If You Believe In Hell…

In my previous post, I gave an overview of Kersey Grave’s The Biography of Satan which discussed the origins of the myth of the Devil and Hell.  The last chapter of the book is titled, “One Hundred and Sixty-Three Questions for Believers in Post Mortem Punishment”.  The purpose of these questions, he states at the end is, “simply to present the absurdities of the doctrine of future endless punishment in its true and strongest light”.

I’m not going to list all of them here.  Some of the questions are repetitive, some are rather weak arguments, and some are just plain silly.  Graves, does however, ask some pertinent questions that I feel anyone who believes in Hell as a real place and Satan as a real entity, need to think about.  I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing and changing the language where I felt it was necessary.

So, if you believe in Hell, you must ask yourself:

  • If the Devil is able to read your thoughts, see your every move, and be everywhere and anywhere, and has power over the earth and all its inhabitants, doesn’t it then follow that he also is an omnipotent, omnipresent and Almighty Being?  
  • If God was the first Omnipresent Being and filled all space, by what process was room found for another omnipresent being?
  • How is it that there are two infinite, almighty, and omnipotent beings holding at the same time the reins of the universal government?
  • If Satan is not omnipotent, how does he manage to “decoy millions of souls to endless ruin” when “God wills that all should be saved?”
  • Why does God allow the Devil to exist if he hates evil and possesses the power to destroy him?
  • If the Devil is a “fallen angel” as the Bible teaches, who tempted him and caused him to fall as there was yet no “Wicked One” to deceive him?
  • Did God foresee that Satan would rebel?  If not, doesn’t that contradict God being All Wise and All Knowing?
  • How could this primarily perfect archangel fall in a place that is itself perfect; Heaven?
  • When was Hell first created?
  • Since we learn that God has decreed that the wicked shall be punished in Hell and the Devil is his agent in performing this work, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Satan is actually a faithful servant of the Lord, and a co-worker with Him?
  • If punishment is the Devil’s work exclusively, yet God permits him to exist and carry out this work, then is he not acting in conformity with God’s will, and hence performing his duty?
  • Does it not follow then that it is God, and not the Devil, who punishes the wicked, and the later is simply the agent?
  • If God opposes Hell, then why doesn’t He have the powers to shut it down?
  • How is it that Satan is able to win over so many more souls than God?
  • The Bible says the wicked shall be punished forever, yet Satan will be overthrown in the Last Days.  Who will be running Hell and dealing out punishment?
  • How is it possible for a soul (an immaterial substance) to be consumer by fire (a material thing)?
  • Doesn’t it make God a thousand times worse and more fiendish than the wickedest of His creatures that he would punish someone for eternity in such a terrible way?
  • Can we honestly consider God to be just and merciful for punishing his creation for all eternity?
  • Would there be any sense in punishing a being for any other purpose than to reform him, or make an example for others?  Isn’t it impossible for postmortem punishment to serve either of these ends?
  • Could a just God punish one of his creatures for acting out the impulses of that nature which He himself endowed all humans with? 
  • If an all-knowing God saw that the majority of humanity would reject Him and prove such a failure, why not simply hit the “reset” button on the whole thing and start over?  Why did He allow humanity to continue?  Isn’t it cruel to bring humanity into existence and continue to allow suffering not only in this world, but the next?
  • If a parent with a disease willingly brought children into this world knowing that most of them would die an agonizing death, wouldn’t we find him to be immoral and cruel?
  • Isn’t it strange that and almighty and omnipotent God who “wills that all men should be saved”, could not come up with a better plan for ensuring that they would be saved”
  • How can God punish any soul eternally when it says in the Bible that For no one is cast off by the Lord forever? (Lam 3:31) 
  • Can there be any real sense of justice, when all men are punished equally, considering the vast nature of crimes in this world?
  • Are we not warranted in concluding that it would be morally impossible for a God of justice to inflict infinite punishment upon a mere finite being for any crime whatsoever, as it would be impossible for eternal consequences to grow out of any finite action, either good or bad, without overthrowing the last principle of moral equity and common justice, and even common sense?
  • Doesn’t it make God egregiously inconsistent that he commands us to “love our enemies” yet he punishes his for all eternity, especially seeing as how he has “the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself”? (Phil 3:21)
  • How can Jesus really be the “Savior of all man” when the vast majority are “lost”?
  • Can a man be considered truly moral if his only motivation for doing good is fear of Hell?
  • Can a man be said to have “free will” if he is chased into Heaven as a refugee from the Devil?
  • Could we then conclude that Christianity really needs two omnipotent powers to be saved – the all-loving Father to coax his children towards him and the Devil to be in hot pursuit, nipping at their heals?
  • Has not the practice of believing in a God that damns a portion of the human race, had the evil effect of also causing men to damn each other, leading to centuries of atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity? 

Thanks for reading.

Take Aways: The Biography of Satan

Every good story requires an antagonist – a character(s) that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend or an obstacle that the protagonist must overcome.  In the stories that make up the Judeo-Christian religions, the ultimate antagonist is Satan, also commonly known as the Devil.

I’ve talked before about the origins of the God myth and how the god(s) of the monotheistic religions came about from earlier religions and those that were active around the time of Judaism’s birth.  In Kersey Graves The  Biography of Satan, we explore the origins of Yahweh’s great antagonist, the Devil, and how he became so deep-seated in Christian dogma.  And, of course, no good story about Satan would be complete without his foreboding lair – Hell.

This book was originally published in 1865, with the 4th edition coming out in 1924.  I can only imagine the stir this book would have caused back then.  As the forward in the edition I read states, “This book goes straight to the root of the stories, Biblical and otherwise, to expose the origins of the Devil.  You may not like what you read, but after reading it it becomes difficult, in many places, to argue against Graves’ thesis.  And that thesis is that the Devil is nothing more than a fabricated ‘bad guy’ created by the early Christians priesthood to keep people in line.”

Graves starts by pointing out that it was God, not the Devil, who was originally thought to be the primary author of evil.  As he states in the beginning of chapter five, “The earliest ancestors of the Jewish race recognized God as being the author of evil by virtue of being the source of everything… God could not be the author of all things without being the author of evil.”  Examples of this can be found throughout the Old Testament:

  • In Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things.”  
  • Also in Amos, “Does evil happen to a city, and Yahweh hasn’t done it?” (3:6).
  • After loosing his health, Job replies to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)
  • Proverbs (16:4) declares that, “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”  
  • Rather than Satan being the “great deceiver” we see Jehovah being responsible for lies: “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” (1 Kings 22:22)
  • Jeremiah accuses God of lying to him, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”(15:18).

Graves takes note that modern concepts of Heaven and Hell were not part of early Judaism, “The doctrine of future rewards and punishments constituted no part of the ancient Jewish creed, simply because, as we would naturally infer, all human actions, both good and bad, were regarded as proceeding from their God, Jehovah, or as being ‘inspired by the great Breath’, as they express it (in the Talmud).”

Jewish beliefs about God had much to do with their views of the natural world and the changing of the seasons, as well as natural disasters – “For a long period the attention of mankind seems to have been wholly directed to the phenomena of the physical external world, and for a long time they rested in the opinion that the same being, the same God who had created, also destroyed – the same being who sent down the genial solar rays of vernal spring, also sent down the chilling, desolating blasts of winter; the same God who poured down the genial, gentle showers to revive the drooping flowers, the withered grass, and the parched up dying cereals, also darted forth the forked lightning and blasting thunderbolt.”

Throughout the book, Graves demonstrates that most of what ancient Jews and early Christians thought of the Devil/Hell was borrowed from surrounding cultures. (This is hardly surprising, as very little of the Biblical narrative is truly original; comprised almost entirely of a patchwork of common myths and traditions from the surrounding areas)  One such example is the story of the woman being pursued by the Dragon (Satan) in the Book of Revelation.  This story relates to the celestial calendar, and versions of it can be found in Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indian, and even Native American cultures.

