Monday, December 18, 2017


Does the Bible condemn abortion?  I realize I may be over my head when it comes to the interpretation of scripture.  But I have been troubled by comments that I heard recently regarding what the Bible has to say about the morality of abortion, so I felt compelled to write something.

What started this was that the staunchly anti-abortion Republican candidate in the recent Alabama senate race had been accused of sexual abuse of teenage girls when he was in his 30s.  Predictably, the Democratic candidate had stated that he was pro-choice.  One of the voters interviewed before the election stated that he would vote for an accused of pedophile over a man that he knew would approve the murder of millions of unborn children.  He added that he was a Christian and that the prohibition against abortion was “biblical.” Biblical?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Hands down, Ecclesiastes has become my favorite book of the Bible.  Of course, I don’t believe it has a great deal of competition.  It’s not perfect, but In my view it has the most to say about the fundamental human condition.  In addition, it provides some practical advice for dealing with our existential circumstance.  In that sense it is the most modern of scriptural texts.  But I didn’t always feel the way about Ecclesiastes as I now do.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Recently I had a conversation with the pastor of a local mainstream Protestant church.  At one point in our discussion he asked me if I considered the Bible to be a sufficient source for moral guidance.  His question caught me off guard, and I think I mumbled something about there being sources other than the Bible that can provide moral and ethical guidance.

Since that discussion I have had time to think further about the pastor’s question.  My conclusion is that the Bible is an extremely poor source for moral guidance.

Friday, November 10, 2017


When I was growing up in the 1950s in the fold of the Seventh-day Adventist church, salvation was a really big deal.  We were taught that our current lives represented merely a testing ground for whether we would qualify for the golden ticket of salvation.  This was portrayed as essentially a binary choice.  There was no middle ground, no purgatory where we might have a second chance or perform a penance to gain entry into heaven.  Either we would be saved and go to heaven or we would be damned.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


My parents were failed entrepreneurs, not by choice but by default.  My father simply was incapable of working for someone else.  Instead, my parents owned an appliance business that never succeeded beyond providing our family a day-to-day existence.  The insecurity resulting from their constant agonizing over how to make ends meet, which they shared with my sisters and me as passive participants, was a signature influence in the evolution of my attitudes toward career choices.


Recently I posted an essay in which I encouraged the reader to take fuller advantage of and to better appreciate the one life that we have.  But I have been criticized by both family and friends for failing to follow my own admonition.  Specifically, I have been accused of spending too much time fretting over the past or worrying about the future, rather than experiencing my life in the present.  I confess: Guilty as charged.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Blaise Pascal was a 17th century philosopher and mathematician who first posed the argument that one should believe in God because doing so carries a higher probability of a positive payoff than does rejecting belief in God.

Friday, October 20, 2017


When the day comes, I want to be cremated and not buried. It’s more efficient and less expensive, and it sidesteps the myth of some sort of resurrection that drives the motivation of many of those who prefer burial.  Having said that, burials have one distinct advantage.  Cemeteries serve to remind us of our own mortality and, more to the point, of the opportunities we need to take advantage of during our one brief sojourn.

Friday, September 29, 2017


Here is a question for my Christian friends:  Does God ever speak to you personally?

When I was a child, I often talked to God, usually when saying my prayers but sometimes when I really wanted something, like a new toy that I coveted, and I thought God might intervene to make it happen.  When I abandoned my faith in my teens, I stopped talking to God because I believed God was imaginary and I saw no reason to speak to an imaginary being.  But during the time when I believed in God, not once do I recall God speaking personally to me.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Can you change what you believe just by deciding to?

