“Are you still searching?”

I’m occasionally challenged by religious folks as to whether I still question God’s existence, or if I’m still “seeking”. They ask if I’m at all “skeptical about evolution”, or other similar questions. These sort of questions betray their inability to understand that other people have good reasons for their beliefs (or non-beliefs), and how stuck they are in their own belief that they simply must be right. Then if you don’t get that, there’s something wrong with you. The irony is that it’s basically odds-on that they don’t question like they think you should.

See, here’s the thing; I’m always open to any new ideas or evidence no matter what the idea is or how crazy it may be. But being open-minded and a good skeptic doesn’t mean constantly questioning every idea there is. It means being open to new information.

Let me to toss out a few ideas here to help illustrate:

  1. I don’t believe any gods exist.
  2. I believe evolution is the process by which all life came to be as we know it today.
  3. I believe the Earth revolves around the Sun.

In my mind, from my accumulated knowledge and experiences, these three things are equally correct. I’m not going to sit around like a moron all day and ponder whether the Earth really revolves around the Sun. This is a settled question. What if there were new evidence presented that, in fact, the Sun revolves around the Earth? Well that would be some amazing evidence. I would consider that evidence, and, if it were convincing, I would change my mind. But I feel no need to seek out such evidence. There are things in life that I just don’t feel a need to constantly question.

It’s the same with evolution. Evolution has been proven time and time and time again, and has withstood all attempts to disprove it. It’s done. It’s settled. It’s what happened. We know it happened, just as we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. If some new evidence came out that disproved evolution, then I would consider it, and, if it were convincing, I would change my mind. But all we ever get are the same old tired arguments against evolution that have been answered, disproven, or are just nonsensical.

The same with the existence of gods. Done deal. New evidence or arguments? Okay, bring it. But until/unless that happens, I don’t need to go out of my way to question if the Earth revolves around the Sun… er, I mean… if a god exists.

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William Lane Craig’s blather about Ryan Bell

So I was thinking about what William Lane Craig (I know, I know) had to say about Ryan Bell and the his “year without God”. Spoiler alert: Ryan Bell now identifies as an atheist and we’re quite happy to have him. Shortly after Bell originally announced his experiment about a year ago, Craig had this drivel:

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually. But I wonder how he is going to live? A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning. I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church? Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

But let’s unpack this.

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually.

Oh of course! Honest and open inquiry is just no good at all. I’m confused though. We keep hearing about how obvious it is that a god exists, and that Christianity is obviously true. So why should this sort of thing be a problem? Why are the concepts of god and Christianity so frail as to fall apart given simple and honest questioning?

A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning.

I’m constantly amazed that apologists and their kind seem so intent on telling atheists what we should believe. Not only is it insulting, it’s just plain wrong, and it makes him look incredibly ignorant.

I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church?

Now here’s where the mega-eye-roll starts, and this is sort of my main point. Among former believers who are now atheists, I know of no one who fits what Craig is saying. I know of no one who decided to care less about social justice after deconverting. Most former believers I’ve talked to care far more about those issues now (myself included). Realizing that we’re on our own, and have a responsibility for each other, and that there’s no sky daddy watching out for us, is a big realization.

Many atheists actually have a far better sense of social justice that includes, oh you know, LGBT rights and equality.

And is he actually serious about the treatment of women? That seems like a very poor choice for an example, given what the Bible has to say about treatment of women. I think we’ll stick with our non-biblical treatment of women as equal human beings, not property. I’d go into it but wow would this be a long article. But let’s see… here’s a short version and a long version.

Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

And we come full circle, back to the appeal to consequence. This is such a ridiculous and fallacious argument. Even if it were true that atheism leads to moral nihilism and utter despair and kicking puppies, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Why Craig constantly insists on this argument is just baffling. It’s literally logic 101.