The “lake of fire” mentioned in Revelation is also borrowed from Egyptian mythology.  This “lake” is a reference to an actual lake, Serbonis, in Egypt.  When the Nile overflowed its banks, it would reach lake Serbonis and submerge it with putrid water.  As the water receded, it left a great amounts of debris and putrefied vegetation and animals – “Upon its stagnant waters, there accumulated a scum bearing a strong analogy in taste, color and smell to that of brimstone or sulfur. […] Travelers and historians tell us that when the sun shone upon this brilliant mirror-like floating substance, it presented the appearance of being on fire, and from that circumstance was called ‘the lake of fire and brimstone,’ while the gas, steam, vapor, and miasma… formed the imaginary smoke of the imaginary place of endless torment…”  

Also in Egypt, we get the source for the “worm that dieth not” mentioned in Mark 9:44.  As Grave explains, it “started from the circumstances of a gnawing, stinging worm which infest that country, being never known to die, simply because, as later researches show, it burrows down into the soil before it dies; hence not being seen after its death, it was supposed to be immortal.”

The story of Satan being thrown out of Heaven after an epic battle with Michael and his angles (Rev 12:7-9) is certainly not original.  Graves notes that, “There is scarcely an Oriental nation whose religion [doesn’t have] the story of a celestial battle or ‘war in Heaven’ similar to that referred to in the above text.”  Examples include:

  • In Roman legend, Titan rebelling against Jupiter and being cast out of heaven and imprisoned under mountains.
  • The battle of the Titans (children of Heaven) against the gods of Olympus in the other world is found in the mythology of ancient Greece.
  • Egyptian tradition tells of Typhon (the Devil) rebelling and making war against Osyrus.
  • The Chinese relate a battle between the inhabitants of the cloud and stars, The Lamb leads the starry hosts and conquered.
  • The Persians have one of the oldest such stories and tells of a war that broke out between the Summer God and the Winter God.  The Winter God was hurled out of paradise and became a fallen angel.

Chapter 12 is devoted to showing “that the conception of the Devil and a hell long existed before the remotest idea was entertained that either had anything to do with or any connection with punishment in a future life.  Both had a fabled existence in the external world among the physical elements long before the Devil was made an agent of punishment, or Hell a place of punishment for the wicked after death in the imaginations of people.”  These ideas developed over time among early Christian leaders as a means of controlling the masses – “Mythological history is exuberant with the evidence that the traditional scheme of punishment for human beings or human souls in another world for actions committed in this world, was invented by the priesthood as one of their auxiliary means of promoting the interests of their craft.  And, according to Grecian writers, the agents of Government… joined with priests, and likewise adopted the system as a more effectual manner of controlling the populace, and keeping them in subjection to the government.  To state the thing in brief, priests and politicians ‘colleagued together’, and invented the Devil and his domicile, as scarecrows to frighten the ignorant superstitious masses into quiet, submissive allegiance to the ecclesiastical tribunals, namely the ‘powers that be’.”  This practice, unfortunately, continues to this day.

The last chapter of the book lists a series of questions that should be asked of anyone who takes the mythology of Satan/Hell as fact.  It’s an extensive list (163 questions!)and I don’t wish to list them all here.  However, I do think they make some good points and will list some of them in my next post.

It’s frustrating to me that such clear-cut fairytales, like that of Satan and Hell, are still taken as literal fact by millions of Christians.  You would have thought that these ideas would have died off after the Enlightenment, but they persist today because the Church needs them in order to survive.  Without their scary boogeyman, how are Christianity’s leaders going to keep the masses in line?  How are they going to persuade gullible “lost souls” to buy their product without threats of eternal punishment?  Who are they going to make their scapegoat whenever life doesn’t go their way?  The concept of Hell is one of the most illogical and barbaric doctrines of Christianity.  The sooner it is dismissed by believers and non-believers alike, the better off society will be.

In all fairness, I’m a little skeptical regarding Grave’s credentials. There’s little information about him and some of his other works have received criticism, even from fellow atheist.  Part of the problem is that Grave’s often omits important sources and evidence.  I’ll grant that the standards for these kinds of scholarly works was likely different in the 19th century compared to today.  Graves also tends to blend his opinion and the facts pretty fluidly, as well as stretching his conclusions beyond what the evidence shows.  This is not to say we should discredit all his work; just take it with a grain of salt.  I would like to see a contemporary scholar or historian, such as Bart Ehrman or Karen Armstrong, write a modern and more thoroughly researched book on the history of Satan.

In closing, I wanted to include a bit from the forward in which Graves explains why books like this are important, and why people like him, myself included, continue to speak out against toxic religion and the harmful myths they perpetuate:

Every step the race has taken in the direction of intellectual progress has been taken in defiance of religious authority; because the whole range of the scientific culture of our time regarding man and the universe is a challenge to, and is challenged by, the religious notions that have been handed down to us from the distant past. […] The mission of education, of modern science and historical criticism, is to win the world for enlightenment, and the goal will be reached eventually, in spite of the puerile preaching of priests and the fulminations of the Fundamentalists.

Mythbusters: Intelligently Designed Humans

One of the most common arguments for the existence of God, particularly from Creationist and Intelligent Design advocates, is the human body.  They will often cite Bible verses that claim humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and designed in God’s image.  We humans have a very long history of being full of ourselves and unfortunately religion has only reinforced this view.  Since Darwin’s breakthrough discoveries regarding human origins, science has come to understand homo sapiens real place in the natural world.  Despite geneticists proving through DNA that humans are in fact, evolved from other animal species, there are many who still want to believe that we came into existence just as we are and are the greatest of all creation.

Let’s suppose for a second that human were designed by an intelligent creator  and really are the greatest of all creation.  Shouldn’t this intelligent design be evident in our makeup and abilities?  Shouldn’t humans have a long, glorious history of being “king of the jungle”?  You would think so, but that’s not what we find at all.  Let’s look at some examples of design flaws in humans:

  • One of the things that sets apart humans from other mammals is our ability to walk upright, or be bi-pedal.  This frees up our hands to do others things like use tools.  With this advance came the increase in size of our craniums.  But with evolution, everything comes with a cost.  Our skeletons were developed over millions of years of walking on all fours and having relatively small heads.  The price paid for becoming bi-pedal and having larger craniums is having back problems, foot problems, and stiff necks.  Women paid extra.  An upright gait required narrower hips, thus constricting the birth canal.  This not only made childbirth painful, but also dangerous.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth often lead to the death of the mother and/or child.
  • Speaking of children, human infants are some of the most helpless of the mammalian species.  Colts are able to run only hours after being born, and a kitten can forage for food on its own after only a few weeks.  Humans, on the other hand, are totally helpless and dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.  This poses a problem for the mothers as well, as a lone mother can hardly forage enough food for their offspring and themselves with a needy child in tow.
  • Compared to other creatures, humans are relatively weak and marginal.  Despite having large brains and inventing the use of tools, humans still spent around 2 million years somewhere in the middle of the food chain.  Our sense of smell, eye sight, and hearing are no match to other mammals.  Our overall strength, speed, reflexes, and agility is also outmatched by hundreds of other species.  Humans lived in constant fear of predators, were always in danger of exposure from the elements, and had to forage for food daily just to survive.  This did not change until the Agricultural Revolution, which brought its own set of problems.
  • Of all the things that a human can die from, diseases accounted for more deaths then any other.  Every since the Agricultural Revolution when humans were forced to live in close proximity to animals and other humans, diseases have wiped out untold amounts of the human population.  Why do humans have such weak immune systems?  A wild vulture can eat anthrax and not be affected thanks to their strong stomach acids.  Cockroaches are well known for their survivability, even able to withstand nuclear radiation.  Yet humans can be taken down by a simple cold.
  • Some species of coral and sponges can live thousands of years.  Bowhead whales can live over 200 years. A lobster can live to be over 140 years old, as can a tortoise.  There are in fact, hundred of species of animals that live well past 100.   Yet humans life expectancy is roughly 80 if you live in a developed county, thanks to modern medicine.  At the turn of the 19th century, life expectancy in the US was only 46.  During the Bronze and Iron Age it was 26.
  • One of the unique features of some lizards is their ability to grow back their tails should they lose them.  This is a good escape technique, as a lost tail will continue to wiggle, which might distract the predator and give the lizard a chance to escape.  Most lizards will have regrown their tail within nine months.  Other spices of animals also posses this neat trick, know as regeneration.   The Mexican axolotl can regenerating a missing limb; tail; and parts of their brain, heart, and lower jaw.  If they’re paralyzed in the back they can recover the functions of their legs by making all new neurons and new connections.  Starfish also have the ability to regenerate their arms and sometimes their whole bodies.  Why aren’t humans able to grow back missing limbs?  It’s clearly not outside the realm of nature, yet no amount of medical treatment or prayer has ever brought back a missing limb.

