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American Atheist

A JOURNAL OF ATHEIST NEWS AND THOUGHT

The Atheist Network
of Disaster Recovery Volunteers

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Winter 16

The Difference Between Black Holes and Deities
Basic Bible Facts for Atheists
The Unholy Trinity Down Under

ATHEISTS.ORG

FIRST QUARTER 2016

A provocative, unapologetic book that takes religion to task
and will give inspiration to non-believers and serve as the
ultimate answer to apologists

David Silverman
President of American Atheists

“A sometimes funny, always informative look into the mind
behind America’s frontline of Atheism. Dave reminds us
that religion is everyone’s enemy.”
~ Taslima Nasrin, international human rights activist and author of Shame and Revenge

AMERICAN ATHEIST
A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
1st Quarter 2016
Vol. 54, No. 1

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)
ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Pamela Whissel
PWhissel@Atheists.org
LAYOUT and GRAPHICS EDITOR
Rick Wingrove
RWingrove@Atheists.org
COPY EDITOR
Karen Rei lly

Above: The Unholy Trinity on tour in Australia. Photo by Andrew Skegg, story on
page 20. On the cover: Humanist Disaster Recovery Network volunteers. Photo by
Micki Carr, story on page 5.

In This Issue
5
8

Both Sides of Disaster | Natasha Stoynoff

AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS
MANAGING EDITOR
Frank R. Zindler
Editor@Atheists.org

12
14

Differences As Seen from a Secular Humanistic Perspective | James Luce

Published by
American Atheists, Inc.
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 158
Cranford, NJ 07016
Phone: 908.276.7300
FAX: 908.276.7402
www.Atheists.org

17

Epistemology for the Open-Minded
A review of Jerry Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact | Mark Kolsen

20
24
30

The Three Wise Guys - Part Two | Natasha Stoynoff

33
35
46

DANTHROPOLOGY: Convenient Propaganda | Dan Arel

PROOFREADERS
Gil Gaudia
Shelley Gaudia

©2016 American Atheists Inc.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part
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1ST QUARTER 2016

The Real Story from an Ex-Mormon Missionary
Lesson 4: The Commandments, Part 2 | Greg Hawkins
A Kid’s Guide to Stories and Beliefs - An excerpt from The Belief Book |
David G. McAfee and Chuck Harrison

Basic Bible Facts for Atheists | Brian Bolton
DOGMA WATCH: What’s So Great about Christianity? |
Michael B. Paulkovich
Enough Whistling in the Dark | Tom Parks
Why I Am an Atheist | J.T. Eberhard

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Radical Cherry-Picking

O

ne year ago, our cover story paid tribute to
the ten people at another Atheist magazine,
Charlie Hebdo, who were shot dead in their
Paris office on January 7 by two terrorists from al-Qaeda. The
killers were on a religious crusade to slaughter the infidels
who insulted the prophet Mohammed by drawing his likeness,
which is forbidden in Islam upon penalty of death. Never mind
that Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly with dozens of cartoons
in every issue, has never singled out Islam. Caricatures of the
pope, rabbis, and politicians are just as common.
In the days following the attack, the “Je Suis Charlie” logo
became an internet meme, thousands of people held peaceful
rallies around the world, and many more individuals posted a
Mohammed cartoon from Charlie Hebdo on social media.
Most periodicals published in the United States, along
with many other English-language publications around
the world, failed to reproduce any Charlie Hebdo cartoon in
their otherwise detail-laden news reports and commentary.
Minute-by-minute accounts of the killing spree; pictures of
the terrorists running into the building; and background
information galore on the victims, the gunmen, the magazine,
the city of Paris, French satire—anything was appropriate to
include, except for the cartoons themselves. The excuse? It
wasn’t the fear of retaliatory attacks by terrorists. It was the
fear of offending the sensibilities of some of their religious
readers.
Eleven months later, back in Paris on November 13,
terrorists, who this time belonged to the Islamic State,
randomly slaughtered 130 people and injured hundreds more
when they detonated suicide bombs in six locations around the
city. The killers were not on a religious crusade to slaughter
infidels of the prophet-drawing kind, or infidels of any other
kind (all of whom should be put to death, according to the
Koran). They were on a religious crusade to slaughter.
A lesson to take away from this is that refraining from
drawing or publishing a picture of the prophet Mohammed
isn’t doing anyone much good. It’s also not useful to blame
this on “radical Islam.” There is no such thing, just like
there is no such thing as radical Christianity or radical

Judaism. There is only radical cherry-picking.
For example, the Koran contains verses that clearly
command the killing of non-Muslims. But most of the world’s
followers of Islam ignore those parts of their holy book. The
Muslims who do go out and kill infidels are ignoring the other
parts of the Koran that contradict this command.
It’s the same with Christianity. Jesus says—in no uncertain
terms—that to be a true follower, you must abandon your family
as well as sell everything you own and give your money to the
poor. Most of the world’s followers of Christ ignore those parts
of their holy book. Christians who do follow those commands
ignore other parts of their holy book, like the verses in the New
Testament that say it’s okay to own slaves.
Orthodox Jews do no work on Saturday because one of
Yahweh’s Ten Commandments in their holy book is to observe
a day of rest. But they ignore the verses in the Old Testament
that require parents to stone a rebellious child.
Among those who died in Paris on November 13, probably
no one had ever published a picture of the prophet Mohammed.
Refraining from actions that are interpreted as an insult to
Islam does not keep a person safe. Blaming religious radicals
doesn’t accomplish anything either because, while it turns out
that all members of the Abrahamic religions are radical (in
terms of picking and choosing what they want to believe), the
vast majority of them are definitely not terrorists.
There’s a significant difference between the news stories and
editorials about the Charlie Hebdo murders and the November
murders. The word “religion,” in any context at all, is almost
nowhere to be found, even though it’s religion that’s fueling
the violence. I don’t think this is an oversight. I think it’s fear.
But not the fear of something truly dangerous or deadly, like a
terrorist attack. It’s the fear of not being able to handle whatever
trivial consequences come along from expressing a thought that
someone else might not like.
If you are reasonably certain that publishing the likeness of
the prophet Mohammed puts you in true danger, then you should
refrain from doing it. But a reluctance to even acknowledge that
religion is behind one of today’s biggest threats to humanity is
truly dangerous as well.

Pamela Whissel
Editor-in-Chief
PWhissel@Atheists.org

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BOTH SIDES OF DISASTER

Rebecca Vitsmun and her baby narrowly escaped a tornado in 2013. The very next day, she came out as an
Atheist on CNN. Those life-altering events inspired her to start the Humanist Disaster Recovery Network.

by Natasha Stoynoff

I

n May 2013, Rebecca Vitsmun was a closeted Atheist with no intention of coming out—especially
not in front of millions of viewers on live television. But as she stood amid the post-tornado rubble
in front of her demolished house in Moore, Oklahoma, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her a question she
had to answer honestly.
The day before, the stay-at-home mom barely escaped death by running from her home with her
19-month-old son, Anders, in her arms as 210-m.p.h. winds ripped her house apart and killed 24 people in
the area, most living two blocks away.
“You’ve got to thank the Lord, right?” Blitzer asked Vitsmun, now 32, about her survival. He was
interviewing her for CNN’s The Situation Room. The former math tutor closed her eyes and looked down
for a split second. “I realized I was busted,” she says today, looking back on the pivotal moment. “I’d been
hiding that I was an Atheist for over a decade and I thought, This is it. I either lie on camera or come out on
camera. And I’m not a liar. I had no other option.”

No one should be trying to change
someone’s worldview at a time like this.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 5

For centuries, “silent” Atheists have been
volunteering or working with religious organizations
or trying to help others on their own.
Raised by a Catholic mother and Baptist father, Vitsmun rushing to take photos of the treasured items before the trucks
was confirmed at seventeen then went off to study math and arrived to take it all away. “I was freaking out because I knew I
comparative religion at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. wouldn’t finish in time.”
By nineteen, she was an unbeliever. Now, ten years later, her
Just then, two women—volunteers from the local Baptist
family and friends still didn’t know she and her husband, Brian, Church—showed up to offer help.
were Atheists—and neither did Brian’s family. Until...
“Oh, yeah! Help me, please! I’m so glad you’re here!” Vitsmun
“Do you thank the Lord?” Blitzer pressed, a second time, on said. She explained what she was doing and how heartsick she
live TV.
was about it, and the women hurried to help her get it done. As
“I...I...I,” she stuttered, then smiled, “actually, I’m an Atheist.” they worked, “I was thinking about my baby and letting go of
Blitzer laughed with her, embarrassed at his own faux pas— everything—the house, the thoughts and feelings I was having...
but that was nothing compared to the reaction and family drama it was such a sense of loss. My past and my future were destroyed.”
that followed after
the news clip went
viral on Facebook and
YouTube.
“My mother said,
‘You’re not really an
Atheist! You believe in
a higher power!’ I said,
‘Mom, if I believed in a
higher power, I would
not have used the
word Atheist.’ My dad
said, ‘Don’t let those
people make you their
spokesperson!’”
More
traumatic,
though, was what
happened next. After a
Rebecca Vitsmun (front row, third from left) and the HDR
week of rifling through
volunteers in Columbia, South Carolina, in January
and shoveling all of her
family’s belonging into
a pile, Vitsmun was left
with one more task before the bulldozers arrived, and everything
Then the women got to talkin’.
was carted away to a landfill. It was something she had delayed
“What church do you go to?” one asked. They’d obviously
to the very end, she says, because “it was going to be the hardest.” missed her star-turn on CNN a few days earlier. Vitsmun didn’t
Long before the tornado, the new mom had put aside a bunch have the energy or inclination to drop the A-bomb a second time
of Anders’ baby clothes that she planned to make a small quilt that week, so she tried to be vague.
from “so that when I was ninety, I could touch the quilt to my
“Oh...I don’t go to church.”
cheek and remember what it was like to hold him as a baby.” Now
The women looked aghast.
contaminated by lead, mercury, and asbestos, they, too, were
“You mean,” the same woman continued, holding Anders’
doomed for the landfill.
clothing mid-air, “you’re raising this baby without Jesus?”
Vitsmun was alone that day as she donned work gloves and
For the next thirty minutes, Vitsmun endured a non-stop
laid out the blue and yellow baby outfits on the dirt. She was barrage of emotional blackmail so horrible, she recalls, it would

