NEPA Freethought Society bus ad fundraiser success

NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus
NEPA Freethought Society advertisement, including disclaimer, to appear on COLTS bus

The NEPA Freethought Society fundraiser to place a bus advertisement in Scranton, PA is a success!

Thanks to supporters who helped make the NEPA Freethought Society fundraiser to place a bus advertisement in Scranton, Pennsylvania a success. The ‘soft’ fundraiser goal of $235 was surpassed – the fundraiser reached $292 which will allow for payment of fundraising fees and a small contribution to the NEPA Freethought Society for future expenses including subscription fees for

This month, the NEPA Freethought Society advertisement is scheduled to appear on a County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) bus. Updates, including photographs of the advertisement, shall be posted here. Thanks again for the support!

Learn more about the NEPA Freethought Society on its website.

The NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania) Freethought Society is a social, educational, activist, and philosophical coalition of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, and skeptics predicated on support and community which upholds the separation of church and state and promotes critical thinking.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Can we trust reason if God doesn’t exist?

Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen
Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen

I respond to the assertion that if the Christian god does not exist we cannot trust our own reasoning.

C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologists often formulate arguments such that an atheist has no grounds to trust their own reasoning faculties if it is the case that the universe were not designed by the Christian god. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Case for Christianity, explains,

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, that gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But is so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? […] But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God” (Lewis, 32).

Lewis’ reasoning has several flaws. First, Lewis assumes that we cannot believe our reasoning faculties are reliable/trustworthy if it is the case that random processes (rather than a supreme intelligence) lead to thought. Why is this the case? Lewis merely, at least in this passage, only asserts that random processes do not provide justification for believing our thought faculties are available – that thought processes can only be thought of as reliable if a supreme intelligence had created them.

The process by which thought came to exist, I think, has no bearing on whether thought processes can be thought of as reliable, but rather looking at perhaps the results and analyzing the accuracy (in most cases) of said thought processes should lead to whether we can be justified in believing our thought processes are reliable.

As I explained in a piece refuting presuppositional apologetics, believing induction — that the future will resemble the past given sufficient trials or experiences — is reliable…and the circularity of induction is not only a problem for atheists, but also a problem for theists which — in order to start reasoning at all — ought to be believed lest we live reckless, destructive lives.

We can distrust out own thinking when we have good reasons to, but in tasks of everyday life we have very good reason to trust our thinking. We believe that our toothbrushes are not going to randomly fly out of our hands or harm us in some way. We understand that when we pour water from a pitcher water will empty into a glass and not spill. Because of tremendous experience with mundane life tasks (and even more complex tasks) we have good grounds to trust our reasoning; our thought processes are constantly vindicated when we are able to properly function as human beings. God, then, need not enter into explanations about justification for reasoning.phillyflight

Another flaw in Lewis’ piece surrounds ‘arguments for atheism’ – as if disbelief in Christian theology is only justified if atheists can raise successful counter-arguments. While several good counter-arguments exist to cast significant doubt upon Christian belief (problem of natural suffering; incompatibility between free will and divine foreknowledge; similar epistemological methods leading to different conclusions about religious beliefs…) , it is ultimately the case that without Christians advancing good arguments for Christian belief there is no good reason to suggest Christian belief is true [the burden of proof is on the Christian who makes a positive claim].

Third, why does Lewis privilege the Christian god over competing religious claims; that is, why assume that the creator of the universe is the Christian god? Lewis’ argumentation, if we accept it for sake of argument, can only lead someone to believe a creative intelligence which created the universe exists or existed. After all, the Christian god is not the only possible ‘greatest conceivable being.’

Finally, Lewis’ argument just reeks of ‘God of the gaps’ or ‘mystery therefore magic‘ reasoning. Because the atheist can’t give an accounting for thought processes without assuming the Christian god exists, Lewis asserts, the Christian god must exist. Centuries ago (and even in decades past) theists almost certainly have used this line of reasoning with other natural phenomena such as earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.; because there appeared to be no explanation for x phenomenon God must exist – only an explanation appealing to God is viable since no good competing explanations exist.

Even if the atheist has no accounting for reasoning (or any other phenomena), the theist is not justified in asserting that because something can’t be explained one has good reason to suggest the Christian god exists. The atheist can say ‘I don’t know.’ How ought one bridge the gap from ‘I don’t know’ to the Christian god did it…and the story of the resurrection, Holy Trinity, various miracles, a global flood, etc. are also true by the way.