Now, a couple things. Yes, I realize that there are atheists who are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people. I don’t personally know any, but yes, they exist. There are people who think that atheism means they can do whatever they want and that nothing matters. Again though, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Those people are wrong, and if they harm others, we can correctly take action against them.

I also realize my tone toward Craig may be a little aggressive in this article, but wilful ignorance just really bothers me. I know some other atheists will disagree with me here, but William Lane Craig is a very intelligent man. I know it’s popular to talk about what a blithering idiot he is, but it’s simply not true. He’s very intelligent and accomplished, but that makes it all the more frustrating that he uses such obviously wrong arguments, and that he continues to use them after being told why they are wrong, based on facts and/or logic.

All in all, I think Ryan Bell had a pretty good year. I saw no disaster.

Hey, wait a minute… (atheist Bible study, Genesis 2:2)

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

-Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

Christian fundamentalists take Genesis literally. In fact, they take Genesis so literally that they deny any and all evidence for anything that contradicts their hyper-literal interpretation, including well established scientific facts like the age of the Earth, and evolution.

Genesis 2:2 says God rested from the work of creation. But an omnipotent God wouldn’t need to rest, so this clearly can’t mean what it literally says. I’ve heard a couple explanations for this.

Having grown up Seventh-Day Adventist, with the seventh day Sabbath being one of the most important “pillars” of belief, that was clearly God giving an example. Of course he didn’t need to rest, but he was showing us what we should do. So that one verse is metaphorical. Apparently Genesis must be taken hyper-literally when talking about creation, but when it gets inconvenient, it’s suddenly metaphorical.

The other common explanation I’ve heard is that “rest” (originally “shabat” in Hebrew) is a mistranslation. The ancient Hebrew language used to write parts of the Bible (along with Aramaic and Greek) had fewer words than modern languages, so the meanings of words back then were less precise in many cases. One of the definitions of the original Hebrew word was simply “to cease or to stop”. So God didn’t rest because he was tired, he just stopped creating because he was done.

Furthermore, while the Bible says “the evening and the morning were the 1st [etc] day”, the Bible says no such thing about the seventh day. The seventh “day” is still going on. We’ll set aside the problem of an omniscient God allowing such a mistake in his perfect book.

Again, how the hell have they determined that the “days” of creation were absolutely literal 24 hour days? It seems to be very important to them, since it factors in to calculations to conclude that the Earth is 6,000 years old. But of course when it gets to the seventh “day”, that goes out the window. Go figure.

So why do they hold so tightly to literal 24 hour days for creation, but suddenly for the seventh “day”, it becomes not an actual “day”? Sure seems like a whole lot of people believing what they really want to be true, and explaining away any problems.

In Defense of Believers

I’ve been thinking lately about how a lot of atheists seem to view believers, and it’s not pretty. I’ve heard a lot of atheists call believers stupid, and there seem to be a lot of atheists who think studies have proven that believers have lower IQs. These studies are dubious, and even if there were some link, correlation is not necessarily causation.

Most religious people aren’t stupid. They don’t automatically have lower IQs. From my observation, many Christians in the US are generally ill informed about opposing views, or they have a strong need to believe for any number of reasons (they want to see grandma again, or they can’t understand morality without a god, can’t wrap their head around naturalistic origins, etc).

Most of them are indoctrinated (you could call it brainwashed) from a very young age, and religion certainly thrives on fear. Fear of hell, fear of being a bad person, etc. Fear is a strong motivator to do or not do something… or to continue in a belief in spite of doubt. Many believers never truly consider other points of view, but dismiss them out of hand. They are quite ignorant about other religious beliefs, and the fact that generally a person’s religion is overwhelmingly determined by their geography.

Again, none of this is meant to be insulting, nor is it meant as a blanket statement for all believers, but it is my observation. Cognitive biases can be very difficult to overcome, and when I talk about people being ignorant, that’s not an insult either. We’re all ignorant about a lot of things. With all the available knowledge in the universe, we’re actually all incredibly ignorant about most of what there is to know. I’m ignorant about knitting, nor do I have any desire to learn about it. Does this make me stupid? I don’t think so.

