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.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Saturday, July 22nd, Assiniboine Park, 6:30 PM (Note the time)
An Evening with Richard Carrier
Saturday August 19th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 7 PM
Date TBA, Birds Hill Park
And don’t forget about our Outreach at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival August 25-27.
Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page, or click the name of the event on the right sidebar.
Save the Dates
Our fall monthly meetings will be September 9th, October 14th, and November 18th, and our winter Solstice Party is booked for December 23rd. Details TBA.
Mark your calendars now so you won’t miss anything!
July Community (non-HAAM) Events
Thursday, July 13th, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 7:15 PM
(click poster to enlarge)
Steinbach Pride March for Equality
Saturday, July 15th, 11 AM
For details on these upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.
Guide to Religion in Manitoba Schools
Every year, we hear concerns from parents wanting to know how to handle a situation in their child’s school related to religion. Usually the concern involves questions regarding the legality of a current practice, or complaints from parents who already know that their local school is flouting the law.
To help clarify the issues surrounding religion in Manitoba’s public schools, and provide parents with current information about what is – and is not – allowed, we have added a new web page to our site under the Resources tab. Check it out! And please provide us with your feedback so that we can add additional information to the page.
Tough Questions from the Old Testament
An encounter with a Christian apologist at our outreach booth at the Summer in the City Festival in Steinbach in June led one of our members to watch a sermon examining the character of the god of the Old Testament. Read highlights of that sermon, and our atheist’s commentary, on our Perspectives page.
Partners for Life Update
Just a reminder that if you can donate blood, please do! Summer is always a busy time for the blood banks, and Canadian Blood Services is already short. HAAM is part of the Partners for Life program, a friendly competition among businesses, schools, and community groups to show how generous their members can be. We know that Humanists are good people who donate blood! Our goal for 2017 is 25 donations, and as of the end of June we have 13, so we’re on track to meet it. Yay!
If you aren’t registered with Partners for Life, the instructions are here (or see link in right sidebar). And if you have already donated this year and weren’t registered, don’t worry. Just sign up now, and all your donations in 2017 will count toward HAAM’s total.
Steinbach Outreach Report
An Eye-Opening Weekend
Another summer outreach season is upon us. Here at HAAM we always look forward to it, but especially so this year, because for the first time, we were joined by three brand-new volunteers from the Eastman Humanist Community (EHC) in Steinbach. I would like to thank these people, especially since, being their first time doing something like this, they really didn’t know what to expect. I think I can speak for all when I say that it was a very eye-opening experience for them. A couple of comments they made that I found humorous were “That sign is causing some serious chiropractic neck adjustments” (referring to folks whose eyes read our front banner in disbelief as their feet kept moving). And later “This sign is like catnip for some Christians”. (See our 2017 Event photos for a picture of it.) After the outreach, I asked one of them for his reflections on the weekend, and he had this to say:
“During my few hours there, hundreds of people took note of the booth but most were unwilling or too shy to approach. Of those who did, it was interesting the variety of comments we received. A good number indicated that they were Christians and asked questions like:
- Where do your morals come from if you don’t have God?
- So when you die you think that there’s nothing – you just cease to exist? and
- What caused the big bang? Wouldn’t it be easier to admit that God made it?
Most encouraging, were the 25+ people who were excited to see us and who took our contact information. If only half come out to our next meeting, we’ll have to re-arrange our space to accommodate them!
A pleasant surprise were the several ‘gentle’ Christians who came by and said things like: ‘I’m sorry for the hostility you folks must be getting’ or ‘I agree with many of the things you stand for; this place needs you.’
It will be interesting to see the ripples that come from this weekend!”
I think the ripples he refers to are threefold:
- First, the impact our outreach will have on the growth of the EHC.
- Second would be the effect on our new volunteers. A second volunteer, who, from what I was able to observe, knows just about everybody in Steinbach, had many longtime friends and acquaintances of his stop by. Some seemed surprised that he was “with this group”; others saw him in the booth and just kept walking. His non-belief was previously no big secret, but I do have to admire a man who is willing to out himself so publicly.
