What the Heck is ‘Evolutionary Creationism’?
At the beginning of the documentary Losing Our Religion, philosopher Daniel Dennett says “Religion Is going through a profound revolutionary period and we’re right in the middle of it”. I agree, and I think this is happening on many fronts and in many religions. Just recently, I had a front row seat to view a small part of this revolution. I attended a lecture titled Beyond the ‘Evolution vs Creation’ Debate, hosted by the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, at the U of M.
The speaker was Dr. Denis O. Lamoureux, who holds three doctoral degrees (in dentistry, theology, and biology). No one who attended could forget that, as he brought the point up several times in his lecture. He’s a self-admitted Bible-believing, born-again, Evangelical Christian. He is also an evolutionary creationist, which, as he stated during his talk, “sounds like an oxymoron” (probably because it is). Evolutionary creationism is defined by Dr. Lamoureux as the claim that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design-reflecting evolutionary process”.
Dr. Lamoureux explained that the lecture he was presenting that evening is one he gives to his first-year university (theology?) students. It is specifically designed to help Christians who struggle with the concept of evolution. That point that would become blatantly obvious during the course of the evening. We were given handouts to follow along.
A Few Definitions
Before we go much further, we need to review some of the definitions included in Dr. Lamoureux’s handout. Curiously, I found some of them just accurate enough to support his argument.
|Dichotomy||Division of an issue into two simple positions
Caused by ‘black-and-white’ & ‘either/or’ thinking
|Secular Humanism||Belief that humans alone determine morals|
|Conflation||Sloppy blending of distinct ideas into one simple idea|
|Teleology||Belief the world has plan & purpose|
|Dysteleology||Belief the world has NO plan & purpose|
|Evolution||Scientific theory that natural processes over billions of years produced all living organisms, including humans|
|Creation||Belief that the world is the product of the Creator|
A False Dichotomy?
Lamoureux began with the problem of conflict between science and religion that he believes many people become stuck in, and he spent the bulk of the lecture attempting to explain how this is a false dichotomy. He didn’t clearly define either religion or science, other than to state that one tells the how, the other tells us the who. Nor did he define another popular word used throughout the lecture – faith. This would have been a helpful clarification; instead, this oversight allowed him conflate all three into one sloppy mess. If one were to believe the ideas put forward in this lecture, every idea is faith-based to varying degrees – religion, science, even atheism – thus validating his assertion that the religion vs. science debate is a false dichotomy.
But science vs. religion is NOT a false dichotomy. Science is a process used by humans to give them an accurate picture of the universe. Data (evidence) from this process contributes to the body of knowledge that we also call science. With that knowledge, we can build a better mousetrap, or a better, more moral society. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief system based on assertions, moral proclamations, and faith. Faith, as defined in the Bible, is belief without evidence.
Science in the Bible
I think Dr. Lamoureux understands that religion and science are very different things. To his credit, he stated several times during the course of the lecture that the Bible is not a book of science. But then he confused the issue by claiming that the Biblical model of a three-tier universe (with waters below, a flat circular earth, and more water above, held in the sky by the firmament) can be considered “ancient science”, when in fact it’s not science at all but ignorance. The writers of the Bible knew nothing of hydrology, geology, or the laws of planetary motion. For them, the earth was a flat circle, because that’s what it looked like. The ocean was blue and so was the sky. Water fell from the sky so there must be an ocean up there. Such beliefs were considered common sense at the time, but they were not based on science. The authors of those passages didn’t test their observations or engage the scientific method. Opinion and navel gazing are not science.
I can see why Dr. Lamoureux developed this lecture for Christians struggling with evolution, because when you believe you have the one true religion, you’re stuck in a simple either/or position. Many Christians find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to choose either reality or superstition. Dr. Lamoureux tries to remedy this cognitive dissonance by blending reality and superstition – often with absurd results.
Does this look like it was well-designed?
One of the possible solutions Lamoureux offers is that evolution is teleological (with a plan and purpose). He gives no evidence for this, of course. I believe that evolution is dysteleological (without plan or purpose), as this seems to be where the evidence leads. One just has to look at the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe, and see how it makes a 15 foot round trip from the brain, down the neck into the chest cavity, and back up to the larynx. From a design point of view, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – but it makes perfect sense when one understands evolutionary biology. There are thousands of other examples which demonstrate that if there is any divine design, plan, or purpose to biological evolution, the designer is confused (or just an idiot).
