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Why I Am a Humanist and Not a Catholic

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Filed under Atheism

Humanist

At age eighteen, I attended an all-boys Catholic high school wearing a gold cross attached to a necklace. Of course, in the homophobic halls of religious instruction, this jewelry would never be called a necklace. We labeled such an adornment with the more macho-sounding “chain.” At the time, the irony of “chaining” myself with a cross was lost on me.

Those were the days of feeling the spirit while attending school-sponsored religious retreats. One was an amazing emotional roller-coaster called “The Encounter.” While there, we were peer-pressured to confess our most painful thoughts publicly, bonding with each other as we shared the darkest parts of our minds. Imagine teen boys dropping their alpha-male facades and crying as we took turns revealing emotional horrors and feelings of inadequacy. The most memorable story was that of a friend revealing his father’s descent into madness.

It was okay, though; the leaders helped rebuild us with Jesus as our support. Plus, we had games and music to lighten the mood. It was a fantastic feeling of brotherhood, being together for something so powerful. Sure, we were all hungry, because little food was provided. We were exhausted as well, because they kept us up late and woke us early. Yet, for a few days, it was worth it to experience spiritual exultation. I most certainly did not see the parallels to the tools of brainwashing...yet.

I found myself believing and praying while my skeptical nature rested in hibernation—not dead but not alert either. I knew that I doubted what I was taught more than most of my friends, and I definitely seemed to ask more questions. I found the answers good enough to put off probing too deeply but poor enough to sustain a lingering sense of uncertainty. My inquiries dodged the big picture and instead focused on pieces of the puzzle. I was up for tackling bizarre, obvious myths of the Old Testament, but I simply was not prepared to dig into the examination of the existence of God. Perhaps this was because my identity included sporting Jesus around my neck.

In hindsight, it appears that my subconscious was already tackling the big question. I clearly recall creating a stir as a result of my salutatorian graduation speech. A part of me spoke the unspoken to a theater full of proud Roman Catholic parents: “Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, someone or something gave us everything we have, made us who we are.” This tribute of gratitude to my parents fascinates me in retrospect. At a time when I still believed in the divine, I used my farewell to Marist Brothers education as an opportunity to project my theistic doubts on the audience. While I was not ready to address the question of whether I believed in God, I was ready to tip the hand of my religious incredulity by recognizing theistic doubt—not in myself, but in the crowd.

It was not long before I began to answer the questions, this time with the benefit of neutral educational resources. As a Duke University undergrad, I chose to take an elective in Old Testament history. I was amazed to hear many things that were never presented in my four years of required religious study during high school. It seemed more than coincidence that I had not been taught about the ancient pagan origins of many of the Bible stories, let alone how some of the exact phrases in the Old Testament are taken from previously existing myths. I found out that there is absolutely no extra-biblical evidence for the Jewish enslavement in Egypt or the Exodus.

My Catholic education certainly did not teach me about how the Ugarit gods were inherited by the early Israelites. I had not been taught how the Jewish Yahweh was closely associated with El, the king of the Ugarit pantheon. It was at Duke that I first learned that El ruled over a court of less powerful deities in just the way Psalm 82 speaks of Yahweh ruling over an assembly of lesser gods.

I was shocked to learn that my Yahweh was simply one of many competing local Middle-Eastern war gods, different primarily in that his adherents switched from polytheism to monotheism. I learned that this process started in order to promote the idea that Yahweh was superior to the many other gods mentioned in the Bible. Eventually, it led to a denial of the existence of other gods altogether. These monotheistic religious memes were violently intolerant of other gods and beliefs, which made them far superior in demanding replication of themselves and the destruction of opposing memes.

I asked myself how I came to believe in Yahweh. I realized it was simply an accident of history. The Israeli god’s followers slaughtered their enemies and spread their religion by forceful intolerance of other faiths. Which god the Israelites believed in did not matter; he was just one of thousands. If a different tribe had been more successful, their invisible lord would have been the one that survived to be adopted by the early Christians. In turn, if Constantine had chosen a different deity to inspire his soldiers to conquest, Christianity would not have flourished in the Roman Empire.

I came to understand that my god was simply the one that had been passed down to me by my ancestors. I was the descendant of people who had been subjugated by followers of El/Yahweh/Jesus. My god was not even the original one; he was just the modern form of gods that had merged and evolved over millennia. He was a god that was predated by the gods of hundreds of cultures. My god was younger than the pyramids. I had always accepted that all other religions simply believed in false deities that had been handed down to them. I finally recognized that my religion was no different. Catholicism is no more true or false than any other religion.

After my Old Testament course, I embraced the term agnostic. I looked on the world with fresh eyes, free from the bias of religious presumption. I was enlightened. But I was also disgusted. Free from my rose-colored faith goggles, I was better able to see the tragedies created by religious extremism. I was horrified by the offenses of the Vatican. I seriously considered founding a religion without dogma, supernaturalism, or authority.

A decade after I became an agnostic, I was turned on to the writings of the “new atheists” by a customer of my family’s business. I realized that the word atheist applied to me as well. I had not known if there was a god or not, but I had also not believed that there was. I continued my reading and found that the religion I had considered founding already existed. It was not a religion at all; it was an alternative: humanism. I had been a humanist for over ten years without even knowing that there was a word for my belief system.

Humanism exchanges fear for a free mind. It rejects religion’s hunger for power and instead empowers the individual. It condemns theocracy and embraces secularism. Humanists are accountable to humanity, not to a deity. We give our lives meaning through how we live them. We reject violence as a means to spread beliefs. Humanism respects people, not ideas. We accept science, not supernaturalism. Humanism flourishes with free inquiry at the expense of dogma. We thrive on love, equality, and compassion.

Ultimately, I am not a Catholic because I am a humanist.
 
 
Reproduced with permission from Free Inquiry, the journal of the Council for Secular Humanism.
(Image credit: Sonder Magazine)

Todd Stiefel

Written by

Todd Stiefel is the founder and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, the primary sponsor of the 2012 Reason Rally. He is the cohost of the Humanist Hour podcast and the winner of several humanist awards.

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  • Mike

    "Of course, in the homophobic halls of religious instruction"

    Nice! and in the opening paragraph to boot!

    • David Nickol

      I am wondering if you went to an all-boys Catholic high school. If so, was it a "gay friendly" place?

      • Mike

        i went to catholic all boys school for 1 year before leaving as the ppl there kinda picked on me/i didn't fit in (edit: that makes it sound like the school was responsible it wasn't i just didn't fit in for other reasons entirely)

        "Gay friendly"? well back when i was there in the 90s by your definition nothing anywhere was "gay friendly"...i mean in 2008 all democrats said marriage is and can only be 1 man 1 women so i am not sure if your question makes sense.

        having said that it was a place where making fun of ppl was not allowed for any reason and i don't think anyone at anytime was made to feel bad.

        Add: our sister school was down the street and when girls walked down the hall the boys went mental...which i hated.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I don't know if I would call the all-boys Catholic high school gay friendly, but we certainly spent a great amount of time spanking each other on the butt and acting like homosexuals. Certainly, friends in co-ed schools did not understand our behavior.

        We were a pretty tight-knit group. Nobody came out while we were in high school, but I would like to think that we would not have cared. Many people I know who are of a conservative religious persuasion tend to be grossed out by homosexuals and tend to avoid their company. However, those of us who went to an all-boys school did not have a problem with homosexuality.

        • ImaginaryDomain

          Hey Ignatious. Off topic, but Confederacy is one of my all-time favorite books. Love the reference and the icon!!

        • Mike

          so you think that guys "spanking each other on the butt" is what gay men act like?

          and you folks are the non-judgmental ones right?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            so you think that guys "spanking each other on the butt" is what gay men act like?

            I would imagine that that occasionally occurs.

            and you folks are the non-judgmental ones right?

            Oh most definitely. We are not the ones that rant on and on about how homosexuality is gross. We are not the ones that support institutionalized discrimination. We are not the ones that avoid homosexuals. So, yes we are the non-judgmental ones.

        • Michael Murray

          I don't know if I would call the all-boys Catholic high school gay friendly, but we certainly spent a great amount of time spanking each other on the butt and acting like homosexuals.

          I had the last two years of my high school education at an all boys Marist Brothers College in the mid 70s. There was a lot of that sort of behaviour. Freud would have filled a few notebooks. Obviously there would have been some boys who were gay but admitting that would have been completely unacceptable. One friend was greatly distressed by the fact that his older brother was rumoured to have made a few passes at his friends. But that was only discussed very covertly. "Poofta" was still a favoured Australian insult.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Freud would have filled a few notebooks.

            I like to think that we were just very comfortable with our sexuality

          • Mike17

            Be careful, if you want to bring Freud into the discussion. Here is something which Freud actually said:
            "The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it. So, as you will see, the breach and turning point in the development of sexual life lies in becoming subordinate to the purpose of reproduction. Everything that happens before this turn of events and equally everything that disregards it and that aims solely at obtaining pleasure is given the uncomplimentary name of "perverse" and as such is proscribed."

  • VicqRuiz

    Todd, it's often been said here that there are at least two flavors of Catholicism:

    Flavor A is the flavor most heavily represented on Strange Notions. It is characterized by extensive forays into Thomistic and Aristotelian proof-wrangling, descriptions of God as the hard-to-describe "ground of all being" and a general downplaying of personal, emotional involvement with Jesus, Mary, and the saints.

    Flavor B is the Catholicism of the laity at large. It is characterized by rules and regulations....."receive the sacraments, confess your sins, tell the beads", as well as much more emphasis on that personal, emotional involvement as mentioned above.

    In your family background, in what you heard at church, and in the education you received in that Catholic school, do you think that Flavor A or Flavor B was predominant??

    • materetmagistra

      Not to mention that some of the past decades have seen some very lost and misguided Catholic schools out there. Quite possibly the author is the fruit of such poor catechesis (based on some of his description, I'd bet on it.) I was the same. Spent many, many years away from the Faith....helped in that direction by not exactly "neutral educational resources" of a Big 10 university system. Not until I could see past the "rules and regulations," by serious contemplation of the thought of those ala "Flavor A" did I reconsider Catholicism. But, there is a point not mentioned....I was first attracted by those who actually lived according to the Faith. Those families had a richness, a joy, a beauty that I realized I did not have in my experience. They caught my attention and helped my eyes to focus. Once focused, I could intimate myself in the documents of the Church, in the Catechism, in the Fathers and the Doctors, in the Saints, and in Chesterton!

    • Mike17

      If you want to set up two caricatures, how do you expect people to be able to choose between them unless they are also believers in caricatures, in which case their answer is of no use whatsoever except in showing that they believe in caricatures.

