The Calm Before the Storm

As I write this, it has been 1 week since the Reason Rally took place in Washington D.C. About this time last week, it was the same dreary weather. The same light drizzling rain was in the air as I arrived at the Smithsonian Metro Station before the Rally to receive some brief training as a Volunteer Information Usher. We were spread out, in bright yellow Rally shirts, in key places to help answer questions such as: What is going on? Where are the bathrooms? Where can I get a poncho? In spite of the rain, the mood was cheerful. We were all excited about being part of this historic event.

People were arriving early and the rain, drizzle and cold temperatures (it was in the 80s the day before) didn’t put a damper on anyones spirit or enthusiasm. As a volunteer with a big sign plastered to my chest and back saying “Ask Me”, I was in the envious position of talking to a large number of people – those attending for the Rally and tourists who had no clue what was going one. Many foreign tourists I talked to (Japan, Germany, Dominican Republic, Sweden) were amazed that the United States had to have a Reason Rally. They simply assumed that the United States valued reason, logic and science in the arena of public policy. After all it has a secular Constitution and values separation of church and state – doesn’t it? It is simply stunning how far religion has entered the public arena, all the while claiming they have been discriminated against and the “liberal” media is keeping them second class citizens. What an amazing brain-washing job the Christian right has succeeded in doing. If you want to see just how far the religious right has entwined itself within the political system, and the pandering of the 3 Republican candidates and numerous other political candidates is not enough, I would suggest reading “The Family. The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet or “Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It” by Sean Faircloth.

On the lighter side, skeptics can also be a bit irrational. Mix some bad weather, a tent, a few people standing around it, an unstarted Rally, and what do you get? A spontaneous line forms and a rather large one at that. It was amazing to me how many people joined the line with absolutely no idea what was in the tent! In fact, the most common question I was asked all day was “What was in the tent?” This was a great experiment in human psychology and group behavior. LOL. (BTW. The tent was for rally sponsor exhibits.)

A line forms to a mysterious tent!

As the Rally began, so came the people – a whole lot of people, in the rain and in the cold, to support the first Rally to promote secular values and to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide.” The official park district estimates were between 20,000 and 25,000 people!

A View from the back.
A View from the front. (Photo from www.reasonrally.org)
Of course, Jesus showed up in various forms. Here he is riding a dinosaur!
Our lovely Janet (StateLine Atheist Society) was all smiles.
So now what? We had a successful Rally but where do we go from here? I have a couple of suggestions:
  1. If you haven’t already come out as an atheist – do so. The more people that know someone who is an atheist, the less “scary” we become. I know it can be hard and there can be severe consequences for some, but it is a basic first step. If you need encouragement, look to an incident that happened at the American Atheist convention which followed the Reason Rally. “Lynn” was going to speak as a minister who had to remain a closeted atheist in order to support herself while trying to find a way out. Well, “Lynn” outed herself, giving her real name of Teresa MacBain, in a moving speech that is truely inspiring. You can view it here. If someone like Teresa can do it, with so much to lose, so can you.
  2. Get involved in politics. Not all of us can run for political office but all of us can be involved in the process, whether at the local, state or national level.

What can you do?

  • Run. Run for office, if you can and have the skills (I don’t). Run on a secular platform and as an open atheist. Sure you may lose but until more people start doing this and people grow aware that there are lots of us in this country, the ideal of an atheist politician will still be a rarity.
  • Be Aware. Be aware of violations of church-state separation in your community and on the state and local level. It seems like school boards and local governments violate the separation clause routinely. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, the Secular Coalition for American are good starting points to get information on church state issues. If there is a violation then challenge it!
  • Lobby! The Secular Coalition for America held a Lobby Day for Reason the day before the Reason Rally. After a morning of training some 200 people had over 125 meetings with Congressional and Senate staff members (Lobby Day for Reason a Success). Sure it was a bit scary and intimidating, but in spite of all the pomp and ceremony, politicians are just people.
  • Write. Write to politicians. Support them when they take unpopular secular stances and challenge them when they don’t. Let them know we are out there and we VOTE.
  • Stand Up. It there a problem with your school or town government in relation to church-state separation issues, then go to a school board meeting or town meeting and speak out. Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, to each board member, to the city council and to anyone else in a position of power. If need be, get the aid of the Freedom for Religion Foundation, the ACLU, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State or American Atheists. Stand up! The religious have had their way for too long. Don’t let them continue to get away with it. They may feel otherwise, but you are doing this for them too. A secular America is the only way to protect their religious freedom!
  • Join. Join any of the above groups and support them in any way you can. Also, get involved with a local group. They can rally around local issues, so you are not alone when you “Stand Up” for what is right. If you are in the Northern Ilinois / Southern Wisconsin area, the Stateline Atheist Society welcomes you.
  • In other words – be an activist in any way you can.