The fact is, the only things that set homo sapiens apart from other animals is our cognitive capacity and our ability to cooperate in large numbers.  

If you want to believe that humans were designed by a God, you have to then explain why he did such a shitty job of it.  I’ve demonstrated just a handful of ways in which humans fail to be the pinnacle of creation despite the prevalence in nature of better designs.  If humans are the greatest of all creation, why not incorporate some of the amazing abilities found in other animals into humans to make a species that would experience far less suffering then humans have?  If humans are designed by a God, he needs to go back to the drawing board.

However, the design flaws in humans make perfect sense when viewed through the lens of evolution.  Natural selection provides a working model to how humans evolved and why.  Evolution is a give-and-take system; if an animal increases in efficiency in one area, it will decrease in another*.  Human’s large craniums gave us a larger brain which lead to our greatest asset – our cognitive abilities.  But powering that brain takes a tremendous amount of energy, which meant compromises had to be made.

The weaknesses found in our species has led to untold numbers of deaths and immeasurable suffering.  It’s time humans accept their place in the natural world.  It’s time we stop fooling ourselves into believing that we are somehow “special” and intelligently designed.  We are simply animals, or as Robert Ardrey wrote, “We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels”.

With this knowledge we can work towards caring for and sustaining nature so that we can preserve the world for future generations.  Humanity has risen to the top of the food chain, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we don’t screw it all up.

Thanks for reading.


* For example, elephants have no natural predators they need to worry about thanks to their large size.  However their large size means they can only have one offspring at a time and they have a two-year gestation period.  In humans, our large craniums meant greater cognitive abilities, but it also meant more difficulty and potentially life-threatening births.



On Islam/Muslims

My last post regarding the Orlando shooting garnered a fair bit of negative feedback.  Not my most controversial post, but would probably make the Top 5.  One of the biggest push-backs that I received stemmed from the fact that I focused on Evangelicals, and said little about  Islam or Muslims.  Most of the comments were something to the effect of, “This was a Muslim problem!  Christians had nothing to do with it!”  I dealt with the second part of this claim in my post.  The first part of the claim is questionable.  There’s conflicting reports about how devout the shooter was to Islam, but it seems certain that he had no real ties to any terrorist organizations and was not well studied in Islamic texts and traditions.

But, since the topic came up, I thought I would briefly share my views on Islam, and why I don’t spend much time talking about it here or on social media in general.

First off, my view of Islam is the same as Christianity – they are both ancient , man-made religions, based on supernatural beliefs and a pre-science ignorance of the world.  Both have a dangerous and harmful devotion to their holy book, which they both consider “God’s Word”, and both religions have caused immeasurable harm throughout history and in the present day.  

Christianity doesn’t get a special pass, as much as the majority of it’s devoted followers think it should.  Most Christians will claim that their religion is the only TRUE RELIGION, the Bible is the one true WORD OF GOD, and Jesus is the ONE TRUE SAVIOR.  If you were to talk to ask a Muslim from the Middle East about Islam, they would say the exact same thing about Islam, the Koran, and the Prophet Muhammad.  What religion one belongs to is almost always a matter of geography and culture, not the validity of its truth-claims.  Neither one is in “better” or “truer” than the other.


Some like to argue that the more extreme factions of Islam, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, are proof that it is a violent and “evil” religion.  They seem to forget Christianity’s long, dark history of bloodshed, including the Crusades, Inquisitions, and slavery.  Some are also unaware of the many modern day Christian terrorist organizations that, while not making the headlines, are nonetheless spreading fear and violence in many parts of the world.  Both the Koran and the Bible contain horrible acts of violence carried out in the name of God, and both are used to justify violence today.

My lack of writing on Islam is not because I think it is a better religion, nor is it because I’m trying to be politically correct.  I have a couple reasons for not covering Islam more:

First – I’ve never been a Muslim.  I grew up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and relatives, was home-schooled through elementary and middle school using a Christian curriculum, went to a Christian college and was a devout Evangelical for many years.  Christianity is what I know and what I feel the most  qualified to speak on.

I’ve read the Koran, as well as several books on Islam, its history, central tenets and practices.  I’ve also had hundreds of conversations with the Muslims that I work with.  While this certainly puts me ahead of the general population in terms of how much I understand Islam, it doesn’t make me qualified to speak on it with any kind of authority.

Second – at present, Islam is of no real threat to the American way of life (despite what the right-wing media would like you to believe).  Yes, there are the occasional terrorist attacks, but none of these have resulted in Muslims gaining any real power and influence in the US.

There are somewhere around 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the US, or about 1 percent of the total U.S. population.  They have no real power or influence in government or in society.  Most are content to just live in peace and go about their normal lives.

When it comes to democracy, conservative Christians are a far bigger threat than Islam, which is why I speak on it so frequently.  If or when I start seeing the same from Islam, I’ll be happy to include them into the conversation.  As of now, I have bigger fish to fry, as they say.  It’s not that I’m “picking on Christians” while ignoring Islam – I just see Christianity as a much more pressing issue right in our country.

Hopefully this helps clear some things up.  I may discuss Islam more in the future, but the main focus of this blog will always be Christianity.  Thanks for reading.




Evangelicals’ Reaction to Orlando: Too Little, Too Late

Like everyone else, I was shocked and appalled at what has become the largest mass shooting in recent US history.  A single gunman carrying an assault rifle opened fire in a crowded Orlando night club, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.  The night club, Pulse, was known as one of the largest LGBT-friendly bars in the area, and all evidence points towards this being a hate crime against LGBTs.

As news spread about the incident, a public outpouring of sympathy came from across the globe.  People were desperate for answers, and when news came out that the shooter was an ISIS sympathizer, it was quickly labeled as an “act of terror” and dismissed by many as yet another sign of the growing problem of Islam in America.

Most shocking to me and many others was the outpouring of grief from Evangelical Christians.  Social media was filled with the same useless platitudes of “thoughts and prayers” being offered for the victims of Orlando.  (Some couldn’t even bring themselves to do that, so entranced in their homophobia, they instead prayed for the doctors of the Orlando hospitals instead.)  The same group of people who have been solely responsible for the horrible treatment of LGBTs in the US for the last several decades are now, of all times, suddenly shocked over the persecution of LGBTs.

Well, I have a few things to say about that.

Evangelicals have spent the last several decades doing everything in their power to marginalize and oppress LGBTs.

Christians spent millions opposing same-sex marriage.

In 2015, more than 115 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in at least 31 states.

This year has seen a wave of anti-trans “bathroom bills” sweeping across the country.

American Evangelicals initiated and spent millions of dollars trying to pass Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death.

Evangelicals and other Christians continue to send kids to “pray the gay away” camps which are not only ineffective (and illegal in many states), but often leave permanent psychological damage.

So, when Evangelicals try to feign innocence in what has become one of the most tragic examples of persecution against LGBTs, you can see why I’m throwing the bullshit flag.  Every major Christian media site is trying to play this of as a problem of “radical Islam” and completely ignoring their own history of “radical Christian” discrimination against LGBTs.  Evangelicals don’t get to sweep this incident under the rug as a “Muslim problem” – this is a hate problem; and Evangelicals are just as culpable as anyone else for spreading hatred and intolerance towards LGBTs.   I have no doubt that if the shooter had been a Christian, it wouldn’t have made any difference; Evangelicals would simply claim that “he wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN!”.  This crime is a result of hatred for a minority group that has long been victimized by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, yet suddenly they want to pretend that this incident has nothing to do with them and claim innocence.  Like an abusive husband being concerned when his wife gets in an accident, they want to suddenly pretend that have a heart for the LGBT community.

Well, I’m not buying it.