Are Scientists Still ‘Keeping the Faith?’
Lamoureux frequently made statements like “This scientist believes in God and he’s a Christian” or “That theologian believes in evolution”. I suppose that was for the benefit of the crowd of Christian attendees, but really, science doesn’t care what you believe. I wasn’t surprised at Lamoureux’s Christian bias; he made it clear that he’s a Christian and that the lecture was intended to help Christians. However, I was surprised at the lack of effort spent on attempting to understand science vs. the time devoted to explaining theology. He did finally get to some science… kinda. He cited a study which he claims shows that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal God. The study (Larson and Witham, 1997) was published in the journal Nature. I was unable to read the original article as it is stuck behind a $200 pay wall. However, I was able to garner information from one secular source and the many, many Christian sources that reference this study, and they generally concur.
The study was titled “Scientists are still keeping the faith”. Larson sent out 1,000 surveys to randomly chosen scientists listed in the index of “American Men and Women of Science”, a database of more than 120,000 leading scientists in the USA and Canada. The report of the study indicates that “more than 600” of the surveys were returned; since we don’t know the exact number, we’ll go halfway between 600 and 700 and say that 650 were returned, for a response rate of approximately 0.54% of the 120,000 scientists the study defines as leading. So Dr. Lamoureux is basing his claim that 40% of leading American scientists believe in a personal god, on a 20 year old study with a less than 1% sample of said scientists.
Personally, I would feel less than honest, extrapolating to that extent using an old study with such a small sample, and without knowing more about the methodology (perhaps religious scientists were more likely to respond?). But I can see where faith would help one to believe it.
Does any of this even matter?
During the talk, I found myself wondering “What’s the point of bringing up so many scientists?” The theme of the lecture was science vs. religion, not scientists vs. religion. Science is the best process for discovering what is true about the natural world, and it is a self-correcting method that consistently gives us accurate, reliable results. This is in contrast to religion, a faith-based process that relies on the unfalsifiable to assert a ‘truth’ that could mean anything. What people believe on faith has little or nothing to do with testing what we can know though reason, evidence and experimentation. If this lecture taught us anything, it is that human beings are quite adept at compartmentalization and carrying two or more contradictory beliefs with little discomfort.
Another sizable part of the evening was spent listening to Dr. Lamoureux speak about his personal journey. This was also where the presentation started to take on the feel of a standard Christian apologetics conference. Like many apologists, throughout his lecture he used Richard Dawkins as a yardstick to measure all atheists by, and to represent what they believe. Which I suppose might not be so bad, except that he often got what Richard Dawkins believes, wrong.
We heard how young Dr. Lamoureux left Christianity and became an atheist, just like Richard Dawkins. In his own words, “by 1977, I was Richard Dawkins“. His journey to atheism started in his early university at dental school. He relayed the story of how he treated women badly (“If anyone was to treat my sister the way I treated women, I would phone up my three brothers and go see this guy”). Then there were the drugs and parties that left him feeling his life was vacuous, empty, and unclean. He found Jesus while in the army, and apparently sealed the deal by reading the Book of John. He later discovered young earth creationism, but in 1994 settled on his present theological position as an evolutionary creationist.
Nothing New Here
Lamoureux’s story is remarkably similar to other apologists who relate stories of when they were atheists – all their stories carry the same account of immorality and emptiness. This is not to doubt his own account of his life, but his testimony is so common that one could turn its major points into a checklist (and some of us do!). It would be my suggestion that Lamoureux’s ill-treatment of women and feelings of emptiness were not due to his atheism, but possibly that he was simply a misogynistic asshole in his younger years.
The Q & A
A good Q & A can add greatly to the substance of the presentation. Through unscripted answers, one can get a feel for who the presenter is and the quality of their argument. Points that I like to consider in a Q & A are
- are the questions answered directly?
- Is a question sidestepped or given a long rambling answer?
- are concepts explained clearly, or are they obfuscated?
