Leaning towards atheism.
  • Lower than 50% but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
  • De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  • Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

Atheists debate amongst themselves Dawkins’ scale, and whether agnostics are, in fact, atheists. Agnostics believe that the existence of God, of the divine, or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable. (Wikipedia) Another definition of agnosticism is as follows:

In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, whereas an atheist disbelieves in God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist. In so far as one holds that our beliefs are rational only if they are sufficiently supported by human reason, the person who accepts the philosophical position of agnosticism will hold that neither the belief that God exists nor the belief that God does not exist is rational. (Richard Rowe, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

I should mention in passing what I consider a distant third cousin of agnosticism: deism. Wikipedia describes enlightenment deism this way:

Enlightenment deism consisted of two philosophical assertions: (a) reason, along with features of the natural world, is a valid source of religious knowledge, and (b) revelation is not a valid source of religious knowledge. Different deist authors expanded on these two assertions to create what Leslie Stephen later termed the “constructive” and “critical” aspects of deism. “Constructive” assertions— assertions that deist writers felt were justified by appeals to reason and features of the natural world (or perhaps were intuitively obvious) — included:

  • God exists and created the universe.
  • God gave humans the ability to reason.

“Critical” assertions— assertions that followed from the denial of revelation as a valid source of religious knowledge— were much more numerous. They included:

  • Rejection of all books, including the Bible, that are claimed to contain divine revelation.
  • Rejection of the incomprehensible notion of the Trinity and other religious “mysteries”.
  • Rejection of reports of miracles, prophecies, etc.

True Christianity

All deists rejected the Bible as a book of divine revelation. If you define “a Christian” as a person who accepts the stories in the Bible as true, divine revelations, the deists were not Christians. They rejected the miracle stories in the Bible and rejected the divinity of Jesus. Many, however, accepted Jesus as an actual historical person and held him in high regard as a moral teacher. (This position is known as Christian deism and was Thomas Jefferson’s motive for assembling his famous Jefferson Bible.) On the other hand, if you define “a true Christian” as a person regards the historical human person Jesus as a great moral teacher and attempts to follow Jesus’ moral teachings, many deists considered themselves to be true Christians. Some deists were of the opinion that Jesus taught timeless moral truths, that those moral truths were the essence of Christianity, and since those truths are timeless they predate Jesus’ teachings.

I have long believed that someone could look at the night sky and conclude that a deity of some sort created the universe; and that after creating the universe, this deity said, “there ya go boys and girls, do with it what you will.” This God is unknowable and non-involved in our day-to-day lives. Believe in this deity or not, it exists. Some readers of this blog will call this deity divine energy or power. Of course, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that what we call “life” is, in actuality, a Westworld-like alien game simulation. Once I was freed from the authority and bondage of the Bible, I was free to think more freely about human existence. Who knows, maybe “reality” is an illusion.

Here is my take: I am an agnostic and an atheist. I cannot know for certain whether a deity of some sort exists. It is possible, though unlikely, that a deity of some sort might reveal itself to us someday. Possible, but improbable. For me, it is all about probabilities. (And the probability of the existence of any deity, let alone the Evangelical God, is minuscule.) On the Dawkins scale I am a six. The currently available evidence leads me to conclude that there is no God or gods. I am open to the possibility of the existence of one or more deities should evidence of their existence ever be provided, but, until then, I live my day to day life as an atheist. The only time thoughts about God enters my mind is when I am writing for this blog.

That said, let me be clear: I am not an anti-theist. Some atheists are vociferously and stridently anti-religion. I am not one of them. This has led to all sorts of criticisms and attacks from what I call the fundamentalist wing of atheism. On occasion, I have had anti-theists tell me that I am not a True Atheist®. I laugh when such arguments are made, thinking, “is this not the same argument Evangelicals use against me when they say I was never a “True Christian®?”

Do all atheists rely strictly on science and history for answers?

Strictly or solely? No. Once we move from the base definition of atheism, atheists go in all sorts of directions philosophically, politically, socially, and even religiously. Yep, you will run into atheists who view themselves as “spiritual.”  I have been blogging for almost thirteen years. I have met all sorts of atheists. Recently, several pro-Trump, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual atheists/agnostics have commented on this blog. I don’t understand their viewpoints and logic, but I don’t have to. Atheists are free to meander every which way from “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” One can be an atheist and be irrational; and believe me, more than a few atheists are as dumb as rocks. Some atheists will comment on this blog and leave me scratching my head and saying “huh?” I rarely respond to such people. I let them say their piece, hoping my silence will tell them all they need to know.

This would be a good point to mention the fact that many (most?) atheists are humanists. There’s nothing in atheism that gives a person moral or ethical grounding. Atheists look to humanism to find a framework by which to live their lives. The Humanist Manifesto remains the best summary of humanism:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

To answer my friend’s question, the Humanist Manifesto states:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Do all atheists believe in evolution?

