Upcoming HAAM Events
Dying and Rising Gods Before Jesus
Saturday, April 8th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Avenue, 5:30 – 8:30 PM.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, April 29th, Perkins Restaurant, 2142 McPhillips St (just south of Garden City Shopping Centre), 9:30 AM
For details on these and more upcoming events, check out our Events page or click on the event name in the right sidebar.
Upcoming Community (non-HAAM) Events
March for Science
Saturday, April 22nd, Manitoba Legislature, 1 PM
Future Community Events
Friday, May 19th – Winnipeg Comedy Showcase, with our own Rollin Penner
Wednesday, May 24th – Public Lecture – Secular/Atheist Movements in Canada
For details on these and more upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.
Ask An Atheist Day
The official date is Thursday April 20th, but during the month of April, we are inviting anyone to ask us anything, anytime – so go ahead and think up your toughest questions! Details are on the home page of our website.
If you are ‘out’ as an atheist, and would like to participate in this event as an individual, feel free to use one of the following images (created by the Secular Student Alliance) on social media to encourage your friends to ask you their questions. (Or you can refer people to the HAAM website if you don’t want to answer yourself.)
Click images to enlarge and download.
Can Faith and Science Co-Exist?
According to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines (any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’), the answer would obviously be ‘no’. But that’s not the opinion of Dr. Patrick Franklin, a professor of theology who gave a lecture on the subject in March.
HAAM’s Pat Morrow drove out to Morden to listen. Pat’s report on the evening’s discussion mentions Bible verses, creationists, Richard Dawkins, pedophile priests, the garden of Eden, Galileo, and an ode to flowers. How do these all tie in together? Read his fascinating and informative account here. It appears on our Perspectives page.
Charity of the Month in Action
The Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre was our Charity of the Month in September 2014. Back then, they were raising money to replace their old van, and promised that donations of $250 or more would be recognized with a decal on the new van as an indication of that sponsorship. HAAM members came through with the required amount, but we never saw the result until recently.
When Pat Morrow was in Morden for the Diversitas Lecture held at the museum, he noticed the new van in the parking lot and snapped this photo (click to enlarge). That’s great advertising for HAAM – and a nice little reminder, especially in a Bible Belt town, that non-believers can be charitable, too.
Call to Action – Demand that Canada’s Blasphemy Law be Repealed
The crime of blasphemous libel (Criminal Code Section 296) is still on the books in Canada. It was the subject of a petition in 2016. In the government’s response to that petition, on January 30, 2017, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould indicated that the blasphemy law would be reviewed along with other outdated laws as part of a broad review of the justice system.
Now that review is underway. Government Bill C-39, an act to repeal provisions and remove passages of the Criminal Code that have been ruled unconstitutional (‘zombie laws’), is currently before the House of Commons. It addresses such varied issues as duelling, abortion, practicing witchcraft, and water-skiing – but nothing about blasphemy. Why not?
The current “zombie law” bill may be the best opportunity to advance secular human rights Canadian secularists are likely to see. Don’t let it pass! Write to your Member of Parliament and demand the repeal of Canada’s blasphemy law.
Click here for a sample letter that you can use or edit if you wish.
Opinion – Why Do Refugees Cross the Border? (and why should we help them?)
I’m thinking right now about all the Facebook memes and comments posted about people’s individual struggles in life. How we don’t really know what people are going through, what battles or demons they may be fighting; you know the ones.
Do these memes only apply to us? You and I who are lucky enough to have been born in Canada; you and I who see the world only through the lens of Facebook; you and I with our first world problems; you and I who have never lived in war-torn countries; you and I who have never had to fear for our lives, and especially the lives of our children; you and I who are not fleeing discriminatory policies and outright hatred from the government of a country that once used to be a beacon of hope. We do not know the individual stories of these people until we actually hear and assess them. The fact that they are coming from the USA right now is the result of the policies of the vile Trump administration.
Canada is a rich country that can afford to accommodate immigrants and refugees as well as do more to look after our own homeless and poverty stricken people. It is not an either/or issue for me. It is only a matter of political and collective will.
I am a descendant of people who came to Canada under what was then an open-door policy based on race and ethnicity. My people, for the most part, were not refugees; they were economic migrants – looking for a better life for themselves and their children. Knowing this, I for one have a hard time slamming the door in the face of newcomers, especially if it means turning back desperate asylum-seekers and children at the border.
Immigrants and refugees cost us money on arrival, but once established, they pay rich dividends that far exceed their initial cost to Canada. If it’s the cost of supporting refugees that concerns us, I can only imagine the billions of dollars and vast infrastructure needed to really seal off and secure our borders if we wish to stop people walking across.
As far as the lengthy wait for immigrants who pursue the application process, for the most part these people and their children are not in any physical danger. Canada has a problematic legal immigration process that favours people who are well off. That needs to be changed.
