I get emails hoping I’ll find Jesus

I got an email this morning from a male student (name omitted) from Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve verified the student’s identity.

Hello Mr. Coyne. I am a student at the Academic Magnet High School. My biology teacher has a list of extra credit books to read and I chose yours as it looked interesting. I myself am a devoted Christian and naturally a creationist and I could not force myself to finish your book as it was very harsh towards creationists and all I could think of while reading your book is that you don’t know Jesus’s love and acceptance. I understand that you are a very busy man and that your job and life’s work is against certain Christian ideals. I come to you in this email hoping that I’m not the first person to try and talk to you about Christ but if I am then so be it. I simply cannot just sit around knowing that you are separated from God and if you were to die reading this email you’d spend an eternity away from him. Jesus loves you and I just want to let you know that. What you do with that information is up to you.

Thank you for your time and God bless.

The school appears to be a rigorous one with a decent science program, but I guess they haven’t convinced NAME REDACTED about evolution. I deny, however, that my book was “harsh towards creationists”: it doesn’t mock them or denigrate them, but simply dispels their arguments. And so far I haven’t felt the love of Jesus!

Your task as readers: respond to this young man without being nasty, as I may, if the comments are okay, refer him to this thread. (I may delete any comments that are out of line before doing so.)


  1. Joseph McClain
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Find the Jesus.

  2. ankersten
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    To (NAME REDACTED): How do you know that Jesus loves Jerry? If your answer is anything to do with the Bible – how do you know the Bible is true?

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I would ask her why, if finding Jesus is so important, does Jesus (and his Father and the Holy Spirit) make it so difficult for someone with even moderate intelligence?

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      An issue that keeps coming up in these discussions is that a “decent” or “loving” God would have provided some evidence of his existence. This seems to me a bit like my son saying “If you were a decent or loving parent, you’d do my homework for me.”

      Note that “evidence” here means “proof.” It excludes personal experience, religious or otherwise. More to the point, it excludes faith: no one “believes” that water boils at 212 degrees; it’s demonstrable. Personally, I don’t see that there would be much virtue in believing in a God whose existence could be “proved,” that maybe that’s just me.

      As I see it, Jerry’s job as a scientist is to define the limits of what can be proved—i.e. what we can know without faith. Occham’s razor and all that. Hey, somebody’s got to do it. Jerry’s job as a human being is to praise creation, which I think he does. That he doesn’t acknowledge God as creator is not a problem. I’m a poet. If my poems speak to people, if they provide inspiration and comfort, I couldn’t care less whether people know who wrote them. I have to assume that God is at least as selfless as I am on that score.

      • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        “Evidence” does not mean “proof”.

        Evidence is data from observations of the real world that are consistent with one or more hypotheses but falsify others.

        What we might expect is that the preponderance of evidence validates the “God hypothesis”. Yet all of the evidence is consistent with a cosmos that is without purpose or guidance from a higher intelligence.

        We’re not asking “Dad” to do our homework; we’re just looking for the old photos, clothes, trinkets, and so on that would give credence to the guy that Mum claims helped bring us into the world.


        • Diane G.
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          And of course we could switch your “Dad” to “Mum,” and vice versa…

          • Posted January 13, 2017 at 4:18 am | Permalink

            Yes, of course. I was just reflecting the stereotypical perception of “God” as a “Sky Daddy” – sorry, “Our Father, who art in Heaven.”

            As someone at uni once said to me, the first thing you’ve got to know about God … she’s black.


      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        Why do you expect a ‘god’ to hide and be subjected to ‘faith’ instead of evidence? What is your evidence for expecting it?

        But worse, we don’t accept “hiding” for anything else. I fail to understand how this apologetics is supposed to be effective.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          Oops, I meant ‘hiding’.

        • Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:32 am | Permalink

          Insert Babelfish quotation here.


      • koseighty
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        ” This seems to me a bit like my son saying “If you were a decent or loving parent, you’d do my homework for me.” ”

        No. It’s more like a son refusing to do his homework without evidence that there is a school and a teacher who will grade it.

        Christianity insists there is a Great Teacher who will grade our homework. But provides no evidence for him/her. There are spokespeople for the Great Teacher who each teach different things about the Teacher and the answers to the homework. And each claims to be a true representative of the Teacher.

        But no one has ever seen the Teacher. And students who finish their homework are taken to another city and never seen or heard from again. So there is no way to ask them if they ever got the grade they were promised.

        Or something.

        Basically, your analogy sucks balls.

      • Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        The decent parent analogy? No.

        If I, a parent, expect my child to do something I provide the necessary prerequisites. If my child can’t do her homework on her own, I help her.

      • sensorrhea
        Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Which proposition is more likely:

        1. There is a coy yet omnipotent/omnipresent deity who gives impish hints at its existence.

        2. Your desire for a deity to exist compels you to rationalize the lack of evidence for same as a necessary feature of the deity you so want to believe in.

        Terrence said “you believe that easily which you hope for earnestly.”

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Jerry’s correspondent is male – he says so in the first sentence of the post.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        “He” does? I don’t see it. Is Academic Magnet High School possibly an all-male school?

        • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          “Your task as readers: respond to this young man… ”


          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

            OK, OK. I was looking in the email for evidence of gender.

            It could be that the student had a gender-ambiguous name and Jerry made a mistake. 🙂

            • Diane G.
              Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:35 am | Permalink

              Sorry to say this, Stephen, but given the quite obvious “from a male student” in the very first line of this post (Jerry, of course, knowing the actual name* of the writer), your obvious “her”–when male pronouns are still the general default–sounded extremely sexist. That’s how I immediately felt when I read it, before moving on to the rest of the comments in this sub-thread, comments which seem to reflect the same response.

              In your favor, I have to say I’ve never detected the faintest hint of sexism in your posts.

              *And of course there’s a well-substantiated proclivity for parents giving female children what have heretofore been thought of as “male” names. It never works the other way–says something, doesn’t it?

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            And the first sentence of the post, “I got an email this morning from a male student …” 😀

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      And here I thought I was being politically correct by assuming Mr. REDACTED was female. 🙂

      Back to the point, what is the logic of God hiding His existence? I don’t get it. I was taught it was a test of faith, but that begs the question. Christians haunted by doubt long for proof of Jesus, ranging from sacred relics to images on toast. God used to be manifest in things like thunder and the motion of the stars and planets, but we know better now. Don’t we? Why does Jesus torture His flock with doubt? Sounds like kind of a dick to me.

      • Redacted #2
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        God shows his existence to those who seek him through guidance, love, hope, forgiveness, and answered prayers. I hope you find him someday bc he loves you unconditionally even though you don’t know him yet.

        • Posted January 15, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          Pretty lame, I’d say, because those are exactly the people primed to find God and to want to believe in Him. And what about all the OTHER gods who show themselves to seeking Muslims, Hindus, etc?

        • koseighty
          Posted January 15, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          ” 4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

          Moroni 10:4 (The Book of Mormon)

          Seems to work for any religion.

          This youtube video shows many people from many faiths, each expressing the witness of the Spirit that their’s is the One True Faith™. Why would God witness to any and all faiths?


  4. Stonyground
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I think that the best road out of theist and, more specifically Christian belief, is to read the Bible. Not just bits of it but the whole thing from beginning to end. My challenge to you is to go away and read it and if you are still a Christian after you have read it, come back and let us know.

    • Jenny Hoffman
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      That’s what my mother did – read it twice as a teen ager and ended up a non-believer!

    • Larry
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but don’t skip the parts of inhumanity, including misogyny, violence, hate, etc. while reading the less-extreme parts.

      And, having read these parts on an alleged god’s cruelty to humanity, and humanity’s inhumanity in the name of religion, reflect on what these parts really mean.

      Don’t give that god a pass card for bad behavior just because there is an old book that says this tribal god will condemn one to hell for eternity if one doesn’t grovel to it.

      As someone else wrote: if there really was such a god as described in the bible, then it is incumbent upon us as human beings to seek it out and destroy it.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        Burn it with fire! (Unless it can feel pain.)

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. I was raised as a protestant and at one time thought I might want to be a minister. One summer vacation I read the Bible from beginning to end and by the time I got to the end was convinced I not only didn’t want to be a minister but I also had no interest in being a believer in obvious mythology.

  5. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    The emailer is clearly sincere and seems reasonably well educated, based on their commend of English (unlike many we encounter on the “other side” of this issue).

    I would recommend the young Redacted do a few things:

    1. Red John Loftus’s Outsider Test of Faith and think about it very sincerely. http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/02/outsider-test.html

    2. Consider the other major world religions, for instance Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism (there are many others though one might not call them “major”), and explain why you don’t believe in them.

    3. Please list all of the evidence that you have for why your beliefs (specific beliefs such as: Jesus existed and was God) and why you thin it is sound evidence. Especially, why you think it sound evidence in comparison to the evidence you accept for other things in life, such as a good reason to invest your money in a particular investment.

    For we atheists (I was raised a Christian and realized in young adulthood that it was unbelievable), there is insufficient evidence that the claims of Christianity are in fact true. That’s why we don’t believe it.

    Please address this directly. (Item number 3, above.)

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Please pardon the typos (good grief!) — I think the meaning still comes through.

      • busterggi
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        fate is not the only one with fickle fingers.

    • Beau Quilter
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t have high hopes for encouraging NAME REDACTED to read the Outsider Test of Faith, when apparently he couldn’t even force himself to finish Why Evolution is True.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      To me, your #2 has always been the most effective. So many people believe what they believe because that’s what they were told, and few learn anything about other religions, except that they are wrong or misguided in some way. To be able to explain why you are Christian but not Muslim requires learning a lot about both broad religions. And as people learn why they would reject one faith’s tenets, they can often draw the obvious parallels with their own faith of choice. For any thoughtful person (and this emailer seems to be thoughtful to me), this exercise will get it right.

      • Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        When my son was very young, we bought an excellent book to read with him, The Kids Book of World Religions by Jennifer Glossop and John Mantha.

        It gives a basic overview of the major (and minor) religions of the world, where they originated, where they predominate, their beliefs and practices, etc., with illustrations. Superb book.

        I read it with him many times and we discussed the content. I explained how his mother and I were brought up (protestant Xian families) and were taught. And then I told him all of it is not true.

        I also explained to him how all these religions differ, and therefore it’s logically impossible for them (beyond one; and why think one is true with a track record like that?!) to be true.

        I agree. Teach your children well. I can’t think of a better inoculation against religion than learning about all (or most) of them. Well, OK, learning science is excellent as well. And he eats up science, all on his own now. (You’ve seen his birding photos.)

  6. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I guess this means there was no need to lose all that sleep over the misspellings and overt content in emails I sent PCC(E).

    As for our task – I’ll pick “isn’t it surprising that your religion happens to be the one you were raised with by your parents from birt? If you instead chose it from the volumes of faiths available- how did you choose?”

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I’ve put this another way to some believers. If your family, pastor, &c. hadn’t told you about God and Jeus, if you’d never read the Bible, what would (have) lead you to believe?


  7. Joseph Carrion
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Dear student at the Academic Magnet High School.

    If there’s a such thing as an infinite being, the being in question can’t punish a finite being for all eternity for a finite crime.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Why not? He might be infinitely cruel as well as infinitely loving.


  8. Danny Kodicek
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Personally I’m most intrigued by the word ‘naturally’. It seems that this student has never conceived that it might be possible to be both a Christian and a non-creationist.
    It seems obvious to me that one of the key messages of Jesus’ teachings is a rejection of appeals to authority. He very specifically states that not all teachings from the Old Testament are to be rigidly followed (eg “the Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath” and especially “You have heard it said “an eye for an eye”). The Jesus I read about seems clear that morality and truth are not set in scripture but living, breathing things open for debate.
    As for the rest, well, it’s frankly a bit offensive for anyone to assume the reason you haven’t found Jesus could be that you haven’t tried hard enough and that you might be persuaded by an email. But hey ho.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Matthew 5.17 – 18:

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

      we are all still waiting.

