Two readers testify that evolution helped them give up religion

Since Tuesday I’ve gotten two heartening letters from readers, both erstwhile religionists who abandoned their faith at least partly after learning about evolution. One was a Mormon, the other a Jehovah’s Witness. And both gave me permission to publish their emails and their identities.

I have to admit that I’m pleased that I was given credit for some of their enlightenment about the truth of evolution and the falsity of faith, so one of the labels I’ll put on this post is “self promotion.” But I want to make two points about these emails, and about similar ones I’ve received over the years.

First, you can change religious people’s minds about evolution, even though it’s not common. Accommodationists tout the alternative strategy of evolutionists kissing up to religion, saying that once religious people realize that evolution is compatible with their faith, they’ll flock to Darwinism. Well, that hasn’t worked. And there’s no evidence for their assertion that being an atheist and at the same time promoting evolution actually drives people away from atheism and science acceptance. I claim that the number of believers in the world has been reduced by my writing WEIT.  I’ve heard from a fair number of people who left religion because if it, but none who abandoned evolution in favor of faith because Professor Ceiling Cat is a Strident Atheist. (And believe me, those people would tell me!)

Second, I’ve learned that abandoning faith often begins with learning facts: often the scientific facts supporting evolution. I have heard many times (twice at TAM from Orthodox Jews—and in a single day!) that people’s journey to rationality and unbelief began with learning about evolution. This shows, to me at least, that religions do depend heavily on believing actual facts about nature, and are not simply vehicles for communality and empathy that are devoid of factual content. Were that the case, learning about evolution would not motivate people to leave religion. In the case of the two men who testify below, it was the dissonance between what their faith taught and the actual facts about evolution that made them see their religion was purveying lies. If those lies could easily be re-cast as metaphors, as Sophisticated Theologians™ urge, this wouldn’t happen.

So all of this does indeed justify the fears of some believers that evolution is dangerous to their faith.

On to the emails. In both cases I verified the identities of the correspondents.

*******

Hello Mr Coyne,

I would like to thank you for writing the book ‘Why Evolution is True’, and I am really enjoying the posts on your website.

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and last week they forcibly disassociated me from the religion (meaning that I am now labelled a ‘wicked’ person, to be shunned by all JWs). I am still waiting to find out whether my dad and in-laws will ever talk to me again. The reason I was given the boot is that I wrote an account of my reasons for leaving the faith (although I never tried to persuade anyone else to leave).

Anyway, inspired by your book, but wanting a more concise resource summarizing some of the more impressive evidence for evolution, I wrote a compact list of the evidence for evolution, which can be found here.

Thank you for helping me make the transition from belief to scepticism. I am a lot happier for it!

Regards,

Russell Walker.

In our further correspondence, he told me that it was difficult to leave the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a policy of completely shunning those who leave: a border-collie tactic designed keep sheep in the fold. (Here’s their own explanation of how this odious practice works.)

He added this in a subsequent email (Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, completely reject evolution):

Leaving the JWs was quite a traumatic experience. From initial doubts to being completely honest with myself that I didn’t believe took about 10 years (I left in 2010, but was only officially expelled last week). After admitting to myself that I did not believe, I spent several months reading voraciously. Early on in that process I found out (in part thanks to your book) that the people who lead the religion, whom I had trusted implicitly, had been shockingly dishonest about the evidence surrounding evolution. I was absolutely appalled at the quotes taken out of context, logical fallacies (I had to learn what a logical fallacy was), and thoroughly biased presentation of the subject. None of this was apparent to me when I was a believer because of the information control that the religion imposes (including not trusting ‘worldly’ sources of information, and completely shunning apostates – refusing to even look at anything they have to say).

Within a few weeks of leaving, I had come to terms with the fact that there is simply insufficient evidence for a supreme being, and that I was not going to live forever. When I was a believer, I thought that such a realisation would render my life meaningless (and that prevented me from pursuing answers to my doubts), but in reality I very quickly adapted, and now feel that my life has much greater meaning than ever before. I am mentally free. I no longer live with the anguish of doubt, and other psychological baggage that comes from being in a high control group.

Sadly, it looks like the JWs will continue to cast their pall over my family life for some time yet. Still, I have no regrets.

Russ.

Finally, I wondered what kind of role learning about evolution really played in Russ’s de-conversion, so I asked him this:

“It does surprise me that reading about evolution is enough to turn the tide. I wouldn’t have expected that a priori, but, I suppose, evolution is the one solid bit of evidence that everyone can understand AND that contradicts one’s faith.  Maybe that’s why reading about Darwinism tends to dispel faith.”

He responded in this way:

I think the reason evolution was such a clincher for me is that my whole belief was built on what I thought was solid and logically sound proof of creationism. My faith was a house of cards built on ‘proof’ that God exists (rather than any personal religious experience or anecdotal evidence). In effect, I was ‘reasoned into’ belief in God (albeit the reasoning was unsound), and therefore was able to be ‘reasoned out’ of it too. I think this is rare among the religious though – when I was a believer, I was often a little frustrated with the fact that my fellow believers ‘believed the right things for the wrong reasons’ as I saw it!

Russ.

To those who argue that religion isn’t based on factual beliefs, but on beliefs that are really “fictitious imaginings” (see my previous post about Tonia Lombrozo’s  and Neil van Leuuwen’s defense of this indefensible claim), Russ’s story stands in stark contrast. I think he’s right that people aren’t “reasoned into belief” (indeed, that was the point of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience), but that doesn’t mean that their religion, arrived at by emotion or revelation, doesn’t need to be buttressed by beliefs about what is true.

The notion that factuality of beliefs has little or nothing to do with religion is a recent trope of accommodationists, faitheists, and others who want to render religion immune to scientific and rational criticism.

I applaud Russ’s desire to put truth over falsity, even if abandoning superstition meant abandoning his social network. As you see, he’s actually much happier now.

