Believers take note – if you are presenting your beliefs to those who don’t already share them (atheists, agnostics, or members of any religion other than your own), you must be prepared to offer evidence for your claims. Expect to have your evidence critically examined before being accepted. If you cannot make your beliefs appear reasonable to an outsider, then perhaps you should re-examine them yourself. (The idea of applying the same skepticism to our own beliefs as we do to the beliefs of other faiths is known as the ‘outsider test for faith’. The phrase was coined by John W. Loftus in his book of the same name.)
HAAM’s Pat Morrow recently examined the evidence for God offered by a Christian apologist who visited one of our outreach booths. Did it pass the ‘outsider test’? Keep reading…
Got a Claim? Let’s Hear It!
Very often, during our summer outreaches, we get folks offering claims for their many beliefs, which range from the possible to the absurd. Some claims I dismiss immediately as nonsensical, or file under “not worth my time to research” (e.g. flat earth, moon landing hoax, Jewish zombies walking around Jerusalem). Many visitors make claims of a theological nature, and explain that they have evidence for their claims, they just can’t recall it or don’t have it with them. This is OK, as I wouldn’t be able to produce the all evidence for my beliefs on demand either.
Usually at this point, I offer them a business card, ask them to email me their info and the evidence for their claim, and tell them that I will be happy to read it. This is not to dismiss them; if someone is willing to offer reasonable evidence for what they believe, I will read what they have to say. It’s just rare that anybody actually follows through and sends us the information, and when they do, it’s often just the latest book title of some Christian apologist trying to make 500-year-old arguments relevant. (Example: At another outreach, we had a Muslim who claimed scientific “truths” in the Quran. I asked him where to find them, and he sent me a link to a three-and-a-half-hour video of Muslim apologist Zakir Naik! That is not what I would consider reasonable.)
We met Gord at our Morden outreach this summer. An older gentleman who spent a little more than an hour at our booth, he is a Christian who holds the type of views on women’s rights and science that make a Humanist’s blood boil. Fortunately, that evening our booth was attended by two young women well-equipped for that discussion, one being a scientist, and the other well-versed in the abortion debate through having worked for a women’s rights organization. I’m sure Gord would disagree, but his argument was lost seconds after he stated his position. For my part, throughout our galloping discussion I tried to make note of the arguments he was putting forward for each of his views. Which essentially broke down to these:
- DNA is mentioned in the Bible. (DNA as proof of God)
- Human life begins at conception. (abortion is bad)
- Slaves were treated well in the Bible. (the Bible is good)
When I asked for the evidence for each of those claims, he said of course – the answers are in the Bible, and he would send them to me. Unlike most Christians who say they’re going to send me something, to Gord’s credit he actually did. This is his letter (real name redacted)
We were discussing DNA. David said “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing”. Psalm 139:16.
The Mosaic Law clearly revealed that life begins, not at birth, but much earlier. It showed that killing a fetus could incur the death penalty. Note this law “You must give soul for soul” (Exodus 21:22- 23) Thus, the unborn child in the womb is alive and is a living soul. See what Job says at Job 31:14-15.
While Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins Jehovah uttered a prophecy about the two boys struggling in her womb suggesting that he already saw traits in them that would have far- reaching effects. Genesis 25:22-23 and Romans 9:10-13.
That slaves were treated well. Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:42-43, and Deuteronomy 15:12-18.
I respect a person’s choices in life; however, if we want to get life we need to follow the words in John 3:16 (please read).
Setting aside the Bible, could truth or evidence for anything be groomed from the writings of the largely anonymous authors of a 1700-year-old book, of which we have no original copies? But Gord was talking about the Bible, so I thought it would be worth looking at the Biblical evidence for each of his claims.
1. DNA is mentioned in the Bible (DNA as proof of God)
Gord offered Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes looked upon my embryo, and everything was recorded in your book. The days scheduled for my formation were inscribed, even though not one of them had come yet.” (ISV) It is interesting that Gord quoted the only translation that uses the term ‘embryo’. It’s also worth noting that the wording would suggest that if one has lived 0 days one is not yet alive. It seems that a verse that is supposed to prove that DNA is mentioned in the Bible actually supports the idea that life does not begin at conception. Other translations are similar:
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”. (NIV)
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (NLT)
“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them”. (NASB)
In much of Christian scholarship, Psalm 139 is used to support the belief that God knows us well and has a plan for us even before we are born. How someone manages to see it as a reference to DNA is unconvincing to say the least, and stretches credulity to its absolute limit. Sorry Gord, but if your god wanted us to know about DNA he could’ve described it a lot better.
Of course, as with many who engage in apologetics there is always the risk of getting a case of “the CLAT’ (Christian Lag in Apologetic Timing), a phrase I coined to describe the interval of time between new scientific knowledge and the development of an apologetic for it; that dark time between an empirical discovery and when apologists match it to a verse in the Bible. Famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig has had ‘the CLAT’ for years with no sign of relief. ‘The CLAT’ is evident in Gord’s argument, as DNA is not the mystery it was 30 years ago. We have an excellent understanding of how DNA could have developed (and probably did). Apologists are usually not familiar with RNA World theory, which says that RNA came first, and protein and DNA were later developments. The perceived probability of RNA developing naturally in an Origin-of-Life scenario got a big boost in 2009 with the publication of a newly-discovered pathway, described in Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions by Powner, Gerland & Sutherland, (Nature 459, 239-242 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08013). Or to put it in the simplest of terms, DNA can develop on its own; no god required.
2. Human life begins at conception (abortion is bad)
It was hard to pin down Gord’s exact positions on this one, but he offered as evidence Exodus 21:22-23 – “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.” (KJV) Interestingly, scholars and translators cannot agree on the meaning of ‘her fruit depart from her’. (The original Hebrew translates literally as ‘so her children come out’.) Does this refer to a miscarriage, or merely a premature birth? The answer depends on which translation of the Bible you read. The punishments are outlined in verses 23-25, but the phrase ‘soul for soul’ does not appear in any of these translations.
Regardless of interpretation, this passage demonstrates that an unborn child /foetus / baby is of less worth than that of the woman. A “life for a life” applies only to the woman; whereas the loss of a foetus (“ the fruit”) only requires a monetary penalty. But don’t take my word for it – here is a fairly short article that explains the verse from the religion that actually wrote the Old Testament and understands ancient Jewish law.
3. Slaves were treated well in the Bible (the Bible is good)
“Slaves were treated well” Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:42-43, and Deuteronomy 15: 12-18.
I think it’s important to look at these verses to see what Gord’s idea of “treated well” is. These are verses that many fundamentalists and evangelicals cite, but they either don’t read them or don’t understand them.
It’s important to understand that there are two types of slavery in the Bible – one in which a Jew enslaves another Jew, and another where a Jew enslaves a non-Jew. Exodus 21:2-6 deals with the former.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave and they had sons or daughters, then only the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” (NLT)
You’ll notice the verse doesn’t say very much about the treatment of slaves other than that they can go free after seven years. What is interesting is what is allowed by this perfect, all-loving moral lawgiver that Christians call a god.
1 You can own other people as property. This alone would have God thrown into prison in today’s society.
2 The loophole. Giving a male slave a wife while in slavery virtually guarantees the man’s servitude for life, as the wife and any children remain the property of the slave owner. This is absolutely immoral to us today, but it was A-OK by God. Popular Christian apologetics state “well this was for a different time” and “you can’t judge scripture by today’s morals”. This puts Christianity in a difficult position, as it makes people nowadays more moral than the God of the Bible. If this is the case, why do we need God?
Gord ignores the rest of Exodus 21. Verses 7-9 explain how to sell your daughter into sex slavery properly.
Verses 20-21 tell us how much force God allows when we beat our slaves. Verse 26 gives us pointers on how to beat slaves. (Hint, stay away from the head.)
In the end, Exodus is probably the worst book of the Bible to demonstrate that “slaves were treated well”, as Gord stated. I would invite him to actually read it.
Gord’s second offering, Leviticus 25:42-43, regarding the enslavement of non-Hebrews, doesn’t get much better: “The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly.” (NLT) Sounds pretty good eh? Almost like God is against selling people as slaves… till you read the next bit: “However, you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.” How, and in what context, is purchasing human beings treating them well?
Gord also offers Deuteronomy 15:12-18, which is a biblical cut past job of Exodus 21:2-6, just a slightly extended version that applies only to freeing Hebrew slaves. Non-Hebrew slaves will never have the chance for freedom. I won’t bother to go into it but I do invite those interested to have a look. Reading the Bible online at Bible Hub or Bible Gateway is recommended, as with these websites, you can easily compare a variety of translations.
So what is to be made of all this? Gord, like so many Christians who believe their god and his word is perfect, are blinded by their faith. They either twist themselves in knots to justify their beliefs, or simply ignore large portions of Scripture. If Gord had actual theological training, I would be tempted to accuse him of lying for Jesus. Unfortunately, as with many evangelical Christians, one must consider them victims of those who do lie for Jesus. Gord is free to believe whatever he chooses; however, he is perpetuating a myth that corrupts his moral compass, causes him to believe the absurd, diminishes his respect for human beings and makes him ignorant and ill-informed about science and human rights.
Eternal Life – Gift or Threat?
Gord leaves us with the scriptural passage seen on everything from billboards to American football players – John 3:16 – and asks us to read it, so I did. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) I don’t know what Gord figured I would get from this verse. To a Humanist, it is at best unconvincing and nonsensical; at worst, it’s threatening and immoral.
First of all, who wants eternal life? I mean, we might find something to do for the first thousand years, but the next billion? trillion? It’s really not something I would look forward to. Knowing our lives are finite is one of the ideas that makes life worth living. This life is too precious to spend it worrying about the next one. Frankly, living forever would be, well, depressing.
In Christian theology, God is the creator of all things, including the rules that we are supposed to live by. This god felt that the best way to atone for people breaking the rules that he created was to slowly torture a human being as a blood sacrifice. I think that any reader of this article, Christian or not, could come up with better, more moral ways to fix the problem, if they were given the opportunity to play the role of a loving, omnipotent god. Especially if they had fabricated the problem themselves in the first place. In the end, John 3:16 really only demonstrates that people today have better morals then the god many of them believe in.
Christians also claim that this murder / torture / death is a free gift that God gives us so that we can have eternal life and be free of our sins forever. However, if we read a little further on, to John 3:36, we find that if we don’t accept this free gift – if we don’t believe in Jesus Christ – we will suffer God’s wrath, which, for many Christians, means burning in hell forever. God comes off as a sort-of mafia boss here, essentially saying ‘Believe in Jesus and accept the gift of eternal life, and if you don’t I’ll blow your brains out’ (ii.e. send you to Hell). Doesn’t exactly make it a gift, or free, does it? Sounds more like extortion.
As with most Christians, Gord’s not a bad guy. I would invite him to read his Bible without the help of priests or apologists. He just may find that it is not the moral word of God that it’s purported to be. In fact, he may come to the realization that many of us have already reached – you can live a better, more moral life without it. – Pat Morrow
What the Heck is ‘Evolutionary Creationism’?
At the beginning of the documentary Losing Our Religion, philosopher Daniel Dennett says “Religion Is going through a profound revolutionary period and we’re right in the middle of it”. I agree, and I think this is happening on many fronts and in many religions. Just recently, I had a front row seat to view a small part of this revolution. I attended a lecture titled Beyond the ‘Evolution vs Creation’ Debate, hosted by the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, at the U of M.
The speaker was Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux, who holds three doctoral degrees (in dentistry, theology, and biology). No one who attended could forget that, as he brought the point up several times in his lecture. He’s a self-admitted Bible-believing, born-again, Evangelical Christian. He is also an evolutionary creationist, which, as he stated during his talk, “sounds like an oxymoron” (probably because it is). Evolutionary creationism is defined by Dr. Lamoureux as the claim that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process”.
Dr. Lamoureux explained that the lecture he was presenting that evening is one he gives to his first-year university (theology?) students. It is specifically designed to help Christians who struggle with the concept of evolution. That point that would become blatantly obvious during the course of the evening. We were given handouts to follow along.
A Few Definitions
Before we go much further, we need to review some of the definitions included in Dr. Lamoureux’s handout. Curiously, I found some of them just accurate enough to support his argument.
|Dichotomy||Division of an issue into two simple positions
Caused by ‘black-and-white’ & ‘either/or’ thinking
|Secular Humanism||Belief that humans alone determine morals|
|Conflation||Sloppy blending of distinct ideas into one simple idea|
|Teleology||Belief the world has plan & purpose|
|Dysteleology||Belief the world has NO plan & purpose|
|Evolution||Scientific theory that natural processes over billions of years produced all living organisms, including humans|
|Creation||Belief that the world is the product of the Creator|
A False Dichotomy?
Lamoureux began with the problem of conflict between science and religion that he believes many people become stuck in, and he spent the bulk of the lecture attempting to explain how this is a false dichotomy. He didn’t clearly define either religion or science, other than to state that one tells the how, the other tells us the who. Nor did he define another popular word used throughout the lecture – faith. This would have been a helpful clarification; instead, this oversight allowed him conflate all three into one sloppy mess. If one were to believe the ideas put forward in this lecture, every idea is faith-based to varying degrees – religion, science, even atheism – thus validating his assertion that the religion vs. science debate is a false dichotomy.
But science vs. religion is NOT a false dichotomy. Science is a process used by humans to give them an accurate picture of the universe. Data (evidence) from this process contributes to the body of knowledge that we also call science. With that knowledge, we can build a better mousetrap, or a better, more moral society. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief system based on assertions, moral proclamations, and faith. Faith, as defined in the Bible, is belief without evidence.
Science in the Bible
I think Dr. Lamoureux understands that religion and science are very different things. To his credit, he stated several times during the course of the lecture that the Bible is not a book of science. But then he confused the issue by claiming that the Biblical model of a three-tier universe (with waters below, a flat circular earth, and more water above, held in the sky by the firmament) can be considered “ancient science”, when in fact it’s not science at all but ignorance. The writers of the Bible knew nothing of hydrology, geology, or the laws of planetary motion. For them, the earth was a flat circle, because that’s what it looked like. The ocean was blue and so was the sky. Water fell from the sky so there must be an ocean up there. Such beliefs were considered common sense at the time, but they were not based on science. The authors of those passages didn’t test their observations or engage the scientific method. Opinion and navel gazing are not science.
I can see why Dr. Lamoureux developed this lecture for Christians struggling with evolution, because when you believe you have the one true religion, you’re stuck in a simple either/or position. Many Christians find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose either reality or superstition. Dr. Lamoureux tries to remedy this cognitive dissonance by blending reality and superstition – often with absurd results.
Does this look like it was well-designed?
One of the possible solutions Lamoureux offers is that evolution is teleological (with a plan and purpose). He gives no evidence for this, of course. I believe that evolution is dysteleological (without plan or purpose), as this seems to be where the evidence leads. One just has to look at the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe, and see how it makes a 15 foot round trip from the brain, down the neck into the chest cavity, and back up to the larynx. From a design point of view, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – but it makes perfect sense when one understands evolutionary biology. There are thousands of other examples which demonstrate that if there is any divine design, plan, or purpose to biological evolution, the designer is confused (or just an idiot).
Are Scientists Still ‘Keeping the Faith?’
Lamoureux frequently made statements like “This scientist believes in God and he’s a Christian” or “That theologian believes in evolution”. I suppose that was for the benefit of the crowd of Christian attendees, but really, science doesn’t care what you believe. I wasn’t surprised at Lamoureux’s Christian bias; he made it clear that he’s a Christian and that the lecture was intended to help Christians. However, I was surprised at the lack of effort spent on attempting to understand science vs. the time devoted to explaining theology. He did finally get to some science… kinda. He cited a study which he claims shows that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal God. The study (Larson and Witham, 1997) was published in the journal Nature. I was unable to read the original article as it is stuck behind a $200 pay wall. However, I was able to garner information from one secular source and the many, many Christian sources that reference this study, and they generally concur.
The study was titled “Scientists are still keeping the faith”. Larson sent out 1,000 surveys to randomly chosen scientists listed in the index of “American Men and Women of Science”, a database of more than 120,000 leading scientists in the USA and Canada. The report of the study indicates that “more than 600” of the surveys were returned; since we don’t know the exact number, we’ll go halfway between 600 and 700 and say that 650 were returned, for a response rate of approximately 0.54% of the 120,000 scientists the study defines as leading. So Dr. Lamoureux is basing his claim that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal god, on a 20 year old study with a less than 1% sample of said scientists.
Personally, I would feel less than honest, extrapolating to that extent using an old study with such a small sample, and without knowing more about the methodology (perhaps religious scientists were more likely to respond?). But I can see where faith would help one to believe it.
Does any of this even matter?