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Consistency has never been the Bible’s strong point! (hence the fact that people can find passages in it to justify pretty much anything they want to believe) But either way, I find it pretty hard to reconcile a belief in a loving, all-powerful God with the idea that he planted fake evidence of an ancient Earth (with associated DNA evidence, morphology etc) in order to fool people into believing them so he can punish them and send them to hell. That doesn’t sound like the kind of God I would be prepared to worship.
        (Admittedly, I don’t believe in any other kind of God either, but I have more respect for those who believe in a God that acts within and through people than one who basically cheats at cards)

  9. Chris G
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redacted,
    I commend you on your civility – suspect it’s a pleasant change for Jerry, as no doubt he receives far harsher ‘requests’ to accept Jesus into his life.
    I have two questions for you:
    1 – what would cause you to lose your faith?
    2 – why do you feel Jerry’s book is “very harsh towards creationists”?
    Chris G.

  10. Janet
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Dear Christian Student, I would like to ask: have you read the entire Bible (not just the kind and loving parts excerpted in devotionals)? If not, I highly recommend your doing so, every page of it. If you have read it, how do you reconcile your view of your god with the cruel, vindictive god in that book?

  11. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    It’s notable that the boy is a creationist and rejects evolution, not because of anything to do with evidence, but simply because he’s a Christian.

    PS To the kid: Do you really think that anyone in the US (above the age of about 10) is not a Christian simply because they are unaware of Christianity and because no-one has ever talked to them about Jesus?

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      “Have you heard the good news?”

      “All the time. Everywhere.”

  12. Mark
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I would ask the young man first if he could expand on how he thinks your book is “harsh towards creationists”. Since it is through the science class that his objection arose, is there something specific about creationist theory that Jerry Coyne has missed, that merits a re-evaluation that would warrant scientific acceptance of creationism? Has he studied creation stories from other faiths, do any of them have any scientific merit, or is it only the Christian narrative? If so, why?

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Which Christian narrative?

      There are two, inharmonious, creation stories in Genesis!

      Which one is literally true?!


      • Posted January 13, 2017 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        According to the perfect infallible word of god –
        A. Adam was created after all other living things (Genesis 1), or
        B. Adam was created before all other living things (Genesis 2)

        Chose only one.

  13. Jacob
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    To (NAME REDACTED): In high school, I too was a creationist and denied that evolution occurred. In referencing Jerry Coyne’s book, you stated, “I could not force myself to finish your book as it was very harsh towards creationists”.

    I also did similar things when I was a creationist. I would be fascinated with the criticisms of things I already “knew” were false, but I wouldn’t even listen to those that might criticize my own faith. This hit me hard when I realized what I was doing. Doing so certainly is not the way to discover truth. That is the way to indoctrination and closed-mindedness. This may not be true for you, but I certainly was close-minded.

    Whatever your beliefs may be, you should not be hesitant to read opposing arguments. Read the things you disagree with! If they are wrong, show them to be wrong!

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink


      • Cate Plys
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Wonderful advice for everyone, on all topics. I do hope the young Creationist takes this to heart He or she seems sincerely concerned about Jerry, and in his or her youthful naivety, doesn’t mean to be condescending.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Also, do yourself a favour and learn about confirmation bias (other forms may apply as well). Try to recognize in yourself when you are doing this and try to self correct. It’s a life long exercise but over time you may find that your earlier beliefs either go away or are fundamentally altered for the better.

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I must agree with John Loftus and others who have said – reason will not win in the discussion with the religious, particularly the fundamentalist/creationist. Persuasion is the only course of debate. They did not gain their religion from reason so it only goes that you cannot remove it with reason.

    The very fact that this person cannot read an excellent book on evolution only shows how far away the struggle can be. When someone can throw science out the window for a story some 2000 years old when almost nothing was know is just amazing.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      One of the saddest lessons of history is this: if we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply to painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never give it back.

      Carl Sagan. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.
      A 1995 book in which astrophysicist Carl Sagan aims to explain the scientific method to laypeople and to encourage people to learn critical and skeptical thinking.
      (With thanks to Wikipedia.org)

      • steve
        Posted January 14, 2017 at 6:12 am | Permalink

        It’s a “sunk costs” problem.

  15. watson
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted,

    I, like you, was raised in Christianity. Passionate Christianity, with lots of emphasis on Jesus and the Holy Spirit. My family still holds those beliefs, for the most part. While I can’t speak for you, or for anyone but myself, I will say that education opened my eyes. This may happen for you one day, even though today you cannot imagine such a thing. Neither could I, when I was in the same place in life. A number of things happened for me, and one of those was making the decision to stop avoiding other viewpoints. I had avoided the subject of evolution for my entire life, and all of my arguments came from a place of knowing a lot about the Bible and nothing really about the science. I assumed, incorrectly, that I knew enough about evolution to dismiss it out of hand. I said all the stuff people say–sciencey sounding things, passionate appeals to emotion and eternal life. But the fact was that I didn’t know what I was talking about. One day I decided that I needed to stop hiding from facts, and that there was nothing to fear from reading a little to see what there was to know. I read Why Evolution is True, and it really did change my life. For the better, and again it’s my own story. One day you might feel comfortable facing “the enemy” head on too, and allow yourself to absorb other information objectively. I suspect that your life might be enriched a bit.

    • Dragon
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Well stated.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I did not see any mention of your belief presently. Are you possibly still religious but now fully understand the processes of evolution. Just curious… Also, do you know what is was – that one day, that made you do something else.

      • watson
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Not at all, I consider myself an atheist. I wouldn’t say that reading WEIT killed my belief, it had been on a steady decline for a while. But when I read it! It blew my head wide open. I remember saying to my husband at the time, “Oh my god, it was all bull****!” Meaning the Christian position on life, the universe and everything. The book confirmed for me what I already knew, and also taught me a great deal. When I finished the book I wrote a thank you note to Dr. Coyne. It was powerful for me.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Thanks for that information. I certainly found the book to be outstanding but had no idea it might accomplish such impact. Being a life long atheist I did know think it would happen in that way. So maybe just getting them to read the book is most of the battle. I do know that many creationist simply will not read anything on evolution.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

            sorry, should read – I did not know…

          • watson
            Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            That is absolutely correct. Having been on both sides, I can say with confidence that as a Christian you can feel almost a revulsion toward certain things you’ve been taught are “of the world” or “of the devil”. You avoid them partly because you are taught that being exposed to the wrong thing might open the door to Satan and get you started on a terrible path ; partly because you fear that God will judge you for even being curious about another point of view. It is brilliant in its power to control people. My mom used to lecture me that you must come to Jesus as a little child (in heart). That is a euphemism for “don’t try to be clever or smart or knowing about worldly things, because they don’t matter.” What matters is compliance, which can only be assured when curiosity is made to look risky. Better not get too smart for Jesus, God may just take you down a peg. So many Christians, like this high school student, are very sincere and really mean very well. The difference is that they have been shielded and/or shield themselves from other information. Those who learn and still cling to silly beliefs, well, they are in a different category altogether. Less admirable, in my opinion, than a person who was raised in Christianity and hasn’t been exposed to anything else.

            • eric
              Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

              as a Christian you can feel almost a revulsion toward certain things you’ve been taught are “of the world” or “of the devil”.

              AIUI, this is a fairly standard connection in conservativism – not just political conservativism, but any sort of ‘rejecting new things’ type of thinking. Conservatives tend to associate new or different things with feelings of disgust. They often use metaphors and comparisons that liken some new or unusual thing to (things like) feces, disease, dirtiness, etc.

              IMO its something of a vicious cycle, which is why it can be so hard to escape. Mentally making those comparisons/analogies increases the feelings of disgust, while having visceral feelings of disgust probably make people mentally reach for those sorts of analogies in order to justify how they feel.

            • chris moffatt
              Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

              “What matters is compliance”

              In many countries called “islam”.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              It is a powerful koolaid yet totally without foundation to many of us.

            • darrelle
              Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

              “Having been on both sides, I can say with confidence that as a Christian you can feel almost a revulsion toward certain things you’ve been taught are “of the world” or “of the devil”.”

              Much like I feel when I see the results of religious indoctrination, like this young student. Don’t get me wrong. I am not revolted by this student. Rather I view him / her as a victim that I wish I could help and who I feel sorry for. I am revolted at what religions do to people. To me it is truly disgusting.

              • watson
                Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

                It is disgusting, and sad. When my eyes were opened, one of the first emotions I felt was regret. Regret for so many wasted years, for my foolishness in clinging to something that I think I knew deep down was not real. I feel sorry for this kid. It is only in hindsight that you acknowledge how much energy you devoted to defending a fairy tale. It is humbling, which isn’t a bad thing. I have learned that this world is fascinating enough on its own. It is so much bigger than religion tells you. The Christian world is very small, and they miss out on so much that is really wondrous. Religions teach you to be awed by the wrong things.

              • darrelle
                Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink


                I have nothing but unalloyed respect for people like yourself who were raised in a devout environment and have somehow found their way out of it. I never had those obstacles to overcome. For me, lack of belief in gods was easy because I wasn’t raised religious.

              • Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:34 am | Permalink

                ” When my eyes were opened, one of the first emotions I felt was regret. Regret for so many wasted years, for my foolishness in clinging to something”

                ditto. Even now, some 8 years later, I will feel a twinge of embarrassment when I recall the things I used to believe.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          The punchline to the question “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” springs to mind – “Only one but they have to want to change.”

          Does Dr. Coyne want to change his views on the existence of god? Probably not, but he *has* examined his beliefs and not just adopted the social norms of his parents or peers.

          And some others will will follow different versions of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, or Hinduism or Buddhism and won’t even consider the possibility of change until they are ready to.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

            Here is another one from the top ten signs you’re a Christian Fundamentalist list. You feel insulted and dehumanized when a scientists says that people evolved from other live forms, but you have no problem with the biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

            • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

              Of course, those other “live forms” (😁) came from “dirt” in the first place!


              • Randall Schenck
                Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                Maybe from sparkling water and dirt…

  16. Ty Gardner
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Don’t worry about theism/atheism right now. Many theists, including Christians of many varieties, accept evolution and recognize that the data we collect from the natural world does not support creationism. While the atheists here, including myself, would find a theistic view of evolution unsatisfactory, many theists happily incorporate a belief in God with a scientific understanding of evolution, recognizing that the history and diversity of life came about in some manner and that it isn’t a single, or multiple, spontaneous creation event. Ultimately, such people have asked themselves if everything in the Bible has to be literally true, or if some, or much, of it was intended to teach a moral lesson or create group unity.
    What I have found is that I cannot trust my beliefs, or continue to accept scientific theories, if to do so I must shut them off from criticism. They can either stand on their own, against criticism and other ideas, or they cannot.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink


      It concerns me that Creationism is called the Christian view. A huge proportion of Christians are not Creationists.

      Particular views are often said to be Christian when, in fact, they are not taught by all religions within Christianity. Perhaps this young man could make himself aware of the many contradictions in how Christianity is taught and ponder how each knows their version is the correct one.

      Even when the evidence is there, many don’t see it, or choose not to see it. The evidence is there for evolution, as this young man would know if he’d completed the book. It seems he was intelligent and interested enough to be curious, but then got scared when he realized Jerry’s narrative couldn’t be refuted.