  • David Hardy

    An interesting personal story. Despite my own atheist position, I would hesitate to agree with some of the positions of the author in this piece. For me, I see little evidence that religion is inherently negative, as appears to be implied. The extremism mentioned regarding religion could also be made regarding racism or cultural superiority or any other point of difference. Quite simply, people tend to engage in negative thinking and behavior towards those perceived as "other", regardless of the basis for the "other."

    Also to the point, while I agree that Christianity spread in part through being the official religion of nations that subjugated other nations, this does not seem enough to understand the success of Christianity. Within the religion are a number of highly effective social and moral strategies. For example, the idea of giving more to those who take from you or turning the other cheek when slapped, forgiving enemies and working for their good, and seeing Christ (something sacred) in others who might otherwise be seen as irrelevant (the least of my people), all engage in solution focused thinking and symptom utilization, which are highly effective ways to resolve problems and conflicts. These sort of techniques promote in-group thinking. Unfortunately, they can be counter-intuitive as well, so even those who believe in these teachings can fail to recognize when they are not applying them to a situation.

    Not to say that Humanism does not also incorporate effective social and moral strategies, since it does. However, it is valuable to recognize the worth within religious systems as well, in order to promote those positive qualities in those who hold them. Otherwise, the thinking being applied to other belief systems (in this case, religious ones), seems very similar to the sort of thinking those systems can apply to each other, which the author in the OP seems to be trying to reject. The question should not just be "what view is best," since other views are likely to always exist. Rather, one should also look to other views and ask "what are the best expressions of this view?" This gives a starting point to positive engagement between differing perspectives.

    • Paul F

      This is the most open-minded post I have ever read, honestly. Or maybe pragmatic is a better word. It is open-minded in the sense of being open to the best way to create a society. It is pragmatic in that it will not discount good ideas based on prejudice.

      But... Of course there is a 'but'. The challenge of the gospels is not to create the best society. The philosophy we get from Jesus makes us victims of the world, not society builders. If Jesus was just another philosopher with some good ideas, then He was a mad man.

      The gospels don't mission us to create the city of man; they mission us to be citizens of the city of God. If you measure Christianity by how successful it is in the world then Constantine and the Spanish inquisitions will be insurmountable scandals.

      Jesus told us the last will be first and the first will be last. So if you want to measure Christianity in this world, look to the losers. Look to the poor, the rejected, those who die alone and sad. These are the true Christians. We would be happy in this world if we listened to God, but we don't.

      • David Hardy

        The philosophy we get from Jesus makes us victims of the world, not society builders.

        An interesting view, not one that all Christians share. However, my position is not based primarily on what Christians believe, only what beliefs have caused Christianity to be successful, and by successful I mean become the largest religious group as a whole in the world. For a religion that is not based on building society, Christianity has deeply influenced the form of Western society.

        EDIT: Also, many Christians embrace terms such as being a part of "the Body of Christ" and the importance of gathering to a church. These are examples of social bodies, and building them is a central part of Christianity, as evidenced by the idea that going out to convert others to the faith and draw them into fellowship is a divine command from Jesus to his disciples.

        If Jesus was just another philosopher with some good ideas, then He was a mad man.

        Or he was a man with some good ideas on morality and social behavior mixed with some bad ideas about his own divinity. He would not be the first nor the last of that sort.

        So if you want to measure Christianity in this world, look to the
        losers. Look to the poor, the rejected, those who die alone and sad.

        I would only look to them insofar as those individuals are Christians, or as those individuals are treated by Christians. I understand that Christians look to these individuals as role models in a sense, but the majority of Christians in the world do not take extreme vows of poverty and live as hermits, which would be the next logical step if they thought the poor and alone were the "truest" Christians.

  • nicholas cotta

    This entire article makes a singular "argument from history" and then subtly translates it in to a conclusion on ethics. Even if the historical narrative presented here was true (it's not, it's a simplistic freshman understanding of history and many of its claims are easily debunked with a maximum of 5 google searches), it would be irrelevant to the question of humanism vs. Catholicism.
    Humanism is grounded in nothing except affectation - it is sentimental individualism at best. It is easy to believe in "humanism" when reason doesn't push its boundaries like: what makes a human? Obviously not DNA or a genetic code because humanists have a hierarchy of humans (namely the more developed vs. the less, or the magic word "sentient"). How should a human live? For the sake of her own pleasure or for the sake of others? How does one decide whose pleasure takes precedence?
    There are 14 million ethical questions that would need to be decided if one was to conclude Humanism > Catholicism, and many are just simply axiomatic. Where do the axioms come from? Most likely they claim to be utilitarian (a la Sam Harris) but of course not strictly limited to utility because utility implies a telelogical axiom, i.e. what are we building toward or building from? Of course, you can be like Nietzsche or Justice Kennedy and decide the human project is to come up with one's own teleology but now holding precepts like "everyone deserves their own right to define sexuality" become incoherent. Why? Well I get to decide my own telos, that's why!
    And on and on and on, secular humanism is nothing but a circular argument that really relies on the vague intuitions of the present. And like the frog who is boiled alive, those intuitions creep at an undetected pace.

    • David Nickol

      it's a simplistic freshman understanding of history and many of its claims are easily debunked with a maximum of 5 google searches . . . .

      I'm not saying you're wrong, but could you please debunk two or three to demonstrate that you are right?

      • ferlalf

        To me the obvious problem is that many theists are humanist even many theists and he really should be writing about atheism or at least atheistic humanism.

      • nicholas cotta

        I have tried to select sources that are not from strictly fundamentalist sources but present the tired arguments seen here and a logical response.

        El, the Ugaritic hegemon: http://www.quora.com/Was-the-Jewish-Yahweh-closely-associated-with-El-the-king-of-the-Ugarit-pantheon

        no extra-biblical evidence for the OT (read 'Reception and Influence') https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Minimalism

        Generally how myths of the Bible are to be interpreted (including Ugarits, etc), feel free to read the whole preview, it addresses the narratives presented here:

        https://books.google.com/books?id=9zgRdJy1X80C&pg=PT119&lpg=PT119&dq=the+meaning+of+mythology+in+the+old+testament&source=bl&ots=yzEo0T9ifg&sig=9xYYIPbfpCBIJqd4hrhejnVU_4U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CE4Q6AEwB2oVChMI_u_qw_mjxwIVBUiSCh098QAq#v=onepage&q=the%20meaning%20of%20mythology%20in%20the%20old%20testament&f=false

        • David Nickol

          I didn't ask for a reading list. I am not clear what point your links are intended to make. Are you saying it is false that "Jewish Yahweh was closely associated with El, the king of the Ugarit pantheon"? Are you saying that it is untrue that "there is absolutely no extra-biblical evidence for the Jewish enslavement in Egypt or the Exodus"?

          Your link to Google Books takes me too a page of endnotes, which I can't imagine is what I am supposed to read. What was the point of the link?

          • nicholas cotta

            The whole paradigm is wrong, that's what I'm saying and I picked some links that explain how. There are not simply "true/false" statements in history, this is the first freshman paradigm you need to discard. How myths were used to communicate truths is much more deep than "these all look the same, they must have copied from each other."
            Btw, Christianity's central claims aren't even close to relying on the OT's empiricism but they DO rely on what the myths are saying, and they also rely on an actual historical people, the Jewish people, who clearly were formed by them. Is there any doubt that these certain myths were incredibly powerful in having an actual effect? Is there any small middle eastern tribe that has impacted global civilization for millennia? Why are Jews, a people of 14 million, as important to the narrative of world history as a country like India with a billion people? Do I need to go in to detail on how many Nobel prize winners are Jewish etc etc? What makes this ethno-cultural group so unique? The only discernible difference between these people and any other are that they identified themselves with these supposedly "indiscernible" myths. I mean come on. These "copycat" myths formed the world's most famous ethnicity pound-for-pound, how ludicrous it would be to write them off in the manner shown here. There must be something VERY unique about this small tribe's religion. It could be that they concocted an excellent story, but if you can't even discern the narratives told by each one, then you're wasting your time.
            Also, if you use the scroll device, the screen will magically take you somewhere else but the end notes, try it!

          • David Nickol

            Btw, Christianity's central claims aren't even close to relying on the OT's empiricism but they DO rely on what the myths are saying . . . .

            No Original Sin by humanity's "first parents," no need for a redeemer.

          • nicholas cotta

            Claiming that myths are transcendent narratives does not imply they do not contain literal history as well. "Literal history" is a modern invention and like "unbiased journalism," it claims to be more than it is because history really can't be separated from the context that brought it forth. We can know many facts about the Hundred Years War but if we were transported back to that time, we would soon feel all kinds of different feelings about it and sense the much deeper dynamics of that place and time. The story of human fall and salvation would probably be some ridiculous length if it were told in the same manner that we describe historical events these days - the myth provides the "essence" of the story, the truths we need to know.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think that’s close to true, but maybe not quite. If our human relationship with reality was broken “from the beginning”, then we would still be in need of an outside assist to bring us back into harmony, even though (in this counter-Catholic scenario) the broken relations did not arise from some post-Creation catastrophic event.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If our human relationship with reality was broken “from the beginning”, then we would still be in need of an outside assist to bring us back into harmony, even though (in this counter-Catholic scenario) the broken relations did not arise from some post-Creation catastrophic event.

            So then, through no fault of our own, we are cast into a world in which life is nasty, brutish, and short. Why would an all-good God do this?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Beats me!! How the hell would I know?

          • fightforgood

            The nasty and brutish seem to trace to sin. Which would mean it was not God who made (makes) life this way as creation would be the sinners.
            I know quoting scripture is pointless on a site such as this, but I think this relates here, though I expect confusion. Just consider 'death' is 'from sin' in the below.
            Take care,
            Mike

            From the Book of wisdom -

            Wis 1:13-14, 2:24

            God did not make death,

            nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

            For he fashioned all things that they might
            have being;

            and the creatures of the world are wholesome,

            But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,

            and they who belong to his company experience it.

          • David Nickol

            But the Catechism is quite clear on the matter, it seems to me:

            390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

            If our "first parents" "freely committed" some fault, it seems clear to me there had to be a time before they committed it during which they were without blame.

          • fightforgood

            Certainly. Curious to your point if other than to point out there was time before the first sin.

          • David Nickol

            Some claim that various evils such as contagious diseases and cancer are the result of the sin of Adam and Eve, but we know there were diseases before humans came on the scene. We know that "nature red in tooth and claw" (e.g., the need for predators to kill prey in order to survive) goes back millions of years before humans existed. So these negative aspects of nature can't be blamed on sin.