Since I am not party to what all atheists believe, I can’t speak authoritatively on the matter. I can say that all of the atheists I know generally accept biological evolution as a scientific fact. While the word “belief” can be used in a variety of ways, in the context of evolution, atheists don’t believe in evolution. Belief, in this context, much like with religion, implies the use of feelings to come to a conclusion. Most atheists I know would say that their acceptance of evolution and other scientific conclusions rests on evidence, facts, and probabilities, not their feelings.

For most of my life, I was illiterate when it came to science. I believed that Genesis 1-3 told me all I need to know about biology, cosmology, and the like. God created everything just as it is recorded in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible — end of discussion. I had a few creationist-oriented Evangelical apologetical books in my library. All these books did for me was affirm that I was “right.”  It wasn’t until I was disabused by Dr. Bart Ehrman and others of the notion that the Bible was some sort of perfect, supernatural book that I was able to question what it was exactly I believed about science.

One of the first books I read on this subject was biologist Dr. Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. Another helpful book by Coyne is titled, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. For someone still in the Evangelical tent, books by physicist Dr. Karl Giberson might be helpful: Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. Giberson’s support of evolutionary biology ultimately led to his dismissal from Eastern Nazarene College in 2011. Both Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins remain controversial figures within Evangelicalism, with more than a few Evangelicals saying that neither man is a Christian. I have my own doubts about whether Giberson or Collins are actually Evangelicals, but I am content to let people self-identify as they please.

Bruce, what do you believe about our existence?

Let me be clear, I am not a scientist. I know a hell of a lot more about science today than I did a few years ago, or when I was a Bible-believing preacher, but that doesn’t mean I can speak authoritatively on matters of science. I continue to educate myself, but at my age, I will likely run out of time before I master any specific scientific discipline. I hope that that one or more of my grandchildren will do so and become what their grandfather could not. Many of my grandchildren are straight-A students, so I have high hopes that some of them will enter STEM programs post-high school.

I know where I am lacking knowledge-wise, and I do my best to not speak beyond that which I know. Want to talk about the Bible, Evangelicalism, theology, photography, or Windows-based computers? You will find that I generally know what I am talking about. However, when it comes to biology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, archeology, and other scientific disciplines, I am, in every way, a novice. It is for this reason that I rely on experts to tell me what I need to know about science. Smart is the person who values expertise. I have certain scientists I trust to tell me the truth. “So, Bruce, does this mean you put “faith” in what they say?” Yes. Many atheists shy away from the word faith because of its religious connotations. However, I refuse to let religion hijack certain words. Faith means “confidence in a person or plan.”  There are scientists that I put great confidence in; when they speak, I listen. No, these men and women are not infallible, but they have given their lives to understanding this or that science discipline, so I trust what they say.

In Christianity, there is so much disagreement! How about among atheists?

There’s no doubt that Christianity is the most fragmented religion on the planet. I have long argued that if Christians were unified theologically that I might at least pause for a moment when considering the “God question.” However, there are thousands and thousands of Christian sects, each with its own version of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This disunity says to me that Christianity is very much of human origin.

I wish I could say that atheism is monolithic, and everyone thinks and believes the same things. Sadly, atheism is quite divided too. Not so much on the core belief: “atheism is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Every atheist I know believes this statement to be an accurate definition of their view on God or gods. However, recent years have brought attempts by some to expand the definition of atheism to include social justice issues. This spawned a group called Atheism+. While there was a moment when I thought Atheism+ might be worthwhile, I quickly thought better of it after seeing who it was that was driving this attempt to redefine atheism. Socially and politically, I am as liberal as you come, but I saw Atheism+ as a purity test; an attempt to divide atheism between us and them. I concluded that the proponents of Atheism+ were using methodologies eerily similar to those I saw in Evangelicalism. No thanks. And let me be clear to Atheism+ flag-wavers, I have zero interest in re-ligating this issue with you in the comment section. Been there, done that, still bleeding.

Here’s one thing I know about most atheists. We can heartily disagree with one another and later enjoy each other’s company at a pub or restaurant. Back in my Evangelical days, every disagreement had eternal significance. Not so with most atheists. I don’t understand how an atheist can support Donald Trump or the present iteration of the Republican party, but I am not going to let that affect our relationship (if we have one). I have booted several pro-Trump atheists off this site, not because of their politics, but because they were assholes. And as much as I hate to admit it, there are atheist assholes; people who don’t play well with others; people who think throwing feces at people on social media is “good conversation.”

