Does the presence of contradictions in the Bible mean the whole thing is wrong?

Another phenomenal post by our president, Christjahn Beck.

Christjahn

bc_2http://www.project-reason.org/bibleContra_big.pdf

“Id be curious to see what you think about the following. A common argument against Christianity is pointing out contradicting scripture and/or other sources or schools of belief. A leap is then made to say that due to those contradictions it all must be false.”

Today I’m going to answer a question from a friend that I have known for many years.  We met when he was a member of the church that my parents we co-pastors at, and we used to hang out after worship services all the time.  I know him to be an intelligent, reasonable, and respectful person, and though we now disagree on matters of faith I am going to do my best to address his question thoughtfully.  I fully realize that some of what I have to say on this topic will offend people, and  given the subject matter this is essentially unavoidable.  I…

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Christjahn’s blog. Is Atheism a religion?

Here’s a post from our president’s new personal blog. Check it out!

Christjahn

images

“All you have done is turned atheism into a religion…”

This is something that I have had many MANY people say to me.  Every thursday I set up an Ask An Atheist booth on campus at Iowa State University, and one of the most common things that people say to us is some version of this comment/question. That said, it is probably a good first question for this blog.  Welcome once again by the way…

Let’s start with some context.

re·li·gion

nounri-ˈli-jən

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods

: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

So, there we have the Merriam-Webster definition of religion.  I am not going to address the first two…

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Answers for the Creationist

Hey Everyone! You may have been out of campus today and seen that traveling preacher Tom Short was back, along with his many large signs and large volume of Mountain Dew. He had a new hair color but we had a new sign, so it was only fair. We got a quick tabling event going, and he’s coming by again on Thursday, during our regular Ask an Atheist time.

A lot of people coming by ask us why we set up across from traveling preachers. The answer is quite simply that it is one of our best times for recruitment in the club, and nothing fosters discussion between Christians and Atheists better than talking about a more extreme or conservative type of Christian, in to which category Mr. Short falls for most people. It’s also great for our image when we look for polite discussion opposite a veritable word-storm of harsh opinion.

During the event today, I decided to take up the challenge of responding to one of the posters Mr. Short travels with. When he sets up, I frequently think that many people have answers to the “Questions for the Evolutionist” poster. Unfortunately, due to the one sided nature of preaching, these answers probably don’t get through. For this reason, I wrote out my answers, giving each consideration as to the most useful approach to the question. I am quite certain that my responses will do nothing for Mr. Short, but I wish to make this exercise available to all you who come by the blog, from any perspective on the questions of your own, and put my thoughts out there so that perhaps someone will hear an explanation they may not have heard before.

I do wonder why anyone started using the term “Evolutionist”. I think it’s a bit silly, as those who accept evolution don’t really model their lives or beliefs around it as Creationists do. I think the term is a representation of a misunderstanding of what it means to accept evolution, which is just that, accepting the most plausible theory available. I have attempted to copy the questions down word for word from the poster, but the picture I took of it today was unfortunately a bit blurry and the top was cropped short, so I have done my best to get them right. Also here are my exact responses as I gave to Mr. Short, copied off pictures I took of the papers. There is a line in my last answer I lost in my picture taking, so I have replaced the lost words to the best of my memory in brackets.

isuaas

Do you believe there is a source to the order in the Universe? If not, do you think Chaos+Time=Order?

No, I do not believe there is “a source” to the order in the universe, as far as any single source. I have an inclination that the attribution of the term “source” is somewhat faulted in that it implies a reason, which I do not think there is either. And no, chaos given time does not lead to order.
Interesting to consider, though, is that more ordered arrangements can arise from input of energy. Consider ATP synthesis, in which the high stored energy of a phosphate-phosphate bond can be produced, but only by pairing with an energetically favorable reaction (Na+ entering the cell, which has lower Na+ content than the surroundings. Diffusion requires no energy.
Consider also that the earth is not a closed system. Though a lot of the Sun’s radiation (a type of energy) is reflected off the earth, some of this is harnessed, inputting energy into the system to couple to the otherwise unfavorable production of sugars in chloroplasts.