          • fightforgood

            Thanks for the clarification. I would agree, if the 'first parents' received a bug bite or sting (or were hunted), it could have caused a problem unrelated to sin. But I can also see the possibility that before sin, the relationship between God and creation was perfect, or more perfect than after sin, and thus in that 'more connected' relationship between God and creation, though nature freely moves, it was in lockstep with 'wholesome' due to a tight bond with all of reality. A bond which loosens with sin.
            Also, though there was the possibility for disease due to the effects of nature to function before humans, if we are to go down the path of 'first parents' from the Christian perspective, we would be carrying with us the environment revealed, which is described as 'paradise'. In a simple form, one could conclude that any sort of paradise in this instance, is not our sandy beaches we like to be near (with all the disease and pain possible), but even more perfect and thus an area possibly without the effects of the rest of nature and it's potential disease.
            Then introduce sin and the humans are now thrust into that already built creation, kicked out of that paradise.
            So disease, and other pains maybe not an effect from sin, but humans or more of nature (maybe that paradise) might be introduced to disease and other problems because of sin.
            If that makes any sense.
            Take care,
            Mike

    • David Hardy

      Humanism is grounded in nothing except affectation - it is sentimental individualism at best.

      A good portion of modern secular humanism is drawn from the ideas of psychotherapist Alfred Adler, who influenced the research of Carl Rogers, who in turn helped start the interest in "Positive Psychology", the study of what promotes positive mental qualities in humans. While this research often comes to the lay person without the same training to discern good research from bad, it remains an important foundation to humanism. It is not a purely individual "I decide what is right" mentality, but draws from a range of findings on what actually promotes moral and mental strength in people, which have entered into the cultural value system.

      • nicholas cotta

        Okay well I didn't realize moral and mental strength was the telos. Scratch all the axiomatic/telos talk from my screed.

        • David Hardy

          Of course. Thank you for the reply.

      • Cminor

        Whoa. That explanation still leaves us in the dark as to how it's decided that these "mental qualities" are "positive", and what constitutes "moral strength". Sounds kinda subjective.

        • David Nickol

          Sam Harris makes an analogy between physical health and "moral health" (which I may not do justice here, because I have not paid much attention to Sam Harris). We don't need divine guidance to come up with a pretty adequate and objective idea of what physical health is (although it may be more difficult than it at first seems). So perhaps we don't need divine guidance and religion to tell us what kind of behavior (morally) leads to "human flourishing."

          Sounds kinda subjective.

          Determining what God wants seems to me to be about as subjective as anything I can think of. It is not as if looking up what Thomas Aquinas said is being "objective."

          • Cminor

            "Determining what God wants seems to me to be about as subjective as anything I can think."
            It may be; however, that doesn't make the views of Adler and Rogers on what constitutes morality any less so. Anyhow, from what I've read of your comments I gather you benefitted from a Catholic education and thus I've no doubt are familiar with the influence of classical philosophy and the role of reason on Catholic theology; surely you're aware that the whole process isn't as subjective as all that.

            If Harris's analogy was as presented, it seems dissatisfyingly simplistic. Defining morality in a given case is a bit more complex than coming up with general parameters for the lack of disease, and in either case the capacity for human reason is often overridden by the capacity for human self-delusion.

        • David Hardy

          Generally speaking, a behavior is designated as moral in so far as it is pro-social, or immoral as it is anti-social. Negative mental qualities include those that impair a person from being able to complete basic required or desired tasks, such as work, home life, forming relationships to others. These include severe anxiety, depression and the like. Positive qualities promote these abilities, including a sense of well being, confidence and similar traits. As with any position on morality and mental strength, there is a subjective element, but this is grounding in specific results produced in part by the qualities and how they are being expressed.

          EDIT: Slight word change for clarity.

          • Cminor

            Speaking as the parent of a probable Asperger´s adult with an awful lot of quirky, creative, difficult people among my family and in-laws, it's really not all that simple, believe me. Anyway, if you look at it from the point of natural selection, one population's innovation may be the downfall of another's. Which is why I'm naturally skeptical of any entity claiming to have the inside track on the question (see also my comment re self-delusion above; the history of science is rife with hard-nosed scientists who put their foot in it for reasons that had little to do with evidence).
            No question I approach this from the position of belief, but I've also seen little reason to assume that an iron-age desert tribe might not on some levels have wisdom that equals or surpasses us jaded postmoderns.
            Now if you'll excuse me, I have a closet door that needs hangin'.

          • David Hardy

            You seem to assume that I have not had my share of difficult and quirky people, including those with Asperger's Disorder and other mental illness diagnoses, and this is why I hold the view that I do. Yet mental health diagnoses were developed by people who rely on the definitions I have given for mental strength, because these are the general definitions used in the mental health field, and experience with people who have these diagnoses has not led to a dismissal of the definitions, nor prevented mental health professionals from helping them for lack of understanding. On the moral side, morality has to do with how we treat living things. There is no moral consequence to kicking a rock, unless it hits something alive or damages the property of a person, for example. Also, I am giving a general definition: like any definition of human nature, it requires the person using it to adapt it to the situation.

            Anyway, if you look at it from the point of natural selection, one population's innovation may be the downfall of another's.

            I am not sure the specific way you are meaning this. Please give my a specific example of this occurring.

    • Humanism is an ethical framework that values humans, the lives of human beings and their well being, dignity and freedom above all else. This is not simply affectation. It is a pretty well-developed ethical practice with reference to shared values.

      Asking where axioms come from misunderstands what axioms are.

      Look both Catholicism and humanism will be incomplete. Humanists acknowledge these limits and reference these axioms which are virtually universally accepted. Catholics defer their ignorance on what we are and upon what are our values based to God. If no god exists, to their ethicl framework is a house of cards.

      • nicholas cotta

        Virtually universally accepted is ridiculous if you consider humanity over the course of our history. Plato's Republic thinks it is not only perfectly legitimate to expose unwanted infants (especially 'defective' ones), but a positive good for a healthy society. You would be hard pressed to find advanced thinking in any society except for Christian and Post-Christian society that didn't value the strong over the weak - matter of fact, Nietzsche recognized this and also proposed its natural solution: will-to-power. The inability to recognize how incredibly subjective these "near universally accepted values" are and how they leak over time is the reason behind my frog-boiling analogy.
        I would agree with your sentiment on both being "incomplete" if you don't consider God a completion. I also agree that Catholicism is a house of cards if God does not exist. Humanism is a house of cards though that relies on the human will, specifically the human will of the strong, that when they attain power they will look after the weak. I guess we're both making a bet of sorts. Catholicism is betting that God exists as they describe and through relinquishing our will to him, we can overcome the natural human inclination toward selfishness. Humanism is making a bet that humans are naturally unselfish. That would be the main contrast in our axioms.

        • I'm not talking about history, I'm talking about now. I agree these axioms are subjective, but they are not arbitrary, nor are they controversial.

          Humanism that I practice accepts that humans are naturally selfish and generous and compassionate. It simply takes the position that human life and well-being is paramount, suffering to be avoided. Once you accept these axioms, you can be objective in your application of them. I would suggest that even the exposure of babies in The Republic was based on this kind of an axiom, though I thoroughly disagree with the assessment of relative worth. I would say the suffering imposed on the parents of these children would outweigh the hoped for benefit of the eugenics prescribed.

          I think it bears keeping in mind that belief in a religious foundation to morality or a worldview in no way prevents atrocities. From ISIS to the ancient Greeks who did expose babies, to Catholics burning heretics, all believed they were behaving morally and according to religious foundations of their morality.

          • nicholas cotta

            A utilitarian worldview with a telos of avoiding suffering is coherent to a great extent, but that is not secular humanism. Secular humanism holds not only toward a common good of non-suffering, but also an individual's right to self-determination. What do you do with a situation like adultery? Is a man free to choose to cheat on his wife causing her harm and her children? What if I choose to live my life as a nude beggar - is that allowed for it is probably not for the common good, i.e. the path of least suffering for the whole. There is a tension between individual utility and group ultity that will ultimately clash in to arbitrary randomness in the secular worldview. I shouldn't say random, because 'random' just means the strong decides. Eventually, all of these clashes results in ultimately a telos of the strong. While Christianity can be performed both individually and collectively out of proportion (burning heretics), there is always an objective and transcendent principle of common good, i.e. God in which humans can conform to. This principle also is the only one in the history of the world's moral philosophies that either prizes strength or doesn't desert the weak.

          • You are right, utilitarianism and secular humanism are not the same thing, but they are compatible. Indeed there are tensions between individual desires and social benefits. These are moral issues. They are difficult and require gauging the interests and desires or the individuals and groups. This is also a problem for theistic morality and world views as well.

            You say there is an objective moral principle the common good, but what is your basis for this conclusion? Even more, how and why to you equate common good with god? You claim that this is an objective principle, but you cannot justify that claim.

            Take a moral conclusion, take the strongest one you can think of, say "torturing a baby for fun is wrong", why do you say it is wrong? How do you know it is objectively wrong as opposed to being your opinion that it is wrong?

          • nicholas cotta

            "These are moral issues"
            I assume this refers to ethics/proportionality, weighing potential goods. The problem with this is that ultimately the "goods" are not compatible - group utility and individual autonomy are ultimately incoherent and this will bear out in time (when we find out before then how some pigs are more equal than others, etc).
            In Catholic thought, the common good is God, and explaining God in terms of a moral system can get a bit fuzzy if one does not believe in him as an ontological reality. If one does, then there is simply orienting ourselves and God toward his objective goodness (through prayer, reason, the life of the Church, etc.). Goodness in secular humanism is thought of as an abstraction, a concocted telos and is not even in the same league as thinking of moral goodness as an actual entity outside of ourselves which we would conform to. Catholic morality is closer to natural science's pursuit of the truth of the universe i.e., it exists out there and we reveal it and thus there is no coherence because goodness is not really an idea to be figured out or weighed.
            Obviously this is wading in to the theological so I'll cease as we are too far apart here.

          • "If one does, then there is simply orienting ourselves and God toward his
            objective goodness (through prayer, reason, the life of the Church,
            etc.)."

            "Simply?" how is that? If such an objective morality exists, we do not have access to it, nor can we confirm our moral decisions are in alignment with it or not. I imagine that thousands of Catholics, if not millions, believed that the persecution, torture, and killing of heretics was not only moral, but an objectively good duty of humans, and was in alignment with objective morality. Why has this perspective changed? Because Catholics weigh these things differently now than they did a thousand years ago. God would not have changed, scripture would not have, the tradition would not have. Rather, Catholics no longer consider burning people to death for the exercise of Freedom of Religion to be a moral act.

