Probe Ministries is a Christian apologetic ministry that prides itself on “research to address today’s issues through honest and respected Christian scholarship.” At one time I had seriously considered joining this organization. Recently, I received one of their Probe Alerts in which the following question was answered: “Why Do More Educated People Tend to Deny the Existence of God?” The question was answered by quoting from Catholic Theologian Dr. Peter Kreeft:

“Intellectuals resist faith longer because they can: where ordinary people are helpless before the light, intellectuals are clever enough to spin webs of darkness around their minds and hide in them. That’s why only Ph.D.s believe any of the 100 most absurd ideas in the world (such as Absolute Relativism, or the Objective Truth of Subjectivism, of the Meaningfulness of Meaninglessness and the Meaninglessness of Meaning, which is the best definition of Deconstructionism I know).”

Wow. So, according to Dr. Kreeft, my Ph.D. allows me to resist the almighty power of God (Irresistible Grace if you are a Calvinist as I once was) so that I can spin “webs of darkness in my mind”. I didn’t know I had that much power over God! Can it be that educated people are not, as a general rule, a superstitious people? Can it be that we see a leap of faith into a religious system as something dangerous? Can it possibly be that educated people tend to require EVIDENCE for their beliefs?

Dr. Kreeft and Probe Ministries want me to believe in their God, without any evidence, just because they think it is true. A spiritual realm has never been discovered. The supernatural has repeated been debunked. The holy book Dr. Kreeft wants me to accept is filled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. In spite of factual errors the Bible makes in the realm we can check I am supposed to accept, on face value, the spiritual claims it makes that we have no means of checking. I’m sorry, but isn’t that a little bit arrogant? I should accept the Biblical god but stories of miracles and gods in other religious systems should be ignored because they are obviously foolish? As if talking snakes and donkeys, a virgin birth, walking on water, and a god-man rising from the dead aren’t foolish but perfectly reasonable stories? I guess I just need more evidence than a book of stories and folk lore from a desert dwelling people living 2000+ years ago.

I was a Christian for 26+ years and believed it hook line and sinker, but when I came to a point where I was compelled to evaluate the evidence again, I found it wanting and empty. If there was solid evidence, you wouldn’t need faith. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so”. Even Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. No evidence needed. Faith tells you so. So, if faith is the standard to go by, why Christianity? Why not Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism? Why not Zeus or Thor or Odin or Buddha or Shiva or Santa Claus or, for that matter, the tooth fairy and unicorns? Isn’t having faith in their existence just as good?

Educated people tend to deny the existence of god because we require evidence. Which brings us to the question of why some educated people believe in god? I think Dr. Michael Shermer said it best: “smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasons” .

I just finished reading The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church by Christine Wicker. I highly recommend this book, especially for those atheists who never had a “born-again” experience. Wicker does an excellent job showing the appeal and strength the evangelical faith has for many. It may sound foreign to you, but it’s very real to those that have experienced it. I was able to relate to those experiences as well as the reasons why many are leaving the evangelical-fold. She points out that impressions are not always reality. The view that Right-wing, evangelical Christians are a powerful force in society and the majority of Christians are in sync with them is essentially a myth. Their power is based on a very strong marketing campaign and shrewd manipulation and use of the media.

The number floating around is that 25 percent of the population is supposed to be in the strong evangelical camp. Politicians fear and cater to this group, yet this group doesn’t exist anywhere near the 25 percent mark. Using numbers from various Christian organizations, Wicker shows that, at best, this number is 7 percent and is likely to be much lower. Furthermore, this number is falling and has been falling for decades. Evangelistic efforts are stagnating and churches are losing the younger generation in droves. This makes non-theists a larger group than the one many politicians are afraid of crossing!