- Third, the effect on the community. For those unfamiliar with Steinbach, the city has deep religious roots, which in the last few years have been challenged by its growth and the diversity that comes with that. Anecdote: One of our members was having a yard sale a block or two from the festival when a trio of senior ladies walked up. She asked the trio if they had been to the festival. With no further prompting one of them replied “Yes, … do you know there are atheists there!” Yup, the ripples will be interesting.
A Conversation Worth Having
For me, the best conversations seem to take place near closing time, and often with younger believers. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think folks like that see our booth and want to talk, but it takes all weekend for them to work up the courage. I suppose in the last hours of the festival they decide: now or never. That seemed to be the case on Sunday.
Our booth was approached by a young man and a couple of his supporters, or what I prefer to call listeners. The young man was well-spoken but not rehearsed, and I do mean that as a compliment. Many visitors show up with memorized apologetic arguments; they parrot what they’ve heard but really can’t go beyond what they’ve memorized. This young man from Steinbach Christian High School asked honest non-leading questions, with a genuine interest in who we were and why we don’t believe in God.
The conversation started with the usual clearing up of misconceptions and misrepresentations about Humanism, atheism and agnosticism. In outreach this has become standard practice when engaging someone who has the limited worldview of a Christian education. I explained that Humanism isn’t a religion as there is no supernatural belief, no holy books, and no dogma. I went on to explain the fundamental differences between Humanism and many forms of Christianity, such as:
- Humanists believe we are a product of this planet, not that the planet (or the universe for that matter) was created for us.
- Generally, Humanists are passionate about their epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief); we can’t accept an idea on faith alone – we really need to know that our beliefs are true.
- Christianity demands obedience to God; to love and serve God is considered a good thing. With Humanism, doubting and questioning everything is considered a good thing.
Finally, I explained to him that as Humanists, we believe that science and the scientific method are the best ways to tell fact from fiction, which is why most, if not all, Humanists today are atheists. To which he exclaimed that “science doesn’t disprove God, so how do atheists say there is no god?” After running through the argument (again) that generally atheists don’t claim there is no God, I did try to explain to them the concept of a strong atheism (the assertion that God does not exist).
Certain concepts of gods can’t exist because they are logically incoherent. I offered the student the simple example of an all-loving god who allows the creation that he loves to go to a place of eternal torment/torture that he created. This god can’t logically exist (unless we bastardize the definition of love into meaninglessness). I then asked him for his definition of love and he started to go into the free will argument that love is allowing choice. I completely agree that allowing choice is part of love; however for me, a better definition of love is what we find in 1 Corinthians 13 “(Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…”) I said that if we are going to define torturing someone forever as being kind, we will have to redefine that word, too. (It seems that God is violating his own holy word.)
By now I could tell the student was getting a little flustered, so I listened to his description of the free will argument, which was pretty good for being off-the-cuff. When he got to the part where God cannot make himself known to us by appearing in person because it will take away our free will, I asked him, “Does Satan have free will?”, to which he gave me a nod in agreement. I continued “But Satan has intimate knowledge of God. If I have the story straight, Satan used to work for God and saw him in person, but yet Satan still has free will. If seeing God in the flesh (so to speak) does not affect Satan’s free will, why would it affect ours?”
His flustered look was starting to become real stress, so we switched to book recommendations. He recommended C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and asked me if I had read it. I told him I had not, but that I have read many other books and articles about Lewis’s arguments. I recommended The Trouble With Religion by Sophie Dulesh; she takes a mighty whack at deconstructing Lewis’s ideas in chapter one, so he doesn’t have to read the whole book.
