Exhibit B

If you want anecdotes, here’s one. I’ve been corresponding with a gentleman who was a fundamentalist Christian but has left that faith and, subsequently, started to read about evolution. (I’m advising him on what to read.)  We started corresponding after he read Why Evolution is True, which he liked (but also pointed out a few errors, like the discrepant dates for H. erectus‘s disappearance).  He gave me permission to share his story, but anonymously since he’s not yet “come out.”  It shows, at least in this one case (it’s not unique; I’ve heard from people with similar tales), that the writings of “militant” New Atheists can not only help you give up your faith, but also turn you into a fan of evolution.  He writes:

I accepted evolution and took it for granted from about the age of ten. After college I became a born-again Christian, and accepted the Bible as the inerrant, infallible, and only inspired written Word of God. As a result, the only way to read Genesis was literally. In private conversation with a minister, he warned me not to refer to people as animals, which I had done in the sense of not-plants, in front of any other Christians, as they would think me an evolutionist and stop listening to anything else I might say. I regularly received the Institute for Creation Research’s propaganda, and eagerly sought confirmation of my worldview from Behe’s and Johnson’s books. I always maintained doubts in the back of my mind about the Young Earth view and the explanations of flood geology, but I couldn’t see any other way of reading Genesis that preserved a real Adam and Eve, and a real Noah, all of whom Jesus and the apostles were recorded in the New Testament regarding as actual historical figures.

After decades immersed in this, I was persuaded by some ex-Protestants that the evangelical doctrine of sola scriptura (the Bible alone is a Christian’s final authority) was a recent, therefore human, invention. We should be subject to the Church, not a book. Except that a quick look at history readily shows how errant, fallible, uninspired, human, and downright corrupt the Church was! I tried to rebuild my faith in the Bible by reading all the Christian apologetics I could get my hands on, by heavyweight evangelicals like Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and popular writers like Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

While I was doing this, I was also reading the New Atheists. Some friends and I had been discussing atheism, when one of them said to me, “You’re very intelligent, and you always want evidence for everything. Why aren’t you an atheist?” So I decided for the first time to let the atheists state their case. Dawkins was rather disappointing, but Harris’s End of Faith was devastating. I tried burying myself in apologetics as an antidote, but then I came across critical biblical scholar Bart Ehrman. I started reading about the Bible instead of just reading the Bible. I read scholars’ explanations for the contradictions and discrepancies filling the Bible. Soon my faith was all but destroyed. The New Atheists + modern biblical scholarship = infidel.

Once that happened, the only thing keeping me from believing in evolution again was ID. Even if I couldn’t trust Genesis anymore to be an accurate account of creation, Behe’s arguments about intelligent design in light of irreducible complexity stayed with me. I previewed a few books online, read some customer reviews, checked my book club and saw that they carried your book, then selected it as this month’s choice. So here we are!

He’s now engaged in a program of reading evolution books like Your Inner Fish and Climbing Mount Improbable.

Many thanks to this person for sharing his story.

74 Comments

  1. Andrew N
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    You’re a hero. I hope one day I can inspire people to love evolution as I do. Right now…I’m a lab monkey.

    • AdamK
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      If evolution is true, why are there still lab monkeys?

      • J.J.E.
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

        I want to see a lab fronkey.

  2. andyo
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I also thought Harris’s book was devastating, he left very few holes open, if any (still don’t agree about the last chapter); and The God Delusionnot so much devastating as putting eloquently what I already knew. I don’t know how it would have been had I read TGD first though.

    But Harris only made me realize I was already what the religious would call an “atheist”. It was reading about science in general with texts like Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which doesn’t even mention religion almost at all, but he tells a seemingly innocuous anecdote in which the Pope himself “tells” him that it’s OK to study what happened after the Big Bang, but not the Big Bang itself. I immediately though, well who the f… is this primate in a robe and funny hat, to tell this other primate clearly smarter and with a much fuller grasp of reality where to poke it? It was a slippery slope from then on. The more I read about science (and its history), the less religion made any sense.

    I didn’t even read any anti-religion texts before The End of Faith. The incompatibility of science and religion as descriptors of reality, and even their philosophies, was astoundingly clear. I don’t know how anyone can think otherwise.