I hope I have adequately answered my Evangelical friend’s questions.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God’s History Book, The Bible

Was ancient man (or mankind) intelligent? Many Christians today have unanswered questions about the authority of the Bible due to their acceptance of an evolutionary timeline of history and, in particular, their view of mankind within that timeline. If the claims that mankind emerged from the slow process of evolution are true, then the Bible must be wrong, because the biblical record tells us that men were intelligent since the day of their creation (e.g., able to converse with God, able to work, and so on).

Yet our modern society believes we are just reaching the height of human intelligence and capabilities. If we accept this evolutionary view, what do we do with the biblical account about ancient man? Is it completely unfounded and simply a myth? Or is the Bible true and verifiably so, thus making the evolutionary timeline errant?

Most secular historians have not completely ignored the record of the Bible. However, they cite it as simply a source of information (e.g., a document of men, without God). In doing so, they undermine the authority of Scripture by not placing the Bible in its rightful place. Many Christians unwittingly accept this abuse of God’s Word and furthermore even promote it! When it is assumed that the Bible is only one of many records of early man and it is placed in a timeline alongside the other legends predating it, two key points are missed:

1 God existed before creation and is the infinite, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator and, as such, He is the ultimate authority above all things (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 40:14; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 24:1).

2 The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, given to us as God spoke through human writers (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).

Therefore, God’s account of what happened at the beginning of time, and since then, is accurate and true, and it is fallible man’s accounts of history that is subject to error. No matter when in human, historic time the Bible was actually penned or by whom, it has priority over any other account. In our book, The Genius of Ancient Man, we refer to this idea as the “priority of God in sequence and time.” God predates the universe and all human history; He was actually there, and His account (which He revealed to us in His Holy Word) is the accurate one.

— Andrew Snelling, David Menton, Danny Faulkner, Georgia Purdom, Answers in Genesis, Ancient Man and Intelligence: Were People Originally Dumb Brutes or Brilliant?, December 7, 2019

Children Should be Taught Facts, not Religious Beliefs, in Ohio Public School Classrooms

creationism vs science
Cartoon by Steve Benson

Over the weekend, I spent some “quality” social media time going around and around with local Evangelical Christians about whether Christian beliefs belonged in public school classrooms. These discussions were fueled by Ohio House Bill 164 — legislation that prohibits teachers from docking points on students’ homework or tests if they answer questions with religious answers, and not facts.

The Washington Post reports:

Did lawmakers in Ohio’s House pass legislation that says it’s okay for students to be wrong in science class as long as their reasoning is based on religious beliefs?

That’s what critics in the state are saying is allowed in the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” (see text below), which passed this week 61 to 31 in the Republican-dominated legislative chamber and will move on to the GOP-controlled Senate.

….

The legislation, HB 164, would do the following if it became law, according to an analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, a bipartisan agency that provides the Ohio General Assembly with budget and fiscal analysis:

  • Allow students to engage in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork or other assignments
  • Prohibit public schools from rewarding or penalizing a student based on the religious content of a student’s homework, artwork or other assignments.

….

Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the measure does in fact allow students to answer homework questions and other assignments incorrectly, based on religious doctrine rather than science — and not be marked wrong. Cleveland.com quoted him as saying: “Under HB 164, the answer is ‘no,’ as this legislation clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.’ ”

It also quoted Amber Epling, spokeswoman for Ohio House Democrats, as saying that based on the analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, she believes students can be scientifically incorrect based on religion and not be penalized.

Numerous states in recent years have considered scores of anti-science bills — usually aimed at affecting classroom discussion on evolution and climate change. Those measures typically take one of two approaches, according to the nonprofit National Center for Science Education, which seeks to inform the public on scientific and educational aspects of controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and climate change. The first approach includes measures that aim to repeal state science standards or challenge science textbooks. The other includes legislative attempts to legitimize the practice of teachers presenting unscientific criticism of scientific principles.

….

[Rep. Timothy] Ginter said in a statement that he sponsored the bill because he believes protecting students’ rights to express their faith encourages hope in the face of violence in schools and rising rates of drug abuse and suicide.
“This bill is not an expansion, but rather a clarification, of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution and seeks to remove ambiguity for our schools who are often confused as to what students can and cannot do in regard to religious expression, by providing a pathway they can follow that keeps them within constitutional guidelines,” Ginter said.

[Gary] Daniels, who spoke against the bill to lawmakers, told The Washington Post that he was concerned the legislation would tie teachers’ hands if students ignored an assignment’s instructions and instead stated their religious beliefs. Given the bill’s vague language, Daniels said many teachers would let students’ actions slide.

“In a small town, in a small county, where these issues tend to attract more attention, how much is a teacher going to push back on a student’s religious beliefs and create a controversy in a classroom?” Daniels said.

Sec. 3320.03 of HB 164 states:

No school district board of education, governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314. of the Revised Code, governing body of a Sec. STEM school established under Chapter 3326. of the Revised Code, or board of trustees of a college-preparatory boarding school established under Chapter 3328. of the Revised Code shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.