During the talk, I found myself wondering “What’s the point of bringing up so many scientists?” The theme of the lecture was science vs. religion, not scientists vs. religion. Science is the best process for discovering what is true about the natural world, and it is a self-correcting method that consistently gives us accurate, reliable results. This is in contrast to religion, a faith-based process that relies on the unfalsifiable to assert a ‘truth’ that could mean anything. What people believe on faith has little or nothing to do with testing what we can know though reason, evidence and experimentation. If this lecture taught us anything, it is that human beings are quite adept at compartmentalization and carrying two or more contradictory beliefs with little discomfort.
Another sizable part of the evening was spent listening to Dr. Lamoureux speak about his personal journey. This was also where the presentation started to take on the feel of a standard Christian apologetics conference. Like many apologists, throughout his lecture he used Richard Dawkins as a yardstick to measure all atheists by, and to represent what they believe. Which I suppose might not be so bad, except that he often got what Richard Dawkins believes, wrong.
We heard how young Dr. Lamoureux left Christianity and became an atheist, just like Richard Dawkins. In his own words, “by 1977, I was Richard Dawkins“. His journey to atheism started in his early university at dental school. He relayed the story of how he treated women badly (“If anyone was to treat my sister the way I treated women, I would phone up my three brothers and go see this guy”). Then there were the drugs and parties that left him feeling his life was vacuous, empty, and unclean. He found Jesus while in the army, and apparently sealed the deal by reading the Book of John. He later discovered young earth creationism, but in 1994 settled on his present theological position as an evolutionary creationist.
Nothing New Here
Lamoureux’s story is remarkably similar to other apologists who relate stories of when they were atheists – all their stories carry the same account of immorality and emptiness. This is not to doubt his own account of his life, but his testimony is so common that one could turn its major points into a checklist (and some of us do!). It would be my suggestion that Lamoureux’s ill-treatment of women and feelings of emptiness were not due to his atheism, but possibly that he was simply a misogynistic asshole in his younger years.
The Q & A
A good Q & A can add greatly to the substance of the presentation. Through unscripted answers, one can get a feel for who the presenter is and the quality of their argument. Points that I like to consider in a Q & A are
- are the questions answered directly?
- Is a question sidestepped or given a long rambling answer?
- are concepts explained clearly, or are they obfuscated?
A Historical Adam and Eve?
The first question asked was about Dr. Lamoureux’s stance on Adam and Eve, since we know from genetics, geology, anthropology and other sciences that we did not all come from a single man and woman. (The geologic record shows that there were millions of animal species long before the first humans showed up. If Adam and Eve had been on the planet at the time of creation, human bones should be discovered alongside stegosaurus and trilobites.) Dr. Lamoureux never did answer the question, but he offered several possibilities, none of which he actually committed to endorsing. It’s worth noting that, as a scientist, he still even mentions some of these possibilities, since science has already demonstrated that the Biblical Adam and Eve never existed.
1 Adam and Eve have no connection to evolution.
2 God picks two pre-humans (Australopithecines? Homo habilis?) and instills spiritual characteristics, moral culpability and the Spirit of God
3 Many Adams and many Eves evolved, whole populations of them!
4 The Genesis 2 story is an allegory containing “spiritual truths”, and didn’t actually happen.
It is noteworthy that the only one of these possibilities for which there is evidence either way is the first one. He does suggest a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam to further explain this conundrum, if readers feel so inclined.
Is anyone here a physics major?
We also we heard the standard question “how could the eye evolve” and other similar topics, which I felt that someone with a PhD in biology could have answered quite a bit better. Then we had the still-popular Second Law of Thermodynamics question, asked by an Evangelical high school teacher (for Pete’s sake!). I was saddened to find that Lamoureux, with all his experience and education, was unable to give any answer beyond asserting that evolution doesn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since this this such a common creationist argument, I will offer an explanation.
Creationist argument: The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy (disorder) increases over time. The development of complex plant and animal life from inanimate chemicals requires an increase in order, which violates this law. Therefore, a complex system of life requires a Creator or designer. **Insert chosen god here**
Scientific response: This law only applies to an isolated system, where no energy or matter leaves or enters. The earth is not an isolated system – it is an open system. It receives outside heat and light from sun, allowing life to arise and fueling simple organisms so that they can become more complex. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were right – it’s not the son that is God but the sun is God?
There’s a simple, short explanation of this argument and response in the following video clip.
Misrepresenting an entire Community
Probably the most disappointing part of Dr. Lamoureux’s lecture was his misrepresentation of the atheist / Humanist / secular community – our community. This is where when he went full Christian apologist, and distorted what most of us believe. The misrepresentation starts very early on in the lecture; if you look under the last column (dysteleological evolution) on his handout, he makes some blatantly false assumptions. I’m sure if we searched hard enough we could find an atheist or Humanist who fits Lamoureux’s description, but it would be near impossible. I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for all Humanists, but I can provide a better explanation of our beliefs than the what’s in the pigeonhole that Lamoureux, with his kindergarten-level understanding of atheism, puts us in.
Here are some of Dr. Lamoureux’s assumptions about what atheists believe. I won’t touch on all of his points, just the more problematic ones.
1 There is no plan or purpose to the universe. He’s quite correct on this point – basic elements, noble gases, and rocks have no minds so they cannot form purpose. However, when those elements and noble gases come together to form life, those life forms (such as animals), can form a plan and purpose.
2 Design is a delusion. Nope, we see the appearance of design in many things. We just don’t believe it requires an intelligent designer.
3 The universe and life developed through natural processes and blind chance. Despite Lamoureux’s conflation of Big Bang cosmology and abiogenesis, he’s wrong on both counts. Random chance may play a part, but we simply don’t know how it all started.
We know that abiogenesis (the beginning of life) must have started with simple chemicals. Elements bond together, so it may be that given the right conditions, the development of life is the inevitable consequence of chemistry. If that’s the case, then life will develop wherever those conditions exist in the universe, making this a natural process – not blind chance. There could be thousands of planets with life of some sort; we just haven’t discovered them yet.
Throughout the lecture, Lamoureux referred to atheism as a world view. I pressed him on this point during the Q & A, as atheism is not, and has never has been, a worldview. According to Lamoureux, he tells his students that atheism is a claim that there is no God, and that it’s a claim based on faith. He asserts that atheism is a metaphysical claim, the same as his Christian faith. This is an incorrect accusation, based on what is known as ‘strawman apologetics’. In an attempt to shift the burden of proof, he completes this misrepresentation by asserting that Richard Dawkins holds this view. I pointed out that Dawkins does not state decisively that god does not exist, and that Dawkins lays out his views quite clearly in his book The God Delusion (page 50).
Lamoureux then went on to explain to me – an atheist – what the word ‘atheist’ means. “’a’ meaning ‘no’, and ‘theist’ meaning ‘God’”, he said; in other words, he defines atheism as the assertion that there is no god. His definition is just correct enough to support his claim. However, the prefix ‘a’ can mean ‘without’ as well as ‘no’, so the word ‘atheism’ only refers to lack of belief in god(s), not necessarily a declaration that there aren’t any. Matt Dillahunty does an excellent job of explaining this on the Atheist Experience TV show.
Other definitions that might be helpful
Atheism: godless, without a god; from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos). Derived from the prefix ‘a’ (without), and ‘theos’ (god). This is the definition HAAM uses in our outreach.
Theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods. Merriam Webster (MW)
Atheism: lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods (MW)
Atheist: A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods. (Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com, and others)
When we see the way that the Greek prefix ‘a’ used in other words, the fallaciousness of Dr. Lamoureux’s argument becomes apparent. The word asymmetrical (not symmetrical) does not imply that symmetry does not exist, nor does the word atypical (not typical) mean that typicality does not exist. I would ask Dr. Lamoureux – does apolitical (not political) mean there is no such thing as politics?
Taking the High Road
Unfortunately, even after explaining that one can’t make a world view out of a singular disbelief; after demonstrating (and having him agree) that atheists can have fundamentally opposing worldviews; and after demonstrating that Richard Dawkins, the poster child he uses for atheism, doesn’t hold the beliefs the beliefs that Lamoureux claims he does – Lamoureux continues to use his own definition of an atheist.
Despite this obvious dishonesty, we as Humanists will continue to do our best to take the high road and engage with religious people based on what they do believe, rather than what someone may assert that they do (or don’t) believe. Who knows, maybe Dr. Lamoureux will invite me to his church and we can dance and “take up snakes” together – oh wait…
The March of Progress
Dr. Lamoureux opened his lecture with a lengthy quote from Thomas Henry Huxley, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. The quotation was used to demonstrate that Huxley was stuck in a false dichotomy between science vs. faith, when he was really just describing the real dichotomy between science and superstition. A portion of the quote really resonated with me – “…history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”
One just has to look at the various arguments put forward by holy men over the last thousand years. As science has progressed, one by one they have all had to bow to the nature of reality. As scientific discoveries stack up, it has always been religion that has eventually had to adjust to new knowledge; never in human history has it been the other way.
Religion loses every time
Religion, especially conservative Christianity, is losing the battle on every front, and has been for a long time – consider interracial marriage (1950’s/60’s) women’s rights and contraception (60’s/70’s) abortion (70’s), gay rights (80’s), marriage equality (2000’s), or the right to an assisted death (2010’s.) Religion’s loss of the power it once had means that it can no longer dictate what is right, what is true, and what is moral. Religious leaders spend much of their time trying to reconcile their supernatural beliefs with scientific reality.
In this lecture I heard a self-proclaimed Evangelical, conservative, born-again Christian state that Genesis is probably allegory, Adam and Eve may not have existed, and the concept of original sin may be a just ‘spiritual truth’. Talk about being “forced to retire”! Some of the basic tenets of Christianity, which people were tortured and killed over for millennia, are now just fluffy ‘spiritual truths’, to be interpreted freely. Indeed, this religion is going through some profound changes.
Many religious people, especially in conservative and Evangelical Christianity communities, have come to understand that to remain relevant in the modern world, their unfalsifiable supernatural beliefs need to adapt to what can be empirically demonstrated. For me, this was the take-home point of the evening. Despite the shortcomings of this lecture, I really hope that Christians will continue the conversation. I will share the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation’s work with the many young earth creationists we encounter during our outreach efforts. If they can reason a few more folks out of believing in a literal Bible; if they can get believers to dump science denial and accept the realities of the natural world; if they can help to render Christianity less harmful – then they will accomplish a great deal in making it a better world for all of us.
Honest dialogue is needed
Finally, a few words of warning to those who engage in spreading misinformation and disinformation about non-believers. Atheist and Humanist organizations are filled with former Christians as well as apostates from other religions. Many of those people join partly because they investigate atheism and Humanism on their own, and find out they have been lied to about our community. Atheist, Humanist, and similar organizations are growing. If we want to ever be able to have an honest dialogue and an open exchange of ideas, religious organizations, apologists, and folks like Dr. Lamoureux need to stop misrepresenting who we are and what we believe. Until they’re able to do that, they will simply perpetuate the stereotype of Christians who engage in lying for Jesus.
– Pat Morrow
A curious and committed group of HAAMsters attended the debate Human Rights: By Design or By Default at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in July. It was part of an apologetics conference, so they were greatly outnumbered by the 400+ Christian conference attendees.
It was worth going just to support and hear Dr. Christopher DiCarlo, representing the Humanist position.
Luke Delaney took on the challenging task of reviewing the evening. Here are his insightful comments.
Are ‘Design’ and ‘Default’ the only options?
Before we go any further, this title irked me a smidgen (or more), mostly because I knew who, or rather which organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada), came up with that title. It’s typical of the ‘design’ posse to assume that the antithesis of design is default or chance. But, well, I decided to bite the bullet, buy a ticket, and drive to Winnipeg to root for the ‘default’ side, like I always do, by ‘default’.
Driving up to the museum is always a treat; it’s a beautiful building, both architecturally and in what it stands for – human rights. In the hall, it was nice to see a substantial crowd and, alongside the two info tables for the speakers, a third for the heathens (HAAM). It was the setting for a great evening, with, hopefully, an intellectual discussion (this early on, I was clearly being quite optimistic).
After a musical performance by Don Amero, and the introductions, Dr. Andy Bannister took the stage for his presentation on the side of ‘design’.
Dr. Bannister, the director of the Solas Center for Public Christianity (Solas CPC) and a well-known Christian apologist, started off his presentation with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which appears in the first preamble of that document, “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
While he agrees with ‘equal and inalienable’ rights, he questions the source of the word ‘inherent’, asking the question, what makes humans inherently equal? Before getting into his reason as to what makes humans equal, he sets up a list of ‘incorrect’ arguments for equal rights (assuming that those ARE arguments for secular human rights). This list includes, among others, the circular argument that ‘rights exist because they exist’ and ‘human rights are a human invention’. He then goes on to present his ‘apologist’ reasoning for equal human rights, quoting Genesis 1:27, ‘God created mankind in his image, male and female he created them’. This statement, he claims, solidifies the fact that all humans are equal and should be, hence, treated equally. Nothing circular in that argument – God said so because God said so because God said so.
Now, in my opinion, Andy could have very well stopped right there; what else is there to say, once you’ve determined how all humans are judged to be equal? His argument begins and ends at, because God (or more accurately, the Bible) says so. By presupposing that the Bible is the word of God, and that Genesis 1:27 is a direct quote from God, what else is there to argue or discuss for the side of human rights by design? Well, like all apologists, Andy goes on to explain why secular reasoning for equal human rights is wrong and inadequate.
The most echoed of his arguments is the species/human spheres assertion, which you can find in this ‘Short Answers‘ video from Solas CPC.
In short, to paraphrase Andy, he claims that, in the larger sphere of all the species that exist on Earth today, secularists have picked a smaller sphere (of humans) within that sphere and assigned rights to them. In other words, he was pointing his finger towards species-ism (the rights of one species are greater than the others), and also implying that this logic could give rise to smaller groups within the human sphere claiming to have special rights.
Here’s my rebuttal to that argument.
- The argument of species-ism does not favour one side over the other, when we talk of design vs default. Both sides are guilty of this, in fact design more than default, because God says in Genesis 9:2-3 that ‘everything that lives and moves will be your food…’. So, from a design perspective, why do animal rights count?
- That being said, from the perspective of the other side, the secular side, Andy mistakenly confuses the order of the spheres. We don’t look at all the species and then say, ‘human’s rights over others’; on the contrary, we start with human rights as the minimum and then slowly expand that sphere to include other species. This means that groups of humans cannot claim special rights that infringe on other humans. ALL human rights are included in the minimum.
The rest of Andy’s argument was spent just trying to drive this point home; that secularists don’t have a basis for considering all humans equal and thus have no sound reasoning for human rights. He spends the rest of his discussion quoting great minds like C.S. Lewis, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Harris, etc. to make his point that in the absence of any shared humanitarian values, the only answer is God-given value. What he fails to address, and for obvious reasons, is how God, in both the Old and New testament, allocates unequal value to groups of humans, which goes against his premise that God created all men equal.
Or By Default?
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo was next on stage with his presentation on the side of secular human rights, or the ‘default’ side. Dr. DiCarlo is an advisory fellow for the Centre for Inquiry Canada and a philosopher of science and ethics. He is also the founder of Critical Thinking Solutions and author of the bestseller ‘How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions’.
Dr. DiCarlo starts off by laying the foundation for the reliability of science and then segues into how science has provided us with an extremely high probability of our origin as a species. This leads to his trademark phrase of four words, We are all African! This is straight out of his article in the June/July 2010 publication of Free Inquiry (Volume 30 Number 4), published by the Council for Secular Humanism. (You can find a copy of that article here). Christopher’s premise is that, over generations, going back to early hominids, there is evidence that humans have always shown a strong kinship. We begin by looking after our immediate family, then expanding that circle to extended family, neighbours, local communities, fellow country people etc. He goes on to say that, if, using science, we can educate the world about the evidence showing that we, as a species, are all related, share a common ancestry, and evolved out of Africa (We are all African), then the case for a species-kinship writes itself. In his discussion, and in his article mentioned above, DiCarlo states:
We are all African. With these four words,
- We see a genetic coalescence of the human population.
- We are all humbled… Because we are connected in lineage by common ancestry, all human life is equally valuable.
- We are equal, for we have been liberated from any self-imposed ideas of importance or special designation.
- We see that racism is a human invention.
With the end of Christopher’s pitch, the evening moved into a Q & A between the two speakers. My memory fails me as to who went first, but Andy’s question to Christopher reiterated what he had said before – why humans and not animals? Perhaps to avoid giving Andy a lesson in basic logic and reason, Christopher merely said that, (to paraphrase) “We are in the museum of human rights, and today’s topic is about human rights, that’s why”. That promptly silenced Andy, and Christopher took the opportunity to question the morality of the Bible, the source of Andy’s claim for human rights. Christopher brought up verses from Exodus and Hebrews, and the story of Moses and his violent acts. Andy danced around the question, deflecting to the New Testament and Jesus and claiming that the Old Testament was written in a different time etc. He even attempted to accuse Christopher of antisemitism (for bringing up the subject of Moses and the Jews, especially in the human rights museum), which I found very unprofessional of him.