  3. Tulse
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    And this is precisely why I get so irritated at the accommodationist claims that the “New Atheists” hurt the cause of science.

  4. Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Atheism: The gateway drug to education.

    • Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      The philosophical pursuit of the origins issue, when pursued vigorously and honestly, opens up a pandora’s box for the study of biology, physics, geology, paleontology, anthropology, medicine, politics, critical thinking and comparative religion.

      It’s the Arnold Lazarus approach to problem solving. Technical eclecticism.

  5. SplendidMonkey
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    My story is similar. Welcome to the fold of rational thinkers.

  6. Harvey
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Because I was raised in a faith that neither denies nor forbids any intellectual inquiry, even thoguh I have become an atheist as my life progressed, evolution never entered into my eventual
    unbelief. It seems obvious that when any organized religion needs to “warn” its adherents to “not listen” to any argument that deviates from doctrine, that policy itself places these followers on a “slippery slope” towards unbelief. Notice that the Catholic Church has decided (under the last Pope) that evolutionis “OK” and does not negate the critical doctrinal teachings of Scripture. Perhaps the Church’s experience with previous scientific “heretics” has finally borne fruit.

  7. gillt
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    You know what turned me into a godless heathen?

    Michael Shermer’s “How We Believe”
    and
    Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World.”

    Actually those books helped me think clearly and skeptically so my life’s-long accumulation of supernatural beliefs collapsed for lack of support.

  8. Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    There is hope for theists of all stripes.

    I was raised fundamentalist Christian and took it very seriously. I gradually became more and more liberal in my beliefs (as I read and learned) as a young adult and eventually realised that I didn’t have any “theist” beliefs anymore. It took me a while, but maybe I’m just slow.

    So, keep writing books about the real world, and keep talking to people. Some will listen.

  9. salon_1928
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I’d like to say to this person, “welcome to the reality family…”

    Cheers,
    Stu

  10. Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    This story rings true. It is my story too.

  11. Matt Penfold
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Now stop all you people who are saying that reading books by “new” atheists have changed your minds.

    Have you not had the memo from Mooney informing you that no one ever has changed their minds by reading Dawkins, Harris, Coyne and others ? If you persist in claiming otherwise he will go all huffy or something.

    • Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Actually, having my religious beliefs ridiculed made me check out what the joke was about. Yes, it made me a little mad, but it also made me curious.

      The first time it happened for me was from reading the “new atheist” Bertrand Russell.

      • J.J.E.
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Well, for me it was simply learning about other religions and examining the behavior of my fundamentalist relatives that changed me. I was already an evolution major when I started questioning. The final straw was when I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting with one of the leader who took a bunch of guys to the library to examine the history of the canon. That pretty much killed it for me.

        But Dawkins et al. did convert me from an accommodationist to whatever it is I am now.

      • MadScientist
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:07 am | Permalink

        Did you read his plays (which were often harsh criticisms of contemporary society) or his philosophical letters? (I’m assuming it wasn’t his mathematical papers.)

      • Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        I just read a few of his essays.

  12. Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    There’s a bit of a train wreck aspect going on with Mooney’s recent promotion of his own “Exhibit A” evidence.
    I suspect some sort of Sokaling has been going on.
    Come on. Out with it.
    Which one of you is leading Mooney up the garden conservation meeting?

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Do you mean Tom Johnson? I was wondering whether he was a feeble invention of Mooney’s. If someone is hoaxing Mooney I’ll buy the guy/gal a beer. :) If it’s a hoax it’s just brilliant – and absolutely hilarious. “I have these new atheist friends and they’re being assholes to religious folks because PZ Myers told them to do so.” All went down in one gulp – hook, line, sinker, and even the reel!

  13. Tulse
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I suspect some sort of Sokaling has been going on.

    I was wondering that myself. At the very least Mooney has opened himself up to that danger by his rather uncritical acceptance of the story, an unreflective approach that is completely antithetical to standard journalistic methods.

    By the way, I mentioned to a large group of Unitarians that it might be the case that some aspects of religious beliefs may not be completely compatible with science, and they all beat me up and then made huge donations to Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. Mooney can quote me on that.

    • Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      I was almost Sokaled myself with your comment. A tad defensive, I guess.