A more modern version of Lewis’ argument is recast by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Watch Plantinga discuss his evolutionary argument against naturalism with atheist philosopher Stephen Law below.

As always, feel free to comment below.


Restored Church ‘Disagreement =/= Hatred’ sermon

Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster
Pastor Dan Nichols and Justin Vacula
Photo by A. Elizabeth Baumeitster

I offer my thoughts on Restored Church’s ‘Disagreement =/= Hatred’ sermon in which I was mentioned

Today, Pastor Dan Nichols delivered the final sermon in Restored Church’s September sermon series dealing with the topic of sex. Local newspaper The Times Leader reported on the sermon and Nichols was kind enough to provide me with a PDF — uploaded here Disagreement _ Hatred — of his sermon prior to the release of the sermon podcast which is now available.

Nichols’ newest sermon particularly addresses the LGBT community and argues Christian belief that God designed sex to be within the marriage covenant between one man and one woman does not constitute hatred of LGBT individuals.

Nichols acknowledges that some Christians hold bigoted and hateful perspectives toward LGBT individuals, but state that this should not be the case; Nichols encourages Christians to ‘love thy neighbor “regardless of race, religion, background, financial status, or whether [they are] gay or straight” and states that “disagreement should not produce hatred.”

Nichols also mentions what he perceives as some hatred coming from communities arguing for tolerance – particularly mentioning outrage directed at Tony Dungy who said that he would not draft gay football player Michael Sam because, in part, media attention that would come with his drafting would be “a distraction” from football.

Midway through the sermon, Nichols mentions me — saying “[w]e disagree on almost every issue imaginable, but we do agree that disagreement =/= hatred.” Nichols recounts his reaching out to me in 2012 following an incident in which a Christian vandalized a banner I had hung and some hate mail I received from Christians. He also mentioned my defense of him concerning people claiming he was bigoted for his views about marriage and homosexuality quoting a blog post in which I suggest that disagreement does not constitute hatred.

vandalized banner
vandalized banner

I agree with sentiments throughout Nichols’ sermon and especially enjoy his rebuke of Christians being nasty toward others who disagree with particularly religious viewpoints. I don’t, though, however, think that a religious message and/or appeals to God will be a sufficient resolution to this problem because it is often the case that often at the heart of religion — whether it be practiced in Restored Church or not — is divisiveness. Indeed, not all Christians will be nasty toward others, but as an out atheist, I have received a fair share of nastiness almost certainly because of peoples’ religious views and my challenging of them – no matter how civil I would be in my criticism or activism.

Just two months ago, I wrote about a woman telling my mother, “What’s wrong with your atheist son?” at a graduation party. Family members (1, 2) have shunned me — posting nasty comments on my Facebook profile and their own — and a local bus driver posted nasty messages taunting me. In 2009, I received a deluge of hate mail including one threat of violence I reported to campus security. There’s also this, this, and this. I mention this not to ‘play the victim’ [I recognize that taking controversial public positions will often result in some backlash], but rather to note that religious belief inspires this sort of behavior.

more hatred from Christians...
more hatred from Christians…

Obviously, Nichols rebukes this activity, but there’s a considerable way to go for Christians whose religious beliefs lead to vitriol. Atheists are demonized as people trying to take away others’ rights, agents of Satan, immoral, sociopathic, incapable of love, and many other caricatures – many of which were on display on the 2014 movie ‘God’s Not Dead’ which I recently wrote about.

The Bible, too, likely inspires nasty caricatures of atheists calling them corrupt, fools who commit abominable works; wicked and dark while also suggesting that believers should not be “unequally yoked;” and suggests believers not greet atheists or let them in their houses. There is also, of course, the doctrine that people, simply because they do not believe the Christian God exists [that they disagree with Christians], will be condemned to eternal torment. There’s also lack of civility in God’s countless commands for tribes in the Old Testament to commit genocide, shebears killing youths, flooding of the world…

The divisiveness that often comes with religious belief limits the success of Nichols’ intentions to promote civility. As Nichols mentioned, though, it is not only religious perspectives which lead to hatred; people may hate for reasons wholly unrelated to religious beliefs. Personally, I find the issue of tone to be very important and, although I am not in the futile business of ‘policing the internet’ or heavily restricting comments on my social networks [I do almost no moderation], make a good effort to be civil toward others.

