debates and panels
Winnipeg Pride Parade
This has been rescheduled for September 13th. We are looking forward to the celebration and showing our support for Winnipeg’s GSRD (Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diverse) community. HAAM is entered as a walking group, and everyone is welcome to join us – so cross your fingers that it will proceed as planned.
HAAM and Eggs Brunches
We will resume our regularly monthly brunches only when it is safe to do so.
We can continue to interact, support each other, and maintain friendships online. If you are not a member of our private Facebook group, and would like to join it, contact us. It is open to anyone in Manitoba who identifies as a Humanist/atheist (i.e. you do not need to be a paid member of HAAM).
Check our Events calendar for the latest information on all upcoming HAAM events.
Like so many other organizations, HAAM’s activities have been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. We will continue to rely on evidence-based information and follow the recommendations made by Shared Health Manitoba before deciding when to resume in-person meetings and events. We encourage you to visit our home page (haam.ca), our Facebook page, or Meetup for information and updates.
11 Questions for atheists – Part 2
Last month we published an article that included submissions from our members in answer to the following “FAQ’s for non-believers”:
1. How much does it cost to become an atheist?
2. What is THE book on atheism?
3. Are atheists afraid of the Devil and Hell?
4. Where do atheists get their morals, if not from the bible?
5. How did you become an atheist?
6. If God did not create the universe, who did?
7. Why are atheists so angry?
8. Do atheists have a soul?
9. Do atheists believe in nothing?
10. If atheists don’t believe in God, what prevents them from raping, killing, and breaking the law?
Bonus question – What happens when you die?
Chad Froese took his time and submitted answers to ALL of these questions. The experiences he gained during his own journey out of conservative Christianity make his responses particularly insightful.
Take the time to read them on our Perspectives page.
Can you donate blood?
Blood donation numbers are DOWN due to the pandemic – but sick and injured people still need blood! Canadian Blood Services is open for donations, and it’s safe to donate as long as you follow the health and safety guidelines.
Note the following changes due to COVID-19 – all donors require an appointment (no walk-ins); some donation centers are closed; masks are required; and no snacks will be provided. Of course, all this could change again. To get the latest information and updates, visit blood.ca before making your appointment.
If you are able to donate, please try to do so! And make sure that your donation is credited to HAAM’s Partners for Life team. Partners for Life is a friendly competition between community organizations to see how many donations their members contribute. HAAM’s annual pledge is 25 units, and already we are up to 18!
Instructions on how to join the HAAM Partners for Life team, as well as other useful information) are here.
How will the pandemic affect religiosity? Cast your vote!
So many people are ill or dead from the Coronavirus this year. So many people are spreading or catching it at religious services. So many people are praying for health or healing – to no avail. COVID-19 is proof positive that faith doesn’t protect people from harm and that prayer doesn’t work. So religiosity will decline in the next year, right?
But wait! All this uncertainty and upheaval due to the pandemic – people sick or dying, or out of work, the downturn in the economy, and unstable governments – causes anxiety and stress. And when times are tough, faith gives people hope. So religiosity will increase in the next year, right?
The first view, that religion will decline, is expressed in a rant by an atheist on YouTube who calls herself the Angry Aging Woman. The second view, that religion will increase, is espoused by Phil Zuckerman in an article for Psychology Today.
So which is it? We are all probably rooting for the YouTuber – but Zuckerman is a professor of sociology who actually studies secular culture. Is the expert correct? Will we see increases in church attendance over the next year?
Read the article and watch the video in the links above, then let us know who you think is correct.
We’ll publish the poll results in the August newsletter. Then we can follow the news over the next few months to see who turns out to be correct.
New Essay Contest
Calling all students! Humanist Canada is holding another essay contest, open to anyone age 16-19 as of September 2020. If you know a student who has some time over the summer, and is able to express their view(s) on some important social issue that relates to secularity and Humanism, let them know that they can earn up to $1000 (first prize) or $750 (second prize) simply for putting their opinions down on paper. Entry deadline is September 30th.
Visit Humanist Canada for all the details and rules.
The winning entry in the 2019 essay contest, called “The Necessity of a Universal Basic Income in Upholding Human Freedom”, is now up on the Humanist Canada website.
Upcoming HAAM Events
Stealing Reason: Christianity’s Theft of Human Values
Our own Pat Morrow will talk about Christian apologetic claims regarding the scientific revolution and slavery. His presentation will demonstrate that progress is not due to any gods, but rather to human effort. Details here.
HAAM and Eggs Brunch
Saturday, May 26th, Red Top Inn, 219 St Mary’s Road, 9:30 AM
Our monthly casual get-together. Everyone’s welcome. Details here.