*******

Here’s an email I got from Chris Smith of Bakersfield, California, who in subsequent correspondence ask that he be identified:

Dear Jerry Coyne
I finished reading your book “Why Evolution is True” about a year ago, and I loved it! I was raised in the Mormon church, and I left partially due to your book. I never understood evolution until I read your book, so I wanted to email you and say thank you so much for your clarity and sincerity in the way you explained evolution. Since leaving the Mormon church, I’m so much happier. And thanks to you, I’ve discover how much I love science! Evolution is true!
Thanks again for your book. It meant a lot to me.
Sincerely,
A fan
Kudos to Chris as well. I have another “testimony” that I might publish if I get permission, from another Mormon who told me how strongly the church and its adherents reject (or ignore) evolution. Chris’s account jibes with that.

132 Comments

  1. Al DiLuca
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    This reflects my own similar experience.
    Good for them, good for all.
    Thank you.

    • mental reservation
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Same here. Especially

      From initial doubts to being completely honest with myself that I didn’t believe took about 10 years

      struck home. As strange as it may sound, I still considered myself a Catholic about 5 years after losing the ability to believe in both the basic tenets and the benevolence of this religion. It was a very gradual process.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        Ditto…the timeline from when I stopped attending Church regularly to the time I finally realized I really don’t buy any of it was 12 years. I do think Catholicism is more prone to people just drifting away for some reason. I find a lot of people still hold on to some of the basic theistic tenets while rejecting 99% of the Church’s teachings and then never bother to think about where that 1% they’re holding onto came from.

  2. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    An educator successfully educates! One mind at a time! Bravo, Prof. Coyne.

  3. John
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Wonderful stories. Is there any way to read the list that Russell made? The link requires a sign-in.

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      That link works for me; I don’t have to sign in.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        If I hover over the link it has a redirect from xmail.uchicago.edu at the start of it, which I guess is what is causing me, and maybe others, the problem.

      • John
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        It works if I type the url in the address bar; the link is wonky.

  4. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Interesting stuff. Just a couple of typos:

    “erstwhile religionists who abandoned their faith at least partly after learning about religion” should probably be “erstwhile religionists who abandoned their faith at least partly after learning about evolution”, although the first works just as well ime!

    Also the hyperlink for Russell’s blog is not correct.

  5. Curt Cameron
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Accommodationists tout the alternative strategy of evolutionists kissing up to religion, saying that once religious people realize that evolution is compatible with their faith, they’ll flock to Darwinism.

    I can buy that some number of religious people could be persuaded to accept evolution by making it seem not threatening, and with these people, I wouldn’t expect that we would typically hear from them. They’d view it as a minor adjustment in their understanding of how God crafted the world, and probably wouldn’t admit to rejecting evolution very strongly anyway.

    But I think the biggest difference between accommodationism and non is what we see as the ultimate goal. The NCSE and other accommodationists see acceptance of evolution as their goal, while you (Jerry) and I see it as a tool to help people discard their faith-based way of filtering out what they accept. You can use the evidence for evolution to shatter their whole broken epistemology, and I think that’s much more important.

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Actually, sometimes I just care about teaching people about evolution, as when I lecture about it without hardly any mention of religion. Other times I emphasize the contradiction between science and faith more. My first popular book has, I think, only a single mention of the relationship between religion and evolution, and that’s to say that “enlightened” religions accept evolution. (There is, however, a lot of criticism of creationism.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      The religious & accommodationist compromise is to accept the window dressing of evolutionary “leaf” facts, but not care for the fully and solely mechanistic process that is the “stem” fact.

      It is both dishonest and perverse, and I couldn’t live with it. But I am reasonably sure that accommodationists believe that if they can get Asylum guests to sit on the fence they, or their children, can fall over on the fully factual side. That may work (though Jerry and Richard Dawkins shows rather well that it doesn’t seem to), and if so, more the power to them.

      [But if the R&A crowd also shout “STFU!” because the facts, and nothing but the facts, bother them, I get incensed.]

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      The NCSE and other accommodationists see acceptance of evolution as their goal, while you (Jerry) and I see it as a tool to help people discard their faith-based way of filtering out what they accept.

      That’s not how I would frame it.

      There’s no reason to mention religion at all in the context of basically any science course, save in very limited domains. It’s often appropriate as part of the history of science, whether as a stand-alone course or the typical whirlwind tour that opens introductory classes. It’s sometimes similarly appropriate when the topic turns to current affairs. And, of course, it’s always appropriate when the religion itself is the subject of study, such as in anthropology or psychology or what-not.

      But the religious perspectives on the science are entirely irrelevant to the teaching of the actual science…

      …and that’s where the NCSE steps waaaaaay over the line. They’ve got gobs of outright theology on their site, including outright Bible study instruction.

      They are, in fact, promoting a specific theological interpretation of the Abrahamic religions, and promoting certain religious factions in favor of others.

      That’s so far beyond the pale that I’m ashamed to live in a country in which that’s one of the prime functions of the science education advocacy organization.

      In the classroom, I think Jerry only cares about teaching people about Evolution. Outside the classroom, he sees religious belief as one of the biggest barriers to understanding Evolution…and religion itself as one of the most detrimental forces society faces.

      But all that outside-the-classroom stuff belongs exactly there: outside the classroom.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Marilee Lovit
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        I agree. Studying science, religion doesn’t even come up.

    • eric
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      You stopped quoting Jerry one sentence too short. Jerry is saying that NCSE’s strategy for reaching that very worthy goal doesn’t work.

  6. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    In the 80s, I was at Ohio State working on my MA in philosophy. I was dating an undergraduate. I was already atheist at that time, and she was Catholic, having problems with it but not even thinking of giving it up. I didn’t try to persuade her, but we would have conversations about it and she knew my views. She had, let’s say, lots of trouble with the fact I was a non beleiver. She wasn’t a scienc e major, but had to take some science requirements, and geology sounded interesting to her. Big class, over 100 students, but the prof was good. One day she just came home and said, that’s it. I see it now. I had sat in on some of the classes, so I knew the prof wasn’t slanting things, or even mentioning religion. It was just a very good science class. And she got it.