My message may be biting at times — specifically to Christians who take disagreement personally, considering challenges of their religious beliefs to be offensive or personal attacks — but I wish not to attack people. Instead, I am very concerned with framing conversations so that communication is not broken down and so healthy debate can flourish. Don’t hate. Debate!

Although I disagree with the religious framework Nichols presents as a solution to hatred, I can agree with Nichols’ intentions for people to have conversations and be more respectful toward one another.

Thanks again to Dan Nichols for mentioning me in his sermon and providing me a copy of his sermon so that I could write about it. I look forward to a response and the next time we eat together.

As always, feel free to comment below.


My thoughts on God’s Not Dead film

The movie ‘God’s Not Dead’ portrays non-Christians as monsters and does a disservice to Christians.

I must admit that I missed the hype surrounding the movie ‘God’s Not Dead‘ when it had released in theaters. Today, after becoming aware that the movie released on DVD, I rented the film and took copious notes planning to — as an atheist — combat the negative stereotypes I knew were on display in this film.

Almost every identified non-Christian in the film including a businessman, a philosophy professor, a reporter, and a Muslim father is portrayed as a monster.

An atheistic businessman fails to provide directions to his significant other — following her GPS being stolen — saying ‘what is in it for me,’ calls his significant other ‘not just another pretty face,’ says — upon finding his significant other developed cancer — ‘can this wait until tomorrow’ showing a complete disregard for her well-being in addition to saying ‘you are changing our [relationship] agreement and breaking the deal.’ The businessman ridicules love saying that it is overused and implies that people who love need to ‘grow up.’ He also repeatedly ridicules an elderly woman diagnosed with dementia (both in and not in her presence) and explains that seeing her is a waste of time.

An atheistic philosophy professor takes delight in failing his Christian students, ridicules his Christian students in front of others, assigns a disproportionate amount of homework to his Christian students, tells a Christian student that he plans to prevent him from attaining a pre-law degree, has a romantic relationship with a current students, fails to acknowledge others’ feelings of grief, implies that atheists cannot have relationships with Christians, repeatedly ridicules his girlfriend in front of others, says life is “full of nothing,” and shows almost every sign of being closed-minded.

An atheistic reporter is unprofessional, asks loaded questions, ridicules people during her interviews, claims that people are offended because Christians pray, and has no answer for where she derives hope in her life.

A Muslim father abuses his daughter and kicks her out of his house — not before slapping her in the face two times — because she listens to Bible readings.

Christians too, although they are often portrayed as heroic throughout the movie, don’t receive a great shake. When a philosophy professor is stricken by a vehicle and is dying, one person suggests someone call an ambulance, but almost no attention besides this suggestion (no one on screen used a cell phone although, at various other parts in the movie, cell phones are shown) is paid to physical well-being. Instead, the mission is to convert — as if belief in the Christian god is like a lightswitch which could be turned on and off — a dying person and a scene of death is regaled as a “gift,” “God’s mercy,” “a cause for celebration” (because a conversion happened…although someone died), and “joy” (because someone was said to have entered Heaven.”

Christians advance extremely poor arguments and assertions throughout the movie: ‘no one can disprove God exists’ (swapping burden of proof, appeal to ignorance), ‘science is wrong [we can’t trust scientists because ideas were revised]’ (ignoring the fact that belief revision is a strength and a sign of progress rather than a weakness), ‘there is no credible explanation for the universe without appeals to god’ (another appeal to ignorance – just because something is unexplained does not mean we can assert God did it), ‘if the universe created you who created the universe’ (begging the question – one is assuming God created the universe while arguing for such a claim), appeals to [inappropriate] authority (rejecting claims Stephen Hawking — a non-philosopher — makes about philosophy does not undermine philosophy or arguments against theism), and so much more…

The atheistic philosophy professor — called an expert in his discipline by his peers — says he hates God (rather than saying, as the Christian later did, that he doesn’t hate God but rather doesn’t believe God exists because the reasons Christians provide are inadequate) and does not even provide an accurate definition of atheism (he says atheism is the belief that there is no god).

The movie ends, saying the film was inspired by stories of Christians being condemned because of their faith, and generally cast Christians as persecuted individuals. This movie, cast as a drama, is more accurately thought of as a fantasy – that Christians are continually persecuted for their religious beliefs in America (when this is actually not the case) and atheists are monsters.