Save the Dates
June 15-17 – Outreach at the Summer in the City Festival (Steinbach)
June 23rd – Summer Solstice Party
Details for all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Interbelief Reasoning Dialogue: “What Weaponizes Beliefs?”
Thursday, 3 May, St James Assiniboia Public Library (note change of date)
Presented by the Winnipeg Circle of Reason.
Advance Care Planning – what you need to know
Saturday, May 12th, St Boniface Public Library, 1:30 PM.
Learn more about your rights as a patient, and how to increase the chances of your wishes being respected in a health crisis and/or at the end of life. Registration required. More information here.
Winnipeg Pride Parade
Sunday, June 3rd, Manitoba Legislative Building.
Rally at 10 AM and parade at 11.
More information and links to all these non-HAAM events are on our Community Events page.
Charity of the Month
Just in time for Mothers Day! They say you can’t spoil a baby – but let’s try.
You Can’t Spoil a Baby has been providing baby supplies to Manitoba families in need since 2011. Its goal is to show families that they are valued by their community by providing them with no-strings-attached gifts to help them care for their baby.
YCSAB is run 100% by volunteers. The concept is simple:
Donors can either contribute their once-loved baby items to one of YCSAB’s more than 40 drop-off spots for volunteers to combine into gifts, or follow guidelines provided by YCSAB to make and deliver their own gift using items they collect. Each gift includes items that will help a family through their baby’s first year – a set of newborn to 18 month baby clothes, one ‘big-ticket’ item (like a crib, stroller, or exersaucer), a few other helpful accessories (like feeding, bathing and diapering supplies, blankets, and toys), and a big sibling gift if the family has other children.
Families who need assistance need to apply for a gift early in pregnancy (the wait list is close to 6 months). Most of the expectant parents who apply do not have friends or family to give them baby items, are single parents or young couples living on Income Assistance, are newcomers to Canada who are starting over, are leaving abusive relationships, or have had a series of tough breaks and need help. In addition to the gift of baby clothes and baby items, YCSAB provides families with an online list of local resources to help with the high costs of raising children.
YCSAB accepts money as well as gently used baby items that help with the first two years of life. Their highest need items are always sleepers/pajamas in sizes 6-18 months. Used items are encouraged to promote reuse, but they won’t turn away new ones. A list of accepted items can be found on their website. Please check it carefully, as some items must comply with safety regulations. You can bring your donations to our meeting. If you have very large items, or cannot make it to the meeting, let us know and we’ll arrange for pickup and/or transport of your items.
Donations for the Charity of the Month will be collected at the meeting. 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 ‘Donate’ button. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
Call to Action
There’s a new petition to the House of Commons urging the government to re-examine the ban against gay men donating blood.
The current law makes anyone (male or female), who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man within the last year ineligible to donate. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue and there is a lot more to the law than just politics. Blood donation regulations need to be evidence-based, in order to protect us all. That’s why the screening for prospective donors includes questions about drug use, travel history, tattoos, and whether their job involves caring for monkeys.
But when it comes to sexual practices, the law focuses on demographics instead of behaviors – banning ALL gay men, even those in monogamous, long-term relationships, from donating blood. On the other hand, straight people are not excluded from donating regardless of the number of sexual partners they have had – as long as the donor believes that all those partners are also straight. Doesn’t this seem illogical?
The rationale for the current guidelines and the history behind them are clearly explained on the Canadian Blood Services’ website here and here. In summary, the rules used to be much stricter – a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was in place until 2013. Since then, CBS has gradually been relaxing the standards as more data is obtained. The current one-year ban was initiated in 2016. Of course, we all want to avoid another fiasco like the tainted blood scandal of the 80’s and 90’s that made people sick, cost millions of dollars, and diminished confidence in the safety of Canada’s blood supply.
But it would make more sense to screen all donors for at-risk practices instead of just banning a whole group of people, and it appears that CBS is gradually moving in that direction. Recently, donors were given a survey asking if they would be willing to answer more detailed questions about their sexual practices as part of donor screening, or whether such intimate questions would discourage them from donating at all.
The survey question asked: Please state how comfortable you would be answering questions on these topics in order to donate blood or plasma:
– Saying the number of partners you have had in the last 6 months
– Saying if you have had ANAL sex with anyone in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used a condom every time you had sex in the last 6 months
– Saying if you used the internet or social media (eg Facebook or Tinder) to seek a partner for sexual intercourse in the last 6 months)
– And several more similar questions
The answer choices were ‘completely comfortable’, ‘somewhat comfortable’, ‘somewhat uncomfortable’, ‘completely uncomfortable’, and ‘this would stop me from donating’.
