Infidels: Feedback : June 1999


June (1999)

Greetings to all. Beginning this month the Feedback pages have a new editor. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Richard Carrier. I am currently a Ph.D. student and instructor of ancient history at Columbia University, NY. Information about me and my online work is available at my website. Our format will continue with what you see here: feedback is grouped by article or topic, with the relevant link provided at the top of each section. As in the past, responses are printed in bold to make them easier to find and browse. It has been one of our busiest months, with tons of feedback generated by the essays of Kim Walker and Bill Edelen, and those darn Congressional fiascoes. Please note that our guidelines and procedures for submitting feedback have not changed. Enjoy.


What's with the Star Wars Promo?

I enjoy your site immensely. I especially enjoyed the "Where will you spend eternity?" article. Secularists need to pay more attention to the emotive techniques of theists; we should also not be afraid to use our own in either retaliation or in conversions. The only question I have for you concerns the prominent placement of a referral to "The Phantom Menace" book on your home page. It's placement almost looks like an endorsement, or perhaps that the book and/or film is somehow related to secularism/skepticism. Perhaps this is the case (as I have not seen the film, nor do I plan to do so), but I doubt this, as the other films seemed to be filled to the brim with a generic, non-denominational irrationality ("Use the Force, Luke!"). Is this simply a referral ad? If so, it seems that it should be in standard banner-ad format.

Greg Spooner gspooner@csulb.edu
Seal Beach, CA USA - Friday, June 25, 1999 at 14:08:10 (MDT)


I find your marketing of Star Wars merchandise in very bad taste. Terry Brooks is a minor, minor, writer and is recognized as such by most serious speculative fiction authors. And as a secular humanist I object to the cultish ambience which surrounds the corporate integration which Lucas promotes.

Michael Milomlo66@email.msn.com
Springfield, MA USA - Sunday, June 27, 1999 at 01:02:57 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

I wondered about this myself. Not being involved in that end of the show I did a double-take, but just ignored it, being too busy with my own job. Once I inquired with my colleagues I found that this was a well-intentioned idea done badly, and I have asked the board of directors to vote up an official policy at II that will prevent this sort of thing happening in the future. It was indeed a promo, aimed at generating much-needed revenue, the thought being that with our link-agreement with Amazon, we would get kickbacks from patron interest in what was predicted to be a hit product (since we know many freethinkers who are fans). It turned out to be a bomb, adding insult to error.

When I discussed this with the Board of Directors, many thought that we should stick to promoting items of direct educational interest to our patrons. Although I think we should indeed continue to do that, I must also emphasize that there is nothing wrong with selling items unrelated to freethought at our website, as long as we carefully distinguish such promotions as what they are, and not give the appearance of an intellectual endorsement. As it is, it looked like we were pushing the religion of "The Force," or as if the book had some secular interest, which we could have avoided if we had developed a clearer policy on promotions, which we will now do, thanks to the feedback above.

However, it isn't as simple as that. Jeffery Jay Lowder is one of those who argues that promoting the book had at least some relevance to our mission, and I agree with him: "One of the pervasive themes of nontheistic literature is the criticism that religious claims are not supported by empirical evidence. Star Wars, on the other hand, presents a fictional world in which mystical or supernatural claims can in fact be empirically verified. Within that imaginary world, a person who did not believe in 'the force' could still witness acts allegedly performed by, or with the assistance of, 'the force'." This is very true, and something I have often brought up in debates. As one critic said of the X-Files (which I assume needs no introduction), Scully's skepticism, later in the series, is ridiculous, not commendable. If I'd seen what she'd seen, as Lucian once said, "I'd believe it, too." This is a good launching point for analogies about what we really are justified in believing, and when. Lowder also adds, "the Phantom Menace, like all other episodes of the Star Wars saga, is presented as fiction, not fact. I would think that freethinkers should want to avoid the sort of narrowness and hostility depicted at, say, http://www.leaderu.com/focus/starwars.html." It seems that this innocent fiction is a target of religious attack, and that alone makes it worthy of our interest, even if we deplore the cultish attitude of fans or the quality of the work itself.

My concern, however, is not with what we sell, but how we sell it. If the promotion had contained this very kind of editorial, next to the photo and sale button, I think it would have been entirely suitable--as long as we didn't give the impression that the sale link was anything but just that: a sale link. It is notable that we have, in a sense, fallen victim to a growing problem in the media industry, which has been explored twice this year by the media watchdog Brill's Content, covering their own, similar mistake (in a previous issue) in June ("This Old House, This Glass House," pp. 48-9), and in a survey of advertising trends on the world wide web in August ("journalism.commerce," pp. 56-7). The latter emphasizes the need to make it clear "where the sales pitch begins" and this will be a guiding principle here from now on. Please continue to call our attention to anything else along these lines that is unclear.

There are at present no industry standards regarding web ads, but the Internet Content Coalition has drafted the following policy suggestion: "Any nonbanner advertisement, including portals, windows, buttons, and special advertising sections...must be clearly and conspicuously identified" with the word "advertisement" (or something along those lines), "links to editorial content should not be placed within an advertising element" (to my knowledge this has never been a problem for us), and "ad buttons must be visually distinct from the editorial ones." I have recommended that we adopt some policy similar to this, and the Board of Directors is considering the issue.


Atheist Neighbor Children Are Nice... Imagine That!

Those neighbors of yours are more confused about their religion than I usually see in the non-believers. Christianity is not at all about morality and ethics; it's only about allegiance to God. Don't let them confuse you about what Christianity is.

Douglas Noble dogunokami76@hotmail.com
USA - Wednesday, June 30, 1999 at 23:47:55 (MDT)


You need to lighten up. Most people are believers, one way or another. Surprise! Surprise! If you find living with believers so difficult, move to an isolated island. People are going to teach their children what they believe. Most Americans believe in God. If some believers are not subtle or sophisticated in talking about their faith, SORRY! The world was not organized to revolve around your feelings. Get real!

John Card ellery76@yahoo.com
Oviedo, FL USA - Wednesday, June 30, 1999 at 01:05:05 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

I guess this philosophy is akin to "if black people find living with racists so difficult, they should move back to Africa." There is an obvious flaw in this sort of reasoning. At any rate, the article wasn't about finding "living with believers so difficult" so your point is moot anyway. I suggest you read it again, with a finer eye toward getting the point.


I did not see it as obvious that the children were atheist, mearly non-Christian. I'll assume the children raised in the nice Christian home, who made the comment, associated good morals with what they were learning in Church. Thus the morals you teach your children, as I'll assume again caring, compassionate humanistic atheists, are similar to what one might find in a liberal religion. Even a Christian one.

Of course in one sense Religious Evangelism speaks of an intolerance of other religious beliefs--The "I have the Truth" syndrome. And some denominations of Christianity are more intolerant than others. It would be a shame if as the children grow up they lose their innocence, and willingness to be friends with each other.

Jonas S. Green jgreen00@tiac.net
Salem, MA USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 19:59:25 (MDT)


The Happy Heretic's Review of the Bible

First, I'd like to say that I truly enjoy your website. Being new to the internet (and computers), and having a fascination with religions, especially the nonsense called Christianity, your site is one of the first I've visited. I'ts comforting to know there are rational minds out there. I just read the "Review" of the Bible and really enjoyed the fresh approach. Having read it myself and other works related to it, I find it absolutely incredible that people still believe in it. The one passage that sums up the entire confusing mess is the one from Exodus (4:24-6),where God, after having "recruited" Moses and sent him on his way to Egypt, comes upon him in the night and tries to kill him. God is apparently driven off after Zipporah cuts off the foreskin of her son's penis and throws it at His feet. The book then continues as if nothing bizarre had taken place. While there are passages equally ridiculous throughout the entire Bible, this one pretty much says it all.

Anyway, keep up the great work!

Michael YuhasYuhas01@yahoo.com
Orlando, Fl USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 18:50:52 (MDT)


On William Edelen's "The Ten Commandments"

A popular lie of the fundamentalists is that separation of Church and State was forced upon the American people by atheists, and that only atheists want it. In fact, the Separation of Church and State is strongly supported by most Christians. Fundamentalists will then label those Christians who support this to be "False Christians." However, it is not the job of the Government to determine which, if any, religion is "correct."

There is good reason for atheists, Christians and non-Christians to support separation issues. Religion is a matter of individual conscience, and Government should not tell people what to think of God. Historically, State-sponsored religion has been used as a weapon against those who believe differently, in particular used by one denomination of the same religion against another.

Those who oppose the Separation of Church and state clearly do not wish to have religious views other than their own supported by the government. There would certainly be an uproar if a seven year-old came home and told their parents that they prayed to Allah in class today. If someone values their right to raise their children in their own faith, how can they possibly be in favor of granting the government the right to tell their children what to think about God?

The real reason, it seems, that people wish to bring government-sponsored religion into the classroom is not for their own children--they can certainly teach them all the religion they wish at home and in church--but to use the classroom as a revival hall to evangelize to a captive audience.

So-called student-led school prayer seems like a sleight of hand. Proponents claim that it wouldn't be government endorsement, as the students themselves would be leading and initiating it. However, who selects who gets the government soapbox? Unless teachers are going to turn every classroom into a pan-ecumenical seminary, the teachers would be selecting certain individuals to step up to the government soapbox, and use the tools of the State to further their agenda. This selection process is itself government choosing which religious viewpoints it will endorse.

The First Commandment itself has no place in Government. The right to worship any God, or no God, as we see fit, is one of our most precious freedoms. The Government has no place in telling us that we are violating a law by exercising our most basic freedoms.

The existing laws on religious expression in public schools are quite good and reasonable. I find that opponents of Separation are reluctant to discuss them, because of the very reasonableness of these laws. Instead, bad decisions by schools, which illegally restrict religious freedom in schools, are touted as being what the law really is. There needs to be better education of school personnel as to what these laws are. We don't need to "fix" the law, as it is not broken.

Robert Lent Antiwolf@USFAmily.net
Minneapolis, MN USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 12:05:44 (MDT)


In response to the official posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, I think members of non-Christian sects and groups should do some posting of their own. Moslems could put up sayings from the Koran, Humanists could display quotes from Corliss Lamont's "Philosophy of Humanism", Buddhists could put up their sayings, etc.

While we're at it, let's include Scientologists, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, Church of Jesus Christ, etc. You can just imagine how the advocates of the 10 Commandment postings would react--you can bet your bottom dollar they will refuse to give equal time!

Why don't these back-stabbing hypocrites on the Christian Right just come out and say that they believe that Freedom of Religion is a failure and that Christian belief should be compulsory?

Mike Birtchet bershay@teleport.com
Portland, OR USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 19:00:32 (MDT)


Hmm, I have been to 5 weddings, in 5 different churches, in 2 different countries, in the last 2 years and not once have I seen the Ten Commandments posted there. If they are not good enough for their churches, what makes them good enough for our public schools?

Kurt Eibell kurt@ioa.com
Arden, NC USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 12:45:13 (MDT)


I'm not sure what Edelen's objections are regarding the posting of the 10 Commandments in schools. He seems to be arguing that given the original intent of the commandments (based on some questionable understanding of Hebraic Law), the commandments themselves are not applicable for today. Would this mean then that we should murder, not honor our parents, covet our neighbor's possessions, etc.? Even if the scope of the intent of the commandments is not what Edelen says it is (a claim which, itself, is suspect) what does that have to do with the relevancy of posting them as moral ideals for today?

I would agree that if one is an atheist, taking these commandments as dictates from God is meaningless. However it seems that even Mr. Edelen can agree with the general moral value behind the commandments regardless of their source. If not, I'd be interested to know with what he'd replace them (and I don't see the commandments, the bill of rights, and the constitution as mutually exclusive but rather complementary).

If his question is "Why the 10 commandments and not some other moral code?" I'd respond by asking, "What other moral code should we post?" His suggestion that we post the Constitution or the Bill of Rights can't be taken seriously. Both are great documents but would not serve the purpose here. (What 3rd grader will absorb, let alone read, the entire constitution and be able to apply it as a moral guide?). Further, these documents primarily are political. What I mean by that is they are a practical implementation of a moral code and not a moral code themselves. In other words, they presuppose the moral foundation of something like the 10 commandments. Without that foundation, the Constitution wouldn't work.

Bottom line is that Mr. Edelen's "polemic" seems more like biased religion-bashing. If he has some genuine, reasonable problems with posting the 10 commandments in schools (I'm willing to admit there may be some), he should state them in a reasonable way. Calling the ethics of the 10 commandments outdated and the people who promote posting them "mentally deranged" is quite insufficient.

Paul Pardi p_pardi@hotmail.com
WA USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 18:54:26 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

As Edelen's brief essay says, "The giver of the commandment, Moses, continued to order genocide, murder, a scorched earth policy and 'ethnic cleansing' on all of his enemies. And all with this primitive tribal God's blessing." That is, in fact, true, and thus his point: the commandment against murder obviously did not apply to non-Hebrews. It is disturbing that these commandments, snatched from a book full of horrible crimes sanctioned by God--including, as Edelen notes, the death penalty for violating the commandment against honoring one's father (Leviticus 20:9)--would be posted on walls for the education of our children. I would also add that the first four commandments are not moral at all--they are purely religious dogmas. So what other moral code should we post? Congress already knows the answer, but doesn't care--they would rather have religion than sense--for the Fletcher amendment provided for "character education programs that incorporate elements of good character including honesty, citizenship, courage, justice, respect, personal responsibility, and trustworthiness," without any reference to I am the Lord Thy God or Thou Shalt Not Make Any Graven Images. Indeed! No graven images? What is your 3rd grader supposed to do at arts and crafts time?


To whom it may concern:

I must say that, although I enjoyed your article, the point behind [the act] is crap. Posting the Ten Commandments is not going to make the world morally better. If the Ten Commandments had been posted at Columbine, they still would have carried out their plan. Looking at a piece of paper with 3000 year old Hebrew laws on them is not going to do anything. Nothing against the author, just the f****n bible thumping Congressmen that want to press their religion on other free-thinking people. Thank you

Sincerely,

Michael Engelken engelken@bscn.com
Walnut Ridge, AR USA - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 17:09:05 (MDT)


I am a Christian who is just as outraged--judging by his article--as William Edelen is by the decision Congress made regarding the posting of the 10 Commandments in public schools. I agree that the term idiotic does not go far enough to describe the decision made by these Congresspeople. After reading the comments of Reps. Aderholt and Barr, I find that even Edelen's description could be expanded to include "delusional." The 10 Commandments, as well as any other overtly (or even covertly, for that matter) religious laws, rules, sanctions (really anything) have no place whatsoever in the public sector. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights provide the only acceptable government-sanctioned rules, laws, and regulations for the public at large. To use anything more or less to regulate the lives of Americans is a despicable corruption of the cornerstone of our country. We need to protect the religious freedoms of all Americans: Edelen's (I'm assuming) and others' right to not subscribe or practice, and mine to subscribe fully and practice freely.

I would, however, be remiss if I fail to mention that in the Christian faith, which also accepts the 10 Commandments as Law, Jesus redefines and expands the Hebrew concept of "neighbor" (Luke 10:29-37), thereby extending the application of the 10 Commandments beyond Isrealite-Isrealite relations. While Edelen's evaluation of the Hebrew understanding of the 10 Commandments is accurate, albeit as skewed by his own beliefs as mine is, he fails to include or mention the Christan perspective--the perspective held, I'm guessing and ashamed to say, by most of the proponents of this insane decision.

Michelle Kubilus Fishn914@aol.com
USA - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 14:01:51 (MDT)


The article on the 10 commandments is right on target. The antics of the Christian elements of society are becoming more insane not less. I can only guess what will happen if Jesus does not show up in the next one or two years. Surely, these people will blame those who are under control of Satan. And anyone who does not agree with them is under the control of Satan. Maybe a new tactic is needed here. Let's post ALL the laws, every one of them straight from the bible, including all the ones Christians choose to ignore. As any student of the bible knows, there are lots of them. Maybe that would expose these hypocrites for what they are. The more I think about it, the better I like that idea. Expose them all, right from the good book itself. Let's expose all the murders, killing of the unborn, ignored commands of Jesus, ignored advice on marriage from the inspired Paul, ALL of it. Maybe then some of the more logical Christians will see the problem for what it really is. Before you know it, there would be Christian infighting among the hundreds of denominations, each trying to insert their own interpretation into the schools and public buildings. Maybe it is time for freethinkers to help them out in their holy quest to deliver God's truth to all. Let's not fight the apple-pie image of the 10 commandments, let's post ALL the laws and expose ALL the hypocrisy. Now that would be taxpayers dollars at work! Very few Christians ever read the bible, let's help them out!

Brad Becker brad@arkmola.net
USA - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 08:56:46 (MDT)


When it comes time to place blame for the sorry state of Congress, all we need to do is look in the mirror. Politicans like Barr are constantly running for office. They will do whatever it takes to prostitute themselves to their districts in their lust for votes. Also, a resolution, such as posting the 10 Commandments, is an easy, headline grabbing way to garner attention without addressing any true cause of youth violence and better yet, it cost nothing in taxes. It plays well to the irrational fundamentalists who hold the Republican Party hostage and who turn out to vote. So until more rational thinking folks get involved in electing these people, we get what those who show up to vote put in office. Garbage in, garbage out.

So why do these voters buy into such idiotic actions? Most of these people are scared. Frightened by a society and culture they do not understand. They long for a time that never existed. Most are white, Protestant and conservative. They want women submissive and obedient, people of color to go back to being servants and objects of derision, homosexuals to simply just die and atheists to all burn in an eternal hell. Since they can't achieve these goals, they lash out and blame everyone and everything for their problems except themselves. In the free market of ideas, theism is bankrupt. The only way to push their view now is by force. They see the government as the tool to push their beliefs upon all of society, totally missing the point of democracy and freedom. And so it goes...

Robert Carver Carver67@worldnet.att.net
Johnson City, TN USA - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 00:48:34 (MDT)


The comments in the feature article "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" are all quite valid and worth while. However, two more important issues were not really addressed:

First, there is the utter improbability that this will make any real difference. The "Trenchcoat Mafia" had been greatly tormented and were full of anger, and also had been into some very bad influences (e.g., Hitler). They were apparently very angry young men, as the result of torment which was primarily at the hands of people who were probably/apparently familiar with these commandments. I can't imagine that a sign on some wall saying "Don't Kill" (something that is generally accepted and legally enforced anyway) would really have made the least difference--nor would it in any hypothetical future situation.

Further, I don't think a sign on some wall (no mater how prominent) would have stopped the cruelty that drove them to that part. The idea that this could be significant is an absurdity. There are many things going on in society which I believe contribute to things like this, and which I can't really go into in detail here--though I would list depersonalization, taught selfishness, and glorified violence would be notable examples. There is no basis to link this to religion or prayer being absent from schools. This is just an attempt by the religious right and other fanatics (in both parties) to push back the separation of church and state and bring religious indoctrination into the schools--preying on people's fears--this vulture-like capitalization on this tragedy by religious fanatics is simply disgusting!

Related to both that point and to the original article is the legal issue. This is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. It is a start toward more indoctrination--a pattern that is bound to grow as people become more indoctrinated and thus more eager to enforce religion. Already Christians have unfair advantages. Are we to return, bit-by-bit, to the inquisition or the "death to unbelievers" laws of the colonies!? This is more than a ridiculous and idiotic gesture of placing ancient tribal taboos on school walls--it is a very dangerous precedent that bodes ominous for the future--especially the future of "infidels"!

Jared Blackburn ElfChildAC@aol.com
Knoxville, TN USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 20:56:15 (MDT)


The Ten Commandment should be displayed in government building and school. We need to put God back were he belongs in public life and in are hearts. That is what is wrong with our country we have taken God out of public life. This country is 1 in teen pregnancy 1 teen violence and 1 in willful murder like abortion, because science has already proven that life begins at conception. Abortion is murder.

PEACE

Brian Gravley bgravley@citcom.net
Brevard, NC USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 20:09:20 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Our country is a far better place now than it was in 1950. When God was in school, we had segregation, lynchings, and widespread poverty. It is typical for Christians to remember the "good old days" as just what life was like for affluent white people, and not for the real majority of U.S. citizens. There is nothing "wrong" with our country that Godism will solve. Science has proven that the number one best guarantor of health, happiness, and prosperity is a good education in an affluent home, not prayer, nor prohibitions against the manufacture of Teddy Bears (yes, that's what the 2nd commandment entails). And gosh, isn't it odd, but the best guarantee of moral behavior is health, happiness, and prosperity. Go figure.

You should also know that your "country" (United States) is not number one in teen pregnancy. Argentina alone has us beat by exponential proportions, thanks to the Catholic prohibition on birth control. Number one in teen violance? Australia now reports double our rate of teen violence (and yet they have both prayer and religious instruction in their schools) [this is incorrect--see July feedback to be published on August 15], and our rise in teen crime has advanced in lock-step with the rise in our teen population among the poorer classes. It is poverty that turns them to crime. Not atheism. As for the "abortion is murder" jingle, well that pretty much exposes what the religious agenda behind this posting of the Ten Commandments is, now doesn't it? To force upon us your belief in invisible souls, as an excuse to control our bodies and minds.


Edelen's piece on the ten commandments and congressmen was right on. I read Edelen regularly in the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain. His column didn't appear this past Saturday as it usually does. This was obviously the missing column...perhaps a bit much for the editor to offer to his local readership. Pity. It would do them good. Edelen's stuff should appear in more than just the two or three papers in the U.S. that it currently does. But, my, how he does inspire letters to the editor!!

Lee A. Bricker brick@net-link.net
Mattawan, MI USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 19:01:00 (MDT)


Congressmen have always been typified in various circles as being both intellectually inept and lacking conviction. Prior to the June 17th vote for the posting of the ten commandments in public schools, I thought this characterization of Congressmen was an exaggeration. I guess I was proved wrong. The decision to put this set of primitive rules back into our public schools is not only an act that disregards a long held, and socially productive practice, of maintaining a separation between church and state, it also is an evasive and reactionary maneuver by politically savy, mentally lazy, and spineless individuals, who are not truly willing to engage problems with the fortitude and candor that such dilemmas require.

For any Congressmen to posit that the re-inclusion of some tribal moral guidelines are a solution to today's so-called "moral regress" is absurd. The posting of any piece of writing, whether religious or secular, does nothing to deter such heinous acts, such as what occurred in Littleton, Colorado. The only thing that this act does is take purely secular institutions and impose religious ideology onto them. Didn't many of our forefathers leave their countries for the specific purpose to be free of religious tyranny?

The truth is that moral values can be divorced from religious ideologies. Programs such as D.A.R.E have proven that children can be conditioned to be productive citizens without the use of the "Good Book" (though I find little that is actually good with it). I would like to ask these Congressmen, why is it that other countries, who keep their public schools free of religious pedagogy, have relatively low levels of violence in their schools. Could it be that these countries cultivate families, have a tougher penal code, and ban all forms of firearms? The answer is yes.

Of course we should not expect our Congressmen to follow systems of government that work. Of course not! Heaven forbid that they would actually have to spend money on programs and severe their cozy relationship with their lunatic constituents and bribers (i.e. the NRA and Christian Coalition). No this is too far fetched of an idea for it to work in America! However, to gratify the desires of individuals that want to turn this place into a theocracy, and solidify relationships with gun-toting lobbyists, seems like the logical thing to do. Well, if that is logical, then I am proud to say that I am the most irrational person in the world.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Louis llouis@bayou.uh.edu
Houston , TX USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 16:19:22 (MDT)


The truth of the matter is that this country DOES have a problem. I know so many young people who are getting into real trouble because they don't have any sense of right and wrong left. If life is just a collection of experiences then what does it matter how we choose them? We leave our children to find their own moral compass in a Bermuda Triangle. Though the historical references to the Hebrew application of the ten commandments might be an accurate one, I think it is important that we realize that this 'barbaric' Hebrew culture at least found it necessary to define some sort of morality--even if the intention was only to save it's own people. Should we then divert to anarchy? Surely that would be a step back into the 'stone age' in and of itself!

Evan Maki *agnostic* evan@maki.com
New Haven, Mo USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 12:51:57 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

We are not living in an anarchy, yet the ten commandments have not been on school walls for at least forty years. Ergo your implication that not posting the ten commandments (or any equivalent) will "divert" us to anarchy is demonstrably false. QED. The ten commandments are not a talisman against anarchy. Education, liberty, and prosperity are. The real fact is that posting the ten commandments on walls is neither a necessary nor a useful step towards imbuing our children with moral convictions. Give a man a reason to care about his own dignity as well as the dignity of others, and he will behave morally without hearing a single rule spoken. Moral conviction is a lifestyle choice, and in that choice lies either misery or happiness. All we need do is demonstrate to our youth the "real trouble" you rightly identify as the consequence of moral apathy, and the genuine peace and sense of value that kindness and integrity bestow on one who has them, and their moral compass will be restored. In fact, this is the only way to bring someone to a solid moral life. A 3000 year old shortlist of Hebrew taboos is not going to demonstrate the consequences of villainy and virtue, nor will it teach our children what it is to be truly virtuous, as opposed to slavishly obedient.


Dear Mr. William Edelen,

As you can see, I'm a South American infidel and I just read your article about the Congress and the Ten Commandments. I would like to give you a view of a person outside of your country, expecting that this would add some new perspective to your thoughts. Well, as I said, I'm also an infidel. I'm 20 years-old and nowadays I'm [in] the college of data processing here in Brazil. But my passion always was History. I have a deep feeling for the humans' conquests and history. I developed some theses in this area, some of them specifically about the question of the persistence of the religion in these days.

I'm very concerned about that, Mr Edelen. We already live in the future, and this future is not what I was expecting. Your Congress proves that. If the most powerful nation, the most scientific and rich of all nations, could do something like approve the Ten Commandments to be displayed in your schools, the whole World must be wrong. As a Latin American, I know that I can do very little about this. I hope that you, like other people more scientific and illuminated, could stop this kind of congress mess with the ideas of millennia ago. Never stop [exploring] those things.

Best Regards,

Marcelo Carreiro mcarreir@domain.com.br
Rio de Janeiro, RJ Brazil - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 07:47:37 (MDT)


Would it not be wonderful if congress instead passed a law making schools hang the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Humanist Manifestos I and II so that every student could see them? Almost seems like an unreachable ideal. If this were to happen the schools would not be favoring one religion over another and the other religions wouldn't be offended or felt left out. Seems so reasonable, doesn't?

Ben Douglass bendouglass@cheerful.com
Portland, OR USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 18:38:12 (MDT)


More on the Ten Commandments in Government Schools

Thank you for posting this web page [and especially for archiving related stories]. I am not atheist but I no longer want to associate myself with the Christians after this intolerant act. We need to fight this! Please tell me how I can help. Either we put up all religious and non religious rules or we put none.