Some believers do realize that they should be able to rationally defend their beliefs, and venture into the dark forest of apologetics. Of those who do though, almost all of them seem go check out what apologists say, and it sounds logical to them, so they stop there. This is confirmation bias, and it’s a common thing for people to do, not just Christians. It’s human nature to group together with those who think like we do.

Those are just a few reasons why believers aren’t all big dumb stupid idiots.

I do want to make a distinction between religious idiots and the rest of them. There are those who I would call idiots, and some are idiots AND outright dishonest, like Ray Comfort and Eric Hovind. Ray and Eric and their ilk use deceptive tactics like quote-mining, emotional arguments, strawman arguments, and other fallacies. They have engaged in arguments and formal debates, and have been told so many times why they are wrong, yet still continue to say things those same things. That’s dishonest, and they are big dumb stupid idiots (or scammers, take your pick).

Now don’t get me wrong. This is all just my position on this, and I’m not the thought police or the tone police for atheism. I think we should stop calling religious people stupid as a blanket statement, but of course everyone is free to do as they like. I will say though, that dismissing people because you think they’re stupid isn’t likely to help anything. Do I occasionally go off and yell about creationists? Oh yeah. But in general I try not to. My views of religious people are evolving, and I think in a better and more productive direction.

10 Questions For Every Atheist

Well here we go again.  Another Christian website has come out with an oh-so-scary list of 10 Question For Every Atheist.  The list is actually ripped off from an atheist blogger, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that he DID answer them in his article.  They didn’t mention that, but only linked his original article at the bottom of their post.  I almost didn’t see it.

Ironically, the list as presented on todaychristian.net is preceded by “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”  The key word here is “honestly”.  Unfortunately they have demonstrated that they have little interest in honesty.

But off we go with their questions.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Finally understood the burden of proof, and realized no religion has any proof.

2.       What happens when we die?

We go back to what we were before we were alive: nothing.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Oh look, Pascal’s Wager. Never heard this one before.

I’m guessing I probably won’t have much say at that point. Due the question being asked by Christians, I’m guessing they are assuming their version of the afterlife according to the Bible is the right one. In that case it seems that I’ll be unfairly judged as to whether or not I was gullible enough to buy into nonsense that has no evidence.

A question in return though: what if you die and it turns out out the Muslims were right, or the Jews, or the Hindus, or another of the thousands upon thousands of religions?

There are numerous other reasons why Pascal’s Wager fails, but I think that’s enough for now.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

The same place we all get it from: the evolution of our species into a social group that is better adapted to survival by cooperation, based on an understanding of the nature of reality, that our actions effect others, and a sense of empathy. All of this is a result of evolution.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

No, and if you need a god to tell you that, you’re broken. See explanation in #4. You’re less likely to want to cooperate with somebody if you think they’re likely to kill or rape you, which means they’re less well adapted to survive and pass on their genes.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

It has whatever meaning I choose to give it, which is far better than an arbitrarily assigned meaning.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

Big Bang.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

What miracles? Name one that can be objectively verified. How do you even define a miracle?

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Great people with great ideas, from whom I’ve learned a lot. I agree with most of their ideas but not 100%.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

While most societies do have some sort of religion, not all do or have. Religions seem to originate in order to explain things we don’t understand or cope with things that are scary.

Now, the questions that they’ve ripped off from an atheist blogger have been answered YET AGAIN, and are being answered by atheists all over Facebook now.  I get that they don’t LIKE the answers, but the questions have been answered ad nauseam, despite the claim that they can’t be.  I wonder if they’ll stop using the questions now?