Rep. Ginter, the sponsor of HB 164, represents the 5th Ohio House District, which encompasses all of Columbiana County. Ginter has been an ordained Evangelical minister for thirty-nine years. He received his training at Nazarene Bible College and Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. Both institutions are affiliated with the Churches of the Nazarene — a predominantly Evangelical denomination.

It is likely, then, that Rep. Ginter believes in creationism. Ginter stated in a recent interview:

Under House Bill 164, a Christian or Jewish student would not be able to say my religious texts teach me that the world is 6,000 years old, so I don’t have to answer this question. They’re still going to be tested in the class and they cannot ignore the class material.

Ginter also said:

This bill is not an expansion, but rather a clarification, of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution and seeks to remove ambiguity for our schools who are often confused as to what students can and cannot do in regard to religious expression, by providing a pathway they can follow that keeps them within constitutional guidelines.

Something tells me Ginter had his fingers crossed behind his back. Does anyone seriously believe that HB164 is anything more than an attempt by Ohio House Republicans to give students and teachers the “freedom” to insert religious magic and nonsense into science discussions?

 creationist and a doctor
Cartoon by Gary Trudeau

Suppose a teacher asks on a test this question: how old is the universe? The correct answer is: approximately 13.7 billion years old. An Evangelical student taking this test would be able to, at the very least, give the correct answer AND a wrong answer at the same time: 6,023 years old. What remains unknown is whether, due to his sincerely-held religious beliefs, the student could skip giving the correct answer, answering instead, 6,023 years old, and have it not be counted wrong. Imagine the dilemma faced by high school science teachers, especially in small, rural communities. Taking a stand against interjecting religious ignorance into their classes would surely lead to outrage from offended Evangelicals, and likely lead to their teaching contracts not being renewed. Such teachers, knowing the lay of the land, so to speak, would likely cave to pressure from creationists. Rare is the teacher willing to stand for truth when tied to a pyre and surrounded by outraged Evangelicals with lit torches in their hands.

Ohio state government is currently controlled by right-wing Christian Republicans. One need only watch what this cabal has done on the abortion issue over the past decade to see what Ohio Republicans want to do concerning “religious freedom.” They will not rest until Christian prayers are uttered by teachers at the start of each day or sent school-wide over school intercoms, teachers begin the day with readings from the Christian Bible, abstinence-only sex education is taught in health classes, and young-earth creationism and/or its gussied up sister intelligent design, is taught science classrooms. In other words, Republicans will not rest until they drag Ohio children back good old days of the 1950s.

As I discussed HB 164 on social media, I was troubled by the number of local Christians who had no problem with sectarian religious instruction in public schools. I thought, “surely even Christians can see that this bill is a bad idea.” Nope. Local Evangelicals, in particular, believe public schools need to be reclaimed for God. Sunday after Sunday, these Evangelicals hear evolution, global climate change, sex education, LGBTQ rights, and secularism criticized, condemned, and demonized from church pulpits. Putting into practice the nonsense they hear on Sundays, Evangelicals flood social media with posts and memes promoting religious ignorance. This ignorance is bound to spill over into our public schools.

HB 164, cosponsored by my representative Craig Riedel, was approved by the Ohio House and was sent to the Senate for their consideration. Similar bills have failed several times before. Here’s to hoping that this unnecessary bill follows suit. It’s up to people who truly value freedom of and from religion to insist that our government leaders not breach the wall of separation of church and state. As things stand now in rural northwest Ohio, violations of the Establishment Clause abound. The Freedom From Religion Foundation could set up a local legal office and find enough church-state violations to keep their lawyers busy for years. Signing HB 164 into law will only make matters worse.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Depressed, Repressed, and Oppressed by Jesus

creationism
Cartoon by Kirk Anderson

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Looking back on my 1988 valedictory address at an Evangelical Christian school, I would like to put my remarks into some context. Some of you may have read parts of my story in other posts, but the quick summary is that my mom and I left my abusive dad in Knoxville, Tennessee when I was three years old to live with my grandparents outside Nashville, Tennessee. My mom held some relatively progressive views on racial and gender equality, and she encouraged me to read and to ask questions. She even admitted that a lot of things in the Bible might be allegory instead of historically accurate. Sometime during my adolescence, I realized she had turned thoroughly Christian Fundamentalist, forbidding movies such as “Star Wars” which we had previously enjoyed together.

Additionally, due to rumors that students in my public school district were to be sent to a predominantly African American school district, my mom and grandparents decided to send me to an Evangelical Christian school for grades 5-12. This school taught everything from a “Christ-centered Biblical view” — which means we learned lame apologetics for Young Earth Creationism, were required to take Bible classes, attend chapel, and were forced to abide by a gender-specific dress code. I hated that school.

