The Validity of Debating Creationists

I’m very intrigued about tonight’s debate between Ham and Nye. The news and publicity that I am seeing about it is has been almost non-stop for the last couple of weeks. Though the mainstream media here in limeyland doesn’t appear to have picked up on it. I’m keen to see if it is reported at all tomorrow. I expect to see something in the morning news and later in the papers, I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. I’ll not be watching it live though, since it’ll be midnight here when it starts and goodness knows what time when it’s over. I expect I’ll check YouTube for videos tomorrow to see how it went. No doubt my feedly stream will be full of comment in the morning as well.

One of the hottest questions on the subject of the debate seems to be the validity of the debate rather than what the content is likely to be. The opinions here are almost as polarised as the subject itself.

I fully get the objections that vocal naysayers are raising. Debating Creationists does give undue validity to their opinions and making it this public, especially so. The Ham publicity machine has clearly been working very hard. The important point is, scientific truth is not decided by debate; it is dictated through evidence. Debating the validity of Creationism gives a platform to ideas which should have died out a long time ago and the debate format simply gives them life through the method of slippery rhetoric. Clever words do not truth make, regardless of how much the speaker believes it.

However, this does also give an opportunity for those creationists who are prepared to pay attention to the science to actually hear a science description from someone who is not trying to peddle religion off the back of it. When I look back at the science I read about in my creationist days, I can see how it was always shaped in a way that led to god. Creationists talking about science invariably frame the discussion to guide a god agenda and this is dishonest. When I read creationist comment on science now, I can see that clearly and it alarms me. Creationists who have relied on the likes of Ham and AiG to feed them these twisted versions of science now have a chance to hear it more clearly, if only they will have ears to hear.

I hope that Nye will rise to the challenge and give many creationists something serious and honest to think about and investigate. I hope he has good advisors and has had enough time to prepare because getting through to a creationist is not the same as explaining science to the secular layperson. If a scientific argument is seen as threatening to a Creationist, then it’ll be rejected. The science needs to be phrased in a way that invites (temps?) them to look deeper.

This event always springs to mind when thinking about discussions such as this: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/when-friends-are-unkind/

 

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And So The Pendulum Swings

When I first realised that my questioning of my Christianity meant that I was on the road towards atheism I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would always be sympathetic towards Christianity.

Having slid slowly out of Christianity, I knew that there was much to admire about many Christians that I knew. I also knew that there was much that the churches behind organised religion do in their locality. I wasn’t leaving Christianity because I hated anything or anyone; I was leaving because the basis of the belief system isn’t true. People who I know are good people don’t suddenly become bad and meaningless just because I no longer believe what they believe.

I knew some atheists who were vocally anti religion and their comments would bug me because I viewed the comments as either ignorant or hateful and certainly without compassion. I wanted no part of that mentality so I promised myself that I would never become that sort of atheist and that I would always have that sympathetic attitude towards Christianity. It seemed like a sensible thing to do.

Unfortunately I now find myself in a place where I consider that promise naive and I can’t keep it anymore.

I Don’t Hate Religion

Let me be clear on that, I don’t have the hateful and mocking attitude towards religion that I so often see on various places on the internet. I find that deeply unhelpful.

However, I do find myself being less tolerant that I expected to be. It started with little things, like hearing or seeing comments about praying for situations but not seeing any evidence of actual practical effort to achieve the desired result. Or seeing that there are different ways to interpret bible passages with no clear guidance on what is being determined. If the message of Christianity is correct, then why are there so many arguments about what various passages mean? Surely if there is one God, it would be more obvious what was being said to his created beings in the bible. Such widespread ambiguity must surely be strong evidence for falsity.

I was starting to find myself agreeing with sentiment that I would have once discarded as atheistic nastiness. The fact is these were legitimate questions that I had never seriously considered.

There is a difference between honest criticism and religion bashing for sport. I am all for the former but want no part of the latter.

More than that, I do find myself wanting less and less Christian influence in my life. I’ve rejected the theology; I’ve rejected the lifestyle and now I found myself wanting to purge the influence of Christianity from other parts of my life. This is more serious because it has a direct impact on those close to me and has led to some difficult conversations and analysis of what stage my life is at.

Sitting back and analysing my atheist journey over the past, there has been a clear move further and further away from tolerating Christianity. I’ve moved further away from that point than I expected I would and it has been a bit of a surprise.

For the moment I am assuming that this is just a part of my deconversion experience and that at some point I’ll soften my attitude and the pendulum will swing a little back again. Until that happens, assuming it does, I’m going to have a fun ride while I wait to achieve a balanced viewpoint.