    It happens, even many times when we don’t know about it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      My dad has a friend who dropped a geology class in university because his religion told him it wasn’t true. Up until recently, my dad had his geology books (out of date horribly as continental drift was mentioned but not universally accepted).

      That same person is now a non-believer and think of what he lost by dropping out?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        “Continental drift” — Haven’t heard that one in a long time, since Plate Tectonics was just a lad. Hearing it now, it sounds like a 70s dance move, could be the Electric Slide unplugged.

        • eric
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          I think when people who were in their 20’s when the electric slide came out get on the dance floor and try it today, “continental drift” is as good a description of the result as any. 🙂

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          Evocative term to lose, though.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

          I think in the textbook my dad had, they were big on the earth once being bigger theory.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:41 am | Permalink

            How big was it, back in the day?

          • rickflick
            Posted May 1, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            Was that something to do with inflation theory?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted May 1, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              I think so.

          • Posted May 1, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            The Earth’s on a diet, eh? Trying to fit back into those prom clothes?

            b&

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      These sorts of accounts are very heartening. I teach a lot of evolution in my Intro Biology class, and I also emphasize the simple logic of how the geological record is built, and the very evident succession of fossils found in them. I like to think that I plant a few seeds of doubt among the anti-science religious students who really thought that the science was what they had erroneously learned. Maybe some of those seeds will slowly emerge over time.

  7. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    In the 80s, I was at Ohio State working on my MA in philosophy. I was dating an undergraduate. I was already atheist at that time, and she was Catholic, having problems with it but not even thinking of giving it up. I didn’t try to persuade her, but we would have conversations about it and she knew my views. She had, let’s say, lots of trouble with the fact I was a non beleiver. She wasn’t a scienc e major, but had to take some science requirements, and geology sounded interesting to her. Big class, over 100 students, but the prof was good. One day she just came home and said, that’s it. I see it now. I had sat in on some of the classes, so I knew the prof wasn’t slanting things, or even mentioning religion. It was just a very good science class. And she got it.

    It happens, even many times when we don’t know about it.

  8. Dermot C
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    And then there’s Leo Behe. Son of – guess who? – Michael. He started by reading Dawkins and after 6 months or so could no longer take the ID stuff. Now a secularist. The King of ID pwned (the joke nearly works). x

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Ha, I hadn’t heard that!

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      All he probably needed to do was compare clarity of Dawkins’ writing versus his father’s writing.

      When someone is writing obscurely, they are either incompetent or hiding something (attempting to lie by omission).

      • rickflick
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        “incompetent or hiding something”
        Yes, and they may not be aware of it.

  9. nickswearsky
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    A lot nicer to read these than the Reader’s beefs.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      I enjoy reading both but for very different reasons! 😉

  10. Sastra
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    In effect, I was ‘reasoned into’ belief in God (albeit the reasoning was unsound), and therefore was able to be ‘reasoned out’ of it too. I think this is rare among the religious though

    Technically speaking, even faith, personal experiences, and emotional appeals also reason people into religion in that they all provide the believer with reasons why they believe, evidence and argument which they found convincing. It’s just harder to undermine a conclusion about an objective fact which has been arrived at through a subjective means.

    One of the first question I ask creationists is “how much is riding on this for you?” That is, if — hypothetically — it turns out that evolution happened and you figure this out, would you become an atheist or a theistic evolutionist?

    It’s an important question, because if they give the latter answer then the drama is gone and all the importance has drained out of the creationism/evolution debate. They need to look at that.

    But answer the former and they’ve got a test for God. And these letters show how that works out.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’ve had former JW friends who speak about how awful the JW shunning can be. Some would even tell her mother, when she fell ill, that it was her punishment from god.

    So loving….

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      I had a high school friend who was JW. She was gang raped aged 14. When she got home, the first thing her parents did was put her in the bath for two hours because she wasn’t pure any more, and just left there on her own. The only help she had was constant prayer. When it was later discovered she was pregnant, they refused to let her have the abortion she wanted. By the time her baby was born, she was an inpatient in a secure mental health unit, hundreds of miles from family and friends. Her younger sister told us her association with non-Church members at school was blamed for what happened. The younger sister later left the JWs – she deliberately got pregnant at 15 so she could get social security to support herself independently. This was 1978-80.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        …and they have the fucking nerve to claim moral superiority….

        b&

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        What a horror story! Did the family try to get those that raped her charged? Leaving her in the tub probably ruined at forensic evidence!

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          No they didn’t. It was considered her fault it happened. Good girls don’t get raped.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 30, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            How awful!

            • Posted April 30, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

              Yeah. Who needs the Taliban or DAESH when we’ve got our very own Christian fundamentalists?

              I suppose we should be glad they at least didn’t stone her to death with many stones. But this is what’s considered progress?

              b&

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        That is so completely wrong. That people–especially parents–can act this way is always hard to believe, no matter how many zillions of similar cases you hear.

      • Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:54 am | Permalink

        From at least the 1960’s to the late 1980’s, JWs who were victims of rape would be disfellowshipped for fornication if they hadn’t screamed during the attack. That policy undoubtedly influenced how some members treated rape victims, and may well have contributed to several cases like the one you describe. Thankfully, things have improved somewhat since then, and I think most JWs today would be a lot more sympathetic and reasonable with regard to rape victims. Some of the vile comments made by JW leaders can be found here: http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/quotes/rape-fornication.php

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 1, 2015 at 3:44 am | Permalink

          Kind of hard to tell that from Islam.

          • Doug
            Posted May 2, 2015 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            “That people–especially parents–can act this way is always hard to believe.” They’re just following the words of Jesus: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and CHILDREN . . .he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).