Casado, Cristina cf22@ucc.nau.edu
Flagstaff, Az USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 10:06:08 (MDT)


I am dedicated to separation of Church and State. I would like to have more information about getting "involved." Is it okay to ask for instruction here? Thank you.

Merilyn Brunner miladymib@aol.com
Concord, CA USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 16:59:43 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

It certainly is okay! Both of you should check out our list of Separation of Church and State: Related Sites. Go back one step from there and you will find numerous articles, essays, books, and other projects and information.


In response to the decision to allow the Ten Commandments in public schools: The idea of grouping numerous isolated events as a bigger social issue is a staple of the Religious Right and their propensity to exploit any situation, whether it be religion-related or otherwise. It especially seems ludicrous to pass this measure as anything even remotely connected to the Columbine shootings. The only thing I ever heard about which referred to religion at all was the perpetrators' Nazi beliefs and hatred for those who opposed their way of thinking, which not only would not have been prevented by these measures but would have encouraged more students to share these same ideals. The fact that both the shooters shied from conformity further enforces the idea that by enveloping classrooms with this type of atmosphere would only create more of a threat. For all of the people out there who are wondering who in their right mind would elect Bob Barr, I went to school with his sons and, sad to say, the people in this area are just as ignorant as you would think them to be.

Sid Singh patriotick@hotmail.com
Marietta , GA USA - Saturday, June 19, 1999 at 19:08:23 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Although I agree with your overall point, you should know that the shooters did imply that atheism was behind their crime: one of them asked a victim if she believed in God, and when she said she did, the killer said there was no God, and then shot her. It is this that has ruffled the feathers of the religious right. But I think it is erroneous to presume that evils committed in the name of Christianity must always impugn that creed, and so I think the same with regard to atheism, which is not in fact a creed, but a blanket term for an infinite variety of them. Stalin, after all, was a villain, perhaps even worse than Hitler, and yet a staunch atheist.

So atheism is a guarantee neither of moral nor of immoral conduct. But the same is in fact true of Christianity, or any other world view. For any belief system can be tweeked to justify any evil. It is this tweeking that we should all be opposed to, not always the belief system per se. And you point out the very qualifying feature of this case: the two were, it seems, Nazi idolizers. They could just as easily have been Christian Nazi idolizers as atheist ones, and would no doubt have done the same thing, merely using a different justification. But as one reporter remarked, after hearing about a particular psychopathic conversation between the two killers during their rampage, about how fun it would be to kill someone with a knife, these kids were simply insane. Their beliefs matter little when we consider that plain fact.


I'm outraged that our Congress has made a move to place the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments in our public schools. I have written my Congressman to express my view that the removal of religion from public schools does not mean that morals are to be removed. I suggested to him that the teaching of morals should be guided by "Religion in the Public Schools, A Joint Statement of Current Law, 1995."

Albert Isham aisham@ne.infi.net
Elizabethtown, KY USA - Friday, June 18, 1999 at 15:22:26 (MDT)


The very idea that someone actually believes that posting the ten commandments in a classroom is A) okay in a society that believes in separation of church and state and B) will have any measurable affect at all, is truly depressing. I suppose it shouldn't surprise anyone. These are the same people who thought coining a phrase like "just say no" would affect drugs, so why not post God's top ten list from the home office in Egypt.

For quite a long time I have understood something very fundamental. While there are many opinions I don't agree with, I have to respect their equal place in this society, or the opinions that I hold will be at risk from people who don't agree with me. The posting of the ten commandments is an affront to those people who don't happen to believe that morality came from the old man in the sky. Excellent article, and I for one will be sending along my disappointment to my government.

Jim Brice jammybrice@yahoo.com
USA - Friday, June 18, 1999 at 03:54:20 (MDT)


Given the recent action of the House to allow the posting of the ten commandments in public school classrooms marks a turn for the better amidst the collapsing moral foundation in this nation. What is the problem with posting a list of self-evident (correct me if I am wrong??) truths, as Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence. Thou shall not steal, can a person disagree with this injunction in an open pluralist culture? Thou shall not murder, do I as a individual person have the liberty to dissent with this view? Can my skepticism include the validity of the injunction to not murder? Even if I should happen to disagree with my government? These ten commandments form the bedrock upon with our whole moral edifice is built, remove the foundation and the structure built on them collapses (one only [need] look at the newspaper, or newscasts, to witness the implosion). Posting the ten commandments will not be a cure-all but at least our legislators recognize the need for a moral structure outside of subjective preference.

David Sonic Sonic4358@hotmail.com
Peoria, AZ USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 21:13:10 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

The first four commandments are not the "bedrock" of human morality--they are not even moral commands at all. Thou Shalt Not Make Graven Images is not a self-evident truth. It is a self-evident tribal taboo, as outdated and irrelevant as magic or astrology. Indeed, since you brought up Jefferson, the text of the Second Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:9 actually promotes what is directly illegal according to our own Constitution. "No attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood," i.e. sons are not to be punished for the crimes of their fathers--this is Article 3, Section 3, paragraph b, and this certainly cannot have as its "bedrock" the law of God, who "punishes the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation."


Nice going America. That's one more step backwards on the trail of evolution.

Jason Neal shaolung@geocities.com
Alexandria, La USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 20:35:22 (MDT)


I think it is about time that Georgia Congressman Robert Barr should be expelled from congress. It is plainly obvious that he does not uphold the constitution, by trying to prevent Wiccans from following their practice at military institutions and force the 10 commandment into schools. He blatantly disregards and over-exaggerates any information that is against his Christian agenda. For example, Barr says we are wasting lots of taxpayers' money to pay for these Wiccan practices, while one source that I read is that the average American taxpayer pays $45 a year to pay for priests, rabbis, and chaplains at the military bases, whereas it cost next to nothing for Wiccans to hold their practice. Also, they say that secular values and the lack of god in the schools are the cause of school violence, despite the fact that some of the major massacres happened in strongly Christian neighborhoods. So unless the Dilbert principle holds true (the stupidest people hold the higher positions) it seems that Robert Barr is unfit to serve in congress.

Dave Fagan running_amuck@hotmail.com
Gunnison, Co USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 20:29:31 (MDT)


Ten Commandments to Infinity and Beyond!

I'm curious if you're all aware of the fight going on in my city re: the 10 commandments issue? If so what do you think? A recent letter to the editor says true Christians should support removal of a city commissioner for voting to remove 10 commandments. Need feedback myself :)

Stephanie Knobel mdnight@kansas.net
Manhattan, KS USA - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 22:54:42 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Yes, I found an article on it by John Dvorak in The Houston Chronicle (November 22, 1998, Sunday 2 Star Edition, Sect. A, Pg. 30). It is a pretty humorous story, and goes to show how the government could save a lot of money by just complying with the law--yet Christians set out to ruin politicians if they comply with the law, so officials are frightened into total inaction. As Dvorak sums it up, "The 5-foot-tall granite monument, with the inscription that starts out 'I am the Lord thy God,' has stood outside the door of City Hall for most of the past 40 years, and for most of that time it was all but ignored. 'I didn't even know it was there,' Mayor Steve Hall said....[then] to keep the Commandments out of harm's way during the construction [in 1997], workers hauled the monument away and stored it temporarily....[when the work was done] contractors reinstalled the Commandments, but in a somewhat more prominent place, where everyone walking into the building would see them."

If only they had simply sold or given it away while it was still in storage! Why reinstall an illegal monument? Because of Christians who want to build a theocracy one vote at a time: as one Christian's letter to the city council said, "I will be able to vote next year, and I will vote against anyone who votes in favor of removing the display...and I will advise all of my friends, who are also Christians, to do likewise." And another: "We want to take a stand on the side of Christianity and a nation that was built on biblical principles. We hope you'll vote to leave the tablets where they stand." Solution? The council voted to move it 5 yards away from its present position. Gee. I guess if you move it to the left it becomes legal?

So after all this, what do I think of all these Ten Commandments fiascoes? For me, the first four are the problem, not so much the others. If it were only the "Middle Six Commandments," since there are not ten, but several dozen commendments--the "ten" number is an arbitrary choice by Christians who want to pretend their religion isn't Jewish--then maybe it would be okay. The fact is that the government posting of an order to believe in one and only one god (#1), and to not make or bow to idols (#2, or in other words, a government order for Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans, and we must add, Catholics, not to practice their religion), and a government order restricting free speech (#3, the blasphemy commandment), and suggesting a particular religious practice (#4, the sabbath), is not only illegal in the U.S., but entirely immoral in any free society.

The government must be neutral in these matters--it cannot be telling us what religion to practice. But it certainly can tell us not to steal and such. Hence if it were the "Middle Six Commandments," or an even more complete and enlightened list of virtues, that would be fine with me. Of course, the Middle Six might still be questioned by some who would be offended by the fact that the language of a particular religion was chosen over others, a choice that our government should not be in the business of making, and this is already a debate between Catholics and Protestants and Jews, who each use a different wording. But everyone ignores those first four. Look at what Pastor Keith Wiens says to Dvorak: "[the ten commandments] are basic guidelines that can speak to and can help anyone, those who have faith in God and those who do not." Hello! McFly! "I am the Lord Thy God" can "speak" to those who do not have faith in God? It can "help" us? If that isn't religious proselytism, what is? And what business does the government have selling God to us? None, that's what.


Wicca and Christian Hypocrisy

I am a Christian since birth. I have been raised and taught Christian values since before I remember, and I have found pretty much everyone of them to be the right, just, and basically humane thing to do. I must say that at least 80% of the other Christians I have come in contact with are so full of distorted, "Lets go out and show these people who's right, so they'll be knocking down our doors for eternal salvation by the thousands!" outlooks, that ultra-right-wing sects pop up, for instance the Religious Right, and make all people who dare to say "I'm a Christian" feel like crawling under a rock for the stupid thing a load of zealots do. I think now I know how most Muslims must feel about all the stupid "Bombings for God" crap that goes on by other Muslims.

I personally have friends who are Wiccans. I appreciate the view of the world they have, and I think I'm a better religious person for that. Hence all this crap about boycotting the Army for daring to be a Force for the Future and throwing the doors open wide to people of all religious affiliations is very offensive to me. I'm surprised they have not called for the abolition of electricity, so that "God's Guiding Light" can be seen by all, even in the dark of night. These people are taking a fundamentally sound principle and distorting it until so holy a "jihad" must be called to "Protect and Enhance the Christian Way."

A solution to the Religious Right problem: I suggest that in Kindergarten until 6th Grade in all public schools, children must be required to undergo a basic "Reading Comprehension Course" that teaches children from an early age that when it says in the Bible "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter heaven" it does not mean "Hey, this book's really neat! Why don't we go oppress other people so they have no choice but to ride the camel."

In conclusion, to all the sane Christians left in the world, please advocate intelligence. Even though the wealthy minority must make us all look like retards, it would be wise however in my opinion to set aside our differences with people of other religious affiliations and ban together to defeat our technically gifted, but mentally incapacitated brethren, before they destroy this great country with Liberty and Justice for ALL.

William Hamblin WilPryde@aol.com
USA - Saturday, June 19, 1999 at 05:41:28 (MDT)


[So] the United States Army has now been "boycotted" by the likes of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition and other organizations sharing his "Christian" perspective. This is because the Army has chosen to officially recognize a revival of the pre-Christian nature religion known as Wicca. Some members of the Army have chosen Wicca as their religious preference.

What is amazing about the hysterical reaction of certain "Christians" to the Army recognition of Wicca as a religious practice, with rights equivalent to those of other religions, is that Pat Robertson and his allies want the federal government to decide what religion is "good" and worthy of recognition, and what religion is "bad" and unworthy. This desire of the Christian Coalition to invoke the power of the state in matters of religion is simply another reminder that these particular "Christians" are afraid to compete in the marketplace of ideas and want the power of government to silence their opponents. This is religious fascism--pure and simple.

The late Robert G. Ingersoll's wisdom should be recalled with profit as we ponder the efforts of religious fascists to use government to proscribe the religious beliefs of their fellow citizens:

Chistians have their cherished myths and fables. Wiccans have theirs Fortunately, in America, we are free to cultivate the myth of our choice and to look with critical disdain upon the fables of others. We do not have the right to invoke government to sustain our fables nor to use it to suppress the mythologies we do not like.

Robert E. Nordlander nord@powernetonline.com
Menasha, WI USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 19:38:40 (MDT)


Good article. It is surprising to me they would even consider this a practical political stance. It doesn't seem to have any chance of changing the military's policy on religious tolerance and it seems to me that it can only weaken their influence in Congress and the Courts. It demonstrates that they feel confident that they can capitalize on popular prejudice within their ranks against other religions. Maybe their leadership fears they will eventually lose members if they don't agitate and segregate? Anyway, it makes me feel much less inclined to think that school vouchers are a good idea, they are clearly too irresponsible with our liberties to trust them with a subsidy to maintain a monopoly on children's indoctrination.

Matt G
Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 20:45:55 (MDT)


I think the "Religious Right" hasn't been very carefully considering their 'religious freedom' activities. For a number of years now I've been wondering when other religious groups would finally realize "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" and use the very same initiatives supported by the "Religious Right" to promote and advance their own religions. Only in this kind of free-for-all has the real agenda of the "Religious Right" become perfectly clear to anyone who thinks at all. They want everyone to be "free" to worship only the religions they see as "fit," namely their particular brand of Christianity. My only hope is that by making themselves even more ludicrous the "Religious Right" will get themselves laughed off the scene entirely.

Scott E. Bowen hastur@execpc.com
Milwaukee, WI USA - Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 12:42:39 (MDT)


Hi there,

I'm so glad Bob Barr made his ridiculous comments about Wiccans in the military. This is another chance for Americans to see the true agenda of the religious right, "freedom of religion yes but only for fundamentalist Christians." The more intolerant comments the Fundies and their leaders make the more it advances the cause of freethought.

Tom Brookman tntbrookman@jellico.com
USA - Saturday, June 12, 1999 at 13:36:52 (MDT)


I do not understand why people from different religious upbringings/backgrounds cannot get along without going at each other. In this house, there are various people who all work together [and] live together at the same place ([there is a] high cost of living here). None of us have the same type of background other than military, friendship, etc... There is currently in this house a Christian, a Wiccan, and a Satanist, and their girlfriends, and many pets living together in peace and harmony. We all have learned a lot about each other's religions, and much respect of each other by living together. We have no religiously-based disagreements [or] problems with each other. We all watch out for each other and help out one another. None of us will ever change each other's religious views, nor would we wish to. [I'm] not sure if it matters, but if anything we are an example that we can all get along. I hope. If we start to infringe upon any less-accepted view, be it religious or not, we are giving away the rights many of us have fought for, and many have died for. If a few people will look back, that is how this country was founded, [it] was people running from oppression, and to start something new where everybody, "regardless of race, RELIGION, creed, or color" was equal.

Ted Rin TRinAOhell@aol.com
Colorado Springs, CO USA - Wednesday, June 16, 1999 at 19:21:58 (MDT)


Canadian Attempt at Secular Constitution

Just thought I would let you know, Svend Robinson was demoted to the back benches for delivering the petition. Alexa McDunna reaffirmed party support for god in the preamble and said the petition [to remove it] was a disgrace to Canadians.

Keep up the good work.

Gord Leslie
Alive and pissed in the Theocracy of Canada.
sn1619@sunshine.net
Gibsons, BC Canada - Thursday, June 10, 1999 at 17:15:36 (MDT)


The Drange-Wilson Debate

I noticed that Wilson has the right to have the Drange-Wilson debate published on a web page, and that the I.I. would link to that page. Wilson has chosen, so far, not to publish his debate--perhaps even Wilson recognizes that he has the less convincing argument.

Clinton Morell hessef@yahoo.com
Marshfield, WI USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 06:46:20 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

I must say that this is an unfair criticism. Since the debate is already published, there is little reason to duplicate the effort. As for why Mr. Wilson has not created a link to the debate from his own website, Wilson wishes to thank Mr. Morrell "for discovering that my organizational skills are not at the same level as my skill in debating."


Kim Walker's "Where Are You Going to Spend Eternity?"

Mr. Kim Walker was very gracious, and had a lot to say in response to the bountiful feedback that his feature article generated this month--it was by far the biggest hit, and drew in tons of mail. To keep the units of thought connected, I have incorporated Kim's replies directly after each message that he had the time to answer-and he had a lot of time! Those who tried to contact Kim may have noticed an error in the e-mail address given at our site. Be assured that all feedback was forwarded successfully, and the error has since been corrected.

I've just read Kim Walker's comments in "Where Will You Be Spending Eternity?" about recognizing the emotional component in Christian arguments and responding to that. I'm quite forward in my atheism, and I find that using the emotional arguments against Christians works wonders. Since a significant proportion of the respondents to this site like to use Pascal's Wager against us, I'll use that as an example.

I get downright gleeful when someone tells me he's just making a rational bet that there is an eternal life. The conversation usually goes something like this:

This usually ends that exchange.

Dennis McDermott dmcderm@boulder.net
Boulder, CO USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 23:04:31 (MDT)


This is in response to Kim Walker's enjoyable article, "Where are you going to spend eternity?" While I agree with the general tenor and conclusions reached, I have a couple of points to make (one quibbling, one not so):

1) The illustrative depiction of Maslow's hierarchy is somewhat misleading (although the commentary follows the correct sequencing). As the name implies, there are "higher" and "lower" needs. The illustration (numbered list) depicts the "highest" need (self-actualization) at the bottom. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive (Like I said, "one quibbling...").

2) The premise of her initial argument ("Eternity is a long time") may be flawed. It seems to assume that the eternity of "heavenly bliss" (or the "flames of perdition") occurs within our currently understood construct of time. However, the most logical postulation is that "God," "heaven," and "hell" exist (if they do) outside of time (Psalm 90, v.4 "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night."). Thus the question of boredom or insanity seems moot (no time, no ennui!).

Given this, it does seem to follow that our current personality, as part of our consciousness born within the construct of time, would have to undergo radical alteration in order to allow us to retain continuity of consciousness when the entire framework within which said consciousness was developed has been ripped away. It begs the question, "Would such a transformation substantially alter consciousness or personality?" If so, could it be truly said that consciousness or personality as we know it would continue? Would this not, by itself, call into doubt any belief that an eternal soul shares personality or consciousness with the body it quickens?

Thanks for many hours of thought-provoking & enlightening reading!

Bill Snedden wyvern6@ibm.net
Greensboro, NC USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 15:18:13 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

I displayed Maslow's hierarchy of needs as it appears in all my social psychology textbooks. Think of it as a checklist, where each new item is dependent on the preceding ones. For example, people need to fulfill their physiological needs before they will consider their safety needs, and both their physiological and safety needs before they will consider their belonging needs (according to the theory anyway). Physiological and safety needs are called "lower" needs because they are basic for human survival, whereas self-actualization is a "higher" need because it is more esoteric. The sort of things the five categories cover are: (1) Physiological needs: hunger, thirst, protection from the elements. (2) Safety needs: security, order. (3) Belonging needs: love and affection, identification. (4) Esteem needs: prestige, success, self-respect. (5) Self-actualisation: the desire for self-fulfilment.

Your second point has been bought up by several respondents, so perhaps I should have another go at explaining myself. I suspect that the majority of Christians have a fairly unsophisticated view of eternal life. I suspect most hold to the notion that, when they die, they pick up a spirit body with a few extra doodads, which is essentially similar to the physical body they left behind on earth. Much of the popular folklore of the afterlife assumes a rather anthropomorphic view. And the Biblical notion of hell includes very physical tortures that would be meaningless without a bodily resurrection.

The Bible also says: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it..." (Revelation 20:13) So we may well ask of those Christians who like to postulate unusual versions of the afterlife, why don't you believe in the bodily (or, at least, anthropomorphic) resurrection that the Bible teaches? Now if time is sped up, which is not unreasonable for an allegedly omnipotent God, then it might take longer for people to get bored, but the essential dilemma I described does not change. The problem just gets moved to a higher level. We are talking about eternity, after all, and eternity is limitless. I get the sense here--as with other questionable facts and figures in the Bible--that Biblical writers chose the word because it sounded suitably impressive. They did not really understand the concept of eternity, or think through its implications.

If you throw time out of the system altogether, then we face a whole new set of problems. As Einstein discovered, there is no absolute measure of time. It is more a function of causality and sequence. We human beings understand time by measuring the orderly sequence of events (like the motion of the hands on a clock), and by making relative statements like: A caused B, therefore A occurred before B. An afterlife without causality would resemble Arthur Dent's frustrating experiences in the later installments of Douglas Adams' Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. I could not even begin to imagine an afterlife without sequence. It would certainly be incompatible with the usual anthropomorphic notions. And I don't think such an afterlife would be popular with the majority of Christians.


Dear Kim,

I just finished reading your reflections on "the tract from a nondescript woman." Your comments resurfaced a phenomenon that has puzzled me for some time. Lamenting the thick-headed-ness of religious people, you commented: "...every rational argument falls flat in a discussion with religious people..."

It is rare that I read any piece of skeptical literature that does not make claims along these lines. Again and again I am assured that what distinguishes skeptics and religious people is that skeptical people think and reason, whereas believers do not, at least when it comes to their faith. As much is presumed in the denotation, "freethinkers." I found it ironic that your characterization of the situation followed immediately after Jeffrey Jay Lowder's summation of the Geivett/Draper debate on the existence of God. From his synopsis, it seemed clear that the pairing matched two very educated, thoughtful, and intelligent men. Yet Geivett is a committed believer who believes his faith to be reasonable and justified. I witnessed a similar non sequitur following a debate between Geivett and Michael Shermer. At the very least Geivett had matched Shermer point for point through three hours of debate. Nonetheless, Shermer concluded, inexplicably, with an impassioned exhortation to the mostly Christian audience to "think for themselves." It seemed painfully obvious to me that Geivett had demonstrated that thinking for one's self was not incompatible with religious faith.

Of course, I suspect that the nondescript Australian lacked any such philosophical training. Few religious, irreligious, or non-religious people have taken the time to consider the relevant philosophical issues. Indeed, for decades many Christian intellectuals have been lamenting the Christian laity's widespread disdain for academia and its acceptance of the proposed divorce between faith and reason. But there are exceptions, and not just a few of them. Thinking Christians of all sorts populate university chairs, write laudable philosophy and literature, accomplish scientific achievements, etc. Do you really mean to say that Alvin Plantinga's problem is that he is emotional and irrational? Is Richard Swinburne just ignoring the issues? Is Fritz Schaefer's head in the ground? These are three of myriad Christian thinkers who are trying to consider and scrutinize Christian faith rationally. Ignorant, unreflective Christians there are, but in my view, the sizeable population of Christian intellectuals belies the possibility that what defines believers and skeptics is irrationality and rationality.

As a young, Christian graduate student I am frustrated and totally perplexed by your characterization of the discussion. As far as I can tell from my own inner life, I too am being honest and critical about my faith. Is there any reason I should believe there is more thinking going on among my skeptical friends? Honestly, can you please explain to me why (apart from the fact that at the end of the argument we disagree) skeptics are convinced that Christians do not think?

Hasta,

Nathan Jacobson (Biola University) nbjacobson@email.com
Brea, CA USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 03:17:20 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

We come from different worlds, you and me. Of course, we live in different countries, and we are on the opposite sides of an argument, but that is not what I mean. You are an idealistic student, surrounded by intellectuals. And you obviously like to participate in that intellectual world. So when I describe religious belief as irrational and emotional, you take this as an affront.

I, on the other hand, finished my formal education a decade ago. Since then I have been involved in the world outside of academia. As you correctly point out, few people in this world that I inhabit consider the philosophical issues surrounding religion and atheism. Few people have the time or the inclination. The thoughtless theist, who interacts with religion on a purely emotional level, is the kind of person I had in mind when I wrote "Where Are You Going to Spend Eternity?" This ought to be obvious from my opening remarks, where I describe the context in which my article is set.

If I am too cynical about the level of debate for your taste, then I apologize. But in the long term you will come to learn, as I have, that thoughtful intellectuals are scarce outside of academic institutions. Many people are irrational, and they are ruled by their emotions. And we all have emotions (otherwise we would all be psychopaths). The point of my article is that we cannot get through to some people through logical argument alone, and we must consider the emotive content of the debate as well as the rational content. I know that this approach has worked because many theists have been moved to write lengthy e-mails in response. I must have rattled quite a few cages out there.

From your e-mail, it seems that you are not just angry with me, but with quite a few atheists who have implied that theists don't think. I can't speak for other people, but I can suggest one possible explanation for this position. When we put our cards on the table and publicly declare our atheism, theists ask us questions and present some arguments about why we should accept Christ and return to the church. Fair enough. We answer the questions and refute the arguments as best we can. But later on, the theists come back to us, and they ask us the same questions and present the same arguments. Okay, so maybe we did not state our position as clearly as we might have done, so we take the time to formulate better responses and arguments for our atheism.

But, lo and behold, the theists stick to their guns. They come back again and again making the same arguments and asking the same questions. They do not seem to remember that they already presented these same arguments, and that we were able to refute them. Are they thick, or what? So we sit down and construct the mother of all philosophical tracts, showing point for point why we think that religion is wrong. We compile hundreds of pages of Biblical inconsistencies, we expose at length the less than glorious history of the church, we construct dozens of arguments to show why things cannot be as Christians say they are, and we keep at it until religion is thoroughly discredited in our minds.

And how do the theists respond? They ignore us completely, then ask us the same old questions and make the same old arguments again, and again, and again. And what should we make of this? How could we not conclude that most theists, including many of the apologists, are stuck on an unbreakable treadmill of dogma, going around and around forever?


Personally, I find the prospect of death with no afterlife very disheartening.

Aaron C. USA - Saturday, June 26, 1999 at 15:00:07 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

Fine. But keep in mind that if you spend your entire life buying your ticket into heaven, you are missing out on so much that this world has to offer. Sometimes it takes a near death experience for people to face up to the fact of their own mortality, and to realize that it is our time here on earth that is precious. If you turn your back and seek solace in illusory promises of an afterlife, you are turning down the opportunity to really live.


I would just like to comment on the article, "Where are you going to spend your eternity." I thought the answer to the question was very good and well explained. I speak from experience because I was put in a Christian School for five years, and it is very true, if you don't go by what they say they will kick the sh*t out of you! I started going to church and then quit, and after that the Pastor nor Youth Pastor wouldn't even talk to me because I didn't believe what they said. And they just treated me like a piece of sh*t. All they were looking for was more gifts for themselves in the "afterlife"--they did not care about me personally! I just wanted to say the article was great and very informative.

Jennifer Hoch Sweeti2420@aol.com
Tampa, Fl USA - Friday, June 25, 1999 at 23:41:03 (MDT)


"Where are you going to spend Eternity" was an excellent and articulate work. The article put into succinct terms the foundation of reason behind rejecting religious evangelism. I think it also did a wonderful job of going more in-depth into certain aspects of the whole debate. One request, though: put features like this on their own page, instead of with other stuff at the top. It makes it easier to find and reference if it's one single coherent page.