After that short round of back and forth, the microphone moved to the audience to allow attendees to ask questions of the speakers. Most of the questions directed to Andy got the same deflections and dancing around on topics about violence and the lack of mention of human rights in the Bible, both Old and New testament. One question got a very honest and rational response from Christopher. Going back to the beginning of his pitch, Christopher mentioned how interesting it would be if the speakers exchanged sides and had to argue for the opposite side. The question to him was, if the sides were indeed changed, what would be his argument about the violence in the Bible. His response was, (to paraphrase) “I would study the writings carefully and come to the reasonable conclusion that the Bible is not a good source of morality or human rights. I would be honest about that part”.
For me, that was a perfect ending to the evening. ‘Design’ did not offer a sound justification for its argument, and ‘default’ demonstrated clearly why it is indeed the default side.
A Biblical Challenge
During a conversation with a Christian at our outreach booth in Steinbach, I cited Numbers 31 (in particular verses 7-11 and 17-18) as an example of Yahweh’s cruelty in the Old Testament. She informed me that the pastor at her church had explained away all the concerns about that chapter in a recent sermon. When I challenged her to help me understand the context in which such passages could be considered worthy of a loving god, she declined, stating that she could not remember the details of his sermon but that I should watch it on the church’s website and learn for myself.
So I did. It’s Sermon #5 of a series by Pastor Kris Duerksen of Southland Church in Steinbach, addressing “tough questions” in the Old Testament. I listened to all of it, and then the first section of Sermon #6. The Bible passages examined in this series of sermons used to be largely ignored by Christian churches, but that’s no longer possible because they are now being posted and discussed all over the internet.
In the introductions to these two sermons, Duerksen stated that certain Bible passages have become the subjects of “attacks on our faith” from people outside the church, and also, increasingly, the topics of struggles with their faith expressed by those inside the church. He mentioned that “if you look online you’ll find all kinds of stuff…”, and acknowledged that much of the OT is “disturbing”, but that non-believers are “taking it out of context”. He and other members of his congregation have heard people claim that the god of the Old Testament is genocidal, cruel, and misogynistic. (I wonder where they heard that?) He expressed the hope that after this sermon series, members of his church will have “total confidence” that their god is a good god, “even if it doesn’t convince an atheist”. Methinks Christians are becoming a little defensive.
Here are a few of the highlights of what I heard. My comments follow in italics. But it’s worth listening for yourself and forming your own judgements.
June 4th 2017 – Is the God of the Old Testament Genocidal?
Yup, it sure is. That’s why he’s now in the position of having to defend this horrible book.
He then stated “The OT does not in any way promote slavery.”
“…probably the most offensive passage in the entire OT… (is) Numbers chapter 31. I personally know of someone who has actually left the faith, and blamed Numbers 31.”
I would actually argue that Numbers 31 is only one of many offensive passages in the OT. How about the story of Jeptha’s daughter (Judges 11:29-40)? But OK, Numbers 31 is right up there.
Duerksen continued “God authored this book through his holy spirit and he wasn’t embarrassed to have these things in there…”. Then he began his defence, stating “there is no one-line answer for a passage like this… It is a piece of a much bigger story… If you take a piece out of the middle of a story, you can make it say anything you want.” He illustrated that with a humorous but irrelevant example, and then asked his audience to look at the arc of the storyline. “The main character is God – what’s his goal?”
The context of this story, according to Duerksen, is not just the chapter or the Book of Numbers, but the entire Bible. The story arc begins in Genesis 12 with God’s covenant with Abraham. Duerksen asserted that God created the nation of Israel because he wanted to bless and save all the families of the earth, and God’s promise including granting the Israelites the land of Canaan, so it had to be cleared to make way for them. He continued with “Through the nation of Israel will come Jesus, who will save all the people of the earth who accept his name.” He stated that “God is absolutely determined to make this promise come true.” Then he jumped ahead to the conclusion of the story in Revelation 7:9-10, with people from all nations standing before the Lord. Promise fulfilled. So obviously God loves every ethnic group and is committed to saving and blessing them.
Now that I see the context in which apologists view this story, it does make more sense to me. But that doesn’t make it any less violent or cruel. Duerksen is using the excuse that the end justifies the means. Really? That defence has been used by a lot of ambitious, ruthless, tyrants… like Yahweh. Who cares how many people you harm or kill in your quest for power and control? As long as you achieve your goal in the end, they are just ‘collateral damage’.
The thing is, the massacre described in Numbers 31 has nothing to do with God needing to clear the land of Canaan for the Israelites. Midian isn’t even part of Canaan. The bloodbath in this chapter is the result of Yahweh’s petty grievance against the Midianites described in Numbers 25. So Duerksen is creating a red herring in this sermon, directing his parishioners away from the real cause of the genocide.
Other troubling issues – Duerksen excuses the genocide of the Canaanites in the OT because at the end, in Revelation, they will be rewarded in the next life. As if their lives on this earth didn’t really matter – that’s sick. And did you catch that Jesus will save only those who accept his name? That sure leaves a lot of people out – not just those who reject him, but those who never heard of him and those who died before he arrived on earth.
Duerksen went on to explain the circumstances surrounding the genocide of the Canaanites. He claimed that Yahweh’s goal was to drive them out, not exterminate them. His goal was merely the destruction of their culture. According to Duerksen, none of the Canaanites actually had to leave – as long as they forsook their “debauched”, “demonic” gods.
Wow – assimilate or die. Forced religious conversion. That’s been tried a few times before. In fact, it’s well-documented here in North America. How well did Canada’s Indian residential schools work out?
The reason god did such big miracles/plagues in Egypt was so that the Canaanites would hear about him and either turn to him and recognize him as god, or be afraid and leave without fighting.
That’s just egotistical posturing. I’m not impressed. And anyway, why would an omnipotent, loving god need to resort to that?
The Israelites didn’t battle everybody and anybody. Yahweh just needed a parcel of land, not an empire. There were 7 specific nations (all Canaanite tribes) that God said they were supposed to conquer. (Deuteronomy 7:1) “They were never given a blank check – go and fight any nation you see.”
Oh, well – that makes it OK then. Those people were expendable. What’s a few children or families one way or another in the grand scheme of things?
God told the Israelites to make no covenant and show no mercy. The Canaanite culture had to be destroyed because it had become “utterly grotesque and vile”; they worshipped the demonic god Molech, and practiced child torture and sacrifice. “God wouldn’t tolerate it.” Duerksen then mentioned that Leviticus 18 lists other bad cultural practices that God doesn’t like.
Not that I’m condoning child sacrifice, but it was practiced in numerous other ancient cultures, and to the best of our knowledge, Yahweh didn’t intervene. Of course, he was only interested in that little parcel of land in the Middle East. I guess he didn’t care about those ‘other’ children. But hey, there’s plenty of other child abuse in the Bible, most of it endorsed or even commanded by Yahweh.
And Leviticus 18, with all those ‘bad cultural practices’ that God hates? They’re all about sex. How does that relate to today’s sermon topic? Why didn’t Duerksen cite some of God’s other dislikes, for example shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12), or clothes made from mixed fibers (Leviticus 19:19)? Do we still need to observe those rules, too?
“Even with the Canaanites, god has always been merciful and patient and good.”… “God gave them a long time – until Canaanite culture became so corrupt that nothing else could be done.” Then Duerksen asked: What about cultural tolerance? “Us Canadians are already OK with them killing 100,000 babies a year. So we’re already big on ‘just be nice’, and let people do whatever they wanna do.” Maybe the Canaanites could’ve just moved next door and the Israelites could have tolerated them.
Whaddya mean, nothing could be done? Couldn’t an all-powerful God have helped the people without exterminating them? And how did a discussion of multiculturalism and tolerance suddenly become about abortion???
Moreover, if the Canaanites were really so bad that nothing could be done, the command to kill everyone might make sense – but then the instruction in verse 18 to the soldiers to keep all the virgins (or young women) for themselves would not. How could little baby boys be more corrupt than teenage girls? And what would the Israelites do with all those girls anyway? The implication is pretty obvious, and yet Duerksen never even mentioned this verse in his sermon.
“You will never solve things like terrorism with good legislation or wise behavior, because behind it are demonic principalities.”… “The reason there is evil in this world is not just because people are bad, it’s because there are powerful forces of evil at work.” Duerksen believes that Satan is trying to enslave mankind. He said that the reason Yahweh has to be so extreme is because Satan is working against him, trying to thwart his plan of salvation.
Duerksen concluded by claiming that we’ve lost our perspective on sin. “Niceness has become our god in Canada… We are not, at base, nice; we are, at base, wicked, and in desperately need of a savior.”
The only terrorist in this story is God – the entity Duerksen is defending! He’s justifying violence, terrorism, and genocide. My take home messages from this sermon –
- The end justifies the means.
- Cultural genocide is OK.
- It’s OK to kill people who don’t believe as you do.
- Invisible evil lurks everywhere, like a monster in the closet.
- We’re all wicked and broken.
June 11th 2017 – Does God Hate Women?
In the first 18 minutes of this sermon, Pastor Duerksen launched into a defense of Exodus 21, which discusses “the laws for selling your daughters as slaves”.
He began by noting that the passage was written in vastly different time and culture, and that one can’t look at in light of society in Canada in 2017. He went on to state that “slavery” as discussed here doesn’t really mean slavery the way we define it today; rather it meant voluntary, indentured servitude, and it was beneficial to those who were not able to provide for themselves. Further, he explained that the girl in this chapter was really being sold as a wife, not a slave; which was OK in that society because women couldn’t support themselves, and couldn’t own land, so their Dads need to marry them off to ensure that they were protected and cared for.
It seems that the people who claim that OT passages can’t be interpreted in 21st century terms are the same ones who claim that God’s word in other passages (like Leviticus 20:13) is immortal and unchanging. Sorry, one can’t have it both ways.
It’s pretty clear from other passages in the Bible that slavery wasn’t just ‘indentured servitude’. And why is it OK to sell your daughter as long as it’s only as a wife, not a slave? Couldn’t Yahweh have just acted to improve the status of women, instead of allowing them to be bought and sold?
Duerksen clarified that of course, this was not an ideal society; that “the system was broken” because of original sin. God was “forced” to work within the broken system, by introducing these laws to protect women. One of them, as he described it, was that “once you’ve paid for a woman”, if you don’t respect and provide for her, she may return home to her father and you will not get your money back (v 11). But it was the culture that treated women harshly, not god – and god therefore had to create laws to protect them within that culture.
Pastor Duerksen justifies the deplorable conditions of life and the treatment of women in Biblical times by claiming that society is ‘broken’ due to original sin. But is it fair for people to be punished for the sins of their ancestors? The Bible itself cannot even decide. Furthermore, if this were true, then society would still be broken – and yet for most of the world, conditions have improved significantly.
And even if a society was ‘broken’ and imperfect, why should that prevent God from healing or improving it? Why should an all-powerful, omnipotent deity be ‘forced’ to work within a broken system? (How could he be ‘forced’ to do anything?) Why couldn’t he just set things right?
The next portion of Duerksen’s sermon went on to discuss rape, as described in Deuteronomy 22. But I quit.
These two excerpts from this series of sermons don’t even begin to unpack all the evils of the OT. For example, the rest of Exodus 21 covers the rules for owning slaves and how to beat them. There was more about slavery in Sermon #2 if you want to hear Pastor Duerksen try to make his case for it. I might listen… but then again I might not. I’ve heard enough, and I’ve already read the entire Bible. (My notes about that experience are here.)
So much for a just and merciful god. There is just no end to the mental gymnastics that apologists will resort to in order to defend the indefensible. And it’s easy for pastors to get away with making misleading claims when they never allow themselves to be directly challenged. Sermons never include a Q and A, and the church’s website doesn’t allow online comments. I wonder why?
– Dorothy Stephens
Diversitas is a series of community presentations held in Morden, Manitoba, designed to educate and inform people about the diversity of humanity. On March 22, the topic was “Can Faith and Science Coexist?”, and the guest speaker was Dr. Patrick Franklin (PhD, McMaster Divinity College), Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, and a member of an organization called the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation.
The event was well attended, with most of the seats filled at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre’s Aquasaur Theatre. The title of Dr. Franklin’s presentation was: “Is Christian Faith Obsolete in a Scientific Age?” In his opening remarks, he added other questions, such as “Is God belief obsolete?“, and “Is religion obsolete?“. He mentioned that we would spend some time discussing the Old Testament, and presented a few verses which he thought best demonstrated that Christianity is not in conflict with science. A lot to cover in a 45-minute talk.
For those unfamiliar, the study of conflict between faith and science has a name – conflict thesis, which is a very old idea and well documented. First proposed in the early 1800’s, author and politician Andrew Dickson White took a mighty scholarly whack at it in his two volume set A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It was published in 1896, and although a product of its time, is still a good read – especially in light of more than a hundred years of scientific advancement and the slow decline of churches’ power. (It’s available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)
Dr. Franklin began his talk with a quote from Richard Dawkins:
“One can’t be an intelligent, scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs.”
Although I have been unable to confirm that this as an actual quote from Dr. Dawkins, for the sake of argument we will assume that it is true.
Dr. Franklin described a study in which it was found that 35% of scientists believe religion is in conflict with science, and he then made the assertion that this means 65% scientists believe there is no conflict. Unless the question was asked directly (“Do you believe there is no conflict?“), this seems to be a false dichotomy to me. Another study, by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, in her book Science vs. Religion, showed that, of American scientists interviewed, 34% were atheist, 30% were agnostic, 28% had varying degrees of confidence in God, and 8% believed in some higher power. Ecklund then went on to postulate the reasons for this high percentage of atheism and agnosticism amongst scientists. These three reasons rose to the top:
Scientists who are not religious
- Were not raised in a religious home – children raised in a materialistic, non-religious households were more apt to be curious and gravitate to learning about the natural world
- Had a bad experience in church/religion or with a pastor/clergy member
- Disapprove of the idea of God
Dr. Franklin thought these reasons were interesting because they show that, by and large, the high number of atheists in the sciences is not due to science itself, but to many of the same reasons that other people are atheists. I would tend to agree; however, I have a different take on these points.
- Yes, children who grow up as freethinkers and not indoctrinated into religion will be more curious and gravitate to seeking out their own answers – but this is a good thing. Don’t indoctrinate your children and they will learn more.
- Yes, people have bad experiences in church and with clergy; not a week goes by that I don’t see a story in my newsfeed about another priest diddling little boys, or embezzling money; and of course there are those who need money to paint their private jets. I think this point says more about the authoritarian nature of religion, and how its true colours become exposed in a modern freethinking society. It’s a no-brainer that many people don’t want any part of it.
- As for disapproving of the idea of God – well of course, if you’re of a scientific-thinking mind, you seek out answers and explanations; ones that are demonstrably true and useful. The idea of God is “disliked” because it is none of these.
Dr. Franklin then went on to present a list of some 15 scientists, complete with mentions of what they do/did; all, of course, Christian. Everybody from Nicholaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton to Alister McGrath (and some he knows personally). It is worth noting here that even though professional scientists may be theists, this does not demonstrate the compatibility of science and religion, but simply that a person may hold contradictory beliefs. During that segment it was interesting to note that Dr. Franklin was quick to point out which scientists on his list were evangelicals (his denomination), which prompted a member of the United Church I spoke to later to say “the way he was talking, you would think all Christians who are scientists are evangelical”, which was exactly what I was thinking.
So where does that leave us so far? Dr. Franklin believes the evidence shows that the statement “One can’t be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold traditional religious beliefs” is just wrong. On the surface it looks like he is correct; however, if we dig a little deeper we find that scientists who are religious or spiritual leave their religion or spirituality at the door when walking into the lab. In the lab they are not testing their hypotheses by faith, while in church they are not looking at religious claims using the scientific method. Some do attempt to test religious claims, but they often end up believing things that are not part of traditional religious beliefs.
Dr. Franklin believes the scientific evidence for climate change, genetics, geology, the age of the earth and what science can tell us about the natural world. He is very much a scientific thinker, and for this I give him great credit. But when it came to the Q & A portion of the talk, I asked him a question that went like this – “Through our understanding of genetics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, geology, and other sciences, we know that at no time in the past was the human population down to just two. There was no genetic bottleneck that would show that there was an Adam or an Eve. If Adam and Eve aren’t possible, then there was no garden of Eden; no Original Sin; no need for Jesus, human sacrifice, or redemption; and essentially no need for Christianity. How do you make your scientific understanding comport with your supernatural Christian beliefs?” The question was sidestepped. Dr. Franklin did suggest a couple of books I could read (Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins), and mentioned the possibility that Adam and Eve were some sort of king and queen of a tribe or population of about 10,000, many, many years ago (it was all very vague). The thing is, through the science of genetics, paleoclimatology, archeology, and geology, we know that our human population was reduced to about 10,000 individuals as early as 70,000 years ago. Due to climate change, humanity was almost wiped off the face of the planet, gone extinct like so many other species. What’s funny is that apparently, some of this information was discovered through Christian theology shortly after it was discovered by science… it’s a miracle!!!