So, yeah, what about all these silly memes about our personal struggles… while we sit in our comfortably warm homes, and live and work in a safe country. – Bob Russell
Charity of the Month – Welcome Place
The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) had its beginnings in the years following WWII, when “displaced persons” had to declare their religious affiliation to enter the country. Back then, each denomination sought to help their own people integrate into Canada. Over time, as common goals and interests emerged, these groups began to work together, eventually becoming the MIIC. For nearly 70 years, MIIC has welcomed, reunited, and settled refugee families from all over the world.
Today, MIIC’s services include:
- Assistance with settlement
- Information about and orientation to life in Canada
- Referrals to community services like English classes, employment counseling, financial and legal support, etc.
- Interpretation/translation, counseling, advocacy and support
- Information about Provincial and Federal Government services such as healthcare and social services
- Life skills training
- Orientation to neighborhoods and transportation (like public transit and climate information)
- Personal financial help (like budgeting, shopping, and banking)
- Education about emergency preparedness (like child safety, fire, food, pedestrian, winter)
Newly arrived government-assisted refugees are temporarily housed at Welcome Place Residence (521 Bannatyne Ave, in photo), in self-contained and furnished apartments with access to on-site support. Except that this year, Welcome Place is full and struggling to keep up with the demands for its accommodations and services, due mainly to the influx of asylum-seekers escaping the USA. By early March, they had already assisted almost 200 new refugees, including pregnant women and unaccompanied minors.
To try to meet this increasing demand, MIIC launched a new fund-raising campaign in March, called #Open Your Hearts – A Celebration of Humanity. Their goal is to raise $300,000.00. Every little bit helps – can we help them reach their goal?
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.
Book of the Month
Among the donated books added to our library last month is a little gem entitled The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors; Or, Christianity Before Christ, by Kersey Graves. Since many people will be celebrating Easter this month, a book that examines ‘heathen gods’ that predate Christ sounds fascinating. But get this – it was written in 1875! That’s not a typo; even way back then, there were skeptics and freethinkers.
Graves asserted that Jesus was not an actual person, but a creation largely based on earlier stories of deities. This book was a forerunner to the increasingly popular Christ-as-a-myth theories, and its ideas have been used in the documentaries The God Who Wasn’t There, The Pagan Christ, Zeitgeist: The Movie, and Religulous.
The gods discussed in this book include those from Egypt, India, Syria, Mexico, Tibet, and Babylon, and all share at least some of the following traits we associate with Jesus, including miraculous or virgin births, being born on December 25, having stars point to their birthplaces, being visited by shepherds and magi as infants, fleeing from death as children, spending time in the desert, having disciples, performing miracles, being crucified, descending into hell, appearing as resurrections or apparitions, and ascending into heaven.
Graves’ ideas have since been critiqued and refined by modern scholars like Richard Carrier, but why not take a look at the ‘original’ Jesus-myth book just for fun? Visit our library page if you would like to borrow it.
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
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.
- 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…
In this issue:
- A Life Membership Presentation
- Conversations with Believers
- Outreach reports
- Update on medically assisted dying
- and more….
- 2015 Year in Review and President’s Message
- Outreach Reports
- Which community leader doesn’t seem interested in speaking to our members?
- HAAM helps sponsor a refugee family
- and more…
In August we were busy with our big annual Outreach event. Read all about it, as well as the final preparations and latest updates on Reasonfest!
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…
- HAAM members display their Pride and celebrate the Summer Solstice – lots of photos!
- We will begin reading the New Testament and get together to discuss the historicity of Jesus
- Was Hitler an atheist?
- and more news and updates
- Updates on the stories we’ve been following on religion in our public institutions,
- Details about all our upcoming events (including speakers who will be appearing at our River City Reasonfest conference in September), and
- A link to view the presentation on the Ethics of Religion if you missed it at our May meeting.
Spring is sprung! And HAAM is buzzing with activity. Registration is now open for HAAM’s very first conference…. River City Reasonfest, September 19 and 20, 2015. Buy your tickets now for the low, early bird rate of only $99 for the entire weekend. http://rivercityreasonfest.org/
In this issue: upcoming events including the Pride Parade, our Solstice Party, and a Summer Book Club; a special announcement will be forthcoming from our Humanist Celebrant; updates on religion in public schools and in the workplace; and more!
As we finish celebrating one solstice, we look forward to the next (which will be nice and warm, just like in the picture of the Duck Pond in Winnipeg)
The newsletter may be a trifle late, but the year started right on time! If 2015 is anything like 2014 was, we’re in for a busy year! So get reading….
Get up to date with all the HAAM comings and goings…
Click and read!
But in the meantime, take a few minutes to read.
In our April 2014 Newsletter, you’ll find:
- The next Book Club selection for May.
- What happened when two of our members spoke to a high school class in Grunthal, MB.
- Which well-known author we’re speaking to at our April meeting.
Just click to read!