      Not seeing evidence is happening here too. Jerry stated his correspondent was male, but many commenters are either unsure of his gender or are assuming it’s female.

      We all make mistakes all the time, and we all need to constantly examine what we think we know and be open to new evidence. However, we also have to learn how to critically examine evidence and more education and experience helps with that.

      Especially when you’re very intelligent, you often get to mid-late teens thinking you know it all. A few more years experience and education will make you realize just what a difference those things make.

  17. celtlen
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I would suggest that the young man reflect on the persuasiveness of the message he sent to you. If a Muslim women were to say to him that she was sad he didn’t know Allah, that she simply couldn’t fail to tell him that he is separated from Allah, and that he must accept Mohammad as Allah’s last prophet or face an eternity away from Him, would he find any of these statements of sufficient weight to abandon his beliefs? That question is purely rhetorical, of course, because such statements, lacking either reason or evidence, do not constitute an argument. Consequently, his attempt to convert you is as likely to succeed as our hypothetical Muslim women’s attempt was to covert him. I would further council your young correspondent to learn how to think critically, to learn what makes a good and a bad argument, and then to reflect upon the reasons why he accepts Christian ideas. Given that he appears to expect you to be convinced on the basis of nothing but his own conviction, I expect that he has been indoctrinated as a child into the Christian faith. Therefore, if after completing this course of remedial education, the young man still holds to Christian beliefs, perhaps you may invite him to offer something of more substance (i.e. actual arguments) that can be properly debated.

    Finally, I’d also tell him never to stop reading a book because it makes him uncomfortable. Many of life’s important realisations come at the end of uncomfortable intellectual journeys.

  18. eric
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Hello, _______!

    Your letter doesn’t specify which of Jerry’s books you read, so just out of curiosity, I’d like to know did your teacher recommend Why Evolution is True, Faith vs. Fact, or Speciation (I don’t expect it was the last, but I include that one for completeness)?

    Regardless of which you read, if you want further reading related to evolution in a more Christian-friendly format, I would suggest Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish as an alternative. Fair warning, it also argues in favor of evolution. However Shubin grew up a literalist Christian, and so he spends some time addressing the beliefs and issues associated with his coming to evolutionary studies from that perspective.

    The last comment I would make is that there is a difference between “hostility” and “harshness” on the one hand, and “disagreement” on the other. A book laying out the evidence for – and theory of – evolution is not necessarily attempting to be hostile or offensive to Christians. Its disagreeing with your beliefs, yes, but try and remember that popular science books are written for a broad audience that includes both Christians and non-Christians alike. If a book seems to present evolutionary material with little or no discussion of the concerns of literalist Christianity, that isn’t being hostile. Its just being agnostic and silent about the theological implications of the materials. Most science books and materials are like that: silent about the theological implications. No offense is meant by that silence. If you take offense at it, you’re probably misinterpreting the author’s intent.

    Best of luck and I’m sorry you couldn’t finish Jerry’s book. Don’t let that stop you from learning about evolution from mainstream sources though! There are many other authors whom you might better click with. My final bit of advice: keep reading science!

    • Tom
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Yes, it would be useful to know which book this young man was referring and therefore understand his concern.
      Perhaps he is not yet able to separate a new
      science from an old theology, in which case additional reading of science books may help.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      I’m sure the book he read (it’s a male) is Why Evolution is True based on his emphasis on evolution in the email.

      • eric
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Thanks! I was a bit stuck because the evolution stuff fits more with some of his complaints and probably with the fact that a teacher had it on an extra credit list. But the complaint ‘hostile towards religion’ is something I expected to be more associated with FvF.

  19. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I have no reason to even suspect that (NAME REDACTED)wants to understand why it is that an atheist might have; confidence in believing all theologies are mere mythologies, no fear of eternal damnation, accepted that their existence is finite, and an understanding that there is no evidence of any kind of any intellect behind the unfolding of the universe. Without being expressly asked by (NAME REDACTED)for such edification, it would be an act of proselytization for me to attempt to enlighten him/her.

    • eric
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      So don’t proselytize atheism. Just give him/her your assistance understanding evolution.

      Perhaps the only bit of ‘proselytizing’ needed is to point out that the vast majority of both Christians and non-Christians do not consider the two things (theory of evolution and atheism) to be the same.

  20. J. Quinton
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    The obvious way to respond would be asking “how do you know Jesus loves you, him, or anyone?” but I’ve been down that road before and it always leads to questions about epistemology and ultimately how to make decisions under uncertainty.

    Religious people love to treat all uncertainty the same (i.e., it’s “faith” all the way down, so choosing what you have faith in is nothing more than personal discretion/ideology), so here are some questions I’d like the letter writer to ponder:

    Let’s say you have a choice between two games. The first game you win $100 dollars if you flip a coin and the coin lands heads. The second game you have to flip the coin and get it to land tails two times in a row in order to win $100 dollars. Which game do you choose and why?

    You’re at a gun store and the guy selling you the guns offers to give you one for free if you can get a bullseye on one of the targets on the range. He gives you the option of choosing between two six-shooters: One has two bullets chambered and the other has five bullets chambered. Which gun do you choose to attempt to hit the target and why?

    Hopefully these questions make it clear that not all uncertainty is the same. Uncertainty is comparative, not static. That is, some things are more uncertain than others.

    We then go back to the original question: How do you know Jesus loves you, him, or anyone? The usual rejoinder from religious people is “how do you know your mother loves you?” as though the two questions have the same mystical answer. They don’t. The reason I know my mother loves me is simple: It’s because I have a personal relationship with my mother.

    I have a personal relationship with my mother because I can describe personal details about her, like her favorite clothes, movies, foods, what she likes to do on the weekends, etc. There are things that she’s told me about herself that I didn’t have to get from some intermediary; and if someone else asks my mother the same question, me and that someone else should get the same response.

    Someone I *don’t* have a personal relationship with, like e.g. President Obama, I cannot do any of those things with. There’s nothing I know about Obama that I didn’t get from some third party. My not having a personal relationship with Obama precludes me having that sort of privileged information.

    So in order for Christians to demonstrate that they know that Jesus loves them, or anyone else, they should be able to produce some evidence that they have a personal relationship with Jesus: Is their relationship with Jesus like the ones they have with their mother? Or is it more like the one they have with the President of the USA?

  21. darrelle
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink


    It can be very difficult to be receptive to ideas that your subculture has conditioned you to deny. But if you can find it within yourself to faithfully engage ideas that you find unpalatable it will only be of benefit to you.

    Given your short email to Jerry I would be very surprised if you have read the Christian Bible. I’m sure you have read certain passages, but have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? I submit that if you have not then doing so is the place that you must start if you decide to engage with ideas that conflict with your faith.

    Also, consider how you decide what is likely to be true and what is not likely to be true. Do you believe something and then select evidence that you can rationalize supports your belief? Or do you weigh all of the evidence pertaining to a proposed belief in order to judge whether or not belief is warranted? If you are human you certainly do both. But, which seems more reasonable?

  22. GregZ
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    1. Why do you think your particular interpretation or understanding of the Bible or biblical passages is correct?

    2. How did the death of Jesus take away your sins before they occurred?

    3. If your sins are forgiven, what is the point of Hell? Is Hell just for non-Christians and the unrepentant?

    4. Have any scientific explanations for phenomena been replaced by supernatural explanations?

    5. Did Adam have nipples and a navel? If so, why?

    • Steve
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Excellent! I’ve always loved the “nipples” (as in why men have them) question. Along the same lines, why do we have toenails?

      • Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        As a lifelong klutz, I am grateful for toe nails because sometimes they have saved me from damaging my toes. However, as a klutz, I have managed to break my toes so many times, I don’t even go to the doctor for that any more; just tape the broken one to the one beside it that (I hope) isn’t broken and wait for it to heal. So far, so good.

  23. Sastra
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink


    I do not know, but suspect that at least part of the reason you thought Dr. Coyne was unbearably harsh towards Creationists (and “Christian ideals”) is because you may be used to people talking down to you. They don’t call it that, but that’s what it amounts to.

    In our culture, competing views in religion and science are often treated as equally worthy of respect, and telling someone they’re wrong is tantamount to telling them they’re stupid or bad. A book that argues for evolution and against creationism is neither loving nor accepting unless there are regular reassurances that it’s “okay” to believe either way. That way, nobody is being “judged.”

    Is this maybe part of the reason you found Dr. Coyne’s attitude upsetting, and somehow indicative of a bad attitude or harsh character? If so, then I suggest you consider the nature of science, the nature of debate, and the irrelevance of someone’s “faith” in either. Creationism fails on its merits — and Dr.Coyne gives his readers the respect which comes from treating them as equals, and employing an honest, mature, and unvarnished approach to how we seek and understand truth. That’s love and acceptance, too.

    You might have found it more palatable if he had talked down to you — but I don’t think you would have better for it.

    • juan
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink


  24. koseighty
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted,

    I congratulate you on your civil response to Dr. Coyne.

    What I find most interesting about your e-mail is the phrase, “I myself am a devoted Christian and naturally a creationist…” I find myself asking, why does being Christian necessitate also being a (young Earth) creationist.

    I’m assuming you are a young Earth creationist, as most old Earth creationists accept evolution. If I’m wrong about this, please explain your version of creation.

    Which brings me back to my question. Why does Christianity demand young Earth creationism, in your opinion? I assume you are aware that there are many old Earth creationist who accept the science of evolution who are also devote Christians.

    Where is the line between allegory or metaphor and literal history in the Bible? Does Christianity also demand you be a flat Earther, as the Bible also teaches a flat Earth? I know that Ken Ham teaches young Earth creationism but rejects a flat Earth. How do you distinguish poetry from science in the Bible.

    I would be very interested to hear your answer.

    Thank you,

    Why Evolution is True reader,
    atheist, and recovering fundamentalist Christian

    • koseighty
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink


      “devout”, obviously.

  25. SharynS
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I have nothing nice I could say to this young man. But, given the number of old earth christians, and those that accept evolution, I could ask how “Christian” leads “naturally” to “creationist”?

    I could also ask why does this young man feel the need to inform an Atheist(s) about said pitfalls of disbelief in his particular magic man, as if it’s the first reveal?

    With churches and preachers on near every corner, and christians abound, why does he think Atheists haven’t been threatened for their disbelief before?

    Why does he think Atheists haven’t read the old book of cobbled together, goat-herding stories, and come to the only rational conclusion – It’s vile ancient literature, not fit for human consumption, and demonstrably bunk.

    Other than that, sad.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I, too, have nothing nice to say to this writer. I do not believe for one second that he chose to read “WEIT” because it looked interesting. Clearly, he could discern from the title that it was not a book that he cared to read or that he would fairly consider its contents as a viable alternative to his ingrained beliefs. I even doubt he even read any of the book, but felt compelled to try to “save” Prof. Coyne nonetheless.
      My advice to him is to keep his beliefs to himself while not embarrassing himself by preaching to open-minded and superior intellects like Dr. Coyne.

      • Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Having re-read my comment, perhaps I was a bit too harsh. I have no way of knowing whether he read any of the book, and his concern for Prof. Coyne’s soul seemed genuine. I guess my tolerance for those that choose to ignore facts and not rely on evidence has eroded since we elected Mr. Trump.

        I hope as he grows older, he begins to make a true effort to examine the world as it is, and not rely solely on faith.

  26. kieran
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Finish the book, then try to argue against the points made in it. Just because you feel your world view is being challenge is no excuse to stop reading a book…bad writing on the other hand!