If having to answer these questions deters some people from donating, wouldn’t it stand to reason that most of those who are deterred are those who participate in high-risk behaviors? And wouldn’t that be a good thing? It’s interesting to think about.
If you support encouraging CBS to focus on behaviors rather than on demographics in their donor screening, please sign the petition. It’s open for signature until July 17th.
And if you ARE currently eligible to donate, please do. HAAM is a member of CBS Partners for Life program. Learn more about it here, and sign up now!
Your Health Care – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
According to the Health Care Directives Act of Manitoba, a health care directive (HCD) is a legal document that must be respected by your medical team in the event that you can’t speak for yourself. Also, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all competent adult Canadians have the right to refuse or discontinue treatment.
But did you know that both your HCD and your right to refuse treatment can be ignored by your medical team under certain circumstances? For example, you might have comfort in the fact that you’ve written down and signed your wish not to be resuscitated, in the event that you collapse and someone calls an ambulance. However, what paramedics have told us is that not only will they not take the time to stop and read a HCD when treating a patient in an emergency, but they also can’t respect your request. That’s because they can’t verify your signature, your state of mind, or your competency when you signed it. To be considered valid, a DNR (do not resuscitate) order must be obtained from and signed by your doctor (and even then, there is still some uncertainty about whether it will be followed). And once the patient arrives at the hospital, and let’s say regains consciousness, the patient’s request to refuse treatment could be ignored by staff until a psychiatrist confirms the patient’s competence. So even if it’s your worst fear to wake up in hospital hooked up to machines, that could be exactly what happens in spite of your best efforts to communicate your wishes.
What can I do about this?
So what can you do to prevent such a situation from happening? Well, first of all, do you HAVE a signed HCD in the first place? If not, you can download one for free from End of Life Planning Canada (via DWD Winnipeg chapter), make sure you’ve chosen a proxy who is willing to get LOUD if your wishes are not being respected. Neither of these will likely help with the paramedics, but they will certainly help once you arrive at the hospital. Second, do you have a card in your wallet that states who your proxy is and where to find your HCD? And finally, have you discussed your end-of-life wishes with all of your friends and family? The more backup you have, the safer it will be (legally) for medical staff to respect your proxy’s instructions.
What about MAID?
It is currently not legal to list Medical Assistance in Dying as one of your requests in your health care directive, since your HCD only comes into effect if you can’t communicate, and you can’t have assistance to die unless you’re able to consent when the time comes to administer the drugs. The DWD Canada blog states
“In 2016, an Ipsos Reid poll of 2,530 Canadians found a surprisingly strong level of support for allowing MAID in our HCDs, with no statistically significant regional variations. Approval was high among supporters of the three leading federal parties, especially supporters of the New Democratic Party (84%) and the Liberal Party of Canada (83%). Three out of four Conservative supporters (74%) were in favour, too. 78% of Catholics and 73% of Protestant Christians support allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to make advance requests for physician-assisted dying. Sample sizes for people of other faiths weren’t large enough to allow for statistically significant comparisons.
Other poll questions presented different possible scenarios involving advance consent for assisted dying. About eight in 10 (82%) Canadians said they would support physician-assisted dying for patients who have a scheduled assisted death, and were competent at the time of the request, but who lose competence before the request can be carried out (for example, in the case of a patient who falls into a coma just days before the scheduled provision of aid in dying). Seven in 10 (71%) Canadians would support allowing a patient without a diagnosis for a grievous and irremediable illness to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying that would be honoured if certain pre-stated conditions were met.”
If you’d like to be fully informed and complete your HCD, join us for our next workshop on Advance Care Planning, May 12th at the St Boniface Library at 1:30 PM. Become an empowered patient! For more information, and to register (required), contact DWD Winnipeg Chapter. – Cheri Frazer
Event Review – Debate: Morality
In April I attended the Feakes vs. Kay morality debate held at Winnipeg’s New Life Sanctuary Church. Darren Kay is a local Humanist writer with an interest in the big questions. John Feakes is the pastor of the aforementioned church. He’s a Young Earth Creationist with a master’s degree in theology from the Columbia Evangelical Seminary (readers are free to look that one up).
The debate question was “How should we live our lives?”. It asks which is the better framework for forming an ethical morality – Christianity or secularism.
As far as the calibre of the debate, this was not Wilberforce versus Huxley. Part of the problem was the nature of the question. Feakes was tasked with arguing for the proposition that “Christianity is ethically superior to secularism” whereas Kay was tasked with the negative “Christianity is not ethically superior to secularism”. Taking the negative put Kay in the situation of having to disprove Feakes’s position and at the same time argue his own. In addition, neither position was clearly defined – whose version of Christianity? and what do we mean by secularism? Feakes did try to define secularism in his rapid-fire slideshow, by displaying every definition of it from many sources.