  • Ian G

    Is Strange Notions losing its edge? I ask because both this post and the one that preceded it (Is Atheism wishful thinking?) are pretty thin stuff. I assume that both sides of the argument have probably just had "off-days".

    • Galorgan

      To be fair, the other side (atheists) rarely get articles from that point of view (which is fine, it's not our site). Moreover "we" don't get to choose those articles.

      • Hey, Galoran! Thanks for the comment. Please see my response to Ian above. I invite your own submissions.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ian. We have to balance the "thin" with the "thick" here. We have hundreds of thousands of readers, from all sort of backgrounds.

      We also have over 450 posts in the archives, so if you aren't satisfied by a particular new post, I suggest digging into those.

      That said, I've repeatedly issued an open invitation for our atheist readers and commenters to submit articles. I believe in the past two years, I've received one. Most of the atheist commenters are quick to lament the quality of articles, or complain they are unfairly represented, but with few exceptions, they are unwilling to do anything about it.

      I won't judge whether they lack the time or initiative, or whether they're afraid to place their own opinions in the limelight where they can be fairly criticized.

      Whatever the case, my invitation remains. Any atheist who would like to write and submit an article can email it to contact@strangenotions.com and, assuming it meets a minimum level of charity and seriousness, we'd be happy to share it.

      (Note: Merely suggesting we re-post an article from elsewhere isn't the same as submitting your own article. It's a time-consuming and often fruitless process to track down an author, contact him, and receive permission to re-post the article. I've done this many, many times, and it mostly ends with the website/magazine/author refusing permission.)

      • Mike

        It's MUCH easier to edit (aka criticize) a book than to actually write one if you know what i mean.

      • Ian G

        Thanks Brandon. This was a very generous reply to a comment of mine which I thought was borderline snarky. Two points from me. Firstly I should stress I find that SN is normally a very rich source for Catholic/Atheist debate and I have learned a lot from many of the articles here. Secondly, I am not myself on the atheist side of the debate here: rather I am a very joyful Catholic, albeit struggling with my own failings. That said, I don't expect to be submitting anything from an atheist perspective any time in the near future.

  • ferlalf

    "My god was not even the original one..We accept science."

    If one accepts that ideas progress and that they are refined over time why should the God of Judaism be the first one? If ideas advance surely our understanding of God advances too and the 200th notion of God is superior to the 1st notion of God.

  • The point that I draw from this is that people can be humanists for entirely irrational reasons. It's hardly news to Catholics or anyone else that the Hebrews were influenced by their surrounding cultures, or that their theology developed over time. It is plainly a non-sequitor to say that if the Hebrews BC era understanding of God was flawed then so too is present day Catholicism's understanding of God. If the early Hebrews were henotheists, it certainly does not follow that Catholics are obliged to be as well.

    It's also quite ironic that the author simply accepted what he regards as the critical facts on the basis of professorial authority. It certainly doesn't appear that he investigated the matter for himself. As a personal testimony of how he came to his current faith, this is interesting, if only because it demonstrates that some faiths are in fact forms of blind faith.

    • David Nickol

      It's hardly news to Catholics or anyone else that the Hebrews were influenced by their surrounding cultures, or that their theology developed over time.

      I went to Catholic schools (and, I believe, very good ones) in the 1950s and early 1960s, and (like the author of the OP), these were things I was not taught. Since "conservative" Catholics today are constantly bemoaning the poor "catechization" of contemporary Catholics, I would imagine the average Catholic today knows little if anything about the early Hebrews and their beliefs to those of contemporary cultures.

      As for theology "developing over time," I think the impression of most Catholics is that God spoke directly to the major biblical figures and told them what he wanted them to know! To those of us who were educated to believe that, the more modern theories of how the Old Testament came to be sound like rationalizations designed to hang on to old discredited ideas and texts. Yes, they were interpreted literally for two thousand years, but now we know that they are figurative and symbolic, but they are still true!

      I am not saying contemporary Catholic interpretations are necessarily wrong. What I am saying is that a lot of what I was taught in Catholic school, and a lot of what I am sure contemporary (and poorly "catechized") Catholics believe doesn't stand up in the face of contemporary scholarship. This is why so many "conservative" Catholics are scandalized by the New American Bible!

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I went to Catholic schools (and, I believe, very good ones) in the 1950s and early 1960s, and (like the author of the OP), these were things I was not taught.

        I also went to Catholic schools that were very good. These things were not taught. My school was also very conservative.

        Since "conservative" Catholics today are constantly bemoaning the poor "catechization" of contemporary Catholics, I would imagine the average Catholic today knows little if anything about the early Hebrews and their beliefs to those of contemporary cultures.

        To my mind, the conservatives are responsible for the poor catechesis. They teach that XYZ is true, but then use more liberal interpretations when skeptics are painting them in a corner.

      • maribu

        "I would imagine the average Catholic today knows little if anything
        about the early Hebrews and their beliefs to those of contemporary
        cultures."

        I suspect your right. However, many current Catholic Bible studies do discuss the cultural and historical context at the time a book was written, to aid in understanding the author's intent. I haven't taken any studies on Old Testament books, so I don't know if they cover the beliefs of contemporary cultures. There is so much to study there that it could probably be a year-long course in itself. To me, knowing all the contemporary beliefs is interesting, but not critical unless you're an apologist -- there are just so many things to study about the Bible and religion in general. I certainly don't know that you could say that a school or course was remiss in not covering the contemporary beliefs of the early O.T., unless it was a "Development of Judaism" or "Comparative Religions" course.

      • "I think the impression of most Catholics is that God spoke directly to
        the major biblical figures and told them what he wanted them to know!"

        I don't know if this is true or not (it's not true of most Catholics I know), but it's certainly not the case that the Catholic Church teaches that inspiration is necessarily some kind of mediumism or dictation.

        Moreover, it is quite odd to assume that Christians always interpreted it "literally" (by which I suppose you mean that in the sense that the human authors understood it) rather than figuratively or symbolically. Especially the Old Testament. Christianity initially distinguished itself from Judaism precisely by asserting that the OT is true in a cryptic and typological way--ie., that the truth the OT conveys is one that could not have been understood except in light of the coming of Christ.

        Anyway, Irenaeus asserted quite clearly the progressive historical nature of revelation in the second century; Gregory of Nyssa discarded the historical sense of many of the OT atrocities; Augustine maintained that the Scriptures should not be interpreted in a way that conflicts with science. None of this is new. It's not even true that ancient Jewish hermeneutics were excessively literal.

        Anyone who thinks that Christians had a generally fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture until relatively recently only thinks that because they don't even have a cursory understanding of the history of Christianity (or at least exegesis). Unfortunately that can include not only unbelieving skeptics but also, too often, well meaning believers. I certainly agree that deficient Catholic educations are frequently at fault here.

        • David Nickol

          I don't know if this is true or not (it's not true of most Catholics I know), but it's certainly not the case that the Catholic Church teaches that inspiration is necessarily some kind of mediumism or dictation.

          I wasn't referring to inspiration of the biblical authors. I was referring to accounts of God speaking directly to (or conversing with) human beings in the Old Testament.

          It would be interesting to take a survey of all the "orthodox" Catholic here and ask them if they believe, for example, that God actually spoke to Abraham, commanded him to sacrifice Isaac, and then stopped him from doing so at the last minute. My guess, based on discussions we have had previously, is that most Catholics here will say the story of Abraham and Isaac is literally true.

          Did God actually speak to Adam and Eve (or our "first parents," whoever they might have been), Moses, Abraham and Sarah, Lot, and Noah?

          A great deal is often made of Exodus 3:14:

          God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.

          Did God, from a burning bush, actually speak those words to Moses?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As I understand it, a statement is “literally” true if it is true when interpreted “in the most obvious sense”. (I assume you will agree that a “literal” interpretation need not be an interpretation with a physical referent.) What would be “the most obvious sense” of the phrase, “God spoke”?

            Surely “the obvious sense” of the phrase does not entail God using vocal cords, since it is (or should be) obvious that God does not have vocal cords. Nor does “God spoke” obviously refer to God using sound waves, or anything like that.

            I think there is a somewhat “obvious meaning” to “God spoke", but I don’t want to distract from my general point, which is that a “literal” interpretation doesn’t necessarily correspond to an interpretation such as would be portrayed in a Charlton Heston movie. Unless that nuance is recognized, I think people are likely to end up speaking past each other in responding to your informal survey.

          • David Nickol

            As I understand it, a statement is “literally” true if it is true when interpreted “in the most obvious sense”. (I assume you will agree that a “literal” interpretation need not be an interpretation with a physical referent.)

            I see I should have avoided the word literally and stuck with actually, since you insist on being so literal!

            For the Abraham and Isaac story, I would say that it "actually" happened if there were real individuals behind the story (whatever their real names may have been), Abraham actually received a message from God in some manner or another (not just believed he received a message), that he actually made preparations to sacrifice Isaac, and that in some manner or another, God communicated to him that His original request for a sacrifice was rescinded.

            There have been a number of discussions in which the skeptics and atheists have criticized the actions of God as cruel, and the believers here have never said, "Wait, wait, wait! It's symbolic! God didn't really tell Abraham to sacrifice his son. The meaning of the story is that Abraham's faith was so great that he would have obeyed such an order. But it is not necessary to believe that God actually gave that order!" Atheists here are often criticized for being "fundamentalists" (or "funds"), and occasionally with some justification. But it is my sense that "Strange Notions" Catholics would agree that the story of Abraham and Isaac is something that actually happened in very much the way it is described in the Bible.

            As for Moses, I would apply much the same criteria. First, was there such a person as Moses? Did he have an authentic encounter with God? Did God communicate to him in some supernatural manner? Is the name "I AM" something that was communicated from God to Moses?

            Again, we have had many discussions in which the atheists and skeptics have expressed strong disapproval of God's actions in the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues, and "Strange Notions" Catholics have never (to my knowledge) argued that God did not speak to Moses, or that God did not send plagues against the Egyptians, or that God did not "harden Pharaoh's heart."

          • To my mind, the question depends on the original historical sense. In the case of legend, for instance, we need not necessarily insist on the historical existence of certain personages. However, accounts that are intended by the original authors to be historical--say, the theophany on the road to Damascus--would be an instance of God directly speaking to a human being.

            So the question would be more about what the original human author intended to convey within structures of the genre he employs than a disbelief that God talks to human beings. Given the existence of God, God of course has the ability to speak to people. That's not incompatible with the progressive nature of revelation and the development of human understanding through time.