A Historical Adam and Eve?
The first question asked was about Dr. Lamoureux’s stance on Adam and Eve, since we know from genetics, geology, anthropology and other sciences that we did not all come from a single man and woman. (The geologic record shows that there were millions of animal species long before the first humans showed up. If Adam and Eve had been on the planet at the time of creation, human bones should be discovered alongside stegosaurus and trilobites.) Dr. Lamoureux never did answer the question, but he offered several possibilities, none of which he actually committed to endorsing. It’s worth noting that, as a scientist, he still even mentions some of these possibilities, since science has already demonstrated that the Biblical Adam and Eve never existed.
1 Adam and Eve have no connection to evolution.
2 God picks two pre-humans (Australopithecines? Homo habilis?) and instills spiritual characteristics, moral culpability and the Spirit of God
3 Many Adams and many Eves evolved, whole populations of them!
4 The Genesis 2 story is an allegory containing “spiritual truths”, and didn’t actually happen.
It is noteworthy that the only one of these possibilities for which there is evidence either way is the first one. He does suggest a book called Four Views on the Historical Adam to further explain this conundrum, if readers feel so inclined.
Is anyone here a physics major?
We also we heard the standard question “how could the eye evolve” and other similar topics, which I felt that someone with a PhD in biology could have answered quite a bit better. Then we had the still-popular Second Law of Thermodynamics question, asked by an Evangelical high school teacher (for Pete’s sake!). I was saddened to find that Lamoureux, with all his experience and education, was unable to give any answer beyond asserting that evolution doesn’t violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since this this such a common creationist argument, I will offer an explanation.
Creationist argument: The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy (disorder) increases over time. The development of complex plant and animal life from inanimate chemicals requires an increase in order, which violates this law. Therefore, a complex system of life requires a Creator or designer. **Insert chosen god here**
Scientific response: This law only applies to an isolated system, where no energy or matter leaves or enters. The earth is not an isolated system – it is an open system. It receives outside heat and light from sun, allowing life to arise and fueling simple organisms so that they can become more complex. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were right – it’s not the son that is God but the sun is God?
There’s a simple, short explanation of this argument and response in the following video clip.
Misrepresenting an entire Community
Probably the most disappointing part of Dr. Lamoureux’s lecture was his misrepresentation of the atheist / Humanist / secular community – our community. This is where when he went full Christian apologist, and distorted what most of us believe. The misrepresentation starts very early on in the lecture; if you look under the last column (dysteleological evolution) on his handout, he makes some blatantly false assumptions. I’m sure if we searched hard enough we could find an atheist or Humanist who fits Lamoureux’s description, but it would be near impossible. I don’t claim to be a spokesperson for all Humanists, but I can provide a better explanation of our beliefs than the what’s in the pigeonhole that Lamoureux, with his kindergarten-level understanding of atheism, puts us in.
Here are some of Dr. Lamoureux’s assumptions about what atheists believe. I won’t touch on all of his points, just the more problematic ones.
1 There is no plan or purpose to the universe. He’s quite correct on this point – basic elements, noble gases, and rocks have no minds so they cannot form purpose. However, when those elements and noble gases come together to form life, those life forms (such as animals), can form a plan and purpose.
2 Design is a delusion. Nope, we see the appearance of design in many things. We just don’t believe it requires an intelligent designer.
3 The universe and life developed through natural processes and blind chance. Despite Lamoureux’s conflation of Big Bang cosmology and abiogenesis, he’s wrong on both counts. Random chance may play a part, but we simply don’t know how it all started.
We know that abiogenesis (the beginning of life) must have started with simple chemicals. Elements bond together, so it may be that given the right conditions, the development of life is the inevitable consequence of chemistry. If that’s the case, then life will develop wherever those conditions exist in the universe, making this a natural process – not blind chance. There could be thousands of planets with life of some sort; we just haven’t discovered them yet.