Heretics go to church: Riverpark Bible Church

So today we went to church.  It’s been a while, for obvious reasons (we’re atheists).  We’ve decided to start going from time to time, for a number of reasons.  First, we’re interested in what people believe and why, and we want to keep up with the current state of religion.  One of the best ways to do this is to go to church.  It’s partly just for entertainment, and it’s also harder for Christians to criticize us for being closed mined if we’re going to church.  And who knows, we may learn something new.

Our basic rules for ourselves are that we will dress appropriately and be respectful.  We aren’t trying to be disruptive or stand out.  We’re going to their house.  We will blend in as best we can, shake hands, etc, but if asked questions regarding our beliefs we will be honest.  We will sit in the service, stand when appropriate, and be respectful for prayer or whatever else.  We won’t participate in prayer; that would be dishonest of us.

So for our first church service since deconverting a little over a year and a half ago, we chose Riverpark Bible Church, a member of the Conservative Baptist Association of America.  No special reason; the church is near our house, it’s a good time in the morning, and Baptist is kind of middle of the road for Christianity.

We attended service at 10:30 am, Sunday the 29th of June, 2014.  We’ve driven by this church a million times, but hadn’t realized how big it was.  It’s a nice modern facility.  We went in and did the usual awkward hand shaking that visitors do, got our bulletins, and found a seat in the back.  Interestingly, nobody really tried to engage us.  I suppose it’s because it’s a large-ish church and nobody really knows who the visitors are.

The music was good.  They had a small orchestra and a choir, lead by a director.  The choir robes were maybe a little outdated, but it’s church, so what do you expect?  I would have killed for a setup like that when I was involved in church.  The usual song service went on, interspersed with offering and announcements.  The presentation was well planned and slick.

One of the announcements was about a “matter of church discipline” to be part of the evening service tonight.  That concept always seemed bizarre to me in today’s world, and I’m tempted to go see what that’s all about, but one church service is enough today.


 

Sermon summary

The sermon was titled “Fireproofing”, based on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (KJV):

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

1 Corinthians was written by Paul as a letter to the church at Corinth, which he had founded, and was going astray.  The particular verse is a metaphor talking about how Jesus is the foundation of the church.  The pastor made a point that many churches are departing from Jesus as the foundation, in favor of a fluffier message for today’s society.

I always find it curious when Christians pick on each other.  They essentially all say “we have it right and if you’re not doing it our way you’re wrong”.  The point was that as long as Jesus is the foundation, then whatever else is built on that is okay, but then he still went on to say that others were doing it wrong.  Other churches are church in name only, but we’re going it right.

The metaphor continues with the selection of building materials.  Among the selections are “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble [or straw in the NIV]”.  Then the day will come when the building will be tested by fire.

Despite the impracticality of building an actual building with gold, silver, and/or precious stones, and the contrast of using obscenely expensive materials with the poverty message elsewhere in the Bible, the point stands.  Quality materials will survive and inferior ones will not.  Okay, so now what?

The inferior building materials were compared to “education, grades, a good job, and the American dream”.  The point wasn’t that those things are bad, but that the emphasis should be on following Jesus.  As an atheist I obviously think it insane to put priority on the feelings of an imaginary being that can’t be proven, over quality of life (for ourselves and others) for the one life we do know we have, but if you buy into Christianity I suppose this is valid.  So build with the superior materials of glorying Jesus above all.

Okay, so far so good with regard to Christianity and the message of the Bible.  Then it took a truly bizarre turn.

There are a number of verses in the Bible referring to the judgement seat of Christ.  Without going too much into it (because this is already more of a Bible study than I meant to do), there seems to be consensus that the judgement seat is for Christians only.  I guess the rest of us will be dead already (the modern concept of hell is not from the Bible).  So now Christians will be judged.

The assertion in the sermon was that everyone who has made it that far is already saved and will spend an eternity in heaven.  So what’s the judgement?  It’s not how bad you were, but how good you weren’t.  Yes, I’m confused too.  Apparently those who did really really good things (and the right kind of really really good things) will get great rewards.  Those who weren’t as good will get the cheap seats, or as the pastor put it (and he did say this was just his opinion) they will suffer embarrassment.