          • David Nickol

            Do you think Abraham got a message from God to sacrifice Isaac, obeyed up until the last minute, and then spared Isaac when God intervened?

            Or does it make a difference? If the story is to teach some spiritual truth, then the only thing that matters is the lesson of the story, not whether it actually happened?

            But then again, how far can that principle be taken? Suppose everything in the Pentateuch is myth with great religious significance but no basis whatsoever in history?

          • What do I think personally? I think the story belongs to the genre of legend, and I'm entirely unsure that there was an Abraham. But I haven't studied the matter closely, and I suppose I could be convinced that the author believed there was an Abraham, and that Abraham is in fact a historical person. In either case, the way I interpret the story is pretty much in line with Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling."

            As to the Pentateuch as a whole, it contains a variety of genres.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Yes, they were interpreted literally for two thousand years,

        But were they? Or were those literal interpretations more characteristic of the excesses of the Counter-Reformation (which excesses found perhaps heightened expression in immigrant Catholic America)? From what I understand, the relatively clean line that we have between literal reporting and evocative metaphor simply did not exist during or before the Middle Ages. It was all muddled together. Everyone expected it to be muddled together. That's what N.T. Wright claims about the interpretive framework of Second Temple Jews, in any case. I’m sure this is a broad and simplistic caricature, but it is perhaps a better caricature than the one that assumes that idiosyncratic 1950s American Catholicism represents the heart of the tradition.

        The tragedy, it seems to me, is that so-called “Conservative Catholicism” (as typified, for the sake of argument, by 1950s American Catholicism) is not really that conservative. It seems to be somewhat out of step (seriously so, in some cases) with the broad tradition of the first millennium and a half or so. (I have my complaints about so-called “Liberal Catholicism” too, but that’s a separate topic).

    • Galorgan

      To echo David's and Ignatius' point, I too went to Catholic school all my life (Pre-K to Grad School). Both High School and College were Jesuit. I never learned any of this in school or at church. Moreover, my conception of God/Jesus must have been so limited that the arguments by Dawkins et al actually were convincing. I find more fault with them now than I did at that point. So yes, as Brian says below, these aren't good reasons for atheism, but just doubt starters. Additionally, I'm sure Catholics do know THAT Hebrews were influenced by their surrounding cultures. However, the idea that most Catholics know the specifics or even the extent of the influence of other cultures on the religion is wishful thinking.

  • David Nickol

    . . . . if Constantine had chosen a different deity to inspire his soldiers to conquest, Christianity would not have flourished in the Roman Empire . . . .

    Of course, we don't know what would have happened if Constantine had made different choices. Christianity might have flourished in some other way. Even if it had lingered as a minority religion (like Judaism), that does not make it untrue.

  • Taken on face value, these are not very good reasons for atheism. They are decent reasons for questioning one's theism. But just because a god concept is the one handed down does not mean it is not true. Or because it arose out of a different theology. What is a good reason is the discovery that ones theism lacks a sufficient foundation and defaulting to lack of belief. But I think this is implied.

    One can be a theist humanist, too, what is advanced here is secular humanism, which is incompatible with theism.

    • Phil Rimmer

      It is very much a personal journey of passing interest and no great general rigour.

      Quakers (my go to example of religion with human centred moral thinking) and a number of Catholics are humanists. But the Magisterium of the RCC and Humanism are mutually exclusive at a number of key points.

  • TomD123

    The author's argument seems to me to be almost a textbook example of the genetic fallacy. The origin of Jewish beliefs, specifically in a monotheistic God are irrelevant to the truth of those beliefs.

    The only exception to this is if Jews or Christians made a special claim about the origin of that belief. Which, with regards to the existence of a monotheistic divinity, no such claim exists.

    So, maybe Christianity and Judaism are incorrect in holding certain beliefs about the Old Testament God. BUT, this argument should be seen for what it is: informally fallacious.

  • maribu

    I'm a newbie to these discussions, and don't have a degree in
    philosophy, history, or logic. I expect I'll be chewed up and spit out,
    but here goes...

    I find the author's understanding and knowledge of God very limited, and am not surprised he found it easy to discard his belief. For example,
    "I came to understand that my god was simply the one that had been passed down to me by my ancestors."
    I would argue that God has always been God -- he isn't "new" or "old",
    but eternal. Man's understanding of God has developed and evolved as man has. And just because a culture besides the ancient Hebrews figured out some aspect of God's nature first (or simultaneously) doesn't necessarily make what the Hebrews believed suspect or untrue. Given the state of civilization in ancient times, I expect that discovering the nature of God was a messy, non-linear process.

    Additionally, most people's belief in God isn't based solely on the literal, historical
    accuracy of the Old Testament, or on things in the Old Testament being completely unique to the Hebrews. Many theists recognize God's existence by simply observing the world around them -- the beauty of nature, the love in their relationships with others, or the goodness they see in others.

    From his comments, I believe the author gave up his religion because he wanted to, and found reasons to support his action. I admit that, to a large extent, I
    believe in God because I always have and want to continue to (despite being raised un-churched), and have not found any compelling "facts" or reasons not to.

    • Doug Shaver

      From his comments, I believe the author gave up his religion because he wanted to, and found reasons to support his action.

      I never wanted to give up my religion, and I wasn't looking for any reasons to give it up. But when I was confronted with the reasons, I could not ignore them.

      • maribu

        I missed that, but I take that statement the same way I would one from a teenager saying that he didn't WANT to get drunk at that party...

        I'm also taking statements like these into consideration:

        - I doubted what I was taught more than most of my friends
        - In hindsight, it appears that my subconscious was already tackling the big question.

        I think subconsciously, he was ready to grab the first excuse he could to give up his religion. And he picked some pretty flimsy ones, IMO. Of all the reasons to give up your religion, the ones that caused him to are, to me, among the weakest. If he truly didn't want to give up his religion, did he go and talk to someone in the church to see what they had to say about what he had learned, to at least get a counter-point? I just don't buy his reasons as good, solid ones that would cause someone who
        wanted to keep his faith to lose it. I also can't help but believe that his negative, somewhat snarky attitude toward his school, the retreats, and even the retreat leaders was partially there even before his class at Duke. Just MHO (and amateur psychoanalysis).

        • Ignatius Reilly

          If he truly didn't want to give up his religion, did he go and talk to someone in the church to see what they had to say about what he had learned, to at least get a counter-point?

          I had a rather conservative K-12 Catholic upbringing. I went to a more liberal Catholic college. Whenever I asked about the liberal view of scriptures or sacraments or whatever, I was told that they were either lying or misunderstanding, and that their immortal soul was in definite peril. Conservative Catholics have good replies I have not heard them.

        • Doug Shaver

          I take that statement the same way I would one from a teenager saying that he didn't WANT to get drunk at that party...

          You may take it as your dogma tells you to take it.

          I think subconsciously, he was ready to grab the first excuse he could to give up his religion. And he picked some pretty flimsy ones, IMO.

          I'm not judging the reasons offered in the OP, or the logical rigor with which they are defended. But we all believe lots of things for inadequate reasons, and it isn't always because those are the things we want to believe.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Given the state of civilization in ancient times, I expect that discovering the nature of God was a messy, non-linear process

      Then in what sense is the OT the inspired word of God and in what sense is it the work of the Hebrews beginning to understand God with some factual errors and mistakes thrown into the mix?

  • David Nickol

    Perhaps one of the problems of becoming disillusioned after a Catholic education is that you have been taught that only Catholicism has the full truth, and also Catholicism must be "swallowed whole." Once you have a significant doubt (or two or three), you can't consider yourself a Catholic any more, and once you have rejected the "one true religion," what is the point in looking elsewhere?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      In what sense is one required to swallow it whole? The standard teaching is that one is Catholic by virtue of one’s baptism, not by virtue of what one believes. It swallows you!

      • David Nickol

        The standard teaching is that one is Catholic by virtue of one’s baptism, not by virtue of what one believes.

        I have defended that point of view many times when more "conservative" commenters here have claimed that "liberal" Catholics within the Church (those who self-identify as Catholic) are, in fact, not Catholics. The "conservatives" want them to leave so they can have a "smaller, purer Church."

        However, it certainly was the case in my Catholic education that if you doubted any single dogma or doctrine, it was your responsibility to either convince yourself it was true (by studying Catholic sources or consulting priests or other believers) or basically say, "Well, I won't think about that, because I know that the Church cannot be wrong, so while I can't see the error that causes me to doubt, I know I am making one, so I just will put it out of my mind."

        Here is some information which I posted a couple of years ago and will post again below from By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard R. Gaillardetz on levels of Church teaching and the required response of the believer, from highest level to lowest level. (I changed the format, since in the book it is a chart.)

        Dogma - Assent of Faith [The believer makes an act of faith, trusting that this teaching is revealed by God.]

        Definitive Doctrine - Firm Acceptance [The believer "accepts and holds" these teachings to be true.]

        Authoritative Doctrine - "A Religious Docility of Will and Intellect" [The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of church error.]

        Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline and Prudential Admonitions - Conscientious Obedience [The believer obeys (the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdome of the law or action.]

        When an authority speaks infallibly, to doubt one of its pronouncements is to doubt them all. (Yes, I know infallibility is claimed only for dogma, but the assent required for doctrine is scarcely different from that required for dogma.)

        • Ignatius Reilly

          However, it certainly was the case in my Catholic education that if you doubted any single dogma or doctrine, it was your responsibility to either convince yourself it was true (by studying Catholic sources or consulting priests or other believers) or basically say, "Well, I won't think about that, because I know that the Church cannot be wrong, so while I can't see the error that causes me to doubt, I know I am making one, so I just will put it out of my mind."

          This was my experience as well. It is interesting that most of the nonbelievers on this site were raised Catholic and had by all accounts a good Catholic education, while most of the believers are adult converts.

  • What surprises me about this essay is that it presents no philosophical argument, but is simply a list of historical interpretations. At least Richard Dawkins, one of the new atheists, presented an argument, namely that the problem of the improbability of evolution in a single stage is solved by sub-staging, whereas the improbability of God cannot be solved by incremental development. One reason Dawkins’ argument failed is because he quite lucidly demonstrated an increase in the efficiency of mutation due to the gradualism of sub-staging and not an increase in the probability of evolutionary success.

    • Phil Rimmer

      One reason Dawkins’ argument failed is because he quite lucidly demonstrated an increase in the efficiency of mutation due to the gradualism of sub-staging and not an increase in the probability of evolutionary success.

      I don't understand the failure. Can you tease this out a little more? Are you saying aggregated "sub-staging" does not lead to evolutionary success? Is this a micro but not macro evolution argument?