    As a science student you should then read the publication guidelines for nature, cell etc. then compare them to the guidelines for Answers in Genesis publication specifically the area on old earth creationists having to play nice with young earth creationists feelings.
    Then ask yourself why there is no similar warning about playing nice with the feelings of group selection, punctuated equilibrium or any other hypothesis within biology.

    • steve
      Posted January 14, 2017 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      Well duh!…. That’s because scientists are mean.

  27. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink


    As a former creationist myself, I want to challenge you to learn more about evolution and why it is true.

    The best you can do for yourself and for your education is to test what you assume to be true and to test what you think might be false. You do yourself no favours if you can not finish the book by Mr Coyne. Read it, and take notes, write down the claims in the book that bother you the most and research them.

    If you wish to challenge a claim you must learn why people make it. If you wish to challenge the claims of evolution you must learn what it is that drives people to accept it. If you dismiss those claims because they contradict your own Christian beliefs then you are not being honest to yourself and you are not being honest to your education commitment.

    A man who dared to learn.

  28. jrhs
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink


    Jesus loves Mr. Coyne, so he wouldn’t let Mr. Coyne spend an eternity away from him. No worries.

    More importantly, there is only one way to find out if Mr. Coyne is right or not – study biology and be a scientist. Science is fun. Science is sexy.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      + 1

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      Careful! Maybe “being sexy” is a bad thing from this young man’s point of view?


  29. Desnes Diev
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I would ask the student: how do you know about Jesus’ thoughts on evolution? Could you quote Jesus’ words on the subject from the Bible?

    If not, perhaps Jesus was thinking that it is not impossible for such a powerful being as God to create a world where life evolve from simple to complex lifeforms. A lot of Christians do not see any incompatibility between Scripture and evolution.

  30. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    [NAME REDACTED], a pleasure to read your quick email to JC, as it was courteous and charitable. I wonder though, is this not part of The Plan? Wouldn’t the almighty have placed indisputable “roadsigns” in JC’s path in order for him to know his love? Wouldn’t the almighty have made JC at least as intelligent as you, because you’ve obviously found your way to his love? So, this must be the way the almighty wants reality and JC; we all know she’s infallible. And if that’s the case, why do you seem sad about this Plan? It is the almighty’s after all. Maybe you aren’t as privy as you thought you were.

    Make sure to get enough oyster shell supplement for those knees.

    Yours in Darwin’s ideal,

    • nicky
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      I only realize now that Jesus Christ and Jerry Coyne are both JC’s 😃

      • Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:26 am | Permalink

        John Cleese, Jerry Cornelius, …


        • busterggi
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          jake Cthuthlu.

  31. GBJames
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink


    Read the rest of the book.

  32. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink


    It sounds like you have a lot of faith. I recommend that you strenuously test that faith. If you don’t have faith in your faith, why have it?

    You should test your faith by finishing Professor Coyne’s books, both of them, and then read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. Read these books thoroughly and carefully noting all of the many points that contradict your faith. Keep challenging your faith by reading atheist books. After all, it will only make your faith stronger, right?

  33. Anthony Paul
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Dear Xtian Student:

    (Please note that the X is not an insult but a Greek letter. Consider how all those fish symbols originated or consult Ambrose Bierce.)

    I am sure that Professor Coyne appreciates any sincere concern for his well-being or, if you prefer, for the well-being of his immortal soul, but you may want to reconsider your approach. I was raised as a Xtian but my religion or, if you prefer, faith, gradually slipped away for one basic reason. Admittedly the reasons multiplied as time passed and I learned and experienced more, but one basic reason kept me from the sort of worry that you exhibit. I could not imagine how an all-knowing all-good all-powerful God would be so cruel as to send someone to Hell for all eternity, or to simply refuse them the kindness of union with Jesus, if they were simply not Xtian, or even the correct denomination of Xtian, given what a confused and complex world we obviously live in, confronted with innumerable circumstances over which we have no control. Even in high school, I had seen enough and read enough that I would never have condemned an otherwise good and decent person simply because they did not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. How could God possibly be less understanding and merciful than I? Even in high school, I could not believe in the implicit threat of eternal damnation or separation from God as a just or loving response to a deficiency that was so understandable and forgiveable by mere humans. So although we appreciate your genuine concern, we think you should move on to other matters of Xtian charity where your efforts are sorely needed. To paraphrase a couple of lines from a movie, Jesus will understand Professor Coyne’s circumstances, and if Jesus cannot understand, then Professor Coyne need not fear, as a Jesus who cannot understand is not God.

  34. Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Okay, as i recall there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus or in either the new or old testament that gives an age to the Earth, or even to creation as a whole. The 6,000 year old Earth is a calculation that came by way of Bishop James Ussher….So this has nothing to do with Jesus. You only need accept the 6K year old Earth if you accept Ussher.

    If you throw out the 6k year model, you can also toss away most of the rest of creationism. Then there is plenty of time for evolution, plate tectonics and other related events to occur. Time periods in the Bible are ambiguous at best. There’s no need, really, to pin a time on creation.

    If you consider it, there’s really no connection between Jesus and creationism other than that which has been made recently. You could easily accept one without the other.

    Also, please understand that science, as a discipline, is not “against” religion. Science finds as it does. If it disagrees with religion, it is totally by coincidence.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      No need for little white lies to try to pull him over to ‘our’ side. Ussher’s chronology may be the most famous, but he wasn’t the only one to do such a calculation. They were all based on taking the Bible literally, adding up all the given time periods, and making some inferences about periods that weren’t given. Nearly all of these chronologies ended up around 6000 years, give or take. Even St. Augustine, usually held up as an example of intellectualism in early Christianity, wrote in City of God that the world was no more than 6000 years old. I mean, sure, there’s some ambiguity about certain periods (especially in the Age of Kings), but not enough ambiguity to say the Earth is more than a few thousand years old.


      Of course, that all depends on taking all of the OT literally. If you interpret it allegorically or figuratively, you can get around that age. Or, if you just accept that it was the invented mythology of an ancient people, then you don’t even have to worry about reconciling the chronology with the true age of the world.

      • nicky
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Did you ever consider that this plus minus 6000 years may have more to do with the invention of writing -indeed only a few thousand years old- than with the actual age of Earth?

        • Jeff Lewis
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure I follow. I’m not arguing that the Earth is only 6000 years old, just pointing out that when you take the Bible more or less literally, adding up the ages and time periods listed really does go back only a few thousand years. It wasn’t merely Ussher inventing his own chronology. Many others went through the same exercise and came up with similar ages, and other educated Christians believed it.

          I’m just arguing against a sort of white washing of history I’ve seen a few places, where some people seem to think that believing the Earth is only a few thousand years old wasn’t a mainstream Christian belief until recently, or that the Bible doesn’t indicate that Earth is only a few thousand years old. Even if it didn’t go by the name, Young Earth Creationism is older than Christianity, itself.

          • nicky
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, that comment was more directed at our redacted name than you.

            • Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              The Bible gives no age for the Earth. The 6k age is derived from assumptions based on birthdays, king lists, approximate ages of significant figures and guesses on the time scale of events. Also, the 6k figure was arrived at first and the “evidence” cooked to fit that pre-determined conclusion.
              I maintain that the student could remain a faithful Christian and still totally ignore creationism.

              • Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                If you actually think you’ll get this person to renounce his/her beliefs because they seem incompatible with scientific theories, you haven’t spent enough time around Christians.

                Most of us here realize that the Earth can’t be 6k years old. Most of us are also Atheists of some ilk. The question isn’t why doesn’t he theologically believe as we do (regardless of how sensible and logical our convictions seem), but how he can reconcile faith and science.

        • Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          That makes sense. It may have been assumed that the advent of writing coincided with the creation of people.
          It’s not unlikely that ancient people believed that the ability to write existed as long as creation itself.

  35. Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Student (I don’t know your name), it is entirely possible to be Christian and to understand that the earth is very old and that the animals (including us) and plants, fungi, etc., all trace our ancestry back to bacteria that originated more than 3 billion years ago. I hope your understanding of Christianity can expand.

    The earth is filled with evidence of its great age. Our bodies are filled with evidence of our long, long ancestry. If the earth is really young and evolution does not happen, what does all this evidence imply about God, assuming for the moment that there is one? That God lies. He lies in a big way.

    Personally, I’d like to think better of God. (After all, lying is the one biggest sin we can commit within science. Surely God wouldn’t.) I think God tells the truth and that we can trust the evidence we find in the world he created.

    Some Christian try to evade this evidence by saying that the devil created the evidence for an old earth and our long ancestry, not God. However, people who make that argument don’t realize how that evidence pervades the earth, the skies (stars, light, galaxies), and the bodies of every living thing. If the devil did it, then the devil created all that there is. I suppose that could be true, but that is certainly not a Christian idea.

    Assume that God tells the truth in the things he has created and open your mind to our amazing history. I think you’ll find that the stories in Genesis were written to tell us certain ideas (e.g., God created us, humans have a responsibility to do good that other animals don’t have) and not to give literal history.

    Good luck with your learning and with your spiritual growth.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Have you read A Case of Conscience by James Blish, sedgequeen?

      I’d be interested to see what our friend [NAME REDACTED] makes of that.


      • Posted January 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        No, I haven’t read it. Sounds interesting, though.

  36. steve oberski
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I would ask NAME REDACTED why his faith is so weak, given that simply starting to read (and not even finishing) a book was enough to shake it.

    I would recommend that NAME REDACTED examine those articles of his faith that were in conflict with what he read and perhaps re-evaluate them given that simply reading a dissenting opinion was enough to cast doubt on them.

  37. Kevin Meredith
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Redacted: If Jerry were separated from God, that would presumably make Jerry sad. For eternity. Would you be able to enjoy heaven knowing Jerry and millions of other human beings were going to be eternally sad? And how would that work, exactly? Would Jesus make you forget about them, even if some of them were people you loved? Or would God adjust your compassion down, so you didn’t care? Or would you really be able to say, every day for eternity, that good people who loved their neighbors and paid their taxes and worked hard deserved eternal sadness because they didn’t choose the right religion?

  38. Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted,

    Although I am an atheist, I bear no animosity towards your faith – I don’t share it and I don’t pretend to understand that I understand why faith plays such a role in many people’s lives as it does in yours, but I also don’t think it’s relevant to your understanding of Dr. Coyne’s books. Instead, I would ask you to think about what kind of world you live in. Consider why it is that you know things. When you drop your keys, why do you look down to find them? When you turn on your light switch, why do the lights come on – and if they don’t, why is is so easy for you to realize that the bulb has burnt out?

    Consider your powers of reason. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. When you see a stick appear to bend in water, do you accept that it’s bent? And does it bend back when you remove it? Sometimes your sense of vision or hearing might play tricks on you, but how do you know they are tricks?

    As you reason your answers to these little things, pay attention to how sticking to some simple rules helps you to understand your world. Rules like independently verifying one sense’s data against another (what if you close your eyes and feel the stick going into water)? Rules like answering your questions in parts before tackling the whole. These rules are simply the way we learn to understand the world. And they’re also the same rules that scientists have adopted to answer the questions they tackle.

    When you want to know why scientists think the way they do, find their papers and see the lengths to which they go to ensure that they are not being fooled by one experiment (like one sense) alone. When they cite data from another researcher’s work, go find that too. And see why they claim that someone else has already solved a smaller part that they wish to build on. And don’t take any scientist’s word on faith – they may be wrong, and they’ll admit it. Read closely and imagine what other experiments they could do that would give them a different answer. Chances are, someone else has asked the same question and may have published their data as well.