The reasons for this decline are numerous and, for me, encouraging, but they all boil down to this one simple exchange between Wicker and two of her friends:

Not long ago, coming back from dinner, I said to two of my Methodist friends, in defense of the über-evangelicals who sometimes seem to be invading our families and neighborhoods, “What could be better than serving the God of the universe? Is it better just to schlub along, going to work, making a buck, ferrying your children around, having no great purpose, no great assurance of anything but death? Serving almighty God in almighty ways is the evangelical way, and what’s not good about that?” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2258-62)

The response gives insight into the depth of the evangelical problem:

“Sounds like a great deal,” replied my Midwestern mother-of-four friend tartly, “except you have to give up your brain for it. Not something I’m ready to do.” (Kindle Edition, Loc. 2262-65)

Wicker and a growing number of “Christians” are leaving the evangelical faith for a kinder, gentler type of “Christianity”. She says:

“If evangelicals give up the idea that only they are saved and that hell doesn’t await everyone who disagrees with them, they will be a very different faith group. It will be a struggle to keep religious passion high without the threat of hell to spark it, a struggle to keep devotion steady without the allure of being the only ones whom God favors. But some of these new-style followers of Jesus believe they have something to offer that transcends such doctrine, something that has changed them, something that is with them still, something that can change the earth. Him.” (Loc. 2781-86, emphasis mine)

Here, I disagree with Ms. Wicker. Yes, it will be a very different faith but it will also be a very different god. This “Him” will be nothing more than a warm-fuzzy feeling made up of how the individual views “Him”. With no authority, no doctrine, no reward, no punishment, no central organization, and only feelings and impressions, each individual will have a slightly different “warm-fuzzy” kind of “Him”. This kind of god is only a heart-beat away from Deism and a short hop to no god at all.

I have often said that a person rejects evolution and stubbornly holds to Creationism or Intelligent Design not because of the evidence, which overwhelming supports evolution, but because of a deep theological problem. Recently a post on Aardvarchaeology by an ex-Catholic priest said it well:

My most recent concerns present more of a challenge as I begin to look at the idea of Original Sin, which is key to the entire concept of a Christian soteriology or “Theory of Salvation”. If man was not created in the beginning as one pair, man and woman, Adam and Eve, then who sinned that humankind needs salvation? If we believe that man evolved over tens of thousands of years, maybe more, from a lower and less advanced animal, how on earth can we believe that one of those first sentient beings was culpable enough for his own actions to be responsible for “damning” all his progeny? If I manage to pull through this one with my faith I’ll let you know.” (Michael Merren)

Bingo. You can’t get much clearer than that. This is the real reason evangelical Christians must fight against evolution. The core of their faith is at risk. It has always surprised me that the Catholic Church accepts evolution as it sows the seeds of its own doom.

Last week was Thanksgiving Day in the US. Most Americans celebrate this day with a feast that has a stuffed turkey as the centerpiece. While watching the turkey be carved, I couldn’t help but think of turkeys and Black Swans. What does a Black Swan have to do with a turkey? The Black Swan is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.* It refers to, as Wikipedia says, “a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations”. In his book Taleb uses the turkey as a Black Swan example. For 20 to 28 weeks domestic turkeys have a very predictable life. They have all the food they could possibly eat, a place to live and no worries of possible predators. Each day is the same as the last: predicable, comfortable, the same. Then one day, out of the blue with no forewarning, the turkey is now the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving meal. The Black Swan has made its appearance. For the turkey, it was an unpredictable event that had a very large impact – death.

While death is hardly rare event, in most cases it is extremely hard to predict and has a huge impact both for the person who dies and for those around him or her. As such, most of us live our lives as if we are immortal and don’t give much thought to death. As a non-theist, I don’t believe in heaven or hell. Death is the end, yet in a sense, we are immortal. Our body will decompose and eventually our very atoms will be reused and distributed in other plants and animals. Our DNA, our genetic structure, will continue in our offspring. While we will eventually be forgotten, we have influenced the course of events by how we raised our children, what we taught, how we acted, what impact we had on other people and, of course, genetically. That impact can be positive or negative, but there will be an impact, however small. At this time of year it can be beneficial to think about that impact.

It has been said that a man’s life is remembered by his story. What is your story? Who will people say you are? Other than your DNA, what impact are you going to have in the world? Will most people give a sigh of relief that you are gone? Or will they mourn your parting? In other words: Who are you and how do people view you? Think about it and remember the Black Swan and the turkey.

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*I hesitate to recommend this book. There are some very good concepts in the book and the Black Swan is something to think about (it is much broader than death), although I have no idea how you would prepare for a hard-to-predict and rare event other than to realize they do occur. Also, you have to get past the author’s arrogance which comes across on many pages and which put me off on more than one occasion.