When I was in my early 20s I thought I had fallen in love.  (True story.)  But there was a problem:  She was a devout Christian, and I had become a steadfast atheist.  She let me know that she felt it was vital to our relationship that we both be Christians.  Given that ultimatum, I told her that I would see what I could do.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Anyone who has spent much time studying science or the philosophy of science is at least superficially familiar with Ockham’s Razor.  But what is it?  Well, you can read all about it in Wikipedia here, but the entry is 21 pages long, and it might test your patience.  It did mine, so I thought I would offer my own abbreviated version.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017


If the Seventh-day Adventist church had been founded in the 21st century, it would have been a cult.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Almost every morning I drive to a nearby Starbucks to get my morning venti dark roast.  Each Wednesday morning I run into a group of four or five men who meet at the Starbucks for Bible study.  Their discussions are generally serious ones, as each pores over his own copy of the Bible.  I am most curious about what passages they are studying, and I confess to eavesdropping sometimes while I am doctoring my coffee.  I have sometimes thought I should ask to join their group and explain, in a respectful way, my secular views on the Bible and on religion in general.  My guess is that they would not be particularly interested, and I wouldn’t want them to feel that I was hijacking their discussion.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


What’s with the continuing Christian obsession with the Ten Commandments, anyway?  The most recent was a report that a granite monument engraved with the Ten Commandments had been erected on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.  The monument lasted less than 24 hours.  Early the next morning an individual destroyed it by ramming it with his car.  He stated that, while he was a born-again Christian, he also respected the First Amendment to the Constitution.   The man was taken into custody, suspected of having mental illness issues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


On a Saturday night in the fall of my freshman year my parents dropped me off at a party in the gymnasium of the small parochial high school that I attended.  All the students had been invited to the party, but most of the upperclassmen either had gone to these events before and knew to avoid it or had taken off in the cars that they now had licenses to drive.  As a result, nearly all of the kids remaining were freshmen or sophomores.  A few of the teachers had come to chaperone, but most of the party’s organizers were parents.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


I have the sense that persons of faith commonly lump atheists into a single class of nonbelievers, as if all of them have a similar attitude toward religion and the existence of God.  That is not the case.  To borrow a phrase from the philosopher William James, just as there are varieties of religious experience, so there are varieties of atheist experience.  And I thought it might be helpful to describe some of the differences among those varieties of nonbelief.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Years ago, I participated in a book club discussion regarding The Sunflower, a slim volume of essays that addressed the question of whether it would have been appropriate for a Jewish prisoner in the Holocaust to forgive a dying Nazi guard who was seeking forgiveness for his role in the Nazi atrocities. I was new to the book club and didn’t say much during the discussion, but now I wish I had, because the question addressed by the book struck me as a very odd one.

Monday, June 5, 2017


A friend forwarded to me without comment a 2017 YouTube video concerning the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster that resulted from a tsunami that hit the Japanese coast in March of 2011.  Here is a cite to the video:  I would invite you to watch it.  It’s about five minutes long.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


In an earlier post I pointed out that one of the original rationales underpinning belief in a god was the notion that we occupied a special place in the universe, that the earth was in fact the center of the universe, and that we were the reason that the universe existed at all.  Science has shown that that just isn’t true.  The earth is just one of a number of planets circling a mediocre star out on one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy that includes some 200 billion other stars, billions of which have planets that are favorably situated to harbor life, including intelligent life.  Moreover, the Milky Way is just one of perhaps a trillion such galaxies.  In short, there is nothing to support the notion that we are special in any way.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


At the time that the Bible was written, roughly during the millennium running from 800 BCE to 200 CE, we understood that the earth was flat and, importantly, that it was at the center of the universe.  That was understandable since we considered ourselves the most important beings in the universe, the very reason God created the universe in the first place.  We observed that, in addition to the sun and moon, there were stars in the night sky and we surely had observed that some of them (the planets) moved against the otherwise fixed background of stars.  Of course, all of the objects in the sky revolved around the earth, because we could see that they rose and set each day.  We had no idea how large the universe was, since our ability to travel through it was so limited.  But the sky appeared to be a dome that fit over the earth, so that defined the extent of the universe.  Beyond that was God’s realm.  In terms of age, we understood the universe to be old—as we understood that term—as old as all the generations of humans that we could recall or invent stories about.  We believed that the universe, since it was God’s creation, was perfect, but we didn’t know the rules under which it operated, and so we assumed that God continued to “operate” the universe much as a human might operate a mechanical device that he had made.  From time to time there were unexpected celestial events, such as meteors, comets, and eclipses, but we assumed those were orchestrated by God for purposes about which we could speculate.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