We continued for a while about the good bits and the bad bits of Christianity, and how we can find many of the good bits of Christianity in many other religions, which both pre-date and post-date Christianity. I could tell that this young man really cared about what he believed in, and I think he really began to understand some of the immorality and absurdity of the Christian religion. Of course, what he does with this information is entirely up to him, and I wish him luck on whatever path he chooses. But from his body language, facial expressions, and the way he asked questions, I feel this was a conversation very much worth having. For me, it was one conversation that made the entire weekend worthwhile. – Pat Morrow
The Conversation Worth Having (Christopher Hitchens)
Demand an End to “Faith-Based” Health Care
Religiously-affiliated health care institutions are denying patients access to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) in Canada because of the beliefs of the religious boards controlling their policies. This is infringing on the ability of patients in those facilities to access a legal procedure, resulting in seriously ill and dying patients being subjected to prolonged suffering. Partisan policy should have no place in publicly-funded institutions that are required to serve all Manitobans.
Our website has all the information you need to get up to speed on this issue, including links to recent news articles for more background information. You will also find a sample letter that you can send to the hospital and government representatives, along with contact information for them.
Please add your voice to support the growing number of Manitobans who believe that government should remain neutral on matters of religion and that no religion should receive preferential treatment over another religion, or the lack of religion.
This is OUR publicly funded health care system, and we need to hold our elected representatives responsible for ensuring that it serves everyone. Demand better!
Book Film of the Month
Heart of the Beholder is a 2005 drama film written and directed by Ken Tipton, based on Tipton’s own experience as the owner of a chain of videocassette rental stores in the 1980’s. Tipton and his family had opened the first videocassette rental stores in St. Louis in 1980; their business was largely destroyed by a campaign of Christian fundamentalists who objected to the chain’s carrying Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ for rental.
Heart of the Beholder features Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek) and a very early performance by Chloe Grace Moretz as a child actress. It won “Best Feature Film” awards at several film festivals. Critical comments included “It is in many ways a politically charged film as it touches on issues of freedom of speech, religious beliefs and all-out fanaticism”. Here is the original trailer.
Thanks to Karen and David Donald for the donation.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this DVD.
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
June HAAM Events
HAAM and Eggs Breakfast
Sunday, June 4th, Smitty’s Restaurant, 580 Pembina Hwy (at Grant), 8:30 AM. Note the change of time.
Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival
Friday June 16th to Sunday June 18th, Steinbach, Manitoba.
Summer Solstice Party and BBQ
Saturday, June 24th, 5:30 PM, Assiniboine Park
There are MORE HAAM events coming up later this summer! See them all on 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.
June Community (non-HAAM) Events
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday June 4th Both the time (11 AM) and the route have changed this year.
For details on this and MORE upcoming community events this summer, visit our new Community Events page.
Coming this August – An Evening with Richard Carrier
Author and historian Richard Carrier will be touring Canada this summer, and HAAM is very excited to be hosting an evening with him on Saturday August 19th.
Richard has a Ph.D. in the history of philosophy from Columbia University, and is a published philosopher and historian, specializing in contemporary philosophy of naturalism, and in Greco-Roman philosophy, science, and religion, and the origins of Christianity. He blogs regularly, lectures for community groups worldwide, and teaches courses online. He is the author of many books including Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, Why I Am Not a Christian, Not the Impossible Faith, and Proving History, as well as chapters in several anthologies and articles in academic journals. For more about Dr. Carrier and his work see www.richardcarrier.info
Richard will be speaking to us on the topic Did Christianity Really Begin without a Jesus? At the Intersection of Skepticism and History. If you’ve heard or read his work before, you already know that Richard is not convinced that there ever was an actual historical person named Jesus. The whole of Christianity could be based on nothing more than myth! Come and hear him explain his position and ask questions about it.
If you want to check out some of Richard’s work before meeting him in person, you can borrow his book Sense and Goodness Without God from our HAAM library, or watch one of his many videos on YouTube.
This event is still in the planning stage. Further details will be announced as they are finalized. Check the event post on our website for updates.
Meet Another Humanist!
Pamela Johnson is the latest to add her profile to our Meet the Humanist web page. If you’ve been to one of our regular meetings, you’ll be familiar with the beautiful teapot that she painted for us.
The Meet the Humanist page is our opportunity to let the world know that non-believers are just regular people, and to let closeted atheists know that they are not alone. We’re always looking for more people to add their stories. (You can remain anonymous if you wish.) Contact us if you’d like to share your story.