            The reference to rape victims screaming also comes from the Bible: “If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife.” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

            The Bible then goes on to say that if a man rapes a women in the country, she should be given the benefit of the doubt; it should be assumed that she cried out and nobody heard her. See? it isn’t ALL sexist!

            • Diane G.
              Posted May 2, 2015 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              Yes, and good to know they covered all circumstances!

  12. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    As my own break with religion came about when I first became interested in science (it was learning about the Scientific Method that led to my own “epiphany” – not any particular new scientific understanding achieved)…. anyhow I always then assumed that others who break with religion MUST make a break partly because of something that science gives to them.
    I learned later that this was not always the case when I was talking to the chairman of a Californian Humanist chapter – who told me that about a quarter of his group came to atheism because they were “damaged” (abused?) by religion. Their break with religion was not a rational one- it was an emotional reaction and an emotional rejection. He said that he felt it was his groups task then to show such “damaged atheists” that an emotional reaction was never enough -that atheism without a rationalists understanding and without a scientific appreciation was a pretty hollow thing.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Very interesting. I can add that atheists also generally do not stand by rationalism alone. Most are quite passionate and emotional about the wonders of material life and the sheer, dumb luck of existing. Furthermore, most are humanists.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      My religious friends and family actually tend to *assume* that if you leave religion it is because of some bad experience you had. I think it is a protection mechanism. To admit that you just dispassionately reasoned yourself out of religion would be much more threatening to their world view.

      Most religions come pre-loaded with explanations for why people might leave:

      * You want to sin and you reject religion in order to feel licensed to sin.

      * You’re mad at God for some (falsely) perceived wrong, the death of a relative or some such.

      * You’re mad at the church for some (maybe rightly, maybe not) perceived wrong. Church members are forgiven sinners, so of course they are going to screw up and hurt other church member sometimes.

      * You’ve been brainwashed by someone (professors, The Media).

      * There is something fundamentally lacking in your personal make up, some lack of spiritual sense or awareness.

      I think the list rarely extends to “Maybe he just weighed the evidence and came up with a different conclusion than me.”

      This list serves not only to shield believers from scrutinizing their beliefs, it also serves to paint the person leaving belief as exhibiting a moral failing. This can be a powerful form of pressure not to leave because you can question yourself, “Am I just leaving in order to sin, just like they say?” Of course, everyone is tempted to do things they ought not to (and of course many ‘sins’ are ridiculous rules that don’t matter), so it’s highly likely that you have some feelings like that, that there is something you vaguely consider doing that the church considers a sin. So that can feel like a confirmation of their accusations.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        The one I encounter from friends (not family, thank CC) is “You weren’t exposed or don’t understand MY religion, which is a Spirituality and isn’t anything like the ones you don’t like.” In other words, the smug and popular “I Don’t Believe in That God Either” apologetic.

        Eventually replaced by your last * point, of course. Only people who lack or block out their deeper spiritual nature “weigh the evidence” and “come up with conclusions.” Heart, not head.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Russ here (quoted by Jerry in the main article). Yes, JWs are about to publish a new brochure at their conventions this year, ostensibly about encouraging people to return to the religion (but more likely the real reason is to give current believers ‘reasons’ why people leave in such a way that their world view is not threatened). It lists reasons why someone might leave: anxiety, hurt feelings, and guilt, no mention of rational thought! In my experience, many believers assume that atheists become atheists because they can’t understand why God permits suffering. I have yet to encounter anyone who is an atheist for that reason.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          Hi! Good to hear from you.

          Suffering is a good question, of course. I think it is quite a relief to realize that there is no hidden point to it. I think it probably *should* give religious people more pause to consider their beliefs, but I agree, I’ve never known anyone who left belief because of the problem of suffering.

          I’ve never known anyone who left because of a bad experience either, though plenty have had those. I’ve known people to leave one church for another over a bad experience, or to just stop going to church as a result of a bad experience. But I’ve never known anyone to react to a bad experience by embracing unbelief.

          No, it’s always been some kind of knowledge they gained that did it. Sometimes it’s evolution, but for fundamentalists like I was, really the whole range of human knowledge is arrayed against your beliefs, whether history, or textual criticism, or simply actually becoming friends with someone outside your faith and realizing that they aren’t actually bad people rebelling against God like you were told. The gap between what you are told and what you know by other means is what does it. And the dishonesty. I can’t emphasize enough how much, near the end, it was seeing all the intellectual dishonesty, even among the people I really thought wouldn’t stoop to it, that gave me the final kick.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for chiming in, and thanks especially for writing that letter to Jerry, so that he could share it with all of us and brighten our day considerably!

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I was lucky enough to have basically come to the conclusion that religion made no sense at all by the age of 11 or 12. This spared me concerns about sunk costs or too much guilt – though not zero, despite my view almost 50 years later that by 11 or 12, I had damned little to feel guilty about! Honestly, I think I had only had one lingering question: Why are all these grown-ups believing this crock of shit? Or is it a crock? What the hell am I missing?!

        • rickflick
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          “Why are all these grown-ups believing this crock of shit?”
          I have spent much of my life wondering about this question. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve sort of figured it out. For a long time I wondered: What is the reason for unreasonableness?

          • Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

            Well, it is quite profitable…for the priests….

            b&

            • rtkufner
              Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

              And if you’re really good at unreasonableness you can get so rich you can buy over nine thousand pairs of diamond-studded glasses.

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but aren’t those quantum diamonds?

                b&

            • rickflick
              Posted April 30, 2015 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

              My next book, coauthored by Ben Goren and rtkufner:
              “Paths to Unreasonablness, how I learned to understand and live with irrational people”.
              At fine bookstores everywhere.

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

                …and here’s the cover!

                http://www.memes.com/img/68851

                b&

              • rickflick
                Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

                Perfect. I smell a best seller.