I thought, How is this possible? Most
of the groups were religion-based.
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1ST QUARTER 2016

later send her to therapy. As she cradled her baby’s clothes one
“Our philosophy is ‘survivor first,’” says Vitsmun, whose
last time, the women aggressively tried to evangelize her—all but official title is Development Coordinator.
saying she was a terrible mother if she refused to embrace Jesus.
As well as “providing an understanding of the volunteer’s
“God put me into your life to bring you back home,” the first placement within the emergency-management system,” HDR
woman told her. “He misses your son so much...he can’t wait to will teach volunteers “how to think like a humanist, how to
envelop him with his love...”
understand that when you go into a situation, the survivor is most
Tired, traumatized, and out of time, “I was afraid to defend important. You are walking into their world and you need to view
myself or tell them to go away because I needed their help,” it through their eyes, not your own. Everybody’s different in who
Vitsmun recalls. “I was terrified. I wasn’t even coping with the they are and what they are going to need.”
tornado anymore, I was trying to cope with her.”
As in her case, when the two volunteers focused on what they
By the time the bulldozers came and went—along with her thought was most important—evangelizing—“it’s very easy to
pious helpers—she was resolute with a new mission: to volunteer re-traumatize a survivor. What they did prevented me from being
for a humanist relief program. Not only did she want to prevent able to process the situation I was in because I was focused on the
others like her from being taken advantage of and subjected to pain I was experiencing from what they were doing instead.”
someone else’s religious agenda at their lowest, weakest point, she
Theists are not the only ones tempted to take the opportunity
also “wanted to make sure that no one was doing this sort of thing to “convert” unsuspecting victims at such an emotional time.
from our [Atheist] community,” she said. “I needed to find them.” Atheists, too, “can’t go around saying [to believers], ‘Where is your
To her shock, a lengthy internet search that night at her god now?’ No one should be trying to change someone’s worldview
brother’s house didn’t yield
at a time like this. We are there
one national humanist relief
to be their extra pair of hands,
program.
and, if anything, to comfort
“I thought, How is
them and help build them up
this possible? Most of the
to be secure and who they are
groups were religion-based.
again.”
Religions have been around
By the end of 2015, the
for thousands of years, and
first batch of navy blue vests
these organizations were
with silver, reflective striping
built on that platform—
and the Humanist Disaster
that’s where people based
Recovery Team logo were
their morality and got their
printed and 324 volunteers
inspiration. But when you go
had registered with HDR.
out and help people, you’re
Their first deployment
not just helping those based
came in early January, when
in your religion or those who
thirteen volunteers joined
share your own worldview.”
her in Columbia, South
For centuries, “silent”
Carolina, to help with the
Atheists
have
been
ongoing painting, grouting,
volunteering or working
and general rebuilding after
with religious organizations
last October’s catastrophic
Rebecca Vitsmun and her son, Anders, in October 2015
or trying to help others on
floods. And barring any new
their own.
catastrophe that needs their
“The secular community
attention, more volunteers
has the desire to help,” she says, “we just don’t have the will be sent to New Orleans and other cities to assist in the longinfrastructure in place. The religious are organized. They show term recovery from super storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.
up with supplies—wearing matching t-shirts—and in teams
“If we never have another disaster hit the country again,
that are ready to go. People were shoveling by my house wearing that would be amazing!” Vitsmun says. “But that’s not realistic.
Church of Christ t-shirts, and someone was from Memphis, Something’s going to happen—it always does.”
someone else was from Nashville, and two were from Virginia.”
And when it hits, she and her team will be ready.
In high school, Vitsmun received the prestigious Sandy
Nininger Medal for her work as a volunteer coordinator. It was
Watch Rebecca’s interview with Wolf Blitzer on YouTube
time to dust off those award-winning skills and put them to use at TinyURL.com/HonestAtheist. Her courageous answer is at
again because “I couldn’t let this go. I had a gut-wrenching feeling 8:24. For more on the Humanist Disaster Recovery Network,
that I needed to make this happen.”
go to FoundationBeyondBelief.org/HDRNetwork, or follow
She soon hooked up with the charitable organization them on Facebook (Humanist Disaster Recovery) and Twitter
Foundation Beyond Belief to help create the country’s first national (@HDRTeams).
non-theist disaster recovery volunteer program, The Humanist
Disaster Recovery Teams (HDR Teams). Their mission: to provide Natasha Stoynoff is a New York Times best-selling author, journalist,
and screenwriter based in Manhattan.
recovering communities with trained humanist volunteers.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 7

The Real Story
from an

Ex-Mormon Missionary
Lesson 4: The Commandments, Part 2
by Greg Hawkins

T

his is the fifth installment in our series by Greg Hawkins, a former Mormon who
was a missionary in the Philippines for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. In these articles, he describes what goes on when missionaries (they always
travel in pairs) knock on your door and you let them in. Greg has been informing readers of
American Atheist about many parts of the Mormon doctrine that missionaries may leave out—or
may not even be aware of themselves.
In their training, which is only six weeks long, missionaries are taught to stick to their limited
script. This leaves them unprepared for any challenging questions. For example, every Mormon
has a lifelong requirement to give ten percent of their income to the Church—even a Mormon
living in abject poverty, raising a large family, shouldering a lot of debt, or dealing with any other
kind of financial hardship. Many missionaries have never given this rule, or the many others
like it, a second thought. But if you question a missionary in an amiable, non-confrontational
way, you’ll give them a real opportunity to apply critical thinking to their religion’s harmful
absurdities.
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The LDS Church’s manipulative and
controlling behavior is on flagrant display.

I

n the previous issue of American Atheist, I scratched the
surface of Mormon Lesson 4: The Commandments. A
“lesson” is the information that’s shared with you if you
decide to become an “investigator,” which is the term for
someone interested in the Mormon faith. As an investigator,
you will be visited several times in your home by a pair of
Mormon missionaries, who, through a series of lessons,
explain the requirements of church membership.
My previous article covered the first two of the eleven
Mormon commandments: Obedience and Pray Often.
The Mormon commandments are different from the Ten
Commandments of the Old Testament (although one them is to
follow the Ten Commandments). This article looks at the next
three commandments: study the scriptures, keep the Sabbath
day holy, and baptism and confirmation.
Commandment 3 - Study the Scriptures
Preach My Gospel, the official handbook provided to
missionaries, says, “The scriptures are written records of God’s
dealings with His children as recorded by prophets under the
influence of the Holy Ghost. We show our faith by studying,
believing, and obeying God’s revealed word. We diligently
search the scriptures to understand the truth. The approved
scriptures of the Church, also called the standard works, are the
Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants,
and the Pearl of Great Price. We should study these sacred
books daily.”
For a number of reasons, I have a problem with the idea that
any of them are “authoritative.” It’s uncommon to see a believer
take every word of these different religious texts literally. It’s
more likely that they will rationalize away the parts they do not
like. Polygamy is a great example. The Doctrine and Covenants
(Section 132:61–63) says this about polygamy:
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—
if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another,
and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second,
and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man,
then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are
given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that
belongeth unto him and to no one else.
And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he
cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they
are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is
espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed
adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto
him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my
commandment, and to fulfill the promise which was given
by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for
their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the
souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued,
that he may be glorified.

So those verses look pretty bad. Really bad, actually. They’re
official and part of Mormon canon, but polygamy is no longer
officially sanctioned. So what happened? Well, in order for Utah
to achieve statehood, Mormon leaders had to first renounce
polygamy. So in 1890, Prophet Wilford Woodruff, the Church’s
president, revealed the Woodruff Manifesto, which forbade any
further practice of it. This was challenged by fundamentalist
members, many of whom split off from the LDS Church, which
moved forward with the manifesto. Utah became a state six
years later.
This leads us to some uncomfortable conclusions. If
Mormon God is not only real, but is also the one true god, then
he either changed his mind or made a mistake. If Mormon God
is not real, then the mandate of polygamy, as well as its reversal,
was merely a policy decision. Either way, this habit of revising
unpopular doctrines undermines the Church’s statements
about scripture study. If these texts are truly “God’s word,”
and if God doesn’t change, as it says in the Book of Mormon
(Malachi 3:6), then what gives? It becomes literally quite
impossible to study the scriptures for any sort of objective
truth or doctrine because these scriptures can be changed or
“clarified” (or, in my opinion, corrupted) by the head of the
Church at any time. As Sam Harris says, “This is how you play
tennis without the net.”
Commandment 4 - Keep the Sabbath Day Holy
Keeping the Sabbath day as a holy, sanctified day always
confused me as a missionary. In Utah, keeping the Sabbath
meant attending church meetings and staying home with
family on Sunday. We were always taught that shopping
or doing work (mowing the lawn, laundry, dishes, etc.) was
considered sinful, since the Sabbath was a day to worship
Mormon God. Our family usually ended up going to at least
three hours of church and then attend church leadership

In order for Utah to achieve statehood, Mormon
leaders had to first renounce polygamy.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 9

Mormons don’t go on missions to
do charity work. They only go on
missions to baptize new members.
meetings and provide some church service for two or three
more hours. Afterwards, we would come home to have a
family dinner and watch some television.
But when I was on my mission, I saw that Filipino Mormons
often went shopping or did chores and homework on Sundays,
while proclaiming that watching television was in violation of
keeping the Sabbath. So who’s right? What makes the doctrine
of keeping the Sabbath so slippery and hard to define?
Unfortunately for us, Preach My Gospel fails to settle
the question. It sets the stage with a particularly interesting
paragraph, which reads, “When a community or nation grows
careless in its Sabbath activities, its religious life decays and all
aspects of life are negatively affected. The blessings associated
with keeping the Sabbath day holy are lost. We should refrain
from shopping on the Sabbath and participating in other
commercial and sporting activities that now commonly
desecrate the Sabbath.” It goes on to read that the most
appropriate activities for Sundays are family-oriented and
centered around worship.
This is how Mormon commandments and teachings most
often work. Specifics about how to properly observe certain
commandments aren’t provided, yet the consequences for
neglecting to fulfill these commandments are clear. As
exemplified in the Preach My Gospel passage above, there is
typically some sort of doomsday-esque guilt trip involved.
These sorts of commandments are great for the Church;
they get to watch their membership quibble over trivial
doctrinal nuances while they protect themselves from any
consequences that may arise from having doctrine which is
too dogmatic.
The LDS Church’s manipulative and controlling behavior
is on flagrant display. Nothing keeps people in a cult quite like
ordering them to follow a series of arbitrary rules, upon penalty
of a revocation of blessings, because “God says so.” The Mormon
Church literally plays judge, jury, and executioner when members
step outside of the lines, and these subjective “commandments”
have been officially altered time and time again.

Commandment 5 - Baptism and Confirmation
Ahh, baptism. It’s the only reason for a Mormon to go on
a mission in the first place. My stint as a missionary was very
numbers-driven, which means that we would literally write
and report everything, from how many people we contacted to
how many baptisms we performed. My companion and I would
set weekly numerical goals for baptisms, and my district as a
whole did so as well. It was all about the baptism. If we didn’t
get baptisms, our mission president (the man in charge of our
district) or one of his assistants would call us up and ask us what
we were doing wrong. If the situation was dire, they would work
with us for a day or two to try and raise our numbers.
It’s fair to say that baptism is the single most effective
way for the LDS Church to control and manipulate people,
because after baptism, they are members and thus subject to
disciplinary action.
Mormons don’t go on missions to do charity work. They
only go on missions to baptize new members. Yet in Preach
My Gospel—the only handbook provided to missionaries—
it’s shocking how little is said about baptism: “The way we
show our desire to follow in God’s way is through baptism and
confirmation. When we are baptized and confirmed, we enter
into a covenant that we will take upon ourselves the name of
Jesus Christ and that we will always remember Him and keep
His commandments. We also promise to stand as witnesses of
God at all times and to assist those in need (see Mosiah 18:8–
9). In return, God promises the constant companionship of the
Holy Ghost, a remission of our sins, and being born again.” And
that’s pretty much the extent of a missionary’s education about
baptism.
This is the part of the lesson where we, as missionaries, had
to close the sale if an investigator hadn’t committed yet. We had
to convince the investigator that it was do or die for them—
because it was do or die for us. The invitation to baptism is
recited verbatim from the handbook: “Will you follow the
example of Jesus Christ by being baptized by someone holding
the priesthood authority of God? We will be holding a baptismal

We had to convince the investigator
that it was do or die for them—
because it was do or die for us.
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1ST QUARTER 2016

service on (a certain date). Will you prepare yourself to be
baptized on that date?”
It was then our responsibility as missionaries to be the
investigator’s best friend after they committed to baptism. We
walked them to church and visited them every day, and got
them excited about their future. But because missionaries are
transferred around, we would be relocated a few weeks later
and never see these people again. Whether they kept going to
church or not didn’t really matter. We got our numbers. We got

a lot of the claims that Mormon missionaries make about
reality, ethics, and relationships. However, as I’ve continued
my writing and research, I’ve noticed that most of the doctrine
isn’t difficult to refute. A majority of reasonable people can
look at the claims of the Mormon Church and immediately see
how silly they are. Sometimes the doctrine simply isn’t defined.
Sometimes it’s self-refuting. Sometimes it becomes obsolete,
like with polygamy.
In any case, there is a lot to cover in terms of how the
Church teaches and treats its members. With the increased
attention on the Church in the media about its rigid stances on
controversial doctrines like gay marriage and abortion, maybe
there will be some positive changes in the future. But I’m not
holding my breath.
“Lesson Four: The Commandments” will continue in the
next issue with the Mormon commandments to follow the
prophet, keep the Ten Commandments, and live the law of
chastity.
Greg Hawkins is a graduate of the University of Utah and holds a
paralegal certificate from Weber State University. He has been writing
for American Atheist since 2014.