    I think one of the hardest things is to accept that people with different ideas may have very good reason for them. No scientist wants you to have faith in evolution. They merely want you to show support for your opinions. Don’t be cowed into believing in evolution – study it yourself. Look into what an experiment aimed towards demonstrating or falsifying evolution’s premises looks like. Some are surprisingly simple and you could do in your school. Grow some bacteria on a plate of media, then add some of that to a plate with a little bit of antibiotic. If something grows there, try with more. Do it a few times and then compare your original to your new strain. What do you think these data mean? If you have another idea, test it!

    There are a lot of people who might condemn you for your beliefs but don’t get baited into personal attacks. Just consider what you’ve said to Dr. Coyne, you wanted to expose him to something that might change your life. Perhaps he can show you something too and you could both learn something.

    All the best. And let us know how it goes. Most of us will be overjoyed if you just give science a go. It’s why we all love it.



  39. PeteT
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Dear Redacted,
    I envy you your position in life. When I was your age I thought much as you think. I profoundly wish I had rejected the world-view you currently hold much earlier than I did and saved myself years of trying to make my religion make sense against my burgeoning knowledge and understanding of the evidence that is out there. You have the chance to find your way at a much younger age. If you ever find yourself angrily stopping yourself from following a train of thought to its conclusion because you don’t like where it’s heading, stopping yourself from finishing a book because it makes you uncomfortable, or trying to stop analysing the doubts that are creeping in, then it is likely that you are finding your own epistemiology and you should embrace it. It is a much happier, healthier place over this side of your doubts, I promise. As I say, I envy you your chance to escape early.
    Kind regards,

  40. The Rose
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    1.) How might your attitude towards/respect for/treatment of the other creatures with whom we share the planet change, if you were to accept evolution?
    2.) Might this change (if any) present any difficulty for you, in accepting evolution?

  41. Kevin
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Keep going NAME REDACTED. You sound like you are on a reasonable track for trying out stuff.

    Don’t be afraid or upset to keep going. If your faith is strong, nothing in any book should change that, so I would recommend not stopping.

    If you think Christianity has an important message or revelation about the natural world, you could do well to try and make a career out of that. So far, no one in our species has accomplished that…you would be the first.

  42. Geoff Toscano
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Dear name redacted

    I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that Jesus ever actually existed. It would seem somewhat disingenuous, therefore, if I were to claim to put my faith in him.

    Incidentally, are there any particular issues within evolutionary theory, and its supporting evidence, which give you concern?

    Yours etc

  43. Cameron
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Hello Name Redacted. I have debated and discussed this controversy with so many people that I am now convinced that it would as impossible for me to convince you that theology is bunk and material science is the only real truth, so I’m not going to bother doing that. Rather, I’d like to respond with your own question, but turned around.

    I am a student at the Academic Magnet High School. My theology teacher has a list of extra credit books to read and I chose the bible as it looked interesting. I myself am a devoted scientific skeptic and naturally understand natural sciences so I could not force myself to finish the book as it was very harsh towards all sorts of people and all I could think of while reading your book is that it was written in a barbaric time where people didn’t understand the natural world. I understand that you are a very busy man and that your job and life’s work is against certain scientific principles. I come to you in this email hoping that I’m not the first person to try and talk to you about science but if I am then so be it. I simply cannot just sit around knowing that you are separated from reason and if you were to die reading this email you’d spend the rest of your life in willful ignorance. I am concerned for your wellbeing and I just want to let you know that. What you do with that information is up to you.

    Thank you for your time, you are in my thoughts.

    After reading this, are you convinced in any way that you could be wrong about what you believe? Probably not, so why would I be convinced by your letter? If you really want to bring me and other atheists into the theistic fold you really need to think about your audience and what would convince them to believe otherwise. But the only way to do that is to have the courage to read and attempt to understand those books that frighten you so.

  44. Dominic
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Wow! A LOT of comments already! Where were you lot when the science posts came out?!

    1/ Different traditions have different gods – you cannot know that yours is the right one!
    2/ There is NO EVIDENCE that there is a god anyway.
    3/ You need no god to behave well within the norms of society – religion is NOT a basis for human morality.

  45. Joser
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Opinions are filtered through beliefs.
    I would ask [NAME REDACTED] exactly why he thinks that he was born a sinner.
    After all, eagles naturally nurture their young and address the need of another eagle when he is choking on fish by pulling the fish from the other’s mouth. Those behaviors are based on Universal concepts like discontinuity and continuity as well as environmental imprints.
    An eagle can fly due to air resistance and the structure of his wings. As concepts, both Difference and Distance require a minimum of two points of reference and neither requires Jesus. Autonomy is an implied concept of Difference. Concepts, not beliefs, allow an eagle to take flight. Scientists explore; nature informs.

  46. Christopher Bonds
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Dear Student, you wrote:

    “I myself am a devoted Christian and naturally a creationist . . .”

    I’m curious about your use of the word “naturally”. To me it suggests that you think that if you accept evolution you cannot be a true Christian. But there are many people, I’m sure, who accept evolution yet consider themselves to be good Christians. Are you sure you are qualified to pass judgment on whether they are or not?

    “ . . .and I could not force myself to finish your book as it was very harsh towards creationists . . .”

    Professor Coyne has stated that he is not harsh towards creationists, so it would be your place to quote from his book those places where you think he is, and explain how they show harshness.

    “. . . and all I could think of while reading your book is that you don’t know Jesus’s love and acceptance.”

    I can understand how that would cause you to stop reading. You are very sure that your beliefs are in line with the truth—in fact, you probably would say that you KNOW they are true—and so it’s impossible for you to even consider other points of view. So if you KNOW you are right, anyone who doesn’t believe what you believe has to be wrong. That not only includes atheists but also persons of other faiths—Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others. And given what you have said about “naturally being a creationist,” Roman Catholics are also wrong.

    For me, the major question is: “How do we know what’s true?” You have made several claims in your letter, for example: “Jesus loves you.” That implies that Jesus was and is real, and that he loves and cares about each and every human, even though we might reject his love and deny his existence. And further, you claim that those who don’t “accept him” (i.e., believe in him and his power to save) will “spend an eternity away from him.” That implies at least that those who accept him in [this] life are guaranteed an eternal afterlife in which their relationship to Jesus will continue and be fulfilled. Those who do not, according to you, will spend “an eternity away from him.” (You appear to be careful not to say “burning in hell,” so we don’t know whether you believe that. Your claim could include the idea that we simply cease to exist as humans.)

    So my question to you is, how do you know those things are true? Many Christians seek to defend their beliefs by trying to explain how the events of the Gospels are historically accurate, and why we know that they are, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the numerous inconsistencies in the New Testament as a whole. Many of them do this while at the same time dismissing any science that suggests how Earth and its variety of life would have formed through natural processes consistent with physical law.

    But I learned a song as a child that goes “Jesus loves me, this I know, For the Bible tells me so.” And for Christians who believe as you do, that’s what I think it boils down to. The Bible is accepted as true, just like it’s accepted that 2+2=4. This suggests that you have a need for certainty in your life, a need so great that it makes it impossible for you to consider other points of view. You might even say that you can understand why atheists think there is no God—he’s invisible, right?—but we’re WRONG. And you know that because the Bible says so; and not only that, but the Bible says that people will try to tell you that there is no God, and you have to be on guard against that.

    Do you see what’s happening there? You have a book that claims that everything in it is true, and it also says not to listen to anyone who tells you otherwise, or even anyone who tells you that you might want to be a little skeptical in that regard.
    But beliefs do not become more true the more strenuously you tell yourself they are, which is what the Bible says. For the Bible believer, the answer to a weakening of faith is—MORE faith! There’s no way out, it seems.

    So back to the question: how can we know what’s true? The key point is that science has a very different way of getting at the truth than religious belief has. Professor Coyne can do (and has done) a much better job than I of explaining how scientists approach truth. But I think that what we should be doing is to bring our own idea of what the universe is like as close as we can to the way things actually are, that is, to reality. And reality is what it is, not what we or the Bible, or the Qur’an or any holy book, say that it is.

    Science embraces skepticism, first and foremost. Religious people often criticize science by saying that its conclusions are always changing. They say it like it’s a bad thing, but in fact it’s a good thing, because it shows that science is always open to new information that tells us that our explanations are incorrect or incomplete. And the reason (I think) you have a problem with that comes back to your need for certainty.

    Scientists are comfortable with uncertainty and are also skeptical of extraordinary claims, such as that a man can come back to life after being three days dead. But to the religious believer, such things are not only possible, but are proof that invisible forces are at work in our lives. You must ask yourself: “Is that a good thing? Are these miraculous claims immune to being critically examined? How is it I came to believe them?”

    I like it that you took the trouble to reach out to Dr. Coyne. It suggests that you are at least a little curious about what other people believe, and also that you have an interest in their welfare. Those are good things. You also found that you could not finish reading his book because you were turned off by what you perceived as harshness. That is unfortunate, because it made it impossible, it seems, for you to see things from his point of view. The lesson you might learn from this experience is that seeing things from the point of view of someone else—what is called intellectual empathy—does not mean that you necessarily have to abandon your own views. By all means, finish the book, try to understand where he’s coming from, and it just might give you a clearer understanding of how you yourself see the world.

    Finally, if the person you are talking to sees that you understand his point of view, he is more likely to take you seriously, and to try to understand your worldview as well. And isn’t that what it’s all about—understanding each other? I think so. We all want to be heard and respected. As tempting as it is to say, “I understand what you are saying, but you’re wrong,” we need to learn to leave off that last part and focus on understanding each other.

  47. Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I remember being in high school (Fall 1981 through Spring of 1985) and being througholy

  48. serendipitydawg
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the questions asking me why I don’t believe in god (assuming they get that far) of the few door to door xians who knock at my door. The questions are syntactically correct but are semantically meaningless, substitute fairy or unicorn for god in any question and you will realise what you are asking.

    I come to you in this email hoping that I’m not the first person to try and talk to you about unicorns but if I am then so be it. I simply cannot just sit around knowing that you are separated from unicorns and if you were to die reading this email you’d spend an eternity away fromthem.

    Doesn’t work as well as some of the questions I have been asked, but it comes close.

    Live well, name redacted, don’t waste your time promoting one of the thousands of deities that humans have created to people who don’t believe.

  49. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Dear REDACTED,
    The Jesus you seem to think you believe is dead now, and has been for approximately 2000 years, if he ever existed at all – which is fairly unlikely.

    I myself am a devoted Christian and naturally a creationist

    This is a non sequitur – the conclusion (being a creationist) does not follow from the premises (that you are what you call a “devoted Christian”). It is perfectly possible for one to be a “devoted Christian”, but not be a creationist (I’ll throw you an example that may slightly blow your mind : Cambridge Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology, Simon Conway Morris, known for his detailed studies of the fascinating (an evolutionarily very important) Burgess Shale fauna, and in recent decades of it’s slightly older (a few tens of millions of years) Chenjiang and Sirius Passet faunas.
    You may object that SCM isn’t a devoted enough Christian, or belongs to a different sept to you. In that case, feel free to argue it with him. I’m not aware of him wasting time on public arguments of theological hare-splitting. But if there were the proverbial “Cambrian rabbit” to disprove evolution, then SCM is probably the right person in the right place to proclaim the news to the faithful.
    Approaching your non sequitur from the other end, there are millions of solid creationists out there who are not in any way, shape or form “devoted Christian” – they’re Muslims, of varying degrees of devotion from the spittle-flying-from-lips level you probably see in your local pulpit (they spam-bombed my first email address into uselessness for a couple of years in the 1990s when I disputed one of their more advertising campaigns ; lovely people, NOT!) down to those who believe it because they would be beaten with a stick by their father if they got in trouble at school, including in their Islam classes. Not one of them a “devoted Christian”, but all Creationists. In fact, “devoted Christian” Creationists like you are probably numerically minor on a global basis. So not only is your position fatally flawed by being a non sequitur but if you were to try to follow it, you really ought to switch to Islam.