My grandparents were very active in the Southern Baptist church in our rural community. Grandma became a neophyte culture warrior, and Grandpa was a deacon who quietly helped anyone in the community (whether a member of our church or not) who he heard was in need. He was a master of connecting those in need with those who were willing to help. Grandpa also taught me that my education came first and that I should NEVER EVER be dependent on a man financially. His biggest dream was for me to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It became my biggest dream, too, and I determined to excel academically to make it happen.

In my endeavor to achieve academic excellence, I came to look down upon my peers as inferiors. In my estimation, popular culture was cheap, anti-intellectual, and as useless to one’s intellectual improvement as cotton candy is to one’s nutrition. However, I also grew to look down upon the pastors and leaders of our church as teaching anti-intellectual doctrine. I considered the (male) teachers at our school to be only slightly better. My viewpoint was exacerbated by my exposure to working with Ph.D. Biochemists at Vanderbilt University when I was 16 years old. My mom worked in the Biochemistry department as an administrative assistant, and due to our lack of automobiles, I had to work wherever was convenient for my family in terms of transportation. At 16 years old, I got a job as a dishwasher and lab assistant at the university. I was able to meet highly educated people from all over the world. I knew these were the people I wanted to be like, not the Christian Fundamentalists of my church and school world. However, I knew that the Christians among them were not Real Christians®, and some of the scientists weren’t Christians at all. It became difficult for me to reconcile the Fundamentalist teachings of church and school that these people were damned to an eternity in Hell with the reality that they were kind, intelligent, socially active human beings. These people became my mentors and my friends as I worked with them for eight years (two years before college, during college, and for two years afterward).

As a high school student, I did not have many friends. Students attending the Christian school came from far and wide, so some of my classmates lived a 30-45-minute drive away and I did not always have access to a car. I was not allowed to participate in activities outside school (except for piano lessons to which my stepfather drove me each week), so my goal was to excel in everything I was allowed to do. My competitive nature, coupled with my determination to gain admittance to Vanderbilt, fueled my path to academic and musical dominance. I refer to it as “dominance” because my goal was not merely to learn the material, it was to master the material and to score the highest grades. It wasn’t uncommon for me to “blow the curve” on tests, where I would score 100 and the next highest score might be 85 or even in the 70s. I was known as the “smartest” student in school, and I relished that title.

However, I was a depressed and angry teenager. I felt utterly trapped in a school where everything must fit within a “Christ-centered Biblical worldview.” For Bible class, it was easy for me to regurgitate the material. While there were gaping holes in our education about history (for example, we never learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement), we weren’t required to recount history in a particularly Christian manner — just the facts were required (the facts as they were presented, that is). And looking back, I believe our English teacher was struggling with the confines of Fundamentalist Christianity as he only preached in chapel the minimum required number of times, and he walked a fine line with the literature he selected for his classes. (Years later I heard that he and his wife divorced, and he took a job as a truck driver, traveling the country, and no one seems to be able to find him.) In most classes, there would be discussions of some sort about God, the dangers of secular humanism, the ridiculousness of evolution, and the erosion of society due to people “turning away from God.” And let’s not forget that every chapel service was a reminder that we were all filthy sinners in need of the saving grace of Jesus in order to escape eternity in hell.

I resented that my whole life was supposed to revolve around giving glory to God. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). This was one of the mantras of the school. The other was this: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 KJV). As a student, I worked hard for my success and thought I deserved recognition for it. Maybe God had given me intelligence, but I had worked hard to use it. I hated hearing all the “God talk” where people were thanking God for this or that in which humans had more of a hand than an invisible deity seemed to. These praises seemed obsequious to me, as from someone seeking favor from a deity they feared.

Students in our school were encouraged to attend Evangelical Christian universities. The administration and faculty wanted as many students to follow a “Christ-centered Biblical” path as possible, both to promote this as a benefit to prospective parents and because they felt it was the right thing to do. Many of my classmates were personally steered toward these types of universities. I was the only one who was not steered in that direction. It was also a benefit to be able to promote that not only do most students attend Christian universities and become pastors or teachers, but the academics are so sound that they can also be admitted to nationally-ranked universities.

When it was time for me to write my valedictory address, I had a lot of different emotions. I was ecstatic to finally be free of the shackles of the “Christ-centered Biblical” education and able to pursue secular education. Additionally, I still looked down on the majority of my peers who were secretly (or not so secretly) listening to rock music and attending parties — to which I was not invited — instead of forging a path for their future (in my opinion). Furthermore, I considered graduation a celebration of my hard work and accomplishments, and I wanted to make sure that was evident to all in attendance. Neither did I want to sully my accomplishments with “giving glory to God.” I was a pompous jerk, excited about having the freedom to escape Evangelical education for the opportunities available in “the world.” While I did have some trepidation about navigating “the world” — partly because I was more sheltered than my public-school-attending peers and partly because I was still afraid of what God might do to me if I strayed too far from the fold — I was glad that no one tried to stand in the way of my pursuit.