In June of 1970 I found myself sitting in the second row under a big top tent in an open field, sweating in the heat and humidity of an early summer evening.  But this was no circus.  Instead, I watched as dozens of animated and agitated people lined up in front of a low stage, waiting eagerly to be struck on the forehead by a man in a business suit.   But this story really began more than 15 years earlier.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


From early childhood most of us have been taught that there is one God.  Not only did he create everything, but he has always been in charge.  He sets the rules and commands both loyalty and obedience.  Anyone who challenges his authority (e.g., Lucifer and his band of dissidents) is subject to being exiled, and humans who fail to believe in him and to worship him may be destined for perdition.  In essence, we are taught, God runs a classic dictatorship.

But what if creation were not a dictatorship but a democracy?  What if we got to elect our deity and God was up for reelection?   Would you vote for him?  Or would you support a different candidate on the basis that someone else could do a better job, that it’s time for a fresh administration?  Or would you throw your own hat in the ring?

Sunday, February 26, 2017


The other day I stumbled onto a video clip that featured a “faith healer” who was working to heal a subject who appeared to have one arm shorter than the other.  The subject was standing with his arms stretched out in front of him, his palms facing each other and touching.  But the subject’s palms did not match up.  Instead, it appeared that his left arm (on the side toward the camera) was about two inches shorter than the right.  The healer was frantically waving his arms over the subject’s hands, and as he did, the subject’s left hand slowly started to move to line up with the right.  When eventually the subject’s two hands coincided, the crowd, as they say, went wild.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


In early December of last year we lost my wife’s father.  By nearly every measure, Frank had had a extraordinarily long and interesting life, and we viewed his passing as cause for the celebration of a life rather than the mourning of a death.  I’m sure he would feel the same way.  I thought I would share here a few of my personal thoughts regarding our relationship and his passing.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I don’t know about you, but when a bar of soap gets down to a sliver, I don’t throw it away.  Instead, I press it on to a new bar so that I can use up the rest of it in the course of using the next bar.  But that’s not what my mother did when I was growing up.  She didn’t throw the slivers away either; that would have been wasteful and expensive.  Instead, she would save up a bunch of the slivers for months.  And when she had a big enough pile, perhaps 10 or 15, she would put them into hot water to make them pliable and press all of them together into one massive, misshapen lump—Frankenstein soap.

Monday, January 30, 2017


In its purest sense, skepticism is not a philosophy about the nature of reality.  It does not presume to establish specific facts about the history or structure of the world.  Rather, it is about identifying the best method for sifting through the evidence to gain a better understanding of the nature of the world.  Most of my essays on this blog have been in the context of religious thought, because I feel that there is an especially wide gulf between the approach to understanding reality called for by religion and the approach called for by skepticism.  However, for this essay I have wandered into the morass of the media.  Heaven help me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Growing up, I was taught that God had three overarching qualities.  He was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.  And for centuries theologians have been defending the belief that the Christian God possesses each of those qualities.  After all, God is . . . well, almighty God.  But I would here argue that history and the general advancement of knowledge, as well as, frankly, the descriptions of God contained in scripture, belie his possession of those three qualities.  

In the past I have argued that God could not possess all three of these qualities.  This argument is based largely on the problem of theodicy—the existence of pain and suffering in the world that God supposedly created.  As a matter of logic one of these supposed theistic qualities must not be true.  