    I could not force myself to finish your book

    Surely your religious instructor has told you that you come out stronger from facing challenges to your faith, not from running away from them and hiding. Your current strategy of running from the challenge is like Jonah trying to avoid being a prophet, and you know what happened to him.
    Others suggest that you should read the bible cover to over, and not just the nice bits. After all, if Professor Coyne can force himself to do it, and you can’t force yourself to read Professor Coyne’s book, then who is the better informed on the subject.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      “ hare-splitting. … ‘Cambrian rabbit’”

      Was that deliberate, Aidan?

      “After all, if Professor Coyne can force himself to do it, and you can’t force yourself to read Professor Coyne’s book, then who is the better informed on the subject.”

      Excellent point!


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        I came up with the hare just to be nasty, and then decided to weave Haldane’s (IIRC) Cambrian rabbit into it. I could have probably made it seamless, but hey – what’s the point of making a joke if people think its an accident.
        (Should I apply for a job as Boris Johnson’s strategic advisor?)

  50. busterggi
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted,

    What does Jesus look like? According to the bible mind you rather than any later interpretation that is.

    And what was he wearing when last seen?

    What’s his address, phone # and email address?

    What is his favorite color?

    Italian food or Chinese?

    If you can answer these it’ll be a great help in getting started looking for him.

  51. Lucas de Abreu Maia
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Dear name redacted, firstly, your email is evidence that you’re an engaged, caring and loving person. If you believe Jesus is the only way to be saved, then it’s very kind and generous of you to use your time to try to convert other people – especially people you don’t even know. That said, however, I think there are a few things worth considering: (1) why didn’t you finish Why Evolution Is True? The book supposedly being harsh is not a good reason, because harshness doesn’t say anything about the truth. Shouldn’t you finish reading it in order to be able to articulate clearly what you find objectionable about it? (2) What makes you believe in god? Is it your upbringing? If so, then you may want to ask yourself – what if you’d been born in India or, say, in Saudi Arabia? (3) If you believe in god due to some “personal experience” I’d suggest you read Dan Barker’s book Godless. He was an evangelical christian who felt he was able to communicate directly with God. In the book, he explains how he became an atheist. Read it and think for yourself. What do you think of his arguments? (4) Remember, the only two good reasons to believe in something is evidence and logic. Never believe something because someone told you to. All the best: Lucas.

  52. Hempenstein
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    First, congratulations on being accepted for enrollment at AMHS. Such schools hadn’t appeared on the scene when I was in HS (’63-7), altho the HS I did go to subsequently became a highly-regarded one (Thomas Jefferson, Fairfax Co VA). Still, from the preparation I received there and at subsequent academic destinations I went on to become a biochemist.
    In any event, I’m delighted to learn that WEIT found its way onto a suggested list in a public school in South Carolina, where I expect the %age of creationists is far higher than the national average.

    First a quick question – not finishing a book can mean stopping anywhere between page 2 and the penultimate page. Which one did you stop on, and was it because of something particular on that page?

    Now consider drawing up some lists. A) All scientifically demonstrable truths revealed by the Bible. B) All scientific advancements which have been claimed to have been arrived at through prayer. (Kekule’s six carbons in a benzene ring doesn’t count – that was from a dream, and shows that the mind continues to work while asleep.)

    I’m also a bluegrass music fan, and if you know anything about early bluegrass and mountain music, you’ll know that much of it is famously mournful. It no longer is. Why is that? My suspicion is that that is largely attributable to the antibiotics that appeared on the scene starting in the later ’40s, when people started to become far less likely to die from an infection in the course of a week or so.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that would be an interesting musicology dissertation.


    • Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      All those old tunes came from the Scots-Irish “blues”. The Lord knows what bad times I’ve seen … don’tcha know?

      The Irish Blues

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      What an intriguing hypothesis!

  53. Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I could not force myself to finish your book as it was very harsh towards creationists

    That discomfort you felt was cognitive dissonance. However harsh you felt Dr. Coyne was to creationists, what is important is the facts he lays out. Even if he were bashing creationists (and we’ll have to agree to disagree on the extent of that), it would not make his information wrong. I would urge you to evaluate the evidence for evolution that is freely available. If not in WEIT then any of a number of other sources. Just don’t get your assumptions for the evidence for evolution from sources who have the a priori assumption that it can’t be true.

    The vast majority of people who honestly evaluate the evidence for evolution, no matter their religious background, come to the undeniable conclusion that it is indeed ‘true’.

  54. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Dear Anonymous Christian,

    The first thing you should know is that there are some religious folk who accept evolution even though Professor Coyne thinks they are living in a contradiction.

    I can refer you to both an atheist and religious source on this. The religious one would be Ken Miller’s book “Finding Darwin’s God”. The atheist one would be the first chapter of Aron Ra’s book “Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism” in which he discusses the many religious believers who accept evolution.

    The second thing you should know is that not all versions of Christianity believe that all non-Christians are condemned to hell. You grew up in the evangelical school that says everyone is damned by default due to descent from Adam, and that faith is a bargaining chip in which one accepts that Jesus paid the penalty for sin by a substitutionary sacrifice.

    Bud did you know that for the first 400 years of Christianity that was not a dominant school of thought? I would recommend the book “Adam, Eve, and the Serpent” by Elaine Pagels to you. For the current Greek Orthodox view, I recommend

    I tend to be skeptical of most Christian teaching myself, but my favorite example of “accomodationism”- combining Christianity and Darwin- is that of computer programmer (and Christian) Larry Wall. He invented a revolutionary computer language, PERL, which had the unique ability to tackle basic tasks in more than one way, giving it a unique special flexibility. When asked how he came up with this idea, Wall replied it’s because he has the kind of mind that can believe in Darwin and Christianity at the same time.
    [Jerry Coyne, you will note this is not a scientific discovery but rather an engineering invention, so it does little or nothing to rebut your own case against accomodationism. But as someone who spent several years as a paid professional PERL programmer I like it all the same.]

    Best to you.

  55. veroxitatis
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    “devoted Christian and naturally a creationist”. This fellow seems entirely unaware that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and probably something of the order of 90% of professing Christians in the UK are not creationists.

  56. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    The kid’s sincere, and respectful. More important, he’s curious. He may find his way yet through the thicket, into the light.

    My advice to him is to set aside WEIT for a bit. Pick it up later; give it another try. Think about it. Consider and compare it to whatever else you’re learning, to what you see in the world around you. Work your way through it, let it steep. And don’t give up. (Hell, don’t know how many tries it took me to find the back page of Finnegans Wake. 🙂 )

    Godspeed, brother.

  57. Timothy Bagley
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Huge assumptions by this young person:

    “I simply cannot just sit around knowing that you are separated from God and if you were to die reading this email you’d spend an eternity away from him. Jesus loves you and I just want to let you know that. What you do with that information is up to you.”

    What specifically does he mean by the jargon: separated from God? Spend an eternity away from him?

    The superstitions need to be dropped and then read Jerry’s book again.

    • busterggi
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      “What specifically does he mean by the jargon: separated from God?”

      He means not in the presence of the omnipresent god.

      • Timothy Bagley
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        The oxymoron contained in the superstition!

  58. JHeardJr
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I am often completely amazed at the self-righteousness and entitlement of Christians that are just unable to comprehend that anything but their very own world view could possibly exist.

  59. Darren Garrison
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    You can’t really blame the guy for trying to recruit people to find Jesus. He’s been missing for nearly 2000 years and they are beginning to worry.

    • Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      • koseighty
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        • Hempenstein
          Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          There’s a marvelous bluegrass album by the Dry Branch Fire Squad. Leader Ron Thomason’s satire has been described as incendiary, and IMHO there’s no better example of it than on their Live at the Newburyport Fire House album. The relevant track to this discussion is The Baptism of Little Roy. The Little Roy in question is “Little Roy” Lewis, a bluegrass/gospel singer who apparently wanted to be baptized in a river by a Rev Foot, who I gather was a travelling preacher.
          Anyway, Rev Foot plunges Little Roy under, hauls him up, and asks “Did you see Jesus?”. No, Rev Foot! Back under he goes. This goes on several times and finally, gasping, Little Roy asks him “Are you sure this is where he went under at?”

        • darrelle
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink


          • koseighty
            Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

            Oh, noes!¡!

            “Listen, Don’t freak out, but I may haz broken Jesus.”

            Words that should have been, but never were, spoken by Paul.

  60. Leo Glenn
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the length, but I figure I only have one shot.

    It’s clear from your letter that you are an intelligent, kind and compassionate young man, and that you wrote to Jerry out of a genuine concern for his wellbeing. And I commend your curiosity and willingness to read his book, even though it conflicts with your beliefs. If I may, I’d like to ask you a few questions that might be helpful for you to consider. You describe yourself as a “devoted Christian and naturally a creationist.” This would seem to imply a view that all Christians are necessarily creationists. Are you aware that many Christians accept most of the principles of Darwinian evolution, and do not perceive it to be in conflict with their beliefs? The Catholic Church has, at least since the 1950s, held that there is no inherent conflict between Christian faith and the idea of common ancestry. I would also refer you to the works of Francis Collins, the renowned geneticist, head of the NIH and former head of the Human Genome Project, which in 2003 successfully identified and mapped all of the genes in the human genome. He is also an evangelical Christian, and has said, “Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.” Another person to consider is Kenneth Miller, a science educator, biology textbook author, and a devoted Christian, who famously testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial. There are excellent Youtube videos of some of his lectures, if you are interested to learn more.

    Of course, Jerry and many of us who follow his website would disagree with the notion of theistic (God-directed) evolution, but you should at least be aware that there are millions of Christians for whom an acceptance of some form of evolution is not seen as a hindrance to their faith. Reading Why Evolution Is True in that context may help you to consider the evidence conveyed in the book on its own merit, and not be put off by a perceived antagonism to your beliefs.

    My next question for you is far more basic. How do you know that your beliefs are actually true? Have you ever asked yourself that question before, or have you always taken the truth of your beliefs for granted? Imagine for a moment someone whose beliefs are very different from yours, let’s say someone your age, who grew up in India, and was brought up to believe that Hinduism is true. His parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins are all Hindu. As are his neighbors, friends, teachers, etc. The holidays and traditions he grew up with are Hindu, and all of life’s milestones—birth, coming of age, marriage, death—are marked by Hindu rituals and celebrations. He has never questioned his faith—why should he? Everyone around him believes as he does. His entire life, from birth to death, is inextricably entwined with his religious beliefs. When he prays, when he attends services at his place of worship, he feels strongly and deeply the real presence of his gods. He can give you many examples of occasions when prayers were answered and guidance received. Yet, by your lights, his beliefs are utterly and completely false. Unless he were to question his beliefs, how would he ever discover whether they were in fact true or false? And if questioning his beliefs is necessary for him to discover what’s actually true, would it not also be necessary for everyone, including you? If not, if you feel your beliefs should be exempted from questioning, I would be curious to know your reasons.

    If something is objectively true, then it will withstand the harshest scrutiny. The problem is that we humans have a strong tendency to believe things that aren’t true, but that make us feel good or affirm what we want to believe, as in the case of the hypothetical Hindu boy mentioned earlier. So if our goal is to find out what’s actually true, we have to be careful to guard against our own biases. Or as the physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” And that’s really the essence of the scientific method. Science, broadly construed (as Jerry puts it) is just a process, or rather a collection of processes and methodologies, developed and refined over hundreds of years, by which we can test claims about the nature of the world around us, to determine which of them are most likely to be true. Darwinian evolution has withstood nearly 160 years of such scrutiny. Many thousands of discoveries have been made since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species in 1859, any one of which could have instantly disproved evolution. Instead, every new discovery has only added to the mountain of evidence supporting evolution. That’s why we can say with great confidence that evolution is true, in exactly the same way that we can say that atomic theory is true, or the germ theory of disease, or gravitational theory.