It’s going to be interesting to see what momentum there will be from the Reason Rally. Hopefully it won’t be an end but a beginning of returning this nation back to its secular foundation.

Here’s to Us.

 

 

I had planned on continuing my series on Christian unity with a look at baptism. That article is still in the works and will be posted soon; however, I was side tracked by the March issue of New Horizons Magazine. Emblazed on the cover were the words “Adam. Man or Myth.” This immediately grabbed my attention. In the past I have maintained that evolution destroys the traditional foundation of Christianity. I stated:

The big issues as I see are:

If there was no real Adam and Eve and no real Fall, then how did sin enter the world? This sin is supposedly grievous enough that it required a Savior/Redeemer.

If there was no event which caused a Fall, what is the point of a Savior/Redeemer? What was he to Redeem us from? (Why I am an Atheist – Part 7: Evolution)

In fact, it is one of several reasons why I am an atheist today. I was very interested to see what a conservative Christian denomination (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church) had to say. I was not disappointed. Here is a sampling of quotes from a couple articles in the magazine:

My thesis is simple: by questioning the historicity of Adam, one must revise the doctrine of original sin with serious modifications. Even recent purveyors of theistic evolution, who question the historicity of Adam, recognize this to be the case… if Adam is not the responsible agent for casting the human race into a condition of sin and misery, then at whose feet should we place the blame for our human predicament? Does it not follow, if one removes the historicity of Adam from the equation and if our historical forefather Adam is not responsible for our condition of sin and misery, that someone else must bear that responsibility? It seems to this author that the necessary consequence is to make God responsible for the evil we observe in the world. (Should we still believe in a historical Adam? by Bryan D. Estelle)

If it is not true that all human beings descend from Adam, then the entire history of redemption, as taught in Scripture, unravels. The result is no redemptive history in any credible or coherent sense… If Adam was not the first man, who fell into sin, then the work of Christ loses its meaning… By now it should be clear that questioning or denying the descent of all humanity from Adam as the first human being has far-reaching implications for the Christian faith. It radically alters the understanding of sin, particularly concerning the origin and nature of human depravity, with the corresponding abandonment of any meaningful notion of the guilt of sin. It radically alters the understanding of salvation, especially in eclipsing or even denying Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement that propitiates God’s just and holy wrath against sin. And it radically alters the understanding of the Savior, by stressing his humanity, especially the exemplary aspects of his person and work, to the extent of minimizing or even denying his deity. (“All mankind, descending from him…”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

At least these two authors understand the issues involved. They understand that if Adam was not a real person and the Fall was a not real event, Christianity has no legs to stand on. The problem, of course, is science – man evolved. Therefore, they are compelled to stand against science or to re-interpret science to fit their theology; hence, the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements. You can’t understand these movements without understanding their theological underpinnings. They are vital to help support a failed theological system. They also understand this:

Science is perceived as forcing us to acknowledge that, on a literal reading of this passage, some details simply do not cohere with the view that all human beings descend from Adam and Eve… scientific findings are being given priority in the sense that they are seen as necessitating a rejection and consequent reinterpretation of what has heretofore been considered certain, as well as basic, biblical teaching. In that regard, let’s not suppose that we are faced here with yet one more “Galileo moment,” where Christians need to adjust their thinking and get on board with science. Plainly at issue here is not an aspect of our ever-changing understanding of the physical workings of our environment and the universe at large, but perennial and unchanging matters that are basic to who we are as human beings—what it means to be created in God’s image and the kind of relationship with him that that entails… Scripture, not nature, always has priority in the sense that in it God reveals himself, as the Belgic Confession also says, “more clearly and openly,” particularly on matters basic to our identity as human beings and our relationship to him. (All mankind, descending from him …”? by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

While a nice rhetoric device, the distinction Gaffin makes between a “Galileo moment” and “matters that are basic to who we are as human being” is no distinction at all. The geocentric model of the universe was a vital Christian doctrine. It was supported by scripture and showed the importance of man in the created universe. Man (earth) was the center of the universe. How could it be otherwise? After all man was god’s masterpiece of creation. To have it otherwise demoted man to nothing more than “cosmic dust.” The issue was about who we are as human beings. Bruno was burned alive as a heretic and Galileo was ostracized by the church. While scientifc facts can be ignored for a time, resistant is ultimately futile. Christian theology had to be revised to accept the new heliocentric model. (see The impact of the transition from a geocentric universe to a heliocentric universe for a quick overview)

It is no accident that this issue of New Horizons Magazine also had an article on “Evaluating the claims of scientists” by Vern S Poythress. In it he states:

…many modern scientists have strayed from the truth. They think of law as an impersonal mechanism. This kind of thinking is a form of idolatry, conforming to the Bible’s description in Romans 1:22–23: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.…” In ancient times, people made physical statues to represent false gods. Now, people often exchange God for a substitute in the form of an allegedly impersonal, mechanical law. This kind of substitution is still a form of idolatry…Does it really make a difference whether we believe that the laws of the universe are God’s speech rather than an impersonal mechanism? It does. The regularities that modern scientists discover approximate God’s word or God’s law governing the present providential order of things. But the Bible distinguishes the present providential order from the way things were during the time when God created the world, as described in Genesis 1–2. So God may have acted differently during that time. Indeed, he may still act differently later on in history, when he responds personally to the personal needs of his people. He can work miracles, as he did with Noah’s flood and with the plagues in Egypt. God is not restricted in his actions by allegedly impersonal, natural law.

