This is the second in a series rebutting Ravi Zacharias’s 2004 book titled The Real Face of Atheism. It’s taken me a while to write this post partly because Zacharias gets so much wrong it’s infuriating. Either he is knowingly lying and misleading or he doesn’t have a clue about atheism or in this chapter – science (“Is there not a Cause”). In either case, I have a hard time respecting him.

Zacharias starts off this chapter, once again, with a complete misunderstanding of atheism.  He says:

“Postulating the nonexistence of God, atheism immediately commits the blunder of an absolute negation, which is self-contradictory. For, to sustain the belief that there is no God, it has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, ‘I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.’”(Kindle location 427)

Atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist It does not postulate “infinite knowledge.” Most atheists don’t believe in deities because there is no compelling evidence for them. Given evidence most atheists would become theists. Evidence based on a “holy” book is not evidence. Besides, I could easily turn the tables and say the theists are claiming “infinite knowledge” based on believing in a god in spite of there being no evidence. This argument is a non sequitur and It only sounds good to the believer.  (If you still don’t believe me, substitute "pink unicorns” for “god” in the quote above. No one can prove absolutely that pink unicorns don’t exist but most people think they are fables because their is no evidence of their existence. No one is claiming “infinite knowledge” in regards to pink unicorns. However, if one was found – evidence – then we would believe in them.)

I think Zacharias’ major premise for this section can be summed up as follows:

“Scientific facts have often been discarded with fresh discoveries, old laws have surrendered with the advance of new hypotheses. The divergent views of dissenting voices over the last century have been many, and deep-seated conflicts remain.” (Kindle location 508)

He says this as if it were a drawback to science and with the implication that religion is immune from this. First and foremost – hello – this is how science works!!! This is the strength of science. Hypotheses are formulated and tested. As data comes in and re-evaluations are made, old hypotheses are discarded and new ones are made. Fraud is rooted out. Evidence is king. A body of well supported hypotheses are formulated into a Theory. (A theory is not the nebulous thing used in common vernacular, but the closest thing science has to truth and fact.)  At this point a Theory is so well supported it is highly unlikely that it will be overturned – modified and refined, yes.  All truth in science is supported by evidence. Not so in religion or theology.

In fact, Zacharias is sorely mistaken if he thinks there are no “deep-seated conflicts” within the realm of his beloved Christianity. Christianity had many battles trying to iron out its belief (e.g. Lost Christianities, Jesus Wars). In fact, I would venture to say that what most Christians believe today would be considered heresy to the early Church. Even today, with some 38,000+ “denominations” the Christian world can’t agree on such key doctrines as how to be saved, baptism, church government, the role of the Old Testament, worship, the end times, evangelism, and a host of other topics. Many doctrines that evangelicals hold dear, such as Jesus as friend and buddy and the rapture, are relatively recent inventions.  Christianity evolves with society (often lagging far behind). It is not immune to it. The problem with Christianity, and religion in general, is that there is NO evidence to support their theology. There is just a “holy” book subjected to varying interpretations and, for some, tradition. Evidence be dammed, it is faith that counts.  I’ll throw my lot in with evidence and science any day over the subjective whims of theology.

Zacharias, obviously hates evolution, recycling the same tired uninformed fundamentalist Christian arguments:

“The progress in microevolutionary processes and the extrapolation into macroevolution, with particular application to origins, is neither scientifically nor metaphysically sound.” (Kindle location 445)

“For example, Sir Fred Hoyle has argued in his book The Intelligent Universe that the idea that life originated by the random shuffling of molecules is “as ridiculous and improbable as the proposition that a tornado blowing through a junkyard may assemble a Boeing 747.” He calculated that the likelihood of life beginning in such a way is one in ten to the power of forty thousand.” (Kinde location 532)

Sigh.  There is no fundamental difference between micro- and macroevolution. The terms are used by “creationists” to try to get around the fact that organisms evolve – they change. The mechanisms are the same.  The only difference is time. (see Micoevolution vs Macroevolution for a good summary). Sir Hoyle’s 747 analogy and his probabilities have been answered many times.  Simply put, while genetic mutation is random, Natural Selection is anything but random. Advantageous traits are selected! This makes all the difference. It is not analogous to a tornado in a junkyard. Far from it.  For a good layman’s account of evolution I recommend Dawkin’s book The Greatest Show On Earth. For Zacharias to make and include these statements in his book shows either dishonesty or ignorance.