 

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

I would like to thank M. Rodriguez of the The BitterSweet End  (http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com) for the following post. I suggested the title to him in response to his invite for me to write him a couple of guest posts because I was interested in another persons experience on this subject.

How does the (online) ex-Christian community affect those who have questions of faith or doubt?

For Many atheist or ex-Christians who really were not involved in evangelism during their Christianity they may not fully realize how much their interaction with a believer or doubting Christian impacts a person or affects the psyche of a person.

Now for the doubting or skeptical Christian there are a lot of skeptic websites debunking Christianity; but a good portion of those websites are really designed for other atheist to mock Christians.  Personally during my de-conversion I did not visit a lot of atheist websites for that very reason (and also a lot of them had a lot of profanity).  Fortunately I did find several Christian friendly atheist blogs that were about intellectually challenging the dogma of religion, and not mocking it.  Now for me the majority of my experiences have been good.  I have found a number of really good atheist blogs that I visit occasionally that are focused on being against the delusion of God and NOT the Christian person.  And I have a very supportive group that visits my blog on a regular also.  And they were very supportive when it came time for me to tell my wife about my de-conversion, with words like good luck, best wishes, our hearts and thoughts are with you.   Just real encouraging.

However not all my interactions have been positive.  During my deconversion process, I put up a post called the Atheist Challenge, which was 10 questions I thought would be very difficult for an atheist to answer.  And being a doubting wavering Christian, (but still a Christian) they were phrased in a way as coming from that perspective.  In saying that the Christian perspective, that they were loaded questions which assumed God.  And for me at that time, I did not fully comprehend that they were assumed loaded questions, because to me God was assumed true, so to put it any other way would be illogical.

Because of this questionnaire, I did receive some very sarcastic, uncooperative comments from atheist.  Calling my questions stupid and really not trying to answer, but provide a sort of reverse Ad Hominem argument with ridicule.

Fortunately there were other atheist and ex-believers who knew the background of why I asked the questions.  So they quickly came to my defense, against those who criticized me and the intelligence of the question.  Not that I was trying to prove atheist wrong, but these were genuine questions I really had and personally experienced.  And questions, that I knew I would get if and when I deconverted.  (And I did get a version of every single one after I did de-convert).

In that post questionnaire many of the so called difficult questions were not so difficult.  And because of the massive response I received, I can confidently say, that the atheist questionnaire/challenge did have a direct effect into me finally coming into the realization that the Christian Faith and Belief is fallacious.   So I have to say thank you to all those who took those questions seriously, and really did try to answer the questions of a former doubting Christian.  I appreciate the online community of atheist and ex-believers who took my questions seriously; because it was a turning point in my de-conversion, because those last 10 questions really closed the door on my doubt.  However this could have been a different story…..I could have dropped my inquiry into my religion right then and there, because of the negative perception & reaction of a few atheists.  And just returned to my Christian belief, because I did not want to be like all those other angry atheists.  And that thought really did cross my mind….But like I said, those Ex-believers and Atheist who were familiar with my story and my blog gave me the hope and confidence I needed to come to the terms of truth.

There is a saying that gets passed around in the Christian evangelical community…  you might be the only God people see…  Meaning that your actions and treatment of others might be the only interaction that a person might have with that belief system.  And that they may reject your God, not because of rational argument, but on how good or bad their interaction with you goes.  It further implies that the impression you give is a direct reflection of your belief.

Never more true is this statement as it applies to atheist & atheism.  What I mean by that, is that a Christian may say some harsh and mean things on an online forum or blog (Go to Hell, Burn in Hell, God hates you) but for every unkind Christian on a blog, there are 2-3 more who are willing to say I Love You or Jesus loves you.  Atheist-Atheism-Unbelieviers don’t have that luxury.  If an atheist puts up a mocking and ridiculing comment on believers, that really might be the one and only interaction which that believer might have with an atheist-unbeliever.  And that negative perception of an atheist will carry with that believer, and spread because there are not very many other atheists to help correct that one mis-action of the angry atheist.

Now some may think, that this point is really some type of irrelevant emotion appeal, and that atheism is the intellectually honest position, so that they don’t have to be nice or loving or show compassion, because the believer should be able to recognize and rationalize intelligent argument and be able to come to the right conclusion regardless if I am mean or nice.  Well that misperception becomes irrelevant in the grand scheme of human interaction.  Just ask yourself… Would you rather be Intellectually Right/Correct OR Loved & treated with kindness and respect?  And if you act in a way that is unloving and mean, why would a person want to be a part of that group?

And this answer right here is why so many people flock to religion, especially the liberal versions of it.  We can be as intellectually correct as much as we want, but if we don’t genuinely care about the wellbeing of a person it means nothing.