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Missionary Greg Hawkins holds cans of American
soft drinks, a rare find in Quezon City, Phillipines.
our baptisms. We were successful. It was the responsibility of the
local members—and the missionaries who came after us—to
make sure these people were active and stayed in good standing.
I can’t imagine how many new converts felt betrayed or
confused because the missionaries—people they thought were
their friends—abruptly left them and never came back. We were
encouraged to stay in touch with the people we baptized, but for
me it was impossible, since I was a missionary in the slums of the
Philippines, where there is no mail delivery, let alone internet.
We never questioned it, because we were guided by God, and he
wouldn’t let our newly-minted converts down.
I originally started this written series as a way to refute

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DIFFERENCES
As Seen from a Secular Humanistic Perspective
by James Luce

What’s the difference…
…between naiveté, cynicism, and realism?
Naiveté is the belief that all humans are born naturally
“good.” Cynicism is the belief that all humans are born naturally
“evil.” Realism is the belief that all humans are born with no
propensity to be either good or evil, but rather only a drive to
survive and reproduce.
…between faith, belief, and knowledge?
Faith is trust in something based on no facts and is thus
totally inflexible. Belief is trust in something with fewer than all
the facts and is thus malleable. Knowledge is trust in something
based on all the best facts that are available and is thus malleable
and capable of growth and improvement.
…between good and evil, right and wrong, moral
and immoral?
Good and evil are defined by one or more deities in which
a person has faith. Right and wrong are defined by cultural
norms and standards in which a person has belief. Morality
and immorality are defined by wisdom obtained through
knowledge.

…between knowledge and truth?
As noted above, knowledge is based on the best available
facts. Such facts are obtained through a process of rational and
organized experimentation (e.g. the scientific method), which
leads inevitably to the discovery of different facts that better
explain the workings of the universe at both the macro and
micro levels (e.g. reality).
Truth is a philosophical and legal construct that, at its core,
relies on belief, not knowledge. A scientist does not discover
any truths, but philosophers frequently believe that they have
discovered this truth or that truth in opposition to one another,
but they can’t all be right. Sworn witnesses are supposed to tell
the truth as they sincerely believe it to be, but honest belief
does not necessarily describe reality and frequently does not.
For example, most people sincerely believe it is the truth that
glass is a solid, when in fact it is a super-cooled liquid. It has
no crystalline structure, and so it is in constant motion. But its
flow is so gradual that the naked eye can’t detect it.
… between agnostics and Atheists?
Agnostics believe that it is impossible to either prove or

When first introduced to Western Europe,
the symbol for zero was disapproved
of by the Roman Catholic Church.
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Knowledge is trust in something based
on all the best facts that are available.
disprove the existence of any deity or deities. Therefore, such
hypothetical forces, powers, or entities are not relevant to
understanding reality. Atheists believe that no deity or deities
exist because there is no proof of such existence and, indeed,
the concept is not subject to scientific inquiry. Thus, such
hypothetical forces, powers, or entities are not relevant to
understanding reality. One can mathematically visualize the
difference between 2 + 2 = 4 and 5 - 1 = 4. Different approach,
same result.
…between Christians and Atheists?
A classic answer is that Christians do not believe in Zeus,
Vishnu, Allah, Atum, Nanabazho, Elohim, Marduk, Baka
Brama, Ahura Mazda, and thousands of other deities believed
in by non-Christians. Atheists believe in one less deity than
Christians (per Stephen F. Roberts with a nod to Bertrand
Russell and Charles Bradlaugh).
Thus Christians believe in one god while Atheists believe
in zero gods. Once again, mathematics provides insight. The
symbol “1” first appears in the archaeological record from
250,000 years ago, a time when early humans were at their

Black holes are considered the alpha and omega of our
universe, because without them, stars would have collapsed
and disappeared billions of years ago, galaxies would never
have formed, and life would never have evolved. Sometimes
a black hole is actively creating more stars, and sometimes
it is dormant. We don’t understand why. If all black holes
disappeared, so would the cosmos.
Deities also are considered the alpha and omega of the
universe. Deities are said to sometimes stride openly on
the Earth and directly impact everyday life. At other times
they seem to disappear for centuries without even a token
appearance. Nobody knows why.
There are uncounted numbers of black holes demonstrating
a dazzling variety of characteristics, just as with the thousands
of deities that have been postulated over the centuries.
Nobody has ever seen a black hole. Their existence
is inferred from their gravitational effect on space/time.
Many people claim to have seen a deity, but nobody has ever
provided actual evidence of such sightings—similar to UFOs,
yetis, and unicorns.
Black holes move in mysterious ways and seem to defy or

Honest belief does not necessarily describe reality.
most primitive, ignorant, and superstitious. The numerical
symbol “0” did not appear until Brahmagupta, an Indian
astronomer and mathematician, developed it in 628 A.D.
When first introduced to Western Europe via the Moors’
conquest of Spain, the symbol for zero was disapproved of by
the Roman Catholic Church, which attempted to suppress its
use. However, merchants and mathematicians defied Church
teachings and used it in secret.
The name for “zero” at that time was the Arabic word “sifr,”
now spelled “cipher,” which came to mean “a secret code.”
Without the zero, we would never have developed calculus or
algorithms, the basis for modern science, computers, and the
exploration of space. So when Atheists say they believe in zero,
this does not denote a belief in nothing, it denotes a belief in
everything that’s real.
…between black holes and deities?
This question is not subject to facile answer because black
holes and deities share so many characteristics as to be nearly
identical.

at least fiddle with all the established laws of physics. Deities
also are said to move in mysterious ways and to defy any and
all laws of nature or otherwise. Once a person has passed the
event horizon of a black hole and entered into its singularity, it
is believed that such a person becomes absorbed into an eternal,
unchanging wholeness where space/time no longer exists.
Similarly, once a person has passed over to the great
beyond, it is believed that the person becomes absorbed into
an eternal unchanging wholeness called heaven or paradise,
where space/time no longer exists. The details vary slightly,
depending on the deity in question. But then there are also—at
least—two types of black holes (spinning and non-spinning)
wherein space/time is differently absent.
However, at the end of the day, the only apparent difference
between black holes and deities is that black holes are subject
to scientific inquiry and deities are not.
James Luce is a lifelong Atheist currently residing in Catalonia. He’s
the author of Chasing Davis: an Atheist’s Guide to Morality Using Logic
and Science and two future history novels.

Truth is a philosophical and legal
construct that, at its core, relies
on belief, not knowledge.
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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 13

A Kid’s Guide to Stories and Beliefs
An excerpt from The Belief Book by David G. McAfee and Chuck Harrison

Long ago, some people thought they were living on the back of a giant space turtle.

A

lot of non-believers want to shield their children from religion, to avoid it completely in
an attempt to protect them from harmful beliefs, but we think knowledge is the answer
and not the problem. That’s why we wrote The Belief Book. Children are curious, and
parents seldom have all the answers. We should teach religion to children because when they learn
about the origins of myths they can see all religions as part of the same phenomenon—and not see
one as inherently superior to all others. This excerpt is from two chapters, “Stories” and “Beliefs.”
Have you ever been camping? Sitting around the fire with
your friends and family, roasting marshmallows, telling scary
stories in the dark? Well, maybe not scary stories, but definitely
stories.
How can a story be scary? It’s just a bunch of words. But
words are one of the most important ways we learn new things
about the world. We can use words to make a story seem scary,
but we can also use them to make song lyrics, write books, and
talk to the people we love. Stories are creative ways to share
words, which made them a good way for people who lived a long
time ago to show others their ideas.
But even though stories were probably the first way our
14 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

ancestors talked to each other, they are still used everywhere
around the world. Even today, you probably enjoy hearing or
reading a good story. Why is that? Well, it’s part of who we are.
Once upon a time, there was no such thing as TV or cars or
video games. There wasn’t a camera on your phone or a fridge
filled with cold food. None of those things were made yet, so
stories were the best way for people who lived long ago to stay
entertained.
Stories were more fun than you can imagine for people long
ago, just like they can be to us, but they were also used for other
important things. Stories were told as a way to make learning
and teaching easier, too. Our ancestors had strange and
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Many stories from the past, including some that weren’t
true, were passed on for so long that people began
to believe them without ever asking questions.
marvelous tales about the world around them and sometimes
nothing more than cave paintings to help share those ideas!
In the past, people told stories about magical boxes that
allowed them to see a person on the other side of the world
and even imaginary things that let them talk to others or take
a picture of exactly what they were looking at. People loved
these stories so much they made them into the reality you and
I enjoy today. Stories are really powerful like that. People have
used stories to do all kinds of neat things—they’ve even passed
on their best messages and ideas thousands of years into the
future. In that way, stories can travel through time! Ancient
people wanted to let everyone know exactly what happened in
their time, long before there was even writing, and stories can
do that.
Just like you may sit around a campfire today and tell stories
to your friends and family, the early humans who came before
any of us did exactly the same thing. They told stories about who
they imagined could have made the world and everything in it.
They used their stories to try to answer their questions about
life. Their stories were just as grand as the ones we tell today!
They were filled with laughter and fear, love, and triumph.
Stories are Important
The stories the ancients told helped make sense of the whole
wide world around them and also helped to bring them closer
together. A group that knows and believes the same story is a
much stronger group. Over time, many stories from the past,
including some that weren’t true, were passed on from mom and
dad to son and daughter for so long that people began to believe
them without ever asking questions. Many people started to
believe in the stories they were told about the world as children
and, for some, even the characters that others had made up
became real to them. This is still true for many people today.
Both the heroes and the villains became just as real as you and
me. And that’s where the story changed and became belief.
What do you believe? What is belief? Why do you believe
the things you do? These are all important questions because
people act on what they believe to be true. Some false beliefs
have had really bad effects on people, but the good news is that
our beliefs can always change with better information.
Here is a simple test about belief. I want you to use your
imagination and pretend to climb the biggest, tallest tree you
can find. Be sure to bring this book with you and check back
when you’re up really, really high. Now I want you to look down
at the ground. Wow, you’re really high up! The people look like
ants from way up here! Now jump. Spread your arms like a bird

and jump! Why haven’t you jumped yet? What’s stopping you?
Oh I get it, I get it. You’re saying that you would either die or get
hurt really badly, aren’t you? Well, how do you know that? Have
you ever jumped from that high before? No? Then how do you
know you could be hurt or dead? Because you know? Okay, I’ll
buy that.
But another question: Why do you know? Because you’ve
seen it on TV? Well, we all know that the movies and TV
shows and video games aren’t the same as real life, so whatever
happens in them isn’t always real. And if these things aren’t real,
maybe nothing will happen to you if you decide to jump, right?