Do you believe complex design in nature came about by chance?

I believe the understanding of natural selection as chance is mistaken. It is not chance, for example, that a flatworm with pigmented cells which absorb light energy senses the blocking of light as a potential threat and goes back to the light will avoid predation more often than a worm with less pigmented cells. You may be getting caught up in mutations. For that, perhaps consider that genetics are not purely Mendelian. Many genes affect traits, so a continuous range occurs in a population, not a much or none dichotomy. So a worm with 11 clustered pigmented cells does worse than one with 12, who does worse that the 13. This isn’t chance.

DNA is a language communicating information. Where did that information come from?

It may be worth noting for this question we need to understand what information means. DNA is composed of sequences of “codons” – 3 molecule sequences. Each codon can pair with a matching anticodon, which is attached to an amino acid. Chains of amino acids form proteins, which fold in certain ways based on chemical interactions between the acids. Proteins preform many functions in and between cells, and the compilation of these functions affect organisms.

How do you believe life began?

I think that life isn’t terribly different from “non-life”. Life is just a compilation of chemical reactions, so it arose from chemistry. I think that drawing a line between life and non-life would be very difficult, so beginning would be hard to pick out.
I realize that this answer isn’t very thorough, but many wonderful researchers are engaged in studies to give this very question better and better answers.

What is your evidence that one kind of life has evolved into another?

If by “kind of life” you mean species, I would start with investigating prokaryotes and looking at ‘in-our-lifetime’ speciation of the apple maggot fly.
For more evidence, you can study fossils. Particularly well defined lineages are in temnospondyls (fish–>amphibian) & therapods–>birds. In both lineages, predictions have been made of what trait mixes we expect at given times, & then a similar and fitting example, and even repeat specimens, have been found.
The diversification of bird life and tortoise life (just Galapagos) if Pacific Island chains is also a good place to study.

Mutations decrease useful genetic information. Do you believe that with enough time, this trend is reversed?

This is not true. Mutations are not inherently good or bad. Many are helpful, many are hurtful, many more are inconsequential.

How do you account for the formation of fossils?

Fossils are formed by a process called permineralization. Organic matter (usually with a strong structure) in an anoxic environment, such as buried in sand or mud, with water flow through the sediments’ pores, slowly have their porous space filled with the minerals dissolved in the water. The water can also preferentially dissolve Calcium rich molecules, such as in bone, creating new porosity which can be filled.

When do you think the “missing link” will finally be found?

I think you may be a bit confused. There is no single missing link, and every new species we discover is part of a continuous, branched sequence, the “tree of life”. No species is more important than any other, so calling any one “The missing link” is anthropocentric.

Why are evolutionists so determined to prevent young people from hearing this material?

People who accept evolution are not one united group. There are many Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, &c. persons who accept evolution and are eager to share their religious beliefs
A small group of atheists, some of whom, or I’d rather wager most, accept evolution, & are obtuse towards religious persons. I don’t know whether they would be opposed to their children being exposed to religion.
I’m an evolutionary biologist and a paleontologist. I’m also an agnostic atheist. I do not have children, but when I do someday I do not wish to shield them from any perspective on the world. I wish to let them know what as many varieties of people think about the world as possible. I did not like religion myself, and it was a wild agent in making me feel bad as a child. I do want to protect any children I may someday have from hurt. I do not want anyone to try to define my children as good or bad by any quality besides their choices and actions. It is possible that things [I believe to be good or bad, they may disagree with, and consider something different. I wish to do my best] to present, in all possible cases, my thoughts as far as reasons for a conclusion, but never push my conclusions. I wish for my some-day children to have the option to believe or reject any opinion, I wish for them to have the least biased possible background to work from when they decide to tackle questions we cannot answer without opinion.
So, I can not speak for everyone on this count, but I do not know anyone who, based on their acceptance of evolution, is set on influencing their children in any way towards or against religion.

First Meeting : Great Success

Hello All! The Atheist and Agnostic Society at ISU just had it’s first discussion meeting of the semester tonight and it went phenomenally! We had 51 attendees, filling up our reserved room, and got to hear input in our discussion from many people, first timers and returning members alike. 