              • StephaJL
                Posted May 1, 2015 at 7:39 am | Permalink

                Where do I pre-order?
                (Honestly, I think the general idea has potential).

              • rickflick
                Posted May 1, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink

                I’ll take an advance. Send a [big] check to my email. 😎

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        To your list:

        * a subset of the last point: “was never a true believer anyway, for it is impossible to give up faith”

    • Sastra
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      I think many of the self-proclaimed atheists who believe in what I consider to be vaguer versions of god and spirituality — that is, supernatural beliefs which aren’t directly and clearly connected to a Western religion — are as you describe — mostly they’re rebelling against the sins of Western religions (personal and/or political.) The poverty of the underlying concepts and methods of faith beliefs are less important to them than Hell being unfair.

      These are also the atheists who say things like “If I could only find a Christian church with people who were genuinely trying to follow Jesus I would gladly convert.” Sometimes they do… and then talk about how they are an “ex-atheist.”

      From my perspective it’s like they’re coming at atheism from a twisted mindset. It’s more like a religious approach and contrasts with the honest passions of fundamentalists who think they’ve got slam-dunk arguments for the existence of God and have followed the evidence where it lead, faith unnecessary.

  13. Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    This was a great way to follow up the “beefs” posting Jerry, thanks!

    Welcome aboard Russ and Chris. Well done!

  14. Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Mine came from attending university. (Santorum, listen up!)

    Just studying philosophy (arguments for god, ethics), reading broadly and sometimes deeply, making an active study of the world’s religions (outside of classes), meeting so many different people from different cultures. I just realized one day that I could no longer accept the tenets of the religion I was raised in — or any religion. They were all exposed as human-created and basically nonsense.

    However, I still had a soft spot for religion (many of the people around were — and were nice people — I hadn’t really thought it through).

    What changed that was reading The God Delusion. Sophisticated Theologians™ love to go after Dawkins about his supposed lack of sophistication in this book; but I found it wonderfully clear and to the point.

    It outed me (to myself mainly) as a thorough-going atheist.

  15. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    My hypothesis, which is probably not mine, is that the adherence to religious beliefs in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence follows similar ‘logic’ circuits in those who believe in pseudohistory or pseudomedicine. For example in pseudohistory (like the 9/11 conspiracy or JFK assassination) it starts with a conviction that the critical event must come from a secretive agency that pulls the strings from behind the curtains. In those cases it must be a vast and improbably efficient government organization. Since that agency must be real (or else the event would serve no greater purpose)then all efforts to disprove it, however sound and scientific, must be wrong from the start. Further, those who promote efforts to disprove must be either a tool of the conspiracy or have been duped.
    Religious adherence in the face of overwhelming science to the contrary seems similar. There is a vast agency pulling strings (god), and this agency has guided events to provide a greater purpose, however inscrutable. This person survives an accident b/c it was gods’ will. That child died of cancer and that too must be the will of god, however cruel it may seem.
    The contradictory evidence from science (and even common sense) must be wrong, even if it sounds pretty believable. It must be wrong or else there is no greater purpose. We pushers of atheist science are either part of the conspiracy or are duped.

    • StephaJL
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      So, both conspiracy theorists & (many) religious adherents seem to have Hyperactive (or Hypersensitive) Agency Detection Devices. I am inclined to agree.

      This article might interest you:
      Franks B, & al. “Conspiracy theories as quasi-religious mentality: an integrated account from cognitive science, social representations theory, & frame theory”. Front Psychol 4 (2013). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712257/

  16. SecMilChap
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    For Chris & Russ: Don’t forget Recovering From Religion as an aid if you become despondent. Some of the people you loved will probably now treat you ill.

  17. konceptual99
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Great to see the account of Russell. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness from birth and for the past 3 years (I am in my early 40s now) I have been mentally out but remain a “fading” member simply because it is impossible to leave openly without breaking pretty much every personal relationship I and my family have.

    There were a number of things that contributed to my rapid (<6 months) complete deconstruction of my faith that I had held for decades. Many of these were the sort of things to be found on jwfacts.com but I had been reading your book and some of Dawkins. It became abundantly clear that many of the typical arguments used against evolution simply did not stack up.

    I went from being a believer in god to being essentially an atheist in a few months. Even when well and truly "in" I had nagging questions about the sensibleness of a doctrine that ignores the overwhelming evidence for a long human history on the earth. Once I had let reason detach me mentally from my cognitive dissonance then seeing the logic inherent to books like "Why Evolution is True" and "The Greatest Show on Earth" was a no brainer.

    It is possible for those with deeply entrenched faiths to change their viewpoint. The critical factor is being able to go to the point where it is possible to accept that perhaps the alternative view of the world may just be correct.

    k99

  18. konceptual99
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I also meant to say the the jwfacts.com link about disfellowshipping is the REAL state of play. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a fairly disingenuous version on their website here:

    http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/shunning/

    Take it from me, those who drift away do face judgemental attitudes from former friends regardless of what ever the first paragraph on the FAQ says.

    A disfellowshipped person can only have so called “normal” family ties with those in one’s household. Parents, children, brothers, sisters who do not live in the same home are meant to be shunned and any contact limited to “strictly necessary” business. Some people are very strict and family members will not talk or meet for years. Some interpret this pretty liberally but can face sanctions for having regular contact with a disfellowshipped person.

    Anyone who formally renounces their membership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses via a letter (or through actions such as joining the military or unrepentantly having a blood transfusion) have “disassociated” themselves and are treated EXACTLY the same as a disfellowshipped person. So you cannot formally leave without the same consequence as if you were thrown out.

    k99

  19. Posted April 30, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    These stories are heartening, and I certainly think it is useful and productive to do as Jerry does already.