Our beliefs can always change with better information.
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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 15

We have a super-big responsibility when it comes to
choosing what we believe and why we believe it.
So jump! Wow! I can’t fool you. You really believe that you’d be
hurt or dead if you jumped. Did someone tell you that falling
from a great height, like a big, tall tree, is not a good thing? They
may have even told you stories about what happens to people
who do fall, and you didn’t really like what you heard. No one
can blame you. It’s a scary thing to fall from such a height.
Maybe you should come down now. I’ll wait.
Are you down? Good, we can continue. At some point, you
were probably told or shown a story about falling from that high
or even higher. Based on what you already knew about falling
from smaller places, what you were told was very believable. You
might have thought to yourself that you would not like to be the
person falling in that story and, as a result, you started to form
a healthy belief. You accepted that if you ever fell from such a
height, you would end up just like the person in the story.
You believe in the danger even if you have never fallen from a
tree that high. That’s probably because the story you heard was
filled to the brim with facts! These facts, along with the fact that
you’ve probably been hurt from falling from smaller distances,
make this belief a good one based on evidence. Evidence is
all the information and facts showing whether or not a belief
is true. The information you were given was all the evidence
you needed to know that jumping out of really tall trees is one
activity you should not do.
Our ancestors believed the things they heard in stories
as well. They were much the same as you and I in their way
of thinking because they based their beliefs on stories and
experience just like we do. But to some of them, there might still
have been no better answer for why stars in the night sky moved
than the idea that we must be living on the back of a giant space
turtle.
Some of our ancient ancestors even believed that the sun
in the sky set and rose because a giant man carried it on his
shoulders. That’s what made sense to them. No one knew any
better at the time, so everyone accepted the stories as fact—
they believed them. They believed these things because they
were taught not only by their parents, but by every other adult
around them, too. They were told these stories were true by
everyone who they were taught to trust.
Their beliefs, just like yours, helped them with many things.
They told stories about bird men who could fly and what might
happen if others tried, so that if you didn’t have wings like a
bird, you knew not to jump from really high things. Most of the
time, the beliefs they had in their many stories helped to keep
them safe and alive. To the early humans, our technology and

understandings were a long way off, and they needed stories to
help shape the beliefs that kept them from hurting themselves
and others. Over time, the magic beings in the stories our
ancient ancestors told took on new lives all their own. They
became the “creators” that still live on to this day!
Belief is Important
What we believe is important because it can make all the
difference in the world. We have a super-big responsibility
when it comes to choosing what we believe and why we believe
it. Believing in something just because someone says that’s what
you should do can lead to false beliefs. These are the ideas that
have been shown to be wrong but are still believed.
That’s why it’s best to be a person who thinks about and
studies the world around them. That way, when you find out
something that you’ve believed in isn’t real, you can replace
it with something that is! As you know, the unknown is a lot
like the dark. It’s really scary in the dark because you can’t see
anything around you, so a monster could come out of nowhere
and eat you at any moment! Because of this, people try to fill in
that darkness with their own big ideas.
I hope you do the same, but only if you remember not to take
anything as a fact unless there is enough evidence to back it up.
Not all beliefs are built on logic and reason, but the ideas that
are based in truth always shine the brightest.
For example, you might think to yourself, “If I get off of
the bed, I’m sure a monster is going to eat my feet!” Instead of
falling for that trap, we could choose to face our fear and take
a look under the bed ourselves. We just might see that there’s
really nothing scary down there at all.
In many ways, what we believe is just as important as why
we believe it. Some beliefs are based on good evidence and some
are based on tradition or a fear of the unknown or any number
of other things. We can all try to base our ideas on the best
information we have. In that way, we can help make the world a
better, brighter place.
David G. McAfee is also the author of Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The
Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer and Disproving Christianity and
Other Secular Writings.
Chuck Harrison is an illustrator and writer whose work has been
published by DC Comics, Color Ink Book, The South Wedge Quarterly,
and Richard Dolan Press.

The unknown is a lot like the dark. It’s really scary in
the dark because you can’t see anything around you.
16 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

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EPISTEMOLOGY
for the Open-Minded
A review of Jerry Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact
by Mark Kolsen

E

“Eyes forward people. Nothing to see here.”

ducators, please note: Jerry Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact clearly answers the questions
students ponder but are usually reluctant to ask: How do we know alleged “facts”
are true? And why, in some cases, do these facts contradict “our own” beliefs and
experiences? Faith vs. Fact offers an expanded, easy-to-read version of what David
Barash calls “The Talk.” Barash is a biology professor at the University of Washington. At the
beginning of every school year, he gives a talk to his students “… about evolution and religion,
and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t” (“God, Darwin, and My College
Biology Class,” Sept. 27, 2014, NYTimes.com). It’s a talk intended to save worried students
from the “challenging mental gymnastic routines” involved in reconciling their religious
beliefs with evolution. Students who read Faith vs. Fact can, like those who hear Barash’s talk,
eschew these unnecessary routines.

In demonstrating that religion is both intellectually bankrupt
and socially harmful, Faith vs. Fact is incredibly persuasive.
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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 17

Ultimately, science can do something religion has
never done: make accurate predictions.
Amazed at the percentage of Americans who accept
creationism and reject the science of evolution, Coyne
concludes that religion has put blinders on Americans
and that they need a “de-education in faith—the form of
education that replaces the need for evidence with simple
emotional commitment.” Coyne tells the religiously blinded
that both science and religion compete to understand the
truths of our universe, but science succeeds and religion
miserably fails. “Understanding reality . . . is best achieved
using the tools of science and is never achieved using the
tools of faith.”
Coyne is outraged at religion’s harmful social effects,
especially on children. He shares some alarming statistics
about the needless suffering of many children, thanks
to our government’s accommodation of religion. Fortythree states confer immunity on religious parents who
withhold medical care from children in favor of faith-based
“cures.” Thirty-eight states grant religious exemptions
for child abuse, including five states with exemptions for
manslaughter—and even murder. Coyne also points out
that people of all ages are affected by religion’s influence on
laws and policies regarding vaccination, physician-assisted
suicide, stem-cell research and, perhaps most importantly,
the scientific evidence of climate changed caused by
humans: “The common religious view that God will save
the earth, or that pollution doesn’t matter because the End
Times are at hand, surely affects how people regard global
warming.”
In demonstrating that religion is both intellectually
bankrupt and socially harmful, Faith vs. Fact is incredibly
persuasive. Coyne convincingly shows that religious
claims are empirical hypotheses believed by large portions
of the world’s population. Among Americans, 54% are
“absolutely certain there is a God,” 76% believe Jesus
performed miracles, and 81% believe Jesus was resurrected.
Fifteen million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints believe that the Book of Mormon was
originally a collection of golden plates delivered by an angel
to Joseph Smith, who somehow translated these plates into
English. Coyne cites a 2012 Pew Research Center survey
which reports that, globally, “most Muslims are Quranic
literalists, even more faithful to scripture than are highly
religious Americans.”
Coyne also demonstrates that religious claims are

incompatible with one another. Most Christians are
unaware, for example, that Christianity’s belief in Jesus’
divinity and that the “reality” of the Holy Trinity were
established not by any real evidence but by a vote taken
in 325 C.E. at the Council of Nicea. To apologists who,
when confronted, assert that Biblical stories like Adam
and Eve are more metaphor than fact, Coyne demonstrates
that most believers treat these disproved stories literally
(including 60% of Americans in a recent poll), but that
apologists have no “consistent method for distinguishing
fact from metaphor.” These apologists are often laughably
illogical and contradictory, such as John Polkinghorne’s
explanation for god’s imperceptible presence here on earth:
“…[B]ecause, when you think about it, the naked presence
of divinity would overwhelm finite creatures, depriving
them of truly being themselves and freely accepting God.”
Coyne dryly notes that Moses and Job had no such problem
when god appeared to them.
In contrast to religion, science uses a variety of methods
based on observation and experience, and it arrives at
“truths” subject to the critical scrutiny of, and replication
by, the scientific community. In the clear, concrete language
reminiscent of his earlier book Why Evolution is True, Coyne
delineates the limits of science, but also lists its many
successes: “the virtual elimination of polio, the discovery
of the Big Bang, the uncovering of the structure of DNA”
to name just a few. Ultimately, science can do something
religion has never done: make accurate predictions. For
example, “…we can now land space probes not only on
distant planets, but also on distant comets. We can produce
‘designer drugs’ to target a specific individual’s cancer,
decide which flu vaccines are most likely to be effective
in the coming season, and figure out how to finally wipe
scourges like smallpox and polio from our planet. Religion,
in contrast, can’t even tell us if there’s an afterlife, much less
anything about its nature.”
Perhaps Coyne’s greatest contribution is the chapter
“Why Accommodationism Fails,” a thorough undressing of
not only Stephen Jay Gould and other liberals who argue that
science and religion occupy separate intellectual realms or
that science and religion are mutually compatible, but, more
amusingly, those who try to reconcile biblical myths with
science. Scholar Peter Enns, for example, explains St. Paul’s
conviction in the Bible that Adam and Eve really existed as

Coyne concludes that religion has put blinders
on Americans and that they need a

“de-education in faith.”

18 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

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“appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns
of the moment. That has no bearing whatsoever on the truth
of the gospel.” In response, Coyne pulls no punches: “. . . ‘the
truth of the gospel’—presumably the divinity, crucifixion
and resurrection of Jesus—is supported by precisely the
same kind of evidence that once buttressed Adam and Eve.
On what basis can we reject one story but accept the other?
[Enns’] end run around science. . . seems like a desperation
move fueled by confirmation bias.”
As for scientists advocating accommodation, Coyne

details how the Templeton Foundation offers large financial
incentives—$70 million annually—to researchers who
will work on its projects that attempt to reconcile religion
and science. With all of that grant money available,
Coyne concludes, “the real reasons scientists promote
accommodation are more self-serving.”
I do have one quibble with Faith vs. Fact. In explaining

why Americans are so resistant to scientific truths—
especially evolution—Coyne rejects ignorance as an
explanation and instead lays that resistance “completely
at the door of religion.” Citing our “age of unprecedented
science popularization” and the information available
with “a single push on the remote control,” Coyne believes
that in all cultures, people become religious “through
indoctrination from their family and friends. Religion
has hijacked the evolved tendency of humans to accept
authority when they’re young, something that would have
enhanced the survival of our ancestors . . . [A]fter you’ve
been religious for years and surrounded by those who
believe likewise, you become emotionally invested in your
faith’s truth.” Coyne often points to confirmation bias as an
explanation for the irrational beliefs of many theologians
and scientists he exposes.
Coyne, I think, is too quick to dismiss ignorance as an
explanation. Yes, scientific information is widespread.
It may also be true that, as one poll indicates, religious
people are as scientifically literate as non-religious people.
But when it comes to the “big” questions—how did the
universe begin and how did our species originate?—there is
substantial evidence that few people understand scientific
cosmology or natural selection, especially in the United
States, where education is controlled by local school boards
resistant to science (see my article “Fundamental Law
and American Ignorance: Why Atheists Must Change the
System” on Atheist.Alliance.org).
On the other hand, it’s moot whether human irrationality
is a function of ignorance, or if, following Coyne, we
attribute it to family indoctrination. I suggest that Faith vs.
Fact should be standard fare for students, preferably in high
school but no later than freshman year in college, especially
because the book also refutes other arguments “favoring”
religion over science, such as the arguments that god must
have finely tuned our universe and endowed humans with
morality and a capacity for knowledge, or that science
cannot prove that god doesn’t exist. In the chapter “Faith
Strikes Back,” Coyne responds intelligently to these and
almost all conceivable arguments students will eventually
encounter in their lives.
Educators, please note.
Mark Kolsen is an American government teacher in suburban
Chicago. He is a big fan of the Four Horsemen and the late
Victor Stenger and strives to understand all facets of scientific
cosmology’s standard model.