For me, the quality of any debate is in its opening statements and initial rebuttals. I found this debate quite formulaic and pre-scripted (or maybe I’ve just watched far too many of them). Feakes opened with the standard creationist shotgun debating technique (AKA the Gish Gallop). Kay did a good job of trying to explain the nature of secular morality, but with the limited time available I think some points were not as clear as they could’ve been, and were therefore missed by the folks who most needed to hear them.
In formal debate, after the opening arguments come the rebuttals. This is a chance for one to respond to the arguments that were just presented by one’s opponent. Great debaters such as Christopher Hitchens would often do their rebuttals from memory or with just a few notes. The rebuttal requires debaters to think on their feet, although on occasion, visual aids could be incorporated if one is familiar enough with their opponent’s points to anticipate them. However, in this debate, both sides used fully prepared PowerPoint presentations, which offered the odd spectacle of each of them rebutting arguments that their opponents had not presented. As a result, the rebuttals were disappointing. At some points the evening took on a lecture feel rather than a debate.
You can find the full video of the evening here on YouTube. It will help those unfamiliar with the moral argument to become better informed, but if you’re looking for the thrust and parry of a traditional debate, this may not be for you. – Pat Morrow
Library News – Interlibrary loans now available
The Eastman Humanist Community (EHC), based in Steinbach, is growing and now has its own small library. It makes sense to pool our resources – sharing is what Humanists do, right? So HAAM and the EHC have recently reached an agreement to allow inter-library loans between the two groups.
Our own HAAM library is now up to almost 250 items (books and DVD’s), available to all paid members. So check it out! But if we don’t have the book you are looking for, you are now welcome to check out the EHC’s library as well. If you find something there that you would like to borrow, contact HAAM. We will make arrangements with the EHC to obtain the item for you the next time someone from either group is traveling between Steinbach and Winnipeg.
Book of the Month – Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
If you’re concerned about the current anti-intellectualism trend that is making people vulnerable to propaganda, advertising, and quackery in medicine, religion, and politics, then you’ll find this book encouraging.
Ben Goldacre writes in easy to understand language about the importance of learning to think critically when evaluating scientific claims, in order to separate promotional propaganda from reality. He covers research topics like placebos, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it.
Read about detox baths, ear candling, ‘whole brain learning’, homeopathy, the MMR vaccine scare, cosmetics, vitamin supplements, anti-oxidants, cognitive bias, the misuse of statistics, celebrity endorsements, and more. It’s an entertaining book for anyone interested in the practical uses – and abuses – of science.
All our library books and DVD’s are free to borrow for paid HAAM members.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
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.
If you missed Part 1, go back and start there first.
Welcome to Christian Apologetics
Fellow HAAM member Tony Governo and I were invited to the recent apologetics conference held at Riverwood Church after being interviewed in preparation for it. The title of the conference was “(Un)Apologetic” and its sub heading was “Rational, Gracious, True.” I will say our hosts were gracious, so, as I was about to find out, one out of three isn’t bad.
The parking lot was filling up fast even though I got there early, and just inside the doors it was shoulder to shoulder at the registration desk as people figured out what line they were supposed to be in. The fella beside me nodded in greeting, and I offered a “good morning”, to which he replied “hey, aren’t you the atheist guy from last week?” (referring to the Apologetics video in which I had appeared the previous Sunday). I replied yes, and gave a proper introduction. He thanked me for coming even though I was probably “out of my comfort zone”, to which I responded “actually no, I speak to religious people all the time, though the web and our organization’s outreach programs; and besides, Christians haven’t burnt one of us at the stake in over 200 years, so I feel quite safe”. He laughed.
So began my first Christian apologetics conference. I picked up a cappuccino and strolled over to the book table. Lots of books on apologetics and Christian living, and lots of authors I hadn’t heard of, which is not unusual; even if one pays attention to apologetics, the Christian publishing industry is prolific. In North America there are just under a hundred exclusively Christian publishers pumping out books. One name stood out for me, though – Paul Copan – only because he’s one of those apologists who defends the moral character of the god of the Old Testament. Defenders of genocide stick out in my mind and turn the stomachs of humanists. I picked up his book When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Every Day Apologetics. I opened it to a random page and saw the following: “Lesbianism, though more complex, is often motivated by seeking protection from unsafe men – often because of sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence.” Eeuw! This is standard apologetic thinking, and it gets worse from there – but not worth the $18 to see just how bad. It was time to refresh my coffee, meet Tony, and head in.