    However, I do wonder if there are “personality splits” on what approaches would be effective for a given person. I wish I had the energy, skill, etc. to investigate that sort of matter more. Any psychologists around want a project? 🙂

    • Sastra
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m not a psychologist, but I think it’s pretty much a given that different approaches will be effective for different people and that some people will have their minds changed by the damnest and most unpredictable things. The real issue — and of course what you’re asking — is what approaches are most likely to work, and when, and on what groups. It would be good to have some reliable research on this.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Cognitive dissonance theory explains a great deal of it. In short, until the pain of awareness of the fact that you’re promulgating lies outweighs the perceived pain you’ll experience from admitting your error, you’ll stick with the lie.

        The way out is either to diminish the perception of the pain you’ll experience from admitting your lie (even to yourself) or to increase the pain of persisting in the lie. Mockery is great at the latter, and having a vibrant and supporting community of escapees does wonders for the former.

        b&

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        I’d like to see just a couple of people who came to evolution (I assume you’re not talking about atheism) by religion-kissy approaches. For there are hundreds and hundreds that were converted by a strident approach, as Dawkins’s website testifies. I think the absence of evidence in this case is meaningful.

        • Posted April 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          I’d like to see that, too.

          One would think that Ken Miller and the like would at least casually mention such examples naturally in the course of conversations, or that the NCSA would explicitly cite it to counterbalance, for example, Richard’s Converts’s Corner. After all, the NCSA has their “Project Steve” as a parallel.

          That we don’t see them touting their successes the way everybody else does should at least be considered suggestive.

          Indeed, the actual pattern seems to be that religious people accept Evolution on its merits, and what happens after that depends on their theology and their commitment to it. The devout whose gods are sufficiently apophatic tend to keep their gods; everybody else ditches them. And the still-religious ones tend to cluster at the NCSE….

          b&

        • eric
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          As a kid we flopped back and forth between multiple denominations of fairly liberal churches because we moved around a lot. IIRC at least one of them did not accept evolution. Nice people, just old school. I think I had a relatively easy transit out of the whole shebang in part because I was “comparing world views” (i.e. different sectarian beliefs…”hey, these guys and the last guys can’t both be right!!”) from the time I was 7.

          This is not exactly the sort of story you were looking for, but in my personal experience getting theists to start thinking critically about differences between denominations (in a relatively pleasant format, not ‘us vs. them’) can be a stepping stone to getting them thinking critically about their “home” denomination and what it may say about evolution.

          • eric
            Posted April 30, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            I should also mention that a big part of it was that my parents were supportive of the sort of critical questioning I was doing. They did not have a “now we are with this church; believe what they say” attitude, but instead were rather proud I would try and think deeply about my beliefs.

            So while NCSE didn’t exist when I was a kid, I’d say that if you’re in the sort of family who is okay with you looking at the NCSE web page and okay with you asking about whether evolution is consistent with faith, you are probably the sort of kid who can benefit from the NCSE web page. Its a stepstool next to a wall: if your parents don’t mind you stepping up and peering over, then yes it will help you jump the wall later on. If they tell you don’t go near that stepstool or wall, and you don’t want to disobey them, its probably not going to help.

        • Sastra
          Posted April 30, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          I once came across someone who claimed she came to God through evolution 😉

          I’d given a brief talk on ID at a UU meeting and afterwards there was the usual go-around-the-circle discussion. One of the women said that after she had read about the amazing theory of evolution and understood how it had shaped life — and when she considered the size, scope, and age of the universe — only then had she finally found something grand enough and beautiful enough to justify believing in a grand and beautiful God. Evolution argues for God, not against it.

          Not being a UU, I was intrigued enough (and skeptical enough) to ask her questions. Was she saying that IF all the species had instead been created 6,000 years ago in their present form then this would count against the existence of God? She’d be an atheist if the universe was small and everything revolved around the earth?

          Her response wasn’t very coherent (I don’t even remember what it was) — but she and the rest of the group were politely puzzled. They didn’t seem to understand my point and they especially didn’t understand why I wasn’t pleased that she found a way to accept evolution by invoking God. This was her personal spiritual journey and it was scientific.

          I suppose she could just as easily have said she’d found evolution through God by working the other way around in the usual “MY God is a mighty God who doesn’t do tricks” mode and be the example you wanted. But no, due to the pro-evolution theme she wanted to throw some more flowers on the science theory. “You can even use it to FIND God.” Or something like that.

          • Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

            Her response wasn’t very coherent (I don’t even remember what it was) — but she and the rest of the group were politely puzzled. They didn’t seem to understand my point and they especially didn’t understand why I wasn’t pleased that she found a way to accept evolution by invoking God. This was her personal spiritual journey and it was scientific.

            A lot of people don’t “get” evidential reasoning. They think “is not inconsistent with” is all you need for your conclusion, at which point you can stop asking any further questions. They fail to realize that what you really need to do is look for things that are inconsistent with a given conclusion, at which point you can rule out that given conclusion — and that it’s only after you’ve stacked up an overwhelming number of “not inconsistent with” examples that are inconsistent with other theories that you can begin to have confidence in the “not inconsistent” one.

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

              Agree. I think this tendency is especially strong when you’re dealing with religion, spirituality, or anything which touches on faith and ‘personal validation.’ The entire category gets blurred together with matters of identity and value. Just as you don’t need to question a love for a certain kind of music, you shouldn’t need to figure out how to falsify a belief in the supernatural.

              • rtkufner
                Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                It has always baffled me how many people regard religion as (one of) the most important thing(s) in their lives, yet somehow think about it in the same grounds as other “matters of personal taste”, such as love of french fries or dislike of the sound of supercharged V8 engines. On the other hand, some people do adhere to McDonald’s and Dodge as if they are religions, so yeah…

              • Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                Well, that’s very much it. Look at all the sports fans who’re absolutely devoted to the home team. Had they been born in the next town over, they clearly would have been just as devoted to that team.