10 Questions for Atheists

Over at http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-atheist-challenge/ thebiblereader has asked 10 questions for atheists to answer.

Rather than me repeat the questions here, it is probably best you go there to read them. I will post my responses as a reply to his blog as well as in this post. There are already a lot of responses there.

 

1)      That’s not true. No god does not mean no measurement for morality. Morality is consistent with evolution because as a group of individuals develop rules will have to develop increase the changes of the groups survival. Watch groups of animals in the wild and this becomes clear, it is not the anarchy those who believe this would have us believe. There is currently a lot of study in this area and some very interesting experiments and result are coming out of it.

2)      Again, this is also not true. Meaning is not placed on us from an external being based on whether or not we believe in him. Meaning is a much more personal thing and is a reasonable result in a species that has developed self-awareness.

3)      If New Atheism means the active opposition to religion on the understanding that it causes more harm than good and that accommodation of the religious is for the weak. Then no, I do not subscribe to that and nor do I support eugenics. I accept that there could be an extreme end of the spectrum that sees eugenics as not only acceptable but good. Just because that extreme might exist does not mean that atheism is rotten. Much the same as religious extremism does not in and of itself disprove religion.

4)      Transitional fossils exist and are documented. DNA evidence is however far more convincing and has enabled more accurate maps of how species have diverged and evolved. Gaps in the fossil record exist because not every species will leave fossils. For all the millions of animals that have existed, a tiny minority have survived to fossil form. DNA explains the relationships far better anyway.

5)      Yes. Even as a Christian the concept of Human Nature was never a problem for me. It is Human Nature to seek a greater purpose, for a long time that purpose was encapsulated in God. That doesn’t make him real.

6)      I won’t pretend to understand the beginning of the universe and how it came about. I consider it disingenuous for the religious who also don’t understand it to try and discredit it based on that simplistic misunderstanding. My challenge in response is that it is better to learn about something in order to better understand it, than it is to mock it out of fear for what it might do to our beliefs.

7)      Straw man alert! Atheists are not automatically immoral or self-destructing, this is an untruth believed by believers. I’ve been there before so I understand the mentality. Picking those countries as examples of a godless society are as helpful as picking Afghanistan and Iran as examples of a Godly Society. Picking an objectionable extreme to prove a point is never a good idea.

8)      I would image I would enter an initial state of panic. After that, I really don’t know. It is not something I worry about becoming true.

9)      Having already made the move from Christianity, having considered it right for many years. I would need absolute and undeniable proof. It would have to be a physical manifestation of God that could not be explained in any other way and it would have to happen more than once. Given some of the things I have already attributed to god in my Christian years, this proof would need to be something special.

10)   Basically, I was once a YEC and a better understanding of science made me realise how wrong I had been all those years. I tried to reconcile my Christianity with my new found acceptance of evolution but I failed. I now think that it is far more reasonable to say there is no god because that is what the evidence indicates.

 

 

The first few weeks of Atheism

Having accepted that my Christianity was unsalvageable and that I was on the road to Atheism (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/suddenly-i-realised-that-atheism-was-the-only-choice/) I found myself going through all sorts of mental hoops.

I have already mentioned (in the post linked to above) how my moral compass fluttered a bit while I accepted that my morality was part of me and not as a result of the Christian Holy Spirit dwelling within me. I challenged my morals in various thought experiments to see what I thought I was capable of. It was an odd time while I moved from my existing position to theoretically allowing myself to do anything I wished and back again.

After a couple of weeks of this, I decided firmly that how I was already was how I liked myself and so nothing was going to change there. It didn’t matter if the morals I abided by were truly me or if some I had adopted as a result of years of Christian indoctrination. Trying to separate one from the other would be a pointless task anyway.

Unexpected Relief

This moral settling process took a few weeks and during that time I also experienced an odd sense of relief.

Having made the decision that there was no god after all, I wasn’t expecting there to be much of a change within me and I certainly didn’t expect there to be a deep response within me; in my soul so to speak. I was going to describe the change as emotional, but that would be selling it short, it was more than that.

The sense of relief was unexpected and took me by surprise and so it would be a while before I recognised it for what it was. Identifying what that relief was from would be harder still.

Was it relief from an oppressive religion of the type I have read about on many atheist blogs? Not really, I never felt my Christianity was oppressive and I don’t think I’d describe it as such now.

Was it relief from a binding set of rules and the fear of failing the impossible standards that are set? Not really, I never consciously felt that fear and still I object to that description of Christianity because its frankly not my experience of it.

Was it relief from the rituals associated with any form of Christianity? A little bit, yes.