In my view, Dr. Franklin is the embodiment of the Dawkins quote. He is a scientific thinker who is unable to hold onto traditional religious belief – in this case the traditional belief that one man named Adam and one woman named Eve started it all. The next day, I received a links from Dr. Franklin to his blog and ten more resources on the subject… I was hoping he would just answer the question.
The next section of his talk was about how science is limited, how the scientific world view can’t provide ‘comprehensive knowledge’, and how scientific reductionism is a harmful and vast oversimplification of reality. This is an argument that is usually trotted out by the slimiest of Christian apologists; unfortunately, it seems to have gone mainstream.
I think the reason this argument bothers me so much is that it’s an attempt to discredit science by faulting it for doing what it is designed to do. The perception of beauty is not a scientific question; nor is what music someone finds pleasing to the ear a scientific question. The concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’ is just a smokescreen, as later, apologists will try to wedge God, Jesus, and spirituality into ‘comprehensive knowledge’. They will argue that science reduces concepts such as love and beauty to mere biochemical reactions (which they are). But that’s what science does – reduce concepts to their simplest form in order to better understand the whole. This process actually results in real knowledge, and for me, more knowledge increases the appreciation of beauty. As the great physicist Richard P. Feynman said, ”Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?…” (full quote here). See also Feynman’s Ode to the Flower.
Finally, near the end of his talk, Dr. Franklin spoke of God’s two books. One was, of course, scripture; the other was the metaphorical book of nature, or what we can learn from nature. To illustrate how these two books go hand-in-hand, he offered Psalm 19. These poetic lines in the Bible describe the beauty of the natural world, and Dr. Franklin believes that this Psalm tells Christians they should learn more about the natural world and how well science goes with Christianity. Admirable, but I listened carefully to see how he was going to juggle the verses. He read beautifully verse 1 through 5, skipped 6 (this was not an oversight, as he said “skipping ahead to 7”), and then moved onto 7, 8, and 9.
I, too, know Psalm 19, but for different reasons. This is verse that he skipped:
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (NIV)
Verse 6 clearly states that the sun orbits the earth (“makes its circuit”). It is one of many verses that was used by the Catholic Church to justify the charge of heresy against Galileo, his imprisonment, the re-canting of his scientific work, and his eventual house arrest. If you understand church history, this verse becomes one of the best examples of how Christianity has retarded scientific progress.
Unfortunately, the Q & A was dominated by a sizeable contingent of YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists). Dr. Franklin handled himself admirably as he explained why “creation science” is not science, and of course he answered the all-important question “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes“? After it was all over, I was hoping to chat for a couple of minutes with Dr. Franklin; however that was not in the cards. I did thank him and shook his hand. As I left, I could see that he was surrounded by a whole lot of creationists and some United Church members, having a discussion about Adam and Eve’s kids, incest, and the origin of the human species. I didn’t hang around to listen.
Regarding the question from the start of the evening, Is Christian faith obsolete in a scientific age?, I would have to say yes – to everybody except, it seems, Christians. As for the conflict between religion and science, it will always be there. I will leave you with a quote from Joshua Cuevas’ excellent article in last years New Humanist:
“Ultimately, there is no conflict between religious claims and science. The conflict is in the mind of the theist who desperately attempts to preserve his or her belief system.”
– Pat Morrow
Atheist Comedy Night
Saturday, March 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, March 19th, 10:00 AM at the Perkins restaurant in Madison Square (305 Madison at Ness, just west of Polo Park).
2017 Atheist Film Festival
Saturday, April 1st, Millennium Library (Carol Shields Auditorium, 2nd floor)
Doors open 2:45 pm. Films start at 3 pm.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Meet our new family members!
Following the presentation by Maysoun Darweesh of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) at our meeting in November, my wife Carmen and I have become hosts for a family of new Canadians. They are from the city of Idlib (in red on map), in the Idlib Governorate in Syria, located just 59 km southwest of Aleppo. They arrived in Canada on January 1, 2016.
We applied to and were accepted for the MIIC’s “Host Matching Program”. We will be their newest and, as it turns out, their first Canadian friends! Khaled and Asmahan are parents to three lovely young children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years old. Khaled was most recently a truck driver at home, but considers himself a construction worker. Asmahan is mainly a stay-at-home mother, but she has some serious bead working, knitting, and crocheting skills that we will be able to tell you more about after we get to know them better.
Their area in Syria and their city saw some of the earliest fighting in the Syrian Civil War. Much of their town has been destroyed in the conflict, including ruins dating from thousands of years ago. My heart goes out to them, already, just for this. Their eldest, a daughter, is in grade 3 at her local school. She wants to be a doctor, a teacher or a paleontologist (she is in her dinosaur phase!). She is very bright and her English is already surprisingly good. The middle child, a boy, attends kindergarten, is shy, and we only saw him get animated after we had been together for about an hour and a half. Their youngest child, another girl, slept most of the time we were together, but we saw her playing with her siblings as well.
Both parents come from large families. Khaled is the youngest of ten, while Asmahan is third youngest of 12. While their surviving parents seem to be still residing in Idlib, their siblings are dispersed across the region, Europe, and now, North America. Their story is not unusual in this respect. They are able to maintain some contact by phone and over the Internet.
During the thirteen months they have been in Canada, they have had no sustained contact with anyone here. We will become their family, since it seems they have none left in Syria, either. I am expecting many people to be called upon to help as needs become apparent. Khaled has applied for a special program at RRC that will give him special instruction in both English and in construction. It will also place him afterward! If he can get into that program, it will be a big step to making this family self-sufficient. Asmahan could sell some of her crafts. I am hoping to help her make those connections. Both parents are studying English at the Seven Oaks Adult ESL school. They have a vehicle, which they do not use very much, and Asmahan is learning to drive.
Our discussions led to us to understand that they already appreciate the secular nature of life in Canada. They were subjected to various kinds of discrimination in their homeland and in Lebanon. They also saw its effects on others. While they are nominally Muslim, I expect the Humanist aspect of our world view will appeal to them as they come to understand how we come to be so accepting of our differences.
We expect to get the family out to do some normal family things, like tobogganing and skating. Other ideas will come as we get to know them better. As far as we can tell, they have never even been to the zoo! It takes a village to support a family, and I know HAAM members are already stepping up to help. I would like to hear from anyone reading this article who would like to be included in the work required to acclimate this young family to their new permanent home.
P.S., They all love cats! That means our Ringo will have more family to contend with now.
Please let us know if you are interested in helping this family. – Rick Dondo
Does Your Advance Care Plan Include Spiritual Care?
With the recent legalization of assisted dying (now commonly known as MAID – medical aid in dying), you may have seen in the news lately that some publicly-funded health care facilities are refusing to allow MAID on their premises because of their religious affiliation. This has led to questions from our members about the influence of religion in public hospitals. Most of us don’t get to choose which hospital we are taken to when we are ill – so how do you feel about being admitted to a faith-based facility?
Just as an ACP (Advance Care Plan) provides for your wishes to be respected in regards to medical care and treatment, perhaps it’s also worthwhile to make your wishes regarding ‘spiritual care’ clearly known if you feel strongly about that. It’s pretty simple to do this. Your Manitoba Health card must be presented whenever you require medical treatment. So if you have an ACP, or any other wishes or requests, just note that in writing and keep it with your Manitoba Health card.
A sample card is shown here (click images to enlarge).
Dying With Dignity used to mail out these cards out with ACP packages. They don’t mail cards anymore, but you can easily make a similar one yourself and include the same information – the names of people to call in an emergency to make medical decisions for you, the name and phone number of your family physician, your signature, and the location of your ACP if you have one. On the back of this one it says “I am an atheist. If I am hospitalized, I do not want any clergy or chaplain visits”, followed by initials.
Making sure your wishes are known and clearly stated can save a lot of grief and hassle later.
We have written about spiritual care in hospitals before – check the October 2016 newsletter if you missed the articles.
Charity of the Month
It’s been several years since the Rainbow Resource Centre was our Charity of the Month, so it’s overdue – and their current need couldn’t be greater. Recent and ongoing political upheaval in the USA is leading members of the LGBTTQ community there to seek asylum in Canada, and as a result, RRC is overwhelmed with calls for information and counselling.
RRC was busy enough even before this latest crisis. Since its inception as the ‘Campus Gay Club’ at the U of M in the early 1970’s, it has been a leader and important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community services, education, outreach and political awareness, and activism.
RRC offers support to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer, Questioning and Ally (LGBTTQ*) population of Manitoba and North Western Ontario through counselling and peer support groups; provides education and training for schools, school divisions, and GSA’s (gay-straight alliances); hosts events, workshops, and social activities for clients of all ages; and houses and coordinates a wealth of resources, including a library, a toll-free phone line, and links to LGBTTQ-friendly crisis centres, legal aid, peer support groups, health care, and more.
RRC depends on donations to help keep all these operations going for the long haul, and now to assist refugees as well. Please lend your support to this worthy cause!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Partners for Life Update
Have you donated blood yet this year? Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program is a friendly competition among organizations, schools, and businesses to encourage their members to donate blood. We just got our participation report for 2016, and HAAM did really well, especially since we didn’t even promote it until mid-summer. Fourteen HAAM members have enrolled in the program, and those members gave a total of 19 units of blood, or 76% of our goal of 25 units.
Can we reach that goal this year? There have been 3 donations already in 2017, so we should easily be able to get to 25, if
- Those 14 members each donate twice, and/or
- A few more HAAM members sign up.
By donating blood, you can not only save someone’s life (enough reward in itself, right?), but show the world that Humanists are good people (who donate blood).
Upcoming clinics: You can donate at the main clinic on William Ave (across from HSC) during their regular hours (Mon 10-2 and 3:30-7:30; Tues 1:30-7; and Wed-Sat 8-2). Or check the list of mobile clinics at the top of any page on the CBS website.
Video Links from our Darwin Day meeting
If you weren’t at our February meeting, you missed a great presentation by Pat Morrow about how the advancement of science contributes to a Humanistic worldview. At the end, several people in the audience asked for links to the short videos he showed about evolution. Here they are:
The first three are from a video series called Genetics and Evolution, by Stated Clearly.
The last video was a clip of a speech by Richard Dawkins comparing the worldview of someone whose religious belief prevents him from accepting reality to someone whose commitment to truth requires him to reject a long-held belief when new evidence against it is presented.
If you are interested in learning more, there are links to additional videos and other resources, including the complete Genetics and Evolution video series, on our Exploring Nonbelief web page. Check it out!
P.S. If you weren’t at the meeting to get a piece of Darwin’s birthday cake, you can at least see a photo of it in our Gallery.
Book of the Month
It’s comedy month, so here’s something fun. Not all of the books in our library are serious and educational; we also have a few about popular culture, including Me of Little Faith by comedian Lewis Black. Raised as a non-practicing Jew, Black noticed unsettling parallels between religious rapture and drug-induced visions while attending college in the 1960’s, and since then has turned an increasingly skeptical eye toward the politicians and televangelists who don the cloak of religious rectitude to mask their own moral hypocrisy. The more than two dozen short essays in this book include hilarious experiences with rabbis, Mormons, gurus, and psychics. Black pokes fun at every religious figure and issue he can – the Catholic Church, Mormons, people who commit suicide in the name of faith, Jews, and of course Jesus and God. Find it in our Library.
Outreach Report from Houston Atheists
I worked on this newsletter while on vacation in Roatan, Honduras. Here’s a little personal note about that trip.
We booked our flights, via Chicago and Houston, long before we had any inkling of Trump becoming president, so we experienced a lot of anxiety about traveling to the US when the time finally came. I spent an hour before we left deleting all the memes, news articles, and videos I had shared on Facebook mocking Trump and criticizing the US government – just in case my phone or laptop was searched. But we passed through airport security without a hitch, except for my husband being asked for his Social Insurance Number. He did remember most of it, after a couple of attempts; what might the customs officer have asked or done if he had not? I felt guilty, in solidarity with everyone who is not white, about not being stopped and searched.
We spent our layover day in Houston at the Museum of Natural Sciences, figuring that if we were going to spend any tourist dollars in Texas, they might as well be directed toward science and education. The museum’s paleontology exhibit is comprehensive and about the size of a football field. I saw Tiktaalik! (in photo) There were references to evolution in almost every display, and the museum was packed with school children on tours. I heard a guide state that they get 600,000 kids a year through there on school field trips. That just doesn’t jive with what we hear about scientific ignorance and rampant creationism.
In the evening we joined a group of people from the Houston Atheists at a pub. There were about a dozen attendees, so we spent an interesting couple of hours comparing notes about our groups’ activities and ideas. They are a loosely-knit organization that mainly uses Meet-Up to advertise small social gatherings at various venues around the city. Not surprisingly, their main focus right now is political activism and separation of church and state issues. One of their members is a high school teacher, so he was able to shed some light on the religion-in-schools issues we read so much about in the media. He said there’s a huge urban-rural split (sound familiar?) in worldviews, with most of the anti-science attitude and push for creationism coming from outside the major cities. He also explained that there is a huge discrepancy in the quality of the education among public schools, depending mainly on the socio-economic level and ethnicity of the communities they serve; but that generally, what we read about represents the egregious infractions of a small minority.
Overall, we experienced no trouble on our one day in Texas; but like several members of the Houston Atheists warned – venture outside the city limits and it’ll be a different story. Not one I’m particularly yearning to read.
One final note – I was asked to toss in a fish picture, so here’s a photo of a seahorse from Roatan. They’re a rare and special sight, and we saw several. Fun fact – when seahorses mate, the female deposits the eggs into a pouch on the male’s abdomen. His body swells and he incubates the eggs until they hatch. Now doesn’t that sound like ‘intelligent design’? – Dorothy Stephens
HAAM Takes On Apologetics – Part 2
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a pastor for a church conference designed to teach Christians how to defend their faith to non-believers.
If you missed Part 1, go back and start there first.
Welcome to Christian Apologetics
Fellow HAAM member Tony Governo and I were invited to the recent apologetics conference held at Riverwood Church after being interviewed in preparation for it. The title of the conference was “(Un)Apologetic” and its sub heading was “Rational, Gracious, True.” I will say our hosts were gracious, so, as I was about to find out, one out of three isn’t bad.
The parking lot was filling up fast even though I got there early, and just inside the doors it was shoulder to shoulder at the registration desk as people figured out what line they were supposed to be in. The fella beside me nodded in greeting, and I offered a “good morning”, to which he replied “hey, aren’t you the atheist guy from last week?” (referring to the Apologetics video in which I had appeared the previous Sunday). I replied yes, and gave a proper introduction. He thanked me for coming even though I was probably “out of my comfort zone”, to which I responded “actually no, I speak to religious people all the time, though the web and our organization’s outreach programs; and besides, Christians haven’t burnt one of us at the stake in over 200 years, so I feel quite safe”. He laughed.
So began my first Christian apologetics conference. I picked up a cappuccino and strolled over to the book table. Lots of books on apologetics and Christian living, and lots of authors I hadn’t heard of, which is not unusual; even if one pays attention to apologetics, the Christian publishing industry is prolific. In North America there are just under a hundred exclusively Christian publishers pumping out books. One name stood out for me, though – Paul Copan – only because he’s one of those apologists who defends the moral character of the god of the Old Testament. Defenders of genocide stick out in my mind and turn the stomachs of humanists. I picked up his book When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Every Day Apologetics. I opened it to a random page and saw the following: “Lesbianism, though more complex, is often motivated by seeking protection from unsafe men – often because of sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence.” Eeuw! This is standard apologetic thinking, and it gets worse from there – but not worth the $18 to see just how bad. It was time to refresh my coffee, meet Tony, and head in.
The conference was led by apologists Steve Kim, who holds a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and Dan Rutherford, a pastor/author who gives lectures on apologetics but currently works as the manager of marketing and business development at Fast Air. They use a Ravi Zacharias/William Lane Craig style of apologetics. For those who are not familiar with that, it just means lots of words with not much substance; the basic principles of logic are co-opted when useful and discarded when not.
The conference centered around these two apologists and 4 questions.
1.Why is God hiding? Or maybe he doesn’t really exist?
2.Doesn’t science disprove God?
3. The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
4. There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim that their way is the only way to God?
A Few Basics about Apologetics
Before we get started on these questions, there are certain points that should be mentioned for the benefit of folks who are unfamiliar with this type of Christian apologetics.
Apologetics is not meant to change the mind of a nonbeliever; instead it’s an attempt to reinforce supernatural belief in those who already believe. No one becomes convinced of the existence of God by the ontological argument, the teleological argument, or the transcendental argument. In my opinion, Christian apologetics is wasted on the rational thinker if conversion is the goal. We can see the gaping holes in their reasoning and arguments, but to be clear, we see these holes not because we are any smarter, but because of how we approach the subject. Humanists/atheists/sceptics approach apologetics with a critical eye and a hope to understand, whereas religious believers are looking for information that will reinforce their preconceived ideas of what is true. For the believer, adding a healthy dose of conformation bias to Christian apologetics seems reasonable and reinforces their beliefs.