    I would strongly encourage you to give Why Evolution Is True another go. Try putting emotions aside and, like an impartial judge, just evaluate the information presented in the book on its own merit. I will leave you with two things my father taught me, which have served me well in life. Question everything, especially your own beliefs. And think for yourself, or as my father put it, “Don’t let anyone do your thinking for you.” Best of luck to you.

  61. Reggie Cormack
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I would suggest that maybe you (name redacted) read some open and honest science blogs, and ensuing readers comments, that cover a variety of science subjects. This may let you see how rational thinking, with a healthy dash of scepticism, works. You may find that accepting what you have been told as absolute truths may be flawed. It could be that you find that your particular flavour of religion doesn’t really add up. Perhaps you’ll find so many flaws that you feel just a little ashamed that you had the cheek to suggest Prof Coyne(E) needs “Jesus’s love and acceptance”. A suitable blog would be WEIT. Just a suggestion.

  62. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted,

    Firstly, I wish you a long and happy life.

    Secondly, you do realise that Jesus Christ is more of a job title than a name? My understanding is that Jesus Christ is a translation of a translation of a translation that originally meant something like ‘Anointed Rescuer’. Now if this has been made clear to you, all well and good, but if not then you will have to ask yourself why not.

    • busterggi
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Annointed Rescuer – didn’t Disney do a film of that featuring cartoon mice?

  63. Brian Salkas
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Writen as if I were Jerry Coyne,

    First off, thank you for the well intended Email, I do appreciate that you attempted to read my book and I am sorry you did not find it convincing. I certainly did not mean for my criticism of ID be harsh and, to be honest, you are probably the first person to find my book harsh.
    We atheists are not bad people, we are not going to hell and we are not closed-minded. We simply would like to enjoy the precious time we have on this earth and we understand that truth is very important. Our version of the truth is not a psychologically constructed one, rather a tangible truth. Our version of truth my seem, upon the first glace, to seem father grim or uninspired, but to us atheists, reality is the most precious thing one could experience.
    And to be honest, we athiests have usually looked at all of youre evidence, in order to write my second book “Fairh vs. Fact”, I had to read countless theologians and I took them all very serious, but I found their arguments to be unconvincing. How much have you read about evolutionary biology, plate tectonics and cosmology?
    And one last question? Why Jesus, why not Buddha, or Muhammad?

  64. AF Rider
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Dear student
    I hope you will consider rereading Prof Coynes book. Prof is an evolutionary biologist and describes the science behind the biology of change

    It has nothing to do with religion, just as the science of the evolution of the mobile phone or computer you are reading has nothing to do with religion

  65. Roger
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Jesus sure does a lot of things for a guy that doesn’t do anything. Tell him to tell Jerry himself. (I can hear it now. “Jesus already did.” Like I said, Jesus sure does a lot of things for a guy that doesn’t do anything.)

    • Roger
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      The “guy” is Jesus. Pardon the dangling modifier. Jesus is the guy that doesn’t do anything, not Jerry haha.

  66. Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Answer the email with a simple ‘?’.
    If you don’t doubt you know nothing.


  67. dooosp
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    The only way to learn about Jesus’ love is from another human, or the bible, which also is written by another human. This should be your first clue that your faith is not in god, but what you’ve been told by other humans.

    The sun is pretty important to our survival, without it we wouldn’t be. Nobody had to tell me about the sun in order for me to survive, feel its warming rays of light, or see its beauty. It doesn’t need any prophets or messengers or holy books.

    I’ll leave it there. Maybe you can figure out where my thoughts are going…

  68. Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Dear Student,

    As other people here have recommended, read, think and study.

    Do stick with the science books you may find negative in part, or all. Branch out. Learn as widely as you can. Sometimes you learn more from what you find offensive than what you find agreeable. In addition to Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin, Dan Barker, etc., read as many different scientists as you can such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, Geza Vermes and other Dead Sea Scroll scholars.

    Read mythology: Greek, Roman, Norse, Native American, etc. All of humanity has created origin myths and stories to describe how and why certain natural phenomena occur. And to explain what happens after death, if anything.
    Compare these stories with those in the Bible.

    And, read your Bible very fully and carefully, and more than once or twice. There are some horrific behaviors required of his people by god in the Old Testament. And, you will find an inordinate number of discrepancies in both the Old and New Testaments. How do you resolve them? There are two versions of Genesis. If there’s only one god, why does god say to “have no other gods before me”? How did he change over time from a mountain/thunder god to an invisible god? What is the significance of god being called “Elohim” (a plural) at one time and “Jahweh” at another? If the Jews were god’s chosen people, why do they keep getting in trouble for worshiping other gods? Why does Jesus have two different genealogies? Why don’t the evangelists agree on when the crucifixion took place, the sequence of events leading up to and away from it? Why isn’t more known about the life of Jesus if he was a real person? Why don’t we hear about a wife and children which were extremely important in Jewish culture? How and when did Jesus change from being a Jewish Rabbi to being Christ, son of god and god himself? The followers of Jesus in Jerusalem led by his brother James were not Christians; they were Jews. Christianity was developed for the pagans by Paul and his followers. It took hundreds of years for Christianity to take form. And, it never coalesced to one agreed upon belief system. Read about the killing of heretics and so-called witches in their thousands and millions by Christians, and the inquisition. Look at all the diverse versions of Christianity that exist today. Which one is right? Why are Christians still waiting for Jesus to return when he was supposed to come back in the lifetime of those alive when he lived and died?

    Do not desperately hold on to the religion of your family and culture if/when it no longer fits. Learn and grow.

    I wish you the very best of luck. I, too, was once an evangelical Christian and had to give it up when I discovered that I no longer could believe. It didn’t make sense.

  69. Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink


    “I could not force myself to finish your book…”

    What would you say to someone who has only read *parts* of the bible, but not all of it?

    If you want others to be open to your beliefs, you might extend them the same courtesy.

  70. Mark R.
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I would suggest finishing WEIT while listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. You may become enlightened.

  71. Jeff Lewis
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink


    You’ve written Dr. Coyne regarding both evolution and religion. From a creationist perspective, I can understand how they would seem related, but for many of us, they’re two separate subjects.

    You stated that you couldn’t complete Dr. Coyne’s book because of its ‘harsh’ tone towards creationists. I’ve read the book myself, and can’t agree with that assessment. Dr. Coyne did point out problems with creationism, but in a respectful manner. As you grow into adulthood, you’re going to encounter plenty of people who have opinions and beliefs different from yours. You need to be able to interact with those people without getting offended merely because they disagree with you. And let’s face it, even outside this discussion, we’re all ignorant about certain topics, and we’ve all been misinformed about one thing or another (Mythbusters wouldn’t have had any success at all if we were all right about everything). The only way to grow your knowledge and correct your current misconceptions is to read and listen to all viewpoints, even and especially those viewpoints you don’t agree with. And you’re not going to find a critique of creationism much more civil than Dr. Coyne’s. Read his book. Evaluate it for yourself. But don’t simply abandon it because it’s offended you.

    Regarding religion, many people on this comment thread have recommended reading the Bible. I would echo that, but go one step further. I would recommend specifically the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), or at least something very similar. First, it uses the NRSV translation, which is one of if not the most respected translations among biblical scholars (http://courses.missouristate.edu/markgiven/rel102/bt.htm). Additionally, the NOAB has excellent essays, introductions to collections & books, and footnotes throughout the text. Reading these along with biblical text really helps to better understand the text.

    And if you’re really ambitious and interested in religion, go read other texts. In addition to the Bible, I’ve read the Tao Te Ching, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, portions of the Popul Vuh, various Greek and Roman myths, etc. Once you expose yourself to more than just the religion you were born into, you can begin to compare them and see them in context.

    As far as evolution, I’m going to cheat and provide a link to an answer I wrote not too long ago on Quora:

    I recommended a couple websites and a few books. In fact, Why Evolution Is True was my top recommendation.

    I’ll also add that sites like Quora itself can be very useful due to the forum nature. If you come across an explanation there and have questions, you can ask the questions in the comments section. And unlike most of the Internet, the comments section there usually doesn’t degrade into the worst examples of humanity. This will also teach you somewhat to evaluate sources, since not all answers on Quora are equally credible.

  72. keith cook +/-
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    My first thoughts for and of you are, very polite and sincere guest for the Prof(E)lounge. My second thought, get out of North Charleston, South Carolina when and if it is possible and see a bit of the world. Read more of other cultures, or for example, watch the BBC’s The Human Planet if traveling is not an option.See how others cope without jesus and have their own so called saviours of the soul and how passionate they are.
    If nothing else it should tell your young self there are many ways that humans make sense of the world we live in.
    Your chosen in your words, Christian and naturally a creationist, and i use the word chosen loosely, basically because i think it was chosen for you, is one and only one of many ways to add meaning to the world.
    The question then is, which one is true?
    I will speak for myself but it is why i am a guest of the Prof(E)at WEIT. I base my truth on evidence.
    Science/scientist provide that evidence, think technology (space based satellites with powerful cameras and sensors, microscopes of unbelievable resolution) and how we are learning more of how the universe works and what makes biological life tick.
    Fossils, DNA all lead to evolution as being as close to the truth as you are ever going to get.
    If you do come around and start to apply critical thought to your faith it may be confusing and no doubt troubling, look around for ideas and help but be assured it is not a lone journey confined and restricted, it is very much open ended, a life time of conversations with science/scientist and learning.
    And as you learn more, the fascination, marvel and wonder will hit you in spades you won’t know what to do with it…
    HINT: read more as science is dynamic and is constantly on the move, link with others and places like WEIT, by serendipity you have landed at a very trustworthy website. Richard Dawkins and the Center of Inquiry is another that would help with comprehension and understanding and just as importantly with peers of like minded inquiring minds.
    I have endevoured to keep upbeat but some aspects of true reality are brutal hard facts, something i suspect your faith protects you from, but knowing these facts will ultimately increase the value you place on life and this big blue planet.

  73. Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Dear Devoted Christian,

    Like many before me, I insist that being a Christian in no way forces you to be also a creationist. I have never been a Christian, but I know quite a few Christians who accept evolution.

    I’ll go further: proponents of creationism harm Christianity greatly. Creationism alienates potential allies in common causes, such as charity work, conservation of nature and cultural heritage. And it makes Christians look like uneducated and not too thoughtful people, all because of their failure to address the problem. (In the same way, the onslaught of Islamist terror casts the shadow of suspicion on all Muslims, not because all are violent, but because they are unable to control the “black sheep” in their community.)

    Centuries ago, empowered Christians believed that the heliocentric theory was a heresy and persecuted Galileo in the name of Christianity. Do you think that they were very intelligent? Do you think they benefited Christianity? Finally, do you think they were good people?

    They were not an asset to Christianity, they were not too intelligent, and they were not good people. My observation is that intellectual decline goes hand in hand with ethical decline. All proponents of creationism whom I know are deceitful and mean people.

    I think it is a pity that the religion of my ancestors is now an object of ridicule because of creationism. And also that it will be a pity if you leave such people lead you by the nose.

  74. Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Dear Young Man – I encourage you to carefully read Matthew 25. You may realize that folks who live as described need not ‘find Jesus’ in the manner that you believe is correct, but rather have committed themselves to carrying for ‘the other’ and for the less fortunate.