The only reason we are suddenly seeing an outpouring of sympathy and prayers is because of how public and brutal this attack was.  LGBTs have been dying for decades as a result of hate and discrimination, but it’s only now that people are paying attention.

I didn’t hear Evangelicals lamenting over the 1,500 LGBTs that commit suicide last year.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the all the hate crimes committed against LGBTs every year here in America.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the thousands of LGBTs killed in Africa as a result of the hate brought there by American pastors and missionaries.

Many people have deluded themselves into pretending that their level of discrimination is somehow better than what happened in Orlando, because “at least we’re not going around shooting gay people!”  That’s because Evangelicals don’t have to go on shooting rampages – they just make life so fucking miserable for LGBTs that they take their own lives.  Evangelicals don’t get to denounce the Koran/Islam and its teachings while pretending their views are any less deplorable.  As Benjamin Corey puts it: “Yes, they are correct to denounce the evil that led to such a horrific massacre. But no, they don’t have a moral or ideological alternative that gives them a moral high ground that’s perched high enough to pretend their religious views are all that better.”


Coming from an unlikely source, Jen Hatmaker sums it up perfectly (emphasis mine):

It is very difficult to accept the Christian lament for LGBTQ folks in their deaths when we’ve done such a brutal job of honoring them in their lives. It kind of feels like:

“We don’t like you, we don’t support you, we think you are a mess, we don’t agree with you, we don’t welcome you, we don’t approve of you, we don’t listen to you, we don’t affirm you. But please accept our comfort and kind words this week.”

Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has paved a long runway to hate crimes. When the gay community is denied civil liberties and respect and dignity, when we make gay jokes, when we say ‘that’s so gay’, when we turn our noses up or down, when we qualify every solitary statement of love with a caveat of disapproval, when we consistently disavow everything about the LGBTQ community, we create a culture ripe for hate. We are complicit.

We cannot with any integrity honor in death those we failed to honor in life.

Can you see why the Christian outpouring of compassion toward Orlando feels so disingenuous? It seems like the only harm toward the LGBTQ community that will overcome Christian disapproval is a mass murder. We grieve not publicly for your dehumanization, suicide rates (individual deaths have failed to move us), excommunications, denial of liberties, hate crimes against you, religious exclusion, constant shame beatdown.

Christian love has yet to outpace Christian disdain.

Perhaps instead of saying “we’re sad” this week, we should begin with “we’re sorry.”

Not: We’re sorry but…
Not: We’re sorry if…
Not: We’re sorry as long as…

Just: We’re sorry. Full stop.

Someone on Facebook was upset that I was “dragging Christians” into this.  Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be needing to write any of this if Christians, by and large, had had actually shown some genuine care and concern for the LGBT population.  If they hadn’t spent years doing everything short of gunning down gays in a club to show how much they hate and revile anyone whose sexual orientation isn’t 100% straight.  If they had actually been allies; in their corner, as they fought for equal rights instead of being the ones they had to fight against.

If Christians truly care, and are horrified by what happened in Orlando, then STOP with all this bullshit about homosexuality being a “sin.” Stop treating LGBTs as people who are “broken” and need to be made straight.  Stop supporting “religious freedom” bills.  Stop standing in the way of anti-discrimination laws.  Stop pretending you are innocent in all this, and just admit that you were wrong. 

And then start treating LGBTs as normal human beings.

I truly hope that this will be a wake up call to this country that all of this anti-LGBT bullshit needs to stop – that beliefs lead to actions, often with disastrous results.  I hope that “Remember Orlando!” becomes a rally cry anytime some Bigot-for-Jesus takes to the media to de-humanize LGBTs, or some Republican tries passing yet another anti-LGBT bill.

Yeah, you’re damn right I’m pissed off…



Mythbusters: De-conversion (Pt 2)

This is going to be an extension of a previous post I wrote addressing some of the common misunderstandings and stereotypes people have about those who leave religion.  The first post was more personal in nature, but this one is going to be a bit more universal and is going to address some of the common reactions one gets from Christians when they de-convert.

This post came about because a good friend of mine “came out” as an atheist on Facebook.  Some people were supportive, but like most people here in the Midwest, a good percentage his friends and acquaintances are Christian.  Their reactions to his decision were as predictable and infuriating as one can expect, and that is what we will be discussing here

Before we get into it, I want to talk about a common theme one sees with Christians* when faced with an alternate view point.  It’s what is known as the false-consensus effect: a cognitive bias whereby people tend to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others (i.e., that others also think the same way that they do). This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist; a “false consensus”.

Captain Cassidy gets even more specific with this bias and how it relates to Christianity and their beliefs regarding atheists.  She likes to call it “The Law of Conservation of Worship” – for every action and belief Christians hold, their enemies and sales targets must also have an equal and opposite reactionary action and belief.  Spiritual practices are neither created nor destroyed; as beliefs change, they simply transfer to another method of expression.

We’ll see this theme of false-consensus popping up throughout these common myths, so I thought we’d get it out of way before we got started.  So let’s get into some of the common things one hears when they come out as an atheist:

“This is just a phase /you’ll be back”

I’ve heard parents use this same phrase when their kids come out to them as gay.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction caused by cognitive dissonance sent into overload.  It’s simple denial – some people just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that other people can leave the religion they hold in such high regard.  Regardless of what denomination you belong to, when you go to church you are lead to believe that Christianity is the “One True Religion” and God/Jesus are supposed to be your #1 priority.  To see someone not only walk away from that, but denounce it as false comes as a big blow to some.  Rather then accept it, they would rather just hope that it isn’t really true.

Let’s clear things up a bit.  No one becomes an atheist overnight.  It is not a decision one takes lightly and is typically the cumulative result of months, if not years, of careful and deliberate research and thought.  It is not “just a phase” and I’ve never met anyone who has gone through the de-conversion process only to go back to religion.  Once you find out that religion is demonstrably false, there is little chance you are going to decide one day that it is “true” and go back to it.  Those of us who have broken rank from Christianity know too much about its history and where it came from, how fallible the Bible really is, and how useless and counter-productive Christianity’s culture and practices are.  Why would we go back to that?

“It’s religion you have a problem with, not God”

This one plays out in a number of ways.  People either assume that you have been personally hurt by the Church or have become fed up with the negative and harmful behavior of some Christians.

While Christianity’s homophobia, misogyny, nationalism, willful ignorance, and constant struggle for political power is certainly what drives many down the path towards reason, it is not what makes someone an atheist.  Similar to a point I’ve brought up before, it’s not that an atheist has a problem with God – it’s that they don’t believe in God.  Period.  

This is a good example of false consensus – Christians naturally assume that everyone believes in God in some way, so if someone claims to be an atheist, then organized religion must be what they really don’t believe in because they couldn’t possibly not believe in God.  Right?  Wrong.

It is possible to not believe in any god/deity/higher power and tens of millions all over the world do just that.  In the same way that children grow out of believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, millions of people have grown out of believing in god(s).  I know that comparing God to the Tooth Fairy may be offensive to some, but you need to understand that atheists don’t see any difference – to them, they are both mythological beings that exist only in peoples’ minds.

“Satan is trying to deceive you”

It’s still surprising to me how often I see this one come up.  People who use this line of reasoning fail to understand that atheists don’t believe in any supernatural deities.  This includes God, Satan, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Thor, etc.  Arguing that one mythological being is trying to sway us from believing in another mythological being is illogical and ineffective to say the least.

I can already hear people saying, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled…”  Stop.  Just stop.  We’ve all seen The Usual Suspects.  It doesn’t help your case.  Quoting a fictional movie to make a case for you fictional deities isn’t a good tactic.

“The Bible says…”

For Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority and their first, if not only, source of “truth”.  When faced with conflict it seems all to natural for them to turn to it for help.  When faced with the cognitive dissonance of one leaving their ranks, it’s natural for them to start quoting Bible verses as if they have some magical powers.

I saw a meme once that said, “The road to atheism is littered with Bibles read cover to cover”.  An appropriate statement.  For most atheists, the road out of religion starts with a thorough reading of the Bible, and what we discover is that it is an entirely man-made book, filled with all the prejudices, biases, and ignorance one would expect from a text written by an ancient people.  If someone has come to the conclusion that there is no god, it’s a safe bet that belief in the accuracy and authority of the Bible went away a long time again.  Therefore, quoting scripture is of no significance to us.  You might as well be quoting the Koran or Lord of the Rings; it really makes no difference.