Greg Baumgartel gregb@frii.com
Boulder, CO USA - Friday, June 25, 1999 at 01:23:24 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

We always welcome suggestions--there are often things we don't think of. In this case, however, we have a reason for doing it as we do. Since the newsletter is hyperlinked at the top of the page, putting the essay at the bottom is hardly a referencing inconvenience: just point your URL-finder to the address, with the hyperlink included (as I have done at the title entry to this section). For example, you can go to the newsletter, hit the hyperlink, then bookmark the URL and the hyperlink will be included. It is actually inconvenient and uneccessary to break up the newsletters, and if we were to spin off the feature, we may as well spin off everything. But then we would have a website, not a newsletter--which is, by the way, mailed, whole, to many subscribers, or downloaded or printed in its entirety by many avid readers, so breaking it up would make things harder for all concerned, not easier.


I enjoyed your article about spending eternity...My answer is ~ I am spending eternity NOW, what about you? It's kind of a Buddhist cop-out, except let me say to those of us in the Zen camp, there is a bit more. Ask "What do you believe in?" I respond "nothing, but nothing on a level I doubt you will ever understand." If I hear the "burn in hell thing" I have to say "been there, done that, doing that again, NOW." So my comment is that we are in the process of spending eternity now. Deny that and you better seek therapy, you're in denial.

Cheers--see you all on the next go-around.

Carl Frommcarlfromm@yahoo.com
USA - Friday, June 25, 1999 at 23:16:55 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

I'm in de-nial? Then this must be Egypt! Hassan, fetch me my fez--oh, and a towel. Good man :-) Actually Carl, I agree with you. We are spending that portion of eternity allotted us right now. But what you call reincarnation I would call recycling. Some of the atoms in your body probably belonged to Gautama once. Some of the molecules of air you are breathing were probably first drawn into the lungs of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Unfortunately, there is no credible evidence for a "soul" that passes intact from one body to the next (or to anywhere else). As physiologists know, human consciousness and personality--those traits most often associated with the soul--are a function of the brain. People who suffer from brain damage often lose some of their personality and consciousness. Now, where did I put that bottle of sherbet?


But you are what you preach against. Aren't you a bigot in the same right that the christian Fool is one too? To so actively denounce religion and pass blame on them is to join their ranks of mindless and senseless finger-pointing. The difference? You rationalize your ideas with "logic" and "powerful human reason" while the Christian groups rationalize their ideas with "unconditional faith." When did you ever stop to realize that you ARE the monster whom you so violently fight against? Perhaps at some point you will realize that you only fight yourself, and behind the mask and cloak of reason and human intellictualism you both represent the powerful idiocy and bigotry of the human race. Kudos.

"he who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster"

...espically if the monster was, all along, yourself.

Ryan Oneto lchslchs@yahoo.com
Sacramento, CA USA - Saturday, June 19, 1999 at 13:53:43 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

After seeing several condemnatory e-mails like this, I went back and reread "Where Are You Going to Spend Eternity?" After all, I'm prepared to admit I'm not perfect. On reflection, if I was writing my article over again I would be a little less brash. Perhaps I would not use words like "depraved" and "disgusting." Some of these expressive flourishes seem to have caused more than a little offense. But overall I remain happy with it, and it doesn't deserve to be called "mindless and senseless finger pointing." I think, Ryan, that you are over-reacting a bit. As an atheist, I am very much in control of my own destiny. I am not the victim of extreme fundamentalism because I do not allow fundamentalists to control my thoughts or my self-image. So I don't need to blame religion for any of the circumstances of my life. I wouldn't say I was violently opposed to theism--not half as much as some theists are violently opposed to me. Nor do I have to characterize the debate in such simplistic terms. I don't see this as a war between atheist bigots and Christian bigots. There are people on either side who are prepared to be reasonable. But when I read messages like yours I sometimes wonder. Rather than despising the human race, why don't you consider joining it?


I found your June 1999 feature article, "Where are you going to spend Eternity?" very interesting. The analogy of doing boring or repetitive tasks for eternity brought to mind several thoughts. First is the thought that such a task would be hell indeed. Second, suppose that at the core of human existence there lies some eternal observing element. That is, suppose that we are all immortal beings that have taken on bodies and have evolved intelligence. Either there is an ever-expanding supply of new things to keep our attention and thus we will never be bored, or maybe the supply isn't quite so consistent. If we run out of new things to do, what would we do to keep from going crazy? An immortal being can't necessarily just put itself out of existence. So it would have to forget. I mean, you can't get tired of chiselling names for the 1,000,000th time if you don't remember any of the previous times. It would seem like a new thing to you.

Some religions (mostly eastern I think) have incorporated this idea. The River Lethe comes to mind [this is a Western idea, from Greek myth, exhibited but not invented by Plato, where the souls of the dead in Hades drank of the river and forgot, and in some versions, such as that adopted but not invented by the Latin poet Virgil, the souls were then reincarnated--editor]. Of course I'm not saying this is the way things are, only that it seems to follow logically, at least in my mind. Along the lines of living forever, we seem to have something that animals don't, namely our ability to reason abstractly, and with this has come all the memes we host. One of these memes is the "work ethic" or the feeling that action is preferable to inaction. This has survival characteristics, as long ago those who didn't work either starved or were parasitic on society, and I suspect parasites were less tolerated then as there was less to go around. But one symptom of the work ethic meme is boredom, or the desire to do something when there is nothing to do. If we were dogs or cats we would probably follow our hard-wired neural programming and sleep to conserve energy. An immortal cat would probably never get bored.

Now as to the point of "saving" I have always thought of an interesting analogy to saving a file on a computer. Of course this is not what the people have in mind when they ask you. But maybe our intelligence and memory could be transferred to different mediums. Of course this is assuming that's even a desirable thing, and that it would be possible to filter out bad memories, etc. I'm sure this idea isn't new, but one man's "God" could be another man's "sufficiently advanced technology" I suppose. The etymology of the word I believe was interesting too, but I will have to think about that some more before I try to make any halfway-intelligible comments. As for what I have commented on, maybe I've thought some new thoughts, or maybe you've heard it all before. In either case, at least maybe you can count me as one more thinking, mostly rational person out there. ;)

Thanks for your time.

Michael Schmidt michael@science.edu
USA - Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 16:11:48 (MDT)


Great article! Thanks for your thoughtfulness. Yes, religion is emotional, not reasonable. We atheists need to find ways to address the emotional side. This article contributes to this need. Thanks again.

Kent Lewis kentlewis@hotmail.com
Logan, UT USA - Sunday, June 13, 1999 at 15:41:16 (MDT)


Having read the article on where will I spend my eternity, I felt challenged to respond. I'm certainly not a scholar, nor will my response be as eloquently fashioned as your article. I'm one of those irrational people who believes in God and I take it quite seriously. I'm sure you'll be able to pick apart everything that I say and make me appear to be foolish. I'm not sure if you even desire a proper explanation of "faith in God", but I will offer this perspective.

What motivates religious people to preach or want to convert others? If you consider the Bible to be a book of inspired writings, thoughts, commands, etc. from the mind of the creator, every reader has a moral obligation to share that knowledge with others. One passage indicates that "every knee will bow before him, and every tongue will confess him as Lord." There will come a day when we must account for our actions before Him. If I truly believe this, I must share this information with every one I know. I have no desire to see other people punished either in this life or in "eternity," but just as lawbreakers in this life are held accountable for their actions, so will all mankind be held accountable before God.

Even if you don't care about it, that still doesn't mean it won't happen. You may consider this irrational because it is based on belief in God, but it is not as irrational as believing in the spontaneous existence of life from nothing, which by the way, science has proven that the spontaneous generation theory is impossible. Please consider that an all-powerful being by definition must have always existed and will always exist, otherwise, he would not be all-powerful would he? Although you didn't use the word "contingent", you did describe all life as being contingent. I say, it is irrational for me to believe that the existence of life, which is contingent on some other being for its existence, to have appeared spontaneously, and by the evolutionary process became what we now have before us. Talk about sales and marketing, that seems like a very large leap of irrational belief. I wonder what the odds are that such a thing could happen? If you like such odds, maybe I could start a casino so that you and your friends could come give me all your money. Better yet, let's eliminate the process, and you can just send it directly to me (no checks, please).

In conclusion, the only other remark I would make involves the question of morality. Without God, there is no need for moral actions. What's the point? If we live and die, and then it's over, then who cares what kind of legacy was left behind? Who cares if future generations have no decent environment to live in? Who cares if we write great literature, or music, or make great discoveries? How can you explain that only human beings make moral decisions, when other species do not? After all, didn't we all come from the same organic material? It seems rational to me that some all-knowing, all-powerful being designed us that way.

By the way, evil exists in this world as a natural alternative to good. There can be no freedom of choice without the existence of evil. If we could only choose to do good all the time, we wouldn't be making choices now would we? That is essentially the answer to the question asked by your article. You have a choice to make where you will spend your eternity. Even though you have already made your choice, you can still change your mind. The best part is that God wants you to make the right choice, and He has tried to make it as simple as possible for you to do so. Nobody makes the choice for you; however, He does make the rules that you have to follow--just like our government makes laws and punishments that we must follow. I hope that whoever reads this will not look back on their life regretting that they did not listen to some sound advice.

Daniel Osburn wosburn@mindspring.com
duluth, ga USA - Sunday, June 13, 1999 at 15:29:51 (MDT)


Thank you for that wonderful hypothetical response to the tract-purveyor. Having been reared a fundamentalist (which may be the worst way to be reared outside of a home filled with physical abuse), I think I can supply you with something in the way of an idea of the motivation for the tract-purveyor. Fundamentalists feel duty-bound to proselytize. It is the best way they have to prove to themselves that they are "saved." Having bought the whole fear package with its Cosmic Monster God, they consider this the very best way they know both to stay on His good side and to prove that they are in no eternal danger themselves. My poor, dear father, on his own deathbed, was still desperately trying to get the salvation message across to the unfortunate captive audience in the next bed of his hospital ward.

Nancy Marshall Womanlight@aol.com
Indianapolis, IN USA - Sunday, June 13, 1999 at 15:19:43 (MDT)


I was once a theist turned agnostic, turned atheist. I too believe that probably the fear of death has something to do with the need to feel that there is an after-life. I am an atheist, but have one critical remark about this article. How's that for doing away with cognitive dissonance. The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance is at work all of the time even though you may not realize it. You are an atheist like I am an atheist, so in some ways I can relate to you when it comes to matters of atheism.

But in your article it seems as though you have an axe to grind when you start to bad mouth marketing. It seems as though you have an anti-marketing axe to grind, although maybe you don't. This is probably a clear and an analogous way to bring your rhetoric to understanding for others. But I have to warn you by doing so you lose your audience of atheists and theists who happen to be in the profession of marketing. I too think that hard-sell marketing is annoying but you create cognitive dissonance for those who like it because it is their job and how they make a living.

You do what I believe to be an excellent but maybe not superior job of appealing to a vast audience. You must always think of your audience when you're writing because without the audience...well you know the rest. If your audience has cognitive dissonance with who you are and what your writing says then they just might choose the option of not finishing the article. In a way you are similar to those who try to sell something in that if people slam the door in your face or on your article then your writing is just a point you're trying to bring across that no one wants to listen to. I'm not the best of writers, so I hope I was able to bring my point across.

23-year-old atheist

Daniel Scollan danib0y@aol.com
Tampa, FL USA - Saturday, June 12, 1999 at 23:17:33 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

I have worked in retail, and I have studied marketing. For me, the hard-sell marketing analogy was the obvious choice. I did not, however, mean to imply that the whole industry was corrupt and inefficient--only those people in it who continue to use the outdated methods of hard-sell. I said as much in my article.

Actually, I do have an axe to grind--just a little one. I get #$*@! sick of these #$*@! people who try to sell me mobile phones, cable television, insurance, religion, and new-age health care. If I needed any of that stuff I would go out and buy it. The other day some guy tried to tell me I was an idiot because I didn't want to switch phone companies. I told him I didn't have to switch phone companies just because he wanted me to. I watched him go up and down the street for the rest of the afternoon, and I didn't see him make a sale.

Hard-sell is inefficient, and relies on canvassing large numbers of people to find those few who are vulnerable to the spiel. Furthermore, it annoys more people than it attracts. So you have to wonder why people keep using it. Perhaps they are trying to sell something people would not normally want to buy--like religion. This is the only context in which hard-sell is better than building up a good customer base.

It is remarkable how closely some secular organizations that use hard-sell marketing resemble religious cults. The charismatic leaders use the same persuasion techniques as cult leaders. They motivate their people in a similar way. And like cult-leaders, they seem to be the ones making all the money. This is not just my own opinion; much of the cult literature on the internet contains information about "commercial cults." These are the kinds of organizations I had in mind when I started talking about hard-sell tactics, so don't be too offended if you are a sales representative selling a genuine product without trickery.


You are very eloquent in presenting your argument, and I believe that when the religious extend their "hooks" it appears as 'hard selling' and can be very offensive.

However (you knew this was coming...), you speak as someone who is speaking out of an emotion called bitterness. We are emotional beings and many of our daily decisions are made from a COMBINATION of emotion & RATIONAL THOUGHT.

Is it so easy to dismiss the organization of things, from the food chain to composition of DNA, to accident (I refer to the Big Bang THEORY, the THEORY of evolution, etc.)? None of those things have solid proof that they are true. What incredible BELIEFS! So I suppose that whether you believe in God, or in Darwin's THEORY, you could possibly be basing those decisions on unsubstantiated evidence. (have you looked into archeological records? many of the events in the Bible have been backed up by this SCIENCE)

Personally, I have seen some incredible (if you want to call them coincidences) 'coincidences' occur because the teachings of God were put into practice. To me, that is proof enough of His existence. I have seen & heard of way too many non-believers (and so-called believers) who have attempted to live life based on THEORIES, and have not succeeded. May I question the fact that there are marriage counselors who have been divorced many times (once is enough to tell me that SCIENCE alone doesn't work), engineers (for instance) who pour their lives into their work to support their families only to have their spouses cheat on them & their children grow up to hate them and/or other people, who themselves stumble from relationship to relationship because they tend to focus on doing 'good things' to make themselves happy? To me, it appears that your BELIEF isolates you. How does it feel to be a mutated monkey?

I think if you really look beyond all those comfortable angry thoughts you're allowing yourself to wallow in, you might just find that the 'hard sellers' aren't so different from yourself. Read your own article. I know that there are many so-called believers out there who are really off base, and that could be what makes you so bitter, and has made me angry as well. Unfortunately, there are always offshoots to any science, artistic, and religious teachings (among others), which is unavoidable & can give each of these a bad name. I'm sorry you've been affected so negatively that you can't see beyond your emotions. I do want to thank you for the constructive criticism. I usually try to let my life speak, so that the proof is visible. Words, usually, are only words. The heart is what speaks volumes.

L. Waterman l_h2oman@yahoo.com
USA - Monday, June 14, 1999 at 10:29:38 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

When you are presenting arguments against something, it is all too easy to come across as belligerent and angry. This is why I used humor in my article. But I guess you didn't find it very funny. Oh well.

But I think you read too much into it when you accuse me of being bitter. I have no reason to be bitter about religion. There was no incident in my life that turned me against religion. In fact, I was never in the theist's camp to begin with (I'm an atheist like my father). And for some reason I can't fathom, none of the theists I know care to debate me on the subject. On top of all of this, I live in a country where religion isn't particularly prominent, and I can go for days at a time without having religion thrown in my face. So, far from wallowing in "comfortable angry thoughts," I much prefer to read and think about science, psychology, art, and all the other tools with which we human beings can advance our society. But if I occasionally feel compelled to go back to first principles and write about my atheism, then I will.

Why do you use the word accident to describe scientifically determined phenomena? In my experience, the only people who refer to "accidents" are theists trying to belittle scientific theories that don't match with the Bible. The word accident implies that something went wrong, or contrary to plan. And this is a concept rather out of place in the natural sciences. There is no plan. Things don't happen by accident, they happen in accordance with physical laws. The big bang was governed by the laws of physics. Evolution is governed by the chemistry of the DNA molecule, as it is affected by environmental factors. And it is precisely because natural phenomena are governed by physical laws that scientists can test a hypothesis and prove it. Contrary to what you say, there is solid evidence supporting these theories.

For evolution, there are five categories of evidence: (1) the fossil record, (2) comparative anatomy, (3) comparative embryology, (4) comparative biochemistry, (5) genetics. The last of these--genetics--pre-dated the theory of evolution but was unknown to Darwin and his contemporaries, and yet it supports evolution in all its particulars. Similarly, evolution has not remained a current theory through simple belief. Over the last century, credible evidence has supported evolution and added to our understanding of the process. But no credible evidence has been uncovered which disproves the theory. How much more solid evidence do you want? In contrast, "scientific" proof for the Bible is limited to a handful of unremarkable archaeological finds. And you would expect Jews writing 2 to 3 thousand years ago to know about things that existed in their own country at the time.

Actually, I'm not a mutated monkey. I'm a mutated hominid. And I would rather be a mutated hominid than a construct of dirt and God's halitosis. You point out that human beings are both rational and emotional. Actually, I agree with you here. But I am not quite sure what you mean when you say I've been so negatively affected I can't see beyond my emotions. Who, me? I'm sorry, but you've got the wrong guy. I chose to base my article primarily on emotional issues because the rational angle is well catered to. I figure that if I am going to contribute to the debate, then the least I can do is contribute something original.

You also point out that some professional people have unsuccessful personal lives. I agree with you here too, but I don't see how this is relevant. It is not that people try to live by theories, rather that they can't help but get emotionally involved in the traumas of their lives. People who study psychology often have the curious sensation of knowing why they feel the way they do, but being unable to change it. So divorced marriage counselors are not necessarily proof against marriage guidance. They only show that it is sometimes difficult to take one's own advice. On the other hand, I know that religion is not proof against disaster. I have seen devout people get into terrible trouble because they supposed that church acquaintances were entirely trustworthy. And I often think that many such incidents could be avoided if people approached things with a healthy dose of rational scepticism--such as an atheist might.


. . . And what does Sydney have to do with the point of the article?

. . . And why is Sydney mentioned?

Regards,

James A. Carpenter jim_carpenter@email.mobil.com
Dallas, TX USA - Wednesday, June 02, 1999 at 08:36:29 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

Hmmm. It looks likes I'm going to have to give up my anonymity here--much as I like the idea of posting articles like "Where Are You Going to Spend Eternity?" from out of nowhere, without anyone knowing who the heck I am. My name is Kim Walker. I am a white male. I am 29 years old going on 1000. I live in Sydney, Australia (where the Olympics is going to be). This is why Sydney got mentioned in the article. I actually was at a train station in Sydney when the nondescript woman handed me the religious pamphlet that inspired the article. If you really want the trivial details: it was at the northern entrance of Hurstville station, at the bottom of the escalators, where the old Chinese busker usually sits. There are two unusual things about me: (1) I glow in the dark, and (2) I get so many letters addressed to Ms. K. Walker that my sister opens more of my mail than I do :-)


Kim Walker makes the assertion, "Eternity is a long time." I am a theist and a scientist/engineer and respond from this perspective. We are able to perceive our existence in four dimensions - distance (x, y, z) and time. Time is but one of these dimensions. Eternity has nothing to do with "time" or distance. Eternity exists outside space-time.

Considering that the Bible was penned long in our past by some 40 men over a period of thousands of years, it must be astounding to the non-theist that the Bible contains nothing in the original texts that we would today consider a scientific or technical error. Rather, the Bible anticipates "discoveries" that the scientific/technical community has come to accept only in relatively recent times.

A few examples: the expanding universe, the water cycle, and the spherical shape of the earth. The value of Pi is even presented in early writings to a precision of four decimal places. The only rational explanation for this situation that I have encountered is that intelligence from outside space-time guided the Bible's writers.

Kim Walker suggests that prophecies in the Bible are unreliable. We learn from the Bible that God inhabits eternity. It is from this perspective God is able to see the end from the beginning in the dimension of time, rather like an observer in a blimp outside the plane of a parade can simultaneously see the parade's end and its beginning in the dimensions of distance.

The Bible is validated as originating outside of "time" by various mathematical statements about occurrences to take place at points in time significantly later than the statements were first written. Examples are the exact calendar dates when Jesus presented himself publicly as the Messiah, when Israel became a political nation again and when the nation Israel came into possession of the city of Jerusalem. The last two of these events in fact occurred during my lifetime.

Karl Anderson karl@netport.com
Lancaster, CA USA - Thursday, June 10, 1999 at 15:58:08 (MDT) The editor responds:

Mr. Anderson, please provide us with the verses where "the expanding universe" is specifically mentioned (instead of "interpreted" after the fact), where anything is said about "the water cycle" that wasn't already common knowledge to all educated peoples of antiquity, or where "the spherical shape of the earth" is declared. I am especially curious to read the verse where "The value of Pi is even presented...to a precision of four decimal places." Where is that exactly? Epicurus anticipated atomic theory and the periodic table of elements and the particle theory of light as well as the principles of sonics. I guess "the only rational explanation for this situation...is that intelligence from outside space-time guided" the Greek philosophers, too. That hardly seems a rational explanation. Humans are simply clever, and the universe just happens to make sense. Get over it. By the way, you should read "Fitting the Bible to the Data" and the section on "factual errors" in The Argument From the Bible before declaring such a position as you do.


I really enjoyed this article. Thank you to the author for taking the time to research and write it. I have a few thoughts and questions.

You wrote about the fact that we don't need religion. I wondered if that might be a more persuadable point if you could cite other cultures that have gotten along quite alright without religion and even prospered in some ways and produced great individuals. Places like China, Japan, Russia come to mind but I would like to learn if there are other, better examples.

You also talk about the marketing of religious ideas. I have always felt that atheism, or secular humanism, are quite sellable. Simply because the essence of the message appeals to what I regard as basic and innate to human beings, and that is human reason and compassion. And of course a religious belief or faith resists the use of reason. Regardless of this should we, atheists or other types of non-believers, attempt to get our message out. Should we support or promote our own type of proselytization? I have always thought not given what Nietzsche has said about confronting these people but should we attempt to at least reach the 7-10 percent of our population that consider themselves non-believers? If so how and would doing so reduce the negative perception of atheists.

My final point in this regard is this: recently while perusing the net I located a page that listed famous atheists. Among the many I was surprised to see Kathryn Hepburn state in an October 1990 interview with Ladies Home Journal that she was an atheist and that was that. Maybe the recognition of other famous atheist or non-theists would be a help to our cause-the cause of becoming a legitimate group in this country.

Sorry for that lack of brevity. Incidently if anyone form II is coming to Chicago feel free to e-mail me and maybe we can have a beer. By the way, I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. I like telling people this for the obvious shock value.

Sincerely,
Stephen Lake Slake7@yahoo.com
Chicago, IL USA - Wednesday, June 09, 1999 at 18:15:41 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

You raise some good points here Steven. Apart from those you mention, I don't know of any nations that have done away with religion on a large scale. This goes especially for Western countries, where the Christian churches tend to lay claim to the people, no matter how poorly attended the services are. It might be more profitable to look at smaller groups with atheistic tendencies. I have read several accounts of groups like this. But the best examples of how people can get along without religion are the secular institutions and pastimes that already exist in the west. Democracy dismantled the divine right of kings and placed authority in the hands of the people. Free trade challenged the financial might of the church. Humanist philosophers formulated their own systems of morality, independent of God. These institutions and others like them show that living without religion is not only possible, but more desirable and effective.

By all means, let us market atheism. But please, for the sake of all we hold dear, let us not stoop to using dogmatic slogans or cheap tactics. After all, we are selling a philosophy of life, not vacuum cleaners. I feel that for atheism to succeed, we need to be doing four things: (1) presenting arguments against theism, (2) lobbying government to do away with legal discrimination against atheists, (3) providing for the social needs of people, (4) creating art, literature, and music strongly identified with the humanist/atheist way of life. Of these, the first two are well represented on the Secular Web and elsewhere. An example of the third are the various Humanist organizations in my country, which provide celebrants for weddings and the like.

But in my wanderings on the net, I have seen little evidence of the fourth. There doesn't seem to be much art, music, or literature strongly identified with atheist issues. And what little there is doesn't seem to rate much of a mention. (Two books and a film come immediately to mind: Robert Heinlein's novelJob, Terry Pratchett's novel Small Gods, and Monty Python's Life of Brian) Now surely there must be a symphony of Wagnerian proportions in the story of humanity's emergence from fear and superstition into the light of reason? So perhaps we need to start identifying atheist/humanist themes suitable for artistic treatment? If our story can be told through a literary, musical, or artistic masterpiece, then that will sell atheism better than any clumsy proselytizing can, and it will kill the idea that atheism is a narrow-minded creed once and for all. So I am hereby issuing the challenge to all you budding writers, composers, and artists out there: embrace your atheist and humanist philosophies and bring them to life!


Kim Walker's 'Where Are You Going to Spend Eternity?' was a very good read, though I think she did not make one very important point: the fairness question.

Assuming the Biblical God exists and is as just and as fair as the Christians say he is, then he won't be putting anyone in a big fiery heck for all eternity. It is not fair to punish a being for longer than they lived to commit acts worthy of said punishment. If we live for 60 or 70 years, deny the easily questionable divinity of Jesus for 40 or 50 of those years, and go on to the BFH to be tormented forever, then either God is unfair or mainstream Christian beliefs are wrong. Probably the latter. Just my two cents worth from someone who seems to live at ground zero of Religion Central.

Brett Hegrbehegr@mail.uccs.edu
Colorado Springs, CO USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 13:17:50 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

Thank you Brett for reminding me about the fairness question. You make a good point, but I'm afraid it won't take us very far in an argument. You see, Jesus is love, and God is just. Don't get me wrong, I'm not offering you my opinion here. I'm just telling you the faith-definitions of the words Jesus and God. Faith-definitions are tricky, because they don't rely on the mundane meaning suggested by the words. Never mind what the word love means in the ordinary, every day sense--to a devout Christian, it means Jesus. A faith definition is held entirely on faith, and will not be reassessed by a devout person for any reason. So even if you can prove that God is unjust, to the Christian mind, you might as well be arguing that a table is a chair.

Now, here comes the tricky bit. Christians are well aware that the words "love" and "justice" are more than just definitions of Jesus and God. They know that there are objective, secular definitions of these words. They will, from time to time, even make use of these secular definitions. But they want to maintain their faith-definitions intact, so in their minds they carefully separate religious matters from non-religious matters. They split their minds in two. This can actually be quite dangerous, because one need only label something "holy", placing it in the religious division of an extremist's mind, and it becomes unassailable by logic and reason. So a just and loving God can sponsor a "holy" war, without this seeming incongruent to its participants. And this is why reason is better than faith.