Zacharias goes on to use the anthropic principle as evidence of a god:

“The exactness of our universe argues for the anthropic principle, which basically states that the existence and sustenance of man is not brought about by a random universe but is dependent on a universe with a very particular character in its basic laws and circumstances.” (Kindle location 622)

At best, this argument can only be used formulate a case for a deist type god, not a personal creator that is concerned with his creation and wants to have a relationship with it.  Such a god, a creator that sets the universe in motion and then stands back and watches, is essentially indistinguishable from no god at all.  I readily admit that I can’t rule out such a deity but, again, there is no compelling reason to believe that such a being exists.  As Hawking and Mlodinow point out, the universe is explainable purely from the laws of physics:

“ "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.." (I highly recommend their book The Grand Design as well as Chapter 5 in John Loftus’s book Why I became an Atheist for readable information on the anthropic principle.)

Finally, I think we get the the heart of Zacharias’ problems with science:

“Science cannot answer the how, much less the why of there being something rather than nothing." (Kindle location 546)

Actually science can. This is what science does best. It answers the HOW and sometimes the why of things based on evidence not an ancient “holy” book. If, however, Zacharias means that science can’t answer the question of purpose – what purpose is there to the life, the universe and everything, he is correct. While this may make him uncomfortable, I have no problem.  Life is enough; although, I hear 42 is a good answer.

Quantum theory has been used by Christian apologists and, most extensively, by New Age Woo to help “prove” their concept of god. However, Stenger will have none of this. In this book Stenger shows that quantum mechanics is not the salvation that some of these gurus seek. The first half of the the book is devoted to a crash course in Quantum mechanics explained in layman’s terms. For the most part Stenger is successful in this endeavor and makes the complex non-inuitive sub-atomic world understandable. Yet, I think that some coursework in physics and chemistry is almost required. I’ve had both plus courses in Physical Chemistry and Quantum Chemistry and I found that I needed to carefully re-read sections. (It’s been a long time since I’ve taken those courses.) There is only so much one can do to make these concepts understandable without any background in these basic subjects and the mathematics that underpin them. I like and agree with his premise that if religion makes an empirical claim, that claim can be tested, and if tested it can be falsified. Thus the scientific method can be used to test the claims of religion. This he does in spades and without mincing words.

Some of his conclusions will not set well with most people (the following are word for word quotes from his book):

The omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Judeo-Christian-Islamic God who intervenes regularly in the universe and in the lives of humans can be proved not to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. Such a God is not only logically impossible, he is falsified by the data.

• The claim that quantum mechanics shows that we can make our own reality in our minds and those minds are connected holistically to a grand unified cosmic consciousness is based on either misunderstandings or deliberate misrepresentations of what quantum mechanics really says. No empirical evidence supports the notion that mind is anything other than the product of purely material forces.

• The model in which the universe is made of matter and nothing else and had a spontaneous, uncaused, natural origin from a state of chaos equivalent to “nothing” agrees with all the data. As a state of the universe, “something” is more natural than “nothing.”

The last point seems very counterintuitive. After all how can “something” be more natural (and more stable) than nothing? But he has a good chapter explaining how this can be. As for the notion that complexity cannot arise from simplicity, a tenant of the Intelligent Design camp, Stenger says: The main message about complexity that I want to bring up for the purposes of this book is the fact that complexity can arise naturally from simplicity. This is one of those counterintuitive facts of nature that most people find difficult to believe and makes them sympathetic to those creationists who argue that the world, because it is complex, cannot have come about without divine intervention.”

All in all I can recommend this book but for many people it will take a little time and care to understand and finish.

The standard fundamentalist view of Origins is that the universe was created by god in 6-24 hour days some 6000 to 10000 years ago exactly as depicted in the Biblical creation story. The standard explanation is that life is so complicated and shows so much design that it practically proves the existence of god. In addition, evolution is so chock full of holes that creationism is a much better explanation of our origins. Creationism and more recently, the Intelligent Design movement, tells this story to their devoted followers and, to the non-scientifically trained person, it all sounds reasonable especially if a few “scientific facts” can be thrown in for good measure.

The actual fact of the matter is the Universe is some 14 billion years old (Universe 101) and earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old (The Age of the Earth). While we may never know exactly how life started on this planet, there are several theories and we are surprisingly close to creating primitive reproducing life under conditions similar to the early earth. (The Protocell Project, Researchers Build Model Protocell Capable of Copying DNA, Abiogenesis, Abiogenesis FAQ) Once a replicating life form came into existence, the Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection explains the rest. In all actuality, the Theory of Evolution is the best attested fact of all biology. It is confirmed by multiple lines of evidence including: geology, fossil evidence, DNA analysis, anatomy and developmental biology, paleography, plate tectonics, and even direct experimentation. To deny the Theory of Evolution is to close your eyes to an almost overwhelming amount of evidence.