Atheism in Canada Has a History? Who Knew?
I had the pleasure of driving out to Morden last week to hear Peter Cantelon and his Diversitas group host, as usual, another excellent talk. This month’s presentation was given by the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Elliot Hanowski on the history of non-belief in Canada. This was a very eye-opening and informative evening; I was taken aback by the incredibly rich and vibrant history of Canadian and Manitoban secular, atheist, and Humanist groups. It is a part of Canadian culture that I, and many others, are sorely unaware of!
Dr. Hanowski whisked us though the early history of non-belief, beginning with Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages, but the main focus of his talk essentially began at the beginning of the Enlightenment Era. We learned about such famous figures as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and Denis Diderot. Of course the bulk of the time was spent addressing the title topic – non-belief in Canada. What I also found interesting was to learn that so many non-believers were at the vanguard of social changes like the liberalization of the abortion and contraception laws, and the introduction of universal healthcare.
Dr. Hanowski described the large migration of non-religious settlers to BC and the long history of secular/freethought groups in early and modern Quebec. In one nineteenth century case, the wife of a secularist and Catholic Church critic asked to have her husband buried in the graveyard of a local Catholic church. It took five years and multiple court cases, but in the end she won, and was allowed to bury him in the church yard. In attendance at the funeral were some 2500 British soldiers and police, to prevent a near riot! The church members were later able to make themselves feel better by having the bishop come out and de-consecrate the small bit of ground where the heretic was buried.
In Manitoba, we heard about early twentieth-century secular movements such as the Rationalist Society, and Winnipegger Marshall J. Gauvin, who would attend priests’ sermons one week then critique them the next. He routinely had 300-600 people attend his lectures, and once debated a fundamentalist preacher to an audience of 3000.
Dr. Hanowski is a member of ISHASH (The International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism). This organization is a collection of academics dedicated to learning more about the history of us – the non-believers, Humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.
I have just barely touched on Dr. Hanowski’s entertaining and enlightening talk here, and there’s a reason for that. If you missed it, have no fear. Details still need to be worked out, but Dr. Hanowski has agreed to join us for an evening in the fall. So keep your eyes open and your calendars clear as our new meeting season picks up again in September.
You won’t want to miss this one! – Pat Morrow
We’re Gearing Up for Summer Outreach
June marks the beginning of our summer outreach season. We’re all looking forward to Steinbach’s Summer in the City Festival, and we have will have a new banner at the booth to promote Humanism.
Last year was a challenging outreach, and this year we expect more of the same. But this time we will have help from some of the newly-formed Eastman Humanist Community. A few of their intrepid members will join us at the booth talking with believers and non-believers alike.
Summer in the City promises some great entertainment, with Tom Cochrane on the main stage Saturday evening. But Sunday’s performances will feature entirely Christian artists, since ‘Worship in the City’ will now become an all-day event.
Any way you slice it, this is going to be an interesting weekend! So please join us! If you’re a HAAM member, please consider helping out at the booth. Everyone who attends the festival is welcome to just pop by for a visit and say Hi.
See you out there!
Most of us read a lot of depressing news these days about issues that matter to us as Humanists. Do you get discouraged, or even avoid the news, because you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it?
Sometimes there are actions we can take, however small, to make our voices heard. Usually these involve writing to politicians or signing petitions. Please take the few minutes to make your opinion count!
Please help us stop government funding of anti-choice groups. Here is a sample letter that you can send to Manitoba government Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. Opinion aside, it just doesn’t make sense for governments to fund organizations that oppose legal services. Let’s make our voices heard!
Update on Canada’s Blasphemy Law
The map below shows countries that still had penalties for blasphemy in 2016 (click to enlarge). Shamefully, Canada is still on the list.
A recent Call to Action asked HAAM supporters to write to their MP’s demanding the repeal of Canada’s outdated blasphemy law. A number of us did. Here is the response one of our members received from her MP:
Thank you for writing to me about Bill C-39 and changes to blasphemy laws. I apologize for the delay in my response.