Apologists very often work with incorrect assumptions about us (atheists and Humanists).
- First, they believe that atheism is the active rejection of their God; for them, atheism is an assertion, or a blanket statement that God does not exist. This is strange to me because I have never encountered an atheist who holds this position. (Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods or the rejection of theistic claims.) This tactic is simply an attempt to shift the burden of proof, because in order for many forms of apologetics to work, shifting of the burden of proof is necessary.
- Second, they believe that atheism is also a philosophy, although I don’t know where they get this idea from; and when you ask them what the philosophy of atheism is, they can’t tell you.
- Third, they also assert that atheism is a religion – or at the very least, a worldview.
- Finally, the most important concept that one has to understand to truly grasp Christian apologetics is: The Bible is true (except when it’s not), and this is based on each individual’s interpretation of Scripture. Some get it right, some not, and there’s no empirical way to tell the difference…
With those explanations out of the way, welcome to apologetics.
Speeches from the Apologists
Question 1: “Is God hiding? Maybe he doesn’t exist?” – Apologist Steve Kim
Probably one of the most powerful arguments for atheism is divine hiddenness. Steve Kim saves this primary question to the last 10 minutes of his 40-minute talk. Most of his time is spent offering personal testimony, and explaining how the Big Bang theory proves Genesis, and quite a bit of time is spent on William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. Various other arguments get a mention, such as the ontological argument and the argument from design. In the rationalist community we often refer to these arguments as P.R.A.T.T. (Points Refuted A Thousand Times). I won’t cover them here but if one is interested in looking up the arguments (and learning why they fail), the Iron Chariots website is an excellent resource.
In the last ten minutes, we finally get to the primary question “Why is god hidden?” Kim breaks it down to three points:
- Somehow seeing god would take away our free will. God will not mess with our free will because that would turn us into automatons (or some such thing). Because of his beauty we will have no choice but to serve him. (Christians assume that free will is given to them by god, but they don’t define it, nor can they demonstrate what they mean by it. Humanists and atheists, on the other hand, are generally determinists. We believe that free will doesn’t exist except in a very limited sense, because that’s all we have evidence for.)
I’ve always found this a strange counter to the problem of divine hiddenness, since God made himself known to several characters in the Old Testament. Lucifer himself has personal knowledge of God “in the flesh” so to speak, and it didn’t seem to affect his free will. Unless of course we are to make the assumption that God is controlling Lucifer?
- This one was surprising – God is hidden because, to quote apologist Steve Kim directly, “if your heart is already hardened, it may be impossible for God to turn you around”. This one begs many questions. All people are not saveable? There are things that are impossible for god? Kim ends this point by using Richard Dawkins as an example of a man who has chosen to go to hell.
- Even if god showed himself, many would still not love him. Kim relates the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. After everything God did to free the Israelites, they rejected him and built themselves a golden calf; a false god. All I could think of after Kim made the point was: why would I want to worship a god with such low self-esteem issues?
Kim finishes up by telling us how God has already revealed himself through his invisible attributes, infinite power, and general and special revelations though scripture. And he proves his point thoroughly by using scripture. If our readers are wondering what that means, in the real world we give it a name; we call it nonsense.
Question 2: “Doesn’t science disprove God?” – Apologist Dan Rutherford
I found this question rather strange, as I’ve not heard any one make the claim that it does. A much better question, in my opinion, would be “Does Science disprove the claims of the bible?” But hey, not my conference. I suppose it is easier for an apologist to answer the question if you ask a question that nobody is asking.
The wording of this whole talk was cringe-worthy; it was full of half-truths, blind assertions, and incomplete information, such as:
- Modern science was started by Christianity, and many scientists are devout Christians (we heard this throughout the conference whenever the topic of science came up).
- Absolutely no mention of the religious oppression of rational thought throughout history – Copernicus hiding his manuscripts of Heliocentric theory from the church, Galileo’s imprisonment, Giordano Bruno’s burning at the stake, none of it.
The actual talk had very little to do with the question presented; most of the time was spent trying to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science. I really hope this speech will be posted publicly; it is so bad that it would make an excellent teaching aid for counter-apologetics.
It’s not without its humour though. In an attempt to discredit Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith, Rutherford offers his own definition – “Faith is an evidence-based commitment established on the empirical and experiential realities, such as history, testimony, revelation, and inference”. Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith comes directly from common usage and the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) – “Faith is belief without evidence; very often belief in spite of the evidence”. The humor comes a little later, when Rutherford cautions the audience not to use ideas that are “unbiblical”; rather ironic, since Rutherford’s definition of faith can be found nowhere in the Bible. For more on biblical faith and how it’s used by Christians, I recommend this excellent article by Aron Ra.
Question 3: The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
Question 4: There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim there is the only way to God?
The last two sessions were simply a combination of apologetics and a Sunday sermon, grounded in circular reasoning and weak-to-nonexistent evidence. This took the form as arguments such as:
- We know that some of the places and characters in the bible existed; therefore, its true.
- We know that Jesus rose because they found the tomb empty.
The last talk, by professional apologist Steve Kim, mostly compared Christianity to other religions, discussed the supposed historical accuracy of the gospels, and ended with an emotional and graphic description of Jesus having his flesh ripped open by a cat ‘o nine tails and full details of crucifixion.
Now crucifixion, as the ancient Romans practiced it, is grotesque, and represents the pinnacle of human cruelty. If you’ve read about it in historical records, you can’t help but be emotionally moved. I would actually not recommend reading accurate historical accounts of this torture process if you have a weak stomach. Apologist Steve Kim used a graphic account of this torture to elicit an emotional response in the congregation, in order to sell his religion and make it seem more real. I found that despicable and at the same time ironic, as Christians the world over celebrate this slow torture and agonizing death as a good thing.
One part of the conference I was really looking forward to was what they called a “panel” (not to be confused with a discussion, as there was little of that). It was about a half an hour long and consisted of myself and four other panelists: a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Muslim. Each panelist had previously been sent a list of 10 questions that may or may not all be covered, so that they could prepare. During the briefing immediately before the panel, this was reduced to two questions, one of which wasn’t even in the original 10. It was also explained that we had a minute (an actual minute) to introduce ourselves and explain the core of our religion. I did suggest that a minute was cutting it quite thin, and corrected Dennis as I have had to do every time he brought it up … Humanism is not a religion.
Dennis explained that there would be a rapid-fire round of yes/no questions, but no Q & A afterward. Of course, from a humanist perspective, I found the questions fairly easy to answer. However, they were not easy for the other folks on the panel. The question “does your religion offer salvation” is not a yes/no answer for the Sikh, Buddhist, or Jew, and even the Muslim put her hand up half way. The final question, which was the same for all of us, was “How does your religion help us going forward?” This question was incredibly vague, and I had to ask for clarification. I must say it give me great pleasure to tell Dennis on stage that again, Humanism is not a religion.
Impressions and Conclusions
Overall, Tony and I found that this apologetics conference was kind of what we expected – self-serving and predictable. At various points during the conference we found we knew the answers, including the apologetics arguments they were going to use, before they used them. If they had allowed liquor, Tony and I could’ve made an awesome drinking game out of it. I guess if I had to choose the one thing that bothered me the most, it was the feeling of disingenuousness. I do realize that the purpose of these conferences is to equip religious believers to defend the faith; however, what they’re being equipped with is neither rational, gracious, nor true. Many of the folks I spoke to during the breaks, much to my delight, could see the missteps and the logical fallacies in the apologists’ arguments. Of course, there are still plenty of credulous people in the crowd ready and willing to believe. I don’t believe that apologetics helps the average Joe in the pew understand his religion any better; it’s probably closer to a form of mental masturbation for the true believer. In fact, not being honest with parishioners may be a detriment to their religious belief in the long term.
Two odd points to note. First, during the conference there was no mention of Humanism other than on the panel (discussion), and I was the one to mention it. A Humanist appeared in one of their videos and on their panel. But neither apologist touched Humanism with a 10-foot pole.
Lastly, I’ve come to the conclusion that apologists, at least at this conference, either hate Richard Dawkins or think he is the pope of atheism. His name came up a lot, in quotes from his books and films. Keep in mind that the two apologists spoke four times for 40 minutes each time, and in that time Dawkins cropped up either by mention or direct quote 23 times (yes, I counted). Contrast that with quotes from other atheists – Lawrence Krauss, and Bertram Russell got one quote each, and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris got a mention each.
In the end, I can’t speak for Tony, but this will be probably be my first and last apologetics conference. If it is ever the case that I’m invited to another, I’m going to have to ask for equal time.
(Un)Apologetic was an effort for Riverwood Church to explore a “robust defense” of their faith. It consisted of the conference and a series of six videos which have just been completed. If there was ever any doubt that apologetics suffers from internal conflict, it was revealed for all to hear in the words of the speakers as they contradicted each other.
As explained in Question 2 (above), apologist Dan Rutherford claims that faith is based on evidence and reality. But in the last two minutes of the final video (Evil and Suffering), Riverwood’s pastor, Todd Petkau, states (paraphrased) “After logic, reason, theories, and evidence, we still need faith”.
It seems that Pastor Petkau has a different definition of faith than apologist Dan Rutherford. Petkau’s faith appears to be based on something other than reason and evidence. Looks more like belief without evidence.
Pastor Petkau ends the series with the question “Is Jesus enough for you?” As a Humanist, I can honestly say no. We can do so much better.
– Pat Morrow
The Theory of Evolution in Humanistic Thought
Saturday, February 11th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, February 25th, 9:30 AM at the Original Pancake House in the Forks Market. Note the time change – we’re meeting an hour earlier to avoid the rush.
For more information on these and future events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
HAAM Condemns Religious Violence
The Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba wholeheartedly condemn the violence that has devastated the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. We strongly believe that no matter what our ethnic origins or our religious beliefs (or non-beliefs), we are all unique human beings, and none of us deserve to undergo such horrors.
The actions of the gunman do NOT represent the views of the vast majority of Canadians. Our sympathies go out to the family and friends of all the victims, as well as anyone who is now feeling unsafe in their own house of worship. We are thinking about you.
Meet Your Executive Team for 2017
The following board members were elected at our AGM in January:
President – Donna Harris Vice-president – Pat Morrow
Secretary – Rick Dondo Treasurer – Henry Kreindler
Members at Large:
Tammy Blanchette Norm Goertzen
Tony Governo Sherry Lyn Marginet
Dorothy Stephens Jim Taylor
New this year!
We will be adding two new ex-officio (non-voting) members to our executive, to liaise with our rural chapters.
Helen Friesen has stepped down from HAAM’s exec after 20 years (thank you Helen!), but will now represent the Eastman Humanist Community (Steinbach area). The rep for the Pembina Valley Secular Community (Morden-Winkler area) is yet to be decided (and will likely need to remain anonymous).
Charity of the Month
In keeping with February’s theme of evolution, it’s fitting that we help our fellow creatures, since we share so much of our DNA with them. Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre has been helping Manitoba wildlife since 1984.
Their mission is to
- Rehabilitate injured, sick and orphaned wildlife for their return back to the wild, and
- Educate about awareness, appreciation and peaceful coexistence with wildlife.
Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.
Wildlife Haven is permitted to rehabilitate and care for injured, sick and orphaned birds, including raptors (eagles, hawks, owls, falcons); mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, bats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats; and amphibians/reptiles (turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes). People finding these animals can call for advice, or to arrange pick-up or drop-off of the animal to the centre. More info is available on their website.
Wildlife Haven also runs an educational program, featuring wildlife ambassadors such as owls, hawks and falcons, and reptiles and amphibians, suitable for schools, service clubs, community events, senior living centres, etc.
Volunteers started Wildlife Haven out of their backyards before moving to the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Station in 1993. In 2008 it moved to a retired dairy barn in Île des Chênes, and in 2015, construction began on a permanent home with a wildlife rehabilitation hospital and education centre. Future plans include a waterfowl overwintering enclosure, a variety of outdoor wildlife enclosures, raptor flyways, a natural wetland pond, a prairie tall grass site and a fruit orchard for wildlife and humans to enjoy. Let’s support this valuable work!
Tax receipts are available for donations over $10. If you would like to donate but cannot attend the meeting, you can do so via the PayPal link on the right sidebar. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
HAAM Receives a Bequest
We recently received two whole boxes of books donated by a friend of Helen Friesen‘s who passed away last fall and left his entire collection to HAAM. His name was Hank Neufeld, and Helen says that “he was a very outspoken atheist and he had a lot of books”. She traveled to Swift Current, Saskatchewan to preside at his memorial service, and brought the books back with her.
This is an interesting collection, dating back many years. A number of the books are about religious persecution and politics, and several are polemics against the Catholic Church. Quite a few have historical value, and/or are about religious history. Some bear a stamp indicating that they once belonged to the now-defunct Society of Prairie Atheists in Biggar Sask.
Our sincere condolences go out to Hank’s widow, Joyce, and all of his family, along with a huge thank-you for this wonderful donation. You can find the list of new books on our Library page.
Outreach Report: World Religions Class
January brought us out to Green Valley School in Grunthal, Manitoba for what has become a biannual visit to Michael Zwaagstra’s high-school class. This was a first for me of sorts, as we usually meet with his Ethics class; this was our first time speaking to his World Religions class. It was also the first time I teamed up with fellow HAAM member Tammy Blanchette. I hope to see more of Tammy in outreach. When it came to the Q & A portion of the class, I often found myself thinking “Geez, I wish I’d thought to answer the question that way.” As has been mentioned in the past, we do these classes in pairs (just like the Mormons). This is not so much for mutual support or even safety, but because Humanism is a very diverse belief system – if you’re just beginning to understand it, it helps to hear different perspectives.
The demographic of the Grunthal area is Christian, and the students we have talked to over the past five years or so are exclusively Christian. Michael Zwaagstra himself is an excellent educator, and judging from his personal writings and the exchanges I have read and engaged in with him, he is an unabashed Christian. Knowing that, and after reading a previous syllabus from his class, I realize that these classes have a definite Christian bias. But I still have to offer kudos to Mr Zwaagstra, as he is giving young people the opportunity to meet many who don’t share their worldview. He has had Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and yes, Christians, come visit his classes. In the Manitoba school system there are a few other schools that offer a world religions-type class, but to my knowledge no one else brings in guest speakers who allow the students to, as they say, “get it from the horse’s mouth”. In today’s world, it’s imperative for each of us to understand at least the basics of each other’s beliefs, and it baffles my mind that more schools don’t make comparative religion a requirement. Mr. Zwaagstra and other educators are working to remedy that.
The class was about thirty students this time. Most every year they are asked to look into Humanism and check out our website before our visit. Much to my delight and surprise, this year they actually did (that has never happened before). Based on their questions, it seems that most of them stuck to just the website, which is unfortunate. Humanism has a deep, rich history to be explored. I would have preferred that they learn more about the humanistic ideas of the ancients, spanning the great societies of Greece, Rome, India, and the Far East. Or they could take a more modern approach and examine ever-evolving documents such as the Humanist Manifesto (I, II, and III). And of course, the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, which covers the fundamental principles of Humanism today.
Over the few years I’ve been doing this, the classes seem to follow a pattern – Introduction, Presentation, and then a Q & A (to which no one ever wants to ask the first question). Once the first question is out there, the gates open, but this too follows a pattern – about 30% of the class asks 100% of the questions. I often wonder about the students who remain silent. Are they indoctrinated to the point that they think we are ‘of the devil?’ Are some of them closeted atheists who fear they might be outed if they ask the wrong question? I suppose it could be that some kids just don’t like asking questions, or possibly don’t even want to be there. But the latter I find hard to believe, since this is an elective course.
Tammy and I fielded all the usual questions – where we come from, the Big Bang theory, morality, and what we do in outreach. Since it seems they kept their research primarily to HAAM’s website, we spoke about some of the content of the site, such as a public exchange about faith and the historicity of the exodus between myself and Mr Zwaagstra. Some students had questions regarding the article I wrote about Southland Church’s connection to churches that support the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act (better known as the kill-the-gays bill). This was of special interest to a few of the students who attend Southland Church.
As these conversations go, they sometimes turn to the unusual. We talked about such concepts as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit ‘. Both are backed by the ‘solid evidence’ of personal experience and what some believe is empirical evidence in the form of this Nightline video.
These parts of the discussion can be quite difficult, especially when talking to young people who have had these ideas reinforced for most, if not all, of their lives. This is why just talking about what we believe and why we believe it in outreach is so important. We’re under no illusions that we can change the minds of believers; it’s their right to believe what they choose. But through discussion and debate we can light the spark of critical thinking and rational thought. And that will create a better world for all of us.