I appreciate your article in that it is intelligence-based and serves to cause a religious nutcase like myself to think about new things. I am planning a youth church which will present the Good News of Jesus in a culturally relevant way, and quite frankly need to know what it is in the minds of atheists so that I also can present my case. So thank you for your research. I found it interesting and eye opening that you used Monty Python's sketch in your argument.

Well, I won't try to "save" you (besides the fact that you seem to be pretty closed to that, it is not I who can save, but God Almighty alone), but I will suggest that you read the Gospel of John (in whatever mediocre translation you can find--I recommend Eugene Peterson's The Message) with an open-minded and humble mindset.

C-ya.

Chad Eddy ceddy@chrlife.bc.ca
Langley, BC Canada - Sunday, June 06, 1999 at 23:05:00 (MDT)


What a wonderfully astute look into the mindset of the proselytizing believer. I am the only freethinker in a large family of fundamentalist Christians. I have learned to question the assumptions of believers instead of just answering their questions. Of course, I believe my family is genuinely concerned about my "eternal destiny," but this is because of blood ties and not any "spiritual concern." But in a way, this makes it easier to challenge their assumptions because they genuinely care about me--unlike the street preacher.

Thanks to Kim Walker for a great and insightful article.

Mark Wenneborg lunadraco@earthlink.net
Springfield, IL USA - Sunday, June 06, 1999 at 17:23:14 (MDT)


Excellent article. Nuff said; got work to do myself :)

Claus Lisberg 36lisbe@but.auc.dk
Aalborg, Denmark - Saturday, June 05, 1999 at 21:16:04 (MDT)


For Kim Walker, author of "Where Do You Want To Spend Eternity?"

I was researching atheistic views for a college assignment, when I came across your article. I thought it was well written, with a sense of humor that I enjoyed. Your points made sense and it was interesting to see in print some notions I had.

I am studying elementary education and my assignment is to describe points of view from certain religions about school curriculum, such as: prayer in school, teaching evolution, sex ed., homosexual teachers, and clinics that dispense birth control, etc. I chose to explore this from the atheist side. (I am a 'recovering' Catholic)

I'm sure you are busy with many things, but if you have a thought of two that might help me I would appreciate it. I am thinking that most of these things would just fall strictly under the 'separation of church and state' edict and that atheists object to prayer of any kind in schools; evolution, as with any scientific theory, should be taught. And sex ed., including birth control should also be taught. A person's sexuality is not moral or immoral, so a teacher's sexual preference is not relevant. Am I accurate in describing these points of view?

Thank you to Kim or anyone else who might like to help me.

Jennifer Carnes
us2carnes@aol.com
Pembroke Pines, FL USA - Saturday, June 05, 1999 at 10:41:57 (MDT)

Note from the editor: Ms. Carnes asked II essentially the same question, and I have posted my response under Quaestiones et Responsa below. Mr. Walker also replied to Ms. Carnes directly, and his remarks were too long for publication here, but what he wrote was so interesting I edited it down to include the most original material here.

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

As you may know, atheists are a fairly eclectic bunch of people. We don't all belong to the same organizations, or hold the same views on an issue. But I think your points about prayer in schools, sex education, teaching evolution, and homosexual teachers would be supported by many. Since I live in a different country (Australia) with a different education system, I may be able to give you a different perspective on these issues.

[For one opinion in America] you might want to look at [a particular] prayer in school FAQ. Strangely enough, there is no separation of church and state in Australia. On my very first day of school, the very first thing we did was pray. At the time, it did not impact greatly on my five year old mind, because from what I remember, this was a day full of novelties. I was too busy wondering why all those other kids were crying. ("Your mom hasn't left you here for good, she'll come back and get you at the end of the day.")

And from the third grade on, there were religious classes. The children would be separated according to religious denomination, and taught about Jesus and the Bible by visiting volunteers from the local churches. This went on right up until the end of high school. Mostly this religious instruction was fairly naive, and fell short of indoctrinating most of us. I remember, at one point, we read the story of Jonah and the whale, and it was greeted by most of the kids in the class with open skepticism. ("No way! That never happened.") This kind of religious instruction acted more as an inoculation against Christianity than an indoctrination into it.

Sometimes, though, the religious people invited into our schools to address us were anything but naive. In high school, I particularly remember a group of Christian bikers who gave a talk. They were real, fire in the soul, kind of Christians. They were on a mission from the Lord. They were hard-selling for Jesus. One guy got up and told us how he was once a criminal and a drug addict, but everything changed when he let Jesus into his life. Another guy got up and gave us a rant about all the unchristian, worldly rubbish in the media, flicking through a magazine and showing us all the articles and advertisements to prove his point. They were seductive speakers, and at the end they urged us to come forward and put our names down to join their organization.

This was a blatant abuse of trust. I remember that some of the teachers in the room looked quite uncomfortable with it. Here was a group invited into schools to talk about religion, who used this as a platform to recruit teenagers in a most forceful and charismatic way. I'm sure it would have upset some parents, had they seen the heavy duty persuasion their children were subjected to. Things like this should not happen in schools, whether it comes from visiting proselytizers, or fundamentalist teachers leading prayers.

My father likes to tell the story about how he went to the first co-educational high-school in his district. Back then, in the 1950's, co-education was a controversial idea (at least in Australia). People felt that placing boys and girls in the same schools and classes would lead to immoral behavior. They made ominous predictions about the rise of teenage pregnancies. But a few years later, the announcement was made to the assembly that Wollongong High School had fewer teenage pregnancies than any of the competing girl's schools in the area. Apparently, they all cheered. And I think I know what was going on here. Whilever boys and girls were kept strictly apart, the imaginations of young women could run wild with the mystique of "boys." They could idealize them. But in a co-educational school, the mystique of boys soon rubs off. Like any teenage girl will tell you, boys are immature, and they only want one thing, [and] when girls have to interact daily with real-life boys, they learn pretty quickly how to deal with them. In a similar way, sex education should be used to dispell the mystique of sex. In the end, the most sensible thing is to educate young people about the dangers, and if necessary, provide them with the means of protecting themselves. There was sex education in my school, [and] I seriously doubt anyone would have considered becoming sexually active after studying this material. If anything, this frank demystifying of sex might well have made some of us think twice about it.

As you say, evolution should be taught the same as every scientific theory is. It is a significant part of biology, and should not be excluded from a biology course, or obscured by unscientific material like creationism. Of course, it is not just evolution at stake here, because most creationists do not have a clear notion of what evolution is, and tend to lump it together with other scientific theories that contradict a Biblical understanding of the world. If creationists win a decisive victory over the theory of evolution, rest assured it will not stop there. The geological time scale would be their next target. After that, maybe genetics, because it supports evolution and it allows scientists to tamper with nature. And where would it all stop? If the extremists of American society devastate the practice of science, then the United States can kiss its pre-eminant position in the world goodbye. This might sound harsh, but I think its justified, because at this point in history, nearly all progress relies on scientific methods.

Teachers are expected to set aside their opinions and personal preferences in many areas, so why not simply add sexual preferences to the list? Apart from prejudice, there is no reason why we should consider gays and lesbians less able to teach than anyone else. Sexual preference is irrelevant. There is, however, a need to be cautious. Everyone who applies for a position working with children has to be checked for a history of pedophilia. Unfortunately, pedophiles tend to seek careers in areas that will bring them into contact with children, and these predators need to be excluded from the system. Part of the reason why gay and lesbian school teachers are feared, is because some people falsely assume gays and lesbians are more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals. This is a false assumption. Pedophiles are pedophiles. Gays and lesbians are just gays and lesbians.


The "argument against eternity" is one of my favorites. I have yet to get a satisfactory answer for the question of an eternal agenda. The mere act of "doing", regardless of whatever it is that one is doing, will itself become tediously boring.

But in contrast to the opinion of the article, I feel that life is too short. I would seriously like to live until I get bored. Living until boredom sets upon me might take me a thousand years or so. At the point when I become totally indifferent to life, dying will be the easiest course of action for me to take.

Eric Obgeth wobghth@hotmail.com
USA - Saturday, June 05, 1999 at 09:16:37 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

The human lifespan is relatively long, compared to that of other mammals. I knew, however, when I included this information in my article it would receive some resistance. Even though we atheists reject the doctrine of Christianity, some parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition still have a powerful effect on us. That human life is brief and miserable compared to the glory of God is one of these. You might notice how this idea has found its way into secular cosmology as well--human beings are insignificant specks of dust compared to the size of the universe.

Well, it is true that on the larger scale of things we are insignificant, but so what? We don't live on the larger scale. We live, by necessity, at the human scale. We can sit in our insignificant bodies, behind the controls of our insignificant instruments and look out at the universe beyond us, but we don't have to be depressed by it. We can discuss it with our colleagues over a few glasses of wine in a nice restaurant somewhere. Then when we're done, we can go home to our families. If the great scientists of our modern era were too afraid to look out beyond themselves and into the infinite, then science would not be what it is today.

So when we look on the human scale, can we say that human life is very short? You say, Eric, that you would like to live long enough to become bored. Actually, that's not very impressive, because the human attention span is roughly 15 minutes long. Every writer and film maker knows this, and goes to great lengths to vary the action of a play, film, or novel, just to keep the audience's attention. Assuming you live to see your 80th birthday (not an unreasonable assumption in this day and age), and assuming you spend about half of this time sleeping and performing other bodily functions, you will have 1402560 opportunities to become bored throughout your life. And who knows, if medical science continues the way it is, you may live a lot longer than 80 years--you might even come closer to that mythical 1000 year lifespan than any human being has in past, if only by a few years.


If Kim Walker ever condenses her article "Where Are You Going To Spend Eternity?" down into tract-size, I'll buy a large supply just to be certain to always have one on hand to give to sidewalk tract pushers. Excellent work!

Gilker Kimmel gilker@aol.com
Austin, TX USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 21:50:57 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

I have made up a few cards and I carry them in my wallet for just this purpose. On them I have written this: "Five Bible passages: read them all and they will change your life. Mark 13:14-31, Luke 9:27, Luke 21:29-32, Matthew 16:27-28, Deuteronomy 18:21-22." In case you don't have a Bible handy, the first four are all the passages where Jesus Christ says he would be back before everyone in his generation was dead. The passage from Deuteronomy reads: "And if you say in you heart, 'How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'--when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him." [RSV]


I just read the article "Where are you going to spend eternity?" and found it to be one of the best arguments against religion that I have ever read. It was clear, avoided most psychobabble terms and was very succinct. Keep up the good work.

Jack Benjamin DasHeretic@aol.com
Lititz, PA USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 18:14:59 (MDT)


Nice essay, Kim.

You wrote: "What do they hope to gain from it? Are they trying to intimidate the public? Are they deliberately creating conflict to serve some political agenda? Do they want to put their members through a baptism of fire, that alienates them from the secular world? Who knows."

As you well know lots of them are working off a burden of guilt. Others are extremely uncomfortable around a happy, self-assured freethinker. Just suppose he's right? What if I'm wrong! Worry. Worry.

I have yet to meet a Fundamentalist who is not terribly insecure and afraid at heart. If only we'd agree with them, then one more threat to their faith would be eliminated. Insecurity and fear goes a long way to explain the atrocities they have committed over the years "in Jesus name"

Thanks.

Peter G. Roode a_skeptic@hotmail.com
Gainesville, FL USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 15:18:21 (MDT)


I have just read the article "Where are you going to spend eternity?" by Kim Walker and would like to make a few comments:

Why is Eternity usually imagined as being long and boring? This is an imposition of our present minds and surely does not apply to a mind capable of encompassing infinity.

For many years I have basically embraced the atheist point of view, but more and more I find myself questioning these ideas. This has nothing to do with others trying to convert me, as even now when approached by such a person my atheist hat goes on immediately. And my concept of God is not the type of creator who sits around for an eternity before suddenly deciding to make a world and then dreaming up ways of saving/punishing its inhabitants. I think the concept of God is much more complex than that.

Maybe its because I'm getting older, but I can't help thinking: we're here. That's an absolute fact. So the question can be asked (don't tell me it can't) how did we get here? There are two possibilities: either something was always here (the energy vacuum, the potential to blow up into a universe etc.) or it wasn't. I know its just as absurd to say the universe was always here as to say God was always here. Maybe the concept of God introduces another step which isn't needed (Occam's razor?) but so what? Living under atheism seems to bring a very narrow and limited view of the world which appears to boil down to the simple statement: It just is!

But somehow, that's just not good enough and at the end of the day, even atheists have to admit that they don't know.

But I just can't help but wonder.

Fergal MacAlister fergal.macalister@siemens.ie
Dublin, Ireland - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 04:51:52 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

It sounds like you've had a tough time, mulling these thoughts over in your head. And I can understand why atheism might seem like a narrow creed, given that it is a simple rejection of the notion of God. But generally there is more to it than this. When we free ourselves from the tyranny of religion, we inevitably have to reconsider all of the big questions. Why are we here? What are we doing? What possible meaning can we invest in our lives? Atheists have one advantage in this. When we ask questions, we don't have to accept the dogmatic answers priests and theologians provide us. And make no mistake, the appeal of religion is entirely ephemeral. It lacks that satisfying depth of meaning we seek. Instead, we can go on, and keep asking questions until we start getting answers that satisfy us personally. So don't think of your dissatisfaction as something negative. It is your chance to seek answers, and to inquire far beyond the narrow range of thoughts that theists restrict themselves to. Indeed, it is exactly this questioning attitude that has led all the great scientists to their most profound discoveries.-Kim


I just read your article "Where are you going to spend eternity". I enjoyed it quite a bit and it got me to thinking.

I love those Chick track (spell?) pamphlets. Whenever I'm anywhere and someone offers me one I take it. My favorite is "Big Daddy" and "Somebody Goofed". I would love to someday meet a guy who was actually converted by these pamphlets. I want to sit down with that guy and have a cup of coffee and just listen to him tell me about his life, because the person who is convinced by tripe like that must be an absolute puppet. I imagine that he was given a pamphlet and became a Christian on the spot. A half block later, he was immediately convinced he needed a new lube job because of the guy dressed as a muffler who handed him a flyer. Never mind the fact that he wasn't actually in a car at the time, look at the flyer? You can't deny the flyer! He wasn't that hungry either, but when someone tells you to get two chili dogs for the price of one, how can you turn them down. I imagine that day ends with a moral quandry when he is informed by a man wearing sandwich boards with pink flyers that these are the hottest girls in the world. All nude all the time, yowzah yowzah yowzah. Anyway, I'm tired now. later.

Jim Bricejammybrice@yahoo.com
LA, CA USA - Tuesday, June 01, 1999 at 17:48:46 (MDT)


Kim Walker's article on the hard-sell techniques of theists was extremely well-written, but the most fascinating came at the very end, as a note to any theists reading along: "It's better this way." Futile though it was, it brought a cheer from my section.

I've been an atheist for a year this month. I left a Southern Baptist upbringing with a lot of anger. Eventually, though, it boiled away, and I was left a simple nonbeliever, with no causes left to fight for. I can live my life without worrying about the eternal. And the one fact that amazes me, just about every day: It is so much better this way. Who knew that life could be so worth it?

Oh, and Kim: Right on with the analysis. I know from being there, from being a proselytizer myself. And who knows? Maybe someday they will develop a better technique for arguing with us. I won't hold my breath.

Matt Stallworth interiority@att.net
USA - Tuesday, June 01, 1999 at 10:49:04 (MDT)

Mr. Kim Walker replies:

If atheism has a positive message then this is it! Life is better this way. When we become atheists we shed a level of unnecessary complication, so we don't have to worry about the afterlife anymore, and we don't have to feel guilty about not doing enough for the church. Then, when all the clutter of superstition and mythology is banished from our minds, we can see the world as it is. And the world, unfiltered by religion, is a revelation that no theist can ever hope to match.

Unfortunately the journey from theism to atheism can sometimes be a difficult one. We do not all live in communities that tolerate difference. So we do not all have the opportunity to benefit fully from this philosophy we embrace. In part, I was motivated to write "Where are You Going to Spend Eternity" because I live in a time and place where I can live a full and open secular life. And I want to assure people that it is possible, and it does work. There is such a thing as a happy, fulfilled atheist. So happy anniversary, Matt. I'm glad you could join us.


I really enjoyed this text. It is past 2am and it intruiged me so to keep on pursuing its rationality. excellent. Cheers!

Mikola Kuc mikola@canada.com
Clearwater, FL USA - Tuesday, June 01, 1999 at 00:31:45 (MDT)


Bauer for President?

From the insults that are hurled at the Christian sector of well known activists, it appears that you are intolerant. Do you want tolerance? You are accusing these people, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, etc., of trying to impose their views on America. Whose views do we live under today? It certainly isn't the Christian views. Secularists have had their own way, somewhat, since the late fifties and early sixties. What are you afraid of? Could it be that the values of Christians might be right? Do you even know what you are talking about? Have you ever lived the Christian life? If not, then you don't know what you are talking about and I don't think you are strong enough to live it.

If you are up to a challenge, respond.

Rochelle Voyles rochellevoyles@hotmail.com
Bullhead City, AZ USA - Wednesday, June 16, 1999 at 01:32:55 (MDT)

The editor responds:

What do I, personally, fear from what Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer want to do? I fear a police state in which our basic freedoms are torn away in the name of Christian Love and Biblical Righteousness. I fear being forced to wear a badge identifying me as a second class citizen, without the right to sit on juries, hold political office, testify in court, or maintain guardianship of my children, for no other reason than that I refuse "to believe on Christ as Lord." I fear censorship. I fear cops charging into my house to confiscate my movies and books on the grounds that they contain blasphemy, or sending me to jail because I show Life of Brian to my friends. I fear my male friends being jailed for having sex with other men, and my sister being denied the right to birth control, and dying in a botched illegal back-alley abortion. I fear being forced, under threat of life imprisonment, to pay for churches and sermons and bibles with my taxes. But what I fear most, as a historian and a scholar, is the rewriting of history, the distortion of the truth, the silencing of objective research, and the decay of our scientific literacy, all of which will happen if these men are given control of our society and our education, only to teach not science and inquiry, but obedience to Christians, turning the greatest advantage America possesses into her greatest embarrassment.

Secularism guarantees freedom for all, including Christians, who can do all the same things that we can do, who have all the same rights, and enjoy all the same freedoms and privileges. 'Christianism' guarantees freedom for none but Christians. It lets Christians do things we can't, and gives them special rights, freedoms and privileges denied to all others. Secularism ensures that the law shall hinge upon facts that can be proven in court, and no more, and that all shall be equal before the law. 'Christianism' ensures that the law shall hinge not upon facts alone, but upon revealed truths, like the existence of souls and Satan, and that innocents shall be convicted of crimes not on facts, but on mere dogmas. This is what I fear, Ms. Voyles, and it is what we are here to oppose, not through force or deception, but through education and the uncensored presentation of facts and ideas.

As for whether we have ever "lived the Christian life" the answer is, for many of us, yes. In fact, our own Bill Schultz represents a typical case. His own response follows:

Bill Schultz replies:

Christians have had 2,000 years to prove that their values are absolutely wrong. Everything from the Children's Crusade, through the persecution of Galileo, on through the Salem witch trials, and right on down to trashing Charles Darwin for presenting his findings of scientific truth (a la the great Galileo), and numerous other horrid incidents (like the inquisition) that I'm sure I'm forgetting all prove that Christianity is morally bankrupt.

That's why modern Christians had to invent the "born again" syndrome; to try to distance themselves from their awful past. Of course, it doesn't work, as the "born again" Christians I've known are, on the average, the most morally bankrupt of all. I can't begin to describe to you the moral bankruptcy of those I've known; the scams, con games, and outright fraud that these people engage in without a single twinge of conscience. Just so that they get to church on Sunday to be "forgiven," then everything will be OK and they will still go to Heaven. Baloney!!

I find the idea of living in a "Christian America" to be very scary. If I had my choice as to whether to increase the "Christian values" or the secularism of America, I'd choose secularism, since secularism has never once been given a fair trial as a philosophical system of a nation. Over and over again, all through history, scientists and scholars have repeatedly proven that the Christian world-view is wrong in some particular. Given that track record, I don't worry in the slightest that the Christians might actually be "right." In fact, I personally consider it proven that Christianity is based on such a pack of lies that its impossible for it to be in any way "right."

Most of us at the Internet Infidels began our lives as Christians. I was raised as a Presbyterian. We even have in our midst a de-converted Christian preacher or two. I would say that we know an awful lot about what we talk about. Probably a lot more than the vast majority of people who call themselves "Christian." Not only are we strong enough to "live it," we are even stronger in that we all found the will power to "leave it" when the hypocrisy got to be too much to take any more.

Postscript: Ms. Voyles responded to Bill's comments, revealing that she does not support the notion of a Christian state, but rather the same freedom that we secularists are fighting to preserve. So she does not differ from us with respect to our basic values, but only in respect to the facts: namely, whether Bauer as president would actually push us closer to that Christian state that Ms. Voyles apparently opposes. I think it is self-evident that she should fear his presidency as much as we do, if she truly does oppose the Christianization of our laws, since Bauer has regularly called for this very thing.


The Definition Wars: O'Hair vs. Huxley

In the article, "O'Hair vs. Huxley - A Totally Misdirected Attack" I find that neither O'Hair nor the author truely understand what Atheism and Agnosticism are.

Theism means "a belief in the existance of a god". It is a positive belief, it is the first position that must be recognized in order for the debate to start, it is similar to the root of a word.

Antitheism means "a belief in the existance of no gods". This is an antipositive belief, it takes the positive belief and claims the opposite.

Since "A" means "without", then Atheism means "without a belief in a god". It is a negative belief, negative beliefs are compositions of the antipositive belief (in this case Antitheism) and all posible neutral positions. They are not subject to disproof, but are dependant on the proof or disproof of the positive belief. Most Atheists state that there might be a god, but that they have not seen any real reason to accept the existance of one. The statement "God exists" is false until shown to be true, to them.

Since "Non" and "A" are different words for the same thing, Non-Antitheism must mean "without a belief in no gods". This is an antinegative belief. Antinegative beliefs are a compostion of the positive belief and all posible neutral positions. However, all antinegative beliefs (when dealing with existance at least) are irrational; since you must take the position "X exists" is true until shown to be false (where X is anything you could posibly imagine).

These four positions cover all posible Theistic related beliefs (a neutral position could be believed independantly in theory, but real life decisions force you to accept either "false until shown to be true" or "true until shown to be false", thereby commiting you to either Atheism or Non-Antitheism); but where does this leave Agnosticism? Agnosticism, as invented by Huxley, was not based on theo (god) at all, but on gnostic (knowledge). He claimed that (as far as he could tell), one could not know about the existance (or lack thereof) of god. His position therefore was not a Metaphyical position, but an Epistomological one. It did not belong in the scale of Theistic beliefs, but on its own independant scale.

Agnosticism therefore means "the lack of a belief that one can know anything about X". If rationally applied to the Theism/Atheism debate, an Agnostic should adopt Atheism.

Benjamin Hoback Schach@hotmail.com
Anchorage, AK USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 14:50:41 (MDT)

Bill Schultz replies:

In seven years on the Internet, I've witnessed or participated in many debates over the meanings of words like "atheist" and "agnostic." Most of those debates miss the point: words acquire meaning through usage, and it's the usages to which words are put that influence the authors of dictionaries.

Take, for instance, a sentence like this:

There, the word "agnostic" is clearly intended to mean "lack of knowledge" about the protocol used to transport the data or information. That rightly reflects the epistemological definition you refer to, a meaning I've written about myself in "The Essence Of Agnosticism" at:

Nonetheless, it can hardly be argued that people divide themselves into groups based on assuming the label "atheist" or "agnostic" for themselves. About halfway through the essay your feedback refers to, I address the very issues you raise by acknowledging the epistemological nature of the word "agnostic" and referring to Professor Drange's article discussing the nature of the word definitions used to describe each philosophical position. That article, at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html, discusses the fact that a particular definition of what "god" means is necessary in order to rationally assume a position as a theist, athieist, agnostic, or noncognitivist. Even in that article, Professor Drange resorts to the "traditional" definition of "agnostic" rather than to Huxley's epistemological definition. He does so because, for the majority of "average readers" of his essay, that is what they will take the word to mean.

Because we are unable to change the mental meanings recognized by millions or billions of English readers, its probably counter-productive to make too much over these distinctions in meaning. As most any linguistic philosopher will tell you, word meanings are really indistinct globs of possible meanings, each made more or less probable by the context in which the word is used. In normal exchanges, we resolve all the word meanings to a sufficient degree of probability for communication to occur. Occasionally, we do have to ask for clarification. But it is truly rare to find ourselves in a position where we can declare absolutely that some particular word usage is "absolutely wrong."

I also noted, in the middle of the article you are replying to, that "Huxley proclaimed his atheism with respect to the Christian god, as I have myself." But when Professor Drange challenged me to assert some god about which I was truly agnostic, I easily replied that the "god of the First Cause" (a common theistic argument in favor of the existence of god) was one truly deserving of agnosticism in just about any sense of that word. Scientists are debating whether or not the "Big Bang" required a "cause" to make it happen. If that debate is resolved in favor of a necessary cause, then we must begin to ask what the nature of that cause might be. In both cases, for the present, I'm truly agnostic.

So, while I'll agree to atheism as the rational conclusion to draw in debates between Christians and atheists, I won't agree that atheism is always the correct conclusion for all possible definitions of the word "god" (see the Drange essay, referred to above). While others may prefer to call themselves atheists (for many good and valid reasons), I remain attached to the word "agnostic" as my self-description because I prefer to not prejudge every possible god, most of which I've probably not considered. Instead, I'll wait for some "demonstrable facts" and a "logical chain of reasoning" to support any conclusion(s) we might draw about any such "god." If that muddles the waters of linguistic definitions, I can only apologize.


Worshipping Idols under Pain of Law: Making Our Flag a Sacred Object

RE: Flag desecration legislation. I have not seen anyone make this important point yet. The term "U.S. flag" is actually undefinable. What this means is that if legislation prohibits burning the U.S. flag, can't protesters continue to desecrate objects resembling the flag, such as large rectangular pieces of cloth with 12 stripes or 40 stars? I imagine if a constitutional amendment was passed prohibiting flag desecration that many courts and politicians would try very hard to punish people for desecrating imitations of the flag, as well as for desecrating the flag "itself."

Jason Gleckman sgleckma@nconnect.com
USA - Sunday, June 27, 1999 at 23:24:30 (MDT)


Dealing with "Scientific" Creationists (by Frederick Edwords)

Regarding "Dealing With 'Scientific' Creationists" by Frederick Edwords: I'm sure Mr. Edwords and all his colleagues believe they are right about everything regarding evolution. However, belief in evolution is no more "scientific" than belief in creation. There is NO proof of evolution. It is a theory based on observations of similarities among species. I also wonder, if evolutionists are so certain they are correct, why do they seem so threatened by creation being taught along with the theory of evolution? After all, does belief in creationism interfere with mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, physiology and similar things? I think not!