As you know, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, is currently in the process of reforming our justice system to make it more fair, relevant and accessible. This reform involves modernizing the Criminal Code. Given that the last broad review of the criminal justice system occurred in the 1980s, an in-depth examination of how the system is currently working will assist in identifying gaps to ensure a comprehensive and modern justice system. To fulfil this commitment, the Minister is undertaking a program of consultation and engagement with stakeholders through a series of regional roundtables across the country.
While Bill C-39 does not touch on blasphemy laws specifically, I would like to note that the Minister has referred to Bill C-39 as a first step in a larger review that will span her entire mandate. To that end, the Minister continues to act on her mandate to review our criminal justice system in a comprehensive way.
Thank you again for writing to me about changes to blasphemy laws. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me again.
It’s not exactly a promise, but at least it’s an acknowledgement. Maybe it’s a start. At least her letter put the issue on one MP’s radar. We need to continue to urge the government to include the blasphemy law in that ‘larger review’ they mention.
It’s not too late to add your own voice to those who have already written. There’s more information and a link to a sample (pre-written) letter on the home page of our HAAM website. All you have to do is copy, paste, and send.
Current Calls to Action are always posted on the Home Page of our website. The only way we’ll ever make a difference is to stand up and be counted!
BOOK OF THE MONTH – Being Gay is Disgusting
Yes, that really is the title of the book. Actually, the full title is Being Gay is Disgusting – or, God Loves the Smell of Burning Fat. It’s been over 3 years since author Edward Falzon visited Winnipeg while on tour, promoting his book. So there are lots of new people in HAAM who may not have heard of it. Don’t let the title put you off – it’s intended for shock value. The book is really just an entertaining and painless way to become familiar with the first five books of the Old Testament. And yes, the well-known verses condemning homosexuality are in there, along with lots of other prohibitions that are probably less familiar.
I thought, when I first got this book, that it would be a severely abridged version of the ‘real’ Bible, but no. Edward has all the information in there, even the boring genealogies (but they’re in chart form instead of endless passages of ‘begats’). None of the sordid details are omitted, either; he only updated the language to make reading the Bible understandable and fun. It’s a great way for the ‘unchurched’, or those who have never read the Bible, to get to know what’s in there. I referred to it regularly when I read the Old Testament as part of HAAM’s Atheist Bible Study project. (Editor’s note: If you didn’t read along with us back then, you can still do it now – the reading guide and my notes are all posted at that link.) One of the best features of the book is Edward’s hilarious and insightful footnotes!
Here’s an excerpt from the book (with its corresponding footnote):
Genesis 14 – Big War, Abram Kicks Butt
So anyway, there were five kings, including the kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah, who had all been subject to a king called Kedorlaomer (“Ked” to his mates). After twelve years of this, they all rebelled. In the 14th year, King Ked teamed up with three other kings and destroyed no less than four territories, plus two more on the way home.
So the five other kings went down to the Dead Sea, which was full of slime pits, and waged war on Ked and his friends.28 They lost. Badly. When the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled to the hills, some of their men fell into the slime pits. The victors took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and went home. They also took Abram’s nephew, Lot, who was living in Sodom at the time.
28You know, at this point in the Bible, only about 370 years have passed since Noah’s flood. I’ve always wondered how there can be nine kings and a Pharaoh, each with their own civilians, servants, slaves, and livestock, created from the eight people on the ark. I still haven’t worked it out – I’ll keep you posted.
The long days of summer are a great time to sit outside and read a book. Wouldn’t it be fun to be caught at the beach with a title like this? A sure conversation starter…
Upcoming HAAM Events
Solar Energy 101
Saturday, May 13th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM
Introduction to Outreach
Thursday May 25th, Sir William Stephenson Library, 765 Keewatin St, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Sunday, June 4th, Smitty’s Restaurant, 580 Pembina Hwy (at Grant), 9:30 AM.
For more information on these and all our upcoming 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.
Upcoming Community (non-HAAM) Events
Winnipeg Comedy Showcase
Friday, May 19th, Park Theatre, 698 Osborne St, 9 PM
Public Lecture – Secular/Atheist Movements in Canada
Wednesday, May 24th, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Morden MB, 7 PM
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday June 4th
For details on these and more upcoming community events, visit our new Community Events page.