  75. Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    caring – duh!!

  76. neelingman
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted

    Many people choose to concentrate on communicating with Jesus, rather than God.

    I prefer to chew the fat with God directly.

    I address this topic here in answer to a reader’s question to my blog page – http://neelingman.com/2016/11/22/question-from-lindy/

    I hope this helps.

    Best regards

    Neel Ingman

  77. nicky
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    The flood and Noah’s arc.
    As a child I had mice, Guinea pigs, a cat and 2 Axolotls. I knew what a tremendous work it was to keep it even moderately clean.
    How could half a dozen people or so take care of the poop and pee of thousands upon thousands of animals?
    And then food. What would these lions eat? And tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, ocelots, snow leopards, margays, ocelots, jaguarundis, caracals, servals and dozens of other kinds of cats (and we didn’t mention the many kinds of dogs, hyenas, bears, mongoose, marters -from honeybadgers to wolverines-, fossa, etc etc)
    That was my first doubt that that story might not be litterally true.
    And later: why were all kangaroos and koalas in Australia? No lemurs in Africa but only in Madagascar, no one left on the way from mount Ararat? How did the armadillos, ant-eaters and spider monkeys get from there to the Americas?
    Case closed: not *possibly* literally true.
    (And not even mentioned, where did all that water come from and go to, what about salinity? Most fishes are very sensitive to that)
    Next step: what *else* could or would not be literally true?
    From here you are bound to have an interesting, albeit sometimes unnerving, journey. Whish you all the best on your way there.

    • busterggi
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Offhand, how were the axototls as pets? I know they’re not cuddly but as I find fish relaxing to watch I wonder if these would be equally so.

    • busterggi
      Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Offhand, how were the axototls as pets? I know they’re not cuddly but as I find fish relaxing to watch I wonder if these would be equally so.

      • nicky
        Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        They were very soft-skinned, I liked stroking them, but I doubt the pleasure was reciprocal.
        They eat meat, always in a wild grab. For the rest they were very quiet indeed.

        • busterggi
          Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, I need to see if they do okay at cool temperatures as I don’t keep my place very warm.

  78. Posted January 12, 2017 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    dear REDACTED,

    what makes you think that a high school student who cannot finish a book can convince a published college research biologist of jesus’ love?

  79. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 10:08 pm | Permalink


    You write “I come to you in this email hoping that I’m not the first person to try and talk to you … if you were to die reading this email you’d spend an eternity away from him.” But that fails to engage an atheist reader.

    First, many atheists have been religious and know in detail the emotions you describe.

    Second, why they are no longer religious is often because they generally statistically know more details of the religion than the average religious belonging to it.

    Third, the pre-science notions of “soul” and “eternal life” has recently been laid waste by the Large Hadron Collider completion of quantum field physics of everyday particles. Not only is the physics such that the people working on it can estimate everyday interactions on everyday particles, they have now also measured everyone of them. We are now assured that we are biochemical machines, and that your brain has no backup. We are born, our consciousness starts to coalesce around two years of age, it is dispersed every night, every narcosis, every coma and/or every death. There is no difference between religious and others in that regard. This is something we all have to live with from now on.

    • Joser
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      Although you are not explicitly aware of this fact, atoms of your body are substantiated by subatomic particles that exist without dimension. Described here: >>> “….The real important thing for me is that fundamental particles are as far as we can tell zero-dimensional particles. They have no radius. You can’t think of fundamental particles as being glass marbles. They literally have no extension in space. They can never bump into anything else.” http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/03/14/174287416/god-particle-update-scientists-think-theyve-pinned-down-the-higgs-boson ………Nonphysical Reality differs from Physical Reality; existence differs from being.

    • Posted January 13, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      Most people I talk to about this, even nonbelievers, find it hard to accept the profound implications of the LHC results.

      Anyway, those not already “in the know” should take a look at Sean Carroll’s video from Skepticon 5 (on YouTube). /@

  80. Mark Perew
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Dear Young Student –

    The sentiments you expressed in your message to Dr. Coyne are quite familiar to me. I was raised as a firm believer in the truth of the Bible, attended church three times a week, fulfilled many lay ministry roles, and was a young Earth creationist.

    What changed is that I became a parent. As my children grew I wanted to know how best to be a father to them. I was taught to turn to the Bible for answers and did so in this case. What I found changed my life.

    As a parent with unconditional love for my children, I could never do what the God of the Bible has done and promises to do. I could never set up my children for failure as was done in Genesis. I could never condone the slaughter of my children’s children as happens repeatedly in the Old Testament. I would never treat one of my children as being more favored than the others.

    Finally, I could never consign my children to eternal punishment for failing to love me. There is literally nothing that my children could do to make me stop loving them. I could not want harm to come to them and I neither would nor could create a place of torment for them. It is not they who owe me love for bringing them into the world, but it is I who must love them as they had no say in the matter.

    Perhaps someday if you have children of your own you will understand this. Until that time, ask yourself if the Father-God of the Bible is the kind of father you would like to have. Please examine this question critically.

    I’d be happy to discuss this further in email, if you would like. There is more to the story, but for now I hope that this will encourage to view your religion with a different set of priorities.

  81. David Jorling
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Name Redacted: My main advice would be to continue reading, and start with finishing Dr Coyne’s book. There are many other books to read, some mentioned in the other responses in this email string. But even that is unlikely to help unless you approach everything you read with an inquiring,open mind. To that end I recommend one of my favorite historical quotes:

    “Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason than to that of blindfolded fear.”

    Thomas Jefferson
    In a letter to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787

    Suggested Further reading:
    Misquoting Jesus – Bart Ehrman
    Skeptics Annotated Bible
    Why Does the World Exist – Jim Holt
    God, The Most Unpleasant Character in all of Fiction – Dan Barker
    End of Faith – Sam Harris
    God is Not Great – Christopher Hitchens

    And yes, I even recommend Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist. Many readers of this blog know that his answer to the question is yes, but its not the Jesus that we have been taught to have existed. As a lawyer by trade, I could easily say that, after reading this book, that if the “evidence” in the book (I use that term broadly – none of the “evidence” in the book would be admissible in a court of law”)is the best case that could be made for the existence of Jesus, then there clearly was no Jesus.

    Finally as one who was raised by a very devout Catholic family, and having endured the relentless indoctrination that Catholic Schools imposed on children in the 1950’s and 60’s (and still do, apparently), it was difficult for me to come to the conclusion that Jesus did not exist. Ironically enough, my doubts started during my college days at Marquette University, where the Jesuits there taught us to question everything, except matters of faith since they had answered all questions relating to that. It took me several decades of my own questioning faith to finally come to the conclusion that the Jesuit answers were entirely wrong. But they were right to advise us to question everything, as Jefferson does above. I suspect your inquiry into these issues will take as long as mine did, as I suspect you were as heavily indoctrinated as I was. The important first step is to follow Jefferson’s advice. If you are not willing to do that, you will only know the answers your indoctrination provided you; and I would not waste any more time with the readings suggested in this email string.

    Best of luck.

    Posted January 13, 2017 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    To the young man I would say, that rethink your sentence where you claim belief in Christianity and Creationism in the same breath. Asking you to abandon both together might be a stretch. For now, live the values of the religion you profess but open your mind to the evidence of the world around you. If you have to give up believing in Creationism, it is a great start that you finally see the world for it is and not what religion teaches you. You can still be a Christian and believe in evolution. Its not the ideal combination but its a start.

  83. Mike
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Historians have been trying to find Jesus for years and haven’t succeeded, your only “evidence” for him is the Book of Fairy Stories in which you put so much Faith, on that basis, Harry Potter exists and Hogwarts is a real College. Let the mythical Jesus go young man, you’ll feel so much better for it.

  84. Posted January 13, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Dear Student

    I find it odd that you found WEIT harsh toward religion. I found it a straightforward presentation of the evidence, with minimal editorializing. In fact, WEIT is the book I recommend most because of its “just the facts” presentation. It may be the criticism of religion you perceived was in you as you considered your beliefs along side scientific evidence. There are other authors who blast creationism while discussing evolution, but this is not true of Dr. Coyne in Why Evolution is True. I suggest you finish the book, and read it again with an open mind.

    I also suggest you read the transcripts of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania available at the National Center for Science Education website. These make for fun reading. And read the judge’s opinion as well. I also recommend Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish.

    Reality is amazing. Enjoy

  85. Posted January 13, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I live in Charleston (former Yankee) and my nephew attends Academic Magnet HS. He is a free-thinking caring atheist with fabulous potential (no bias!) It is a co-ed school. I am sorry to see that the fundamentalism with which the South is “benighted” (a great word, which you have used) has reached into the AMHS but..I am not surprised, it is hard to avoid here. Southern parents don’t seem to see the harm in teaching their children that people they love will be going to hell to burn in a lake of fire for tortuous eternity at the same time they talk about how much Jesus loves you! This student will be attending USC, Clemson, or Bob Jones University, where they can all reinforce each other’s beliefs. My nephew is going NORTH.

  86. Plum
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I think this young man sounds very well educated, and I am glad he’s trying to share his faith with Mr. Coyne. And to everyone asking about “sound evidence” to prove God is real, It is his LOVE AND FORGIVENESS. If you reach out to him, if you look around at any christians, you may just feel his love. And you will definitely be able to see that love inside any Christian. I am a very devoted Christian and actually still believe in evolution. I believe that God wanted to make us the best he could, so he built us up over time to get us to this wonderful state we are in now as Homo sapiens. The first perfected (although we are still not perfect because evolution is ever changing us through God) Homo sapiens were Adam and Eve who were then tempted by the devil into eating that apple. Then the rest is history. Bottom line is, Jesus died on the cross for your sins because he loves each and every one of you. I am in my mid-teens and have recently found God, and let me tell you I have never felt so happy, so complete in my life. I think all of you should at least give Him a try, He’s worth it, and there’s always someone to talk to.

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      And how do you know YOUR religion is the right one compared to, say, Hinduism or Islam, in which you can be killed for believing that Jesus was God’s messenger. Or whether there IS a God. Face it, Plum, you have no evidence for the existence of a god, much less the Christian one, save the fact that you were taught it (if you were raised in Saudi Arabia, you’d be talking about Muhammad, not Jesus). I’m sorry, but before you can post here again you have to adduce some evidence for what you believe, and why you’re so sure that Christianity is the one true religion.

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Think you missed the point where most people here have “tried” God. The religious answer to that always seems to be “Well, you didn’t try hard enough.”

    • Posted January 15, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Hey, Plum. It is more than abundantly true that *belief* in God can make believers feel happier than they’ve ever been and complete in their lives.

      But as George Bernard Shaw said, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

      It says nothing about whether God is real or not!


    • busterggi
      Posted January 15, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      “there’s always someone to talk to.”

      I have cats, I don’t need a god.

  87. Francisco
    Posted January 15, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I studied theology and loosed my time during many years in a right-catholic-sect. Always Iquestioned to others why if the Holly Spirit is only one there are so many protestant and catholic sects that are SURE if you join them Jesus will love you and heaven will be your final gift, otherwise hell. “Pope is the anti-Christ” (Luther) “Pope is the sweet Jesus in the earth” (Catholics). Trinity are Father, Son and HS. Trinity is a blasphemy!! (Anti-Trinitarians) Muslims, induists, many other religions… all based in faith and supposed revelations. Even among Catholics one sect (OPUS DEI) pretends to safe the church and other (Heralds of the Gospel) also will safe the church bat considers Opus Dei a cemetery for truly vocations. How is it possible God makes so many confusion, so many people SURE that they are right and the other wrong???
    The answer is easy: my loundry SOAP is the best of the market, the others lie!!

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