      • I am not making a distinction between micro and macro evolution, nor am I saying that sub-staging does not lead to evolutionary
        success. What Dawkins claims is that replacing a single stage of random mutation and natural selection with a series of sub-stages solves ‘the problem of improbability’ of a single, overall stage, i.e. sub-staging increases evolutionary success. If his argument within evolution is mathematically false, it can have no relevance to ‘the improbability of God’.
        Dawkins gives a numerical illustration of a single stage affecting three mutation sites of six mutations each replaced by a series of three sub-stages, each of which affects one of the sites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW1rVGgFzWU.
        There is no change in the probability of success due to the series of sub-stages. However, mutational efficiency in favor of sub-stages increases the higher the level of evolutionary success. Eighteen
        random mutations per sub-stage for a total of fifty-four random mutations, yield an overall probability of evolutionary success of 89.15%. To achieve the 89.15% level of probability of success, the single, one-off stage requires 478 random mutations https://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/what-every-high-school-student-must-know-about-evolution/. Dawkins has mistaken this increase in mutational efficiency for an increase in the probability of evolutionary success.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Dawkins, in the three combination lock analogy (for children!) is quite clear that survival (a bit of money) is enhanced at each sub-stage. This means a greater number of two tumbler locks than three tumbler locks will come to exist if the right first tumbler key is found. This increased number get to experience random key mutations. The next key is, therefore, found more readily than the first, creating one tumbler locks in even greater profusion, with even more chances of experiencing the right third key mutation.

          The sub-stages create a geometrically (not additively) enhanced ability to achieve a known complex end stage.

          Note this only works if reproductive fitness is indeed advanced at each sub-stage. The evolution of the eye is just such a sub-staged evolution, but it is important to note that the phenotype of each sub-stage may be associated by a degree of wandering in habitat, resource usage and behaviours that complement best (and indeed selectively drove) the sub-stage attributes.

          Because a greater number of possible mutations are thus co-opted by the increasing fitness, for any given rate of mutation the end result is achieved more rapidly.

          There are numerous ways of describing the process. Dawkins as a populariser may well take the Feynman view of education that creating an impression of understanding in kids is more important than adding too much detail and discouraging them.

          If you are really interested in the subject I can recommend Andreas Wagner's new book "Arrival of the Fittest". This covers his team's researches into the possible solution space of "combination locks" (proteins and the like) that shows solutions are possibly a million fold more common than once thought and that (different but equally good) solutions are spread usefully over the possible space and organised in ways that support the sub-staging (if you will) of multifunction (inter-related) genes allowing refinements in one function without necessarily harming other dependent functions.

          Edit. If you are making a teleological argument for a specified future outcome, rather than running any given evolutionary outcome backwards to find some least effort process, then that's just weird.

          Edit. Fourth paragraph added.

          • Using common jargon, the probability that the top card of a shuffled deck will be the three of diamonds is generally agreed to be 1/52 = 1.9%. The probability that in fifty-two shuffles that at least once the top card will be the three of diamonds is 63.6%. If I have fifty-two people each shuffle a deck simultaneously, they will reach a probability of 63.6% faster than if I alone shuffle a deck fifty-two times. The group of fifty-two shufflers is more efficient than I am alone. Notice that the greater number of random generators does not change the probability.

            Falsehood should not be a means of educating children. On page 122 of “The God Delusion”, Dawkins is not addressing children. Even the phrasing of his conclusion, namely, “in no time”, indicates the efficiency of mutation, not an increase in the probability of success, which he erroneously claims to be illustrating. The arithmetical principles are the same whether one considers three mutation sites of six mutations each or some number of base pair sites of a genome, where each base pair site is characterized by four mutations. Dawkins’ illustration of a multiple dial lock validly represents the concept of genetic mutation sites, subject to random mutation, as well as the concept of natural selection. He misunderstands the arithmetic.

            Granted that it may be dismissed as jargon, yet, notice the seductiveness of your expression, ‘will come to exist’ in your illustration of mutational efficiency. It is an error to think that the biological success of natural selection terminates probability and consolidates a random mutational gain, such that the next stage of random mutation begins a new and ontologically independent phase of probability. The error is perceiving probability as ontological, when probability is solely logical, a mathematical concept.

            Perceiving probability as ontological is a common error, not confined to biology. Another university professor, Sean Carroll, in a lecture, neither on the topic of biology nor addressed to children, quite clearly, but erroneously, identifies probability as ontological http://www.catholicstand.com/fine-tuning-existence-god-multiverse/.

          • Phil Rimmer

            " He misunderstands the arithmetic."

            No. He understands very well. The expression "..a little bit of money.." shows this. It is a meaningless assertion otherwise. Your card model is incompletely described. Having 52 shufflers will net a winning three of diamonds sooner. The probability of finding the winning card is higher at some shorter time. With either on-going process the probability of turning up the three of diamonds approaches one more or less rapidly. (Perhaps this latter point is the one we are actually debating. Given endless time and that an outcome is theoretically possible the probability of such an outcome is one.....so what?)*

            To hammer home the improved speed of relieving selection pressures. More mutations are tested if more bacteria (say) are created early on.

            Education proceeds in steps that are necessarily incomplete, especially early on. (Breaking education down into little steps of knowledge improvement is starting to appear like a mirror process, except with reduced losses rather than gains....)

            Play teleology if you wish, but relief of selection pressures does not mean a specific outcome, just a "relieved" more viable outcome. A "selection pressure" is a pressure that compromises viability.

            "Perceiving probability as ontological" is a bizarre phrasing. Did you mean something like scientific ontologies are often/all/partially probabalistic?

            It is an error to think that the biological success of natural selection terminates probability and consolidates a random mutational gain, such that the next stage of random mutation begins a new and ontologically independent phase of probability.

            For genetic replication to work the mutation rate needs to be tiny, else too many viable (and yet more viable) mutations are lost. Any mathematical approach to the problem shows that if it incorporates models of random threats/pressures, survival is only possible over a very narrow range of nearly perfect replications, with flourishing somewhere in the middle of this narrow range. Interestingly evolving to evolve may have some traction at the single cell level and allow a zeroing in on the most useful rates that still held for multi-celled entities...

            Edit. Quote added to better explain the purpose of the last paragraph. Mutations that improve viability are mostly secure given the very low actual mutation rates. Duff mutations get selected out quickly though.

            Edit re-wrote para one.

            Edit * added.

          • The ‘little bit of money’ is simply a visual sign to ‘the burglar’ to terminate subjecting one mutation site to random mutation and to initiate the subjection of the next site in the series to random mutation. It would be a self-contradiction to view the ‘money’ as a material outcome, which, as a material fact, erases the probability due to random mutation by achieving a probability of 100%.

            Probability is a logical concept within the mathematics of sets. It is the fractional concentration of an element in a logical set. One hundred percent probability applies only to sets of homogeneous elements. Probability is a rate, but not a temporal rate. Probability is not a function of time and therefore cannot be affected by time or temporal efficiency. The asymptote of 100% probability cannot be attained in non-homogenous sets by increasing the number of random mutations.

            Fitness is pure teleology. Probability has nothing to do with teleology. I inferred the concept of ontological probability from Sean Carroll’s terminology of ontological extravagance. Ontological probability is a concise expression of his assessment of probability as a material reality rather than as it truly is, merely a concept in the logic of the mathematics of sets.

            It is crucial to understanding probability to see the distinction between mutational efficiency and probability.

            The daily number illustrates this distinction quite well. The daily number involves three mutation sites of ten mutations each. Its probability is 0.1%. Typically, the number is formed using three random generators to the base ten, which requires a total of three random mutations. The daily number could be generated by a single random numbers generator to the base one thousand. The formation by the single generator would require only one random mutation. In terms of formation of the daily number, the single generator is greater in mutational efficiency than the series of three generators. The probability of the daily number, in contrast, is the same in both instances.

            The construction of the series of three generators requires a total of only thirty mutations (typically ping pong balls), while construction of the single generator to the base one thousand would require one thousand mutations. From the perspective of construction, the series of three generators is greater in mutational efficiency than the single generator. Yet, there is no difference in the probability of the daily number.

            Probability is unaffected by time, whereas the characteristics of material things are affected by time. Probability is unaffected by the number of random generators envisioned as forming mutations. Probability is unaffected by segregating mutation sites into subsets and then serially subjecting the segregated subsets to random mutation rather than subjecting all of the sites to completely random mutation. In contrast, mutational efficiency is affected by the segregation of mutation sites into subsets forming a series.

            It is said that performing the same material process over and over again, while expecting a different result is insanity. If this is true, then envisioning random mutation, not as a purely logical algorithm within the mathematics of sets, but rather as a material process, is insanity.

            In material simulations, probability and random mutation do not characterize material processes, but the human ignorance of the material details, e.g. in the flip of a coin or the roll of dice. The material simulation depends upon (1) logically viewing each flip and each roll as the same material process as every other flip and roll and (2) the very fact of their not being the same material process as every other flip and roll.

            The outcome of every flip and every roll is determinate, rendering science possible. For the sake of the simulation of
            solely logical relationships among logical elements and sets, we view each material outcome as logically random, where the word, logically, is redundant.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Then your point is a valueless counter to Dawkins on the improbablity of creating Gods by spontaneous self organising chance. We speak of probability in relation to a roll of the dice, a process, a cycle, or the decay of an atom in a unit of time. In infinite time (and for cyclic processes, allowing infinite cycles) the probability of this Polonium 210 atom decaying (or whatever) is one.

  • Michael Murray

    One was an amazing emotional roller-coaster called “The Encounter.” While there, we were peer-pressured to confess our most painful thoughts publicly, bonding with each other as we shared the darkest parts of our minds. Imagine teen boys dropping their alpha-male facades and crying as we took turns revealing emotional horrors and feelings of inadequacy. The most memorable story was that of a friend revealing his father’s descent into madness.

    It was okay, though; the leaders helped rebuild us with Jesus as our support. Plus, we had games and music to lighten the mood. It was a fantastic feeling of brotherhood, being together for something so powerful. Sure, we were all hungry, because little food was provided. We were exhausted as well, because they kept us up late and woke us early. Yet, for a few days, it was worth it to experience spiritual exultation. I most certainly did not see the parallels to the tools of brainwashing...yet.

    Cult brainwashing. Somebody should have sued. There is a reason I would have died in a ditch before sending my two boys to a Catholic school.

    • ferlalf

      You know the term cult is far less pejorative then you think it is.

      • Michael Murray

        How do you know what I think ? Like many words it has a number of definitions. My usage is not uncommon and I think it was clear I was intending its perjorative meaning.