Denise Miller
Monday, June 14, 1999 at 00:30:49 (MDT)

The editor responds:

In biology class, the students barely have enough time to learn biology--why should their lecture and study time be reduced merely to accommodate an unsophisticated, unproductive, slipshod theory which has made absolutely no contributions to biology or indeed any new discoveries of any kind? Creationism simply isn't biology, nor is it physics or chemistry or any other scientific subject. It is literature, or at best religious history--and if it were to be taught in schools, it would belong only in a 'world religions' course, or world literature or world history, and as such it should be merely one item among scores of others which illuminate our barbaric past, or the crazy quack sub-cultures of the modern world.


Keith Parsons' "Do Atheists Bear a Burden of Proof?"

Excellent site.

I am convinced that at the heart of all mystical belief systems is a grinding ignorance of the principles of ordinary math (or arithmetic, if you will). It's sad that many who believe in numerology have no "faith" in the way real numbers work in their daily lives. Coincidences, patterns, odd occurrences, prophecies (nought but guesses), and a host of other events of a similar nature, are grossly personalized and given a credence they don't deserve. This "innumeracy", as mathematician John Allan Paulos labels it, is also at the heart of people's belief in such things as luck, dream interpretation, and the conviction that they are somehow special (or, worse yet, that others are special, i.e. psychics, gurus, and the like). Scientific illiteracy shares this position. Linguistic naivety is, of course, right in there adding to the mix. Ignorance, more than the love of money, is at the root of all evil.

Cordially.

Mikhail Bakunin Bakunin@WebTv.Net
Bend , or USA - Friday, June 18, 1999 at 17:11:58 (MDT)


"What Third Day Prophesy?" by Farrell Till

In response to the article, I'd like to suggest that Till look up Isaiah Chapter 52:13-15 and Isaiah Chapter 53 for a Third Day Prophecy. One can't find any reference to this in Psalms, especially those verses, because much of the prophesy about Jesus' coming is in Isaiah. I would be more into this secularism if there was any REALLY convincing evidence for it that the Bible cannot disprove. Thank you. Have a nice day!

Cameron Kennedy fwish23@yahoo.com
USA - Saturday, June 26, 1999 at 19:32:43 (MDT)

Farrell Till Responds:

I'd like to invite Mr. Kennedy to join my Errancy list and defend his position that Isaiah prophesied of a third-day resurrection of the Messiah. I extend this invitation, because private correspondence on a subject like this would take hours. If I am going to invest that much time in it, I would want as many people as possible to read our exchanges. If he is willing to accept my invitation, all he has to do is notify me, and I will add him to the list so that he will begin receiving postings, at which time he can present his arguments for the third-day prophecy.

Furthermore, I would challenge him to try to prove that the "suffering-servant" passages that he cited in Isaiah were even referring to Jesus. I've debated this subject on the internet many times, and the biblicists always wind up running away. I predict that Kennedy will not accept this challenge, but I hope he will.


Acts of God: Farrel Till's "God, Captain Scott O'Grady, and the Atlanta Braves"

Just a short question. How does anyone explain an "act of God"? That is probably why the statement was not questioned. You see it's a question of faith. You have yours. People who believe in God have theirs.

Guy Salazar phousended@msn.com
den, co USA - Sunday, June 13, 1999 at 08:25:00 (MDT)


That Old Christian Sense of Humor: Rob Berry's "Life In Our Anti-Christian America"

I'm a Christian, and proud of it. Now in the Pledge of Allegiance it says,"and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, 'under God'". See retards it says under 'God', God, it says God!! Okay. I know one of the freedoms is freedom of religion but Atheism isn't a religion, it's a belief, it doesn't mean jack! Atheism sucks and all those Atheist will be burning in Hell when you die because your so egotistical that there is no God. THERE IS A GOD!! There's proof that some Atheists have gone to Hell. There is also proff that Christians have gone to Heaven. So ha. Have fun burning in Hell, losers!

John Wiehe wolfie086@hotmail.com
Columbia, MO USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 15:25:44 (MDT)

Rob Berry responds:

Dude, you need to lay off the Fen/Phen for awhile.


The "Error" of Balaam (by Farrell Till)

I am writing in response to your comment about balaam. I humbly disagree with your logic. I just want to say that you are completely without understanding to be writing about balaam, a man who loved the wages of unrighteousness. Your article clearly shows that you don't even know the basis of the things for which you speak, and I would appreciate it-- as would other Christians-- if you would keep the subjects of what you write about limited to those things which you do understand. I am tired of authors and philosophers and other people who only open The Bible in order that they may criticize or judge God's Holy Word. If any man disagrees with The Word of God, it is because that man is ignorant and knows nothing. God's Word is Truth and endures Forever.

Cordially,
Jason Shick
Servant of Jesus Christ
jashick@webtv.net
USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 01:46:30 (MDT)


The Jury Is In: Chapter 1

I read the introduction to "The Jury Is In" a rebuttal to Josh McDowell's "Evidence That Demands A Verdict" and thought it to be well-written, intelligent and purposeful.

I continued on to chapter 1: The uniqueness of the Bible. When I got to the first rebuttal, I had to stop and wonder what happened to the clear, reasoned thought behind the introduction. Here is the first unsupported statement which caused me to stop reading:

The greater part of the canon of the New Testament was settled during the first two centuries among very diverse congregations scattered over a wide area. These documents were not authoritative because the pronouncement was made about the canon; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together.

[Lee Strobel, "The Case for Christ", Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, pp. 66-69.]

Robert Dorais RobertD@Switchboardmail.com
Cypress, CA USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 00:10:41 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

It is common knowledge among scholars that the four gospels were selected by Tatian around 160 AD, who used the texts of his own local congregation in Syria. Irenaeus followed his selection and added the letters and Acts around 180 AD. The choices made by these two men were followed by all succeeding councils. Thus, the canon was settled by two men, one of whom was simply following the other and expanding on his work. This hardly qualifies as "diverse congregations scattered over a wide area." And the fact was that at the time these men were choosing the orthodoxy, numerous other gospels and works were in circulation. The church deemed all of these heretical, and supported the decisions of its two bishops, Tatian and Irenaeus. Thus, it is not quite true that each of the canonical books were authoritative "before anyone gathered them together." They only became authoritative--that is, the church only saw fit to deem other books heretical--after they were collected by Tatian and Irenaeus [see any good reference work on these two men and on the canon, and entries for Marcion for an enlightening example of a "heretic" in 140 AD; e.g. The Oxford Dictionary of the Bible, Jackson & Lake's The Beginnings of Christianity, or even the Encyclopedia Britannica]

You should be extremely skeptical of Strobel's work--he is a journalist in the truest modern tradition: biased to the core and never ashamed to fail to present both sides of a story. He interviews no skeptics or non-Christian scholars in his book, and often omits contrary evidence to the claims of the Christians that he does interview. You would never, I am sure, trust a journalist who did this on any other news story--and you certainly have seen that most journalists do this and are thus not to be trusted. So you should never quote Strobel--you should investigate his sources and quote them directly, after investigating the appropriate critics. This is what scholarship requires.


More on the Jury

Gentlemen,

I have read with interest the exchange between Jeffrey Jay Lowder and James Patrick Holding over Josh McDowell's book Evidence That Demands A Verdict . I think I see the problem: Holding sees McDowell's book as a fairly well stocked toolbox including a few basic instructions on how those tools could be used to fix a car. Having read the book I, and I believe McDowell, would agree. Lowder insists that that's the same as McDowell actually sending around a mechanic. While it is true that in either case the car will get worked on, the two are not equivalent, and Lowder's failure to recognize the distinction casts a well earned (since he went to so MUCH trouble and LENGTH to defend his position) pall of doubt over his cognitive abilities. Sadly, it's much the same kind of fuzzy-what-passes-for-reasoning that permeates most what-passes-for-Biblical-criticism, liberally interspersed with almost pure blather. If any of you are going to persuade me, well, you'll have to do MUCH better. Of course, if you do that, the Truth will make Himself evident to you and you will thereby be obligated to "switch sides." I will pray for just that.

Sincerely,

Jerry C. Lloyd jerry.c.lloyd@aerojet.com
Fair Oaks, CA USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 10:01:32 (MDT)


A reader wrote in challenging Holding's claim to read 30 books a week (in our May Feedback , under "The Jury Is In"). In principle that's fine, but I have a qualm with the assumption that Holding's reading speed can be presumed to be (with a benefit of the doubt) at about 300 wpm, the rate of a 'good college reader' (Actually, ~240 wpm is the average for the general populace, if memory serves). On this assumption, it would take Holding 83 hours per week to read thirty books.

But it would hardly be off the charts to challenge the assumption that Holding would read at <' 300wpm. Those who have seen Howard Berg's infomercial should be able to relate that Holding's claim is hardly out of orbit. Berg's top comprehension speed is about 25,000 wpm. This calculates to about thirty 180-page books in about *an hour*. I find it not incredible that Holding could read thirty books or so a week. It is not rare for those in speed-reading classes to transcend over 1,000 wpm.

To understand the import of this, if Holding's reading rate were, say, 600wpm (totally believable for a librarian with an interest in theology/NT literature), it would not take 83 hours per week, as claimed, to read thirty books, but only about 42. That would be over forty extra hours tacked on the presumed schedule.

It's okay to challenge claims, but I think the certainty that was given is perhaps unwarranted or at least hasty. In certainty, it was a bit too ad hoc to eliminate the alternatives. Note my arguments are not ad hoc. You don't have to be an adherent to a particular philosophy to believe the simple empirical claims given above.

Adios

Ryan C. Renn Ragu1997@aol.com
Sellersburg, IN USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 00:09:28 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

The first thing to be cleared up is that J.P. Holding has pointed out to me (via personal communication) that the only place where he makes such a claim is in an obviously hyperbolic bit of sarcasm (you can judge this for yourself, see http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/lynks.html). He did not mean it literally. To be fair there is no way Renn could have known this. Holding did tell me that he reads about 300 books per year, which is far from impossible.

But it is worth discussing Renn's arguments, since this is a useful example of how we should deploy our skepticism. Berg's claims have rightly been challenged--they have certainly never been proven. As Renn said in a private communication, it was perhaps overshooting a bit to rely on such a claim, and he agrees that "reading" is an ambiguous word--he didn't mean to imply that someone could read at 25,000 wpm with full comprehension. By all objective tests so far, speed-reading only accomplishes skimming, not true comprehension. No matter what, however, we must agree that an infomercial sales pitch is the worst kind of "empirical claim" to base any argument on. Indeed, recently Brill's Content (June 1999, pp. 96-101) specifically tested Berg's claims regarding what his product would do for the rest of us, and also found numerous lies and deceptive practices in Kevin Trudeau's infomercials which sell Berg's product, mentioning investigations of several others in the industry as well. This is a shady business which cannot be trusted to give us the truth about anything, much less how fast people can read.

In particular, journalist and copy-editor Katherine Rosman, for whom "learning to read faster is almost a professional imperative," took Berg's "speed reading" course which claimed a 25,000 wpm result, and her rate did not improve at all after taking the whole course. It remained at 420 wpm. If anyone can cite a scientific study showing the existence of any faster reading rates, with full comprehension, I would like to have those references--as it is, Rosman's 420 wpm is the fastest reading rate I have personally ever heard of.

But the other assumptions here, tacitly accepted by both parties, are off base. A 180 page book is an extreme rarity--most books exceed 200 pages, and indeed most scholarly books, except very specialized monographs, fall between 300 and 500 pages. Take, for instance, Ravi Zacharias' Can Man Live Without God, one of the the shortest adult prose books in my entire library of over 1000 titles: it numbers 212 pages (and I'm not even counting the eleven-page preface), with an average of 400 words per page, which is fairly typical, for a total of 84,800 words. If someone were to read 30 such books, that would amount to 2,544,000 words, and even at the 600 rpm rate of Renn's dream librarian, that would take over 70 hours, and at the more realistic rate of Brill's copy editor, over 100 hours. So I think it is certainly fair to at least challenge anyone who claims to read "30 books a week." Such a reading rate would require extraordinary gifts, and it is justifiable to be very suspicious of anyone who boasts such a thing. Of course, as I noted at the outset, J.P. Holding has not 'really' made such a claim.


Several months ago [January, 1999] I sent you some feedback regarding Christian apologetics based on your excellant response to Josh McDowell's ETDAV [Evidence that Demands a Verdict]. Briefly, I had asked you why there is so little discussed about Jesus' seventeen missing years, and if you had ever heard of Holger Kersten, and Professor Fidi Hassnain. You replied no. You thought my question was very interesting.

I received an email from a gentleman with a similar background as myself: Reformed Presbyterian Theology (however, I no longer believe in "biblical infallibility"). The gentleman was very curious, as I suppose you were, as to how, or why, would seventeen missing years of Jesus' life be of any importance. I am absolutely astounded as to why so few apologists and "Christian intolerance" don't at least see the potential restructuring of all Western Christian theology and doctrine, when there is sufficient compelling evidence that Jesus was learning everything he eventually became upon his return to Jerusalem at the age of thirty. For me, the question is simple:

If Jesus was already the embodiment of the 'Son of God' at the age of twelve, then how is it possible for a person of that stature to VANISH completely from history for 17 years?

This quickly raises a profound second question:

If Jesus was NOT yet the 'Son of God', then where did he BECOME the 'Son of God', and how?

In my almost ten years of research in this subject, there is noticeably more evidence to the contrary of what Christian apologists/experts state Jesus was doing during those seventeen years, than there is for their evidence.

Perhaps this answers briefly your curiousity. I welcome your feedback on the subject.

Dwain A. Miller dajmiller@compaq.net
Dallas, TX USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 11:06:05 (MDT)

Jeffery Jay Lowder responds:

You raise an interesting question. As you ask, if Jesus really was the Son of God, why is a full 17 years of his life completely missing from the New Testament record? I can think of a number of ways in which a Christian might respond, but I don't want to put words in the mouths of Christian apologists. I suppose the force of your objection, if it is indeed intended to be an objection to the doctrine of the Incarnation, depends on how likely it is that we would have a complete biography of Jesus if Jesus was God Incarnate. I am not sure that we would have a complete biography of Jesus, if Jesus was God Incarnate. I would need to read your reasons for believing that before commenting further. However, even if that objection ultimately fails, the burden of proof still falls squarely on the Christian to provide good reasons for believing that the Incarnation is true.

Jeffery Jay Lowder
Internet Infidel -- http://www.infidels.org/
"We have nothing to fear and everything to gain, from the honest pursuit of truth." George H. Smith


Donald Morgan's "Bible Absurdities"

Remove genesis 8:20 from the absurdities list. They sacrificed one of each clean animal--they brought 7 pairs [Gen. 7:2] of each clean animal onto the arc.

Lord Spurius spurius@earthling.net
USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 05:13:01 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

The text of Morgan's paper states simply that "Noah's first recorded action following the flood is to sacrifice one of every clean animal and bird. (Considering that only a pair of each may have been aboard the Ark, this is rather wasteful and defeating.)" The key word is 'may' and Morgan is assuming that the present Genesis story is a construct of two separate traditions, and that 7:2 belongs to a different tradition than 8:20. In other words, there "may" be a contradiction within one of the two original flood stories, and so there "may" have been only one pair of each of the animals Noah sacrificed, which would be, according to Morgan, absurd.

Morgan and I debated this at length and I am not convinced that this is a worthy argument. If our question is what absurdities exist in the bible as we have it then there were seven pairs of the animals Noah sacrificed, since 7:2 specifically says there were seven pairs of the 'clean' animals, and 8:20 specifically states that Noah sacrificed 'some' of these 'clean' animals, and this would not be as absurd as if there were only two of each of these animals. At the very least, as a scholar, I believe Morgan should mention 7:2 and why he thinks it should be dismissed in the case of 8:20 (such as in light of 7:9). But whether there was ever a story in which there was only a pair of each of the animals that Noah sacrificed is an unanswerable question--for even if the flood story as we have it is a conflation of two others (which I agree is likely), we do not know what those two other stories said in their entirety. All we have are the excerpts that the conflator chose to stitch together into the extant text.

Morgan refers to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (as well as other commentators) which states that the preistly tradition of the Flood story mentions two animals of every sort whereas the early tradition differentiates between clean (7 pairs) and unclean animals (2 pairs), as well as birds (7 pairs). The priestly tradition is allegedly reflected in GE 7:9 (where two by two is mentioned), whereas the verses from GE 8 are otherwise a continuation of the early tradition. "Thus there is," Morgan argues, "a discrepancy here."

This is my profession. As an ancient historian, I study ancient texts and their transmission and I know there is simply no way for anyone to know that the "priestly tradition" did not mention the seven pairs, since we do not have the full priestly story, only the excerpts that were included in the transmitted text. It does not seem appropriate to claim that an absurdity that "may" be in a lost "priestly story" is the same thing as an actual absurdity in the Bible. This is all the more so when we consider the ambiguity of the language. 7:9 says simply that all the animals "were brought two and two" into the arc--which grammatically (in the Greek and Hebrew) can mean two each or two at a time. To assume that "two each" is meant requires making assumptions about the context of the priestly story that no longer exists, and that is never an accepted practice in my profession unless there are genuinely good reasons for it.

In my opinion Morgan needs to make a case for his statement, rather than assuming that using the word "may" will get him off the hook. Unfortunately, Don is overseas at present. I have offered to give him space to argue his position in a future feedback month [see our July feedback to be published on August 15].


I completely agree with much of the invalidity of the bible, but I disagree with your atheistic veiwpoint. The reason the bible is falsifiable is because it was written by human beings that may or may not have been inspired by God. The truth in organized religion is in the Holy Quran because it does not contradict itself, is nondiscriminatory to its followers, and is the direct words of God. Now, I do not disagree with your Darwinian viewpoint, but I am convinced that evolution is a result of God, not chance. I completely understand that you kind of run into a slippery slope, but it is necessary in order to have some kind of creator. The best reason though to believe in God is to protect your own soul. In any organized religion, the first ones to burn in hell are the disbelievers. Until organized religion is completely falsified, which is impossible to do because it is based on faith and in the case of Islam reason, it would behoove you to believe in God. The only God that recognizes all humans and is not selective is the God presented in the Holy Quran.

Mazen Saab watsup@cw-f1.umd.umich.edu

Dearborn Heights, MI USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 13:04:03 (MDT)

Donald Morgan replies:

If the Bible is not inspired by God (and I do not believe in a god nor that the Bible--or any other holy book --was inspired by a god), then it is just another book, a book which must stand or fall on its own merits. The same is true of any other holy book. That a book [like the Quran] did not contradict itself would mean only that it did not contradict itself; this would say nothing necessarily about the validity of what was put forth in that book. The same is true of a book which might be "nondiscriminatory to its followers." The claim that a holy book represents the direct words of a god is not unique with regard to the Quran. For example, the claim is also made by Christian fundamentalists regarding the Bible and by Mormons regarding the book of Mormon. These claims can neither be proved nor falsified inasmuch as it cannot be proved or falsified that a god does, in fact, exist.

What you or I might be convinced of is more or less irrelevant. What really matters is what is. And with regard to our origins, my personal opinion is that we know very little about our origins and likely will never completely solve the puzzle. Myself, I am agnostic with regard to all theories of our origins. [But] it isn't necessary to have a creator. The belief in any given creator seems to make no difference in the matters of the world.

"The best reason though to believe in God is to protect your own soul" is a non sequitur, an example of begging the question. It has yet to be demonstrated that there exists a soul, that it can be "protected," that there exists a god, and that belief in the right god will protect the soul. It's dangerous to assert what is always the case or what doesn't exist inasmuch as both statements require complete knowledge with regard to what is asserted. The fact is that belief in hell is specific to only some organized religions. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in hell as the place to which the damned are consigned after the Judgement. While I'm not an expert on all religions, I think that you will find that Jainism involves neither a belief in a personal creator god nor in a hell. Although there is wide variation within the general framework of Hinduism, I believe that Hindus generally do not believe in a hell. So far as I know, there is no hell in Confucianism, Shinto, Sikhism, Bahaism, Taoism, or ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). Unitarian Universalists do not generally believe in a hell.

Any revealed religion must necessarily involve faith. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are revealed religions and therefore involve faith in what is essentially hearsay passed down by others regarding what was allegedly revealed by a god. As far as I am concerned, there is no more reason to believe that it would behoove me to believe in a god than there is to believe that it would behoove you to discard your belief in a god. My opinion is that there is less reason to believe that the god of Islam does exist than there is to believe that this god does not exist. Therefore, I feel that this god is unworthy of my belief, your belief, or anyone else's belief.


Introduction to the Bible and Biblical Problems (by Donald Morgan)

Cool.

Toney Tigretigre@hotmail.com
Arcadia, CA (USA) - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 02:20:16 (MDT)


Donald Morgan's "Bible Inconsistencies"

Dear friends,

I am in debate with a critic of Christianity who has pointed out that parts of the Bible are copied from other parts. The charge of plagiarism is being leveled against the Word of God here. Some examples of the examples this person is using are Heb 8:8-12---Jer 31:31-34; Matt 13:13/Mark 4:12---Isa 6:9-10; Heb 3:7-11---Ps 95:7-11; Matt 10:35-36---Micah 7:6; 2 Kng 18-20 is actually copied from Isa 36-39 and Mic 4:1-3 is copied from Isa 2:2-4; Rom 3:13-18---Ps 5:9/140:3/ 10:7/ Isa 59:7-8/ Ps 36:1) Gospels of Matthew and Luke copied a large amount from Mark (of Mark's 661 verses, Matthew copied over 600 and Luke copied over 330)?

How would you suggest I answer this critic? And what makes the biblical writers different from modern day plagiarists? If you could please suggest answers to these criticisms I would be most grateful indeed. But could you please use documentation of any sources you cite. Thanks. Also, could you suggest any other good Christian web sites which may deal with this issue? If you could help in any of the above ways I would be most grateful.

Vince Blamba blamba222@yahoo.com
birkenhead, england - Tuesday, June 22, 1999 at 15:58:38 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

I don't know why you are asking us this. It is pretty obvious that intrabiblical plagiarism is rife throughout the Old and New Testaments. But it is not like the bible authors were stealing income from each other in an age before mass publishing, and as Donald Morgan replies, "During the era in which the New Testament documents were being written, it was allegedly considered to be a complement to the original author to copy parts of his work in one's own work."

As an historian of ancient history, I would add to this that in scholarly works it was only a complement if you actually named the author you were quoting. But it was common to copy or paraphrase without naming the source--ancient authors very often worked from memory anyway, and would modify what they quoted to suit their own view of things, combining the reports of many authors in a fast-and-loose manner, and quickly losing track of who they were using as a source in the first place. However, sacred literature was more like poetry than scholarship, so that it was typical to quote it without sourcing on the assumption that the audience would know the source upon hearing it. It was also possible to distort scripture (or a poet's verse) by quoting something that only "sounded" right, since most people would not bother to double-check a written text, or being illiterate, could not have done so even if they wanted to.

Morgan also adds, "It should also be kept in mind that it is unlikely that any of the Gospel authors actually knew any other Gospel author (except that the Gospel of 'Mark' was likely known by the other authors). It is highly unlikely that any of the Gospel authors could have conceived of a Bible where his work would appear together with the work of others." He recommends Jesus--An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant, and A Historical Introduction to the New Testament by Robert Grant.

You can always explore our site for essays mentioning specific verses, and then do the same at various Christian apologetics sites. For the New Testament, what you want to explore is called the Synoptic Problem. But literary borrowing from one bible author to another in the Old Testament has no unified subject heading, and you are more likely to find works that discuss borrowing from extra-biblical sources.


Regarding your "BIBLICAL INCONSISTENCIES" - Compiled by Donald Morgan, I respectfully submit the following comment:

[Editorial note: far from a "comment," Mr.Vincent's feedback consisted of over 1700 words. It was forwarded in its entirety to Mr. Morgan, who responded in kind directly to Mr. Vincent and to us. In the interests of space I have cut both their messages to a manageable size.]

Although Mr. Morgan has done a good job of pointing out many seeming inconsistencies in the Bible, his work displays 1) a lack of basic understanding of the major doctrines of the Bible, 2) an ignorance of the general storytelling methods and literary devices employed by many of the Bible's writers, 3) a limited knowledge of scriptures pertinent to his own arguments, and 4) faulty scholarship which results in numerous erroneous conclusions.

The following is an example of each of these:

1). "a lack of understanding" -- he writes [on contradictions about who is righteous] but God imputes righteousness to those who have placed their faith in Him. It is true that no one is righteous based upon their own good works or worthiness (thus all are condemned to death), but God considers true believers to be righteous because He has justified them (made them righteous in His sight) for placing their faith in the atoning, redeeming sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ.

2). "ignorance of the storytelling methods" -- he writes [about contradictions in the creation accounts] but often in Scripture, and particularly in accounts written by Moses (such as Genesis), the writer gives an overview of events (such as...in Genesis 1:11-12, 26-27), then the writer will go back into those events and expand on one or more aspects of the account (such as...in Genesis 2:4-9).

In Mr. Morgan's Genesis 2:4-9 reference, the fact that no shrub or plant of the field was yet sprouted is accompanied by the fact that man was not yet created. Both facts are given in relation to rain having not yet fallen on the earth and the fact that a mist rose up from the earth prior to the creation of plants and man. These facts are not given to explain the order of creation,...which were already given in Genesis 1. Genesis 2:7 begins the account of man's creation. Genesis 2:8 gives the account of a garden being planted by the Lord after man's creation. This does not mean that no plants existed prior to man's creation, only that a garden was planted and that man was placed in it. Genesis 2:9 further supports this by stating that these plants were in the garden...[so] they are additional plants....

3). "a limited knowledge of scriptures" -- he writes [on childbirth as a sin] but not only is childbearing not a sin, it was necessary for the redemption of mankind. Eve was deceived and fell into sin by taking of the forbidden fruit. Adam (who is a foretype of Christ) condescended to her fallen state by also eating of the fruit, though he was not deceived. Rather, he voluntarily ate of the fruit, out of love for her, knowing it would condemn him to death. By doing so, however, he was placing himself in the position to produce offspring with her. These offspring ultimately produced the Savior Messiah, Jesus Christ, by whom all who believe in Him are saved. Adam was modeling the work that Christ would ultimately perform for mankind....