HAAM Joins Human Rights Hub
We are now listed as a member organization on the new Human Rights Hub of Winnipeg. The Human Rights Hub provides a central space to coordinate and promote the events and activities of the many individuals and groups in Winnipeg taking action on human rights issues! Their website includes a calendar for human rights events; current employment and volunteer opportunities; profiles of Winnipeg organizations active in human rights issues; and a blog to learn what organizations are up to in our city. Check it out!
Our First Brunch was a Big Success!
What a lovely, bright morning at the Forks. It was Pat Morrow who said “I’m going to invite folks to a brunch. Doesn’t really matter if anyone shows up, I’ll be there.” Well, the night before the RSVPs totaled 22 people. By our count, 27 Humanists showed up at the Original Pancake House at the Forks! Pat had the wait staff scrambling to seat all of us.
It was a great opportunity for good food and good conversation. We had a mix of long term members, a few who we haven’t seen in a while, and some new faces as well! Grant and I sat by a young couple with their toddler. They were really kind and interesting. Let’s hope they come out to a regular meeting.
By a fluke/coincidence, we also met another new person, just because there wasn’t room left for her to sit! She was there to join another Meetup group, but they had no more seats at their table. She asked if she could sit with us and we all said sure!! Turns out, she’s one of “us”. And according to Mandy Wood, she was “amazing” and a pleasure to talk with. Click here for a photo of a few of the attendees.
We’ll definitely do a brunch again. Thank you to everyone who came out! And special thanks to Pat for organizing the morning. – Donna Harris
We’re Standing Up for Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Worldwide
On January 23rd 2017, in one of his first acts as President, Donald Trump re-enacted the Global Gag Rule, prohibiting foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling, or referrals, and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is even more extreme than past administrations, and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments.
In response, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights drafted a public statement calling on the Government of Canada and other sexual and reproductive rights allies to increase development financing in this area and to champion these issues within diplomatic efforts. The statement will be shared with Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
HAAM has added its name to the list of signatories who support the statement.
Call to Action! Please write to your MP to add your individual support. Click here for a template letter.
Book of the Month
In The Bonobo and the Atheist, primatologist Frans de Waal relates personal accounts of his work with primate species. He has spent years studying the similarities and differences between primate social societies and our own, concentrating mostly on morality, empathy, sympathy, altruism and a few other behaviours that many mistakenly deem as solely human attributes.
As a result of these studies, De Waal argues that moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution. His research demonstrates that human kindness is a biological feature of our species and not something that has to be imposed on us by religious teaching.
Nevertheless, De Waal defends religion in this book, (even although he is an atheist himself), referring to it as cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. He appears to accept the view of science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. This has resulted in some interesting critical reviews, particularly from non-believers who are angry with him for giving religion a pass.
Is De Waal too soft on religion, or are his critics just bitter, as De Waal’s defenders claim? Why not read it and decide for yourself? Find it in our Library.
HAAM Takes On Apologetics
Two of our members were recently interviewed by a Christian pastor who wants to understand the worldview of non-believers so that he can coach his parishioners to refute it. That experience makes for a very interesting report from Pat Morrow.
Invitation to an Apologetics Conference
HAAM was recently contacted by Pastor Dennis Maione of the Riverwood Church Community. He was looking to interview Humanists/atheists with the idea of coming to a better understanding of what we believe, and exposing his fellow Christians to ideas that may be foreign to them. Or, as he put it in his letter:
“Many of the people who go to my church have little to no significant contact with people who do not share their beliefs; and if they do, there is rarely open dialogue between them. So I am looking for people who would be willing to talk on camera (one-on-one interviews with me) about the foundations of their view of the world.”
To me that sounded pretty good; as a Humanist actively involved in outreach, open dialogue with people who don’t think the same as me is something I enjoy and right up my alley. Tony Governo also offered to participate, so we did separate one-on-one interviews. My interview would take place at Pastor Maione’s coffee shop, and it would be simply a discussion with no debate – again, right up my alley. Truly a conversation worth having.
I figured something was amiss when the coffee shop turned out to be a church with a coffee shop in it – part of the Riverwood Church Community. While reading through their website, I made a mental note that they have an apologetics conference coming up… Hmmm. So I met with Dennis at Riverwood and found that they were shooting for a conference and video series called (Un)apologetic. To be fair, he did give me the final yes or no on how the video would be used, but fostering a better understanding is quite different from appearing in a video promoting Christianity. Thing is, if they had been straight up I would’ve done the interview anyway! But at least now I know that this really wasn’t about open dialogue and a better understanding; it was about defending the faith with apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics. I went ahead with the interview.
For those unfamiliar, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia or apologize – to speak in defence. Now everybody at some point engages in apologetics; speaking in defence of one’s worldview is a right closely tied in with freedom of speech. However religious apologetics is a different kettle of fish. Most forms of Christian apologetics are grounded in what’s known as confirmation bias (including the evidence that agrees with your view and discounting or ignoring the evidence that doesn’t). It also relies on logical fallacies such as the strawman argument (misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack). Obfuscation is also popular, but at its worst, Christian apologetics just makes shit up.
Case in point: The first video of the (Un)apologetic series “Where did we (and everything) come from“, hosted by Pastor Todd Petkau, is about he origins of the universe. At the nine-minute mark we finally get to Big Bang cosmology. If you have even a basic grasp of physics, the pastor’s explanation of Big Bang theory will make you cringe. The pastor then asks: Where did the Big Bang came from? This is a question much studied by cosmologists, physicists and astronomers. For the answer he offers video clips from some of the world’s leading scientists – Richard Dawkins (PhD in evolutionary biology), Peter Atkins (PhD in chemistry), and Lewis Wolpert (PhD in developmental biology). See the problem? If one has hemorrhoids, one does not consult a dentist.
The most dishonest and frankly humorous part of this apologetic video is a clip cut from a William Lane Craig vs Lewis Wolpert debate in 2007. At 20:30, with proper set up and clever editing, Wolpert is made to look as though he is offering the idea that the creator of the universe is a computer. Wolpert then gives this computer all the same attributes that Craig ascribes to his creator god; to which Craig complains that these attributes are impossible – not coherent and a contradiction in terms. In effect, Wolpert just had Craig agree that the attributes of his own God are nonsense. How this clip got by the producers of the apologetics video, I have no idea. The apologetics video then continues to drag on for quite some time, misrepresenting evolutionary theory, atheism, and humanistic moral theory. (If you would like to look at the original debate that the Wolpert clip is mined from, and view it in context, you can find it here, with the relevant part at 1:16:15 to 1:19:00. In that clip you will find that Dr Wolpert does give his very honest opinion about what started the universe – he simply doesn’t know.)
The second apologetics video “How can you worship a God that commits genocide” is pretty bad, too. I know – I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch it in Riverwood Church. And I came to a full understanding of the reason why church services never have Q & A. In this second video you will learn that genocide really isn’t genocide (we’re not using the word correctly), that parts of the Old Testament are hyperbole (but we’re not told which ones), and my favourite – that the wars to wipe out the Midianites, Amalekites, and Canaanites were not genocide; they were Israel’s armies engaging fixed military positions. He offers the fallacious idea that these were soldier-to-soldier battles, when we know that Yahweh commands the death of every man, women, child, and in some battles even the livestock. (“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:15-18 See also 1 Samuel 15:3). Does this sound like a strictly military engagement? I suppose Pastor Petkau is counting on his parishioners not actually reading the Bible. You can watch the second apologetics video here.
You might be asking yourself why the hell Tony and I would take part in the project if apologetics is this weak and frankly dishonest. Well, any exposure atheists and Humanists can get with religious believers dispels some of the myths they have of us. The video in question will be produced by Dennis Maione, the gentleman who interviewed me, and we have some creative control so I’m fairly comfortable with that. Finally, many of the folks who will be taking the apologetics course will swallow the information (and misinformation) hook, line, and sinker – without ever talking to people who think differently than they do. Participating in these interviews has given us a chance to talk to these folks where they are most comfortable, since the kind folks over at Riverwood were nice enough to give Tony and I free tickets to their (Un)apologetic conference February 3-5th… So in a nutshell, the Vice President and one of the lead outreach members of a provincial Humanist/atheist organization are going to a three-day apologetics conference along with 200+ evangelical Christians – and they know we’re coming.
I, for one, am looking forward to talking to a professional Christian apologist. I just hope there’s a bar.
– Pat Morrow
Continued in HAAM Takes on Apologetics – Part 2
Pat’s and Tony’s original uncut interviews can be seen here
Jesuit priest and astronomer Dr. Richard D’Souza recently presented this lecture at St Paul’s College. Rick Dondo attended it, hoping to be treated to images of the night sky and some scientific explanations of them. That turned out to be hardly the case, but the evening was interesting nonetheless.
If you’re curious about how religious scientists try to overcome cognitive dissonance and reconcile their supernatural beliefs with their scientific endeavors, you’ll find his observations fascinating.
This event, on November 24, 2016, was planned to be in the school’s main lecture hall. Attendance was such that it was moved to the chapel, which barely held the crowd and where the sound system was notably awful.
St Paul’s College announced this presentation with the following description:
“The evening lecture by Jesuit priest Dr. Richard D’Souza, SJ will explore his work at the Vatican Observatory, the connection between faith and reason, and question about the origins of the universe. For anyone interested in the Catholic Church and scientific discovery, this lecture will incredibly amazing.”
Putting aside the spelling and grammar mistakes in that description, this review will demonstrate that the evening, for this attendee, was far from memorable and far from amazing.
As part of the introduction, the MC for the evening indicated the talk would illustrate the relationship between science, faith and reason. I suggest and hope to demonstrate that it failed to do so except to the most initiated / indoctrinated believer.
For this review, I have used a structure that largely reflects the talk:
- The first part is an elaboration of Dr. D’Souza’s work in science
- The second part is an attempt to convince people that science and belief can coexist comfortably, or in his opinion, should coexist
- The final part is reserved for my observations and personal conclusions.
This review is an abbreviated version of a longer document which is available on request.
Describing Dr. D’Souza’s Work
After a short preamble or introduction of the scope of the Universe (see my observations below), he provided some background into the various ways galaxies form. He mentioned two methods, the first was “Spontaneous”, involving the collapse of dust and gases. The second was “Accretion” or “Cannibalism” wherein galaxies collide and coalesce.
He indicated this latter was his area of expertise, specifically using models to determine the ways these collisions contribute to the various types of galaxies we observe (i.e., “shell accretion”) and how that can help us understand their histories. As is the case in cosmology, he then stated that we can now know more about the history of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, because of this work.
Why an Observatory at the Vatican?
This was, in fact, the longer part of his presentation. His launching point was the premise wherein the believer assumes God. Now what? How do we answer the very human questions that arise such as Why? How?…
After several earlier iterations in The Vatican and surrounding parts of Rome, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT, alternately, here) is established at Mt Graham, AZ and has been in operation for 25 years. It includes a 1.8m mirror and considerable software that allows it be continuously upgraded to keep it able to meet the challenges of the research being done.
The work is not about proving the existence of God. The foundation of the mission is that they want to embrace the commands in the Bible, i.e., doing science is an act of worship. Twelve or thirteen Jesuits are involved; six in Rome, six at the telescope near Tucson, and others in related roles.
D’Souza noted that The Vatican has a major collection of meteorites. When the question was asked, “What would be the maximum value to science?” for these rocks, they chose to measure the meteorites. This was providing fundamental data that could be developed with the unique circumstances of the team, i.e., no funding or time constraints.
On outreach efforts by The VO Foundation, they get the same amazed reactions around the world when they show people the planets and stars via a portable telescope. He explained this as a common human characteristic and as a shared act of worship. In other words, for the speaker, the “Wow” experience of surprise was evidence of God.
He noted that Pope Leo had stated in his letter “Motu Proprio” (a personal decree) establishing the Vatican Observatory in 1891: “the Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication.” He contended that over time, the people at the observatory had lost sight of the “anybody” aspect. Now, they see it as important that they show the church is not opposed to science.
The common reaction is “But what? Is not the church opposed to science?” He then proceeded to provide a brief and selective history of the ways in which active Christians had made significant contributions to Science.
- Roger Bacon, friar, 13th century; study of nature via empirical methods
- Christopher Clavius, 16th century; Julian to Gregorian calendars; good friend to Galileo
- Francesco Maria Grimaldi, 17th century; free fall and diffraction
- Roger Joseph Boscovich, 18th century; developed a precursor of atomic theory
- Pietro Angelo Secchi, 19th century; astronomical spectroscopy
- Georges Lemaître, 20th century; expanding universe; big bang; cannot use physics and science to prove God
He specifically addressed the case of Galileo Galilei, concluding with the arguably dismissive statement that Galileo was a hothead and that may well have contributed to the animus against him.
He stated that, with the Observatory, the church wants to start a new narrative. The mandate is to do good science. Then, he launched into the real apologetics of the talk…
He put the focus on an Einstein quote in which Einstein stated “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” He provided no further discussion of that quote but carried on. (See my comments on this under Observations and Conclusions, below.)
Per Dr D’Souza, Science is about explanation (storytelling via the scientific method) while religion is about meaning. Science takes things apart, where Religion puts things together to see what they mean.
Per Dr D’Souza, Science describes natural phenomena to weave into a consistent story with other theories. Per the speaker, Faith is not certainty; rather, it is the courage to live with uncertainty. Further, Faith is not accepting a bunch of facts in the absence of evidence; instead, it is making choices in the absence of all the facts.
He discussed the roles of assumptions and axioms in the scientific method. He also touched on Gödel’s “Theorems of Incompleteness” to illustrate the fact we must know some things to advance.
He mentioned briefly what he referred to as “The Conditions of Science”:
- A Real universe
- The Universe has laws
- It is worth the effort to learn the laws
He noted that some cultures do not include that last element and suggested that, as a result, they have not made much scientific progress.
As an example of the way scientific theories change, he chose the various ways in which humans have described gravity: Ptolemaic, Newtonian, and Einsteinian models have shown the advances made through the introduction of new tools, new observations, and new data.
He noted that reality does not change, but the map does.
His last thought: Religious language is symbolic and mythic, while scientific language tries to be empirical and objective.
He then took questions
In one response (inaudible to the bulk of the attendees in the room), he again cautioned against taking the Bible literally. To understand its symbolism, one should study theology.
When asked about the Church and the possibility of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, he responded that the probability tells us that yes, there is other life in the Universe. Is it intelligent? To that, he had only a response of “No comment”.
The last question was about the incomprehensibility (to the questioner) of the 11 dimensions of string theory and the suggestion that it is valid to ask: “Has science hit a wall?” His response was that such models are meant to provide maps to understanding reality and to permit predictions about it. He noted that Quantum Theory arises from mathematical constructs and that to date its place in science is unsure. It explains nothing in the real world and has yet to allow any predictions and as such, it is not considered to be a fully accepted scientific theory even if much research is being done in the field and other results rely on it to make explanations.
Observations and Conclusions
My general observation about the evening’s events is that the speaker was presenting to what I can only characterize as a room full of “the converted”. If there were any other skeptics in the room, they, as did I, failed to make their presence known in the formal portion of the event. A show of hands indicated there were, just the same, several people in the room studying the sciences, in general, and astronomy, in particular.
If he was questioned at all in a skeptical manner about the content or the intent of his material during the unstructured reception afterward, I cannot say. I did not stay long enough to observe it.
Some background on our speaker is available here (his sparse profile as a researcher at the University of Michigan) and here (his profile as a member of the Vatican Observatory staff). The latter offers insight into his published work. His sparsely populated Facebook profile offers some insight into his employment history and his timeline indicates some of his interests.
The longer version of this document contains much more detail on these highlights (or lowlights, as you prefer):
- Dr D’Souza was sloppy with his numbers on several occasions
- He used an approach to relating Science and Religion that showed a tendency to want to subsume and control its output to ONLY align it with Church dogma and doctrine
- He showed an approach to life, unsurprisingly, given his vocation, to downplay the value of Science to people’s lives while glorifying the role of Religion, specifically: “Science and religion are equal but different tools for understanding life and the Universe”. This extended to muddled efforts to demonstrate the superiority of Religion by appealing to faith, hope and trust.
- I was frankly appalled at his disingenuous attempt to co-opt Einstein in defense of religion. That quote about religion vs. science was taken out of context and this article by Dr Jerry Coyne provides the reasoning behind the argument that this quote does NOT mean what he presented it for in defense of his position. And just as telling, is Einstein’s own demolition in 1954, a year before his death, of any understanding of ANY of his writings as a defense of religion.
- The limited selection of priest scientists seemed to me to be a self-congratulatory pat on the back… As has been the case for some time, it did not sway me from my conviction that these people were scientists by nature and Christians, even priests, by necessity. At the time, heresy was punished by death. That is a serious motivator by itself. Also, only a rare few had the personal earthly resources required to support such inquiry and joining an order was an established path to gaining access to them. The rest is arguably a matter of convenience and circumstance, not a willful choice to justify any ersatz belief in a deity of any kind.