The conference was led by apologists Steve Kim, who holds a masters in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and Dan Rutherford, a pastor/author who gives lectures on apologetics but currently works as the manager of marketing and business development at Fast Air. They use a Ravi Zacharias/William Lane Craig style of apologetics. For those who are not familiar with that, it just means lots of words with not much substance; the basic principles of logic are co-opted when useful and discarded when not.
The conference centered around these two apologists and 4 questions.
1.Why is God hiding? Or maybe he doesn’t really exist?
2.Doesn’t science disprove God?
3. The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
4. There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim that their way is the only way to God?
A Few Basics about Apologetics
Before we get started on these questions, there are certain points that should be mentioned for the benefit of folks who are unfamiliar with this type of Christian apologetics.
Apologetics is not meant to change the mind of a nonbeliever; instead it’s an attempt to reinforce supernatural belief in those who already believe. No one becomes convinced of the existence of God by the ontological argument, the teleological argument, or the transcendental argument. In my opinion, Christian apologetics is wasted on the rational thinker if conversion is the goal. We can see the gaping holes in their reasoning and arguments, but to be clear, we see these holes not because we are any smarter, but because of how we approach the subject. Humanists/atheists/sceptics approach apologetics with a critical eye and a hope to understand, whereas religious believers are looking for information that will reinforce their preconceived ideas of what is true. For the believer, adding a healthy dose of conformation bias to Christian apologetics seems reasonable and reinforces their beliefs.
Apologists very often work with incorrect assumptions about us (atheists and Humanists).
- First, they believe that atheism is the active rejection of their God; for them, atheism is an assertion, or a blanket statement that God does not exist. This is strange to me because I have never encountered an atheist who holds this position. (Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods or the rejection of theistic claims.) This tactic is simply an attempt to shift the burden of proof, because in order for many forms of apologetics to work, shifting of the burden of proof is necessary.
- Second, they believe that atheism is also a philosophy, although I don’t know where they get this idea from; and when you ask them what the philosophy of atheism is, they can’t tell you.
- Third, they also assert that atheism is a religion – or at the very least, a worldview.
- Finally, the most important concept that one has to understand to truly grasp Christian apologetics is: The Bible is true (except when it’s not), and this is based on each individual’s interpretation of Scripture. Some get it right, some not, and there’s no empirical way to tell the difference…
With those explanations out of the way, welcome to apologetics.
Speeches from the Apologists
Question 1: “Is God hiding? Maybe he doesn’t exist?” – Apologist Steve Kim
Probably one of the most powerful arguments for atheism is divine hiddenness. Steve Kim saves this primary question to the last 10 minutes of his 40-minute talk. Most of his time is spent offering personal testimony, and explaining how the Big Bang theory proves Genesis, and quite a bit of time is spent on William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. Various other arguments get a mention, such as the ontological argument and the argument from design. In the rationalist community we often refer to these arguments as P.R.A.T.T. (Points Refuted A Thousand Times). I won’t cover them here but if one is interested in looking up the arguments (and learning why they fail), the Iron Chariots website is an excellent resource.
In the last ten minutes, we finally get to the primary question “Why is god hidden?” Kim breaks it down to three points:
- Somehow seeing god would take away our free will. God will not mess with our free will because that would turn us into automatons (or some such thing). Because of his beauty we will have no choice but to serve him. (Christians assume that free will is given to them by god, but they don’t define it, nor can they demonstrate what they mean by it. Humanists and atheists, on the other hand, are generally determinists. We believe that free will doesn’t exist except in a very limited sense, because that’s all we have evidence for.)
I’ve always found this a strange counter to the problem of divine hiddenness, since God made himself known to several characters in the Old Testament. Lucifer himself has personal knowledge of God “in the flesh” so to speak, and it didn’t seem to affect his free will. Unless of course we are to make the assumption that God is controlling Lucifer?
- This one was surprising – God is hidden because, to quote apologist Steve Kim directly, “if your heart is already hardened, it may be impossible for God to turn you around”. This one begs many questions. All people are not saveable? There are things that are impossible for god? Kim ends this point by using Richard Dawkins as an example of a man who has chosen to go to hell.
- Even if god showed himself, many would still not love him. Kim relates the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. After everything God did to free the Israelites, they rejected him and built themselves a golden calf; a false god. All I could think of after Kim made the point was: why would I want to worship a god with such low self-esteem issues?
Kim finishes up by telling us how God has already revealed himself through his invisible attributes, infinite power, and general and special revelations though scripture. And he proves his point thoroughly by using scripture. If our readers are wondering what that means, in the real world we give it a name; we call it nonsense.