  14. Wes
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    It shows, at least in this one case (it’s not unique; I’ve heard from people with similar tales), that the writings of “militant” New Atheists can not only help you give up your faith, but also turn you into a fan of evolution.

    Eat it, Mooney! And Rosenau, too. You eat it as well.
    :D

    • AdamK
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      They can’t both eat it unless they are served a double portion. Of it.

      • Wes
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        It’s a very obscure pop culture reference which might just amuse me and me only, as I doubt anyone else gets it. ;)

  15. Cyd Charisse
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Congratulations. You got a new convert. What a confessional: reminds me of Elmer Grantry

  16. metalcynic
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I’m honestly confused at all this “New Atheist” jibber-jabber … it’s as if being In Your Face and Critical of religion is something that authors just started pursuing this past decade?

    I grew up in a Southern Baptist household in the Deep South and got my hot little hands on ‘The Age of Reason’ by Thomas Pain (pub: 1795) while I was still in High School … that book literally goes through the Bible and lists every single self contradiction and logical fallacy right there in black and white; no puches are pulled! Later I read ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’ by Bertrand Russell (pub: 1927) which sealed the deal and pushed me over the edge from “Agnostic” to “Openly Atheist.”

    Regarding ID and Behe in specific I would point your correspondent to the PBS coverage of the Dover Trial which showed Behe to be a dishonest weasel in no uncertain terms (he got nailed cold intentionally distorting another mans work on bacterial flagellum (he claimed that the paper showed “Irreducible Complexity” when the whole point of the paper was exactly to show HOW THEY HAD EVOLVED) and the other fellow was so pissed about it that he flew down and personally gave expert testimony at the trial!). The whole episode of Nova is available for free online:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

  17. Ian
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    “The New Atheists + modern biblical scholarship = infidel.”

    Modern biblical scholarship. Remember that next time an atheist blanket dismisses theologians.

    Imho historical criticism is far more devastating to a glib unreasonable faith than evolution.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      After reading the above story, I thought back about what influence the dozens of books I read had on me and Ehrman’s biblical scholarship was probably the weakest. I was able to see through the bible in my early teens. I had no need for hair splitting.

      • Ian
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Did you ever have a glib unreasonable faith? Did you ever have any personal investment in the bible?

        Actually I’ve met folks with both stories.

        If you can already see the bible as an ancient literary source, then you’re ahead of the game in deconversion.

        But I know a lot of people for whom that is the big stumbling block, who have massive personal investment in the inerrancy of the bible. For them books like Ehrman (although not the only example) are critical.

    • H.H.
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Modern biblical scholarship. Remember that next time an atheist blanket dismisses theologians.

      Bible scholars are not the same as theologians. A distinction should be made between theology, which implies a commitment to the truth of the religious tradition being studied, and religious scholarship, which does not.

      • Ian
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Well that’s easy to say by fiat.

        Actually there have been some folks who’ve wanted to distinguish theology from religious studies. Most scholars in the area don’t care much, and are quite happy to sit in theology departments.

        Like many cases, one can try too hard to specify what a word means.

      • H.H.
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        But, Ian, I’m pretty sure that’s the distinction any atheist who dismisses all theologians would be making. If you’re going to criticize them for this, you should at least represent the term as they used it.

      • Ian
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        I’ve never heard an atheist make such a distinction, but the conflation has been made several times on this blog over the last few months.

      • J.J.E.
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        “I’ve never heard an atheist make such a distinction”

        Really? You’ve never had pushback to that concept? That’s pretty shocking, actually.

        For just one example (a difficult one to find, I’ll admit because it is published in Hebrew) is given by Dan Graur. His colleagues (students and postdocs if I recall properly) have published a phylogeny Old Testament manuscript versions. Such scholarship allows one to estimate the error rate of transcription, for example. Of course, I wouldn’t use this example if Dan Graur weren’t an atheist (and as it just so happens an evolutionary geneticist).

        I don’t know other fields, but I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t be hard to find atheist middle eastern archaeologists, experts in the history of the western Mediterranean during the Julio-Claudian dynasty, etc. Some of those folks might even focus specifically on the bible. But I don’t think it is at all intuitive that atheists would avoid scholarly study of the bible.

      • Ian
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        JJE – You missed my point.