We’re Gearing Up for Summer Outreach
HAAM’s Outreach booth will be heading out into Manitoba’s Bible Belt again this summer. We’ll have volunteers at Steinbach’s Summer in the City Festival in June, and at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival in August. (Check our Events page for details.)
The main purpose of outreach is to connect with nonbelievers who may not know that there is a large community here for them. We also promote Humanism and encourage questioning and critical thinking. We love to engage in conversations with people about what they believe and why they believe it, and we welcome questions about Humanism and atheism. Conversation topics usually include the Bible, morality, science (especially evolution), LGBTTQ issues, and anything else on our visitors’ minds.
We need lots of manpower to staff these booths for each of these 3-day festivals, as they are always busy. Please consider joining us and helping out. It’s an interesting and rewarding experience, and a great learning opportunity. Outreach helps build bridges to understanding other worldviews, and it’s a great way to get to know some of your fellow HAAM members as we sit at the booth together.
If you have never done any outreach before, it can sound more intimidating than it really is. Talking to people in person is generally much more respectful than exchanges on social media. Shifts can be as short as 2-3 hours if that’s all the time you can spare, or up to 12 hours if you’re available for the whole day. That’s not as long as it sounds; the time passes VERY quickly once you get involved in a deep conversation.
To help prepare, we’re holding an information session for new Outreach volunteers on Thursday May 25th. Everyone is welcome! But if you want to volunteer and can’t attend, let us know and we’ll work something else out. Even if you are not interested in or are unsure about participating in Outreach, this session may help you to navigate difficult conversations with religious family and friends. There’s also lots more information about outreach on this website. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us! Or just show up at the May meeting and ask in person. Outreach coordinator Pat Morrow (or any of our other experienced Outreach people) will be happy to chat with you.
Speaking of Outreach – Updated Brochures Available
Just in time for the annual summer outreach season, all of our informational brochures have been revised and updated. These are the little pamphlets that we print to hand out to curious visitors at our booth. For some of these people, it is literally the first time they have encountered a real, live non-believer. It’s great for them to have something tangible to pick up and peruse later.
New! We’ve recently added a brochure explaining the meaning of common scientific terms. What’s the difference between a fact, a law, a hypothesis, and a theory (or are they all basically the same thing)? Don’t know for sure? Most of the visitors at our booth don’t, either – that’s why they disparagingly refer to evolution as ‘just a theory’. This little pamphlet should help with the confusion.
All of these brochures are also available on our website. If you, or someone you know, is curious, you can always direct them there, where the brochures can be viewed online (or you can print your own copies to hand out if you wish).
The list of titles reflects the most common topics we get asked about – Humanism, Atheism, and (most common of all) Where do you get your morals from? And then of course, evolution and science, with trees commonly pointed out as proof of creation. (That’s the reason we have an entire brochure dedicated to trees.)
Take a look – and go ahead and share!
Enjoy our April meeting? Want to hear more?
The video clip that was shown was taken from this presentation, Disproving Gods with History and Science, by Richard Carrier. Carrier has a PhD in ancient history, and his whole speech (39 minutes) is well worth the listen. He contends that a historical Jesus never existed, and that the biblical character is based on a compilation of myths.
The secular scholar with the opposing viewpoint (that an historical Jesus did exist, even though he wasn’t divine), also mentioned at the meeting, is Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina and a former fundamentalist Christian. Here’s a clip of him reading from his book Did Jesus Exist?
There’s lots more to this debate, and it may never be settled – but it’s fascinating.
Breaking News – We’ve just heard that Richard Carrier is planning to tour Canada this summer. If he stops in Winnipeg, we’ll be sure to let you know. Stay tuned!
Charity of the Month – Women’s Health Clinic
For over 30 years, the Women’s Health Clinic (WHC) has provided support to women in the areas of prenatal and postpartum care and counselling, newborn care and parenting, nutrition and eating disorders, birth control and unplanned pregnancy, abortion services, sexual health educator training, and general mental health counselling. Most services are offered free or on a pay-what-you-can basis.