It is SO exciting to see the secular community really turn out, and so many people interested in discussions and our community. If tonight is indicative of what our year is going to be like, it is going to be an amazing and incredible year. 

News for the blog, it looks like we’ll be having some new contributors, interested new members of the club. We look forward to their thoughts on all things secular in the coming months. 

In short: Great success!

How to Protect Yourself from Evil- An Alpha Perspective

Today’s topic was “How Can I Resist Evil” at the Hope Lutheran Church’s Alpha class.  This was supposed to explain to us what it meant to recognize evil and how to best counter this evil when we come across it.  I’ll go into some of the explanations of evil (Satan) and what it is we are supposed to do with that evil.

Well first off she started the sermon with a logical “proof” that was apparently self-evidently true.  “If there is an absolute good, then there logically has to be an absolute evil” and that is why we must accept that there is an evil “force” out there that is out to get us.  The problem with this is obvious first off, this only applies if you believe in an infinite good in the first place and there is no maxim that says there must be an absolute evil as an entity. As darkness is absence of light, evil could be the absence of good in this example; and it certainly isn’t sentient.  However, she labeled this evil as Satan as laid out in the bible and went through pains to show that god was “perfect” and Satan was created from god; therefore Satan is less than god and is not as powerful.  She reiterated this time and again most likely in case someone asked the obvious question: “if god is all powerful why does he suffer Satan or evil?” Well that question still stands, but we’ll get to some of the most grievous contradictions later, but for now we are supposed to understand that Satan is powerful, but not ALL powerful.  It’s “Common sense” as she says that Satan has to exist in this fashion.  Problem here is of course, we all accept that “Evil” or “Bad” exists….but not everyone attributes a sentience to that evil. That’s……weird.

But god made Satan.

Anyways, Satan is leading demons and is fighting a spiritual war against the forces of heaven. We poor hapless humans are caught in the cross fire and have to do what we can to defeat the demons. I know you’re probably thinking this is all figurative, but it doesn’t seem so. There are actually demons out there, they are actually cast out of people, and they are actively here to harm you and me. This is interesting stuff if we’re supposed to rely on evidence and be critical thinkers concerning the bible.

Evidence I ask? Well she’s got it in spades! The bible is our evidence for Satan, so we can easily prove the bible correct by using the bible.  No problems there. The other piece is its tradition. All Christian teachings throughout the ages have had some sort of devil figure either in literature or art that showcased the battle against evil.  If Christian theologian’s and writers believed in Satan during the Middle Ages and before, then obviously it must be true. Another bit was that not everyone believed in demons back during 1st century Palestine.  She mentioned a ruling class that didn’t believe in the dogma of the religion, but ran the churches for profit. She reviled them as “Fakers” and since they didn’t’ believe in the devil (or god) then obviously Satan was winning over them. Evidence for this is in the bible which can readily be fact checked with the bible.  Really, this is the other piece of evidence, discounting that other more coherent and older religions have claims just as similar or different as you can imagine.  This one Christian doctrine is the True One.

Moving on to more relevant sources of evil, she mentioned that demons and Satan are constantly in action all around us! She used the example of the copying machines in the church.  Whenever an important outreach event is about to happen there always seems to be a problem with the copying machines.  There is no way it is a coincidence since it always happens whenever the church has need of them.  It’s not as if the additional use and constant attention have anything to do with jam-prone machines in the first place, no! It’s demons and/or Satan.  A Christian radio station wouldn’t show up in a woman’s car, as it kept fading out to icky talk radio. Again, Satan at work, trying to turn this woman away from god! Pornography shows up on a church members’ computer that he knows he never viewed (It was later found out to be a computer virus). SATAN put that virus there! You get the picture-anything that we don’t want to happen is Satan, anything we DO want to happen is god. Very, very flimsy stuff.