      • Doug Shaver

        You know the term cult is far less pejorative then you think it is.

        That depends on who is using it and in what context. I rarely see it used without obvious pejorative intent.

        • ferlalf

          You are write that it depends. But it is used all the term in a non- pejorative way. For example star wars is a cult film. Actual religious scholars don't use the term cult so I never use the word.

          • Doug Shaver

            For example star wars is a cult film.

            That context is too different from this one to be relevant.

            My point was that we cannot say categorically that it either is or is not pejorative to call some religious group a cult. If we agree that it depends on context, then we must agree that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

            Actual religious scholars don't use the term cult so I never use the word.

            I seldom use it, but not because of scholarly practice. I don't use it in its pejorative sense because I try to avoid throwing out gratuitous insults, and it's only once in a great while that I have occasion to use it in a non-pejorative sense.

  • Peter

    "Catholicism is no more true or false than any other religion"

    Unlike any other religion, Catholicism admits openly that the existence of the Creator is known through the power of reason. Without reason at its core, Catholicism would be nothing more than pure fideism. This is what makes Catholicism so different.
    I am a Catholic first and foremost because the presence of a Creator continues to be the most parsimonious explanation for the existence of the world (i.e.universe).

    "Humanism exchanges fear for a free mind"

    While no-one is claiming that humanism does not require a free mind, it is grossly mistaken to imply that Catholicism does not demand a free mind also. It is only by opening one's mind as widely as possible to the world around it, and freely evaluating every observation and experience, that a Catholic can know the presence of the Creator. A greater knowledge of the world leads to a greater knowledge of God.

    • Doug Shaver

      Catholicism admits openly that the existence of the Creator is known through the power of reason.

      To say that one "admits" X is to presuppose that X is true. I don't deny that Catholics use reason to defend their theism, but I don't agree that the result is knowledge of God's existence.

      • Peter

        That's nothing more than your own opinion, unless you consider your reasoning to be superior to that of others.

        • Doug Shaver

          Superiority is not the issue. I believe it possible for two people who exercise their reason properly to reach contrary conclusions.

          • Peter

            OK, so we agree to differ. While I respect your conclusion, arrived at through reason, that there is no knowledge of the Creator's existence, you too ought to respect my conclusion, also arrived at through reason, that there is.

            What you cannot do is reject my conclusion that the Creator exists by appealing to my lack of reasoning, just as I cannot reject your conclusion that there is no knowledge that the Creator exists by appealing to a lack of reasoning on your part.

          • Doug Shaver

            What you cannot do is reject my conclusion that the Creator exists by appealing to my lack of reasoning, just as I cannot reject your conclusion that there is no knowledge that the Creator exists by appealing to a lack of reasoning on your part.

            Right. However, we can each critique the other's reasoning to identify what we think are the flaws in it.

          • Peter

            Of course. Seeking to identify the flaws in our respective reasoning, as to whether or not one can know that the Creator exists, is a million miles from the traditional stand-off between believer and unbeliever where the latter accuses the former of a complete lack of reason.

          • Doug Shaver

            You make a point that is, most unfortunately, very well taken. I've come to regard the "stupid believer" stereotype as sort of a secular counterpart to the "evil atheist" stereotype. Both are way too prevalent and both are absolutely without any justification.

    • Paul F

      You are making a strong distinction between faith and reason here and implying that reason is the superior. While Catholics claim that God's existence can be known by reason, remember also that the paramount doctrine of the Church is the Resurection. This the Church believes based on the accounts of the Apostles - on faith, not reason. Not to say that faith is unreasonable, but it is primary in some cases. This fact does not reduce the Church to pure fideism, but faith is a constituent part of Catholicism; and that is a good thing.

      • Peter

        There can be no faith without reason. Faith without reason is fideism. It is the rampant practice of fideism around the world which provides the oxygen for new atheism to flourish.

        Having said that, reason is not complete without faith, since it is faith which enhances one's capacity to reason clearly and objectively. Faith and reason simultaneously support each other in a reciprocal relationship.

  • Steven Jonathan

    Todd, what an amazing Odyssey, from a misconception of the one true faith to joining the independent minded herd. I would love an invitation to respond to every point you make. There is so much here that indicates the simple parroting of the categories of the modern mind. Included is a complete straw man of the Church and countless baseless wild and sweeping generalizations about the nature of history. The brainwashing comment is priceless and the assessment that all religions are the same is about as crude as I have seen, even in these senseless times.

    And, " I seriously considered founding a religion without dogma, supernaturalism, or authority." Your far too late for this one Todd. Good stuff here, thanks for posting it.

  • me, myself & I r all here

    Sad, so very sad that ones view is all about being brainwashed, while humanism is purported to set one free from brainwashing? Then what's really real, what's really true?

    • Doug Shaver

      Sad, so very sad that ones view is all about being brainwashed

      Yes, it is. It puts the responsibility for one's misjudgment onto the alleged brainwashers.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Yes, it is. It puts the responsibility for one's misjudgment onto the alleged brainwashers

        Our misjudgments do not occur in a vacuum. Certain practices within the Catholic Church are definitely emotionally manipulative if not outright brainwashing.

        • Doug Shaver

          Certain practices within the Catholic Church are definitely emotionally manipulative if not outright brainwashing.

          If you identify with any political party, so are certain of its practices. I'd say the same of nearly any institution, secular or religious, that seeks to promote an ideology.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Todd, thanks for sharing why you are not a Catholic. Could you tell us more about why you decided to become a humanist?

    • Galorgan

      Did Todd actually post this here? It says reproduced with permission. I assume he wrote this article for secular humanists and didn't originally intend it to foster dialogue between atheists and Catholics.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I suspect so as well. That being said, many republished articles are read by the authors, and some comments have attracted author responses in the past. I'm curious!

  • While there is no way to say for sure, the article does come across as having a significant degree of consistency bias weaved into it... It very well might be that his current beliefs were very much lying beneath his subconscious in Catholic school, but I am somewhat skeptical.

    The final sentence in the piece is rather odd when looking at the rest of the article. The author is ultimately not a Catholic because he is a humanist? Not quite... He appears to reject Catholicism for a number of reasons and does not even have a theistic beleif system for a number of reasons...

    The list of the perks of humanism made the author seem to be a little out of touch with human nature...

    It is nice to hear different voices on this blog. I do enjoy reading personal accounts. Thanks for the post :)

    • Michael Murray

      I assume you've seen this guy's blog

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/

      • I had heard of him and heard about his story before, but I had never visited his blog... I'm pretty sure if someone decides to do an experiment for an entire year where they are going to live like there isn't a God for an entire year, the end result is already pretty much predetermined.

        Thanks for the link. It was very thoughtful of you.

  • Michael Murray

    For people who want to find out more about Todd there is quite a lot around the internet like

    http://io9.com/how-this-millionaire-activist-is-making-atheism-the-nex-459198569

  • Terry Mushroom

    "I'd be curious to hear the author's thoughtson why the Jews have survived while the other societies in the Old Testament (OT) have long since gone. The OT Jews may have done some smiting. But it's on record that their descendants have had more than their fair share of being smitten.

    He is troubled by "the offenses of the Vatican". (Am not sure whether he means the entire Catholic Church or the city state erected in 1929. No matter) Undoubtedly, there are awful stories. I wonder how he would explain how an institution run by such a crowd of knavish imbeciles has managed to survive for more than a fortnight (two weeks?)?

    "We accept science, not supernaturalism."

    Some serious definition of terms needed here.

    "Humanism flourishes with free inquiry at the expense of dogma"

    What does this actually mean? Could it be said to actually be a dogma?

    "We thrive on love, equality, and compassion."

    Who doesn't? We should also all be nice to one another.

    Here's a thought. Where is the art inspired by atheism? The music, poetry, architecture? Where is the museum built by atheists to show the best of human creativity to the truth of atheism? Where are the groups, inspired by their atheistic beliefs, who attempt to heal and comfort?

    • neil_pogi

      quote: '"We accept science, not supernaturalism." -- atheists, will you answer if the tiny 'dot' (trillion-x smaller than you can imagine) erupted (trillion xx of a second) and gradually evolve into universe, is it science? where did it gets its energy? can you tell me what's its nature? can you tell me how this 'evolve' into the universe?

      how the universe just 'pop' out of 'nothing'? - is it science?

      how about mighty dinosaurs '(d)evolve' into a tweety bird? - is it science?

      how about the LUCA? -- did it survive the first day or few weeks in an environment without food? - is it science?

  • neil_pogi

    i just want to ask Todd if he just 'pop' out of nothing..

  • neil_pogi

    why I am not a humanist:

    1. because I know how to distinguish between right and wrong

    2. because I don't believe I just 'pop' out of nothing

    3. because I am '.. I am fearfully and wonderfully made' (Psalm 139:14)

    4. because whenever i read hundreds of pages of 'peer-reviewed' scientific journals about origins and evolution, they always conclude that they were the results of 'chance, blind and unguided processes' (because they don't know the answers, they use these as 'magic wands') :-)

    • Doug Shaver

      whenever i read hundreds of pages of 'peer-reviewed' scientific journals

      Could I trouble you for the title and author of the last peer-reviewed scientific article you read?

      • neil_pogi

        why not read some for yourself? you will encounter these phrases: '...blind and unguided processes were responsible for that'

        'it was just a happy accident that our planet has many species of life...'

        'it's just happened to be that way'

        oh, i'm so tired of reading these. no explanatory power.. just wild guesses, or just don't know the answer

        • Doug Shaver

          Could I trouble you for the title and author of the last peer-reviewed scientific article you read?

          why not read some for yourself?

          Because doing so would not answer my question.

          • neil_pogi

            'Darwin’s theory, as usually understood, is one of the most radically reductive scientific conceptions of all time, for it says that the appearance of purpose in the intricate design of living things and in their exquisite adaptation to their environments is an illusion: the whole plant and animal creation is a cosmic ACCIDENT, or rather the result of a very long chain of ACCIDENTS, explainable only in terms of the NON-PURPOSIVE laws of particle physics. That the process ever got started, with the formation of a suitable self-replicating molecule, seems to have depended on a chemical ACCIDENT, though it is not possible at present to construct a realistic scenario that makes PROBABLE its occurrence in the time available since the earth began. And it seems radically contingent that, having begun, the process should have followed a path that included the appearance of vertebrates, mammals and ourselves. All this is obscured by the purposive-sounding JUST-SO stories by which evolution is often explained.' - Excerpts from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n07/thomas-nagel/why-so-cross

            so many words accident, probable, non-purposive, etc (appearance, illusion) - because he don't know the answer, that's why these magic words are often repeatedly read in evolutionary and origins 'sciene' books, no explanatory power.

            why afraid of using words such as DESIGN, PURPOSE ?