      • Ian
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:19 am | Permalink

        JJE – Actually you may not have missed my point, but if you haven’t, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say at all.

    • MadScientist
      Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      Decades ago I actually knew some catholic and protestant biblical scholars and they would fascinate me with their stories about investigating the bible to attempt to determine the multiplicity of authors and, at the time, to attempt to purge it of apocrypha. I was fascinated because as they told their stories I had a very difficult time imagining that there would be any bible left when they were through with their “biblical exegeses”. I was also fascinated that the catholic biblical scholars were so dependent on the work of the biblical scholars of the church’s mortal enemies – the protestants.

      • Ian
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        Catholic bible scholars (including clergy) have been at the forefront of scholarship on the NT. That has become more difficult in the church’s backlash against Vatican II, but still.

  18. Cyd Charisse
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Is it me or I see a hint that the new converts will claim “PRTSD” or post religion traumatic stressdisorder” and get reparations from churches, cults and sects??? smart move…financially

  19. Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting to read something like that, because the idea that Behe could be persuasive seems so foreign to intelligent thought. The fact is that there is nothing that design explains well, and so many features of life that only evolution explains at all, although questions in evolution remain.

    It’s not like cosmological ID, where “fine-tuning” is a legitimate observation not yet well-explained, even if god is no explanation for it at all.

    Basically, the ID strategy is that of the Big Lie–repeat nonsense that people want to believe until they really can believe it without much doubt. When I listen to the paid IDiots of the DI, I get the idea that they come pretty close to believing that they are illegitimately censored by “Darwinists,” rather than having been well-answered and dismissed for putting out incoherent garbage.

    This guy seems to confirm the fact that many of these people tend to believe the lies, however ridiculous Behe’s blitherings are.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    • articulett
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think Behe really says anything coherent. He uses pedantry in such a way that believers hear what they want to hear even though he’s not really saying anything at all.

      I suspect that the cdesign proponentsists don’t really understand each other. They probably each imagine that they alone are making more sense than all the others.

  20. MightyMo
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Man, oh man…someplace dark, and very hot, is waiting for you all. I shall pray for you.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      A sauna? I kinda like saunas.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes, my jacuzzi room is dark until I turn on the light.

      MightyMo, I will beseech Zeus and Thor and Baal and another hundred other other silly fantasies for your sake, just like you do for your fictitious deity. Feel offended? I hope so.

      • Ian
        Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        May Mo be touched by his noodly appendage.

    • Wes
      Posted October 30, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      So we’re all going to spend a typical summer evening in Phoenix?

  21. Your Name's Not Bruce?
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    A great big real world welcome to your correspondent! For a secular take on the wonders of the universe I can recommend Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

    My doubts about religion started in grade three. I grew up in a nominally Christian household, my family on occasion attending the local United Church of Canada services. I never thought it was a big deal, though. Religion was never such a huge part of our lives. Even though I went to a public school, we still sang the occasional Christian hymn for opening exercises. (This would have been about 1970.)One of those hymns was “God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall” which says in part

    God sees the little sparrow fall
    It meets His tender view,
    If God so loves the little things
    I know he loves me too.

    It never said anything about god actually catching the sparrow, just watching it fall. For me it didn’t make any sense; passive observation did not equal love. It took many more years to finally reach full-blown atheism, but the seeds of doubt were sown by a pious public school teacher.

  22. Occam
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    The first paragraph of this commendably frank account is remarkable:
    …accepted evolution and took it for granted… accepted the Bible as the inerrant, infallible, and only inspired written Word of God…
    Twice: accepted.
    A research programme of Darwinian scope is clearly spelled out: find out how and why intelligent and educated humans can be brought to accept anything, however compelling (like Evolution) or however outrageous (like the Bible), before probing it with their own minds.
    The trait in human behavior that puzzled me most as a child was the capacity – and willingness – to believe; I found belief itself unbelievable, unintelligible, unworthy of the human condition. I still do.

  23. hempenstein
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Excellent!

    I also look forward to reading an account, sometime in the future, of some kid currently laboring away in a madrassa, pasting the Koran onto his every available neuron, who somehow escapes the mental imprisonment and learns about the rest of the world, including evolution. The likelihood of this happening is probably on the same scale as the likelihood of an individual sperm fertilizing an ovum, or winning the Powerball, but those improbabilities do happen and eventually one of those kids will somehow make the full journey.