In this essay I am taking this two steps further.  I am arguing that, based on what we know about the world, the Christian God would have none of those qualities.  He would be neither all-powerful nor all-knowing nor all-loving.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


One of advantages of writing essays for my blog has been that the discipline forces me to test my points of view and, if necessary, modify or at least refine them.  This essay represents one such refinement.  In past references to evolution, I have often avoided using the term “theory” on the assumption that the principles of evolution are much too firmly established to relegate them to what might be considered “just a theory.”  Upon further reflection, I have decided that there is nothing wrong with referring to evolution as a theory.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


A Facebook friend recently sent me a link to an article entitled, “Noah’s Ark Theme Park Destroyed in a Flood.”  It was fake, of course, and we had a good laugh over it.  My guess is, though, that there were plenty of readers who believed the story was true.

Monday, January 9, 2017


It’s a new year and I thought it would be appropriate to review briefly a few of the differences between my fundamental view of the world and that of my Christian friends.  I am trying to maintain an open mind, but for me these are real stumbling blocks to acceptance of the basic premises of Christian faith.  If anyone feels that he or she has persuasive responses, I would be most interested.

Monday, January 2, 2017


I want to begin this post with a little quiz.  Easy.  Consider the following propositions:
  1. Vaccines can cause autism in children.
  2. Acupuncture is an effective way to relieve chronic pain.
  3. Humans have free will.
  4. The universe was created by a deity who is omnipotent and who remains involved in human affairs.
  5. Through the intercession of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity for salvation and eternal life.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


According to Judeo-Christian tradition, no one is perfect, everyone has sinned—except for God, that is.  The Jewish tradition of the Day of Atonement was established to encourage all of us periodically to review our conduct, to acknowledge our sins, and to ask for forgiveness, not just of God but of our fellow humans.  It’s a great concept, I think.  But what if God took a careful look at his own conduct and realized that he too had made mistakes, that he also needed to apologize?  Here is some of what God might say.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Whatever happened to Zeus?  He was a big deal to the Greeks, but for the past couple thousand years he has essentially been a no-show.  Oh, sure, we still use his name, but he has been relegated to just another mythical character.  So here’s my first question: Does it make sense to say that we are agnostic regarding the existence of Zeus?

Thursday, October 6, 2016


If anyone asks me if there is a god, for decades my honest answer has been, “No, I’m an atheist.”  However, having spent the last few years trying to articulate my point of view in this blog, I have come to the conclusion that I need to modify my answer—slightly.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


   Jesus loves me—this I know,
   For the Bible tells me so.

“Jesus Loves Me,” is among the most familiar and most powerful songs in the Christian hymnbook and was one of the first songs that I learned as a young child.  The hymn’s power comes from the simplicity both of its language and of its melody, making it easy for young children to learn.  Like virtually everyone else who grew up in a Christian faith, I sang the song scores of times, at a point in my childhood when my mind was especially plastic and uncluttered by competing ideas.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


In a recent conversation a fellow skeptic commented that we don’t really know what happens to us when we die.  What? I thought.  Of course we know what happens:  Our hearts stop beating, our brains stop functioning, our bodies start to decay.  But of course that’s not what he was talking about.  What he was referring to was the idea of soul.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


What if God woke up one morning and announced that he had changed his mind, that he was calling off the whole heaven and hell thing, that this was the one and only life that we humans would have?  What then?

Friday, July 29, 2016


Do atheists worship Satan?  Certainly not, but it’s not quite as simple as just that.  For them Satan is not a real being.  Instead he is a metaphor.

Monday, July 18, 2016


God has a big problem.  He is both the architect and the master builder of the universe.  Everything.  God is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent. Yet evil exists.  And not just evil, but massive suffering from famine, disease, and natural disasters.  How could that be?  Enter Satan to the rescue as the theological heavy.