To quote Neil Carter from the article I linked above: “When talking with Christian friends online, I often find that they can’t help citing a Bible verse as their proof–text in order to reinforce a point they are making, as if that is supposed to mean something to me.  For non-believers with backgrounds like mine, not only does the citation not prove anything but virtually any passage you select will be so familiar to us that we are weary of hearing it cited for the ten-thousandth time, probably arguing the exact same point, perhaps even in exactly the same way as every time before.  It’s become like a bad joke among ex-Christians how slavishly it seems people are imitating one another without showing the slightest self-awareness of how badly they’re doing it.”

“You have faith too”

This one usually presents itself something like this, “You need faith to believe in science the same as you do God.”  This is a very common argument among theists, more specifically theists who have no idea how science works.  I addressed this argument once before, but it’s worth repeating here.  Having “faith” in science is not the same as having faith in the religious sense.  This is example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – they have evidence-based trust.  

This is another example of a false consensus.  Those who hold to their religious claims on faith naturally assume that everyone’s worldviews are shaped this way.  But that is not the case with atheists and skeptics – our world view is shaped by empirically evidence, logic and reason, not simply believing in something because we want it to be true.

Another way that I see this argument worded is the accusation that everyone worships something, therefore atheists must also worship something.  Again – false consensus.  No, not everyone worships something.  I know this is commonly taught in Christian culture, I heard it said more times then I could remember, but it’s simply not true.  The definition of worship (as a verb) is: “to show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.”  You can’t show reverence and adoration for something you don’t believe in.

“Don’t you worry about the afterlife?”

No.  No we don’t.  Because there is no evidence that there is an afterlife.  As far as we know, this life is the only one we get.  Once we die, that’s it.  I realize that the belief in an afterlife is common to all religions, and even with some people who aren’t religious, but that doesn’t make it any more true.

This one comes up both subtly-and not so subtly- in the form of threats of hell.  It’s exactly why the myth of hell was invented – to keep people in line and keep them from straying from the pack.  It’s inevitable that when someone leaves religion there’s going to be that one (or many) friend or relative that is going to let them know in no uncertain terms that they are headed for hell.  Threatening someone with a mythological place for not believing in a mythological god is not only ineffective, but only affirms the fear-based and controlling nature of religion that were likely instrumental in our departure.

A more reasonable question that some propose is if it makes us sad to know that this life is all there is.  Sure it does.  We all want to spend as much time as we can enjoying this life and spending time with the ones we love.  Which is exactly why we spend our time worrying about this life instead of worrying about the next.  Ricky Gervais was presented with this same question in an interview and I thought his response was spot on:

“There’s this strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for, it’s the opposite – we don’t have anything to die for.  We have everything to live for.”

I would love to be wrong about this.  I would love to die someday and wake up again in some other dimension or existence.  That would be a pleasant surprise.  But I’m going to hedge my bets on what we thus far know to be true about death, rather than what we wish to be true.

There’s a common myth that atheism is just another option in the game of “Choose Your Own Religion”, but it’s not – we’ve opted out of the game all together.  We don’t play by the same rules as theists.  Yet, many can’t seem to grasp this fact, desperately insisting that we really do believe in God/the supernatural/faith on some level.  This is their way of trying to rationalize their own belief system to themselves.  By claiming that we also have faith or believe in the afterlife, it makes it appear that atheists have simply made a lateral move from one belief system to another, when in reality we’ve jettisoned the whole construct.  As Captain Cassidy puts it:

“What they’re really trying to do is make their own beliefs sound a little less wacky and foolish – and more believable and relatable. There are several reasons why they do it – sometimes they just want to make themselves feel less wacky and foolish despite believing some wacky and foolish things, or they want to signal and affirm their membership in their group…

When Christians misrepresent our lives, experiences, and worldview in order to make us sound more like themselves, that’s a desperate attempt to create a common ground where (they hope) Christianity’s claims might start sounding a little bit more plausible.  

They think that tearing down our worldview will make us forget that they aren’t actually offering any evidence that their claims are true. They’re not giving us any good reason to believe in their god’s existence. They’re just trying to make us think that we’re already just as irrational and silly as they are, only in different ways, in the wild hopes that we will think it wouldn’t be quite so weird to consider their claims.”

That last paragraph really addresses why theists try to paint atheism the way they do.  In lieu of actual evidence for their truth-claims they resort to Straw-Man arguments in an attempt to deem atheism no better then their own faith system.  Hopefully I’ve pointed out the major differences between the stereotypes some Christians have regarding atheists and how to counter them.  Thanks for reading.

*NOTE:  While writing this, the lead singer of the Christian rock band, Order of Elijah, came out as an atheist.  The response was much like what I’ve described here – while many were supportive, others had plenty to say about it.  Captain Cassidy wrote a rebuttal to the criticisms that are going around that is well worth the read.  

*I mention Christians here because of how it pertains to the discussed subject, but false consensus can be found among any large group of people that share a common identity, whether it’s religious, political, national, or otherwise. 



False Hope on the Streets

Coming back from the Farmer’s Market this past weekend, I drove through downtown Sioux Falls and noticed something unusual going on outside the brewery I work at.  There were people setting up chairs and a PA system on the sidewalk.  The chairs were set up facing the street and spaced about three feet apart, as if they were intended for someone watching a parade.  Later that day, when I went into work, I found out what the chairs were for:

This is a group known as Healing On The Streets (HOTS).  You can read about HOTS on their website, but the main thing you need to know is that they believe they can heal people through prayer and put on events like this one on a regular bases.  From the local chapter’s website:

“It’s simple really.  We invite people to sit on chairs so we can pray for them.  We believe God LOVES YOU and CAN HEAL you… from back or neck pain, arthritis, depression, chronic pain, sleeping problems, allergies, headaches, smoking, addictions, walking difficulties, lung problems, anxiety, digestive problems, chest pain, or any other physical or emotional condition.”

HOTS is an international group, with franchises mostly in the US and in Europe.  The franchises are formed from members of various local churches.  They pick a time and a date for their event and advertise for it.  On the selected date they meet in the morning for training and then hit the streets and start praying.

So here’s my issue – HOTS is offering false hope to people who may likely have serious medical issues.  They are making claims regarding medical issues that they are not qualified to address.  They are offering a one-size-fits-all cure for a myriad of medical conditions that require a specific, medical treatment.  HOTS is nothing more then the modern-day version of a snake-oil salesman.

Now, I don’t believe the people who volunteer for HOTS are being intentionally deceptive or trying to con anyone.  They state in their advertisements that the events are free, make no guarantees, and I’m sure they genuinely believe that what they are doing is making a difference.  But the sincerity of a belief does not have any bearing on the validity of that belief.

There is no empirical evidence that prayer or “faith healing” actually works.  People have been studying the effects of intercessory prayer since the 1800’s.  To date, these studies have shown that prayer has no profound effect on the people being prayed for. In some cases, prayer has been shown to actually have a negative effect when people know they are being prayed for.

Beside not asking for money, I’m not seeing how HOTS programs are any less deceptive then the “faith healers” movement; a movement that has been thoroughly exposed as fraudulent, yet still continues to this day.  In fact, a little digging shows HOTS founder Mark Marx using one of the oldest tricks in the book for faith healers:

At the 4:30 mark in this video, illusionist Darren Brown demonstrates how this “miracle” is performed and shows that it is nothing more then a common side-show trick:

I’m not the first one to notice Marx’s deceptive tactics.  A fellow blogger has pointed out the inconsistencies (here and here) in these “miracles”.  Unlike the noted blogger, however, I make no reservations about calling Marx a fraud who is attempting to capitalize on people’s desperation and gullibility to make a lucrative business.   

Concerns have also been raised regarding HOTS in Europe.  In 2012, the group was banned from claiming it can heal people in the UK, after concerns were expressed that their claims could give scores of terminally-ill people false hope.  NHS Tayside, a healthcare provider in Scotland, warned the public about HOTS when they hit the streets in 2013, urging people with medical conditions to go directly to their GP for diagnosis and treatment.