                Your loyalty to a sporting franchise is determined as much by your demographics as is your religion. What’re the odds that somebody born in Riyadh to the Saudi royal family should grow up to become a Shinto Buddhist? About the same as somebody born on a reservation to Yaqui parents growing up to be a diehard Manchester United fan. You might be able to find an example, sure…but would you really place your bets on some random person fitting the first part of the description being the exception?

                b&

              • rtkufner
                Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                Also, this guy: http://www.ironmaidenlive.com/biggest-iron-maiden-fan-priest-from-brasil/

                Both Iron Maiden and christianity make heavy use of satanic themes for monetary purposes and have zombie mascots whose iconography is featured extensively on stage and in merchandise. Maybe this guy isn’t such a maverick after all…

            • Posted May 1, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              Again I wonder if there are splits here – or whether we mostly all start with at least some inclination. Or alternatively, that somehow we can have it selectively turned off. I think the latter is actually much more likely. “Immunizing” against that is (my guess) the way to go, but I have no idea how.

        • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

          Having been a creationist in High School and college, it dawned on me one day that if God wanted to make evolution happen, he could. So, for me it happened as the sort of epiphany you had about there being no gods while listening to The Beatles.

          My father, who is now a Deacon, said a couple years ago that if the Pope says that Evolution is valid, then “I guess that could be the case.” I don’t think I’d qualify my epiphany as being brought to Evolution by a kissy approach, as I later investigated for myself and found out why it is true rather than it is simply possible. I might count my father in the camp, but he’s only accepting it because the Pope says it is okay; I don’t think that’s the angle accomodationists are trying to take.

          People who will accept it because a religious authority figure deems it acceptable are still falling into the same ond trap of fuzzy logic, for I’m sure if the Pope were to reverse course tomorrow and “infallibly” declare Evolution false, many devoted Catholics would follow him right down that path without questioning a damn thing.

      • Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        A pretty interesting article on the subject: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/13/3/106

      • rtkufner
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        A pretty interesting article on this subject: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/13/3/106

  20. Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Ratliff Notepad.

  21. Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Apostates have a tough row to hoe.

    Now if we could just convince the governments of the world to stop making heresy and apostasy illegal. And make it stick.

    • Peter B
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      And if we could only ensure that every high school student had a competent biology teacher who is allowed to teach evolution at the necessary length.

  22. Sally
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Add my name to the list. You book hadn’t been written yet when I deconverted, but learning about evolution was a key factor in my doing so.

  23. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    So what we have here is a growing number of testimonials for WEIT that could perhaps go on the back cover, under the heading:

    Why, Evolution IS true!

  24. Posted April 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    “I was absolutely appalled at the quotes taken out of context…”

    For every Creationist’s quote, there’s an equal and opposite rest of the quote!

  25. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Although there are billions of people around the world who would love to have my life, I’ve got a lot of challenges the average Westerner doesn’t have to deal with, so many consider that the reason I am an atheist. In a way they’re correct – since having to give up work I’ve had the time to explore more intellectually.

    Jerry’s book wasn’t out when I had to stop working, but it was while watching a Dawkins documentary that I suddenly realized that not only was I an atheist, I’d always been agnostic. I’m sure I would have become an atheist much sooner if id grown up in today’s world. I’d just never thought about it because I’d been taught atheist meant Satanist. And, despite not being lacking in the vocabulary area, I’d never even thought about it. (The power of childhood indoctrination.)

    I can confirm I’m much happier since I became an atheist. For example, I used to wonder sometimes if I was being punished for something, and when God would decide I’d suffered enough. Even writing that last sentence makes me cry at the memory of what that could be like. Now I look at things from a much healthier perspective e.g. It’s like being in the path of a charging bull and expecting it to swerve because you’re a vegetarian. Which I’m not. A vegetarian that is.

    Thank you guys for sharing your story. It’s nice to hear the successes. 🙂

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing yours!

    • StephaJL
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Thank you very much for this.

      The ways in which most religions & religious scriptures approach certain types of life challenges — particularly disability, which plays a rôle in my own life — antagonizes me to no end. I wish the subject received more attention in secular circles.

      (I was raised in a nominally Catholic, but progressive secular household, & wouldn’t say that I ever really believed — although I have family members who do. I was certainly accommodationist, however. My transition to vocal atheism arose from a series of unavoidable encounters with a highly aggressive, manipulative fellow who had an ideological agenda. As a proactive self-defence measure, I began boning up on critical thinking, logic, & the fallacies. It cured me of tolerance for general b.s. post haste — & soon led me to Hitch, Dawkins, & our own Prof. CC).

  26. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Great item. Congratulations to your correspondents; hope Russ & Chris make a habit of visiting the comments sections here.

    There are certainly a number of religious believers who accept evolution, in their own fashion at least. Many do so by maintaining a (semiotic quotes added) “benign” ignorance of the actual tenets of evolutionary biology, or (at least as likely) such an ignorance of the tenets of their religion, or (even more likely) both. They know what they know, and their ignorance of the details lets them piece them together in their own way, no close-tolerance work required. Once they’ve assembled these Rube-Goldberg contraptions, they tend to lock them away in a black box, into which it pays not to poke around much, or even giggle too hard, lest a moving piece be knocked astray.

    In this, they recall the Nashville session musician who, a few decades back, was called in to play second violin with the NY Philharmonic when several members of the string section took ill while passing through town on tour. At the afternoon rehearsal preceding that evening’s concert, Lenny Bernstein took the conductor’s podium, baton in hand, peered over his glasses down the rows of the musicians with their sheet music spread before them, paused at the Nashville session-man and inquired: “You do read music, sir?” Said the fiddle player: “Sure, Maestro, but not enough to hurt my playin’.”

    Like our fiddle player, many believers avoid reading enough religion or science to hurt their chances of playing either to their own standard of success.