Thirty-eight states grant religious exemptions for
child abuse, including five states with exemptions
for manslaughter—and even murder.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 19

The Three Wise Guys

Part Two

The next time you need to debate the supernatural or dispel the gospels, who
ya gonna call? Seth, Aron, and Matt—the thoughtful Atheist’s godbusters!

by Natasha Stoynoff

B

Seth, Matt, and Aron at the Australia Zoo. Photo by Andrew Skegg

ack in September, at the Gateway
to Reason seminar in St. Louis,
Missouri, I met up with three friends
on the forefront of today’s Atheist
movement: Seth Andrews, Aron
Ra, and Matt Dillahunty—all former believers who became
acquainted with each other at the Oklahoma Freethought
Convention in 2011. They hit it off so well that they set out
on the road together to spread the good words of skeptics,
freethinkers, and humanists.
The three buddies all hail from varied Christian
backgrounds: Andrews, a one-time Christian radio broadcaster
who was brought up Lutheran-Pentecostal, now hosts The
Thinking Atheist radio show and chronicled his emerging
disbelief in his 2012 memoir, Deconverted: A Journey from
Religion to Reason. His latest book is Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted
Look at Belief and Tradition around the World.
Aron Ra grew up in a Mormon household and is American
Atheists’ Regional Director for Texas. He’s the creator of the
YouTube video series Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.
20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Dillahunty, a one time seminary-bound fundamentalist
Southern Baptist, now co-hosts the popular cable show The
Atheist Experience, produced by The Atheist Community of
Austin, Texas.
With stops in the U.S. and Australia in 2014 and 2015, the
threesome embarked on what they dubbed “The Unholy Trinity
Tour” in their quest to emotionally connect with and encourage
others “in a movement that needs storytellers,” says Andrews.
Along the way, they battled Bible-thumpers, venomous snakes,
and the inevitable critics who attended the events to cast stones.
But that didn’t stop this trinity.
“I’d rather there were no Atheists in the audience,” says
Dillahunty, who’s known for his passionate, no-holds-barred
debates with phone-in callers on The Atheist Experience. “I’d
rather speak to believers.”
This is the second part of our conversation in St. Louis.
Here they tackle age-old questions about heaven, death, and
the meaning of life. And, oh yeah...they can also tell you how
to make a million bucks the next time you “go walkabout” in
Perth.
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The only good parts of the Bible are the few bits
that contradict the whole of everything else.
I hear you guys were in awe of the Aussie cockatoos.
Matt: I used to have a parrot, which he [Aron] now has.
One of the things that shocked me was seeing two to three
hundred Goffin’s cockatoos in trees while we were walking
around in Perth.
Aron: As an American, I’m looking at these birds as their
retail value on the pet market. Imagine an American forest and
the trees are filled with thousands of really expensive parrots.
Matt: These were million-dollar trees.
Did you see dingos? As in, “A dingo ate my baby!” You
know, just like Atheists supposedly do.
Matt: We saw dingos. But my favorite thing had nothing to
do with wildlife. We know we’re in the land where everything
can kill you. We didn’t go to the Great Barrier Reef, we didn’t go
swimming with sharks. But in Perth, we went out to the Indian
Ocean and this guy [pointing to Aron] decides we go out into
the water. I barely waded in because there’s blue-ringed octopus
and every other thing that can kill you in there. Meanwhile,
Aron is out there trying to body surf. He’s fearless.
Aron, have you taken the guys for a spin on your
motorcycle? Or given them a tattoo?
Seth: Honestly, I don’t think I could pull off a tattoo. I look
like a middle-aged Ferris Bueller.
Aron: I tend to ride at least twenty miles over the speed
limit everywhere I go. One of the reasons I ride a motorcycle
is that I have a much better chance that I get a sudden death.
I’ve seen some of the other options; I prefer that. Ted Nugent
sings, “Some people think they gonna die someday. I got news,
ya never got to go.” Yeah, you do. Everyone dies.
What do you say when a theist asks, “Don’t you don’t
want to see your loved ones again in heaven?”
Seth: That drives me crazy. At every level, the question is
just so wrongheaded. I look at these people and say, “I’d love
to see them again. But what does wanting have to do with it?”
The question itself betrays the wish-thinking that so often
feeds religious belief. I was much the same way when I was a
Christian; I wanted cosmic justice. I wanted to live forever. I
wanted the tragic stuff in this world to be a temporary precursor

to a tragedy-free heaven. It was lazy, but I think I was using
wishful thinking as a coping mechanism to deal with a world
that isn’t fair, isn’t just, isn’t cradled in the hands of some allknowing fixer.
Aron: Being dead isn’t scary; it’s how you get dead. Jesus
said, “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me will never die.”
But whatever you want to pretend happens after life, you may
still find yourself writhing on the floor, clutching your chest in
agony, straining to gasp that last breath. No religion saves us
from that, and that’s the only part of death I’d rather avoid.
And if you died and found out there is a god, what
would you say to him/her/it?
Aron: The idea of a god is so absurd to me now. It’s like
trying to imagine meeting Slartibartfast, the man who built the
earth as part of an alien commercial project. The notion is just
too silly to imagine. But the answer I used to give is that if I
died and met god, my first question to him would be something
along the lines of “What the fuck, dude?” followed by a very
long list of specific issues.
Any past favorite Bible verses that still hold true for
you as Atheists?
Seth: When I was a kid, my parents gave me this little pocket
New Testament, and I had outlined my favorite verses. One of
them was 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks, for
this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Of course, I don’t hold
to the “god’s will” thing, but I’ve always tried to remind myself
to be thankful. The religious challenge this and ask, “If you’re
an Atheist, to whom are you thankful?” As if gratitude requires
the existence of a wizard.
I think one can have and give appreciation in any number
of ways. Now, I don’t give thanks “in everything,” which
would just be stupid. Actually, maybe I don’t really like the
verse after all.
Aron: A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared at my doorstep
trying to get me to think of a few isolated passages that they
thought were pleasant enough phrases to mount on the wall at
Grandma’s house. I said that the only good parts of the Bible are
the few bits that contradict the whole of everything else, and
that any seemingly positive one-liner would be contradicted
on the very next page, and that the best passages one could
quote from the whole miserable mass of madness would be like
putting lipstick on a pig.

We could also turn the Creation Museum into
something that’s actually credible and useful.

Like a homeless shelter.

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 21

We’ve almost certainly already
had an Atheist president.
I think there’s only one mote of wisdom in this otherwise
willfully ignorant and repulsive compilation, and that’s
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, because it contradicts the rest of the
Bible. That passage acknowledges that humans are just another
animal species, and that we should admit that no one knows
whether we have souls ascending to heaven—that all of that is
nothing more than human vanity.
But if there is no heaven or afterlife, theists argue—
Matt: Then there’s no value to life. That’s a common
[teaching] of religions, but they are selling people a bill of
goods. They tell people, “If there’s not a purpose and meaning
that transcends life, then there’s no meaning.” That’s like saying
that if this pencil isn’t valuable to everybody on every planet in
every system in the universe then it has no value. Well, it may
have incredible value to me right now. It may have no value to
you right now. It may have a marginal value to Seth.
Seth: Can I cheat and quote Ingersoll? “Happiness is the
only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy
is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”
Aron: I think that the only meaning your life can ever have
is whatever you mean to someone else.
If you could travel to the past and then bring back
evidence that proves no god exists, what would you
grab?
Seth: I’m a professional videographer. I’d like to
document the Big Bang with strategically positioned highspeed cameras. Scientists could examine and dissect the
footage. It could be shown in every classroom. Across the
web. On IMAX. Audiences could literally experience and
witness their very origins. We could also turn Ken Ham’s
Creation Museum into something that’s actually credible
and useful. Like a homeless shelter.
Aron: You can’t prove that someone or something does not
exist. If Jesus ever existed at all, which I’m not sure he did, I could
bring back his severed head and it wouldn’t prove anything to
anyone who still wanted to believe.
Do you think we’ll ever have an Atheist president?
Seth: Statistically, it’s ludicrous to think that every elected
official chest-thumping about god was an actual believer. Now,
do I think we’ll see a declared Atheist as president some day?
Absolutely. But probably not in my lifetime.
Matt: We’ve almost certainly already had an Atheist
president. I think we’ll have an openly Atheistic president.
I’d guess that it’ll happen in the next 60 years, but I can’t tell
the future.
22 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

What’s the oddest or most annoying thing a believer
has said to you?
Seth: I had a guy in South Florida ask me if I was aware that
Hitler’s irradiation of the Jews had turned them into mutants.
That was one of the more bizarre ones, but at least it was fresh
material.
Another concept that leaves a bad taste in my mouth:
“Everything happens for a reason.” Everywhere we look, we
see these senseless acts, freak accidents, cruelty, unthinkable
tragedies, and there always seems to be somebody in the God
Squad saying, “Relax! It’s all part of a plan.” And of course,
it’s the realist who becomes the bad guy by simply raising up
a hand of challenge and saying, “Since when did the rape of a
child become a good ‘reason’ for anything?”
Matt: People say, “Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a
relationship.” Well, I never had a relationship where I had
to argue the existence of the person I’m in a relationship
with. Except in junior high when my girlfriend moved to a
different school.
Is there such a thing as an Atheist groupie?
Seth: Every public figure bumps into those who have jumped
off the deep end of fandom, and Atheists aren’t immune to this.
But it’s very rare that we get any weird stalkery-type things.
Aron: I’ve met people who feel emotionally connected to
something I said somewhere, and that’s great. But we’re all that
way. I wish I could have met [Carl] Sagan for the same reason.
Seth: Honestly, the weirdest “fandom” stories happened [to
me] when I was a Christian broadcaster in the nineties. One
couple named their firstborn child Seth after hearing my show.
I did overnight classic rock radio for a year, and all manner
of lonely heart would dial in, usually after a few drinks. Many
of the uber-fans were just lonely, I think. I was working a late
shift at [the Christian radio station] KXOJ and a guy called the
request line to ask for sex. I think he called about an hour before
our 11:45 p.m. prayer time, and I just hung up.
Do people say or write upsetting things to you?
Seth: Not much. Lots of pity in my inbox. Lots of
sanctimonious chest-thumping. But not a whole lot of hate.
Matt: My folks think I’m working for Satan and leading
people to hell. My grandmother thinks I am Satan. She tried
to watch an episode of the show and had to run into the other
room to throw up because of the demonic energy that I was
putting off.
Aron: I get very little hate mail, except from other Atheists.
I’m serious. It’s disturbing how we can agree on so much,
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My folks think I’m working for Satan and leading
people to hell. My grandmother thinks I am Satan.
but if someone detects an opinion, association, or political
perspective that isn’t their own, then they’ll often just spit
vitriol indefinitely at the expense of everything else.
Forget all about the bigger picture with our common goals
and common enemies. Once they’re aware of some relatively
trivial difference, then it’s time to let the feces fly. Some people
have a lot of hate in them, and they’ll share it as soon as they
see a point of contention. The worst part of Atheism is other
Atheists because some of my allies are worse enemies than
many of my enemies.
Matt: One of the reasons we work well together is because
we are legitimately friends. When we have disagreements, we
talk it out pretty honestly. Sometimes bluntly. We also go into it
with the understanding that we’re not all going to agree. We’re
not all going to like the same stuff. None of us are of the mind

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that in order to be my friend you have to agree with me on
everything. That’s just ridiculous.
In that case, how about a time-tested question that
will truly test your friendship: Beatles or Stones?
Matt: The Beatles!
Aron: The Beatles. George was my favorite. Then Ringo.
Never quite got the Stones.
Seth: Beatles. No contest.
Natasha Stoynoff is a New York Times best-selling author, journalist,
and screenwriter based in Manhattan.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 23

BASIC BIBLE FACTS
for theists

A

by Brian Bolton

T

hree favorite expressions that
saturate the pious language
of Christian fundamentalists
are “biblical values,” “biblical
principles,” and “biblical worldview.” For
example, the stridently anti-marriage-equality
restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A asserts that their
operation is based on biblical values because
they condemn birth control, divorce, and samesex marriage—plus they’re closed on Sundays.
Similarly, Dave Ramsey’s franchised Financial
Peace University purports to be a “biblicallybased curriculum that teaches people how to
handle money God’s way.”
Thousands of other so-called Christian
businesses derive their values, principles,
and world-views from a highly selective and
thoroughly misleading reading of scripture,
disregarding all of the terrible material that
predominates in holy writ. One common theme
stresses the “biblical three Rs”: repentance,
redemption, and reconciliation. But the true

overarching theme is actually punishment,
punishment, punishment.
To be effective defenders of the secular
perspective, Atheists must be prepared to
attack the Christian viewpoint at its point of
greatest vulnerability, which is the Bible itself.
Rather than just playing defense against the
endless assaults by fundamentalist zealots,
it is essential to go on the offense, armed
with knowledge about the errors, terrors, and
contradictions that permeate “God’s word.”
This article summarizes nine categories of
basic facts that should be useful to Atheists
who find themselves entangled in Bible
discussions. Of course, there is no substitute
for actually reading the so-called “good book,”
which is exactly what many Christians do not
do. “Good book” is a monstrous misnomer for
this detestable compilation of holy horrors.
These nine categories are roughly ordered
chronologically, from the beginning to the end
of the scriptural story.