So what’s the harm, you say?  What’s the harm in people coming out and being prayed over with the expectation that it will cure what ails them?  What’s wrong with a little hope?  The harm is that despite HOTS warnings*, many people do ignore medical treatment in favor of prayer, often with disastrous consequences.  Like the case of Zachery Swezey; a 17 year-old high school student who got appendicitis, but his parents believed in the power of prayer over the wisdom of medical experts. So, instead of going to the hospital, his parents stood over and watched him die.  Or the case of Alex Jacobsen; a mentally-ill man who attempted suicide after a faith-based treatment center replaced his medication with prayers and Bible study.  Or the case of Mariah Walton, a 20-year-old who suffers from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that doctors could have prevented if her parents had chosen to take her to a doctor.  Instead they chose to pray over her and rub olive oil over her body.  Walton is now mostly bedridden and has to carry an oxygen tank everywhere she goes.  Cases like this are unfortunately all too frequent, with examples popping up almost weekly.

So what is one to make, then, of the stories you hear of people being miraculously cured by prayer?  Simple.  It’s known as the placebo effect – a fake treatment that can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.  There’s nothing mysterious or supernatural going on here; the placebo effect is a well-documented natural occurrence, and has even been well documented in cases of “faith healing”.  This can become problematic, because while a placebo effect may give temporary relief to certain symptoms of a medical condition (such as relieving pain), there’s no strong evidence that it can cure the underlying issue.  If the issues go untreated, it can lead to severe problems, as the examples above demonstrate.

I realize that prayer is one of the foundations of most religions and is not going away anytime soon.  However, I wish people would quit allowing themselves to be duped by frauds offering snake-oil cures for serious conditions.  I wish people would quit believing prayer is a reasonable solution to real problems.  And I really wish these well meaning, but delusional folks would stop giving false hope to those who have already suffered enough.  Thanks for reading.


*At the bottom of the cards that HOTS hands out, there is a warning in small print which reads, “We encourage everyone so seek treatment for conditions for which medical advice should be sought.  If you are on any medications, STAY on it.  Under NO circumstances should you stop doing anything a medical professional or counselor has advised.”  I can’t say whether this same warning is verbalized during gatherings.






Is Atheism Foolish? – A Response

I recently came across a post on a conservative, Evangelical website called Inspired Walk, called “5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish.”  I saw the link via Twitter, and being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clicked on it.  The post reads like every other apologetic argument I’ve read – presuppositionalism mixed with a healthy dose of logical fallacies.  So, I decided I should write a response to the reasons listed.  Not because the author lays out a good, reasonable argument; just the opposite, in fact.  But because the points that are brought up are ones that atheists hear all… the… time!  

You can read the full post in the link above.  I’ll be using the main bullet points here and quoting the article when needed.

At the very start of the article, the presuppositional theology comes out – “Below are various reasons why the word of God is 100% true and correct according to Psalms 14:1 when it states that atheism is foolish.”   This is a great example of the Begging the Question fallacy –  The author concludes that atheism is foolish by assuming (presupposes) that the Bible is the literal word of God, and therefore “100% true” and universal.  Logical fallacy #1.  You’ll notice that he continues to use verses from the Bible as “evidence” of his claims throughout the article as a means of bolstering his arguments.  Let’s look dig into some of these arguments.

1. Atheist Don’t Appreciate That Every Design Has A Designer

The author spends the first half of this point talking about complex machines, such as jet liners and the Large Hadron Collider, how long they took to build, how many people were involved, etc.  It is then stated that, “if we were to use the same thought process or the same thought pattern that the atheist uses in relation to creation, it would be very easy to understand why atheism is extremely foolish and why atheists are regarded as being fools by God. Somehow, the atheist cannot appreciate the complexity but yet harmonious aspects of nature or the universe and come to the conclusion that there is a vastly superior Being behind creation.”

Let’s start by pointing out logical fallacy #2 – a False Analogy: when someone applies facts from one situation to another situation but the situations are substantially different and the same conclusions cannot logically be drawn.  In this case, the author is comparing man-made machines build over the course of several years, to nature which has evolved over millions of years.  It’s apples and oranges, but let’s address the point.

This is what’s commonly known as the Watchmaker Analogy or Teleological argument.  This argument relies on a complete misunderstanding of evolution and how it works.  First, it fails to understand that seemingly complex systems in nature did not suddenly appear in their natural form, but are the product of millions of years of natural selection from much simpler organisms.  Second, it assumes that nature has an end-goal in mind and that what we currently see is what we get.  In fact, nature is continuing to evolve and most species on earth will continue to change over time.  Lastly, it’s very easy for scientifically-illiterate people to look at certain aspects of nature and gasp in wonder over how “complex” it is, but are either unaware or don’t acknowledge the endless examples in nature of things that aren’t “properly designed”.  For example, sea turtles having to come to shore and dig a hole in the sand for their nest, a long and difficult process with flippers.  The turtle needs to lay 50-200 eggs at a time to assure that some of them, when hatched, actually make it through the gauntlet of predators trying to eat them.  Also, the fact that human babies have heads that are generally too big to fit through the birth canal, not only resulting in a long and painful delivery, but a dangerous one as well.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth was dangerous business.

The argument from design takes place in another form known as the irreducible complexity argument.  From The Logic of Science blog:  The basic idea is that some systems are too complex to evolve because they aren’t functional until all of the parts are in place. For example, an eye that is missing a single piece no longer sees, and a bacterial flagellum that is missing a single protein can no longer act as a flagellum. So the argument claims that these systems could not have evolved because there would have been steps that served no useful function, and nature could not have selected for those steps. The problem is that this argument ignores the fact that evolution is blind. Traits don’t need to function for some ultimate final product in order to be selected for. Rather, if they provide any useful function at all, nature will select them. Indeed, no one has ever been able to find a truly irreducible system, and we have evolutionary pathways that explain how complex systems evolve. For example, an early precursor of the eye would have simply involved a few light sensitive cells (much like some flatworms have). They don’t function as an eye, but they still function, so nature will select for them. Similarly, the proteins that make up a flagellum all serve other functions in the cell, and we have even figured out a step-wise series of events that would form a flagellum with each step serving a useful function for the cell, even though only the final step actually serves as a flagellum. So there is just no truth to the notion that some systems are too complex to evolve.

It’s unfortunate that this argument is still used today, as Darwin addressed it 150 years ago in Origin of the Species.  Yet, theists with little or no understanding of how evolution works continue to regurgitate it.  This is a common theme in apologetics – keep rehashing the same arguments in hopes that they will eventually stick.

2. Atheists Think Accidents Can Create Complex & Harmonious Systems & Life-forms

Again, a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of how evolution works.  Evolution does not rely on chance, but on natural selection.  These are two very different ideas.  Evolution works through a process of non-random selection of random variation.  Dale Thomas writes:

One main criticism of evolution from creationists is that it is based on random chance. That’s kind of true, there is chance involved, but it is important to know where the chance is and how it is used.  When organisms reproduce, the genetic duplication is not perfect, leading to some variation in the genes (mutations). That is where the randomness is. But then that individual grows up and interacts with the world. Those random changes in the genotype may or may lead to a small change in the body or behavior.  If this change helps the individual in its goal of surviving to adulthood and finding a mate, then those genes will be reproduced in the next generation. The point here is that the environment (which encompasses everything, from the laws of physics, the terrain, weather, climate, predators, prey, vegetation, mates, etc) will do the ‘selecting’. If the organism dies or cannot find a mate, those genes have been deemed unworthy of reproduction, but if it can, they are worthy, and will persist in the species.  It is such a beautifully simplistic, and easily understandable process.”

I also want to address a point the author brings up regarding word usage.  The author states: “The atheist thinks he is clever but yet is foolish because he cannot understand that the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  This is similar to an argument I often hear regarding the “Laws of Nature”; Creationists will claim that if there is a law then there must be a lawgiver.  This is another logical fallacy – false equivocation.  In this case, misunderstanding the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive. 

Oh, and contrary to what the author asserts, the universe is not as harmonious as he thinks, but is in fact full of chaos and unpredictability.