“A denial of evolution – however motivated – is a denial of evidence, a retreat from reason into ignorance” Dr Tim D White (Paleontologist, University of California at Berkeley)

This is not to stay there aren’t controversies within the field and it isn’t to say that their aren’t disagreements as to the processes and methods – that, my friends, is science. Science isn’t theology. It is subjected to evidence and will change when new evidence forces a change. Even so, it is doubtful the the Theory of Evolution will be overturned although, almost certainly, the details of the process will undergo scientific change.

I don’t have the time or space to detail the evidence for the Theory of Evolution but I suggest you break out of the Christian mentality of reading “approved” books and read some real science on the subject. I can highly recommend:

Even a conservative, Republican appointed judge was able to see through the smoke-screen of the Intelligent Design movement in his Dover Trial ruling that you can read here: (It is highly readable for a court document and it should be read by anyone interested in the subject.)

Does the Theory of Evolution make impossible the belief in god or destroy the Christian faith? The answer, for many, is no. The Catholic church, probably learning a bit from it’s previous run-ins with science, sees no conflict between evolution and faith. Dr. Ken Miller (a witness for the plaintiffs at the Dover Trial) and Dr. Francis Collins (appointee to head up NIH and previous head of the Human Genome Project) are both good examples of ardent defenders of evolution yet sincere Christians. Francis Collins is even an outspoken defender and apologist for Christianity. So one can easily claim to be a believer in both Christianity and Evolutionary Biology, but is such a joining rational from a theological or scientific view? I think not. I believe that those who would like to see a compatibility between evolution and Christianity fail to actually grasp the theological issues at stake. 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?

These are not trivial issues as they form the basis for conservative, evangelical theology and even Catholic theology. Mess with either and I think you have destroyed the foundation of the Christian faith, if by Christian faith you mean an Evangelical understanding of sin and salvation.

Let me explain.

The classical Christian understanding of sin is that Adam and Eve were created and put into the Garden of Eden, a paradise on earth, as a test of their obedience and love for god. They were told that they can eat of any fruit of any tree except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Both Adam and Eve failed this test (Eve was tempted by the serpent and Adam was tempted by Eve). As a result, god cursed them and the world and threw them out of the Garden of Eden. With this curse sin entered the world. Adam was our “Federal” head in that he represented all mankind (how nice). In Adam, somehow, we have all sinned. Hence the concept of original sin was developed by theologians in all of it’s various flavors. Somehow, to appease god, sin required a sacrifice – a blood sacrifice. (As if a deity is so petty that he requires death to satisfy his wrath or sense of justice.) The details of this sacrificial system are are found in the pages of the Old Testament. The problem was, that the blood of sheep and goats, can’t really take away the sins of man as Hebrews 10:4 clearly states. What was needed was the ultimate sacrifice – a god man. This was Jesus Christ’s role. To be a blood sacrifice for our sins and thus purchase our redemption from sin. Now that man is covered by the blood of Christ, god can be approached and our sins forgiven. However, that “forgiveness” is not automatic. You must believe in Christ in order to be saved and avail yourself of god’s forgiveness and the eternal life in paradise that Christ’s redemption purchased.

Obviously with some 38-39,000 Christian denominations running around, the details differ. Some don’t believe in original sin, thinking that man is born neutral and makes a conscience decision to sin after which he falls under it’s curse. Some don’t believe in the “Federal” headship of Adam. Some believe that Christ died for ALL and so ALL will be saved. But, in general, there is some agreement among Evangelicals about sin, corruption and the need for the blood sacrifice of the god-man Jesus Christ.

So, if man evolved (and he did) and if there was no real Adam and Eve (there wasn’t) and no real Fall from a state of innocence and grace, what was the purpose of the brutal sacrifice of Jesus Christ? The theological problems are immense:

  • How did sin entered the world? Or did it?
  • When was man – a man? In other words, when did he get his soul? Was it an individual pair? A tribe? A community? Was it as a certain point in our evolution or our genetic code?
  • What was the purpose of Christ? If there was no Fall, what was he to redeem us from? Why a blood sacrifice? Was he just an example of selflessness?