Finally, ceremonial uncleanness was not a sin, neither were the ceremonially unclean condemned to death. They were simply unsuitable for service to the Lord during the time of their uncleanness. Had Eve never taken of the forbidden fruit, Adam would not have had to join her in that sin to produce offspring (resulting in the Savior by whom Eve and all true believers would be saved). Mr. Morgan's limited knowledge of the Bible has resulted in his overlooking Scriptures which undermine the arguments he is making. The Bible must be taken in it's entirety and understood as a whole. By taking verses out of context Mr. Morgan can well produce a false meaning.... 4). "faulty scholarship" -- he writes [on whether God hates himself for sowing discord] but a quick reading of the references shows that in the Genesis 11:7-9 passage, God confuses the languages of the people at Babel. This is not discord, this is confusion. Microsoft Bookshelf 98 states that discord is tension, dissension and strife resulting from disagreement. Webster's states that discord is dissension and conflict resulting from disagreement. The opposite of discord is concord which means to agree by stipulation, covenant or treaty. The word Mr. Morgan's reference renders as discord in his Proverbs 6:16-19 reference is the Hebrew word Ndm, pronounced "med-awn" which means strife or contention. Clearly, Mr. Morgan's faulty scholarship has resulted in an erroneous conclusion.

I would also point out that the Bible version used by Mr. Morgan, the New International Version (NIV), is not a word for word translation of the Bible, but rather, it is more of a thought for thought, dynamic equivalent. As such, it assumes much about the Bible writer's original intent and, in effect, becomes more of a commentary than a translation. Much more reliable translations would be the 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Bible, the New King James (NKJV) or the more modern New American Standard (NASB). All three of which are widely considered to be much more accurate and more of word for word translations than the New International version (NIV).

I sincerely appreciate Mr. Morgan's effort. Knowledgeable Christians always welcome such scrutiny of the Scriptures, for our faith is placed in them. We are pleased to, in an attitude of love and gentleness, explain the Scriptures and correct all who question their accuracy, authority, consistency and truth (2 Timothy 2:24, 3:16, 4:2)

Mr. Morgan cannot be faulted in his effort. Neither can he be blamed for his error. Rather he is to be commended, firstly for demanding an explanation of the seeming inconsistencies in the Scriptures, and secondly, for providing me the opportunity to give intelligent instruction in God's Word. He is not a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and cannot discern the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss Mr. Morgan's "Biblical Inconsistencies" with Mr. Morgan himself or with anyone else. I can be reached via email at NVincent@WT.net. True seekers of truth will want to see my response and can decide for themselves the merits of our respective arguments.

In Christ,

Noel R. Vincent NVincent@WT.net
Houston, TX USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 11:47:22 (MDT)

Donald Morgan replies:

It is a fairly common practice of Bible apologists to claim that Bible critics are lacking in the necessary knowledge and/or understanding required to make valid their criticisms of the Bible....[but] it has been my experience that the majority of Bible apologists seem to be much more concerned with supporting the Bible--and doing so at any cost--than they are with honest, accurate scholarship...[and] very few Christians have demonstrated [to me] that they have more than a very basic understanding of what the Bible is, how it came to be, the background and influences of the era in which the various books were written, etc.

Something about my background: I was once a born-again, Bible-believing, rather fundamentalist Christian. I served on the Board of Elders of a [church]. I was personally discipled by my pastor, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary--one of the best seminaries in the country. I was elected by the Board of Elders of that church to serve as Chairman of the Christian Education Committee. I spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, and even years, studying the Bible and reading what Christian apologists and educators had to say. As I began to see some problems, I decided I would look into the other side of the story. Over a period of years, I amassed a library of about 450 books on the subject of Christianity, the Bible, religion, agnosticism, atheism, and related subjects. Of those, I have read all but a few.

[But] what matters most is not who is or isn't best-qualified, but rather whether the criticisms do or do not have merit. And the plain and simple truth is that [my arguments] have merit if for no other reason than that a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient and loving god could have, should have, and would have done a better job of it, were he/she/it to have had anything to do with the inspiration of a "Holy Bible." They also have merit for the reason that other better qualified and more knowledgeable individuals have made many of the same criticisms.

1) Those who were made righteous during the Old Testament (OT) era could not have been made righteous by having placed "their faith in the atoning, redeeming sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ" [as] this alleged plan for achieving righteousness in the eyes of God had not yet been put into practice. Nothing that isn't there should be read into the plain meaning of the words of the text, and Bible translators choose their words carefully. The Bible God, in his alleged omniscience, would know, ahead of time, how the words of the Bible were going to be translated by those Bible translators. Therefore, the Bible God could have, should have, and would have known ahead of time that there would be a problem with saying in one place that no one is righteous and in another place that some were.

2) Bible scholars now generally recognize that none of the first five books of the Bible are likely the work of any one author, let alone Moses. Genesis shows clear evidence of multiple authorship. There are two, different Creation stories which have been clumsily conflated into one in Genesis. The [older] of the two stories is the second appearing in Genesis. The [newer] story is related from GE 1:1 through GE 2:3. The [older] story begins at GE 2:4. There is an obvious difference in the vocabulary used by these two: in the King James Version (KJV), the word "God" is used to translate the Hebrew [word used] in the verses from GE 1:1 through GE 2:3, whereas "Lord God" is used to translate the [different] Hebrew [word used] in the story which begins at GE 2:4. That these two stories conflict in detail was the subject of an entire book, The Two Creation Stories in Genesis by James S. Forrester-Brown, (Shambhala, Berkeley, California, 1974). The two conflicting creation stories, as well as two, conflicting Flood stories, is [an accepted fact among] Bible scholars (including many Christian scholars).

3) There is no record in the Bible of Eve having received the prohibition that Adam is alleged to have, regarding the Forbidden Fruit. That Adam was intended to represent a "foretype" of Christ is a teaching of Christianity that cannot be proved true or false. Also, there is no mention in the Bible of the love which Mr. Vincent alleges was felt by Adam. In fact, unless my Bible software is malfunctioning, there is no mention of the word "love" prior to GE 22:2 or 27:4 (depending on which Bible translation one uses). And what Adam allegedly knew cannot be stated with certainty. Keep in mind, too, that "the Savior Messiah" that Noel Vincent puts his faith in is not universally believed to be "the Savior Messiah" even by those who consider the Bible, or parts of it, the Word of God.

4) I also use MS Bookshelf. My MS Bookshelf includes a definition which seems to have been left out in what Noel Vincent supplied:

and also:

[The Hebrew] is rendered "discord" by Bible translators [I use more than a dozen different translations, not just the NIV as he assumes], and I place more trust in their rendering than I do in either mine or that of Noel Vincent. Mr. Vincent is suggesting that he knows better than the Bible translators do, exactly what was meant by the word which they themselves translate as "discord" in the King James Version (KJV), the American Standard Version (ASV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and various others (the word in PR 6:4 and 6:19 is translated as "discord" even by those translations which Noel Vincent mentions as being superior). And if Mr. Vincent wishes to maintain that making the language of one people unintelligible to that of another does not constitute sowing discord, so be it.

While I have, in fact, discovered--and corrected--minor errors in my work, Mr. Vincent has not succeeded in proving that I have made an error. I would like to remind Noel Vincent that, according to the Bible, God himself purposefully gave out bad laws (EZ 20:25). So God cannot be trusted. And Jesus is alleged to have said that a believer can drink poison without experiencing any harm whatsoever (MK 16:17-18). Over and over, this has proven to be false. The Bible cannot be trusted. It cannot be the word of a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, and loving god. Such a god could have, should have, and would have done a better job of it were he/she/it to have anything to do with the writing of a book.


Re: Bible inconsistencies page

Thanks for all the hard work. Having been a believing Christian for some years, I now find myself having some real struggles with the barbarity of the Old Testament. Your site is very useful as you have done a great deal of preliminary work for me as I search to discover that a good God would not order such atrocities.

But I would like to say that some of your assumptions are just as disingenuous as those made by my fellow Christians who willfully ignore the problems. An example is where God tells Adam that if he eats the fruit he will "surely die". Your comments state that God's threat was that Adam would die that very day, and that is not so. It could be taken that way, but it is more reasonable to read no time factor in the threat.

I'm not trying to "attack" your site. Really. It's just that when I see you stretching to find an inconsistency, I must suspect all of the other entries as well.

By the way, I also tell my fellow Christians that when they exaggerate they too sacrifice credibility.

Regards,
Patrick Reeves pmr@mojaveweb.com

Victorville, CA USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 07:20:14 (MDT)

Donald Morgan replies:

Thank you for your feedback. I certainly agree with you that if I were to engage in obvious exaggeration, it would hurt my credibility. On the other hand, none of my assumptions with regard to the inconsistencies that I find in the Bible are intended not to be straightforward or candid, or crafty--which is, after all, the meaning of "disingenuous."

With reference to the specific criticism that you mention regarding the inconsistency between GE 2:17 and GE 5:5 pertaining to Adam and the fact that he allegedly lived 930 years after God had allegedly warned him that he would die in the day that he ate of the Forbidden Fruit, I would like to make the following points:

1.) One of the principles of Bible exegesis is that we should not read into the text what isn't there.

GE 2.17 states: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

GE 5.5 states: "And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died."

2.) The verses in question are clearly inconsistent if taken to mean what they usually mean. Therefore, any possible explanation which would do away with this inconsistency involves reading into the verses what isn't there.

3.) Although it is true that "die" in GE 2.17 might possibly be taken in a figurative, rather than a literal, sense, the fact is that in the second verse, GE 5.5, it is quite obvious that "he died" is meant in a literal sense. Inasmuch as it is exactly the same Hebrew word (mooth) which is used in both GE 2.17 and GE 5.5, there is no reason to believe that a figurative meaning was intended in the first instance whereas a literal meaning was intended in the second instance.

4.) With regard to the meaning of the word "years" in connection with the length of time that Adam allegedly lived: The verses from GE 5.3 through GE 5.32 purport to tell us about Adam and his descendants, i.e., how old they were when they became fathers and how old they were when they died, and the same Hebrew word (shaneh) is used to mean "years" throughout all of these verses. Furthermore, exactly the same Hebrew word is used in hundreds of other verses throughout the Old Testament, many of which clearly mean a length of time equivalent to what we mean by the word "year." Thus, if the the intended meaning in GE 5.5 is an indefinite period of time, it is certainly not obvious. In addition, a figurative use of the word in these verses would render meaningless the information that we are given with regard to Adam and his descendants.

5.) In addition, the words which are used in both GE 2.17 and GE 5.5 have very clear meanings in the minds of most readers. That these words might not have been intended to imply those same, clear meanings seems to me to require a credulity that is not warranted based on the evidence that we have.

As Harper's Bible Dictionary (Harper & Row Publishers, p. 6, Adam) says: "There are apparently three distinct and quite different accounts of the life of Adam. Gen. 1:1-2:3; 2:4-4:26; 5:1-9:29 ...." In other words, we have three, different accounts by three, different authors concerning three, different periods in the alleged life of Adam. That they are inconsistent is glaringly apparent to me.


No Room for a God in a Universe Teeming with Life?

No Room for a God in a Universe Teeming with Life? I can except differing beliefs but that does not excuse the lack of education [for] determining truth. Science is the tool to find truth. Science does not have the liberty to make false assumptions. It does not have ready-made answers such as Genesis...Everything we have is the result of science. Before there was a Universe, of what was god made? What forces united to create a first cause? Thinking creation? There is no empty space that goes on forever. Space is created by the hot big bang and only resides in it's expansion. As to Einstein he clearly states he was an atheist in his letters to Ensign Guy H. Ranor on July 2nd. 1945. Mr. Caldwell and others who e-mail this site with such hate only show their complete lack of faith in their belief, demonstrated by ugly rhetoric.

Larry Johnson loghome@yournet.com
USA - Wednesday, June 09, 1999 at 09:28:23 (MDT)


The Religion of Hitler

Dear Friends...In murphy's law on Hitler there is a quote from M. Luther about "hanging the jews"....I would like to know the source, please, if possible. Thank you, I enjoyed all of Murphy's Laws...

Eldon J. Green egreen@best1.net
Santa maria, ca USA - Wednesday, June 09, 1999 at 08:35:03 (MDT)


Does anyone know, A) whether it is true that some of Hitler's military personnel (SS troops?) really wore a belt buckle with "Gott mit uns" - God with us - on it, and B) where I might find a photo of this buckle? Thanks.

Temy R. Beal temybeal@earthlink.net
Ariton, AL USA - Tuesday, June 08, 1999 at 09:57:17 (MDT)

John Murphy replies:

Thank you for the inquiry and the compliment. Martin Luther's quote came from his own pen, in his Table Talk. Other anti-quotations of Luther can be found in The Great Thoughts and The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes. Both are in print and published by Ballentine and the Citadel Press. And the German troops did indeed wear such a belt buckle (not just the SS). You can see one yourself, in an image provided by Steven Carr, which he acquired from a source where you can even buy one: Belt Buckle, German Army, 1937.

The Editor weighs in:

There is another website you will find very interesting: The Christian Horror Picture Show -The Nazi Era. It is also worth quoting the 24th principle of the Nazi Party, from the infamous Twenty Five Points (1920): "We demand the freedom of religion in the Reich so long as they do not endanger the position of the state or adversely affect the moral standards of the German race. As such the Party represents a positively Christian position without binding itself to one particular faith. The Party opposes the materialistic Jewish spirit within and beyond us and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our people can only be achieved on the basis of common good before personal gain."

Also, from the 1933 Nazi Concordat with the Catholic Church: "Article 21. Catholic religious instruction in elementary, senior, secondary and vocational schools constitutes a regular portion of the curriculum, and is to be taught in accordance with the principles of the Catholic Church. In religious instruction, special care will be taken to inculcate patriotic, civic and social consciousness and sense of duty in the spirit of the Christian Faith and the moral code, precisely as in the case of other subjects." Certainly, Nazism was no kind of atheism.


Peter Atkins' Review of Darwin's Black Box

In reply to Robert Cummings' criticism in our April feedback (under "Peter Atkins' Review"): Dear Mr. Cummings,

This is in response to your posting on Internet Infidels. I am a biomedical scientist working on blood coagulation (for my credentials you might like to search PubMed under tuddenham-eg ) with the small claim to fame of working on the cloning of factor VIII [you may visit their website to confirm this--editor].

Now Behe's argument is that some systems of cellular and extracellular biochemistry are irreducibly complex, such that one cannot imagine any feasible way of building the system from simpler components without having the end design in view. Ergo there was a designer and (paraphrasing St. Anselm) all men call the designer god. There are numerous difficulties with this argument.

For one thing, it appeals to what Dawkins (presumably one of your bete noir) has called the argument from pesonal incredulity. "I can't think of a way that could have happened through chance and natural selection, therefore it can't have so happened." This I hope you would agree is certainly a false argument as it stands. For another, Behe's choice of the coagulation cascade as an irreducibly complex system could not have been more unfortunate from his point of view. No system in physiology bears the hallmarks of progressive development from a simpler system more clearly than does blood coagulation.

Although the present system studied in mammals (by the way identical in all extant mammals--but somewhat simpler in fish and birds--and completely different in invertebrates--odd no?) is indeed complex and such that removing one component can cause haemophilia, those components are all related to each other in ways that 'scream' identity by descent to anyone who is listening.

For example factors X, IX, VII and Protein C share domain structure, gene organisation, mechanism of activity and activation, and means of binding to phospholipid surfaces, to name only some of their common characteristics. Factors VII and X are actually linked right next to each other on chromosome 13 in men, and the synteny is retained in mice (and, as my lab has recently discovered, also in birds). Looking at the scheme of the 'clotting cascade' one can instantly see a way to simplify it, cut out some of the middle men.

In the limit all that is required is an activator (tissue factor), a zymogen (say factor X) and a substrate coagulogen (fibrinogen). Each of those components has affinities to other proteins and their genes, specifically cytokine receptors, digestive enzymes and cellular matrix components respectively. Why? On a designer/special creation hypothesis there seems no need to build things up progressively using altered copies of genes with other original functions. But on a Neo-Darwinian hypothesis all is clear: it is due to the biochemical/genetic counterpart of descent with modification.

This just scratches the surface of the work on the evolution of blood coagulation. Search PubMed under doolittle-rf for an introduction to the fascinating intellectual world of the study of biochemical evolution. Personally, I do not know any working biomedical scientists who do not accept the theory of evolution as the central unifying concept of the whole of biology. As Theodor Dobjansky put it "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Are we all part of a conspiracy to teach worn out theories? Hardly.

Evolutionary studies are growing faster and more diversely than at any time since 1859. The molecular genetic revolution has supported the central ideas of Darwin and Wallace to the hilt and probably far beyond even their imagining. I urge you to read more widely in biology than Behe's book. It is a fascinating field which can induce a sense of wonder at Nature's complexity deeper than religious awe. Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea would be a good though challenging place to start.

Best wishes,
Edward Tuddenham Professor of Haemostasis, Imperial College Medical School, London, UK etuddenh@hgmp.mrc.ac.uk


Dan Barker's "Why Jesus?"

I am no follower of Jesus, but in respect to the truth, you should alter your "Why Jesus" piece by not saying that there is no other 1st century writer who confirms his story. You probably know that Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny and Josephus mention Jesus. Tacitus in his Annals of Imperial Rome says the Jesus was the leader of the band call Christians and that Pilate executed him. The passage is totally negative to Christians, and probably genuine. The Josephus passage is thought to be a plant, for it is not in Josephus style.

Although there are still no independent corroborations of the authenticating core of Christianity and the most important events in the life of Jesus, and above all his divinity, there seems to be a good chance that he did exist and went too far and got nailed to a tree.

Ti Glath tiglath@usa.net
Washington, D.C. USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 10:20:13 (MDT)

Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation replies:

Dear Ti,

Thanks for the input. Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny all wrote in the 2nd century. Josephus wrote sometime after 90 AD, which is the 1st century, but his little paragraph about Jesus is generally considered to be a later Christian interpolation: it does not appear in any known copies or quotations of the Antiquities until the beginning of the 4th century. So the "Why Jesus" piece is accurate as it stands. Thanks for writing.


The Geisler-Till Debate

Re: ii Newsletter, June 1999, Vol. 4, No. 6. First, I'd like to thank Mr. Lowder for his good work. Second, I'd like to comment on his summery of the theism vs. naturalism debate. As usual , Mr. Lowder did a fine job reporting and summarizing. I also appreciated his fairness: He really is a "friendly" Atheist. Being an Agnostic, I appreciated the Agnostic side of the debate, but I also thought the theistic side did well.

When I read intelligent comments from the theistic side, I'm almost persuaded to become one. I'm still open where this is concerned. However, when I read intelligent comments from the atheistic side, I'm also tempted to join their ranks. I suppose one could call me a "data vs. data" Agnostic. They, Theists & Atheists, both make fine points, which is mainly why I'm still Agnostic. Again, my thanks to Mr. Lowder for a job well done.

Cheers,

G. R. Gaudreau grgaud@bigfoot.com
Hull, Qc CANADA - Saturday, June 26, 1999 at 12:10:44 (MDT)


Mr. Geisler,

I heard your interview yesterday (6/15/99) on KGNW radio in Seattle arounf 5:30 - 6 PM plugging your book(s) and answering some of the skeptic's questions. You raised your opinion that the Bible is the only book that claims to be the word of God and then lambasted the Holy Qur'an, claiming it never claims to be the Word of God. You also have the opinion that Muhammad never did a miracle, nor gave prophecies in the Qur'an.

It is a common understanding among the Muslim world (and I am not Muslim) that the Qur'an itself is Muhammad's miracle, so it is beyond me how you say that Islam does not have, as a religion, a miracle. The Surih of the Cow (one part of the Qur'an) among many other verses in the Qur'an, clearly says the Qur'an is from God...is the Word of God. this is not even a matter of question by the vast number of Christian scholars who have studied the Qur'an.

Undoubtably you are aware of these and other verses of the Qur'an which are prophetic in nature. As a believer, I was ashamed to hear you lambasting our fellow men who happen to be Muslim. What good will come of your lies about another religion? What possible salvation do you envision for yourself by making such false allegations which the vast majority of Christian scholars could not accept?

It is quite one thing to not regard the Qur'an as being the Revealed Word of God, but quite another thing to say it never claims to be. I am ashamed to have heard your bigoted broadcast and I can hardly believe you are a righteous Christian when you say such lies in the face of the truth. The truth is that the Muslim religious community does in fact believe the Qur'an is the Revealed Word of God, that it is a miracle itself and contains many prophecies. How you can claim otherwise is either due to pure ignorance (which is highly unlikely), or you simply wish to put forth a lie and thus have broken one of the ten commandments.

Such deception should be and is condemned by Christ.

Yours most sincerely in the name of Christ,

Robert Stauffer white-wolf-arts@Juno.Com
Mill Creek, WA USA - Wednesday, June 16, 1999 at 10:32:24 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Dr. Geisler was contacted through his office and a copy of this letter was forwarded for his comment. He did not respond.


I have just finished reading the debate held between Prof. Till and Dr. Geisler. I enjoyed reading it. Both sides, in my opinion, did a good job in presenting their respective arguments. I am a college senior at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. I, like Dr. Geisler, have a love for the field of Christian apologetics. As I stated before I thought that Dr. Geisler did an ample job in presenting a case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but as I am sure Mr. Till knows 1Peter 3:15 tells me to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that I have". So I will now do that.

I can probably debate to a decent degree the existence of the Historical Jesus and give you a similar and equally unsatisfying argument to Dr. Geislers, but I can see that you were not convinced by him so I will take another route. Perhaps this will be a better route, or perhaps not. I will, however admit that I know substantially more about this explanation since it is simply my own life experience. I will not show you any proof or even attempt to prove anything that I will say; I am an honest person with no reason to persuade you accept that I wish to share with others the "hope that I have".

I will begin with the negative. I became an alcoholic at approximately the age of seventeen. I got a DUI at the age of eighteen on the very day I received a Presidents leadership scholarship to my University (How Ironic). I learned my lesson and never drank and drove again, but I could not stop drinking. I tried to do just that many times and always failed miserably. Now at this point you are probably thinking well of course a drunken loser would turn to a false God. Well I was not a drunken loser, I was a drunken success. My grades were good, I was Student Body Pres., I was V.P. of a State Political organization and nobody had a clue that I was an alcoholic on the verge of suicide. But that is enough of the bad stuff. It was the beginning of my Junior year of college that I surrendered my entire life to the Lord. I am a skeptic of most things, but I knew at that point without a doubt that there was a God and I knew who he was.

You see, on that day I was healed of my alcoholism, which most of the males in my family have not been able to accomplish. I was freed from the depression that I was under(and freed is the perfect term). I found a happiness and contentment on that day that I couldn't have imagined. I Know that Jesus died on the cross to atone for my sins, and that on the third day from the dead. Do I know this from the evidence that Dr. Geisler or someone else might present? No. I know it because I have a personal relationship with the God that is more than this world. He is eternal! He is the one that put the bang in the big bang. He is my Lord and I due earnestly hope and pray that someday he can be the Lord of whoever reads this. I know that the reader(s) of this could possibly laugh and call this all foolishness, but this fool will die an incredibly happy completely fulfilled man. If I have to be considered a fool to have what many will spend a lifetime searching for and never find, then I will proudly where the title of fool.

A believer in Christ,

Trevor Tindle Ttindle007@aol.com
Chickasha, OK USA - Thursday, June 03, 1999 at 01:55:25 (MDT)


TANG

In "The Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God" by Michael Martin, Professor Martin writes:

This argument uses Reductio ad Absurdum to deduce that logic is independent of God. But the premise that logic is dependent on God is never actually applied. If God has created logic, He may well be able to arrange matters as described, and the result may be absurd, and we might just have to put up with it. Life would certainly be different.

If you assume that logic is dependent on God, you can't go on using logic as we know it to deduce anything at all. That's like saying "The house is painted red. It could not have been painted green, because green is not the same as red, and we know it is red."

Many religious or mystical arguments start by assuming things are "other" than we commonly suppose them to be, but not giving us any idea as to what they might "really" be. Such speculation leads precisely nowhere. It is a waste of time, but not logically faulty.

Norman Paterson norman@dcs.st-and.ac.uk
ST ANDREWS, Fife Scotland - Tuesday, June 01, 1999 at 07:33:06 (MDT)

Michael Martin replies:

Mr. Norman Paterson really does not understand the main point. If God created logic, He could by an act of will make a contradiction true. But by definition a contradiction could not possibly be true. To suppose God could make New Zealand south of China and at the same time not south of China is simply nonsense. Paterson says that if God did this, we would have to put up with it and life would be different. But Paterson does not explain how we can possibly understand what this life would be like.

It is important to see that in my internet debate with John Frame -- [See Martin-Frame Debate] that was generated by my paper on TANG, Frame does not take the heroic stance of maintaining that God can make a proposition and its negation true at the same time. Frame admits that God could no more make New Zealand south of China and at the same time not south of China than He could make cruelty for its own sake good. Rather Frame argues that God's essential nature is logical and God's nature sets the logical standard. But even Frame's more moderate view is wrong. Why suppose God sets the logical standards? There is no inconsistency in supposing that there is a possible world where there is no God and the law of noncontradiction holds.


Dawkins on "Debating Religion"

I found Richard Dawkins' article "On Debating Religion" to be lacking in scientific evidence supporting their claims regarding the non-existence of the Christian God. Concerning the Bible being nonsense were inaccurate, and incorrect as a whole; especially since there weren't any facts to support the theories purposed. The evidence of the New Testament is more historically correct than any other ancient document we have today by more than tenfold. If this website is aimed at trying to dismantle Christianity (and that might be denied, but the articles and essays quite clearly speak otherwise), then I suggest the staff of infidels.org to align their work in trying to battle the thesis of Christianity with the assumption that it's true. I suggest they read books like "Not By Chance!" by Spetner to combat the facts he presents stating that random Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian theories are not valid, and that evolution can only have been a controlled process. Also, "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel should be read so that the staff may understand the position Christians stand considering how much historical evidence there is which declares the N.T. as valid and true.

For example, Dawkins states the "Biblical creation" as nonsense, and incompatible with science. This is completely incorrect considering that with Plank's Time Constant used with a universe age estimate of 15-16 billion years, then it equals out to 6 days earth time. Each day then spoken about is accurate to what happened during the Big Bang even to when it's written that "light separated from darkness" - which is correct in accordance to Plank's Time Constant in conjunction with the Big Bang process. By the end of the six days of relativity using the Constant, we arrive at what the Jews believed was the beginning of man with Adam. In fact, there is nothing that is at odds between Biblical interpretations and science.

Magnus Stark Stockholmr@aol.com
Folsom, CA USA - Friday, June 11, 1999 at 19:56:13 (MDT)

The editor replies:

The Dawkins piece referred to was not about "scientific evidence supporting...the non-existence of the Christian God" and so it is just plain silly to complain about this. As for that "Planck's Time Constant" baloney, that has been shown up for the nonsense it really is. See "Fitting the Bible to the Data."


I'll Take "Complaining About Dead Men" for a Hundred Points, Alex!


In reply to: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/fai.html, two quibbles - First the article is rather dated, for example he wrote "Christ taught.......that unbelief is the blackest of crimes." Scholars are now well aware that those who contributed the material that makes up the New Testament frequently put words in Jesus mouth. There is some very good scholarship available from the last decade that would serve your purpose better, I believe, than some of the dated and tired material from earlier times. Consider Uta Ranke-Heinemann's work. Second, Heresies is the correct spelling, not Herecies.