This tactic is not new. First you quote scripture showing that we are fools to reject god and his scripture and then you say, with no evidence at all, that god did things differently in the past, by-passing the laws of nature. It works among the faithful. They, after all, have special revealed knowledge. Knowledge that god gave them that tells them what he actually did and how he acted. What I find amazing are the following statements by Poythress:

Darwinists rely on several assumptions. Not evidence, but rather a philosophical presupposition, has excluded God from the process…. Might there be some alternative explanations for the striking similarities? The term “intelligent design” belongs to an approach that stresses that similarities between living things may be due to common design features… We have always known that we look somewhat like monkeys. Now we know that our DNA is like monkeys’ DNA. So what? Quantitatively, we have much more evidence of a relationship. But we still have the same fundamental question, namely, what kind of relationship is evidenced? The evidence has to be interpreted. And the interpretation always takes place within a framework of many assumptions about the nature of the world and the nature of scientific investigation. If a scientist assumes a Darwinist framework of impersonal law, he is going to infer confidently that humans and monkeys have a common ancestor and that gradualistic, purposeless evolution is the explanation for the analogies. But a Christian not already committed to such a framework should contemplate another possibility, namely, that all of life reflects not only common design from God, the supernatural Designer, but also a pattern of analogies reflecting on earth the original pattern of God the Son as the image of the Father… The world around us tells us to accept the latest scientific pronouncements as the product of experts who know much better than we do. As Christians, we must not overestimate our knowledge or our expertise. But we have in the Bible a divine message that we can trust. We ought to use its guidance. The Bible criticizes modern science for its idolatry. Assumptions about the nature of law and assumptions about what counts as an explanation or what counts as relevant evidence play a major role in science.

No evidence? Use the bible NOT science? I find these statements curious coming from a person who believes a theological system that, in reality, has no evidence for it. Where is the evidence for the supernatural? Where is the evidence, outside of biased religious texts, for the view that Christianity is the one true religion? Where is the evidence for creation de novo that the Christian system demands? Where is the evidence that the bible is the inspired word of god? It contains scientific errors, historic errors and a moral system that is abhorent to anyone but the most hardened Christian fundamentalist. In fact, outside the bible, you will be hard-pressed to find any contemporary evidence for an historic Jesus. In spite of all the wonders that he supposedly did, there are no eye-witness, non-religious accounts supporting his life as detailed in scripture. Where is the evidence for Christianity as god’s true religion? Where is the evidence, other than a personal feeling it is true, that the bible should be believed over science? If it has errors in things we can check, why should we believe it when it comes to claims that we cannot check? In fact, where is the evidence for a god, any god? I am talking about scientific evidence here. Without evidence there is no good reason, outside of a particular religious bias, to pick a particular creation myth (in this case Christianity) over any other religious creation myth. You might as well believe that man and woman were created from two trees as in the Norse myth of creation! After all, nothing is impossible for god.

In contrast, “all” science has is evidence. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Science has a massive amount of fossil evidence, including transitional forms, for evolution. There is also the genetic evidence, so casually dismissed above. Not only do we share genes with our primate ancestors, we have recently shown that we share genes with an extinct branch of hominids – the Neanderthals (for example see What Were the Consequences of Early Human & Neanderthal Interbreeding?) The evidence for evolution extends from geology to palentology to molecular genetics. It is truely one of the best attested facts in all of biology. Dr Tim White a Paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley has said: “A denial of evolution – however motivated – is a denial of evidence, a retreat from reason into ignorance.”

In my blog post referenced above, I list several good books on evolution. I suggest starting there. If you are interested in human evolution, the following books are a good starting point:

Conservative Christianity can fight human origins all it wants, but resistence is ultimately futile. There are those, including the Catholic Church, that recognize this fact. For instance Denis Lamoureux acknowledges that the Adam story is a myth (Was Adam a Real Person? Part I). He states “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” He is wrong. Not about Adam, but about whether it matters. As the authors above have shown, eliminating Adam as an historic person guts Christianity of its most core doctrines and reduces Christianity to nothing more than another philosophical or social system. Ultimately, science will win.