  24. Buckoh
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    A recovering Christian Fundamentalist might find the following helpful:
    Loftus, JW, Why I Became an Atheist.
    Barker, Dan et al, Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists
    Stenger, VJ, The New Atheism:Taking a Stand for Reason

  25. Posted October 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    For me it was a lot of reading and thinking, but Bertrand Russell, J.L. Mackie, and Antony Flew (in his pre-senile days) were in the reading mix.

    But one thing that helped was actually studying Milton’s Paradise Lost. Among other things, Milton tries to make psychological sense of how innocent beings could sin and fall from grace.

    He does a superficially wonderful job, but when you really probe he doesn’t succeed. He has to portray Adam, Eve, and Satan as already – before they sin – possessing character traits that make them likely to sin. But those character traits were given to them when they were created by God! On Milton’s account, God has to take some of the responsibility for sin. The greatest poet in the English language (well, after Shakespeare perhaps) can’t get out of this, with all his immense creativity and intelligence.

    And, really, how else could it be? The idea of having “free will” that has nothing to do with their existing characters, as created by God, makes no sense. If they have free will, it is free will to express themselves as they are. But how they are is a matter of how God created them.

    The story just doesn’t add up. Contrary to what theologians might say, God has to be deeply implicated in all the sin that He supposedly hates so much.

    I wonder whether the AAI would ever let me talk about the this. The program in LA was kind of science heavy. The humanities, not so much. ;)

    • Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      I would enjoy hearing you talk about Paradise Lost at any forum. A debate with Professor Fish would be a blockbuster!

      BTW, why the phrase “would ever let me talk” for AAI? Is there a lurking dogma there? joke – Every other atheist group/person is accused of being dogmatic, so I thought AAI should be included too!

      But I would guess you are quite unique, especially for a semi-professional atheist, in having utilized literature to come to atheism. But maybe you have more examples from philosophers – wait, that’s still very unique. Hitchens? Okay, incredibly unique.

      • Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        No, all I meant (though I put it a bit whimsically, I suppose) was that it might not be a popular topic. The attendees at AAI and other such forums tend, I think to be very science oriented. What I actually spoke on last time was the defamation of religion issue, but that’s a, well, topical sort of topic. I was really wondering out loud whether anyone would actually attend a presentation on something like Milton’s theodicy. To be honest, I suspect it wouldn’t attract much of an audience.

      • Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        You could frame it as theodicy and free will and then talk about Milton when all the bums were on seats.

        Milton himself was talking about science, in a way – he was at least talking about the unmistakable fact that people aren’t some sort of amorphous soup so it wouldn’t work to portray Eve and Adam that way. That’s cognitive science as seen from the outside. :- )

      • newenglandbob
        Posted October 30, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Every time I see the word theodicy, I still want to see it at theo-idiocy, which, of course is very close to its meaning.

        That whole topic of apolgetics is not only uninteresting to me but I am hostile to its resulting usage.

  26. KP
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Sending this from a blackberry so excuse the inability to associate it with the right comments

    I too was first influenced by Bertrand Russell. I loaned out my copy of “why I am not a christian (first read in 1989 at age 18) a while ago and am irritated that I never got it back.

    Separately I was just telling a friend over dinner last night that I regret not spending more time around your lab when I was a grad student there.

  27. VnK
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Nice to read about someone recovering from the bondage that is superstitious religion.

    Today, while walking to work, I was having reflections about the nature of human rationality and I wished to come up with a catchy phrase to describe what my thoughts were. The best I could do was:

    “Humans have an innate capacity for rationality that ordinarily does not get mobilised in the day-to-day conduct of life”

    I say this because I grew up in an environment (Cameroon) that is highly superstitious and highly religionised. My parent’s generation, and the generation before, believed believed in one form of superstitious irrationalism or the other, be it African animistic religions or Abrahamic religions. From an age when I could develop my own independent thoughts, which was about 12, I became extremely fascinated with all the various religious narratives around me – Christianity being the dominant one, but animism no less important. By this point, my family were Roman Catholics, and belief in its doctrine was taken for granted, and I had only a casual acquintance with the bible. Then my family converted to Seven Day Adventistism (SDA), a christian sect known for their strict adherence to some of the Old Testament doctrine. As SDA kids, we were encouraged to read our bibles fervently and with reverence and then I stumbled on Numbers 31 and Exodus 17. These two narratives revealed to me that Abrahamic god was a particularly savage and partial god. They also set a chain of thoughts in my mind which culminated in my abandoning of belief in a benevolent god by the time I was 16 years. I also lost (if ever I had any) all beliefs and claims of the African black magician.