Question 2: “Doesn’t science disprove God?” – Apologist Dan Rutherford
I found this question rather strange, as I’ve not heard any one make the claim that it does. A much better question, in my opinion, would be “Does Science disprove the claims of the bible?” But hey, not my conference. I suppose it is easier for an apologist to answer the question if you ask a question that nobody is asking.
The wording of this whole talk was cringe-worthy; it was full of half-truths, blind assertions, and incomplete information, such as:
- Modern science was started by Christianity, and many scientists are devout Christians (we heard this throughout the conference whenever the topic of science came up).
- Absolutely no mention of the religious oppression of rational thought throughout history – Copernicus hiding his manuscripts of Heliocentric theory from the church, Galileo’s imprisonment, Giordano Bruno’s burning at the stake, none of it.
The actual talk had very little to do with the question presented; most of the time was spent trying to demonstrate the compatibility of religion and science. I really hope this speech will be posted publicly; it is so bad that it would make an excellent teaching aid for counter-apologetics.
It’s not without its humour though. In an attempt to discredit Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith, Rutherford offers his own definition – “Faith is an evidence-based commitment established on the empirical and experiential realities, such as history, testimony, revelation, and inference”. Richard Dawkins’ definition of faith comes directly from common usage and the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) – “Faith is belief without evidence; very often belief in spite of the evidence”. The humor comes a little later, when Rutherford cautions the audience not to use ideas that are “unbiblical”; rather ironic, since Rutherford’s definition of faith can be found nowhere in the Bible. For more on biblical faith and how it’s used by Christians, I recommend this excellent article by Aron Ra.
Question 3: The Bible is full of myths, mistakes and contradictions! Then how can anyone trust the Bible?
Question 4: There are 4200 different religions! How can Christians claim there is the only way to God?
The last two sessions were simply a combination of apologetics and a Sunday sermon, grounded in circular reasoning and weak-to-nonexistent evidence. This took the form as arguments such as:
- We know that some of the places and characters in the bible existed; therefore, its true.
- We know that Jesus rose because they found the tomb empty.
The last talk, by professional apologist Steve Kim, mostly compared Christianity to other religions, discussed the supposed historical accuracy of the gospels, and ended with an emotional and graphic description of Jesus having his flesh ripped open by a cat ‘o nine tails and full details of crucifixion.
Now crucifixion, as the ancient Romans practiced it, is grotesque, and represents the pinnacle of human cruelty. If you’ve read about it in historical records, you can’t help but be emotionally moved. I would actually not recommend reading accurate historical accounts of this torture process if you have a weak stomach. Apologist Steve Kim used a graphic account of this torture to elicit an emotional response in the congregation, in order to sell his religion and make it seem more real. I found that despicable and at the same time ironic, as Christians the world over celebrate this slow torture and agonizing death as a good thing.
One part of the conference I was really looking forward to was what they called a “panel” (not to be confused with a discussion, as there was little of that). It was about a half an hour long and consisted of myself and four other panelists: a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Muslim. Each panelist had previously been sent a list of 10 questions that may or may not all be covered, so that they could prepare. During the briefing immediately before the panel, this was reduced to two questions, one of which wasn’t even in the original 10. It was also explained that we had a minute (an actual minute) to introduce ourselves and explain the core of our religion. I did suggest that a minute was cutting it quite thin, and corrected Dennis as I have had to do every time he brought it up … Humanism is not a religion.
Dennis explained that there would be a rapid-fire round of yes/no questions, but no Q & A afterward. Of course, from a humanist perspective, I found the questions fairly easy to answer. However, they were not easy for the other folks on the panel. The question “does your religion offer salvation” is not a yes/no answer for the Sikh, Buddhist, or Jew, and even the Muslim put her hand up half way. The final question, which was the same for all of us, was “How does your religion help us going forward?” This question was incredibly vague, and I had to ask for clarification. I must say it give me great pleasure to tell Dennis on stage that again, Humanism is not a religion.
Impressions and Conclusions
Overall, Tony and I found that this apologetics conference was kind of what we expected – self-serving and predictable. At various points during the conference we found we knew the answers, including the apologetics arguments they were going to use, before they used them. If they had allowed liquor, Tony and I could’ve made an awesome drinking game out of it. I guess if I had to choose the one thing that bothered me the most, it was the feeling of disingenuousness. I do realize that the purpose of these conferences is to equip religious believers to defend the faith; however, what they’re being equipped with is neither rational, gracious, nor true. Many of the folks I spoke to during the breaks, much to my delight, could see the missteps and the logical fallacies in the apologists’ arguments. Of course, there are still plenty of credulous people in the crowd ready and willing to believe. I don’t believe that apologetics helps the average Joe in the pew understand his religion any better; it’s probably closer to a form of mental masturbation for the true believer. In fact, not being honest with parishioners may be a detriment to their religious belief in the long term.