Throughout the lecture, Lamoureux referred to atheism as a world view. I pressed him on this point during the Q & A, as atheism is not, and has never has been, a worldview. According to Lamoureux, he tells his students that atheism is a claim that there is no God, and that it’s a claim based on faith. He asserts that atheism is a metaphysical claim, the same as his Christian faith. This is an incorrect accusation, based on what is known as ‘strawman apologetics’. In an attempt to shift the burden of proof, he completes this misrepresentation by asserting that Richard Dawkins holds this view. I pointed out that Dawkins does not state decisively that god does not exist, and that Dawkins lays out his views quite clearly in his book The God Delusion (page 50).
Lamoureux then went on to explain to me – an atheist – what the word ‘atheist’ means. “’a’ meaning ‘no’, and ‘theist’ meaning ‘God’”, he said; in other words, he defines atheism as the assertion that there is no god. His definition is just correct enough to support his claim. However, the prefix ‘a’ can mean ‘without’ as well as ‘no’, so the word ‘atheism’ only refers to lack of belief in god(s), not necessarily a declaration that there aren’t any. Matt Dillahunty does an excellent job of explaining this on the Atheist Experience TV show.
Other definitions that might be helpful
Atheism: godless, without a god; from the ancient Greek ἄθεος (átheos). Derived from the prefix ‘a’ (without), and ‘theos’ (god). This is the definition HAAM uses in our outreach.
Theism: belief in the existence of a god or gods. Merriam Webster (MW)
Atheism: lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods (MW)
Atheist: A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods. (Oxford English Dictionary, dictionary.com, and others)
When we see the way that the Greek prefix ‘a’ used in other words, the fallaciousness of Dr. Lamoureux’s argument becomes apparent. The word asymmetrical (not symmetrical) does not imply that symmetry does not exist, nor does the word atypical (not typical) mean that typicality does not exist. I would ask Dr. Lamoureux – does apolitical (not political) mean there is no such thing as politics?
Taking the High Road
Unfortunately, even after explaining that one can’t make a world view out of a singular disbelief; after demonstrating (and having him agree) that atheists can have fundamentally opposing worldviews; and after demonstrating that Richard Dawkins, the poster child he uses for atheism, doesn’t hold the beliefs the beliefs that Lamoureux claims he does – Lamoureux continues to use his own definition of an atheist.
Despite this obvious dishonesty, we as Humanists will continue to do our best to take the high road and engage with religious people based on what they do believe, rather than what someone may assert that they do (or don’t) believe. Who knows, maybe Dr. Lamoureux will invite me to his church and we can dance and “take up snakes” together – oh wait…
The March of Progress
Dr. Lamoureux opened his lecture with a lengthy quote from Thomas Henry Huxley, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. The quotation was used to demonstrate that Huxley was stuck in a false dichotomy between science vs. faith, when he was really just describing the real dichotomy between science and superstition. A portion of the quote really resonated with me – “…history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”
One just has to look at the various arguments put forward by holy men over the last thousand years. As science has progressed, one by one they have all had to bow to the nature of reality. As scientific discoveries stack up, it has always been religion that has eventually had to adjust to new knowledge; never in human history has it been the other way.
Religion loses every time
Religion, especially conservative Christianity, is losing the battle on every front, and has been for a long time – consider interracial marriage (1950’s/60’s) women’s rights and contraception (60’s/70’s) abortion (70’s), gay rights (80’s), marriage equality (2000’s), or the right to an assisted death (2010’s.) Religion’s loss of the power it once had means that it can no longer dictate what is right, what is true, and what is moral. Religious leaders spend much of their time trying to reconcile their supernatural beliefs with scientific reality.
In this lecture I heard a self-proclaimed Evangelical, conservative, born-again Christian state that Genesis is probably allegory, Adam and Eve may not have existed, and the concept of original sin may be a just ‘spiritual truth’. Talk about being “forced to retire”! Some of the basic tenets of Christianity, which people were tortured and killed over for millennia, are now just fluffy ‘spiritual truths’, to be interpreted freely. Indeed, this religion is going through some profound changes.
Many religious people, especially in conservative and Evangelical Christianity communities, have come to understand that to remain relevant in the modern world, their unfalsifiable supernatural beliefs need to adapt to what can be empirically demonstrated. For me, this was the take-home point of the evening. Despite the shortcomings of this lecture, I really hope that Christians will continue the conversation. I will share the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation’s work with the many young earth creationists we encounter during our outreach efforts. If they can reason a few more folks out of believing in a literal Bible; if they can get believers to dump science denial and accept the realities of the natural world; if they can help to render Christianity less harmful – then they will accomplish a great deal in making it a better world for all of us.