Friday, July 15, 2016


In this post I am recommending an exercise.  I am suggesting that the reader write out a personal philosophical manifesto, a list of fundamental beliefs, and place that list in some sort of time capsule to be opened at a later date to see if and how those beliefs may have changed.  That is what I did, and I thought it was a great experience, except that in my case the process was inadvertent.  Here’s how that happened.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Anyone reading this essay is probably familiar with the story of the debate between a Christian and an atheist in which the Christian challenges the atheist to prove that God does not exist and then smugly leans back in her chair, knowing that the atheist has to admit that he can’t because “no one can prove a negative.”  But I don’t think this is the proper analysis.  The existence or nonexistence of God is not a question of proof; it is a matter of degree of certainty.

Monday, July 4, 2016


A while back I stumbled across a recent article posted on social media that claimed that the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 was not caused by commercial passenger jets crashing into the towers.  The article was followed by a multitude of comments by persons who also disputed the conventional understanding of the events of that day and who voiced the belief that there was some sort of coverup by the government or the media or both.  True story.  Frankly, I was a shocked and dismayed.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


In my discussions with creationists about evolution I have been going about things all wrong.  I have been appealing to objective evidence and rational analysis in trying to move creationists in my direction.  My efforts have been entirely unsuccessful.  To my knowledge, I have not changed the beliefs of a single creationist about the facts of evolution.  Not one.  But I think I now better understand why.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


This is a true story.  I have a friend who believes that eating peanut butter causes acne.  Maybe he’s right.  Throughout my adolescent years I suffered from acne, and I’m sure I ate more than my share of peanut butter.  So I’m not necessarily disagreeing with my friend about his conclusion.  Rather, I have a problem with his research methodology.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


One morning in the spring of my senior year at Andrews University, I found a note in my mail cubby at the dorm from the associate dean of students.  She wanted to see me.  Nearly 50 years later, I can no longer recall the dean’s name, but I can clearly recall our conversation.  What I learned from it can be summarized in one sentence:  The evidence and process we use to form our beliefs are as important as the beliefs that we form.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Creationism is still a problem in the United States.  According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their current form within the last 10,000 years.  Sadly, this percentage hasn’t changed much over the past three decades.  Encouraging, though, is the fact that the percentage of Americans who believe that humans have evolved through natural processes and without intervention by a theistic god has more than doubled over that time period and now stands at nearly 20 percent.  Of course, Western Europe is way ahead of us in this regard.

Evolution is an area where the conflict between science and fundamentalist Christianity is most acute.  Creationists have not been able to reinterpret their beliefs regarding the origins of life and of humans in the same way that they have regarding such matters as the age of the universe or the age of the earth.  That is because they haven’t found any way to concede generally accepted evolutionary processes and still maintain belief in the Genesis creation story.  Instead, creationist apologists have been reduced to denying the facts of evolution and to posing a number of arguments intended to refute evolutionary theory.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


The 2300-Day Prophecy?  My guess is that most mainstream Christians have never heard of it.  Or if they have, they think of it as some weird passage irrelevant to their faith.  But for Seventh-day Adventists, at least when I was growing up in the church, the 2300-day prophecy was fundamental.

When I abandoned my belief in God and religion in high school, belief in the 2300-day prophecy automatically fell as well.  Recently, though, I decided to take another look.  I wanted to see how my childhood religious training compared with a more, shall we say, secular understanding of this scriptural passage.  In addition, I wanted to see how the SDA church now treats this concept that had been important to its history.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Will people have free will in heaven?  Why would I ask such a silly question?  My answer is that I want to make a point, and to do that I need to back up a bit and pose a series of questions.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


The concept of Christ’s Second Coming remains a fundamental tenet of Christian belief.  Theoretically speaking, its importance is massive in terms of its overall role in the salvation story.  But the truth is that the concept of the Second Coming doesn’t actually make logical sense.

Friday, March 4, 2016


It was Saturday night in the late spring of 1958 and the world was coming to an end soon.  Very soon.