3. The Atheist Foolishly Thinks Science Has The Answers To Everything

Here we have your classic Straw Man fallacy – when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.  In this case making the claim that atheists think science has the answer to everything, when in fact you would be hard pressed to find an atheists (or scientist) that makes such a claim.  Most atheists are scientifically-literate and understand the limitations of science, but also its accomplishments.

The author then claims that since science deals with the physical and natural world, and God resides the supernatural realm, that “science is NOT the best means by which a person can learn or observe the nature of God” nor can it disprove His existence.  This argument presupposes that there is a supernatural realm and that his god is a part of it.  The problem with this argument is that science can test supernatural claims and has been doing so for centuries.  Most all claims of the supernatural involve forces acting upon the natural world, thus we are able to test these claims using scientific means.  As Jerry Cohen puts it: “If you invoke a form of the supernatural that claims to have real-world consequences, then those consequences necessarily fall within the ambit of science.  This means that any type of theistic faith involves hypotheses that are ‘scientific’. Dawkins was right to call the existence of God a ‘scientific hypothesis.'” 

4. Atheists Don’t Know That Atheism is a Belief System

First, let’s address the authors claim that, “Neither evolution nor the big bang can be proved by experimentation or observation.
None of these 2 theories can scientifically explain nor give observable evidence of the origin of life.” Yes they can – and have.  The evidence to support both is immeasurable.  Creationists’ continuing insistence that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, the Big Bang, or the origins of life is willfully ignorant and empirically false.   I’m not even going to waste my time putting links here, because the amount of information out there is overwhelming.  The author’s ignorance of science is not a good argument against it.

The author claims that since there is no evidence to support evolution and the Big Bang theory, atheists have to accept them on faith.  This is another example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – we have evidence-based trust. 

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

This is perhaps the best example of an Argument from Ignorance – because something cannot be completely disproved, it must therefore be true.  It’s a ridiculous argument, but it’s surprising how often it’s used.  This same argument could be used for aliens, UFOs, unicorns, fairies, vampires, or a tea pot floating around the sun.  It’s an attempt to shift the burden of proof.  The burden of proof always sits with the person making the claim, not the person refuting it.  It’s not an atheist’s job to disprove God, it’s the theist’s job to provide evidence that he exists.

We also can’t skip past the well-worn anecdote used by theists that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Therefore just because a person has never seen a physical manifestation of God, it does not mean that God does not exist.”  This is only partly true.  Absence of evidence, when evidence should be presentis evidence of absence.  Going back to the discussion on natural vs supernatural, theism makes claims of God interacting and intervening in this, the natural world, which would leave evidence.  Therefore, such claims can be tested, and thus far no evidence for supernatural intervention in the natural world has been found.  Carl Sagan brilliantly counters the “absence of evidence” argument in his story “The Dragon in My Garage”.  After asking multiple questions regarding evidence for a dragon living in a garage and coming up empty handed, this is his response:

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of ‘not proved.'” 

I’ve underlined the parts of this paragraph that I find most fitting the current discussion.  Just replace “dragon” with “God” and you can see my point.  The author is right in positing that because we don’t have evidence of theism, it does not prove empirically that god(s) do not exist.  But it does mean that until such evidence is found, it is far from foolish to discount the idea.



Two things become apparent when reading through this article.  The first is that the author has no idea what atheists actually believe.  The entire article reads like one, big Straw Man argument.  The author projects his own idea of what atheists believe (as opposed to what they actually believe) and then attempts to tear down those beliefs.  His overall view of atheists can be found in the article itself where he states, “I would personally prefer the following definition of atheism that I once saw on one of the social media platforms: Atheism is the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs, birds, trees, fish and the like.”  

Second, the author shows that he is completely ignorant of the most basic principles of evolution and how it works.  This isn’t surprising as Creationism depends on a willful dismissal of science and all the evidence that it provides, as well as how the scientific method works.  This makes the author unsuited for having any debate in which science is going to be one of the main topics.

It’s also worth noting the condescending nature that the author takes throughout the article.  His contempt for atheists comes through loud and clear throughout the article, and he takes special care to use “fool” and “foolish” as often as he can.  For all his use off scripture, he conveniently left out Matt 5:22 – “…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

As I mentioned at the beginning – these are not strong, well-thought-out arguments.  This is what Matt Dillahunty would refer to as “Kindergarten Theology”.   Lest you accuse me of going after low-hanging fruit, it should be noted that these are very common arguments used by apologists, both amateur and professional.  Hopefully this post will prove useful for anyone who comes across these types of arguments in future discussions.  Thanks for reading.


Things Christians Say (that are nowhere in the Bible)

Anyone who has ever engaged with Christians either in-person or on social media will know that there are certain catch-phrases that often get thrown around as a way of trying to win a debate.  These statements are usually meant to be conversation stoppers – a way of “dropping the mic” and acknowledging that they are no longer interested in anything else the other person has to say.  Having been taught that there is “power in the Word”, many Christians believe that these little one-liners have the power to actually change people’s hearts and minds.  Like magical spells, many believers honestly think that simply quoting Bible references will have some supernatural impact on others around them.

I’ll set aside just how absurd this notion is for now.  Today I want to focus on whether or not some of these saying are truly “Biblical”.  Are these concepts that can be found in the Bible or are they merely a product of modern Evangelical culture?  We’re going to examine a few of the more common statements that one hears in Christian culture and the validity of these statements as it pertains to the Bible.

“God helps those who help themselves”

While sounding like something one would find in Proverbs, this little gem can be found exactly zero times in the Bible.  Some have tried to argue that 2 Thes 3:10 and James 4:8 support this saying, but those are both a bit of a stretch.  In fact, this saying originated in ancient Greece, but is most commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

I see this verse most often used as an excuse not to help someone in need.  It usually looks something like this:  Tony is down on his luck and needs some assistance, so he asks Becky for help.  Becky doesn’t think that Tony is doing everything he can to better his situation; therefore she isn’t obligated to help.  Because if God isn’t going to help those who help themselves, why should she?

I also see this excuse used on a larger scale when dealing with social welfare issues.  It’s simply a more “Christian” way of saying, “Just go get a job, you lazy bum!”  Ironically, in the Bible God seems to show up and help those who can’t help themselves, but must turn to Him for help.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin”

This saying is a favorite among Christians and can be used in a multitude of situations, but is most often used in reference to homosexuality, or really any issue regarding sexuality or gender.  The basic idea is that you can still love a person, but disprove of what they do.  Sounds OK in theory, but in reality, it’s nothing more then an excuse to judge other people, which we’ll get to in a minute.  First, let’s state what shouldn’t need stating:  this “verse” appears nowhere in the Bible.

When the Bible doesn’t contain the verses necessary to back their worldview, apologists’ favorite trick is to simply cut-and-paste different verses together to come up with Frankenstein-esque “verses” like “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  This sort of word-smithing allows Christians to claim that their favorite excuse to judge people is taught in principle in the Bible.

As I’ve already stated, LTSHTS is nothing more then a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for Christians wanting to look down their noses at others and judge them for any actions, behaviors or lifestyles they don’t agree with.  They can try to disguise their contempt under the banner of “love” all they want, but you can’t fully love someone while simultaneously looking down on them.  John Pavlovitz wrote a great article on this topic, calling this saying an “abomination”, stating that; Rarely in history has there been a greater mischaracterization of the heart of Jesus or a more egregious bastardization of the Bible than these six words.  The damage that LTSHTS has done in the lives of billions of people and to the public perception of Christians can never be fully calculated, but one thing is certainly true: it’s an embarrassment and a sin and a total abomination.”  

 “The Bible is the inerrant Word of God”

I was at a Christmas pageant recently where the kids were telling the Christmas story we’re all familiar with.  I was a little surprised to see one kid playing the “skeptic”.  Every so often, after another child relayed a part of the story, the “skeptic” would chime in and say, “But how do you know that’s true?”  To which the other kids would reply, “The B-I-B-L-E!”  I wanted to go up to the kid afterwards and ask him, “But how do you know the B-I-B-L-E is true?”

It’s inevitable that any discussion with a Christian about any subject is going to come down to them quoting Scripture, yet when asked how someone knows that what Bible says is true, or inerrant, the answer is almost always, “Because it says so in the Bible”.