The problem is that there isn’t supposed to be suffering in heaven.  If some get better rewards, then those who don’t would be in a lower position.  What is the point of better rewards?  To elevate those who receive them.  If some are elevated, others are lowered by comparison.  Those who are lowered will suffer to some degree by being in a lower position.  If there is no meaningful difference between different positions, then there is no point.

Verse 15 says the builder will suffer loss but still be saved.  But there cannot be suffering in heaven.  Revelation 21:4 (KJV):

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

If there can be no sorrow or crying or pain, then there can be no “suffering loss”.

So for those who have asked why we are going to church, this is one of the major reasons.  Our first time out and we discovered a major contradiction that we weren’t aware of before.

But it was a good experience.  We learned something new, had a great discussion after, and just had fun.  Hit the “follow” button to get updates on our adventures, and other articles.

Bulletin - Riverpark Bible Church

Religious “crisis”

About 12 years or so ago when I was still religious, I had a “crisis”.  I had a sudden realization that I didn’t really know if God existed.  I was pretty upset and barely holding back tears as I talked to a friend about it.

He had a story about having a big crush on a woman he worked with and God helped him not cheat on his wife.  Now, it’s great that he didn’t cheat, but I now see that story means zero as to proving God’s existence.  But back then, I had what I wanted: a “reason” to keep believing.  So I went on my way with my confirmation of what I wanted to believe.

I didn’t know not believing in God was an actual option.  To the extent that I may have thought about that possibility, I guess I thought it would make you a bad person.  I don’t recall if I even knew the word “atheist”.

I don’t know if my faith ever really recovered after that.  I’ve come to see that belief is not a black and white issue.  We “believe” many things to varying degrees of certainty, and what we may think we believe… well, we may or may not.

I was recently in a discussion with a Christian pastor relative.  We’ll call him Bob.  Bob said he wished I had talked to him when I was “teetering” toward non-belief, and he could have answered the “intellectual obstacles”.  Could he have?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  My wife talked to her dad, a pastor with a doctorate in theology and an emphasis on counseling.  His answers to her “intellectual obstacles” were absolute garbage.  Then he got angry and stopped talking to her.  I had expected a better argument.

Bob has experience in apologetics though, while I don’t think my wife’s dad does.  It seems prevalent these days and is probably a standard part of theological training.  So could Bob have brought me back?  Again, I don’t know.  At that point I didn’t really have a big desire to believe.  I didn’t want to NOT believe, and I didn’t know then how vile religion and the god of the Bible are, so I really just wanted to know what was actually true.

After I deconverted, I started looking into the apologist arguments.  Some of them seemed like they could be valid.  Others I knew weren’t, but I couldn’t figure out why.  That’s the main strength (possibly only strength) of apologetics: to bamboozle with bullshit.  So I researched and found that none of the arguments for God are valid and sound.  They can sound good if you don’t understand them, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.  It could be true that what we might classify as a god does indeed exist, but regardless, all apologist arguments I’ve seen to date are invalid.

Obviously we’ll never know what could have happened.  My feeling is that my deconversion may have been delayed, but the train had left the station.

But this is why it is important to raise awareness of atheism.  Had I known it was an option, I may have left the faith all those years ago.  I probably knew people who were atheists but I didn’t realize.  Knowing that people you associate with: friends, family, co-workers are leading happy and productive lives without a belief in a god may be the most valuable tool there is.

Not everyone can openly state they are atheist.  Many could face reprisal, hostility, or outright aggression.  It is still not safe for everyone in every situation.  Some may lose friends or family or even jobs.  There are very real consequences.  All those who can be “out” and open help in working toward making the world a safer place for other non-believers.

I wonder how many people are out there, unaware that not believing in a god is an actual option?  I wonder how many do realize they don’t believe, but don’t feel safe?