Honest dialogue is needed
Finally, a few words of warning to those who engage in spreading misinformation and disinformation about non-believers. Atheist and Humanist organizations are filled with former Christians as well as apostates from other religions. Many of those people join partly because they investigate atheism and Humanism on their own, and find out they have been lied to about our community. Atheist, Humanist, and similar organizations are growing. If we want to ever be able to have an honest dialogue and an open exchange of ideas, religious organizations, apologists, and folks like Dr. Lamoureux need to stop misrepresenting who we are and what we believe. Until they’re able to do that, they will simply perpetuate the stereotype of Christians who engage in lying for Jesus.
– Pat Morrow
September HAAM Events
Monthly Meeting – A History of Atheism in Canada
Saturday September 9th, Canad Inns Polo Park, 1405 St Matthews Ave, 5:30 PM
Complete event listings and details for all this and all upcoming HAAM events are on our Events page.
You can find past events by using the ‘Search this Site’ tool, also in the right sidebar.
Upcoming Community (Non-HAAM) Events
Advance Care Planning
Thursday September 21st, The Reh-Fit Centre, 1390 Taylor Avenue, 1:00 – 3:30 PM
Who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself? Advance registration is required.
Public Lecture – Refugees and Immigrants
Wednesday, Sept 27th, Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre, Morden, 7 – 9 PM
For details on these and more upcoming non-HAAM events, visit our Community Events page.
Solar Eclipse 2017 – A traumatic event for some of our members
Sometimes HAAM members get asked why we publicly challenge religion and why we are so angry about it. The following Facebook status, posted on the day of the recent solar eclipse, perfectly illustrates the answer. We fight because, unfortunately, the type of anguish expressed in this post is common among survivors of childhood religious indoctrination (brainwashing). Instilling this level of fear in children whose minds have not yet developed the ability to think critically about what they are being taught is psychological abuse. We frequently hear similar stories in person from many of our members. Decades later, the PTSD remains.
The post is copied and pasted to protect the privacy of the HAAM member who shared it. The event described occurred almost 30 years ago.
I vividly remember seeing a partial eclipse as a child (not sure when?) and the terror I felt because we were reading the Bible and singing, “When the skies of heaven shall fall and the moon shall be turned into blood, the sons of God shall arise, Zion awake.”
I’m sitting here remembering and feeling how terrified I was as a child because it could have been the end of the world, as we were told, and I was told that meant that I would be tortured for my faith. I can still see the pictures of people being tortured, and being told that would happen to me to try to get me to deny Christ – stretching, ripping off nails, gouging out eyes and ripping out intestines. I saw these AS A CHILD. Was told it would happen to me AS A CHILD.
I’m feeling sick and I’m shaking with the memory, and how it makes me feel today. It is irrational to feel fear as what I really feel is amazement at seeing a partial eclipse. But brainwashing goes deep, and this is the first time I’m thinking about this and feeling it as an adult. I’m feeling the lasting trauma of emotional abuse and how it shaped my mind. This is so sick. *tears*
A google search for the quoted line (“when the skies of heaven shall fall…”) turned up several hymns containing those or similar lyrics. One version is this (not the exact hymn that our HAAM member sang as a child):
Awake Zion, awake
Awake and trim your lamps
For the stars of heaven shall fall
And the moon shall turn into blood
And the son of man shall appear
As to which Bible verse these lyrics are based on, there are over a dozen verses that refer to the darkening of the sun, moon, stars, or some combination of these. Three specifically mention the moon turning blood red – an obvious reference to an eclipse.
- Joel 2:31 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
- Acts 2:20 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
- Revelation 6:12-13 The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth.
Seriously, there are only two conclusions we can draw from these verses.
1 The writer of Acts (ostensibly Luke, but in fact, scholars don’t really know who wrote Luke and Acts, although they know the same person wrote both books) plagiarized the book of Joel.