What of the Biblical verses that speak of atonement, redemption, Christ’s sacrifice? Do we just ignore them? For example:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12)

The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification (Rom 5:16)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5: 19)

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (I Cor 15:21-22)

…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.(1 Pt 1:18-19)

Throw out this understanding of sin and salvation, even with it’s many permutations, and you have to re-interpret the Christian message or at least change is drastically from the standard Evangelical understanding. If you do this, are you then just making a Christ in your own image? You might call yourself Christian, but what does that then mean? Do you just become someone who is enamored with the person of Christ and some of the things he stood for? I know this is done by many people and the more theologically liberal denominations but I’ve never understood the attraction of this watered down Christ figure.

I maintain that without a literal Adam and Eve and a literal Fall, much of the mission and purpose of Christ as detailed in the New Testament, no longer makes sense. Of course, it can all be re-interpreted and modified and refined, but then that brings up other questions about the reliability of god, how he communicates with man and whether we really can believe anything that is written about him. If much of it is parable and allegory, then why the Christian message? Why this version of Christianity and not, for example Buddhism?

In this sense, I believe that a belief in evolution kills an evangelical understanding of Christianity. For me, the entire story of salvation no longer makes sense and throws doubt as to the existence or knowability of the god depicted in the Bible.

Recently articles dealing with Intelligence and Religion have been published on various web sites such as Breaking: Intelligence and Religion – Negatively Related and Godless Science.  In these articles the authors try to make that case that there is a negative correlation between IQ or Intelligence and religion. In other words, the higher your IQ the more likely you are to be an atheist. The case is built using several lines of evidence:

1. While a majority of the population believes in some type of god only 7-10% of eminent scientists have the same belief. Of members of the National Academy of Sciences, 72% are outright atheists.
2. The more your training in the sciences the less likely you are to believe in god.
3. A review of several studies (the websites list at least 31) tend to indicate those with high IQ’s and/or education levels (measures of Intelligence) are less likely to believe in god.
4. The general decline of religious belief as a person moves from childhood (87-96% belief in god) into adolescence (56-70% belief rates).
5. The general decline in religious belief as the population in general becomes more educated.
6. Atheists tend to score higher on Psychometric g measurements.
7. Nations with higher general IQ’s tend to be less religious than nations having lower average IQ scores.
One author stated: “The consensus here is clear: more intelligent people tend not to believe in religion. And this observation is given added force when you consider that the above studies span a broad range of time, subjects and methodologies, and yet arrive at the same conclusion. This is the result even when the researchers are Christian conservatives themselves.”
While it is tempting to play this game, I have strong reservations against the hypothesis that non-belief in god is related to IQ or Intelligence.  I think the above studies show that there is a correlation but it is always difficult to make the leap between correlation and causation without very well designed studies. There are many factors that go into a measurement of Intelligence and even more in trying to decide the religiosity of an individual. Trying to devise questions to get at the heart of an individuals religious beliefs are fraught with problems: How do you define your terms in relation to the subject’s definition?  What or who is “god”? How is “god” being defined? What exactly is a “personal” god? Is church attendance related to spirituality? How do you define commitment to a deity? What is an orthodox belief? What even constitutes a belief in god? Is the subject being honest in answering the questions? I think everyone would agree that a Deist’s view of god and spirituality is very different from that of a Hindu, which is very different than that of a fundamentlist Christian that believes in a personal, invisible friend in Christ.
What I think may be going on here is that as a person gets more educated, regardless of “intelligence”, the less superstitious his or her world view becomes.  As education increases a person begins to think more logically and has more and more facts explaining the world at their disposal. If such a person goes on to higher education, especially graduate school in the sciences, he or she is trained to think in terms of the scientific method and experimentation and “proofs”. A large part of graduate education is challenge:  You believe what? What evidence do you have for such a belief? What experiments can be designed to Falsify your belief? Have you considered these studies? How do you know this is true?  Everyone with graduate training in the sciences knows what it is like to have a pet theory demolished by the evidence and knows what it is like to re-evaluate results and come to a new understanding. In other words, they are trained to constantly re-evaluate and re-think. When this type of thinking is carried over into other areas of their life and applied to religion the result is often devastating to religious belief.
Yet very intelligent people can and do believe in god and not just the Christian god, but all types of gods. Why, when the evidence is so weak for the existence of just a being?  I believe there are at least 3 main reasons:
1. Humans have a very high capacity for compartmentalization of their thinking. A person can be extremely intelligent and rational in one area of their life and highly emotional in another.
2. Humans seem to have a very high need for meaning.  A world without god appears to be meaningless and, for many, religion (god) brings meaning to ones life.
3. Intelligent people are better able to defend ideas they may have arrived at for non-intelligent reasons (paraphrase from Dr. Michael Shermer). For instance Francis Collins former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute came to belief in god through very non-intelligent reasons: “I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains on a beautiful fall afternoon. I turned the corner and saw in front of me this frozen waterfall, a couple of hundred feet high. Actually, a waterfall that had three parts to it — also the symbolic three in one. At that moment, I felt my resistance leave me. And it was a great sense of relief. The next morning, in the dewy grass in the shadow of the Cascades, I fell on my knees and accepted this truth — that God is God, that Christ is his son and that I am giving my life to that belief.” I’m sure he wouldn’t conduct scientific experiments or practice medicine with such “insight”.