Our church was crowded with regulars as well as with interested visitors who, encouraged by extensive marketing in local media, had come to hear the final in a two-week-long series of sermons given by one of Seventh-day Adventist's most charismatic evangelists, Pastor Wilson.  I would have preferred staying home to watch Gunsmoke or Perry Mason, but as a 13 year old I didn’t have any choice but to accompany my parents and my older sisters to the service.


I got baptized on a Friday night in the late spring of my 12th year.  During the vespers service a half dozen of my fifth grade classmates and I were shepherded to a warren-like area behind the church’s baptistry, where we were each handed a white cotton robe and assigned to separate cubicles to undress and put on our robe.  Then, following a series of prayers, one by one we waded into the warm, waist-deep water of the baptistry pool, where an associate pastor, also decked out in a robe, was standing waiting for us. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016


As a boy I was fascinated by claims of paranormal phenomena—mental telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, and the like.  I would spend inordinate amounts of time conducting “experiments” in which I would try to guess the suit of each of the cards in a deck to see if I could score above a chance level.  I apparently lack paranormal powers.  When I was 12 or 13 I recall watching a TV “documentary” concerning a boy about my age who supposedly could make physical objects move just with his mind.  He was accused of various mischievous acts, such as knocking objects off shelves or turning a cupboard upside down.  According to the show, even though the boy was responsible for the paranormal activity, he was doing it subconsciously rather than intentionally.  I was so frightened by the show that I had a hard time falling asleep afterward, concerned that I might inadvertently possess the same paranormal abilities.  Not to worry, as it turned out.

Friday, November 13, 2015


It seems we are natural-born dualists.  On the physical side we of course can observe our own bodies as well as those of others.  And then there’s that inner life, that internal world.  We have a powerful experience of sensations, emotions, and thoughts that together give us a compelling sense of will and of identity.  We refer to this inner world as mind or consciousness or sentience, and if we are religious we call it the soul.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I fondly recall when the original Superman series ran on TV in the 1950s, with George Reeves in the title role.  I was seven when the series began in 1952, and I loved it.  And while I realized at some level that Superman wasn’t real, I will admit to thinking early on that if I only had a cape maybe, just maybe, I too could fly.  (Yes, I was that naive.)  Thankfully, my older sisters quickly disabused me of that notion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I enjoy discussions about religion with my Christian friends, even though I realize that the chances that I will change anyone’s beliefs about matters of faith are close to zero.  And the older I get, the more remote the odds become.  But in discussions regarding the basis of beliefs my goals are broader than that.  Listening to what others have to say has helped me not just to understand better what I think but to refine those views and in some cases to change them.  But while I enjoy the repartee, there are some things that my Christian counterparts do and say that I find very frustrating.  Let’s call them pet peeves.  Here are a few:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


A couple of times previously I have attempted to support my point of view that free will does not exist, that it is simply a powerful illusion.  So far, as far as I know I have succeeded in converting no one, zilch, to my position. Nevertheless, here I am making another effort at a persuasive essay in support of my view.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


When pro-choice individuals are asked the question of when in a pregnancy a human fetus requires recognition and protection, virtually all would agree that there needs to be a standard.  Without such a standard we could wind up on a slippery slope to euthanasia.  And I think most moral scholars agree that that would be a very dangerous position for society to assume. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015


We’ve all heard the old joke, “Lions 21, Christians 0,” a reference to the period presumably when the Romans persecuted Christians for sport.  Now we’re hearing cries of persecution of Christians once again.  Right now and right here in America.  Here are some examples:  
  • Banning of religious symbols—ten commandments, nativity scenes—on government property. 
  • Banning of prayers in public schools.
  • Banning of the teaching of creationism in public schools.
  • Giving women the right to abortions.
  • Granting same-sex couples the right to get married.
All are claimed to be instances of attacks on Christians and Christianity.  I don’t agree.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Most of us are dualists.  We believe we have both bodies and minds.  We believe we peer out of our bodies by way of our minds and that the combination gives us our sense of self, our souls, if you will.  We don’t think about it much; we just accept the idea that we have an internal mental world separate from the exterior physical world.  We believe our bodies are made of the same stuff—atoms and molecules—as the rest of the material universe.  We’re not sure what our minds are made of—some sort of nonphysical stuff.  Even though we don’t know what mind is, we think that most (though not all) of our physical actions are controlled by our minds rather than the other way around.  We refer to the mind that we are aware of as consciousness.  We don’t really think about consciousness much either; it’s just there.  However, we believe we control our consciousness through our selves, and we call this “free will.”