Might the Christian viewers, failing to be critical of themes presented in the movie, walk away thinking that they may cannot and should not have loving relationships with atheists – people who, in the movie, severely mistreat their partners? The movie even references the Bible verse urging believers to not be “unequally yoked” with dark and wicked unbelievers.

Sadly, Christians possess negative stereotypes about atheists — many of them on display in this film — and these may translate to real-world situations (beliefs do impact actions after all). This film ironically vindicates atheists’ claims that religion is often harmful because it warps moral priorities and causes division.

Many atheists — contrary to the message of ‘God’s Not Dead’ — can and do live meaningful, hopeful, positive, healthy, thoughtful, motivated lives. Atheists can and do have love for others, maintain positive relationships, express empathy, help others in need, treat people with fairness regardless of their religious beliefs, and examine others’ beliefs with philosophical rigor.

If you’re interested in more worthwhile philosophical discussion than that which was on display in the movie, please consider reading David Hume’s classic “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion” (not to be confused with the non-existent piece ‘Problem of Induction’) and watching my debates and discussions with Christians who presented themselves far better than those in this movie. I can continue with my thoughts, but would rather not surpass 1000 words.

Consider also reading commentary on this film authored by Dr. David Kyle Johnson.

As always, feel free to comment below.

On labels

Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen
Photo: Getty Images/DiatoZen

Recently, I’ve been less inclined to use labels which serve as a cover-all descriptor of my viewpoints. Here’s why.

In the previous five years, I must say that I have experienced radical changes in thought following some radical experiences in my life – very likely the result of undergraduate education and experiences on a college campus. I’ve identified as an atheist following rejection of Christian belief which was the result of childhood indoctrination that stayed with me through my teenage years. I’ve championed activism for separation of church and state – publicly challenging what I perceived as  local and state violations.

More unsurprisingly, at least for some of my readers, I’ve shed the labels feminist, liberal, progressive, and Democrat because of positions I disagree with and actions of people championing the beforementioned labels.

Rather than assuming a label which allows me to be pigeonholed and people who don’t know me to assume incorrect things, I would prefer not to use labels and instead talk about issues on an issue-by-issue basis.

I am happy to champion the label ‘atheist’ because it only tells a person that I lack belief in any gods; atheism entails no other conclusions. Atheists aren’t even necessarily, to my disappointment, philosophically informed. Other atheists may advance arguments for positions, some of which have nothing to do with their thoughts about religious beliefs, but these people don’t represent me in the same way (or really any way at all) that feminists would represent me if I identified as a feminist.

Still, though, people — particularly non-atheists — have false impressions/stereotypical portrayals of atheists. Simple definitional misunderstandings, too, lead people to believe falsehoods about atheists. The label comes with some baggage, then, but since atheism makes no positive claim, there appears to be far less baggage and — after informing people about definitions — issues can be talked about on an individual basis.

I am happy to champion the label ‘skeptic’ because it describes a mode of thought I use – critically evaluating claims and demanding argument, reason, and evidence to support claims. I affirm that I am willing to change any and all of my beliefs provided good reason. My approach to skepticism is informed by my undergraduate and extra-curricular pursuits in philosophy. I do my best to take a disinterested viewpoint toward beliefs I hold, engage with detractors, make myself available for scrutiny of my own viewpoints, and welcome disagreement.

Perhaps I should also abandon the two labels I use most — atheist and skeptic — because others may make incorrect assumptions, assuming things about me based on actions of others who similarly identify. The online atheist blogosphere, in some sectors, has particularly been a morass in recent years, but I object to being represented by other atheists (except for those in organizations I belong to and lead) — particularly the feminist atheists — who champion nonsense and will do so providing reasons I mention above – that these people do not represent me and that atheism is only an indicator for someone who lacks belief in gods.

Rejecting many labels allows me more freedom and for those who don’t know me to approach conversations with less baggage. While people will make unfair assumptions about me based on the few labels I use, explanation on my behalf can allow for clarity and the situation will hopefully not be as muddied. Perhaps I can forgo the label atheist and skeptic, instead providing definitions, but it might be the case that — in absence of labels — the initial problem appears once again.

As always, feel free to comment below. Should I cease using any label to describe myself? Should I use more? Agree or disagree with my reasoning?