    Of course, actual scientists, like Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson (Francis Collins’ one-time Sancho Panza at the Biologos Foundation), cannot play the fiddler’s game. They must, instead, engage pretzel logic to ward off the manifest conflicts between their faith and their profession. The holes in their pretzels were deftly exposed a while back by Jerry in his New Republic joint review of their squaring-the-circle efforts to reconcile Man-God-&-Science, Only a Theory and Saving Darwin. Anyone wishing to recollect how well their efforts withstood cold-light-of-dawn analysis can find that review here. I no longer recall when I first fetched up on that piece, but it’s what eventually led me to this site.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      …er, jiggle…

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Fair-to-middling comment, Ken (notwithstanding the jiggle/giggle boner).

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Ken. I can always count on you.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Don’t count on me, dude; I’m your harshest critic. Fact is, I’m surprised we’re even back on speaking terms again.

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 2, 2015 at 2:19 am | Permalink

      Nice fiddler’s story, and very true.

  27. cofty
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I too was raised as a JW. After I left 20 years ago I began to investigate evolution. I had smugly assumed I was an expert on the subject having read fundamentalist propaganda all my life.

    I was stunned by my ignorance. I have been reading natural science books, including Why Evolution is True, ever since. It is the most fascinating subject.

    I believe that it is a subject that has potential to help many more cult members.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      I had smugly assumed I was an expert on the subject having read fundamentalist propaganda all my life.

      You have *so* nailed it. I can’t believe (well, I can, but you know what I mean) how little I knew, and how much I thought I knew, and how little I thought real scientists knew. All because I read creationist crap, and accepted it uncritically.

      I was stunned by my ignorance.

      I’m stunned now. Back then, I just started learning.

      I have been reading natural science books, including Why Evolution is True, ever since. It is the most fascinating subject.

      Ramen! And everything I learn brings up 10 more things that I need (and want) to know. Fortunately, retirement is less than two years away, at which time my already frenetic reading regimen will go into overdrive.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Congrats on the impending retirement and the anticipated mirthful reading!

  28. KP
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Evolution began the unraveling of belief for me too, but it was in high school with my first real biology class.

    Overall, it is only about 50% responsible though. Other factors include 1) actually reading the Bible, 2) incoherent claims put forth by proselytizers, 3) circumstances surrounding the deaths of a few people close to me.

    A lot of people say 9/11 contributed but by that time, I was a non-believer, but thought there could be a god. 9/11 just convinced me that religion was the problem and that god-belief was more harmful than good.

    • KP
      Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      I should say that I “accepted” that there could be a god, not that I thought there was one.

  29. Dermot C
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Blimey, I seem to be an outlier here. Nobody has mentioned the atheist argument from boredom. How many sermons can a 12 year-old sit through listening to a priest whose monotone makes Sam Harris sound like Kiri te Kanawa? Like Hitchens, I think I was just made not to believe. Simple as that. x

    • Posted April 30, 2015 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      How about the atheist argument from Heaven is Actually Hell? Listening to them drone on about the same old shit, reading the same verses in 3 year cycles, and then realizing this is what God’s glory is all about should be enough to drive anyone to proclaim atheism simply to avoid an eternity of ennui.

      • Dermot C
        Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:45 am | Permalink

        Heaven, a never-ending requiem, pearls of wisdom dripping from the mouths of William Lane Craig, Dante and Tertullian gloating at the hellish stupidities of Lucretius, Montaigne and Sagan. L’enfer, c’est les auteurs: huîtres clos, le ciel. x

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted May 1, 2015 at 6:30 am | Permalink

          Punny!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      Ah, the argument from boredom. That, along with the fact that all that biblical language sounded old-fashioned and silly compared with the modern science I could read about (and nobody is more ‘modern’ than early-teenage kids) and a naturally sceptical streak, is what did it for me. And probably a totally self-centred and self-interested attitude that I had better things to do with my time…

  30. Vaal
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Jerry, and to Russel and Chris! They are heartening stories, except in one respect. I find myself absolutely sickened by the JW policy of disassociation and it’s trashing family relationships on the alter of their bullsh*t mythology.

  31. Posted April 30, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Now THIS is indeed Good News. Much admiration for all of you.

  32. Posted April 30, 2015 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Looks like you can start building your own Converts’ Corner…

  33. Diane G.
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to both contributors for such day-brighteners!

    The first anecdote on the sidebar at the link Jerry posted to the site describing the process of disfellowship is heart-breaking.

  34. friendlypig
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    I have to admit that I miss my hour long chats with the JWs every month or so. It was during a chat when I raised the problems that they had with fossils and mentioned Tiktalik and offered to lend them my copy of WEIT and Neil Shubin’s ‘Your Inner Fish’ that they left in a hurry.

    After that the next ‘visitors’ were obviously leaders in their church who tried to move the goalposts, sadly they’ve gone somewhere else.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      My grandfather was a lay preacher in the Methodist/Congregational/Presbyterian church. One day the JW’s called, they got into a discussion with him and we just left them to it. They called back every weekend for about six weeks, I don’t think anyone convinced anyone else but they sure had fun trying.

      • friendlypig
        Posted May 1, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Mor(m)ons can be fun as well. My mother used to invite them in for a chat – she was a lapsed Catholic – they came regularly until I pointed out that the pink colouring of the icing (frosting) on the bun (cake) they were eating was cochineal.

        You’ve never seen two people go as white as they did. You’d think we’d given them blood to drink!

    • rickflick
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      The family lore has it that my grandfather used to enjoy entertaining insurance salesmen on the front porch for many hours with no intention of buying anything. Come to think of it religion has much in common with insurance companies. They both want to save you from doom.

  35. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Two down ; too many to go.

  36. Posted May 5, 2015 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    I have to thank to a whole list of heroes (and I mean a whole)
    Carl Sagan
    Isaac Asimov
    Martin Gardner
    Richard Dawkins
    James Randy


    Jerry Coyne 😉
    (and that just to mention a few of them).
    So -> Thank you! 🙂 For real 😉


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