2 People living 2,000 years ago didn’t understand what an eclipse was.
Are apologists still peddling this fear and nonsense today? You betcha! (see book cover, right) And as long as they do, Humanists will continue to promote science, reason, and critical thinking as the best ways to understand the world. This is the only way we can ever hope to diminish the kind of fear and ignorance that leads to otherwise loving families scaring innocent children out of their wits and traumatizing them for life.
Calls to Action
End Violence Against Apostates in Malaysia
Members of an atheist group in Malaysia are facing death threats and government-sponsored “re-education” after their photos were seen in a Facebook post. Click here for the story, and a sample letter that you can write to urge an end to the intolerance of apostasy.
‘Voice Your Choice’ on Assisted Dying
The federal government is studying the possible impacts of allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) for three groups of Canadians who don’t currently qualify:
- Those who will be excluded unless the law is changed to allow for advance requests;
- Individuals whose primary medical condition is a mental illness; and
- Mature minors.
Dying With Dignity is seeking submissions from Canadians who have personal concerns or stories to tell about how the current restrictions on MAID have already unfairly restricted (or may, in future, restrict) choices in dying for themselves or someone they know.
Click here for more information about this campaign. Deadline for submissions is September 15th.
If you don’t have a personal story to tell right now, but still want to add your voice to those of others who support advance requests for assisted dying, click here.
Charity of the Month – Island Lake Relief Fund
Once again, wildfires in northern Manitoba have forced the evacuation of several communities in the Island Lake area (northeast). As many as 5,000 people have been flown out of the Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point, and Garden Hill First Nations. They are staying in temporary accommodations and emergency shelters in Winnipeg, Brandon, and Portage. Many left home with little or no possessions, and are relying on charities for assistance while they are away.
CBC news posted images of the devastation, like the scene shown here. Click for more photos.
Here’s how HAAM members can help:
If you have needed items to donate, you can take them directly to one of the following locations. (Please do not bring them to the HAAM meeting.)
- The Island Lake Tribal Council, at 338 Broadway, is accepting diapers, water, baby formula, condensed milk and other toiletries. They don’t need any more clothes or blankets.
- The Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre, at 445 King St., is accepting donations of clean clothing (especially men’s clothing), non-perishable food, diapers, kids’ toys, and hygiene products.
If you are able to make a financial contribution:
The Me-Dian Credit Union (formerly the Metis Credit Union of Manitoba) has started an Island Lake Relief Fund. It’s accepting donations to help with short-term costs for the evacuees. We will be collecting donations at our September 9th HAAM meeting and forwarding them to this fund.
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 button on this page. Just include a note letting us know that the money is for the charity.
The Jesus Stick
Sanded wood with tapered ends, and a small leather lace with five plastic beads tied onto it. That’s the Jesus Stick that was handed out by the hundreds at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival this year. These walking sticks are supposed to symbolize your walk with Jesus. Now normally I wouldn’t bother with booths like this; it’s not my habit to visit Christian booths just to annoy people. However, we had several Christians come by our HAAM booth and mention that we really need to hear their message. So myself and fellow Humanist Laura Stephens, not wanting to decline the invite, decided we’d go over and get ourselves a Jesus stick.
They’re not completely free. When you get to the booth, you stand in line with others until you hear their message, and only after you listen to the message, do they cough up a stick. So with that in mind, I thought when I got to the front of the line “maybe I’ll make this guy work for it a little”. Both Laura and I offered full disclosure when we walked up – we told the fella were Humanists and atheists, and had been encouraged by Christians with sticks to hear their message. So here is the message about the five beads on the stick (click to enlarge photo):
The first bead is gold and symbolizes heaven and God’s plan for you. After the fellow explained the first bead, and how heaven is a paradise, I asked him “suppose I accept all this and get saved, how am I supposed to enjoy paradise when my kids are burning in hell because they’re atheists too?” All the fellow could do was to quote some scripture that, to me, seemed to indicate that everybody gets in to heaven. Then he moved on to the next bead.