My valedictory address reflects my contempt for my peers (hence no congratulatory message to my peers) as intellectual and cultural inferiors. It reflects my arrogance in my own intelligence and willingness to read what I considered to be intellectual books outside those assigned in class. It also reflects indoctrination regarding the “evils” of rock music, premarital sex, drug & alcohol use, and divorce. However, it also reflects that I did not refer to salvation due to a return to Christian values or praying to God or any other Christian trope. I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Christian school.

At the university, I was active in the Baptist Student Union during my first two years and attended church services at a large Southern Baptist Church near campus. However, I took courses that opened my eyes to the false claims of inerrancy and literalism of the Bible, which led me to question much that I had learned in religious circles about human behaviors, and overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence contrary to Young Earth Creationism. I befriended people from different religions, people who were LBGTQ — who were cut off from their religious families for just being who they were — and people who were from different cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. Gradually I lost some of the intense fear of the Evangelical Christian God and was able to live my life freely. Again, I didn’t let the door hit me on my backside on the way out of Fundamentalist Christianity.

Quote of the Day: How Embracing Evolution Erodes Evangelical Beliefs

Acid is an appropriate metaphor for the erosion of my fundamentalism, as I slowly lost confidence in the Genesis story of creation and the scientific creationism that placed this ancient story within the framework of modern science….[Darwin’s] acid dissolved Adam and Eve; it ate through the Garden of Eden; it destroyed the historicity of the events of creation week. It etched holes in those parts of Christianity connected to the stories—the fall, “Christ as the second Adam,” the origins of sin, and nearly everything else that I counted sacred.

— Physicist Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

Dear Evangelicals, This is NOT a “Gotcha” for Atheists

teaching creationism

Several days ago, I received the following email from an Evangelical man:

So where did it all come from. The known universe before the bang?

Over the past decade, I have received scores of emails from Evangelicals posing this very question or something similar. Evangelicals think that this question is some sort of “gotcha” question atheists can’t answer; that by being unable to answer this question, atheists show the bankruptcy of atheism.

I am going to surprise the man who wrote this email by answering his question: I DON’T KNOW! No one knows where “it” came from; where the universe came from before the Big Bang. Atheists can’t answer this question, but neither can Christians. Saying GOD DID IT! is a faith claim, as is quoting verses from Genesis 1-3. To quote the great intellectual and scholar Ken “Hambo” Ham, “Were you there?” Ham loves to use this line of illogic when challenging evolutionists and other scientists. Since these learned men and women didn’t observe firsthand the beginning of the universe (and what became before the Big Bang), they can’t possibly “know” what happened. However, what’s good for the proverbial goose is good for the gander. When Evangelicals say GOD DID IT! it is fair for scientists to ask, “Were you there?” If not, then Christians cannot possibly know whether the Christian God created the universe or exists outside of space and time. These are faith claims, not science.

Of course, Ham and other creationists resort to special pleading to defend and justify their beliefs. The Bible is different from any other book, Evangelicals say. Written by God through human instrumentality, the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Thus, we can KNOW who created the universe and when and how he did it by reading the Bible! The problem with this argument is that there is no evidence for the claim that the Christian God wrote the Bible. There’s a plethora of evidence, however, that suggests the Bible is the work of fallible men. Believing the Bible was written by God and is somehow, in some way, a one-of-a-kind divine text requires faith. Deep down, creationists know this, and that’s why Answers in Genesis, Creation Research Society, Institute for Creation Research, and dozens of other groups, spend countless hours trying to make science “fit” the creationist narrative. Faith is not enough for these zealots. They desperately want respectability and are willing to lie, distort scientific facts, and misrepresent science to get it. Yet, despite all their “scientific” work, creationism remains a matter of faith, not science.

Creationists can no more answer the aforementioned questions than atheists can. The difference between Evangelicals and evolutionists (a derogatory term often used by Evangelicals as a label for science in general) however, is that scientists continue to work towards answering the question of how the universe began and explaining what existed before the Big Bang. Science may never satisfactorily and completely answer these questions, and I am fine with that. Not every question — presently — is answerable. Evangelicals, armed with arrogance and certainty, think the Bible reveals to them everything they need to know about life. “The Bible says” becomes the answer to countless complex, difficult science questions. The underlying issue is that Evangelicals need to be right; to have “Biblical” answers for every question. Evangelicals have become the insufferable man at a party who dominates the discussion and has answers for every question. Or at least he thinks he does, anyway.