Was it relief that enabled me to look at the natural world and be able to appreciate its beauty fully for the first time and be able to acknowledge it with a “Wow! That is the result of random chance through Evolution and there is no designer involved”. A bit more of that yes. In fact, I am now finding myself finding greater wonder in nature than I did as a Christian. A revelation has still surprises me today when I think about it.

If I thought for longer I could no doubt increase the list of possible candidates for the source of that relief. The truth is that its not from one source, but rather several different sources. Abandoning my Christian faith has meant a lot of changes in the reasons of why things are important to me and the relief I experienced is the result of the change of each of those.

Besides a sense of relief there is also a feeling of liberation.

Again, I can’t explain why there is a liberated feeling. Liberation implies freedom from shackles, either physical or metaphorical. My Christian life has been one of much proclamation of liberation from the shackles of sin and yet I find myself feeling liberated having ditched my Christianity.

I’m still not clear on all the reasons for these feelings. All I can say with certainly is that they were not expected.

I have decided not to dwell on the puzzle of the source and instead enjoy the result.

Where is the line between religion and cult?

The BBC recently broadcast a programme called My Brother The Islamist (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12900460). I found the content fascinating and when I compare it to my own experience of fundamental Christianity I can’t help but stop and ponder, how close is the extreme end of religion to a cult?

In the BBC programme, a man tries to answer the question of what happened to his step brother to turn him into an extreme Muslim. One quote in particular jumps out at me.

“You see all this filth, all this munkar, it will all be gone when the Sharia comes in,” he remarked, scanning disdainfully around him.

By “munkar” he meant sin, evil. He was disgusted by what surrounded him

This strikes a chord with me as its how I remember feeling at times. I would look around and be offended at all the perceived sin around me and see it as evidence of the devil at work in this wonderful Christian land that was so obviously turning its back on God.

Now I know that the brother featured here and my own brush with fundamentalism are both small representations of the religious spectrum. I know too that the vast majority of those who practice religion are more moderate.

This is why the difference between a cult and an extreme religious sect intrigues me. Cults are normally identified by their forceful encouragement of members to cut all ties with friends and family outside of the cult. Its this aspect of a cult that rang a warning bell for me with the story of the Islamist brother and had me wondering how much further down the extreme spectrum does a religion have to go in order to be a cult.

When pondering this subject I was reminded of The Nine O’Clock Service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_O’Clock_Service). This was a specific service that was part of an Anglican church here in the UK and eventually grew into something potentially more dangerous. I am fairly sure that when the news broke, that the word cult was used by some to describe it. Mind you there are many who would happily call anything religious a cult so that in and of itself does not make it a cult.

The thing with The Nine O’clock Service is that it started innocuous itself and then, without the right accountability, grew into something dangerous. This was my concern with the BBC story of the brothers, does something start looking like its becoming a cult and what can be done about it?

I don’t have answers to either but I hope that moderate religious people being aware of the dangers are able to spot the act early. Certainly for those in the centre of it, its very hard to spot what is going on.

 

When and How to Come Clean on Atheism

Right now I know I’ve given up on my Christianity, the reasons are many and varied, which will become more clear as I continue this blog. The question that’s bothering me most at the moment is when (and how) to come clean on the matter.

This is really only relevant to one person in my life, and that’s my wife, the person I love the most and whom I least want to hurt and upset. Telling my wife that I have turned my back on the Christian faith that we have shared so many years will be very hurtful to her and its just not something I am ready to do to her.

I know the day will come when we have the conversion where I admit that I’ve made the decision to abandon Christianity and adopted the atheistic conclusion that there is no God. I want to be able to tell her, rather than have her find out, but the right time is always tomorrow and never today. My biggest fear is she’ll work it out and challenge me, which will likely be worse than manning up and telling her.

So for the moment I am in a self induced limbo, knowing the truth about my state of disbelief and going through the actions of Christian every Sunday.

I know there will be many friends who will be very upset as well, our closest friends are all part of the church. Their reaction is far less important to me than my wife’s. Do I tell her at home on a normal day or do I wait until we are alone and away from home? Either way will be emotional and will likely be unpleasant for both of us. What is of more importance to me is how we deal with the after effects.

There is just one person who knows, my brother. I told him very soon after I made the decision, because I knew he had already done the same. He confided in me several years ago and it really wasn’t a surprise for me at all. However, I’ve always been the devout and sensible older brother, coming from me, this news was more surprising.

My brother’s main concern was also for my wife, did she know? Why not? When did I plan to tell her? And critically, don’t leave it too long. I love my brother dearly and his advice is usually very good. He understands my reticence, but cautions strongly against doing nothing.

So I’m doing nothing. One day we’ll have the discussion but I don’t feel capable of having it just yet.

So the pretence continues…..