J. Stanley Wilkinson jbsw@bc.sympatico.ca
Chilliwack, BC Canada - Monday, June 14, 1999 at 23:07:37 (MDT)

Bill Schultz replies:

First, it would have been nice if you had hit the "feedback" button while on the proper page so that we would know what you were commenting about. Your quibble about the spelling of "heresies" can only refer to: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/heretics_and_hericies.html

With that figured out, I'd agree that an article written in 1874 is "rather dated." But Robert Green Ingersoll is considered to be one of the great beacons in freethought, and we keep his writings on our web site for several good reasons, including as an answer to those who assert we are just personally reacting to some recent event(s). No: the freethought movement has roots stretching back--way back.

If you want to examine more recent scholarship, you should look in our Modern Library section at:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/

In our Modern Library section, Christianity rates an entire sub-section of its own, at:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/

I'm not exactly sure where we would put Ingersoll's article if it were to be re-written today. Perhaps in the Christian Worldview sub-section at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/christian-worldview.html

As an example of a similar modern article, perhaps we would choose The Incoherence of Theism by Andrew Moroz at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/andrew_moroz/incoherence_theism.html

In any case, I don't feel any need to apologize for our historical library. I know that our modern library is second to none when it comes to scholarly "philosophy of religion" articles on the web. The historical library has its place too, as a means of gaining perspective. What's most truly amazing is that you would read a 125 year old article by Ingersoll and come up with only the few quibbles! I guess that shows what classics his works actually are. In any case, I'm making an exception to our usual rule of not answering comments about the historical library in this instance. I'll look into correcting the spelling of "heresies" in the title and URL text.


Prayer in Public Schools

In response to your article on Columbine High School and your feedback section concerning prayer in school. The time is ripe to implement a radical alternative to prayer in the public schools, with evangelical Christians leading the way.

Back in 1960 when I was in second grade, my public school teacher read the 23rd psalm to start the school day. I remember the feeling of peace and security it brought to me, years before I was converted to an evangelical faith. While I would like public prayers to return to the schools, I don't think it is going to happen in today's climate. So I would like to suggest an alternative to prayer in the American school system. I think it holds promise of finding wide support among believers of various religions and among non-believers. In brief, it involves reading two sentences from the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident...") and the entire First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This proposal was debated at the University of Virginia in 1996 by John Rankin (who wrote it) and Barry Lynn. Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute in Hartford, and Lynn is president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In that debate, Rankin argued that the only source of unalienable rights in history is God. Furthermore, he argued that while Thomas Jefferson was no evangelical Christian, Jefferson's use of the word "Creator" in the Declaration was ethically consistent with the God of the Bible. Lynn, who is an ordained minister, agreed that the intellectual concept of unalienable rights derives from God as understood historically. But he declined to approve the reading of two sentences from the Declaration in public schools. Why? Because in his opinion they constitute a prayer in violation of the separation of church and state. Lynn also promised to sue any school district that instituted the proposal. Rankin later said he would welcome such a suit; the resulting intellectual exchange concerning unalienable rights would be delightful.

All of which raises some most fascinating questions. Is the Declaration unconstitutional? Is it an unlawful establishment of religion? If so, where else do we go to define the philosophy of American democracy? What then is the source of unalienable rights? How would the culture and the courts respond to an attempt to exclude the Declaration from public recitation in the schools?

Here then is the proposal. A Resolution for the U.S. Congress and the Legislatures of the Several States Recitation in the Public Schools:

We propose a simple solution to the debate over prayer in the public schools. Namely, all local school districts are free, if they so choose, to include in their school days a public recitation or acknowledgment of the following words from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

We recognize that the word "Men" as used in the Declaration is understood in its best literary sense as inclusive of all humankind--men, women and children. It was this commitment to unalienable rights as endowed by God that enabled the United States to overcome inherited evils. Especially, it has allowed us to legally emancipate blacks and women to fully participate in our democratic republic. These words from the Declaration form the basis for the U.S. Constitution's concepts of civil rights.

We believe that such a public recitation accomplishes two equal concerns among the citizenry:

We also believe it would be good for the recitation in public schools of the First Amendment itself:

Pieter Crow PieterCrow@aol.com
Riverton, WY USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 01:18:50 (MDT)

The editor responds:

Some will disagree with me, but as fas as I'm concerned the Declaration of Independence can be read in public schools as any historical document can, even the Bible, so long as it is done to educate within a broader context, and not as an excuse to indoctrinate or compel religious behavior or belief. Indeed, a discussion about the religious beliefs of Jefferson would be immensely valuable--and that is precisely why the Christian Right would never back such a proposal as this. They want us to believe that Jefferson was a Christian like them, and not a Deist who disbelieved in the supernatural. Likewise, just as you say "men" can be redefined to mean men and women, so can "creator" be redefined to mean nothing more than nature. The question is: if children are made to recite this passage, will they be told what "creator" means? There's the rub. For they ought to be told what it meant to Jefferson, which the Christian Right cannot abide, since that is a historical fact. Otherwise, public school students certainly cannot be told what they are to take as its meaning--for that would be an infringement of their religious freedom.


I read the King James version of the bible and I think they should put religion back into the schools because to me that is where we went wrong.

Derick Van Dusen hilizardboy@hotmail.com
Roseburg, or USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 16:01:53 (MDT)

The editor responds:

Golly, you're right! We should violate our children's freedom of conscience, then all will be well, and money will grow on trees and guns will turn into flowers and everyone will skip with joy to the tunes of Stryper for all eternity. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that before?


"The Empirical Case for Metaphysical Naturalism" by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Regarding the problem of evil. [Lowder] states that it presents an embarrassment to the theist. I don't see how that is true. The very fact that suffering can be viewed as unjust seems to confirm the presence of a moral standard which a naturalist has no way of accounting for. A naturalist can't view suffering as unjust so how can he presume that it is in his argument. The problem is only a problem in a just universe. In a naturalist universe it doesn't matter what kind've horror we are confronted with. That is the real embarrassment.

Michael Jones mjones@ohio.net
USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 21:33:07 (MDT)

Jeffery Jay Lowder responds:

I appreciate the feedback, and I will do my best to explain my position. I have three responses. First, Mr. Jones presupposes that naturalism and the existence of objective moral values are mutually exclusive. Yet he never demonstrates a logical contradiction between naturalism and objective moral values (Indeed, Richard Swinburne, a Christian philosopher at Oxford and arguably the most influential contemporary theistic philosopher of religion, accepts a naturalistic account of objective morality. See Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, Rev. ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 207). Moreover, Jones never produces an argument for why objective moral values are more probable on theism than on naturalism. So it is completely unclear why we should believe the claim that a "naturalist can't view suffering as unjust."

Second, although my particular formulation of the evidential argument from evil appealed to normative ethics, the naturalist need not postulate the existence of objective moral values in order to use evil (or harm or suffering) as evidence for naturalism. An argument from evil might not contain any normative premises; the naturalist could appeal to God's loving nature rather than God's moral nature. For example: (1) If a perfectly loving God were to exist, then he would not permit the occurrence of any unjustifiable suffering.
(2) But unjustifiable suffering does occur.
(3) Therefore, a perfectly loving God does not exist.

To emphasize the point (though I consider this unnecessary), the naturalist might even change the name of the argument from "the Argument from Evil" to "the Argument from Unjustifiable Suffering."

Third (and in my opinion, most importantly), the argument from evil may be understood as a challenge to the internal coherence of a theistic worldview . As Christian philosopher Wes Morriston pointed out to me in private correspondence, the Argument from Evil can be understood as saying something like the following:

Look. You theists believe that X, Y, and Z are evil. You theists believe that God is good. You theists believe that good persons are opposed to evil. So you theists need to explain why a god who is good (in your sense of 'good') would allow so much apparently pointless evil (in your sense of 'evil'). If you can't explain it, then that is a problem for the internal coherence of your worldview.

When AE is understood in this way, it doesn't presuppose that there are objective moral values. Note that much of this has been taken from a book review that I am writing which addresses many of the same issues. I am interested in any feedback concerning my comments above.

Sincerely,

Jeffery Jay Lowder
Internet Infidel -- http://www.infidels.org/
"We have nothing to fear and everything to gain, from the honest pursuit of truth." George H. Smith


The Happy Heretic and Baby Sprinklers

I agree completely that it is obscene for women to be bearing litters of unhealthy children (especially in a world drowning in excess humans, healthy or otherwise). One question--I thought that the Catholic Church was against taking fertility drugs to induce ovulation (and in-vitro fertilization) to begin with, for the same reasons that they oppose artificial contraception. If this woman was such a devout Catholic why did she have the fertility treatment at all, and why didn't her priest counsel her before she went through with the procedure?

Another comment--when they harvest the eggs and do the petri dish fertilization, the doctor and patient then decide how many embryos to implant at once. Why isn't there some medical policy against implanting more than three (the maximum number that can realistically be expected to be born at all healthy)? This would eliminate the need for selective abortion. The extra fertilized embryos could be stored in the freezer (at great expense) for a future attempt. I realize that often the artificially placed embryos don't all take, and implanting 6 or more often results in just one (or no) baby (aren't the embryos that didn't take just as dead as if they'd been aborted and for just as artificial a reason?), but surely even given the time and money, facing the possibility of disappointment is more humane and responsible than implanting a litter-size that a dog might have trouble raising, and having all or most born into a life of unneeded disability.

E. Wagner wagnerel@potsdam.edu
Potsdam, NY USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 15:03:28 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

I don't know about the Church's opinion on fertility science. It is hard to find an organization whose irrelevant opinions I care less about. But with regard to the science, small numbers of inserted eggs are too expensive. It is ensured that a large number of inserted eggs will die (I think at present the rate is something like 19 in 20 or worse), so in order to get a success in one shot, you need to put in gobs of them. But you are right to question this: after all, the only reason to do this is to save money, and thus it is pure greed which motivates such a practice (and not greed on the part of the doctor--if he were greedy, he would push for more sensible numbers, because that means more procedures). Likewise, putting twenty in at once guarantees large numbers of spontaneous abortions, whereas doing it a few at a time at least creates the possibility of fewer such abortions, if you get lucky early. So on that ground, I can see why the Catholics could be against it (as should anyone who is against abortion, for any reason).

But you should know that even all-natural contraception has about an 80% natural abortion rate--if you believe that God created our reproductive system, then you are faced with the fact that God aborts billions of more babies that we ever will--no matter how hard we tried, we could never beat him! Essentially, take the total population of the Earth, and all the people ever born, and multiply by five, and you will have the number of God-aborted babies. I, personally, am not against abortion--although you may be surprised to know that some atheists are against it. I would not argue for your proposed legal regulation of fertility procedures on that ground, but I would on others. I don't think it should be legal at all--as long as there are orphans in want of parents. For what I am against is the fact that there are six billion people crowding this Earth, with hundreds of millions of orphan children who will never enjoy a lasting, loving family, and yet these nitwits still try to make their own children, spending tens of thousands of dollars to do it. Imagine if they had adopted a child instead, and used that money to pay for her education? Sometimes the decisions people make disgust me.


Michael Martin's "Butler's Defense of TAG and Critique of TANG (1996)"

What's up with the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God? There's no justification for the notion that logic could not exist if there were no God. I teach logic and always tell my students that it's not just a bunch of arbitrary symbolic crap, but in fact conforms well to our experience of the flow of events in the world. If you can understand getting drunk, you can understand logic. Experience with intoxication tells us that Modus Tollens is a good inference and Denying the Antecedent is a bad inference. Examples:

Every student understands this. I don't see how God's existence is entailed by this understanding. Bacchus perhaps, but not the god of Christianity.

Eric Boydseric@hypercon.com
Houston, TX USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 23:21:02 (MDT)

Michael Martin replies:

I agree with the main point of Eric's comments: The truths of formal logic do not depend on God. This is also true for inductive logic as I show in Michael Martin, "Does Induction Presuppose the Existence of the Christian God?" Oct. 11, 1997.


Mark Vuletic's "Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural" (1997)

[Editorial note: this message had to be extensively edited to correct numerous spelling and punctuation errors.]

What you are saying [is that] there is Supernatural, but you can't prove it!! It depends on what you are looking for. A Ghost is energy, the same energy as when you reach out to touch someone, and get shocked. You can will things on oneself [sic]. Even the Bible speaks of a Ghost, remember when Christ came back? And no one knew him!!! There are certain people that deal with the Supernatural, everyday, whether they like it or not. You can not say if "you" can prove it or not...who are you to say that? If you do not have the gift or curse, you can't say one way or the other. And you are just reporting, and wasting your time. Why didn't you just write that you don't know, and save a lot of Earth's space? Thank You.

Carol Vershure CarolVershure@wbtv.net
Mableton, GA USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 01:38:26 (MDT)

Mark Vuletic responds:

The bulk of Vershure's message borders on incoherence. It is unclear what she is trying to say or how she thinks it contradicts anything I have said in my NTSE paper. What little she did state clearly seems to indicate that she has not read my paper carefully at all.

Certainly, I argue that science has no need to postulate any supernatural entities at this time, but that says nothing about whether such entities really exist. One of the main points of my paper was to indicate the possibility that supernatural entities actually exist in the universe, and that scientific methodology may eventually, and without contradiction, lead to their discovery or postulation.

As far as ghosts are concerned, I think it is obvious from my paper that if ghosts are indeed made of electromagnetic energy, then science is capable of discovering them (although since they would not be composed of anything bizarre by current standards, I would therefore not rate them as "supernatural"). But if such ghosts actually exist, then certainly it takes no "gift or curse" to detect them--one could even detect them with voltmeters and compasses.

What Jesus, who even according to the Bible was a man and not a ghost, has to do with anything, much less the alleged fact that one "can will things on oneself" has to do with anything, I can't even begin to fathom. I encourage Vershure to reread my paper, rethink whatever it is that she is trying to say (if it is still relevant), and send a clearer message, so I can make sure I am addressing her concerns.


Jesus vs. Elvis

Just a little correction to your "Jesus vs. Elvis", in the name of accuracy, even in satirical reporting: Jesus' mother did not have an immaculate conception, she WAS the immaculate conception (or at least, the Catholics believe she was). This was an idea promulgated around the same time Bernadette of Lourdes had her visions, and it helped Bernadette to be taken seriously by her local priest. At least, that's the way the Lives of Saints and the movie about her tells it. Seriously, this doctrine was later accepted into the Catholic catechism, and it does not refer to Jesus. It teaches that Mary was the immaculate conception because Mary was conceived by her parents without original sin, and she was therefore fit to be the mother of god, or god's son, Jesus.

I think this can still work with your parallels between Jesus & Elvis; and by the way, did Priscilla have any friends named Mary Magdelene? It could really get interesting...

Juliana Williamson-Page JulianaWP@aol.com
Salinas, CA USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 22:05:06 (MDT)


Quaestiones et Responsa


The Editor Comments:

One reader this month, on a matter unrelated to religion or secularism, asked about websites pertaining to the protection of free speech on the internet. I thought it would aid us all to have these two websites bookmarked: the AHA Censorship and Free Speech page and the Blue Ribbon Campaign website.

From now on, each feedback page will end with three sections, "Questions and Answers," "Miscellaneous Praises and Curses," and "Miscellaneous Speeches and Bizarre Statements" (I put them in Latin because I am a Vatican secret agent and it's part of my grand scheme to convert you all to Potpourri--qui hoc cognoscunt nimium eruditium habent). Although we have sometimes not felt the need to publish feedback which does not respond to a specific article on the Secular Web, some of the stuff we get is so interesting or funny that much of it will be included here for your enjoyment.

Enjoy your page. Years ago, my dad had a copy of a photo of the current Pope as a young man selling poison gas to the Nazi's. He no longer has it. Would you or anyone else out there be able to e-mail that to me? Thanx!

Roberta D. Record sabbathkeeper@cybertours.com
Limerick, ME USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 17:46:55 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Hell, if anyone has such a photo we'll publish it! I'm skeptical, though--such a thing would surely be flaunted by every anti-Papist on Earth. Besides, it would be difficult to confirm that it was actually the Pope in the photograph and not someone who just looked like him.


In reply to our products page: Do you sell any audio cassettes with talks or lectures on topics of interest? If so, what is available? Thanks.

Craig Raccobigraccoon@earthlink.net
Seal Beach , ca USA - Sunday, June 27, 1999 at 03:16:27 (MDT)


In reply to the works of Rob Berry: Hey guys, I've been looking for a humorous piece called, "These UnChristian United States," in which every example was really an example of how overly Christian the U.S. really is. I think Rob Berry wrote it. But I can't find it on the web anymore. Where is it?

Best,

Edward T. Babinski ed.babinski@furman.edu
Greer, SC USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 15:00:17 (MDT)

Rob Berry replies:

Look no further than http://www.infidels.org/misc/humor/lioaca.html. I wrote the first dozen or so items; the rest were contributed by various others. Enjoy!


Just found your website through a guess!! www.ffrf.org. But couldn't find a feedback address for FFRF [the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Madison, WI]. I am a freethinker, and I congratulate you all on your beautiful website. I will return to it again and again and hope to rejoin FFRF. Also will order some of your humor....I just had a big e-mail fight with retired Baptist seminary president which inspired me to compose the following immortal line: FREETHOUGHT IS PREFERABLE TO CONTROLLED THOUGHT.

Richard Waller rwaller@isoa.net
Albany, GA USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 06:51:07 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation can be contacted at ffrf@mailbag.com.


The claims about the fossils and everything else are false and you know it. What are your underlying motives, really, if you're serious? And what exactly is your point?

Matt Ortman starr121@hotmail.com
Columbus, OH USA - Monday, June 21, 1999 at 12:51:49 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

Which "claims about fossils" are you referring to? Our website is regularly scrutinized by experts and scholars on both sides of every issue we address, and any clear errors of fact, regarding fossils or anything else, will be corrected if any are ever identified. You have not identified any yourself, or given any sources for your claims that we can check. This suggests to me that you are merely spouting anti-scientific dogma, and not any informed or educated opinion. As our FAQ plainly states, "the purpose of the Internet Infidels is to provide a virtual library of information on nontheistic worldviews, including agnosticism, atheism, freethought, humanism, and secularism." We are an educational service. Our "underlying motives" are simple: to combat scientific illiteracy, to promote secular freedoms and humanist values, and to challenge lies, errors, exaggerations, distortions, and omissions in the claims of religious organizations and individuals, so that those who care to explore all sides will have a valuable resource for secular opinions and research.


Dear Freethinkers,

If you can not have prayer in school why does the U.S. Government like the Senate and Congress open with prayer every morning. Isn't the Senate and Congress in violation of the separation of church and state? I'm 100% for student led prayer in school but I do not believe that students should be force to pray if they don't want to.

PEACE

Brian D. Gravley bgravley@citcom.net
Brevard, NC USA - Sunday, June 13, 1999 at 20:08:49 (MDT)

Bill Schultz replies:

The battle over Congressional chaplains was lost long ago. The US Supreme Court finds them to be "traditional," and thus (in some mysterious way) exempt from the dictates of the First Amendment. So it has been with many prayer openings and closings of various governmental bodies.

However, some mischievous activists have been able to get these things eliminated by recruiting clergy from some undesirable sect to demand to officiate within the context of the "regular rotation" of religious representatives. It seems that some Christians would rather not open their governmental meetings with prayers if to do so they must regularly tolerate openings by Wiccans or Satanists.

It also seems that Congress enjoys immunity from most provisions of law that can be used to force lower-level governmental organizations to offer similar invitations to any "clergy member" who volunteers, no matter what religion or sect they belong to. Of course, the whole question of Congress creating "special exemptions" for itself is a whole other matter entirely.

On student led prayer, since believers outnumber non-believers by roughly ten to one, it would take a great deal of willpower to stand there impassively while most of those around you are praying. It was somewhat this issue of "coercion" that led the Supreme Court to outlaw school prayers in the first place.

You also can't convince me that "student led" prayers are initiated totally at the desire of the students. Most of the students who try to lead such things are prompted by their parents and/or their churches to do exactly that. In essence, the parents, teachers, and pastors who want to see school prayer now seem to believe that all they have to do is to coerce one student into leading it and we can go right back to the way things were before school prayer was outlawed.

Personally, when I was in school (and where I was in California I don't recall any prayer either before or after the Supreme Court outlawed it), I don't recall any of my fellow students feeling any desire at all to spontaneously lead a prayer. Thus I reiterate my strong feeling that all "student led" prayers actually occur at the behest of some adult(s) who want to inflict their religious views on the remainder of the students.

It will be hard to ever have peace between believers and unbelievers if the believers insist on forcing their beliefs upon us who do not believe their mythical god-stories. Even a "moment of silence" is suspect under our Constitution if there is any implication of a religious purpose. As the range and variety of religious affiliations increases (the US military now officially recognizes Wicca and the Church of Satan), attempts to inflict "right-wing" Christianity upon everyone in a public place will be increasingly met with outrage.

If you truly want peace, then you should join with millions of thoughtful Christians (and unbelievers) who stand resolutely behind the concept of Church-State Separation. If you wish to support that cause with a contribution to a Christian-led organization, I can heartily recommend you contact Americans United for Separation of Church and State at http://www.au.org/ for more information. Jeffery Jay Lowder weighs in:

In March v. Chambers, the Supreme Court upheld the use of public funds to fund a chaplain to give theistic prayer at the openings of legislative bodies, even though this was a clear establishment clause violation. However, the distinction, though somewhat lame, is important. School children are captive audiences and much more impressionable than adults. Adult legislators are there because they managed to win elections, that means they are savy and capable of playing the political system. They can resist any inward tug that a pro forma chaplan may cause by babbling a few mumbo jumbo words at the opening of a session.

School kids are more vulnerable to being molded by official events at school and thus government approved or sponsored prayers at school can have a much more deeply coercive effect on children than on the sophisticated adults who are in the legislature because of their ability to win elections. By the way, my Congressman tells me that when the chaplain gives the invocation for the House, each day, each session, virtually no one is present or pays attention, not even the religious right wingers!


I am searching for information regarding the existence of a document called "Atheist Manifesto." Could you tell me if one does indeed exist and any particulars which would help me find it if it does.

Thanx.

Carol Smith humanist1@juno.com
Mequon, WI USA - Monday, June 14, 1999 at 11:55:58 (MDT)

Bill Schultz replies:

It appears one does exist, or perhaps several exist that are different versions of the original. I can't tell. I used Alta Vista to locate the following:

There appears to be at least one other floating around, but every link I found to it was "broken" for one reason or another. You may be able to find one or more by searching at http://www.deja.com/ under the alt.atheism newsgroups for the phrase "Atheist Manifesto" (similar to what I did at Alta Vista). Use the "Power Search" and restrict yourself to forums of "alt.atheis*" (as I did) and you still get roughly 1100 "hits" (I obviously don't have time to filter those for you). I didn't even filter more than the first 50 "hits" at Alta Vista (out of 131). The rest I just scanned.

Anyway, each of these "manifestos" is pretty much some one person's individual opinion. Its not like there is a group, like American Atheists, who is putting out a "manifesto" for every one of their members to adhere to.

The Editor weighs in:

You might also be looking for the Humanist Manifesto which has evolved into the Humanist Manifesto II.


Q. Where do minerals in seawater originate?

I'll be thankfull to you if you send me the answer for this question, because i really need the answer by tomorrow.

Thanx
Huma Mehmudhuma_mehmud@hotmail.com

Toronto, Canada - Sunday, June 06, 1999 at 19:46:56 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

And they say public education in the United States is going downhill. I guess we're sucking Canada down with us. :-)


Would you be kind enough to tell me, as far as you know: is Isaac Asimov an Atheist?

Thank you for your Kindness.

Rick Tobiasstobias690@aol.com
Farmington Hills, MI USA - Saturday, June 05, 1999 at 14:42:37 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Yes, he was. Sadly, he is now deceased. Please note that the Celebrity Atheist List only includes people currently living. Azimov is included in a list of deceased famous freethinkers.


I am an elementary education student who has chosen to do an asignment from the point of view of atheism. I would like someone to please verify that I am correct in stating these views about school curriculum.

Any guidance on my description of these points of views would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Jennifer Carnes
us2carnes@aol.com
Pembroke Pines, FL USA - Saturday, June 05, 1999 at 11:01:14 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

The first thing that must be said in response to such questions is that atheists differ greatly on many issues. Atheism is not an ideology, but a position on one particular, limited question: the existence of a god. Having said that, I can only state what my own opinions are, even though I believe there are many who share my views--and not only atheists, either. Regarding prayer, it is only coercive or government-sponsored prayer that is and should be illegal. Any student can at any time pray on their own in any school, and that is the way it should be: freedom of religion extends to all. When other students are coerced into participating in a prayer, or any religious activity for that matter, or when the school officials endorse such things, for instance by allowing prayers to be read over the administration's announcement system, or posting religious rules on walls, this violates the freedom of dissenting students at the school, and entangles government in deciding which religious point of view is to be endorsed, something a government has no business doing.

The question of sexual education is even simpler to my mind: no knowledge should be withheld from those who seek it, least of all knowledge which is vitally necessary to their present and future well being. Those who oppose sex-ed are essentially advocates of ignorance, and it is a rare day when you will find an atheist who advocates ignorance in any form. As for the distribution of birth control, as an atheist and a citizen of the United States I do not believe that there are any sound objections to this practice apart from whether the people's treasury can or should incur the expense. But I do believe there are even atheists who would debate either side of this with me.

Evolution, obviously, must be taught in biology class, being that it is what biologists talk about, and even if you don't believe in it, you do not know biology until you know what biologists are talking about. I also do not think it is appropriate to teach creationism in biology classes, since it is not a theory generally held in biology, least of all a fundamental and foundational theory like evolution, and it has not led to any new discoveries or understanding. Creationism fits best in a class about world religions, and I would have no objection to it being taught in such a context--as a religious belief, and one among many, which is what it is.

Sexuality may be an issue for some atheists, but it is not for me: morality has to do with how you actually treat people, and whether you respect their rights, not with who you date. Indeed, as long as a heterosexual male teacher of girls is acceptable, then as far as I'm concerned there can be no rational objection to a homosexual male teacher of boys. I must also personally add that I have seen evidence that a leading cause of teen suicide and depression is not being able to adapt to homosexual feelings, which will happen to a gay teen whether he wants them to or not. Social stigmatization of homosexuality thus causes misery and death, and prevents the development of what would otherwise become healthy, moral, industrious people.


Dear sir(s),

Your web site is the single most powerful force for rational thought on the web. The only thing it lacks is a political voting scoreboard for the US Senate/House of Representatives. I know that this is a serious undertaking, but it is something that is direly needed. The Christian Coalition certainly has one to promote their agenda. Not only is it direly needed, but it would result in a HUGE increase in traffic to your site. Please seriously consider my suggestion. In a world where politicians lie through their teeth, they are unable to lie about how they vote. Please help!