- Making choices in the absence of facts is more aptly characterized as “risk taking”. I fail to see how the modern technology or discipline of risk analysis applies in any way to the dogmatic following of any religion. I see religion as a prescriptive way of controlling people’s lives in a way intended to eliminate any risk that the people will rise up and take control of their own lives and their outcomes.
- His characterization of faith also failed to move me. It is simply and demonstrably ONLY “belief without evidence”. None of his other attempts to expand on that definition swayed me in any way.
In the end, I was disappointed by the content of the talk, since it spent so little time on the galaxies and so much time on the “god” part of the title. I was hoping for some unique content, only achieved via the VATT. There was none. For that part of the result, I have only myself to blame.
My personal conclusion
This talk was another demonstration of the cognitive dissonance required to hold the two concepts in one mind, especially when one is a practitioner of the scientific method. The presupposition of the existence of a deity to justify the resulting dissonance and the failure to be intellectually honest about the fact that neither answers the main question: “Why?” defeats any attempts at the rigorous application of logic and reason. Since this was the main point of the talk, then I consider it to be a complete failure.
Film Screening: A Better Life
Wednesday, October 12th, Millenium Library, 6-9 PM
International Outreach: Humanist ‘Missionaries’ in Uganda
Saturday, October 15th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 5:30 PM
Book Club Meeting – Secular Parenting
Wednesday, November 24th, 7 PM, location TBA
For more information on these events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar. You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Humanists Celebrate Thanksgiving, Too!
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking too much about who you’re thanking, now that you have left religion? Do you struggle to explain the holiday to children?
The very name of the holiday implies giving thanks, but if you no longer believe in a god – or never did – you might need to pause for a moment to think about who the recipient(s) of your thanks might be.
Humanists have just a much reason to be thankful as anyone else – and real people to thank. We can be thankful to each other for family and friendship, thankful to the people who grew and prepared the feast, and thankful to nature for all that it has provided.
If your family gathering includes a traditional Grace and you’d like to switch it out for something a little more inclusive without disrupting the peace, there are lots of options. Here’s one example:
We are grateful to the men and women who planted the crops, cultivated the fields and who gathered in the harvest.
We thank those who prepared this fine meal and also those who will serve it to us.
Yet amid this plenty may we not forget the many of our brothers and sisters, and especially their children, in our own country and elsewhere, who do not share in our good fortune, who are hungry, cold, sick and troubled by the bitter burden of poverty, the curse of war, and the despair of hopelessness.
So may our enjoyment be graced by understanding and tempered by humility.
Let us be kind to one another and to all those with whom we share this brief existence.
Privacy Issues in Spiritual Care
Who gets access to patient information?
It has come to our attention that some hospital patients are still being subjected to prayer and proselytization without their consent. Much of this is informal, mainly in the form of well-intentioned but misguided remarks made by visitors and staff; but some of it falls under the guise of ‘spiritual care’. We wrote about this before in our November 2015 newsletter – and now need to correct/clarify that article. Strictly speaking, it’s not hospital chaplains who are no longer allowed to visit patients without their consent – it’s community clergy who are restricted.
Traditionally, community clergy have considered hospital visits a part of their ministry to the sick, and many churches hold weekly services for patients in their local hospital’s chapel. Up until a few years ago, a priest could just stop at the hospital’s information desk and get a printed list of all the patients who identify with his denomination, so that he could ‘pop in’ for a visit or invite them to the service. And that is what’s no longer allowed. Visiting clergy no longer get access to patient names unless the patients consent to have their names released – and so they are asked about this on admission. (The WRHA policy on this is here.) But this restriction applies only to community clergy – not ‘spiritual care’ employees (hospital chaplains). In practice, if patients don’t state a religion on admission, or say that they don’t want their name on the clergy list, spiritual care staff don’t usually visit. But because spiritual care workers are employees of the hospital, they are considered part of the health care team, so they can be consulted or gain access to patient charts in the same way as members of any other discipline (e.g. social workers or physiotherapists).
What’s a ‘Spiritual Care Provider’?
‘Spiritual Care Provider’, or ‘Spiritual Health Care Practitioner’, is the new name for ‘hospital chaplain’. The term is more inclusive than ‘chaplain’, because it encompasses multiple faith/belief systems, in some cases even Humanism and atheism. But let’s face it – ‘spiritual care providers’ in Manitoba – and across North America – are overwhelmingly Christian clergy. In cosmopolitan cities, it’s quite likely that there are staff who will serve people of various faiths and beliefs, including Humanism, but in a small rural community, or anywhere in a Bible Belt area – good luck with that.
The Role of PHIA in Spiritual Care
When Manitoba passed the Personal Health Information Act in 1997 (current version is here), the privileges of all these religious practitioners (both hospital chaplains and community clergy) became restricted. Community clergy were no longer allowed access to patient information without consent, but the role of hospital chaplains was a little less clear. Initially they were technically out of the loop, too – but a 2004 amendment added them back in. According to a letter of explanation regarding that amendment, the term ‘health’ was redefined as being sound in ‘mind, body, and spirit’ – so spiritual care providers are back on the health care team, and health care ‘expressly includes spiritual care’. The letter goes on to state that since PHIA restricts the collection of personal health information to only that which is required to carry out care, patient information should be released to spiritual care providers only if the patient requests the service, or if a referral is made (emphasis ours).
What does this mean for Humanists?
It’s that last part (about referrals) that has some HAAM members concerned. The intent of the amendment to PHIA is that as with any other health care service offered by a health care facility, spiritual care will be provided pursuant to a referral or request. But often, referrals are made without asking or notifying the patient. Usually this is just routine. Most patients with fractures, for example, get a referral to physiotherapy, and the doctor may not even think to mention it. When the therapist shows up, the patient doesn’t question it, either – it’s an expected part of care. Likewise, a nurse who hears a patient expressing concerns over family, finances, or employment while in hospital may call the social worker to assist – again, perhaps forgetting or not even thinking to inform the patient ahead of time. But what happens when a patient expresses sadness, loss of hope for the future, or grief over a poor prognosis? Oftentimes, staff ask a spiritual care provider to come and offer support. That’s where, as stated in last November’s newsletter article, a certified mental health professional or counselor might be a better choice than a chaplain – but there are usually none available, because hospitals employ chaplains instead of counselors. So a well-meaning staff member refers the patient to the spiritual care department – again, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. Staff in a predominantly religious community, or who are religious themselves, may not even think of this as controversial – they believe that the referral is appropriate and that they are helping. And so a chaplain appears at the beside.
You may find the spiritual care provider helpful, or not, depending on his or her beliefs, preparation, and skills, and your needs and personal preferences. Most of these ‘chaplains’ are genuinely caring people, used to conversing with all kinds of different folks, and their mandate is to provide support to all patients who need or want their services, regardless of belief system. You can read a description of the ‘competencies’ required to be a spiritual care provider in Manitoba here. It’s a pretty broad field, and the document implies that almost any ‘spiritual practice’, including reiki, therapeutic touch, and other forms of woo, is legitimate.
What can I do?
The bottom line, of course, is that just like any other treatment or test, patients can refuse spiritual care – but they would have to know to do so, and in particular, they would have to know to tell staff that they don’t want chaplains to have access to their personal information. Or, alternatively, they would have to know enough to ask (or demand) a Humanist – or at least a person who is flexible enough to include Humanism as part of their repertoire of worldviews – as their spiritual care provider.
As with any other aspect of health care, it’s not always easy to request or decline a treatment when you’re ill – that’s what Advance Care Plans are for. So the same guidelines apply to spiritual care requests that apply to ACP’s. Put your requests in writing ahead of time, and the written document will speak for you if and when you can’t. Patients who are admitted acutely ill or unconscious are not asked on admission about their religion, so their family might answer for them, or the spiritual care worker may pop in at some point just to see if he can be of service. If you want to avoid this, here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your family knows your wishes about spiritual care (if they are willing to honor them).
- Make your health care proxy aware of your wishes about spiritual care as well as health care.
- Write your requests on a card and put it in your wallet along with your Manitoba Health card, Advance Care Plan, and Organ Donor cards (you do have those, right?). ID is one of the first things that emergency responders look for when they are called to a scene.
- Add a note about your spiritual care preferences to your Advance Care Plan and ERIK kit and have those readily available, stuck on your fridge with a magnet.
Charity of the Month
In October we’ll be raising funds for John Bogere’s annual tuition and the Kasese Humanist Primary School.
Book of the Month: One Heartbeat Away
This month’s featured book is a little different. For starters, it was a gift – from a very earnest, soft-spoken young woman who pressed it upon our volunteers at the Outreach table in Morden last month. No small gift from a total stranger; it sells for $15 on Amazon.ca. But she was very insistent, and so we accepted it to add to our library.
The book is One Heartbeat Away – Your Journey Into Eternity, by Mark Cahill. And why was our visitor so insistent that we accept it? Because to her, it’s a very special book. It’s the book that will guide us to the Truth. She agrees with the author’s assertion that “once you know the truth about the Bible, creation vs. evolution, heaven and hell, sin, and the cross, there is only one logical decision to make”. Cahill claims that he has evidence for biblical truth and that it will compel the lost to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
This book answers the question “What do you think will happen to you when you die?” by describing the most often cited ‘evidence’ in favor of the Christian answer to that question. Cahill describes experiences recalled by people who have been resuscitated while dying, as well as those who experienced hell while dying, and he mourns the terrible loss that occurs every time that a soul is lost to God.
What qualifies Cahill to make such a claims? Is he a biblical scholar like Hector Avalos? A psychologist like Michael Shermer? A neuroscientist like Sam Harris? None of the above… Here’s an excerpt from the author’s biography on amazon.com: “Mark Cahill has a business degree from Auburn University, where he was an honorable mention Academic All-American in basketball. He has worked in the business world at IBM and in various management positions, and he taught high school for four years.”
If you have escaped a fundamentalist form of Christianity, you probably won’t want to read this book – and don’t need to. You already have a pretty good idea of what it says. But if you grew up secular, or in a liberal Christian denomination, and you’re looking for some insight into the fundamentalism, this book will be enlightening. Or hey – if you’re open-minded and willing to see if it convinces you, check it out! And if you find Jesus and convert, be sure to let us know.
You can borrow this book, or any of the others in our library, at the October meeting. Check here to see a complete list of the books in our library. If you find one you’d like to read, you can reserve it online and we’ll have it for you at our next meeting.
Harmonizing Humanists are Recruiting!
Who’s interested in singing for fun? HAAM has a small group of singers who perform at events when we can get enough people together and prepare something suitable. Repertoire varies – almost any genre goes, and may include traditional religious music with parody lyrics, or anything that might be entertaining or inspirational to a secular audience.
Our next gig will be (hopefully) at the Winter Solstice Party. Because we only get together sporadically to rehearse, we are hoping to get some people who read music and can learn most of it on their own. But we need people to support the melody line, too. If you like to sing and can stay on the notes, we’ll find a part for you!
Here’s a great opportunity for anyone who misses singing in their old church choir! If you are interested, contact HAAM.
City Hall Prayers Violate Rights
In this issue:
- Support the Partners for Life blood donation program
- Why do people still attend church? Creating strong Humanist communities
- What happens at a secular wedding (or other celebration)?
- The god of cancer – does prayer work?
- and more…
HAAM recently received this letter from an anonymous email address containing the word “Jesus”:
Hey guys, I found your site while googling pix for Bible stories. As the Messianic rabbis say, “Coincidence is not kosher!” Anyways, I write to offer perspective.
Your issues with Bible contradictions are explained pretty easily. First, the gospel writers did not all necessarily tell the life of Jesus chronologically like we would. Remember, they thought Jewish.
Some events that seem the same were really two different occurrences. Do you believe Jesus only gave the Sermon on the Mount one time, and one time only? He probably told that one scores of times.
Luke’s gospel was probably narrated to him from Mary, Jesus’ mom. Her take would be unique to her. She would be impacted by things differently than say, Simon Peter, which we believe is the guy who narrated the story to John Mark. Peter, being an action guy, gave us a gospel of action that reads like a shooting script. Levi (Matthew) was a civic official and tax collector, and by trade needed to be adept at shorthand. I think you’ll find his quotations to be the longest, most detailed of the four.
You say the four contradict one another; really, they complement one another. When they record the same event, everything they all wrote is true. One writer was simply selectively editing out small details that another thought added impact. If you put four street guys in a room and asked them to describe a scene acted out from “Henry V”, they would never be identical, and yet, they would all be correct.
Each gospel writer had a unique perspective and point to emphasize. Of course they aren’t identical!! The four gospels are a mosaic: Matthew describes Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, Mark describes Jesus as a servant, Dr. Luke shows Jesus as the perfect Man, and John writes Jesus as the Son of God. Unique; different, and yet, all very true.
Here’s a bonus: every atheist points to the Old Testament God as being a genocidal maniac (Flood of Noah, Joshua taking the Holy Land). No one ever answers you guys well, so I will. Both stories had one thing in common: there were Nephilim in the land, and Nephilim are not human. When the Bible says “Noah was perfect in his generations”, the Hebrew word is the same as an unblemished animal. Noah had no Nephilim DNA, nor did his kids or daughters-in-law. It ain’t murder or genocide to kill a hell-spawned, cannibal half-breed. Look it up.
How do we respond to comments like this? For starters, we look on the bright side – the writer looked at our website and read some of the Bible Study notes. For example, he probably looked at the section called ‘homework assignment‘ and its accompanying Excel file listing contradictions in the gospel narratives.
Our Outreach Coordinator, Pat Morrow, has the honor of replying to our website messages. Here is his response:
Thank you for your perspective. I hope you’ll appreciate that as Humanists we come at it from a different perspective. For us, whenever we read stories, whether in the local paper or scripture from ancient times, some things may be true, some things may be false; but in the end, if a story is to have a modicum of truth to it, it has to at least make sense. We run into a little bit of trouble with the Gospels.
First, the four gospels contradict each other irreconcilably. If four guys watched Henry V, and you asked them to describe it after, they would each have a different account, but they would all be correct because they all watched the same play. Their accounts might contradict each other on minor details, because their memories are not perfect. But the gospels contradict each other on major points, such that if one account is true, the others cannot be true.
Here are a couple of these irreconcilable differences:
According to Matthew, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). According to Luke, Jesus was born during the first census in Israel, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). This is impossible because through multiple historical sources we know that Herod died in March of 4 BC and the census took place in 6 and 7 AD, about 10 years after Herod’s death.
The story of Jesus’ ascension is also a bit of a mess. According to Luke 24:51, it took place in Bethany, on the same day as his resurrection, but Mark placed it in or near Jerusalem, after supper (16:19). According to Acts 1:9-12, the ascension took place at Mount Olivet, forty days after Jesus’ resurrection. In Matthew there is no ascension; the book ends on a mountain in Galilee. This seems like a pretty important part of the Jesus story for Matthew to miss.
Your email seems to indicate that you believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I can assure that you most every biblical scholar, theologian and textural critic worth their salt understands that the Gospels were actually written by anonymous authors, and probably more than four. This information is available in most Bibles and Bible compendiums.
Regarding your statement “It ain’t murder or genocide to kill a hell-spawned, cannibal half-breed.” Fictional Nephilim giants aside, statements like this have been used to justify the genocide of millions of people throughout the ages. Ancient Romans used this idea to persecute the tribes of Europe, and more recently it has been used to justify the genocides of Jews in the 1940’s and Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s (both by Christians), and the Tutsi tribe of Rwanda in the 1990’s by the Hutus. If you demonize your opponents or call them inhuman it makes it easier to kill them. This is a truly sick way of thinking but it has worked well for religions and governments throughout the ages when trying to do an end run around human empathy and natural goodness.
In the absence of any empirical evidence that these cannibal Nephilim giants actually existed (and even if they did), I and many others would still hold the God character of the Bible to be a genocidal maniac.
Regards, Pat Morrow
The apologist responds
My son, be careful of what you know to be true. For centuries, the self-proclaimed experts said the Bible was crap because it talked about a non-existent Hittite empire. The acting king of Babylon, Belshazzar, was also a well-known Bible error.
Herod the Great’s year of death is in dispute, largely based on conjecture of what eclipse Josephus spoke of. Of course, I favor arguments for the 1 BC date.
Your inventory of Bible scholars, theologians, and textural critics must be cherry-picked and very small. You hurt your case and affirm a lack of research when you make such statements as “most every Bible scholar …worth their salt…”. It simply isn’t so. You need to get out more. I’d encourage you to explore the work of just two men: Chuck Missler, and L.A. Marzulli. One of Missler’s gems is a $4 apologetics book I’ll give you if you supply a mailing address. And Marzulli has been uncovering Nephilim evidence for 15 years. His new “Watchers X” will either tick you off or blow your mind.
If the Son of Satan shows up in our lifetime, how will he convince Canadian atheists, Chinese Buddhists, American Catholics, Israelis, and Saudi Muslims to all change their allegiance and worship him as God? Many of us suspect he’ll play the alien/hybrid card, proclaiming the panspermia ET gospel. Don’t fall for his lies, son. Do your homework now!