“Good book” is a monstrous misnomer for
this detestable compilation of holy horrors.

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 25

Maybe Noah carried a recessive gene for nephilimism,
which activated several generations later.
Nephilim and the Noachian Deluge
The Bible’s preeminent massacre is the Noachian Deluge, or
the Great Flood, outlined in Genesis Chapters 6, 7, and 8, where
God drowned everyone except eight people in a monumental,
worldwide flood. God’s motivation was the wickedness and
depravity of humankind, but he also did it for a reason that’s
hardly ever acknowledged: the cross-breeding of human
women with divine beings from the spirit world. These unions
produced giant mutant offspring called Nephilim (Genesis 6:4)
who were up to ten feet tall (Deuteronomy 3:11).
The giants show up again after the Deluge (they’re also called
Anakim, Anak, Emim, or Rephain) a dozen times (Numbers
13:28,33; Deuteronomy 1:28, 2:10–11, 3:11, 9:3; Judges 1:20;
Joshua 12:4, 13:12, 15:8, 17:15, 18:16; and 2 Samuel 21:15–21).
How their kind was able to survive the Deluge is a mystery.
Maybe Noah carried a recessive gene for nephilimism, which
activated several generations later. Or, possibly, ancient alien
spirit-beings returned after the Deluge and mated with human
women, begetting more mutant giant spawn.
Universal Jihad and Biblical Law
In the Hebrew (Old) Testament, the most serious violation
is that of worshiping heathen gods or idols, which is reiterated
a total of 332 times. This unforgivable misbehavior requires
the death penalty, which is repeated more than eighty times
though explicit decree, murderous action, or threatened
elimination. Because god’s severe punishments are inflicted
tirelessly on his incorrigible children, it can be concluded
that Hebrew history developed to a great extent around the
first of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other
gods before me.” In other words, god conducted universal
jihad against infidels in a manner no different from that of the
Islamic State. Deuteronomy 13 is a concise statement: family
members who recommend worshiping other gods must be
executed, and all residents of a town where leaders encourage
worship of other gods must be killed and everything burned.
This will satisfy god’s fierce anger, and he will have mercy and
compassion for those adherents who undertook the murderous
action in his name.
How is this any different than Sharia law? Maybe the
advocates of official bans on Sharia in the U.S. (already
approved in eight states and all irrelevant as well as

unconstitutional) should also propose biblical-law bans,
which should be supported by Atheists under the guise of an
equal protection argument.
Biblical Truth and Impossible Claims
The Hebrew Testament reports events that are simply
unbelievable because of the impossibly large numbers involved
or the incredible nature of the episodes described. Well-known
examples are the six-day creation, the worldwide flood, and
the parting of the Red Sea. These events obviously did not
occur for the reason that they contradict everything we know
today about the natural world. Here are some other examples:
a half million Israelite troops were slaughtered in a single day
(2 Chronicles 13:15–17); 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep and
goats were sacrificed to god (1 Kings 8:62–63); 1,160,000
troops were garrisoned in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 17:13–19);
675,000 sheep, 72,000 oxen, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 young
girls were taken as booty after the massacre of the Midianites
(Numbers 31:31–35).
The temple constructed under King Solomon was far too
large and opulent to have been built in one person’s lifetime
(2 Chronicles 3–9). Speaking of unrealistic longevity, seven
patriarchs lived longer than 900 years and another two dozen
lived between 120 and 895 years (Genesis 5, Genesis 8, and
other books). Samson killed one thousand Philistines with a
donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15:15), Elijah ascended into heaven
on a whirlwind (2 Kings 3:11), Joshua prayed for the sun and
moon to stand still and they did (Joshua 10:12–14), and Jonah
was swallowed by a great fish and was coughed up alive on
the beach three days later (Jonah 1:15–17, 2:10). These and
many other episodes could not possibly have happened and,
moreover, their recitation as divinely inspired truth casts doubt
on the credibility of all other remarkable Bible claims.
Patrilineal Guilt
Perhaps no biblical contradiction is more difficult to
comprehend than god’s refusal to frame a consistent policy
concerning the punishment of children for the sins of their
parents. On one hand is god’s policy that punishment for sin
continues from parents to their descendants (Exodus 20:5;
2 Samuel 12:13–18; 1 Kings 13:34, 14:10, 21:25–29; 2 Kings
5:27). Directly contravening this principle, on the other hand,

Most people don’t know that god requires
the death penalty for violations of the
first nine of the Ten Commandments.
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God conducted universal jihad against infidels in
a manner no different than the Islamic State.
god declared that children should not be punished for the sins
of their fathers and that all people must pay the penalty for their
own sins (Deuteronomy 24:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 25:4;
Jeremiah 31:29–30; Ezekiel 18:2–4).
Three gruesome examples illustrate god’s preferred policy.
Achan’s children were stoned to death along with him (Joshua
7:13–26), the children of three disobedient men were buried
alive with their fathers (Numbers 16:25–34), and when Daniel’s
false accusers were eaten alive by lions, so were their children
(Daniel 6:24).
Redemption and the Blood Sacrifice
The Hebrew Testament contains twenty chapters in four
books that specify, in exacting detail, how animals are to be
sacrificed to the glory of god. The sacrificial animals (oxen,
sheep, goats, turtledoves, and pigeons) are killed and their
blood is sprinkled or smeared on the altar, then the carcasses
are burned. While the typical ritual sacrifice involves a few
dozen animals, some require the killing of thousands or even
tens of thousands of animals, and god derived great pleasure
and enjoyment from these barbaric sacrifices.
The blood sacrifice of a human is the central theme in
Christianity. God’s sacrifice of his only son, who is often
labeled “the lamb of God,” is referred to in twenty Christian
(New) Testament verses as “redemption through his blood”
and “redeemed with his precious blood” (e.g. Romans 3:25,
1 Corinthians 11:25, 1 Peter 1:19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation
1:5). Jesus himself also endorsed animal and human sacrifice
(Matthew 5:23–24, Mark 10:45, Luke 5:12–14).
The sacrament of holy communion is really just vicarious
cannibalism: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has
eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:54).
God sure has a bloodthirsty disposition.
Executing Atheists
The Bible requires the death penalty for sixty specified
crimes, including worshiping or sacrificing to heathen
gods; worshiping idols; worshiping the sun, moon, or stars;
consulting mediums, soothsayers, or astrologers; cursing god;
Sabbath-breaking; adultery; murder; kidnapping; stealing;
homosexuality; perjury; striking one’s parents; rebelling against
one’s parents; unchasteness (if you’re a daughter); prostitution

(if you’re a priest’s daughter); proclaiming false prophecy; and
having sexual relations with both a woman and her mother (all
three must be burned alive).
Jesus generally endorsed Mosaic law, and he specifically
supported the death penalty for the sin of cursing one’s parents
(Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10). Paul supported capital punishment
for a variety of violations, including ungodliness or non-belief.
He referred to the irreligious as god-haters (Romans 1:26–
32, 1 Timothy 1:8–11). While Atheism certainly constitutes
disobedience or blasphemy in the Hebrew Testament, it’s not
until Paul’s declaration in the Christian Testament that it’s
named as a capital crime.
Most people don’t know that god requires the death penalty
for violations of the first nine of the Ten Commandments
(Exodus 20:1–17). Opponents of Ten Commandments
displays on public property should stop quarreling with
the fundamentalists and instead adopt the strategy of
demanding that the mandated penalties for violators be listed
prominently alongside the commandments themselves. How is
it not blasphemy to list them without naming god’s ordained
punishments? After all, such selective citing of biblical text
willfully disrespects the sacred integrity of god’s holy word.
Biblical Bigotry and the Blood Libel
The Christian Testament is absolutely clear about the
question of who killed Jesus. In Acts 2 through 10, Peter
stated repeatedly the same thing that Stephen (Acts 7:52) and
Paul (Thessalonians 2:14–15) also said: the Jews killed Jesus.
This allegation is consistent with what the Jews said about
themselves: “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew
27:25). Known as the blood libel, this corporate acceptance
of guilt has been regarded by some as biblical justification for
anti-Jewish bigotry today. Fortunately, the collective blame on
all Jews was lifted—at least from Catholic doctrine—in 1965.
More recently, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the absolution in a
2011 book.
And what did Jesus have to say about Jews? “You are children
of your father, the Devil” (John 8:44).
Peace, Violence, and Poverty
How can Jesus be the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) when
he incorporated extreme violence into several of his stories?

Jesus told his disciples that he will return
unannounced and cut the unfaithful
into pieces and send them to hell.
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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 27

In three definitive
statements,
Jesus said that
the vast majority
of humankind
will go to hell.
Jesus told his disciples that he will return unannounced and
cut the unfaithful into pieces and send them to hell (Matthew
24:51, Luke 12:46). He also said that when he returns for the
last judgement he will order the wicked people brought before
him to be executed, and he will crush unbelievers to dust and
relegate them to hell (Luke 19:27, 20:9–18).
Jesus is also portrayed as a dedicated servant of the poor
(Matthew 25:41–46, Luke 14:13–14). However, Jesus’ forceful
command to help “the least of those among you” is totally
contradicted by his support for right-wing economic ethics:
“To those who have much, more will be given; from those who
have little, even that will be taken away” (Matthew 13:12,
25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 19:26). Is this the proof we need that
the Bible really is Donald Trump’s favorite book?

Eternal Punishment Awaiting Most People
The Gospel makes it perfectly clear that Jesus was
thoroughly obsessed with hell, a concept that he invoked in
seventy-three verses. In three definitive statements, he said
that the vast majority of humankind will go to hell (Matthew
7:13–14, 22:14, Luke 13:23–24). This pessimistic declaration is
justified because Jesus knew that very few people could satisfy
his sixteen moral mandates.
To be saved, believers must: obey Jesus’ teachings (Matthew
7:26–27), give up everything (Luke 14:33), not accumulate
material wealth (Matthew 6:19–21), desert home and family
(Mark 10:29–30), reject interpersonal violence (Matthew
26:52), forgive others (Mark 11:25–26), not divorce a spouse
(Mark 10:9–12), help the poor (Matthew 25:41–46), not pray
in public (Matthew 6:5–6), not swear an oath (Matthew 5:34–
37), mutilate oneself to atone for sins (Mark 9:43–47), cast out
demons and speak in tongues (Mark 16:17–18), not publicly
deny Jesus (Luke 12:8–9), not falsely prophesy (Matthew 7:22–
23), have the faith of a child (Luke 18:16–17), and not commit
blasphemy against the holy spirit (Mark 3:28–29).
There is no stronger evidence against the claim that the
Bible is the inerrant word of god than the Bible itself. The most
effective arguments against the false assertions of believers
come straight out of holy writ.
Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist living in Georgetown, Texas. His
contributions in psychological measurement, personality assessment,
and the psychology of disability have been recognized by universities
and psychological societies.

