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?

Criticizing science

It seems like a lot of Christians love to criticize any science that conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible.  There’s a problem with that though.

Most of us are not equipped to have a proper in-depth understanding of scientific concepts.  When it comes to subjects such as nuclear physics, neuroscience, evolution, or cosmology, we can have an understanding of the basic concepts, but when it comes to a comprehensive understanding, the professional opinions of those who are qualified to hold them are what actually matter.  The rest of us can have discussions on the findings and opinions of qualified professionals, and even bring up questions or objections, but again, we should defer to those who are qualified.

Creationists try to circumvent this by attacking the scientists and their “worldview”, their “bias”, or their “presuppositions”.  They attack rather than simply proving their god assertion and they don’t listen when told why these attacks are wrong.  If they could prove any of their claims then they simply would.  If they had evidence then they could just show it to everyone and we’d all believe, except we wouldn’t call it belief, we’d call it knowledge.

Most are just intellectual vandals, chucking rocks at hard won scientific knowledge.  They don’t contribute anything; they just yell “nuh-uh” and run away with their fingers in their ears so they don’t hear why their criticisms are wrong.  Some try to argue or debate, but when their arguments don’t work, they either keep yelling “nuh-uh” endlessly, or move on to their next canned argument that’s already been disproven, unfazed that their trail of previous arguments didn’t work.  Some try to play at science, but find themselves at odds with the vast majority in their field.

When it comes to evolution or the Big Bang, the “scientific dissenters” are not the rebels who will turn out to be right.  Creationists had their time.  Human beings have believed in gods and the supernatural since we began to be able to form ideas.  I think we could say that almost everyone who has ever lived used to believe in creation in some form or another.  Now we know better.  Science has shown all those myths to be incorrect.

We could just point and laugh but the problem is that they influence other people who are ill equipped to understand why the good Christian scientists telling them what they want to hear are wrong.  Confirmation bias meets persecution complex, so naturally the revolutionary ideas are being suppressed.  More than just ill equipped, most don’t WANT to hear why they might be wrong.  Most think it’s preferable if their god exists so it must be true and they’ll listen to whoever agrees.

So if you have an objection to science, go find some evidence for your objection or come up with an alternate hypothesis and then prove it.  You can participate in the process, but you better know what you are talking about if you want to be taken seriously.  Hell, one of Stephen Hawking’s theories was proven wrong by Leonard Susskind, originally a plumber from New York. But Susskind did actual scientific work.

If Christianity is true

If Christianity is true… Wait, calm down everybody, this isn’t going to be Pascal’s Wager, I promise.  Hang on though, first a little background, and the motivation for this direction of thinking.

My wife and I have three amazing kids.  Four year old twins and an almost three year old.  We deconverted about a year and a half ago, and I am so incredibly happy that we left Christianity when we did.  We never began teaching our kids any kind of religion, and they won’t be taught, at least not by us.  We are raising them as freethinkers.  We encourage them to reason things out on their own, and when they ask questions, we try to give realistic answers.  These answers need to be age appropriate, of course, so it’s not always easy to figure out the best approach.  If they ask where babies come from, well… we don’t feel a need to launch into an anatomy lesson then straight into sex ed.  It’s more along the lines of “well, babies grow in mamma’s tummy”.  That’s usually good enough.

They recently asked about death though.  That’s harder.  A lot harder.  We watch a lot of science and nature shows, and some of them involve animals doing what animals do: hunting other animals.  They’ve also seen dead birds and the like.  They’ve stepped on bugs.  They get that animals are alive, and then at some point, they aren’t.  We didn’t choose to teach them about death, but dammit, they’re smart.  They figured it out on their own.

They also put two and two together and asked if they’re going to die.  We told them that everyone dies, and that yes, someday, a long long long long long time from now, they will die.  One asked if her body will fall apart and will you be able to see her bones (where they come up with this stuff I don’t know).  But she doesn’t want her body to fall apart.  Well… you won’t know.  It’ll be like you’re asleep and you just won’t wake up.  At that point she seemed satisfied and ran off to play again.

It was heartbreaking.  Should we have comforted them with a myth that they’ll have some kind of afterlife where they go to a happy happy joy joy place to play with Legos forever?  Is it easier for Christian parents to give a shrink-wrapped feel-good answer that makes everyone happy and everybody can move on?  It seems clear that it is easier at the moment, but is it better?  Does it ultimately help?  Is it a positive thing?

I submit that it is not.  Belief in an afterlife doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and ultimately, even if not right away, there will be more questions surrounding the idea of an afterlife.  And of course the ultimate goal of Christian parents is to teach their children Christian beliefs.  But is that a good thing?

If Christianity is true (and for the sake of argument we’ll assume that the Christian god is good and moral) then believing in and teaching Christianity would be good. In fact it would be the best possible thing one could do. Not believing would be terrible. Of course Christian parents believe that what they are teaching their children is true.

On the other hand, if Christianity is not true, then believing in it would be a negative thing. What’s more, teaching children to believe:

    • There is an invisible being in the sky who watches us every moment of every day
    • We are born broken and can never please this being
    • We must beg forgiveness for simply being born
    • We can be convicted of thought-crime
    • We can be sent to hell to be tortured forever
    • We can pray to alleviate our guilt for, and avoid consequences of, bad actions
    • Angels and demons exist and evil spirits can tempt you or even possess you
    • We should devalue our life now in favor of another one after we die
    • We must devote time and money to a church organization

If the Christian god does not exist, teaching children these things would certainly be a terrible thing. In fact I think any reasonable person would conclude that if these things are false, then teaching them to children would amount to no less than emotional abuse. I can hear the objection from a Christian parent now though.

“So you think I’m abusing my child?”

While some atheists would, I would not go so far as to say Christian parents are abusing their children by teaching them to believe in Christianity. I would draw a distinction between that and an abusive SYSTEM, of which the parents are also victims. Christian and atheist parents are equally capable of loving their children, and they want what’s best for them.

So we have two sides. Christianity is either true or it is not. If it is true then believing and teaching it is very good. If it is not true then believing and teaching it is terrible. Now what?

Provide evidence. If Christianity is indeed true, and the claims of the Bible are true, then evidence should be no problem. Not only that but there should be no evidence of any kind that contradicts the Bible.

Yet despite all the yelling and screaming from the Ken Hams and Eric Hovinds of the world, much of the Bible is still either not evidently true, or evidently not true. There is far from sufficient evidence to support the extraordinary claims of the Bible. Were such evidence available, every rational atheist would cease to be an atheist.

That’s the funny part.  I know of Christians who say nothing can change their mind.  They say they know they are right, and will deny anything that may indicate their belief could be wrong, including science and even reality itself.  Rational atheists, on the other hand, will readily change our views if provided evidence.  It doesn’t matter what we want to think, we will accept what is indicated by evidence.

So why doesn’t their “evidence” convince us?  Because none of it is logically or factually sound.  Of course, Christians will disagree.  Since is seems convincing to them, there must be some other reason, but that’s another post.

But until we have some reason to think Christianity may be true, we will continue giving our kids answers based in reality, and I think that’s better.