A final reply from Pat:
Just one more note because I thought your last email was worthy of a response, and maybe I can clarify further where I and other Humanists are coming from. There’s actually very little we know to be true. Often our beliefs have to be based on what is most likely true.
Take the year of Herod’s death. There were a few lunar eclipses around that time; we’ll just consider the ones in 1 BC and in 4 AD. Josephus mentions the eclipse occurring about 25 days before Passover; this lines up with the one in 4 AD. We also know from Roman records that in Herod’s will his empire was divided up between three of his sons, and this also lines up with the 4 AD date. There is more, but overall the evidence seems to favour the 4AD date. In order to justify your preference for 1 BC, you will need more evidence than just that an eclipse happened in that year. In the end it really doesn’t matter to most of us as we have no money in this crap game. But if minds are going to be changed it will be done through reason and evidence.
When I use statements like “most every scholar … worth their salt …” I’m referring to the general consensus of academic scholarship by men and women who have spent years in schools of higher learning immersing themselves in ancient languages, studying ancient cultures, and trying to tease out what the writers meant and how they lived. This consensus represents a great many men and women, not a cherry-picked few.
I am quite familiar with Chuck Missler and his work. Although he may call himself a theologian, he is no biblical scholar or textual critic. He’s a Christian apologist. There is a very big difference between scholarship and apologetics. Scholarship is interested in expanding human knowledge. Apologetics means defending a point of view in spite of expanding human knowledge.
As for as the other fella, L.A. Marzulli, I admit I had to look him up. I hope when he gathers all this information and evidence about chemtrails, prophecy, and the human/demon hybrids known as Nephilim, he will write a research paper on them. It would stun the world of science when his evidence is tested and verified.
Finally, regarding the son of Satan, his return is not something we worry about because there’s no evidence for it and therefore no reason to worry about it. You can choose to believe in gods or devils, but reality will always come down to reason and evidence.
If you would like to know more about nonbelief you can find lots of information here.
First a brief glossary of some of the references in these letters:
- Nephilim are a race of giants mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 6:1-4).
- Chuck Missler is an evangelical Christian who speaks about Bible prophesy and is known for his “peanut butter” argument for creationism. (Quick summary – we don’t see new life form inside a jar of peanut butter; therefore no new life has ever evolved.)
- L.A. Marzulli is a super-naturalist who speaks and writes on the subjects of UFOs, The Nephilim, ancient prophetic texts, and chemtrails. He claims that there has been a massive cover up of what he believes are the remains of the Nephilim, that they will return to earth, and that a breeding program has already begun!
- Panspermia is the theory that life on earth originated from microorganisms or chemical precursors of life present in outer space and able to initiate life on reaching a suitable environment.
What’s happening here is that, like many religious apologists, our letter-writer believes that if only we read the Bible, or heard it interpreted according to their own particular sect, we would accept it as the truth and believe. They don’t realize that reading the Bible is, in many cases, what led atheists to abandon their religious superstitions, and that we have heard all these same tired arguments multiple times before.
Because this scenario is so common, we recently added a new reference page, called Exploring Nonbelief, to our website. It contains links to many common topics of discussion and debate between theists and atheists, including the Bible, apologetics, evolution and science, morality, and living without religion.
We invite this letter-writer, and anyone else who’s curious or questioning, to have a look. And also don’t forget that all the archived notes of our Atheist Bible Study – complete with illustrations, animated videos, music, and a little humor – are available as well.
- Our Outreach team discusses stories and hot-button social issues with high school students
- A new interfaith group springs up in Winnipeg – does it live up to its name?
- We’ll be considering the health of our local lakes at our next meeting
- And MORE…
- How does Humanism differ from Unitarian Universalism?
- Our U of M Outreach proved a little unusual this year…
- Can saying the wrong thing land you in jail?
- and more…
At our May meeting, University of Manitoba philosophy Professor Arthur Schafer was asked whether it is ethical to try to talk people out of their religion if it gives them comfort. He answered the question decisively by emphatically stating that not only is it ethical to talk people out of superstitious beliefs; it is actually unethical to be religious.
In the excellent presentation that followed, Professor Schafer explained his answer in much more detail, but the gist of it is this: A populace that doesn’t think critically is a big risk to society. When people allow themselves to believe whatever makes them feel comfortable without examining and testing the evidence, they will be led to make decisions that are wildly irrational. False beliefs lead to actions based on those false beliefs, which in turn causes harm to ourselves and/or others. Poor decision making can occur in relation to all sorts of issues besides religion – medical treatment, politics and government, finances, lifestyle choices, and more. People who are gullible seldom limit their gullibility to one area or belief. However, in societies that experience prejudice and persecution, these attitudes are almost always based on false beliefs – usually based in religion.
Regarding the reasons that people turn to religion, Professor Schafer noted that it is most likely because they fear chaos and disorder, and seek security and comfort. However, there is much more disharmony in the universe than harmony, and certainly no evidence for an all-loving deity. Nevertheless, the fact that there is no intrinsic meaning in the universe doesn’t mean that we have no meaning in our lives; it’s up to us to create our own meaning. We have to learn to live with some uncertainty, and learn to make the best decisions we can based on the available evidence. We CAN live without illusions and old superstitions, even ones that give us comfort.
If you missed that meeting, the entire speech can be viewed here.
Response from a Christian:
Professor Schafer’s presentation prompted the following response from Michael Zwaagstra, a high school teacher and city councillor in Steinbach, Manitoba. It appeared in his weekly column “Think Again” in the local newspaper, The Carillon.
Earlier this year, someone sent me the YouTube link to a lecture given by Dr Arthur Schafer, an ethicist at the University of Manitoba. This lecture was delivered to the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) at their May meeting, and was entitled “Is it unethical to talk someone out of their faith?”
Schafer began by saying that not only was it ethical to talk someone out of their faith, it was unethical to be religious at all. This was obviously a bold claim and I was curious to hear what evidence he had to back it up.
The examples he put forward were interesting. First, he described the Trudeau government’s decision to enact the War Measures Act in 1970 even though the evidence later revealed that this was an unnecessary intrusion of civil liberties. He then outlined the cases of two Aboriginal girls whose parents removed them from chemotherapy to pursue alternative treatments. One of those girls later died.
Schafer claimed that even though these two scenarios were very different from each other, they had one thing in common – belief in the absence of evidence. In other words, it is morally wrong to believe in something when the evidence does not support it. Since Schafer believes that religious faith lacks evidence, it is unethical to be religious.
It’s certainly a neat and tidy proposition when you put it that way. However, it suffers from two fatal flaws – an incorrect definition of faith, and unsubstantiated allegations about what the evidence actually shows. Let’s take a look at both in turn.
The Christian definition of faith can be found in Hebrews 11:1, which states “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. So while it is true that faith requires belief in something we have not yet seen, it is not correct to say we are expected to believe in things with no evidence. In fact, each of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews had solid reasons to trust God.
For example, Moses was commended for leading the Israelites out of Egypt by faith. However, we also see quite clearly in Exodus 3 that God gave Moses good reasons to believe. From the burning bush to the staff that turned into a serpent, God provided Moses with plenty of evidence before sending him out to free the Israelites. So even though Moses needed faith to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, it was not a blind or irrational faith. It was built on a solid foundation.
The second major flaw with Schafer’s argument is that he incorrectly summarizes the evidence. To categorically state that there is no evidence for religious faith is not only an exaggeration, it is demonstrably false. From solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God to concrete archaeological evidence supporting the accuracy of the Bible, to a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are many reasons to accept Christianity.
The evidence for Christianity may not convince skeptics like Schafer. Even one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead until he saw him in person (John 20:24-29). However, by doing so Thomas rejected a significant amount of eyewitness testimony from the other disciples that was corroborated by an empty tomb. In other words, he chose not to accept the evidence that was available to him.
It takes faith to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But that does not mean there is no evidence that it happened.
Thus, Schafer is wrong to conclude that faith is unethical. To the contrary, it makes sense to have it.
Rebuttal from HAAM:
HAAM’s Vice President and Outreach coordinator, Pat Morrow, provided this rebuttal in a letter to the editor which was also printed in The Carillon:
Depending on who you talk to, there are many different definitions of faith. In Mr. Zwaagstra’s column “Think Again”, he offers us a definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1, and he agrees that faith is belief without seeing but not belief without evidence. This is simply a distinction without a difference.
Mr. Zwaagstra offers the story of Exodus from the Bible as evidence. Dr. William Dever (ret) and Dr. Israel Finkelstein (University of Tel Aviv) are just two of many, many Biblical and Middle East archaeologists who, after exhaustive research, consider the Exodus never to have happened and the story to be an entirely fictional narrative. Archaeologists have been coming to the desert since the 19th Century and have simply found no evidence of the biblical Exodus. It seems that Mr Zwaagstra has demonstrated that Dr Schafer’s definition of faith coincides with the Bible’s definition of faith, since he believes the story of the Exodus without evidence.
Zwaagstra mentions the “solid philosophical arguments for the existence of God” and “the concrete archaeological evidence that supports the accuracy of the Bible”. He must be privy to arguments that I am not aware of, as without fail, all the major arguments for the existence of God since the time before Aquinas have fallen apart under the weight of their own built-in logical fallacies. As far as concrete evidence and accuracy is concerned, there is none that would prove the bible to be true to any great degree. I wonder if Mr. Zwaagstra gives as much weight to the archaeological and historical evidence that demonstrates many of the stories of the Bible are completely inaccurate and couldn’t have happened.
In the end, not only is faith belief without evidence, it is also belief in spite of evidence. Faith is not a path to truth – in fact it very often gets in the way of truth. Faith is what we rely on when we have no good evidence. And that is why it is, as Dr Schafer explained, not ethical.
Second Response from Mr Zwaagstra:
After Pat’s letter appeared, Zwaagstra responded again in his next weekly column:
Looks like my previous column got the attention of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM). In a letter to the editor last week, HAAM’s vice-president, Patrick Morrow, challenged my definition of faith and said there is no difference between belief without seeing and belief without evidence. In his words, “This is simply a distinction without a difference.”
However, there is a very big difference indeed. Suppose for a moment that the resurrection of Jesus initially appears to all of the disciples except for one – Thomas. Since Thomas had not yet seen Jesus, he needed faith in order to believe in the resurrection. But does this mean there was no evidence available?
No, it doesn’t. Thomas had eyewitness testimony from his fellow disciples as well as independent confirmation from several women who also followed Jesus. He had an empty tomb he could visit and specific predictions from Jesus himself that he would rise from the dead. Thus, while Thomas needed faith in order to believe, it most certainly was not a blind faith. There was plenty of evidence for him to consider.
To take a more contemporary example, anyone who has attended a wedding has seen faith in action. The bride and groom pledge to be faithful to each other until death, and, by all accounts, believe that the other person will keep this promise. This is a leap of faith since neither the bride nor the groom has actually seen how the other person will live for the rest of their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it is blind faith. Assuming the bride and groom dated before their wedding, they spent time getting to know each other before deciding to get married. In other words, they gathered a lot of evidence and it helped them determine whether or not to put their faith in that person. In contrast, blind faith would be two random people getting married without knowing a single thing about each other – generally not a good strategy.
Now I recognize that Morrow and other members of HAAM believe there is no evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Obviously I disagree with them. As a case in point, Morrow says there is no evidence for the biblical account of the Exodus and he cites two archaeologists who hold the same view. He then concludes that I am exercising blind faith by believing in the story of the Exodus.
What Morrow doesn’t mention is that scholars are split on this issue. Some advocate for an early Exodus date (c. 1446 BC), some argue for a later date (c. 1250 BC), while others believe the Exodus never happened at all. Morrow selectively references two archaeologists who happen to agree with his position and leaves the false impression that the scholarly debate is over. It isn’t.
Incidentally, Morrow provides a good example of faith in his letter. He trusts the word of two archaeologists who say there is no evidence to support the story of the Exodus. Now I suspect that Morrow has not personally reviewed every piece of evidence that these archaeologists examined. Instead, he has faith in what these archaeologists have written, despite not seeing all the evidence himself.
The reality is that all people, even members of HAAM, exercise faith at times. We cannot make many decisions in life without it. Instead of condemning all faith as unethical, HAAM members would do better to recognize the difference between reasonable faith and blind faith.
Not all faith is the same. On this point at least, we should be able to agree.
Second Rebuttal from Pat:
I could agree with Mr Zwaagstra that not all faith is the same. In fact, in talking to the religious, I’ve found that the definitions of faith are about as varied as religious believers. Faith as described by Mr Zwaagstra in Hebrews 11:1 is “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).
If seeing is a form of evidence, than that makes the biblical definition of faith, belief without evidence. In the world outside of the more, shall we say, devout believers of any religion, faith with evidence is not faith – it’s evidence.
Of course not all evidence is the same. On the high-value end we have empirical or scientific evidence; evidence that can be demonstrated and tested. On the other end of the scale we have evidence that is hearsay or stories of a personal nature. Often this evidence is so weak that we give it a different label – anecdote. Anecdotes may or may not have a seed of truth to them; however teasing out this truth is often impossible and renders the anecdote essentially useless as a source of evidence for evaluating truth claims.
Mr Zwaagstra offers us yet another biblical anecdote to demonstrate that faith is belief with evidence, and in doing so he displays the exact opposite. Outside the Bible there are no contemporaneous extra-biblical written accounts that could offer any evidence that this Jesus figure ever existed, let alone that he was resurrected. Even if the Bible could be considered an account of the resurrection, the stories were written later, and we have no originals, just copies of copies, and they contain many points of contradiction. Zwaagstra believes those stories without good evidence; that is to say, he believes on faith.
The doubting Thomas story is an interesting choice. Maybe Thomas understood that the empty tomb was not evidence of the resurrection, but evidence only of an empty tomb. He wasn’t swayed by the personal testimonies of the other disciples. He waited for the evidence, then tested it before believing. A true skeptic?
Zwaagstra’s second or modern example doesn’t get much better. The couple getting married obviously would have a history together, over time developing a bond of trustworthy of a life-long union. Maybe this couple has witnessed other successful lifelong unions. This would not make their marriage a leap of faith, but rather a reasonable expectation based on evidence. Of course, for the couple that have never met, marrying would be a true leap of faith. In this, Zwaagstra and I are in agreement.
It’s unfortunate that in the last half of his letter, Mr Zwaagstra has to resort using equivocation and generally misrepresenting my argument. I “say” there is no evidence for the Exodus and confine my argument to the scientific pursuit of archaeology, its scholarship and what it has to say about the Exodus. It is the general archaeological consensus that there is simply no empirical evidence that the Exodus ever occurred. I can furnish him with plenty more names of archeologists if he likes. I suggest he read “The Bible Unearthed” by noted archaeologists Finkelstein & Silberman. Or check out Dr Baruch Halpern – Talmudic scholar, archaeologist, and Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia. His lecture on the Exodus can be found here:
There are also many other problems with the story itself, such as how it doesn’t fit into Egyptian history (or reality for that matter).
I can assure Mr Zwaagstra that anyone basing their beliefs about the Exodus on just two renowned biblical archaeologists would be rather silly and is a gross misrepresentation of my argument. He claims that scholars are split on the date of the Exodus, or even if it happened, implying that there is a division within the archaeological community. This is simply incorrect; the multiple dates offered for the Exodus are unscientific and largely (if not totally) theological, with just a smattering of historical markers to make them interesting. Theological evidence is of little value due to its unfalsifiable nature. To test this, one just has to ask a Christian the value of theological evidence offered by Hindus, Muslims, or Sikhs.
Finally, Zwaagstra insists that we all have faith and that we “cannot make many decisions in life without it”. I would disagree. As Humanists and rationalists, we base our decisions and our beliefs on the best evidence we can find, not on faith. Faith is something most Humanists seek to rid themselves of. Apologists can call faith what they like – reasonable, justified, strong, or blind – but one doesn’t have to look far to see results of faith based thinking; it can cause the faithful to fly aircraft into buildings or believe ancient myths as truth. And that is why faith – belief without evidence – remains unethical.
In this issue:
- We’re gearing up for our Summer Outreach in Morden and River City Reasonfest in September
- An apologist responds to Dr Arthur Schafer’s speech about the ethics of religion, and HAAM provides a rebuttal
- Updates on Outreach and Religion in Schools
- and more…
Welcome to a new year! The 2014 Newsletter is here.
Upcoming this month: our Annual General Meeting, a book club, a multi-faith panel discussion… and more!
Our own Diana Goods (pic on right) will be participating in a public Panel Discussion. You can show your support by attending!
Click the link below to read…
It’s Super Secular September in Manitoba!!
- Our transit advertising hits the streets of Winnipeg
- We announce our Bus Photo Contest
- Volunteers venture out to Morden and live to tell the tale! (that’s Dorothy and Diana in the pic to the right)
- We still have great events happening this month, so read on!