Let me conclude this post with this: atheism and evolution are not the same, any more than atheism and liberalism are the same. Atheism is defined this way: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. While it is certainly true that many atheists are evolutionists and political liberals, that cannot be said of all atheists. Atheism is a singular statement about the existence of deities. From there, atheists go in all sorts of ways.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Secularism and Evolution to Blame for Mass Shootings

I mean look, we’ve taught our kids that they come about by chance through primordial slime and we’re surprised that they treat their fellow Americans like dirt. It’s time we talk about the result of the Left’s systematic march through our institutions, driving religious expression from the public square.

It’s tragic and at some point we have to realize we have a problem as a nation, and the problem is not the absence of laws, it’s an absence of morality — really, the result of a decades-long march through the institutions of America, driving religion and God from the public square.

— Tony Perkins, Talking Points Memo, Fox News Guest Blames Mass Shootings On Fact That Evolution Is Taught In Schools, September 2, 2019

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheism is Dying Says Catholic Zealot Shane Schaetzel

shane schaetzel

Want to read a primer on “Bad Christian Arguments Against Atheism?” Just read Catholic Zealot Shane Schaetzel’s post titled, There is a God. Here’s an excerpt of Schaetzel’s “brilliant” prose.

The defining religion of the 20th century was Atheism. I say “was” because even though the number of Atheists continues to grow in Western civilisation, the idea itself is obsolete. While the mantra of the 20th century was “God is dead,” the mantra of the 21st century will be “Atheism is dead” and that will be painfully obvious within a few decades. Before its end, the 21st century will become the most religious century in modern history.

The Atheism of the 20th century was defined by the ideas of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx in the 19th century. From these two men, the Marx-Darwinian ideology would spawn the systematic murder of over 100,000,000 people in the 20th century under Communism and Nazism. (And that’s not even counting the wars spawned by these ideologies, which amounted to over a hundred million more.) The bloodiest century in the history of the world was given to us by institutionalised Atheism. No other century can compare, and if we add up all the casualties and holocausts caused by religions throughout the history of the world, they don’t hold a candle to the bloodbath given to us by Marx-Darwinian Atheism.

Atheists have been with us since the dawn of time. There is really nothing new about the idea of Atheism. What made the 20th century different, however, was the militant nature of the Marx-Darwinian brand. You see, prior to the 20th century, Atheists were usually just considered the typical village idiot. Every village had one, just like every village had a town drunk. Often they were the same person. However, in the 19th century, with the publication of just a few widely popular books, Karl Marx was able to give Atheism a systematic social-political worldview, backed by the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. This gave Atheism an appearance of social-political-scientific legitimacy. In other words, Marx and Darwin made it intellectually fashionable to be an Atheist. I say the “appearance” of social-political-scientific legitimacy because as science, politics and sociology would later discover, it’s just an illusion. The end result was the worst bloodbath in the history of the world, lasting a whole century, coupled with the complete destruction of Western Civilisation (Christendom) and the apparent ascendancy of Islam as a major world religion. For the first time in a thousand years, we are now looking at the real prospect of Europe becoming a new Islamic stronghold, all thanks to the century-long progression of Marx-Darwinian Atheism.

….

While mainstream society continues to follow the obsolete 19th-century scientific basis of Marx-Darwinian Atheism, it’s just a matter of time before mainstream society eventually catches up with 20th-century science. When that happens, and it’s already starting, Atheism will be put back on track to becoming the rare and comical ideology of the village idiot. Just give it a hundred years. By the dawn of the 22nd century, the world will be more religious than anything we’ve seen in centuries.

— Shane Schaetzel, Complete Christianity, There is a God,  May 1, 2018

Quote of the Day: Dr. Jerry Coyne Reviews Michael Behe Latest Book — Darwin Devolves

dr jerry coyne

Excerpt from Jerry Coyne’s Washington Post review of Michael Behe’s latest defense of creationism’s sexy sister, intelligent design.

The notion of “intelligent design” arose after opponents of evolution repeatedly failed on First Amendment grounds to get Bible-based creationism taught in the public schools. Their solution: Take God out of the mix and replace him with an unspecified “intelligent designer.” They added some irrelevant mathematics and fancy biochemical jargon, and lo: intelligent design, which scientists have dubbed “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

But the tuxedo is fraying, for intelligent design has been rejected not just by biologists but also by judges who recognize it as poorly disguised religion. Nevertheless, its advocates persist. Among the most vocal is Michael J. Behe, a biology professor at Lehigh University whose previous books, despite withering criticism from scientists, have sold well in a country where 76 percent of us think God had some role in human evolution.

….

Like his creationist kin, Behe devotes his time not to giving evidence for intelligent design but to attacking evolutionary biology. As Herbert Spencer said, “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” But Behe’s theory, promulgated by the Discovery Institute, Seattle’s intelligent-design organization, does demand support. Who, exactly, is the designer, and what evidence is there that this designer makes nonrandom mutations? Is the designer an immaterial god, in which case we need to know how this god violates the laws of physics by causing mutations, or is the designer material, like a space alien, in which case we must understand the physical methods whereby aliens change our DNA?