Black symbolizes the sin of man in the world, our fall from grace, and how the wages of sin is death… but that you could be saved from this because God sent his son, the “sinless Jesus”, to pay our debt. So I asked the fella “if Jesus was completely sinless, how come the New Testament said ‘slaves obey your earthly masters’? It seems to me that the Bible was endorsing slavery and the ownership of other people, and that would, in my books, be a sin.” His answer was a Bible story from Philemon, where Paul sends a runaway slave back to his master. This was somehow supposed to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t support slavery. So I asked “how on earth does sending a slave back to his master demonstrate that anything has changed?” His answer – “because the slave had turned into a Christian” – was even more baffling. And he was on to the next bead.
Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus and his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his payment for our sins. Later Laura mentioned to me that at this part of his spiel she really wanted to say “resurrected? So he really only gave up a long weekend?”… I wish she had, as I’m sure the fella’s reaction would’ve been priceless. I took a pause in his speech to ask him why he would think that human sacrifice could pay for someone else’s crimes (that they didn’t actually commit), and why anyone would think a human sacrifice is good. Any good and moral person who was alive at the time would have done everything in their power to stop the slow torture of another human being. His comeback for that was a nervous (or possibly uncomfortable) smile, and he replied “it was a different time and Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. He gave his life for you”.
The white bead symbolizes purity and the need to repent and ask for forgiveness. I mentioned to him that this is one of the big differences for us as Humanists. When we do wrong, we try to right those wrongs ourselves and ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged. It seems to me that asking for forgiveness from a supernatural God is the easy way out. To which our Christian potential stick-giver could only a muster a somewhat subdued “ahuh”.
Green symbolizes growing in Christ. I let him have this one; after all it was his booth and he had suffered enough. It didn’t escape Laura’s attention that the fella gave us our sticks and let us go before getting to the second card. The second card (shown at right, click to enlarge) is where he explains how and what to pray to ask Jesus to come into our hearts. This was a bummer, ‘cause I had all kinds of questions about prayer.
Maybe next year. – Pat Morrow
Check out our Gallery for photos of the Morden Outreach.
Book of the Month – The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason
Victor J. Stenger grew up in a Catholic working-class neighborhood in New Jersey. He earned a PhD in physics in 1963 and enjoyed a long and successful career in particle physics. He was also a long-time and well-known advocate of skepticism, philosophical naturalism, and atheism; a fierce critic of intelligent design and pseudoscience (even being once sued by Uri Geller for questioning Geller’s psychic powers); and a public speaker and debater, taking on apologists like John Lennox and William Lane Craig.
Stenger didn’t mince words in his criticism of religion. His statement about religion flying people into buildings is often quoted online. He argued that absence of evidence for God is, indeed, evidence of absence, when the evidence should be there and is not.
Stenger’s 2009 book The New Atheism is a well-argued defense of non-belief. He summarizes the main points made by the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett), and offers up a few more arguments of his own. Along the way, Stenger also discusses his critics’ arguments — and offers excellent rebuttals to them. This book is an great primer for godless newbies; it’s not overly philosophical, and it provides easy-to-understand arguments to use if you’re ever in a religious debate.
Stenger died in 2014 at the age of 79. His soul doesn’t live on, but his written works continue to encourage others to take a stand for science and reason. The 2009 lecture based on this book at the time of its release is on YouTube.
Visit our library page if you would like to borrow this book.
Our informal weekend brunches are a great way to get to know your fellow Humanists. Here’s a photo of our September brunch in the cafe at Assiniboine Park.
Our next brunch will be on Sunday, October 22nd, but we haven’t chosen a location yet. We’ve been rotating locations around the city for variety, and so that the same people don’t always have to drive across town. Do you have a favorite place to suggest for a future brunch? Let us know.
Did You Miss the Evening with Richard Carrier?
We had a packed – almost ‘standing room only’ room for Dr. Carrier’s speech on the historicity of Jesus and the origins of Christianity. If you were unable to attend, you can now catch it on our YouTube channel.
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…
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!
- 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!
- Our buses are still roaming the city streets, but they won’t be around much longer! Find out who won a prize for the first picture submitted.
- A.C. Grayling was a hit with HAAM. Find out about his visit to Winnipeg.
- Learn more about what Arthur Schafer has to say on the topic of dying with dignity.
- And much more…
Go ahead! Click and read the October newsletter!