    My new change mindset was accompanied “intellectual” loneliness – I found nobody in my community for whom these contradictions and absurdities in the bible seemed serious enough to warrant rejection of the belief. And this has been the abiding question in my life – Are humans naturally given to irrationalism? Why was I the only one in my community who did not believe in these religious and superstitious doctrines in spite of the my total immersion in this environment from the outset. Is it some kind of neurological wiring in my mind that prevent from harbouring these doctrines? I was determined to investigate these questions and find “answers” to them. I resolved to become a scientist or anthropologist or failing these, spend my spare time and cash studying the phenomenon of religions and beliefs. Having pursued a primarily scientific A-level, I had become convinced of the scientific project to explain the nature of reality ( I had little difficulty in accepting evolution, the age of the universe, and the extraordinary work and output from cosmology, geology etc, etc). I also have been boning up of the history and philosophy of religions, something I have been doing for the last 20 years. The books by the New Atheists have only served to consolidate my conviction that I made the correct decision all those years ago when I started to question these superstitious claims.

    Denial and rejection of evolution is rampant and runs very deep in the African community. I have tried to educate my friends and family by giving them “soft” books by people like Ken Miller, Neil Shubbin, Francis Collins, Daniel Fairbanks, and Stephen J Godfrey’s Pilgrim and Paradigm – all to no avail.

    I am left with nothing now but to use my “The Argument from the Whale”, which was given renewed vigour from reading WEIT. When asked to justified why I “believe” (I usually preface my response by saying that I don’t “believe” in evolution, but that I accept evolution as the only explanation for the diversity of life on the planet) in evolution, I invariable counter by asking “Why is it that some whales (according to WEIT, 5%, but I have found no where else that quotes this figure) are born with fully developed hindlimbs?” And I show them picture on the web of the whale caught in Japan and documented here http://digitallibrary.amnh.org/dspace/handle/2246/4849.

    I sometimes have evolution-deniers countering back by saying that this is just a genetic malformation. At which point I ask:

    Could a genetic malformation result in a shark developing legs, or a human developing feathers?

    At which point the conversation end.

    • Occam
      Posted October 30, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      VnK: My deepest sympathy. I’ve had to deal with a number of Seventh Day Adventists in recent years. Some of them still strictly observant, some completely emancipated in all but name, some who may be called “former” SDA. What struck me with all of them was the pervasive cognitive dissonance. Completely rational in their day-to-day jobs, they would just shut their brains off where tenets of the faith where concerned, even though they would acknowledge that their purported beliefs were not borne out by facts. Extremely stressful and self-destructive.
      I like your formula: “innate capacity for rationality”. It reminds me of the fits of cold rage of Jean Piaget when confronted with fresh examples of indoctrination of children: “They’re not just stifling their thinking, they’re destroying their brains!”

  28. Blair T
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I find it odd to read about adults who became atheists by reading books.

    I became an atheist when I was 8 years old, immediately after figuring out there was no Santa Claus. My reasoning was: just because adults tell you something, doesn’t mean that it is true. I never really understood what God was, never saw any evidence for God, so decided it wasn’t true. At the time I had no idea that other people didn’t believe in God.

    I think from this experience I just assumed that some people like me were naturally disinclined to believe in the supernatural – and those people are a minority.

    What I wonder is how many people can there be who both really believe in the supernatural and are open enough to reason and evidence to change their opinion?

    • Posted October 30, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I think you’re simplifying things a bit. You don’t decide to become an atheist in a vacuum. For instance, I would guess that you were not being actively indoctrinated into supernatural beliefs through religion, as so many people were.

      “Really believe in the supernatural” is pretty nebulous, but if you put that at one end of a spectrum with “really disbelieve in the supernatural” at the other end, people generally move slowly from believe to disbelieve. But there are also those that just have very strong beliefs/disbeliefs and will jump from one end to the other. In these cases, the personality is really more important than the rationale for believing/disbelieving.