It is well known that children favor teleological (purpose-based) explanations for a variety of phenomena. It may be cute to see a child thinking that rocks were made to break or icebergs exist for polar bears; however, it is assumed that adults should outgrow such explanations. The question is: Do They? How ingrained are these ideas? Do such unscientific beliefs explain the wide prevalence of belief in Creation or Intelligent Design or even religion in general? While we certainly don’t know all the answers, a recent study by Kelemen and Rosset sheds some light on the subject (The Human Function Compunction: Teleological explanation in adults. 2009. Cognition 111:138-143, article kindly supplied by the author).

The authors conducted 2 studies. The first divided 121 students into 3 groups (fast speed, moderate speed, unspeeded) and asked them to read a question and then determine whether the explanation was good (correct) or bad (incorrect). Some of these questions were:

Earthworms tunnel underground to aerate the soil
Mites live on skin to consume dead skin cells
Mosses form around rocks to stop soil erosion
Finches diversified in order to survive
Germs mutate to become drug resistant
Parasites multiply to infect the host
The sun makes light so that plants can photosynthesize
Water condenses to moisten the air
Molecules fuse in order to create matter

As you can see these questions attribute purpose-based (teleological) explanations for natural phenomena. For example, while earthworms evolved to live in the soil and they do provide aeration to the soil, that is not why they tunnel. And while plants do use the sun to photosynthesize, that is not why the sun makes light.

The results for the first study were very interesting. In the authors own words: “When processing is limited by speeded conditions, adults are more likely to endorse scientifically unwarranted teleological explanations of natural phenomena”. In other words, adults, like children, sought purposeful explanations in natural events.

In order to determine whether such explanations were influenced by scientific training or religious beliefs a second study was done with 109 students who were tested on scientific knowledge and asked questions about their religious beliefs. These results showed that “even after completing multiple college level science courses, adults possess scientifically unwarranted teleological explanations of natural phenomena” and this did not correlate with belief in God. In other words, adults have a strong tendency to see purpose where there is no purpose. While this study did not find a correlation with belief in God, one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a person’s current belief system that causes teleological explanations, but rather the beliefs taught while in childhood? I belief that such a follow-up study would prove interesting.

Of course the Christian might make the case that Paul made: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1: 19-21, NASB). These innate beliefs are there because God placed them there. The more likely explanation is that Paul believed this because we are purpose-seeking animals. It is how we evolved. We want to know why and since we are purpose-driven animals, we make the mistake of attributing purpose to natural events that have no directing purpose.

What is becoming evident is that this tendency runs deep and is not easily replaced. This has implications for scientific education and even for “winning” the battle against non-scientific ideas such as Intelligent Design.

Today, Feb 12th 2009, is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and this year is the 150th Anniversary of the publishing of the Origin of Species. It isn’t hyperbole to state that the concept of the Evolution of Species by the process of Natural Selection may be the single most important concept in biology. It may also be the best supported fact in all biology and provides a grand unifying theory for looking at life on this planet. This Theory (not “just a theory” but a fact supported by many lines of evidence) also broke the church’s hold on the study of life and, as such, invites repeated attacks by various religious organizations. They rightly see that evolution is a dangerous idea when it comes to exposing their theology as simple myth and threatens to deprive them of the power they seek over the minds and hearts of their followers. This attack has come in the form of Scientific Creationism and, recently, the Intelligent Design movement both of which are scientifically bankrupt.

In order to help you get a good grasp on the wonder and excitement of Evolutionary Theory I am providing a list of brief list of basic resources. Enjoy!


Origin of Species by Charles Darwin or download here PDF

Kitzmiller vs Dover Ruling (PDF)

The Devil in Dover by Lauri Lebo

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Ten Major Flaws of Evoution – A Refutation by Steven Novella

National Geographic UK – Professor Richard Dawkins on Darwin (5 Parts)

Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Integrity Displayed by John Rennie (Scientific America) There are additional links at the end of the article.

15 Evolutionary Gems (Nature, Jan 2009, PDF)

Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism by Young and Edis (eds)

UnIntelligent Design by Mark Perakh

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 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.


*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.