Now we move on to another part that I especially had to snicker at.  She warned against people turning away from god in a search for more power via the occult.  She mentions astrology, sorcery, witchcraft, wiccans; these are all forms of Satan that seek to take power away from god and into human (Satans!) hands via super natural methods.  She particularly pointed to astrology and Wicca as a very harmful thing and how it was a disgrace that so many young women in particular were turning to Wicca and that right here in Des Moines (!) there were these groups going on! She marked them all as evil and said those of us who may or may not have looked at the horoscope/astrology/Wicca/sorcery/etc. should pray for forgiveness. ?  I’d hate to know what she thinks of Harry Potter or World of Warcraft.

One example she gave was of a bright young woman who claims to be a “witch” and wanted to cast spells to help people.  She thought that it was so sad that this girl was so bright, yet was leading down a path of evil. I mean, we all know how fickle young girls are and they may be trying to do something “Good” and may do something bad with their spells! They should certainly stay away from this kind of thing, because sorcery in the hands of a young person is dangerous.  One question I wish I could have asked the pastor: How is that any different than prayer? If a young girl wielding sorcerous powers is so dangerous since she’s wont to use her powers for evil, how is that any different than praying to god for a boy to like her, or a Facebook post to be erased? It’s the same thing, just not the pastor’s flavor.  I don’t know what is more troubling the fact that this pastor thinks astrology and sorcery are a threat to her church as real things or that she can’t tell the difference between her prayer and another form of “prayer”.  Oh and she mocked the psychic hotline as people that are silly and are misled…kind of like calling in to BTN or Pat Robertson or any other Christian prayer group, don’t you think?

Ok winding down now, we go back to Genesis and the idea of original sin and how Satan is there to trick Adam and Eve.  Now I read some the wording here and god says basically “don’t eat this fruit, or you’ll die”. Then Satan the snake comes up and says “Hey Eve, you should totally eat that fruit because it’s good, etc.” So Eve does. And they don’t die. Did god LIE to them? Beh,semantics.

Anyway, the reason I bring this part up is to show how backwards this thinking is in the Christian religion. God made a tree that would doom Adam and Eve. God makes Satan, knowing he’s going to trick the humans, and has Satan go do his trickery thing. Then god punishes everyone, but it’s not a curse. He CURSES Satan by doing the snake thing, but here merely JUDGES the humans with all the original sin, etc.  So it’s a JUDGEMENT when god does something evil, but a CURSE when Satan does it. Oh sorry, you weren’t cursed with cerebral palsy, you were JUDGED! Get it right. One way to look at this scenario is that god created a situation in which he knew he was going to have to bring the pain down on Adam and Eve, and he conveniently made Satan his scapegoat.  Satan technically told the truth, eat the fruit and you will know right and wrong. They did, and it made them recognize that they were “naked” if you take the bible in its figurative language. Then they were punished for it. The reason this scapegoating type thing is important is because the pastor said that is what Satan does. He points fingers, he shoves the blame away, the same way a person does when they do something wrong. However, this is exactly what god has done if you are going to maintain an internally consistent story. He creates a no win scenario, blames it on Satan, beats HIM down, then smites some humans. Who is the real evil one here?

But we can all relax! All this is alright because Jesus died on the cross for all our sins. All the apples eaten, the demons in copier machines, the pornography on computers, and yes depression (she blamed clinical depression on Satan too) are all simply water under the bridge. Just arm yourself in the breastplate of righteousness, the helm of salvation; the shield of faith (No science and reason getting in here!), and the Sword of Spirit and you can never be defeated.

Or reasoned with as a rational human being, you take your pick.

Jason Benell

 

 

Words and Actions Have Meaning

How many times throughout the day do we say things without really meaning what the words themselves mean? “I’d die for a drink of water right now”, “he’s drop dead gorgeous”, “It’s raining cats and dogs out there” etc.  You know, those little sayings that we use in every day speech that we don’t really mean, but they certainly get our point across.  We don’t really think of those things as serious issues to get hung up on. I mean, no one is going to stop you and say “HEY, it’s not REALLY raining cats and dogs, it’s just raining very hard”, unless they were intentionally being obtuse.

However, when it comes to religious sayings we have to take a second look at these things. Do people really mean “Oh my god, I hope you suspend the laws of physics so I can make this trick shot” or “Jesus protected me during the car accident”? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is that words and ideas do indeed have meaning and we recognize that every day.