The clinic’s Pregnancy Prevention and Safer Sex (PPaSS) program provides supplies to those who can’t afford them otherwise. The program currently offers copper IUDs, condoms, birth control pills, dental dams, and emergency contraception. Unfortunately, due to its high cost, the clinic is not able to offer the hormone-based IUD (Mirena).
The PPaSS program is largely funded through donations from clients and community members, and demand typically exceeds supply. Donations help more people access the supplies they need to care for their sexual and reproductive health.
WHC tries to make sure that everyone who wants an abortion can access one. While the surgical abortion procedure is covered through Manitoba Health, other related expenses often make it challenging for northern and rural Manitobans to access abortion services in Winnipeg. The clinic always welcomes and appreciates donations to WHC’s Client Emergency Fund to help cover costs for travel and accommodations. When necessary, they are also willing to negotiate the fee for clients who aren’t covered by Manitoba Health and don’t have other health coverage. In their commitment to improving access to abortion, they will not turn someone away who is unable to pay for the procedure.
WHC has not yet begun to offer Mifegymiso (the abortion pill, also called medical abortion). The cost isn’t currently covered by Manitoba Health and clients must pay $350. The clinic is committed to working with the government to make medical abortion an accessible healthcare service for more Manitobans.
Support for sexual healthcare and reproductive choice are key values for most Humanists. Our donation will be directed towards the PPaSS program. Let’s do what we can to help women in our community.
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.
March for Science
A few hearty souls from HAAM braved the cool weather to participate in the Winnipeg March For Science on April 22nd. Despite the snow, those who attended were treated to several great speakers.
Right now, science is under attack from several directions, and it needs our help. Those of us who understand that science is the best way we have to know the world around us, need to speak up and remind our leaders and elected officials of the need for evidence-based policies. If we each speak up and let our beliefs be known, perhaps we can influence those in power to make real change. – Donna Harris
More photos in our Gallery.
Book of the Month
Spring is here, so read something fun! How about Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things, by Richard Wiseman. Light reading – but not mindless reading. Wiseman sounds like a fascinating character; he has a PhD in psychology and is also a practicing magician. He conducts research into unusual areas of psychology, or as he calls it, the ‘backwaters of the mind’, including deception, luck, and the paranormal. He also has a very entertaining YouTube channel. Here’s a sample, (only 2 minutes long, and amazing – how does he do that?).
In his book, Wiseman explores the quirky science of everyday life and the oddities of human behavior, like the tell-tale signs that give away a liar, the secret science behind speed-dating and personal ads, and what a person’s sense of humor reveals about the innermost workings of his or her mind. How strange is the human mind? Read this book and you’ll find out!
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
New Community Events Page
You may have noticed that we have a new, separate page on our website for ‘Community Events‘. This is to distinguish our HAAM events from those of other organizations that we encourage our supporters to attend or participate in.
If you are aware of an event that you think our readers might like to know about, please contact us with the details. We will share it, subject to approval from the executive. Consideration will be given to events that are consistent with our Mission and Position Statements, (and to events that warrant our attention and interest because they directly oppose our Mission and Position Statements).
Film Festival Recap
If you could not attend the Prairie Infidel Film Fest and are interested in finding the films, here they are.
Rubai (2013), 12 min – As her classmates prepare for their First Holy Communion, Rubai announces that she is an atheist and refuses to participate.
Deathbed: the Musical (2011), 6 min – An old man sits in a nursing home, waiting to die. A devoutly religious man, he firmly believes he will receive his due reward in the afterlife. While reflecting on his own virtues and thinking of the world to come, a nurse, nearing the end of a long, arduous shift, brings his breakfast.
Bacon & God’s Wrath (2015), 9 min – An elderly Jewish woman tastes bacon for the first time.
The Man From Earth (2007), 1 h, 27 min – An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine. This movie is available on Hoopla, which is free to anyone with a Winnipeg Public Library card.
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!