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ATHEISTS
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and more
Atheists.org/shop
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Atheists are one of the largest religious demographics in our nation. Politicians need
to learn that we aren’t going anywhere.
Exercising your right to vote and holding politicians accountable is the only way for
us to change our government for the better.
Take the Atheist Voter Pledge!
Learn more at AtheistVoter.org:
• State-by-state voter registration info and i.d. requirements
• Candidates’ campaign stops near you
• AtheistVoter blog and news updates
• How to get involved

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 29

DOGMA WATCH

Religion has had an enormous impact on the world. In this series, Michael B.
Paulkovich examines dogmas, myths, and religious notions past and present.

What’s So Great about
Christianity?

by Michael B. Paulkovich

I

s it possible that instead of “discovering” America,
Christopher Columbus could have landed on the
moon? Humankind’s trajectory of technological
advances began around 1900 B.C.E. with the
work of the ancient Egyptians. We still have evidence today
documenting their investigations into medicine, astronomy,
mathematics, and the scientific method. For example, in 400
B.C.E., Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” revolutionized
health care in his time by dismissing superstitious notions of
“gods” and “demons” and applying the scientific method to
his work.
During the next four hundred years many fantastic devices
were invented:
• In the fourth century B.C.E., Aristotle invented and used
a diving bell.
• In the third century B.C.E., Romans used water wheels.
• In the first and second centuries B.C.E., Romans had
heated spas and indoor plumbing. They also built roads,
aqueducts, bridges, and dams throughout the empire.
• Archimedes invented the water screw and the lever around
250 B.C.E.
• By 200 B.C.E., astronomers in Greece had invented an
astrolabe.
• Around 100 B.C.E., the Antikythera mechanism—an
analog computer—was invented.

Then Jesus came along and Ludwig
taught that
it is your own fault if
Zamenhof
you get sick or have some disability because those are god’s ways
of penalizing “sin” (John 5:11-14, Matthew 9:6, Matthew 9:33).
Another notion the gospels teach is that devils cause illness
(Matthew 9:33, Luke 8:2). And thus science and Hippocratic
methods were replaced with faith-healing and exorcisms.
Nonetheless, progress continued to advance in Egypt into
the first century C.E., when Heron of Alexandria invented a
steam engine, wind wheel, vending machine, piston pump,
programmable robotic cart, and many other innovations.
By the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., science, philosophy,
and engineering stagnated in Roman society, now solidly under
oppressive Christian rule. A countless number of instructive
texts were destroyed by the new Christian authority, and in the
rare case where something survived the ubiquitous Christian
bonfires, citizens were forbidden to read any of it.
Christians burned the fantastic Alexandrian Library in 391
C.E. With a million texts in its collection, the library was the
center of scholarship in the west. Its destruction (and ongoing
censorship that followed) by mad and devoted believers set
civilization back by at least 1,000 years and ushered in the
Dark Ages. Four years later, Emperor Theodosius I declared
Christianity the only lawful cult in the empire, which now
imposed the death penalty on pagans and Atheists.
Jews were somewhat tolerated, perhaps owing to the fact that
Jesus was a Jew. Whereas pagans were executed, oppression
against Jews amounted to laws denying them many rights like

The Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom
declared in the fourth century that it was
“the duty of all Christians to hate Jews.”

CONTINUED ON PAGE 37

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Pope Innocent III declared that anyone who reads
the Bible must be stoned to death.

voting, holding office, and marrying Christians. The Council
of Elvira in 305 C.E. even prohibited Jews from eating in the
same room as Christians. The Archbishop of Constantinople
John Chrysostom declared in the fourth century that it was “the
duty of all Christians to hate Jews,” claiming that Jews “sacrifice
their children to Satan.”1
In 448 C.E., Theodosius II ordered all non-Christian books
burned. In 527 C.E., Emperors Justin and Justinian declared
“pagans barred from office and their real property confiscated.”2
Two years later, Justinian closed all non-Christian schools of
philosophy, including the Academy of Athens. The Catholic
Encyclopedia admits, “From that date, Christianity had no rival
in Athens.”3 Thousands of pagans and Jews were arrested,
tortured, and murdered for the crimes of educating people and
of not being Christian.

In 1198, Pope Innocent III declared that anyone who reads
the Bible must be stoned to death.4 This was reaffirmed in 1229
at the Council of Toulouse, which prohibited the laity from
reading the Bible. In 1270, King James I of Aragon passed a law
wherein all people were required to turn their Bibles in to the
bishop to be burned. The penalty for not doing so was to be
declared a heretic. Then, not only would the Bible be burned,
but its owner as well. 5 The ruling class seemed to have a keen
understanding that reading the silly Christian “holy” book
leads to disbelief.
Christian authorities continued to close schools, burn books,
deny science, and promote their religion century after century
by converting non-Christians when they could, or merely by
killing them (often by burning them alive), and plundering
in the name of their Christ. Under oppressive Christian rule,

Thousands of pagans and Jews were arrested,
tortured, and murdered for the crimes of
educating people and not being Christian.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31

Roman society lost the body of people with the engineering
skills that led to the technical progress in previous centuries.
In the 16th century, Pope Leo X said, “Let us enjoy the
Papacy, as God has given it to us”6 also admitting “how much
we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is
sufficiently evident to all ages.” 7
Thanks to the oppressive yoke of Christianity, we did not
land on the moon until 1969. It seems that if Christianity had
not been made into law, we might have landed by the year 900,
or even earlier.
Michael B. Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer
who also contributes to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspectives. He is a
contributing editor for The American Rationalist and author of No Meek
Messiah. His next book, Beyond the Crusades, will be published this year
by American Atheist Press with a foreword by Robert M. Price.

Endnotes
1. Alexander, 11
2. Wheless, 306-307
3. Catholic Encyclopedia (vol. 2), 43
4. Robertson, 214
5. Cumming, 158-159
6. Vallentin, 462
7. Catholic Encyclopedia (vol. 9), 163

32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

References
Alexander, Edward, The Holocaust and the War of
Ideas. Edison: Transaction Publishers, 1994.
Allen, James P., Middle Egyptian: An Introduction
to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.
Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2000.
Catholic Encyclopedia, first edition. The
Encyclopedia Press, 1907-1913.
Cumming, John, Apocalyptic Sketches. London:
Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co., 1850.
De Camp, L. Sprague, The Ancient Engineers.
New York: Ballentine Books, 1960.
Hatonn, Gyeorgos C., Through Darkness Into
Light. Carson City: America West, 1992.
Kohen, Elli, History of the Byzantine Jews: A Microcosmos in
the Thousand Year Empire. Lanham: University Press, 2007.
Panati, Charles, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday
Things. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
Robertson, Alexander, The Roman Catholic Church
in Italy. London: Morgan and Scott, 1905.
Roscoe, William, The Life and Pontificate of Leo the
Tenth. University Press of the Pacific, 2000.
Vallentin, Antonina, Leonardo da Vinci: the Tragic
Pursuit of Perfection. Viking Press, 1938.
Wheless, Joseph, Forgery in Christianity.
Minneapolis: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.

1ST QUARTER 2016

Danthropology
A Column by Dan Arel

Convenient
Propaganda

F

or the past five years, Syria has been
engulfed in a civil war that has displaced
over six million refugees with over four
million seeking asylum in other countries.
The debate over what should be done about this humanitarian
crisis has largely remained a European issue, creeping into
U.S. politics only from time to time.
However, after 130 people died in the terrorist attacks in
Paris last November by Islamic State operatives, the debate
in the U.S. has escalated because many right-wing politicians
wrongfully assert that the attackers sneaked into France as
Syrian refugees. This has inspired undue panic and a call to
curtail, or at least strictly limit, all plans for the U.S. to accept
Syrian refugees.
Religious rhetoric among the Republican presidential
candidates has been chilling. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have
suggested that we only allow Christian refugees from Syria
into the country.1 Ben Carson has referred to the refugees as
“rabid dogs,” and in the spirit of German law from the 1930s,
Donald Trump has called for all Muslims in the U.S. to be
registered in a database and for them to carry special cards for
easy identification. 2,3
Not surprisingly, those not running for office are also
weighing in. U.S. evangelical leader Franklin Graham warned
that allowing foreign Muslims to enter the U.S. would make
us the next Paris. He posted this on Facebook: “I’ve said this

before, and many people criticized me for saying it. We must
reform our immigration policies in the United States. We
cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders
unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror. If we
continue to allow Muslim immigration, we’ll see much more
of what happened in Paris—it’s on our doorstep.”4
These candidates do not have a problem with using religion
as a reason for denying basic humanitarian aid to someone,
even someone f leeing death and torture at the hands of ISIS.
The worst are those like Carson and Trump who, despite
knowing what awaits these refugees if they return, want them
sent back, nonetheless.
The Christian right in the U.S. has of late become a whitesupremacist movement. This becomes even clearer when you
look at the U.S. racial climate more closely and realize that
the All Lives Matter campaign was spawned into existence as
a response to the Black Lives Matter campaign. Of course all
lives matter, but we cannot ignore the fact that the systematic
slaughter and oppression of a particular race should and does
require special attention.
The love child of All Lives Matter is Blue Lives Matter,
a campaign that attempts to compare police deaths to the
epidemic oppression and killing of black men and women
around the country. This ignores the truth that we can believe
that cops’ lives matter while at the same time recognize a
much larger problem of racist killings in our country.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a
Christian Lives Matter movement
springs up in the near future.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 33

These
candidates
do not have a
problem with
using religion
as a reason for
denying basic
humanitarian
aid to someone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a Christian Lives Matter
movement springs up in the near future. It would be a handy
propaganda tool for those who are giving life to the lie that
all Muslims are potential terrorists. But it’s these right-wing
American Christian evangelicals who should be feared and
distrusted because their ideology has nothing to do with
empathy or compassion. It is fueled by racists and bigots who
craft public policy out of fear because they want to transform
this nation into the white, Christian utopia they incorrectly
believe it once was.
Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist and the author of Parenting
Without God. You can read his blog at Danthropology.net and follow
him on Twitter @DanArel.

Endnotes
1. “Jeb Bush & Ted Cruz Only Want to Save Christians,” by
Olivia Nuzzi, Nov. 16, 2105, TheDailyBeast.com
2. “Ben Carson Compares Some Refugees to ‘Rabid Dogs,’” by
Eugene Scott, Nov. 19, 2015, CNN.com
3. “Donald Trump’s Plan for a Muslim Database Draws
Comparison to Nazi Germany,” by Vaughn Hilliard, Nov. 20,
2015, NBCNews.com
4. TinyURL.com/FranklinFacebook

How Thrilled
My father came from a fleck of a village
That was sometimes in Russia and sometimes in Poland.
He spent his youth shivering over the Talmud,
Scarcely noticing he was hungry and cold,
Except to call it God’s will.
Can you imagine?
Can you imagine how thrilled he was to learn in America
That he had the right to pursue happiness?
—Felicia Nimue Ackerman
This poem first appeared in The Providence Journal.