Kevin R. Twitchell krt@iname.com
Murfreesboro, TN USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 17:08:09 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Of course, there are several websites (such as Vote Smart) that do this already. As a non-profit organization, we cannot advocate or oppose any candidate for elected political office. Although we can legally publish issue-based "scorecards" which exhibit no special bias toward any candidate or party, we do not feel that this is a part of our mission, and the costs associated with identifying issues important to secularism and assembling the relevant voting records is far beyond the extremely limited budget of our all-volunteer group. This is an activity for well-funded organizations receiving millions of dollars per year in contributions, or smaller groups whose sole purpose is political education. It is a bit out of our milieu. However the Internet Infidels strongly encourage all people to vote and to get all the information they can in deciding whom to elect, from every possible resource. Our basic freedoms depend upon the participation of those who wish to keep them.


Miscellanea Laudum et Maledictorum


In reply to your legislative update, I support everyone's right to believe as he/she wishes. There are a number of topics today which are cause for hot (nay, VERY hot) debate. And, it is important for both sides to voice their viewpoints. But I also believe "one's right to swing one's fist does not include the tip of the other's nose." At the point the exercise of my right interferes with yours, I have gone too far.

It is this point I wish to address to you today. I find your cartoon depiction of the Darwin "bug" carrying the cross to be most offensive. The cross, and all that it stands for, has special meaning for Christians. To depict it in such a way is a slap in the face. I would draw a parallel to someone drawing a swastika on the side of a Jewish synagogue.

I am on your website researching information concerning your viewpoint with regards to the recent legislation allowing schools to post the Ten Commandments. I need to hear your ideas, thoughts and reasoning. In other words, I want a non-emotional, point-by-point argument. Posting such a cartoon undermines your credibility, [leading me to question whether] you would provide such a non-biased evaluation.

Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinioin.

Jeff Lamont
USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 10:14:59 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Punching someone in the nose is assault. A cartoon is free speech. Likewise, a swastika represents a villainous, murderous organization responsible for documented racism, genocide, and unbelievable cruelty. A lungfish carrying a cross hardly represents anything of the kind. You need to be careful of forced analogies--hyperbolic rhetoric only undermines your point, it does not help it.

As for whether a cartoon undermines our crediblity, I can only hope you are smarter than that. We are a library, and store or link to thousands of different authors, views, and organizations, and anyone who assumes that a cartoon by one of use impugns the rest is not thinking very sensibly. Indeed, we specifically do not censor secular views at our site--even when we disagree with something, if it is related to our purpose (to provide all online resources on secularism that exist), we include it. Why would you want us to filter what you get to read? Rather than tell you what to read or look at, I would rather let you see or read anything on secularism that exists online. It is your job to question and evaluate the credibility of each writer on his own terms, no matter where you find them--here or elsewhere.

Having said that, although I acknowledge your opinion, for the rest of our readers I would like to offer my own: the lungfish carrying the cross should not be offensive to anyone--no more so, that is, than a crucifix itself. The unwarranted and excessive idolization of symbols is one of those things that has made religion such a pain in humanity's back. To be "offended" by the desecration of a symbol is to take material things too seriously. I think people who burn the American Flag are idiots who need to get a life, but I am not offended by what they do. A flag is die on a cloth. The idea behind the action is the only thing that may be offensive, but abolishing the act will not abolish the idea, and you certainly must respect the freedom of everyone to have and express their own ideas, even when the ideas are offensive.

What idea does the lunfish bearing a cross represent? The lungfish represents a scientific as opposed to a religious interpretations of the facts, and bearing a cross represents enduring labors of significance to all mankind (a meaning created by Christians, and perpetuated in many American verbal idioms). The lungfish was originally spawned by those who wanted to assert their support for science as against creationism, and since creationists put ICHTHYS fishes on their cars, some clever fellow thought of remodelling this into a lungfish (which represents evolution from sea to land). Since science is under such attack by Christianity, especially on the creationism issue, and since we believe science is of fundamental importance to mankind, many of us bear monumental labors in defending science against Creationists and their ilk. Christianity is like the proverbial "monkey on our back," and thus it makes sense to represent this by having a lungfish (representing science, through the metaphor of evolution science) bearing Christianity on its back (represented by the cross, the universal symbol for that religion).


I find your site entirely captivating. I was a Christian for over 15 years and have recently been deconverted. It took a long time but I came to see that all religion, including Christianity, simply cannot hold up to critical examination. I believe people have faith for very basic reasons, and the most notable reason is that they simply want to believe.

I was curious if there has been any progress in finding a "professional" debater to counter the likes of William Craig?

Max Hebert madmax9@home.com
Edmond, OK USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 09:39:42 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Thanks for the kudos. Unfortunately, money is the problem, not personnel. We have yet to get enough of a commitment from major organizations to fund a debater's salary. If we ever do, we will have no problem finding applicants for the job!


Just wanted to say that I love your site and to keep up the good work, I particularly liked the censorship focus, how about something on the 10 commandments atrocity that is happening in our courts and schools. Thanks for many enjoyable articles.

Kurt Grelck Grelck@uiuc.edu
St.Charles, IL USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 22:17:47 (MDT)


In reviewing some of the literature on the atheist websites I was intrigued to see how intelligent and well thought-out many of the articles were. I can truly say that I have learned something, and have a better understanding of the atheist mindset. I would though like to make a few comments about those who espouse the mindset of Evangelical Christianity, and I would include myself in that camp. The perception of many outside the "camp" of Christianity would conclude that Christians are ignoramuses without listening to what they have to say. Christianity is not about Big hair, make up, money, politics, abortion, homosexuality, etc... It is about something more. Christians do think for themselves and do have much to say if only they were given audience to do so without being called narrow-minded and bigoted.

Mark Schnitzer mschnitzer1@excite.com
buffalo, ny USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 13:53:35 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

I agree. Of course, Christians have the exact same audience we do--the number of Christian websites is astronomical. And many of us here among the Internet Infidels have indeed interacted with many different kinds of Christians in lengthy dialogues as well as organized debates, and have read many different Christian works. Even in this June feedback page there are a variety of Christian views represented, both for and against what we do. As just one example from our culture at large, the difference between Shelby Spong's Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism and Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict is vast, yet both are Christians. Likewise, we have many Christian colleagues fighting for church-state separation who respect our right to be atheists as much as we respect their right to be Christians, and these are in no way the same sort of Christians who, for example, are fighting for a nation based on Biblical Law. We at the Secular Web fully appreciate the diversity of views among Christians and encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with that diversity, and with the variety of competing views in that as well as other creeds.


James Still writes as a response to a post in the Feedback section for May, 1999, "The sooner we all realize that there is no one way to live, the better off we will be as a people. Religious intolerance breeds contempt." Hello!! Your whole web site is Nothing But religious intolerance!! Your goal is to try to disprove God as anyone but ourselves! Your articles don't show both sides... they do nothing but try to point our how stupid someone could be for believing in God! I have noticed that every time someone who is "religious" posts something to Feedback that sounds (I think) really good, Mr. Still jumps right on in there, using his editorial powers to make his comments in bold type! I do wonder if this post will even be posted and if it is, what comment by Mr. Still will follow this post.

Anne Van Dyke anne@web-nurse.com
Dallas, TX USA - Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 22:08:39 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

James Still is no longer the feedback editor. We have started delegating tasks more broadly among our volunteers, but I can respond as the new editor. Argument and disbelief do not constitute intolerance. Oppression, censorship, violence, villification, and social punishment constitute intolerance. Our stated mission is "to provide a virtual library of information on nontheistic worldviews, including agnosticism, atheism, freethought, humanism, and secularism." And to that end, some of the essays we include may possess an element of villification. Even though we do not agree with that approach (indeed, we might not agree with a lot of the things we publish or link to--we don't even agree among ourselves on many of them), we want to avoid censorship of any secularist views, since our aim is to be a warehouse where all of them can be found.

The fact is that we want all views to be heard, even those we don't agree with, and that is why we provide links to all online rebuttals of specific essays linked at our site (if you are aware of any omissions in this regard, please tell us), and to several major warehouses of Christian apologetics. This hardly counts as intolerance, nor does it jive with your claim that we don't "show both sides." In fact, if you were to publish on the web a reply to a specific essay linked at our site that you find insulting or "intolerant," we will link to your rebuttal. Or if you register a more specific complaint here, in less than a thousand words or so, we will publish it, as we have done with your less specific complaint above.

But I must also take issue with some of your other assumptions. You assume that our goal "is to try to disprove God as anyone but ourselves," which is an odd thing to think. If you can identify any specific article linked at our site which tries to claim that we are God, I would appreciate being notified of such a curiosity. The fact is that we believe there is no god at all, of any kind. We ourselves are not gods, but mere mortals, and all we have to count on is each other, and our fallible but inexhaustible abilities. This is why, like Still says, we want to see us all treating each other decently as human beings and not as believers or unbelievers in this or that "sacred truth." Tolerance means treating others kindly and letting them live their lives, even when we disagree with and argue against their choices.

One last matter: all responses are posted in bold to clearly demarcate them from the feedback being responded to, and to make it easier for surfers to skim the responses. Many of our readers are only looking to see what kinds of responses have been written, and putting replies in bold makes this easier for them. We used to put them in italics, but italics are difficult to read. And since most of our readers are concerned with what we think of the things said about us or our online resources, we are obligated to post responses as much as we can. You can hardly criticise us for it.


I just read the article entitled "Bible Morality" by Charles Watts. I can hardly put into words how enlightening I found it. No intelligent person can read that article and espouse the doctrines of the christian faith, let alone consider the Bible as a moral code to be followed by society.

Abdul Intefintef@aol.com
Baltimore, MD USA - Sunday, June 20, 1999 at 22:35:42 (MDT)


I happened across your page this evening and found it very intriguing since I, very recently, was agnostic. In reflection, and to answer some remaining questions I may have, I was looking through your website. I was disappointed to see that while you say "we publish or link to all known on-line rebuttals of our material to assist you in your search for the truth," I did not find any of these truthful links. And if I did think that I saw one, it was always accompanied by a negative comment from the authors of "infidels.org." To truly assist with the direction of a person towards the "truth," you may consider not tainting the rebuttals with your comments. Then if they remain atheistic/agnostic they will have made the decisions themselves. Your consideration is appreciated and I appologize in advance if I missed your "truthful" links while browsing your site.

Matthew Perry Boca Raton, FL USA - Friday, June 18, 1999 at 21:02:57 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

You must have missed the Christian Apologetics list in the Modern Library, which contains the best of all online criticism of unbelief in general. If you are aware of any on-line rebuttals to specific articles published on the Secular Web that we have not linked to, please tell us. We will indeed provide those links. In all present cases where there are no such links, it is either because there is nothing to link to, or we do not know about it--although it would be strange of someone to publish a rebuttal of our material and not tell us.

As for "tainting" rebuttals with our comments, I do not see how that will prevent people from making decisions for themselves. More information is never worse than less, and what we think of a particular rebuttal is useful information--it is something our readers want to know and often ask for. I myself am often asked "what do you think of...." and when it comes to a response to something I personally have written, why shouldn't I answer this question? It is especially appropriate if a rebuttal contains lies or errors which might otherwise not be noticed and ought to be challenged.

Debates, after all, rarely include simply a statement and a rebuttal--they allow counter-rebuttals, sometimes several, and in the unlimited time-frame of the world wide web, there could be any measure of back-and-forth dialogue. But the fact is that we rarely get that kind of attention from our critics. They are content to have their say and then vanish. That is far less courageous or industrious than committing to a continuing discussion, as some have. In my own experience, for example, I have written to at least two authors who have rebutted something I've written, asking them to write a counter-rebuttal of my revisions, but they either ignored me, or pleaded a "busy life." That isn't our fault and you should not assume that it is.


You call your web site "secular" - and call yourself Atheists, meaning you don't believe in any God. So why, then, is this web site nothing but an attack on religion, mainly, Christianity? Why would you attack the precepts of a God you say doesn't exist? If He doesn't exist, what harm can there be? And why do you seem so incensed that others should believe in Christianity? Are you uncomfortable because you feel that Christians are influencing the laws and the media? Look around you, unfortunately not! You don't want to be told what to believe, but aren't you doing the same exact thing that you say you oppose?? Basically free speech is OK, as long as it doesn't oppose what you say. Most Christian web sites talk about what they believe, not what they DIS-beleive. Your only content seems to be a criticsm of what you are not.

Anne Web anne@web-nurse.com
Dallas, TX USA - Thursday, June 10, 1999 at 09:22:57 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

These are all old-hat complaints, but since I'm starting anew here, I will set the record straight this month:

1. Why is this web site nothing but an attack on religion, mainly, Christianity? Because Christians are constantly bugging us. The primary enemy of freethought and secularism in the Western World (especially the U.S.) is Christianity, and this prominence is reflected in our material. In effect, the whole of our positive beliefs, beyond the entire corpus of science, pales in comparison with the bulk of the attacks against these beliefs by Christians and other supernaturalists. As you will notice, the majority of our library is aimed at defending science and secular morality from the claims of religionists.

2. Why would you attack the precepts of a God you say doesn't exist? Because people like you keep asking us why we don't believe there is a God, or why we don't obey this or that religious code, or run around like headless chickens worried about the damnation of our souls and trying to save everyone and his brother's dog by shouting at them about devils and spirits and tongues of fire and other such nonsense.

3. If He doesn't exist, what harm can there be? As I have discussed many times in this month's feedback page alone, a great deal of harm can come to me if I let my society slide into anti-scientific supernaturalism. And belief in a non-existent god is even more dangerous than belief in a real one, precisely because there is no real god to step in and regulate what these believers are willing to do as a consequence of their misplaced belief. Since almost all moral idiocy is born from false beliefs, I oppose them all, and religious beliefs, being the most pernicious and deadly, require special attention.

4. And why do you seem so incensed that others should believe in Christianity? We are only incensed at those who attack us simply for not believing what they do. Christians who accept us do not incur our wrath at all. Indeed, most of our work here is for the benefit of humankind. Those whose Christianity leads them to do harm, to themselves or others, can only benefit from what we have to say, as many converts to atheism will attest.

5. Are you uncomfortable because you feel that Christians are influencing the laws and the media? I am uncomfortable that they want to, and have the money and deceptive mindset to accomplish it. They stand only a thin line away from success--and since that line is widened by our efforts, our efforts are a necessity. The apathetic will lose their freedoms. Only the vigilant will retain them.

6. You don't want to be told what to believe, but aren't you doing the same exact thing that you say you oppose? We don't want to be told--we want to be convinced. There is a big difference between threatening someone with hellfire, or telling them silly things like "logic only gets in the way of the truth," and setting out the facts and showing where logic leads from there. We have infinitely more respect for Christians who carefully and honestly argue their case, and who respect the validity of our position, than for the vast majority who threaten, lie, weedle, and cajole.

7. Basically free speech is OK, as long as it doesn't oppose what you say. We nowhere oppose free speech in any way, shape, or form. It is, rather, entirely the other way around: we exist so as to combat censorship, by ensuring that secularist literature has a permanent, public, internationally-accessible home. I, personally, would fight and die for a Christian's right to publish his views, no less than I would for an atheist's right to do the same.

8. Most Christian web sites talk about what they believe, not what they DIS-believe. Actually, most Christian web sites are filled with attacks against what we believe--just look at the essays they have archived. The great majority of them are attacks on various forms and supposed consequences of unbelief. Thus, just like us, they are forced to spend much of their time talking about their enemies.

9. Your only content seems to be a criticism of what you are not. Of course. That's one of the main purposes of our library: to collect all online literature about un-belief. We are here to give the other side of the story. You will also find, however, lengthy discussions about our positive beliefs--you simply have to look for them. Indeed, there are many different beliefs within our fold.


I attended the debate at UCCS - Paul Draper's argument was excellent, while I feel the 3rd to the 7th points by Geivett were disappointingly bad and very unconvincing (but not altogether unexpected). Thanks for working with our Campus Freethinkers to bring that in!

Brett Hegr behegr@mail.uccs.edu
Colorado Springs, CO USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 13:17:50 (MDT)


Well, as one who functions as a part time preacher, I'd applaud your site and the challenges it sets forth. [Many] have taken the task of simply listening and taking in everything as matter of fact, instead of attempting to study and challenge it, resulting in either dispelling it as a waste, or truly making it a valued part of our lives. But then, particularly in the USA, we seem to be extremists, and can only see one or the other. And yet I have more Atheist and agnostic (even one Satanist) friends who live a life more like Jesus taught than many "Christians" I know. Go figure. The church as we know it has outlived its usefulness, but how can we effectively bring about is end? (See, I am already on my soap box, sorry)

Thanks for this space. Keep it up!

Ignorance is the greatest evil in our society.

Charlie Birkner c_birk@mindspring.com

Greensboro, NC USA - Friday, June 04, 1999 at 06:30:46 (MDT)


Your site did a wonderful job of opening my eyes to what's happening with the "radical atheist left." I'd like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks. Keep up the good work. I'm sure your helping other people, like myself, that sometimes need a little dose of reality. I didn't think it was possible to stretch logic as far as you did and still end up sounding somewhat intelligent.

Virtually everything you said helped to reaffirm my faith. Thanks again.

Bob Coley caesar@wctc.net
Wisconsin Rapids, WI USA - Tuesday, June 08, 1999 at 21:53:33 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

Radical atheist left? That would be the Marxists. I think they are woefully under represented here--you must have us confused with some old dead guys. We're the nonradical atheist and agnostic middle, maybe slightly right of center at the top of every even-numbered hour. By the way, it's a dead giveaway when you send us feedback from our index page and yet pretend you've actually read something. We are suitably unimpressed.


Miscellanea Sermonum et Dictorum Mirabilium


We are all gambling on our future. The question seems to be, is there a God? And is Jesus the only way to everlasting life in heaven? There is a 50\50 chance so what would you rather do? Live in hell for eternity or heaven? I'm taking my chances on JESUS. He has made my life on earth better, taught me how to overcome the evil forces of Satan and most of all, taught me how to love. The reward is not just everlasting in heaven, but right here on earth. All you have to do is ask.

Mike Burr mikebu@airmail.net
USA - Tuesday, June 29, 1999 at 08:26:47 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

You are right about one thing: the reward is not in heaven, but right here on Earth. All you have to do is think. I learned how to love, like billions of others on this planet, without employing Jesus as my tutor, and I don't buy into any "evil forces of Satan" quick-get-the-aluminum-foil-to-ward-off-government-mind-control-rays conspiracy-junkie nonsense, so you leave little to recommend your point of view. The 50/50 challenge is called Pascal's Wager and it is the most pathetic argument I've ever heard--for threats of torture are the hallmark of a wicked creed. See our collection of papers on the Wager for more.


Hi, I'm Anna, and I just want to say, as a Christian, that I know how you feel, because I used to be an atheist too. But I'm not now, and some of the things you said about theists are very wrong. I'm not trying to be mean, or anything. But it seems that you have just started criticizing religion, without studying it, without looking into it.

Anna York anna@york.zzn.com\
York, NE USA - Monday, June 28, 1999 at 21:21:33 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

Look around our website more. You will see that we have not "just started criticizing religion, without studying it, without looking into it," but rather the opposite: our writers are very often extremely well-educated in religion, many were once even very religious, some holding positions as priests and preachers and vicars and pastors. Indeed, many of us know religion far better than believers themselves do. For example, I myself have read the entire New Testament in the original Greek language in which it was written, something I will venture to guess even you have never done. As for whether "some of the things" our authors have said about theists "are very wrong," we would appreciate it if you would be more specific. We are ardent seekers after knowledge and truth, and if you can point out anything specifically wrong about any living author's statements about theists, and better still, back up your position with sources and facts, we will consider that a valuable contribution to our feedback pages--and if you publish any such rebuttal online, we will link to it.


Hello, I was bouncing around the internet and found your site. I am a strong believer in God. I have a few friends that are atheist's and I have a great time arguing with them. I don't hold any malice against atheists, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

The main argument in just about any religion is who's right? I try to look at both sides. If we as Christians are right we get everlasting life. If atheist's are right and God doesn't exist then there is no real consequences. Now lets flip the coin. If Christians are wrong, what is the consequence? Nothing. But if atheist's are wrong and there is a God then the consequences are not good. Do you guys ever ponder, what if I'm wrong? I find these morons that spew out "your going to hell" pathetic. Anyone that has ever really studied the Bible knows that hell is just the grave, there is no fiery torment. Technically we are all going hell eventually. Thank you for your time.

Godspeed

Victor Bryant kimnvic@sover.net
Arlington, VT USA - Thursday, June 24, 1999 at 19:49:15 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

You will benefit from reviewing the flaws in Pascal's Wager (the name of the argument you are using here) which we have catalogued and linked on our Wager page.


Oh thank you for you insight. Now tell me why we are here? My life is empty now that you exposed my to the truth.

Tom Devi Devil@yahwho.com
Here, CA USA - Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 22:29:10 (MDT)

The Editor Responds:

But according to your bogus e-mail address, you are the Devil. I thought, of all people in the omniverse, the Devil would be clear on why he was here! But, I suppose we shouldn't expect evil imps from hell, who cannot even spell, to be too bright. I'll answer your question as best I can. As for us, we're here to live, love, think, and delight in being and creating. For whatever reason, you have chosen a different purpose for your life. It seems that you're here to annoy us--on special commission from God, apparently. My advice? Get a life. We did.


I have a quote that I made while writting on the Dr. Laura website. One of the people posting had this to say:

I like the way I wrote my answer:



Samuel H. Shults samuelshults@yahoo.com
Overland Park, KS USA - Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 07:25:58 (MDT)


This feedback is in reply to the online works of George Smith. When I was borned my parents told me there was a God, and I did not believe, many times I had doubts "I used human wisdom" to hide the reasons why I did not believe. When I was 26 years old I walked into my shower with a razer blade to cut my wrist and still did not believe in anything. The thought of making my parents suffering was to painfull.

Someone told me again there was a God and I still had doubts, but I said what the hell I got absolutly nothing to loose. With medical proof I can atest that since then my mother has after 31 years of a heart condition a man knoked on her door without knowing who she was and told her God had sent him there telling her that The God of heaven that reveals his misteries on to the humble was changing her heart that night. She has a triple bypass for three days later and he never had to do the surgery not only that but that it was for her to go back to the doctors so that she could be sure of the miracle. She did. She is healed. Would you want to meet her? Or I can introduce to you my sister who had multiple cistosis and one day in church God spoke to her and said "You are heald " and she went back to the doctors to schedule surgery and they did not find anything, and the baby they sai she could not have is 1 1/2 years old today.

Would you like to meet an old brother from my church who last week got up to thank the Lord that he had been healed? Or perhaps an 18 years old boy that until 5 years old never walked or talked and in a moment God sent a signal that his father needed and he got up, walked and talked? Maybe you should see what he did for me... It will suprise you

FINAL POINT: What group of people do you know that dies for something that they do not believe in...the apostles died crucified, stoned, by the sword, but they never denied that they had seen Jesus Christ raise to heaven...if their eyes had not seen it, would they die??? Or would they denie???

Read his message of love and humility carefully and then you can call him Cruel and unjust, but know this if you read it you will be judged for knowing. May God have mercy upon those who denie his existency. I have traveled the world and seen many miracles I do not worship a cross nor idols nor anything but the living God of Abraham, Isac and Jacob. Your points are exactly mine before I knew him, let me introduce him to you.

Jerry DoCarmo Amencenter@Aol.com
Newark, Nj USA - Tuesday, June 15, 1999 at 22:49:48 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

Now I know why Wonko the Sane built The Asylum inside out. It wasn't just the toothpicks!


Jesus is the only answer to anything. Wheather or not you belive in him He will exist and continue to do so. He loves each and every one of you and wants to save all of you. If you neglect such a great salvation you will suffer the consequinces and rightfully so. It is what I deserve also but I have choosen to accept His grace and I hope and Pray you will. For as it is written "every knee shall bow and every tounge confess that Jesus Christ is Lord Forever," "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near" what He does He will do quickly...get ready by accepting Him into your heart. Rom 10:9-10, John 3:16, 2 Cor 5:17

Thank you for taking your time to read this and God Bless.

Bobby Helives helives22@yahoo.com
McMinnville, Tn USA - Saturday, June 12, 1999 at 09:10:18 (MDT)

The Editor responds:

Jesus is the only answer to anything? So "Jesus" is the answer to 2 + 2!? Damn! I want my money back!


Many people devote there lives to the pursuit of science or the study of religion in hopes of finding the one true answer that will explain everything. Often this self seeking method of searching for the truth leaves one with a sense of emptyness and hopelessness in realizing that every question we find a solution for we just created two new questions in the process.

Science is a great tool for understanding how our world works, but it is only a tool. Science is not morally or ethically biased on its own, we either use science to help each other or we use science to inflict harm on each other, but in the end it comes to the hearts and desires of the people that use the tools.

It seems that most of our problems are caused by our own selfcenteredness and not the government, scientists, athiests, agnostics, theists, and etc. We are all naturally driven by greed or the desire to attain more control (through money, fame, and pride) or by the fear of losing what little control we actually have. Our selfcenteredness can take many shapes and often we can fool ourselves in believing that we are acting on something other then our own self gratifying desire.

We are all empty vessels that try to fill ourselves with what ever can make us happy, but often we are left with that feeling of emptyness. We only seem to be really happy when we are able to focus on something other then ourselves. The times that we are the most miserable are the times when we are the most selfcentered.

Many people over the years have twisted and perverted science and religion in order to gratify their own desires. Many of these people have used fear to control others to fullfill their own selfcentered desire for power while others have used greed to achieve the same goal.

Racism is often caused the selfcenteredness of making a particular race the standard in which all other races are to be judged and compared against. People will try to make themselves feel good or pridefull by making themselves the standard to judge other people because it requires no change on their part.

We all must realize that no particular orginization is responsible for the world problems. We can always create more orginizations, laws, rituals, and scape goats to make us feel comfortable and safe but it is only a temporary measure to protect us from our sinfull selves. We all must make a descision to want to change our hearts desires and to become selfless. Its only when we are selfless are we truly joyfull and complete.

All the best,

John P. Schoettler srec89@aol.com
huntington beach, ca USA - Tuesday, June 08, 1999 at 00:01:39 (MDT)


Has anybody ever pointed out that the ii graphic visible at the very begining of the infidels.org main page (the two grey 'i's next to each other) leave a white space in between them that is the christian cross? Ironic, I think.

Ben Harris benlharris@yahoo.com
Minneapolis, MN USA - Monday, June 07, 1999 at 02:15:54 (MDT)

Rob Berry replies:

This is just more proof that the presuppositionalists are correct, and that anyone who attempts to deny God's existence will ultimately end up affirming it. :-)


Last updated: Wednesday, 30-Nov-2005 17:06:10 CST
 
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