  • M J

    We give our lives meaning through how we live them. -- Hitler would agree.

    Humanism respects people, not ideas. ... We thrive on love, equality, and compassion. -- What proof do you have of equality? And doesn't "love" need to be defined, therefore involve some kind of idea or doctrine? & what compassion would you have if you are incorrect in your disbelief of a Divine source? If God exists, then what is more compassionate to your fellow man than struggling with your fellow man to the greater mysteries of the world .. most confusion deals with these mysteries ... how do you deal with someone wanting to commit suicide? What is there to convince them of, they have already determined that their life is invaluable ... what do you have to offer to dissuade them?

  • Mike17

    "As a Duke University undergrad, I chose to take an elective in Old Testament history. I was amazed to hear many things that were never presented in my four years of required religious study during high school. It seemed more than coincidence that I had not been taught about the ancient pagan origins of many of the Bible stories, let alone how some of the exact phrases in the Old Testament are taken from previously existing myths. I found out that there is absolutely no extra-biblical evidence for the Jewish enslavement in Egypt or the Exodus."

    Did you just take the word of the lecturer for all this or did you actually investigate it for yourself? From the way you describe it, it sounds more like the former.

  • Kairos

    "A. Vaccari asserts that 'Moses found the use of sacrifices to be something firmly rooted in the customs of all peoples. In the tablets discovered in Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) there is reference to the same kinds of sacrifices as in the Pentateuch, even with the same names, given the affinity of the languages. In making his laws,' Vaccari says, 'Moses simply regulated and consecrated to the worship of the true God rites already in use.'
    It should be remembered that because of its geographical position Israel was open to all sorts of Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian influences and that additionally the Israelites retained very ancient cultural practices inherited from their ancestors. This entire tradition was raised, purified, and enriched over the centuries by the revelation of Sinai."
    Source: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/leviticus

    Psalm 82 read in light of John 10:34-39 (which historiography and genuine textual criticism verifies, see Brant Pitre's "The Case for Jesus") shows the actual understanding the Hebrews of the time would have had of the psalm.
    "It is not blasphemy to apply it to one of higher dignity. That one is Jesus whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, as his anointed, holy Envoy. It is not blasphemy for him to say: ‘I am the Son of God’, this being the equivalent of what he had said above. If ‘god’ is a metaphor in Ps 81:6, it does not follow that ‘Son of God’ is a metaphor here."
    Source: W. Leonard, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St John,” in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. Bernard Orchard and Edmund F. Sutcliffe (Toronto;New York;Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1953), 1001.

    A Jewish sacrifice is not made Ugaritic in substance simply because it is similar in kind; nor is a Christian cross made egyptian/norse, nor a mathematical pentagram made satanic, nor a Hindu svastika made German. The intention and purpose of the symbol is dependent on the user; not vice versa.

  • John Smith

    I'm a ex-Roman Catholic Christian, now a nonreligious skeptic. I suppose you could say I "left" the Catholic Church when I realized the historical claims Christianity made about Jesus were unsustainable and that Christianity simply wasn't true. I didn't so much have any dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church (though I had serious reservations about many of its doctrines), I simply worked out that Christianity generally was unsustainable intellectually.

    At the age of seventeen I found myself on the sidelines of a debate between my school's most annoying evangelical Christian and a skeptic. Even though I generally agreed with her (despite finding her highly irritating), I had to admit he got the better of her in the argument. Every time she tried to say "Jesus said x" or "Jesus did y" he would respond "How do you know?" She didn't have much of a response to this other than "It's in the Bible" and some rather weak assurances that the Bible's accounts were historically true.

    Given that this struck me, as a budding young historian, as a rather feeble argument, I decided to go and research the historical basis for my Christian beliefs. I was confident that once I'd done enough reading on the matter, I'd be able to hold my own against a similar skeptic's questioning. Several years later, after an enormous amount of reading and study of modern scholarship on the question of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity, I realized that Jesus was not the Son of God and the second person of the Holy Trinity, but was actually Yeshua ben Yosef, a Jewish rabbi and apocalyptic prophet and that Christianity was a gentile religion that evolved out of a Jewish end times sect.

    A few more years and a philosophy degree later and I also realized I could no longer sustain a belief in any religion.

    So while I'm not a bitter ex-Catholic and am not an atheist, I have no regrets at all about leaving the Catholic Church and abandoning religious belief. My Catholic upbringing and education has given me an understanding of religious faith and a very solid knowledge of the Bible (better than most Christians I come across) as well as a good understanding of western history, since it was so heavily influenced by Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. But my philosophical stance these days is humanism.

    I identify myself as an agnostic with some possible deistic leanings because I do consider deism but I don't claim to know the exact origin of the universe.

  • Theophilos

    I am seeking to understand, and perhaps prompt some thinking. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and have been studying The Way for quite some time. You say:

    "Humanism flourishes with free inquiry at the expense of dogma. We thrive on love, equality, and compassion."

    How does humanism thrive on love, equality, and compassion without any sort of core truths (dogma)? Science says that people are not made equally--physically, intellectually, etc. Compassion and love were neglected in order for humans to thrive as a population. Inequality, violence, hate, and competition are the innate nature of humanity, which is why there are even country borders. It was not until Jesus came where women were considered equals, people loved those who hated them, and morality was emphasized in government. Even in the Old Testament, Yahweh was the first God to ban child sacrifice. Religion has never been focused on morality, until the Judeao-Christian God was made famous.

    All that being said, I suppose my ultimate question is: what logical foundation is there for love, without the influence of my Lord and God?

    • Ficino

      I am a follower of Jesus Christ and have been studying The Way for quite some time.

      I'm not sure how much you have studied outside Christian history and tradition, but there is much more. There is more "inequality, violence, hate, and competition" within the history of Christianity than you acknowledge, and more love and justice outside it than you acknowledge.

      A start of an answer to your ultimate question is, to love is necessary for a life well lived. People come to know this in relationships and action.

      • Mark

        I'm not sure how much you have studied outside Christian history and tradition, but there is much more. There is more "inequality, violence, hate, and competition" within the history of Christianity than you acknowledge, and more love and justice outside it than you acknowledge.

        I'll re-post something I found from another post from a interlocutor I respect as a response to this argument:

        From what I've seen, an argument can beg the question either by containing its conclusion in one of its premises or by using an undemonstrated and thus suspect principle as grounds for drawing a conclusion. Cf. S. Morris Engel, “Understanding, Finally, What it is to ‘Beg the Question’” Metaphilosophy 22.3 (1991) 251-264

        Your premise is that he hasn't read "enough" non-christian history to understand the Christian history and tradition unbiased. Then you insert non-Christian principles into Christian history and Christian principles into non-Christian history when drawing your conclusion which I infer (correct me if I'm wrong): "Understanding unbiased the history of the Catholic faith will reveal something about your presuppositions on love." I think you may be hinting that atheism has a logical solution to this, idk. I don't want to read too far into your argument and really idk how you value "a life well lived" as this is a personal and subjective thing for atheists.

        Maybe the better question (rather than the ambiguous term love) is where do we get the values (you used) of equality, non-violence, power balance, and justice in Western society? Does it come from from relationship and action like you posit love does; and if so which relationships and which actions and why did they become our values? I think I've read enough history to make an informed opinion on the subject. I guess I'm open to a history lesson from an atheist on how these values are not the subject of religiosity. Edit done.

        • Ficino

          The Enlightenment contributed. But a survey of all of history to prove whether or not Christianity (or Judaism) is a unique source of good values is too big for me to take on. I merely repeat the veiled suggestion that Theophilus study things in history in addition to The Way, if he has not done so very much.

          The status of widows, for example, has been a concern to many cultures outside the sphere of Christianity's influence. E.g. http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2012/2012-02-22.html

          • Mark

            Thanks for the reference. I found it interesting how the dowry offered to the second husband of an Athenian divorced wife had to be increased to reflect the jewelry she received from her first husband (who also had to be repaid for the jewelry) and subsequently the sisters of the divorce wife had to have her dowry increased as well to match the older sister's dowry. That's double dipping on a trade in. Maybe an additional reason the Hellenized Jews didn't appreciate Jesus teachings on divorce.

            The dissertation author was from Ghana which reminded me of marvelous restaurant I used to go to in undergrad that served waakye and fried plantains.

    • Sample1

      These are great questions and considerations, it’s good to see them. Why? Because it will make for conversation. Logic is a foundational presupposition. Both atheists, theists and polytheista accept that presupposition. We have evidence for its reliability in mapping truth findings to reality. It sounds like you want to add one more presupposition: a god.

      Why?

      Mike

      • Theophilos

        I suppose the "why" behind the presupposition of God, or at least, a god, stems from all that I have learned from science. The origin of the first living cell is unknown, and as research continues on the most basic of cells, cells are extraordinarily more complex than we first thought. Several scientists say that the first cell was made on the back of a crystal. Some even suggest that the first cell came to Earth from aliens.

        Considering the fine-tuning of the universe (the basic, universal standards of gravity, light, time, etc.), it seems that the odds of life are infinitely small. This leads me to believe that there must be a god. Not only must I believe in a god, but I must believe in an outpouring, creative God of Love. A god that is static and not "love" would never create--for there would be no desire for the god to do so. Rather, a God of selflessness would eternally be giving of Himself, leading to the creation of all things.

        If God is eternal, then surely, this dynamic nature that I described above would have been eternally present, as opposed to condensed in the creation of our world. This is what leads me to believe in the Trinitarian God, that is, Father, Son, and Spirit, who have all three always been eternally. The Father begetting the Son, the Spirit coming forth from the Father and Son both. Without this nature of God, no thing could be in existence outside of the god itself.

        I went on a bit of a rabbit trail... Nonetheless, does this make sense? What are your thoughts?

        • Sample1

          My first thoughts are that here is an atheist and a Catholic engaging in honest discussion replete with differences for both of us. This is something that would have likely been unthinkable for our ancestors.

          My second thoughts lead me to think about your adjectives: outpouring love, creative, selfless. While I certainly do not share your spiritual views, I do appreciate what you personally value.

          Mike

          • Theophilos

            I am certainly glad that differences can be discussed without malice! I am always open to conversation and learning.

            I hope that you continue growing in knowledge and wisdom! It's been good Mike.

            P.S. Though it is of little importance, I am considered Wesleyan, not Catholic. Just felt a need to clarify :)

          • Sample1

            I should think it’s of fair importance considering it’s how you identify!

            What can you tell me about what you believe and why?

            Mike