First of all, this is a circular argument, and completely illogical.  But, does the Bible, in fact, claim that the contents contained within it are completely factual and accurate in every way?

The answer is no – it doesn’t make this claim anywhere in the Bible.  The verse I most often hear cited as evidence is 2 Tim 3:16,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

There are a few problems here.  First, the word “Scripture” does not refer to the Bible, as we know it today, it is most likely referring to the Torah.  The Bible would not become compiled and canonized for another three centuries.  Second, saying that something is “breathed out by God” (some translations say “inspired”) is not the same thing as the literal Word of God.  Lastly, in no way does “profitable” (or useful) mean the same thing as inerrant.

The idea of the Bible being inerrant is purely human fabrication, and it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to notice the thousands of errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, and scientific errors found in its pages.  It’s unclear when this idea was first introduced, but it didn’t become popular until the late 19th century with the rise of Christian Fundamentalism.  It still remains dominant in Fundamental and Evangelical circles, and has been used to propagate and justify all manner of deplorable behaviors by Christians.

“The Earth is only 6,000 years old”

Creationists love to claim that they derive their belief in a young-earth from the Bible.  Next time someone tells you that the Earth is only 6,000 years old “because the Bible says”, ask him or her to cite the chapter and verse and see what he or she says.

The age of the earth is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  Even if one where to take a literal view of the seven-day creation story, that tells us nothing about how long ago that happened.  The young-earth view, in fact, comes not from the any specific Bible reference (and certainly not from science), but from an analysis by 17th century scholars of the Biblical genealogies found in Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Basically, they used the genealogy in the Bible to create a timeline of the Earth.  There are several problems with this methodology.  First, it assumes that the people recorded in the Bible were the only humans in existence, not accounting for any other civilizations, or civilizations that came before.  Second, different translation of the Bible cite different ages and dates than others.  And most importantly, humans have never lived for hundreds of years as the Bible claims.  Life expectancy during Biblical times was shorter, not longer, then what it is today.

This isn’t time or space to get into all the reasons why young-earth Creationism is harmful, but there are many articles out there discussing the dangers of Creationism on children, educationsociety as a whole, and even its own religion.   I’ve also written before about why science-denialism hurts everyone.

“Marriage is between one man, and one woman”

Everyone has heard this one.  It’s the battle-cry for those who believe that it’s not only acceptable, but mandated by God, to deny LGBTs the same civil liberties that everyone else has.  The Bible says many things about marriage, but it being solely between one man and one woman is not one of them.

If we were to base the institution of marriage on “Biblical values”, then it would be permissible to have multiple wives, to have wives and concubines (i.e. sex slaves and breeding stock), to have sex with your wife’s servant, to marry the women you rape, and to take virgin women as spoils of war.  But, just make sure whatever women you marry is a virgin, or else she needs to be put to death.

Really, the only verse in the Bible that hints at a so-called “traditional marriage” is found in Titus 1:6, where the qualifications for elders, or overseers, of the church are laid out: “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination…”

This may seem like an odd requirement to modern readers, but in the 1st century Middle East, it was quite common for both Jews and Gentiles to have multiple wives.  Regardless, this verse only addresses “elders” and says nothing of lay people, and certainly nothing of society as a whole.

“Abortion is a sin/murder/against God’s will”

I thought about making this its own post, but will include it here and try to make it short.  I have no doubt that this is going to spark the strongest reaction.  Abortion is undoubtedly one of the hot-button topics in society today, and Christians have spent millions of dollars trying to make it illegal.  Undoubtedly, those who find abortion morally wrong will cite their religious convictions and/or the Bible as the reason for opposing it.  But, what does the Bible actually say about abortion?

It won’t take long for most to realize that the word “abortion” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, nor does it give any specific commandment one way or another on the issue.  The first objection (and usually only) argument most will give is that “abortion in murder, and murder is clearly wrong according to the Bible!”  This argument is almost entirely based on the notion that an zygotes and embryos are the same as humans, therefore to terminate one is the same as terminating an actual human.  This argument stems from a lack of understanding of biology and personal bias.  But what of the claim of abortion being murder?

If one were to try and find a clear outline as to what defines “murder”, the Bible would be the last place to look.  In the Bible, especially the OT, we see a complete disregard for life, with the murder killing of countless people, including children.  Abraham is asked by God to kill his only son to test him (Gen 22), the Israelite are commanded to commit genocide of whole races, including children (Deut 2:34, Deut 7:2, Deut 20:16-17, Deut 32:23-26, Numbers 31:17-18), God had 42 children killed by a bear for mocking Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-24), Israel was told to sacrifice their first-born, both animal and human to God, (Exodus 13:1-2), Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter to God after winning a battle (Judges 11:29-40), and God has thousand of his own people killed for such petty things as complaining about the food (Numbers 11:1-35, Numbers 21:4-9), wanting to go back to Egypt, not liking the boss (Numbers 16:27-32), those who followed those not liking the boss (Numbers 16:35), complaining about God killing those who didn’t like the boss and their followers(Numbers 16:49), and looking at the Arc of the Covenant (1 Sam 6:19).  And let’s not forget how “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)

The above passages clearly demonstrate that our modern definition of murder is considerably different (and more civilized and humane) than in biblical times.  A reading of the OT laws shows that killing another human was only considered “murder” if that other human was an Israelite (or “sojourner” living on their land).  But what about children?

It’s important to note, that under Jewish law, life does not begin until birth.  In Exodus 21:22, the law states that if a pregnant women is hurt in an altercation between two men and looses her baby, the man who struck her will be punished in whatever way is seen fit by the husband and the judge.  The man, however, is not put to death, as would be the case if the woman was killed (Exodus 21:23).  Just to reiterate – if the unborn child died it was not considered murder.

Children under a month old appear to not have any worth in ancient Israel.  They were not included in censuses (Numbers 3:15) and were not given any monetary value (Lev 27:6).   There is also the horrific fact of parents being commanded to kill their own children for things like being disobedient (Deut 21:18-21), cursing their parents (Lev 20:9) or suggesting worshiping a different god (Deut 13:6-11).  In the book of Hosea, we read that God will cause women to miscarry (9:14) and kill any children that are born (9:16) if Israel does not repent.  Samaria, too, will feel God’s wrath as “their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.” (13:16)

The other popular argument against abortion are the verses in the Bible which describe a child being made in a womb (Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13, Jer. 1:5, etc.)  The argument goes that because God “knit” humans together in the womb, this suggests that the life in that womb is sacred.  All these verses demonstrate is that the authors had a very basis understanding of human development.  Ancient cultures understood that if a seed was placed in ground, the ground would nurture it, and a plant would come forth.  A similar understanding was assigned to humans – a man places his “seed” into a women, the women carries and nurtures the seed, and a child comes out.  None of these verses say anything of the intrinsic value placed on the “seed” in the womb.  The verses I shared above  however, do give us an understanding of when it was thought life began, and it wasn’t in the womb.  Reading the “womb verses” as evidence against abortion is an example of people extracting their own meaning and understand from the Bible and failing to place it in the context of the larger narrative. 

If abortion being murder is a Biblical concept, then it was only very recently that anyone became aware of it.  In fact, this “Biblical” view is younger than the Happy Meal.  The truth is, Christians were largely indifferent about abortion until the 70’s, when right-wing politics got in bed with Evangelicals and made it an issue.  Many denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, supported it.  And far from being an issue of morality, abortion was used by right-wing politicians as a means to an end for what they considered a much bigger issue – protecting segregated schools.

One of the important aspects of critical thinking is the careful evaluation of truth-claims.  It is important for people to realize where their knowledge comes from and what the roots are of long-held beliefs.  Hopefully I have demonstrated how easily it can be for someone to claim something that has the illusion of bearing weight, when in reality it rings hollow.  We all have our favorite bag of tricks that we like to employ in an argument, but we, both believers and non-believers, must always be mindful of the validity our own “tricks” or truth claims, and scrupulously evaluate them for accuracy.  There’s a lot of bullshit out there – let’s make sure we’re not contributing to the stench.  Thanks for reading.




Reflections along the journey from faith to reason.

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