Two odd points to note. First, during the conference there was no mention of Humanism other than on the panel (discussion), and I was the one to mention it. A Humanist appeared in one of their videos and on their panel. But neither apologist touched Humanism with a 10-foot pole.
Lastly, I’ve come to the conclusion that apologists, at least at this conference, either hate Richard Dawkins or think he is the pope of atheism. His name came up a lot, in quotes from his books and films. Keep in mind that the two apologists spoke four times for 40 minutes each time, and in that time Dawkins cropped up either by mention or direct quote 23 times (yes, I counted). Contrast that with quotes from other atheists – Lawrence Krauss, and Bertram Russell got one quote each, and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris got a mention each.
In the end, I can’t speak for Tony, but this will be probably be my first and last apologetics conference. If it is ever the case that I’m invited to another, I’m going to have to ask for equal time.
(Un)Apologetic was an effort for Riverwood Church to explore a “robust defense” of their faith. It consisted of the conference and a series of six videos which have just been completed. If there was ever any doubt that apologetics suffers from internal conflict, it was revealed for all to hear in the words of the speakers as they contradicted each other.
As explained in Question 2 (above), apologist Dan Rutherford claims that faith is based on evidence and reality. But in the last two minutes of the final video (Evil and Suffering), Riverwood’s pastor, Todd Petkau, states (paraphrased) “After logic, reason, theories, and evidence, we still need faith”.
It seems that Pastor Petkau has a different definition of faith than apologist Dan Rutherford. Petkau’s faith appears to be based on something other than reason and evidence. Looks more like belief without evidence.
Pastor Petkau ends the series with the question “Is Jesus enough for you?” As a Humanist, I can honestly say no. We can do so much better.
– Pat Morrow
Invitation to an Apologetics Conference
HAAM was recently contacted by Pastor Dennis Maione of the Riverwood Church Community. He was looking to interview Humanists/atheists with the idea of coming to a better understanding of what we believe, and exposing his fellow Christians to ideas that may be foreign to them. Or, as he put it in his letter:
“Many of the people who go to my church have little to no significant contact with people who do not share their beliefs; and if they do, there is rarely open dialogue between them. So I am looking for people who would be willing to talk on camera (one-on-one interviews with me) about the foundations of their view of the world.”
To me that sounded pretty good; as a Humanist actively involved in outreach, open dialogue with people who don’t think the same as me is something I enjoy and right up my alley. Tony Governo also offered to participate, so we did separate one-on-one interviews. My interview would take place at Pastor Maione’s coffee shop, and it would be simply a discussion with no debate – again, right up my alley. Truly a conversation worth having.
I figured something was amiss when the coffee shop turned out to be a church with a coffee shop in it – part of the Riverwood Church Community. While reading through their website, I made a mental note that they have an apologetics conference coming up… Hmmm. So I met with Dennis at Riverwood and found that they were shooting for a conference and video series called (Un)apologetic. To be fair, he did give me the final yes or no on how the video would be used, but fostering a better understanding is quite different from appearing in a video promoting Christianity. Thing is, if they had been straight up I would’ve done the interview anyway! But at least now I know that this really wasn’t about open dialogue and a better understanding; it was about defending the faith with apologetics, specifically Christian apologetics. I went ahead with the interview.
For those unfamiliar, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia or apologize – to speak in defence. Now everybody at some point engages in apologetics; speaking in defence of one’s worldview is a right closely tied in with freedom of speech. However religious apologetics is a different kettle of fish. Most forms of Christian apologetics are grounded in what’s known as confirmation bias (including the evidence that agrees with your view and discounting or ignoring the evidence that doesn’t). It also relies on logical fallacies such as the strawman argument (misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack). Obfuscation is also popular, but at its worst, Christian apologetics just makes shit up.
Case in point: The first video of the (Un)apologetic series “Where did we (and everything) come from“, hosted by Pastor Todd Petkau, is about he origins of the universe. At the nine-minute mark we finally get to Big Bang cosmology. If you have even a basic grasp of physics, the pastor’s explanation of Big Bang theory will make you cringe. The pastor then asks: Where did the Big Bang came from? This is a question much studied by cosmologists, physicists and astronomers. For the answer he offers video clips from some of the world’s leading scientists – Richard Dawkins (PhD in evolutionary biology), Peter Atkins (PhD in chemistry), and Lewis Wolpert (PhD in developmental biology). See the problem? If one has hemorrhoids, one does not consult a dentist.