This is what most people believe, if they think about it at all.  But it is not correct, and it is not what I believe.  There is no such thing as “mind” or “consciousness” or “self” or “soul” that is in control of our physical actions or that is independent of the physical world.  The notion of mind as separate from body is simply an illusion, albeit a powerful one.

Monday, May 25, 2015


What would the world be like if there were no religion?  I know, at this point it’s just an atheist’s dream.  Still, I think it is useful to ask whether the world would be better or worse if no one believed in a god or gods.  How would an absence of faith affect morality, violence, cultural traditions, happiness?  Volumes have been written on this question.  Here I thought I would just touch on a few of the ways in which the world might be different.

Friday, March 20, 2015


I’ve said this before:  I am concerned less with what individuals believe than with how they acquired their beliefs and why they maintain them.  And in the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian community nothing illustrates this better than belief that scripture is the Word of God.  

The terms “dogma” and “dogmatism” have a serious image problem, though it wasn’t always that way, at least in a religious context.  Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.  Thus Christians came to be expected to accept the Nicene Creed without question.  It was just the way things were.  Nowadays using the term “dogmatic” in reference to someone or his or her ideas is clearly viewed as a negative.  But I think the term describes well the position of those who believe steadfastly in scripture as the inspired word of God.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


I received an interesting comment from a Facebook friend to my recent essay on Sparring with Christians.  She complained that for me “everything has to be rational” but that for her “not everything is rational and in fact the most important things in life aren’t nor can be explained in rational human thought,” including religious faith.  I thought her comment raised an interesting point, and I decided that I would expand here on the response I made to her comment.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


I have a confession to make.  I secretly enjoy sparring with my Christian friends over matters of religious belief.  At the same time I often find such discussions frustrating.  And I will also admit that I cannot think of a time when I convinced any of my “sparring partners” to change their beliefs.  So why do I have this love-hate relationship with these discussions?

Monday, January 5, 2015


By the time I was five—well before I learned to read—I understood that my mother’s Bible had special powers.  For one thing it was different from all the other books in our house.  Bound in soft black leather that was well worn but well cared for, its pages were of thin high quality paper that was wavy rather than flat. Moreover, my mother treated her Bible in a way that was totally different from how she treated any of our other books.  She always laid it out in its own special place on a living room table, never on a bookshelf with our other books.  She spent a great deal of time reading from it and always took it with her to church so she could look up any of the verses that the pastor quoted during his sermon. 

It was a King James Version, and that added to its power.  The words were English, but they often were so different from the contemporary vernacular that I heard every day that I assumed that the characters in the Bible actually spoke in “thee”s and “thou”s.  And I have the sense that everyone else in my family thought the same.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Science has failed to prove evolution.  I hear this all the time from creationists.  And they are absolutely right.  But not for the reasons they claim.  The fact that science has not proved the truth of evolution has nothing to do with the quality of scientific inquiry.  Rather it has to do with the nature and objectives of that inquiry.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


I have never read the Bible through.  As an obedient child growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist church and school system, I was guided to those Bible passages that the church leadership and my teachers identified as important.  These included most (but not all) of the great stories, as well as those passages that were seen as supporting the Christian message in general and specific SDA doctrines in particular.  I still have the Bible that I got as a present for my 8th birthday, many passages of which I dutifully underlined and footnoted as part of my instruction leading up to my baptism and formal acceptance as a member of the church.