Let us look at another example; a current presidential candidate, Michelle Bachmann.  She has said: “I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. If I am called to serve in that realm I would serve, but if I am not called, I wouldn’t do it.” Do you think Bachmann really means that she won’t serve unless she perceives her god is telling her to? Now, when we consider religious sayings, these little things we say every day can start to have more of an impact.  Do we want someone in charge of things if they have to get an OK from a voice that only they can hear? I think not.  Granted, this is an extreme example, not everyone that uses these religious sayings can be put into such a controversial position, but the point still remains. Words have meaning.

If we look again and again at all of our societal norms and mores we have to consider what we are really saying. When we have a Medal of Honor ceremony, why do we have a prayer? What does that mean? Why do we need to invoke a god to celebrate a heroic soldier? Why do we consistently lie to our children about tooth fairies and Santa Clause?  Even when we tell children that Santa clause or the Easter bunny is real, what does that say about how much we value what is true?   When does it stop being a funny small saying and become a dangerous way of thinking? When does a child’s Santa Clause turn into Bachmann’s god?

The point of this rambling message is that we should take more care and notice when things happen in our society and even in our speech. If we as a people think it’s alright to discriminate against people based religion as long as it isn’t overt, then we are still saying it’s alright to discriminate. So let it rain cats and dogs, and go ahead and die for that drink of water, but when it comes to letting religion into your culture, hold your words to a higher standard.

 

Jason Benell

Atheists at the Straw Poll-A Mighty Fine Shindig

Well, that was a fun Straw Poll for the atheists that were there. This Saturday I, along with some of my fellow atheists, attended the Ames Straw Poll to participate in the presidential election process. I was one of the people holding the atheist banner: “Keep Religion out of Politics” along with a snippet of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…..” It was honestly a great chance to meet and greet with people from many different political backgrounds and views, and indeed a great chance to see why people have such a problem with people like me. Being told I’m “disgusting”, “going to hell”, “pathetic”, and that I “need a life” just for attending the Straw Poll really can make one cynical about Iowa politics. It wasn’t all bad though, I was also told I’m “heroic”, “American”, “knowledgeable” and simply “a nice guy” from several other people as well, even from people that disagreed with us atheists. Many of those people that held religious views different from my own still saw the value in our message, which gives me some hope.

However, that wasn’t why I was there; I was there to see how the political process unfolds in our great state of states. I was also there to bring attention to the fact that religious ideology should not be the cornerstone of any candidate’s campaign.

You see, you can be a Republican, or a Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, or any other political ideology in between and still agree with a separation of church and state. In fact, it’s required; it’d be unconstitutional to have a specific religion favored over another. This also includes religion over irreligion, theism over atheism, and vice versa; it works both ways.  Keep in mind this is regardless of what any political figure has said in the past; this is a requirement of a free and equal constitution that contains a 1st and 14th amendment as we have in ours. I do indeed wonder why it was such a rough time for us atheists that were simply there to remind Straw Poll attendees that the 1st amendment in fact exists.

When candidates like Michele Bachmann tell her supporters that she is called by god to run for an office, or when Herman Cain criticizes Obama for not mentioning God enough, these are not the qualities we should be looking for in a candidate. We should be looking for legislation based on the consequence of that legislation not on how a particular candidate feels about their religion directing their ideology. Imagine how horrible it would be if every person in power supported legislation not based on how it affected the citizens but rather how their religious training guided them. That would not be the kind of country I doubt anyone would want to live in, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. It’d be inherently unjust because laws and equality go out the window when someone’s personal feelings about religion begin to dictate law for all citizens.

So if you were out at the Straw Poll this last weekend and you saw us atheists and were curious to know exactly why we were out there, the answer is quite simple: We care about our state and we care about the Constitution.  We care enough that we don’t want our state to be represented by the candidate who can be the most Christian or who can be the most vocal. We want policies based on their results, not on their religious ideological basis, and we want the 1st amendment respected by all presidential candidates.

Jason Benell

Press Officer

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers

press@iowaatheists.org