      • Blair T
        Posted November 6, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        I have to disagree with the idea that ‘you don’t decide to become an atheist in a vacuum,’ since at 8 years old, I did not know that atheism existed and for all I knew I was the only atheist in the world.

        But the point I was trying to make, which you also make, is that ‘personality’ is more important than rationale. That is, at 8 years old I did not have any knock down good arguments against god or religion, it just didn’t stike me as believable. The only rationale I invoked was that: just because everyone says something is true, doesn’t make it so.

  29. MelM
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I think Ehrman could be effective. I read “Jesus Interrupted” recently and was surprised by just how many problems the Bible has. As Ehrman writes (page 279/HC): “It would be impossible…to argue that the Bible is a unified whole, inerrant in all its parts, inspired by God in every way.” Even if they remain religious, the people who want to twist science and the U.S. government to fit their theology need to be dissuaded of these ideas and a focused readng of Ehrman should do that for at least some. However, there are a lot of “presuppositional apologetics” (see Wikipedia) out there and this stuff, if completed accepted, is a secure mind prison.

    Not being particularly religious as a kid and becoming an atheist at about 23(didn’t read the Bible, didn’t go to church, parents didn’t go to church, grand parents didn’t go to church, and religion was seldom discussed) I think I’ve gained a lot of understanding about the Bible from just this one Ehrman book. And, I’d never heard of the tool (not used in his book) called a “Bible Synopsis” where the Gospel stories are presented side-by-side in columns for comparison. I now link to “Jesus Interrupted” as a way for some to start out of religion. BTW, I see that amazon.com is now taking pre-orders for a paperback version due out Feb.2 2010 for $10.79.

    An older book that I only found out about recently (and ordered yesterday) is “Atheism: The Case Against God” by George H. Smith. Interestingly, there’s a customer reviewer (L. Louis) who says:

    “Though I consider myself a Christian, I do not support the Christian apologetic stance that our faith can be verified through reason, and George Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God” gives ample reasons as to why. Faith should be, as Soren Kierkegaard envisioned it, a purely irrational leap.

    Only two words are necessary to describe his approach — “SHEER BRILLIANCE!!!” The theist is left with very few options. He either can retract all his assertions and admit that there is no rational basis for the belief in God or he can attack the very foundation of reason (the physical universe) — thus precluding his right to employ argument. Either way, George Smith backs the Christian apologist and proponents of the supernatural into such a tight corner, that it is virtually impossible for them to escape.”

    He gave the book 5 stars.

    • Posted October 31, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      I loved Erhman’s account of his intellectual journey from fundamentalist to agnostic in his “Misquoting Jesus”.

      His story is like mine, except to the third power on the biblical scholarship aspect. (I’m just a hobbyist, but he’s a worldclass biblical scholar.)

  30. MelM
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Interesting comment about the ID sticking point. I see ID as inherently religious and boil it down to the claim that “there must be a nonnatural undesigned designer which is God”. Because… Any natural designer would itself need designing. Secondly, if the nonnatural designer isn’t the Christian god, then the possibility of yet another god would have to be admitted–which no Christian is going to do. IDers can give the illusion of being scientific by not mentioning that is was God that was the designer, but the pious will fill that gap all by themselves. With the gap filled, the fundamentalists now have scientific proof (they think) of both God and Genesis. ID is really quite ingenious. It fits in sooo well with the never ending ploy: “It’s not about religion, it’s about______.” Fill in the blank with “science” or “history”, or “patriotism” or “fairness” or …. Really, I believe there’s some Orwellian “Doublethink” involved in this.

  31. Michael Heath
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I grew up fundie but never bought into the BS, merely did my duty as a good son going through the motions until I was able to get the hell out there. I did seriously consider their claims, but was the problem child in Sunday School class by 10 noting the contradictions in the supposedly infallible Bible.

    However, the baggage took decades to get rid of and there are scars that will never disappear. Especially since these sorts of Christians are frightened by freethinkers with a clue. Their comfort zone regarding non-believers are “backsliders”, not people who reject faith as a bug and move into the world of enlightenment thinking. I typically use the phrase, “I’ve moved beyond faith”.