34 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

1ST QUARTER 2016

Enough Whistling in the Dark
by Tom Parks

W

histling in the dark. Just to be sure of
the point I want to make, I checked
several reliable sources about this
aphorism, including dictionaries,
encyclopedias, and standard references on idioms and
colloquialisms. Yep, seems I was right: the term “whistling
in the dark” describes many, if not most, of the published
diatribes against god that have appeared in recent years. And
as a subscriber and supporter of this magazine and a few others
in the same vein, I propose a different approach if indeed the
object is to bring enlightenment to the multitudes.
Whistling in the dark refers to summoning up one’s courage
in a difficult situation. Or, more colloquially, it’s the belief in a
positive result, even though everybody else is sure it will not
happen. Sound familiar? It should, if you have done much

reading with an atheistic slant in the past few years. From the
perspective of one born in the dead center of the deep South
over seven decades ago who has witnessed first-hand the
horrors of overt religious bigotry, let me suggest that, in our
collective efforts to enlighten and clarify the ways of the world,
we need to stop using the singular form of the word “god.”
Even the shallowest kind of research will show there are
currently thousands of gods. Adherents.com, for example,
suggests twenty-two “religions” worldwide with 4,200 gods,
and the Encyclopedia of the Gods references 2,500 deities.
TalkFreethought.org refers to 5,000, and the Hindu religion
alone is said to have 330 million unidentified demigods of
various purposes and responsibilities. Ridiculously, many of
those gods require their followers to, in the words of the first
of the Ten Commandments “…worship no other god before

All-powerful deities apparently lack
the power to smite each other.
1ST QUARTER 2016

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 35

me,” thereby acknowledging that there are indeed other gods
out there over whom they evidently have no control. So much
for your all-powerful, all-knowing deities, who apparently
lack the power to smite each other.
When I see the word “god” in the title of a book or magazine
article, I cringe. Our throw-away use of the term “god” weakens
any valid argument we may have about the dark role that
religion plays in our lives. There are as many gods as there are
people who believe in them. Eventually, any manifesto against
a singular god will ultimately get nowhere because the most
common reaction from a believer is to simply dismiss it as “not
my idea of god”—and the manifesto whistles in the dark. It is
one thing to ask a person, “Do you believe in god?” and quite
another to ask, “Do you believe in the supernatural world?” We
do too much of the former and not enough of the latter.
The simple fact is that people who profess an abiding belief
in a god are less comfortable defending or declaring allegiance
to the supernatural. And that supernatural world, of course,
is the dominion of the gods—all of them—whether ghosts,
goblins, gremlins, grinches, or the gods themselves, by the
millions (it’s an ever-changing number).
Sadly, it’s a losing prospect to take on a singular god; no
argument has ever destroyed one. (And that, sorry to say,
includes all the brilliant and engaging “new Atheists” like
Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and

Daniel Dennett.) Only time and circumstance can do that;
ergo, we bid a fond farewell to the likes of Zeus, Neptune,
Diana, Ra, Venus, Bacchus, and their ilk over the centuries.
But be assured that success in destroying any god today would
merely result in a newly concocted one tomorrow. We need to
advocate that science explains life and art celebrates it, quite
unlike the world of a deity—any deity—to whom we can pray
for supernatural miracles or for interference in the natural
world in order that our self-serving wishes may be granted.
Our focus should bring to bear the fulfilling and
contrasting experiences of the natural world at the expense
of those who vow total devotion to the supernatural. We
realize that trying to explain the world in supernatural terms
is an insult to mankind’s intelligence and progress. Pointedly
asking candidates for public office if they believe in the
supernatural may help put an end to their pandering to their
religious constituents.
We need less whistling in the dark and more shining the
light of reality into the dark corners of the supernatural world
where all the little gods are lurking.
Tom Parks is a retired university professor and administrator who
has taught at Lehigh University, Clemson, and the University of Texas.
He is the author and editor of twelve books and has a Ph.D. in applied
linguistics from Vanderbilt University.

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From the author of the Dogma Watch
series in this magazine:
Religion, especially Christianity, has enjoyed
unwarranted respect for far too long. Jesus
did say a few nice things, but he was no
humble or wise prophet. How do we know?

It’s in the Bible.
Available at

NoMeekMessiah.com
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<none>

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http://michiganatheists.org

MI

Mid-Michigan Atheists & Humanists

Lansing

http://www.mmah.org

MN

Atheists for Human Rights

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http://atheistsforhumanrights.org

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Campus Atheists Skeptics & Humanists

Minneapolis

http://cashumn.org

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Black Freethinkers of Kansas City

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http://www.meetup.com/Black-FreeThinkers-of-KC/

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Columbia Atheists

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http://www.meetup.com/The-Columbia-Atheists-Meetup-Group

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Joplin Freethinkers

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http://www.joplinfreethinkers.org

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Kansas City Atheist Coalition

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http://www.kcatheists.org

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MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics

Columbia

http://muSASHA.org

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O’Fallon Freethinkers

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http://www.meetup.com/OFallon-Freethinkers

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Rationalist Society of St. Louis

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http://www.rssl.org

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Secular Student Alliance @ UCMO

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http://www.centralskeptics.org

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Springfield Freethinkers

Springfield

http://www.meetup.com/SpringfieldFreethinkers

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Springfield Skeptics

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

MO

St. Joseph Skeptics

St. Joseph

http://stjosephskeptics.org

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We Are Atheism

Grandview

http://goo.gl/K2koj

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Humanist Ethical Atheist Rational Thought Society

Biloxi

http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/HeartsOfTheSouth

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Biloxi

http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/southernatheist

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A-News

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http://www.apartmentJ.com

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http://www.charlotteatheists.com

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Hickory Humanist Alliance

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

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MASH Ft. Bragg

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http://www.mashfortbragg.org

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http://www.wnchumanists.org

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Red River Freethinkers

Fargo

http://redriverfreethinkers.org

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Lincoln Atheists

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http://www.lincolnatheists.org

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http://omahaatheists.org/

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

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New Jersey Humanist Network

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http://njhn.org/

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http://secularstudents.org/montclair

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South Jersey Humanists

Oceanville

http://goo.gl/K2koj

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https://www.facebook.com/SSA.WPUNJ

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Roswatheists

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http://www.meetup.com/Roswatheists

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Atheist Community of Santa Fe

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

NV

Reno Freethinkers

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http://www.RenoFreethinkers.org

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Syracuse

http://www.funygroup.org

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Hudson Valley Humanists

Saugerties

http://hudsonvalley.humanists.net

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Long Island Atheist Meetup

Lynbrook

http://goo.gl/K2koj

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New York City Atheists

New York

http://nyc-atheists.org

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Ward Melville High School Secular Student Alliance

East Setauket

http://goo.gl/K2koj

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Westchester Atheists

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http://www.meetup.com/atheists-504

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Free Inquiry Group

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http://www.gofigger.org

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Freethought Dayton

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http://www.meetup.com/freethoughtdayton

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http://www.hcco.org

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http://midohioatheists.org

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http://www.ACTOK.org

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Oklahoma Atheists

Oklahoma City

http://www.oklahomaatheists.com

PA

NEPA Freethought Society

Wilkes-Barre

http://www.nepafreethought.org

SC

Piedmont Humanists

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http://www.PiedmontHumanists.org

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Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry

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http://www.lowcountryhumanists.org

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Upstate Atheists

Boiling Springs

http://goo.gl/K2koj

TN

Memphis Atheists

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

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Memphis Freethought Alliance

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http://memphisfreethought.com

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Nashville Secular Life

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http://www.meetup.com/secularlife

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Rationalists of East Tennessee

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http://www.rationalists.org

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Atheist Community of Austin

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http://atheist-community.org

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Corpus Christi Atheists

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http://www.meetup.com/CCAtheists

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Denton Atheists

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El Paso Atheists

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http://www.elpasoatheists.com

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Freethinkers Association of Central Texas

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http://FreethinkersACT.org

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http://freethoughtoasis.org

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Golden Triangle Freethinkers

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Houston Atheists

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http://HoustonAtheists.org

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Kingwood Humble Atascocita Atheists

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http://www.meetup.com/atheists-496

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http://goo.gl/K2koj

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http://www.meetup.com/Wise-Free-Thinkers-and-Skeptics

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http://swiftnow.org

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http://www.meetup.com/Mountain-State-Freethinkers

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 43

AIMS AND PURPOSES
A

merican Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and
absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a ‘wall of separation’ between state and church.

American Atheists is organized:
• To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets,
rituals, and practices;
• To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough
understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
• To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;
• To act as a ‘watchdog’ to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church;
• To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular
system of education available to all;
• To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy,
understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation
to society;
• To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of
strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity;
• To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and
enrichment of human (and other) life; and
• To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of
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Definitions:

A
A

theism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural
beliefs altogether. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism.

theism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of
authority and creeds.

M

aterialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent,
immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding
the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth
and strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and
justice. Materialism’s ‘faith’ is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is
a commitment that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is
impossible without noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works.

M

aterialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes,
unlimited.

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 45

Why I Am An Atheist
by J.T. Eberhard

I

am an Atheist because there is no evidence for god. It’s
a simple but uninteresting reason. What is interesting,
however, is how I came to grasp that fact.
I adopted belief in Christ when I was fifteen. And I did
so despite never having read even one page of the Bible. I
assumed that because so many people had faith, there must be
something to it. I mean, how could most people be wrong? Like
most fifteen-year-olds, I suffered from low self-esteem, and my
conformity to Christianity was a way to make friends.
So I adopted the stances of East Side Baptist Church in
Mountain Home, Arkansas. I made a trip with the congregation
to a Promise Keepers rally in Tennessee. I witnessed to people,
and I believed that homosexuality was an immoral perversion.
Belonging to this church made me feel intelligent. Because
I grew up on the outskirts of a very small town, I was able to
spend many nights outside, just taking in the stars. And when I
did, I assumed that everything to know about astronomy could
be summed up in one sentence: God created the stars. And by
lying on the ground, looking up at the sky, and appreciating his
handiwork, I was communicating with god. Sure, there was
some sort of process that caused the stars to shine, but it was
all part of god’s plan. I was certain that even astronomers must
believe that the stars were catalyzed by god, and their job as
scientists was to uncover the way he made it all work.
Then, just before I turned twenty-one, I began to actually
read the Bible. I finally got around to doing this because I started
to have questions about some things. For example, when I was
growing up, my parents always had gay friends who were my
friends, too. They were kind people, so I wondered if god would
really send them to hell. Well, sure enough, the Bible condemns
homosexuality in no uncertain terms.
I might have been able to cast such a monstrous idea aside
by saying that god’s ways are inscrutable or something like that,
except that it was shortly before I started reading the Bible that
I also began to read up on astronomy. The differences between
the Bible and even the most elementary astronomy book
astounded me. Unlike the Bible, there was no need to explain
away any atrocious passages of any astronomy text. At no point

Photo by Anthony Harden

did physicists say one thing in the beginning of a book, only to
completely contradict that idea at another point. These books
were written clearly and succinctly by people willing to explain
the things I didn’t understand.
Conversely, the Bible commanded me to not question
its content (Proverbs 3:5). Sure, there were places where it’s
vaguely implied that I should seek reason as well, but that didn’t
rescue the book from its abuses of reason—it just contradicted
them. In the Bible, obeying even the cruelest of god’s edicts
without pause is a virtue, like in the story of Abraham and Isaac.
And nowhere in the Bible does god ever explain his actions
to anybody. It occurred to me that this was why people were
always bickering over what god’s will truly was, even in my own
church.
I have since read it through thrice more (learn from my
mistake—once is enough), and every time, I was increasingly
disappointed in my younger self who felt enlightened by just
looking at the stars. It was now clear to me that I was calling
my lack of knowledge about them “god,” and I was proud of that
ignorance. Such is the effect of a worldview that makes belief
the object of focus, rather than the reliability of the method
used to formulate the belief. I was so proud when, in fact, I had
no reason to be.
Ever since then, I have worked to figure out who I really
am and how the world really works. For any belief I hold now,
anybody can ask me at any time, “How do you know that?” or
“Why do you believe that?” and I will be able to explain it to
them using the same methods that revealed the true nature of
the stars.
I have also come to understand that in this world, we’re
ultimately all playing on the same team, and ignorant beliefs,
like those of my youth, are divisive and dangerous.
J.T. Eberhard’s blog, What Would J.T. Do?, is at Patheos.com/blogs/
WWJTD. He previously worked for the Secular Student Alliance, where
he was their first high-school organizer. He is the co-founder of the
Skepticon conference and served as the event’s lead organizer for its
first three years.

Why are you an Atheist? We are soliciting submissions that answer this question in 600 to 800 words. Send them to
PWhissel@Atheists.org. Essays may be subject to revision, and publication is at the sole discretion of the Editor-in-Chief.
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