And what is an example of a designed mutation? (Behe is silent here.) Since humans are placed in the same family as other great apes (Hominidae), Behe’s theory predicts that we arose without a designer’s intervention. But here he backpedals, asserting that there are “excellent reasons to suspect those differences [between humans and other apes] are well beyond Darwinian processes.” Sadly, he doesn’t give these reasons, but I’d guess they stem from the Christian belief that Homo sapiens is a special creation of God. Such ad hoc claims, derived from religion, explain why intelligent design has been deemed by the courts as “a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

In 1998, the Discovery Institute drafted the “Wedge Document,” a secret plan (leaked in 1999) to spread Christianity in America by teaching intelligent design and fighting materialism. One of the plan’s 20-year goals was “to see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.” Well, now it’s 20 years on, and despite the efforts of Behe and other neo-creationists, intelligent design has been discredited as science and outed as disguised religion. It’s no surprise, then, that “Darwin Devolves” was published by HarperOne, the religious, spiritual and self-help division of HarperCollins.

You can read the entire review here.

Books by Dr. Jerry Coyne

Why Evolution Is True

 Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

Books by Dr. Michael Behe

 Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution

Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution

Quote of the Day: Where Morality Comes From

dr jerry coyne

With few exceptions, most scientists and philosophers think that morality is at bottom based on human preferences. And though we may agree on many of those preferences (e.g., we should do what maximizes “well being”), you can’t show using data that one set of preferences is objectively better than another. (You can show, though, that the empirical consequences of one set of preferences differ from those of another set.) The examples I use involve abortion and animal rights. If you’re religious and see babies as having souls, how can you convince those folks that elective abortion is better than banning abortion? Likewise, how do you weigh human well being versus animal well being? I am a consequentialist who happens to agree with the well-being criterion, but I can’t demonstrate that it’s better than other criteria, like “always prohibit abortion because babies have souls.”

— Dr. Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, More science-dissing: WaPo’s misguided criticism of “scientism”, January 29, 2018

Recommended Books by Dr. Jerry Coyne

Why Evolution is True

Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

My friend Bob Felton recommends the book The Ethical Project by Philip Kitcher

Amazon’s listing says:

Principles of right and wrong guide the lives of almost all human beings, but we often see them as external to ourselves, outside our own control. In a revolutionary approach to the problems of moral philosophy, Philip Kitcher makes a provocative proposal: Instead of conceiving ethical commands as divine revelations or as the discoveries of brilliant thinkers, we should see our ethical practices as evolving over tens of thousands of years, as members of our species have worked out how to live together and prosper. Elaborating this radical new vision, Kitcher shows how the limited altruistic tendencies of our ancestors enabled a fragile social life, how our forebears learned to regulate their interactions with one another, and how human societies eventually grew into forms of previously unimaginable complexity. The most successful of the many millennia-old experiments in how to live, he contends, survive in our values today.

Drawing on natural science, social science, and philosophy to develop an approach he calls pragmatic naturalism, Kitcher reveals the power of an evolving ethics built around a few core principles—including justice and cooperation —but leaving room for a diversity of communities and modes of self-expression. Ethics emerges as a beautifully human phenomenon permanently unfinished, collectively refined and distorted generation by generation. Our human values, Kitcher shows, can be understood not as a final system but as a project the ethical project in which our species has engaged for most of its history, and which has been central to who we are.

Other Books by Dr. Philip Kitcher

Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism

 Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith

Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism

“Bruce, Have Fun in Hell” Says an Evangelical Man

the missing linkRecently, an Evangelical man by the name of Steve left the following comment on the post titled, An Atheist Thanksgiving:

You went from being unsaved to a flat out reprobate buddy. You rejected the God of the Bible to believe you evolved from a rock which came from and explosion 13.8586.678 billion years ago. I agree that these old IFB pastors you pick on all the time have no spine and are just in it for the money but to believe you came from a monkey which nobody has ever seen a monkey turn into a human! Never! You just traded one religion for another. You traded Paul the apostle for that Pedo Richard Dawkins! Have fun in hell buddy

I will leave it to Brian — a former Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher’s son — to answer Steve’s comment:

I read Steve P’s post sentence by sentence and tried to find even one sentence that approaches an accurate statement. I was unable to see even one in the lot. Accuracy/truth seems very unimportant to Steve P. Is this true belief in God, this parrot-dull squawking? (with apologies to parrots, who at least make their dull repetitions entertaining!)

Some day, perhaps, Evangelicals will realize that threatening me with their God’s judgment and Hell has no effect on me. The only God I fear is Polly and the only Hell I know is Trump’s America.