    The NA’s are doing a service for many of us. Sure they’re offensive to some, those offended folks aren’t changing anyways, so who cares? While I read and enjoyed Dawkin’s GD, it was Harris who really stopped my public and self-deceptive charade of being a deist.

    Some of us are authentically on a search for truth, the NAs bring a clarity to the public square Mr. Mooney has not yet developed the emotional intelligence to possess. I do have hopes for this young man, and it now appears his way out is to dilute his entire argument until it eventually melds into the NA argument in all aspects but his sophistry.

    Mr. Mooney has yet to learn the age-old adage, “don’t let your ego get in the way of your position”, which I think is why he’s retreating with rhetoric rather than a character-building concession.

  32. Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Commendable, the both of you! My story:

    My parents are anomalous regards the rest of the family which is mega-Baptist. We were “Christian” growing up. We moved when I was in second grade and joined an easy-going Methodist church. Over the years our attendance waned until now when my folks only go on the big shindig nights and I not at all.

    At one point (I guess I was 16-ish) I just grasped the fact I’d always been an atheist. I realized I was NEVER into church. It was so boring that I often nodded off and outright slept. I only prayed and sang (the latter begrudgingly) because everybody else did.

    I told my folks, “I don’t enjoy church, and there are other things I’d rather do.” They tried to show me that church was great and I went with them a few more times to appease them, but eventually I just couldn’t be assed anymore. I appreciate their acceptance of my non-belief and I pity folk whose parents are oppressively religious.

    I didn’t read anti-religious material before my “eureka moment”. I read about biology, geology and archaeology, though, and it was far and away more interesting than listening to a priest or pastor talk about what “God thinks” and “Jesus meant”. I was (and still am) into comics, too, and those were always a boatload more exciting!

    Funnily enough, I’m more knowledgeable about religion as an atheist than I ever was as a “Christian”. I find myth and society interesting to study, but it took losing my own religion to discover this (up until that point I didn’t consider “religion” to be worthwhile at all thanks to the only variant I knew being excruciatingly boring).

  33. MadScientist
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    Some people find it so difficult to understand that you cannot possibly teach people about ideas like evolution if you nod like a dashboard puppy and accept fables like creation as being credible. Furthermore the nodding puppies, like the fundamentalists, mischaracterize people like R. Dawkins as “strident” and “polarizing” while bitching and moaning about how their lame views are allegedly mischaracterized by hordes of genuinely intelligent people.

  34. jpsullivan
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    It is great to know this can happen! I can’t help but think, however, that the vast majority of religionists in this country lack the intellectual curiosity and openness displayed by this gentleman.

  35. BaldApe
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    The thing that made the biggest impact on me in the story was:

    but anonymously since he’s not yet “come out.”

    It’s a shame that we have to conceal our un-belief to avoid the idea that we are some kind of scum, or to avoid our well-meaning relatives worrying about our non-existent souls.

    • Wes
      Posted October 30, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      But if you don’t conceal it, you’re being an uncivil militant dogmatic fundamentalist puppy-raping atheist. Duh.

      • articulett
        Posted October 31, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        To the faitheist you are just being mean– the equivalent of telling the kiddies that Santa isn’t real.

        In this way believers force non-believers to be complicit in a lie we never wanted to be a part of in the first place.

  36. Paul
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame that we have to conceal our un-belief to avoid the idea that we are some kind of scum, or to avoid our well-meaning relatives worrying about our non-existent souls.

    Or to avoid possible work ramifications. When you have a boss who used work email to rant about how the environmentalism movement is just a bunch of Pagans trying to replace YWHW with nature, coming out as an atheist doesn’t seem like a smart move.

  37. Larry
    Posted November 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    You can add me to your tally of long-standing Christians who have deconverted and become a fan of naturalism. Like the person whose story you told, I read widely from both sides. I also spoke to believers to learn their explanations (excuses) for what’s in the Bible. In the end, my decision was easy from an intellectual point of view, but it has been very difficult dealing with the aftermath of coming out to my fundamentalist wife.

    In spite of those personal difficulties, I’m happier now than I have been in years. The universe makes sense (and where it doesn’t make sense, *that* makes sense) and I feel truly privileged just to be a sentient being.


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