The most dishonest and frankly humorous part of this apologetic video is a clip cut from a William Lane Craig vs Lewis Wolpert debate in 2007. At 20:30, with proper set up and clever editing, Wolpert is made to look as though he is offering the idea that the creator of the universe is a computer. Wolpert then gives this computer all the same attributes that Craig ascribes to his creator god; to which Craig complains that these attributes are impossible – not coherent and a contradiction in terms. In effect, Wolpert just had Craig agree that the attributes of his own God are nonsense. How this clip got by the producers of the apologetics video, I have no idea. The apologetics video then continues to drag on for quite some time, misrepresenting evolutionary theory, atheism, and humanistic moral theory. (If you would like to look at the original debate that the Wolpert clip is mined from, and view it in context, you can find it here, with the relevant part at 1:16:15 to 1:19:00. In that clip you will find that Dr Wolpert does give his very honest opinion about what started the universe – he simply doesn’t know.)
The second apologetics video “How can you worship a God that commits genocide” is pretty bad, too. I know – I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch it in Riverwood Church. And I came to a full understanding of the reason why church services never have Q & A. In this second video you will learn that genocide really isn’t genocide (we’re not using the word correctly), that parts of the Old Testament are hyperbole (but we’re not told which ones), and my favourite – that the wars to wipe out the Midianites, Amalekites, and Canaanites were not genocide; they were Israel’s armies engaging fixed military positions. He offers the fallacious idea that these were soldier-to-soldier battles, when we know that Yahweh commands the death of every man, women, child, and in some battles even the livestock. (“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:15-18 See also 1 Samuel 15:3). Does this sound like a strictly military engagement? I suppose Pastor Petkau is counting on his parishioners not actually reading the Bible. You can watch the second apologetics video here.
You might be asking yourself why the hell Tony and I would take part in the project if apologetics is this weak and frankly dishonest. Well, any exposure atheists and Humanists can get with religious believers dispels some of the myths they have of us. The video in question will be produced by Dennis Maione, the gentleman who interviewed me, and we have some creative control so I’m fairly comfortable with that. Finally, many of the folks who will be taking the apologetics course will swallow the information (and misinformation) hook, line, and sinker – without ever talking to people who think differently than they do. Participating in these interviews has given us a chance to talk to these folks where they are most comfortable, since the kind folks over at Riverwood were nice enough to give Tony and I free tickets to their (Un)apologetic conference February 3-5th… So in a nutshell, the Vice President and one of the lead outreach members of a provincial Humanist/atheist organization are going to a three-day apologetics conference along with 200+ evangelical Christians – and they know we’re coming.
I, for one, am looking forward to talking to a professional Christian apologist. I just hope there’s a bar.
– Pat Morrow
Continued in HAAM Takes on Apologetics – Part 2
Pat’s and Tony’s original uncut interviews can be seen here
But in the meantime, take a few minutes to read.
In our April 2014 Newsletter, you’ll find:
- The next Book Club selection for May.
- What happened when two of our members spoke to a high school class in Grunthal, MB.
- Which well-known author we’re speaking to at our April meeting.
Just click to read!
Welcome to a new year! The 2014 Newsletter is here.
Upcoming this month: our Annual General Meeting, a book club, a multi-faith panel discussion… and more!
Our own Diana Goods (pic on right) will be participating in a public Panel Discussion. You can show your support by attending!
Click the link below to read…
- Our October meeting was chilling and spooky. (Member Heather M. in the picture to the right)
- What is the Faith response to Dying with Dignity? Find out in this month’s issue.
- Allan Gregg talks religion and reason at the U of W.
- Our November meeting focus is all about YOU!
- Find out what atheists do at book clubs and round tables…
Click below and read the November newsletter!
At our May Meeting, we’re talking about some good news related to Climate Change! Come on out and hear Curt Hull from the Climate Change Connection.
Plus… why is Diana Goods spurning a declaration of love? Find out!
Image (r) Our panelists at our April Bill 18 Public Discussion. From l. to r., Chad Smith, Jeff Olsson, Sharon Wilson, Jim Rondeau and Donn Short.
The April Newsletter! No regular meeting this month! Instead, we’re hosting a Public Discussion on Manitoba Bill 18, the Anti-Bullying legislation. Also in this month’s issue: Why Sage House is a valuable resource. Pat Morrow tells us to be “out” as an atheist. And more! (picture is from the March 28th Bill 18 rally).