Monday, November 24, 2014


This essay addresses the question of whether and under what circumstances a person should have the right to end his or her life voluntarily.  Pretty heavy stuff, I know.  While I have read some literature on the subject, I am no moral philosopher.  So this may be the height of naiveté on my part, as there have been hundreds of volumes written on this subject by others who have given these questions a great deal of thought.  Nevertheless, I find that I have strong beliefs on the question.  And my goal here is simply to share some of those beliefs and to test those beliefs by writing about them and by inviting others to help me to refine or rethink them.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


In discussions with my Christian friends I often find myself asserting that their religious beliefs are based on faith, and when I use that term it’s clear that I am using it in a deprecatory sense.  I contrast the bases for their beliefs with the bases for scientific beliefs, which, I argue, arise not from faith but from objective evidence.  My friends respond that, yes, they have faith—in their religion, in scripture, in God—but that I, too, have faith—in scientific beliefs and in the scientific method.  But that’s not properly true if one defines faith, as I do, as belief despite a lack of objective evidence, because scientific beliefs arise not in the absence of evidence but by reason of the evidence.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


In a prior essay I criticized the ten commandments as being negative, incomplete, and generally deficient.  Smugly, I claimed that I could do a better job and promised to do just that in a subsequent essay.  Well, not having any training whatsoever in moral philosophy, I found this to be much more difficult than I had imagined.  But a promise is a promise, so here is my layman’s first attempt at outlining a better moral code.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Among my biggest pet peeves has been the practice of Christians to cherry pick scriptural support for their particular point of view.  Not that I am persuaded by arguments that rely on scriptural authority rather than on objective evidence and critical analysis.  But, still, it is frustrating because the Bible is filled with all manner of writings that are inconsistent, not just with other passages, but with prevailing cultural norms.

One of the most common of these is the modern portrayal of God as an omni-benevolent deity eager to welcome us into his heavenly kingdom with open arms.  This is at extreme odds with the Old Testament portrayal of God as a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity who is consumed with anger whenever humans disappoint him by failing to give him their undivided allegiance and devotion or simply by being, well, human.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


A lot of my Christian friends have stated that, like me, they have had periods of religious doubt. “Really?” my cynical side has responded (silently, of course). “Are you just saying that to argue that your faith is intellectually defensible, that you have considered both sides and have chosen the faith side as just as reasonable as the secular side?”  And I do believe that in many cases that is a major motivation for such comments.  Each of us has experienced doubts from time to time about all manner of things and has needed some sort of inquiry or at least reassurance to put certain facts and ideas back into the “belief” column.  That, to my mind, is at a very different level from having a genuine crisis of faith.
But I also recognize that in other cases my cynicism has been unfair.  I know that many of my friends have had times when they have truly doubted their faith.  However, that only raises questions about the nature of their doubt.  How did their experience differ from mine, and why was their outcome different from mine?  Once I moved to the secular side, I never seriously looked back, I never had a crisis of unbelief, if you will.  My Christian friends, on the other hand, have reaffirmed their faith-based world view.

I know this is speculative on my part, but here are some possible differences in the nature of others’ doubts that may account for this difference in outcomes.

Monday, August 25, 2014


When I was a kid at Battle Creek Academy, the Ten Commandments were a big deal.  A number of times during the elementary grades, we were required to memorize them, which I did as a dutiful student.  They were so thoroughly drilled into me that I could still recite them verbatim into my 40s.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


I admit that occasionally I have had disagreements with some of my conservative Christian friends over discrepancies between beliefs based on scientific principles and beliefs based on what is written in the Bible.  At some point in our discussions we might have the following exchange:

Me:  “My beliefs are based on objective observation, rational analysis, and scientific research.  Your (the Christian friend’s) beliefs are based on faith in scripture as the true word of God.”

Friend:  “We both rely on faith.  I put my faith in God and the Bible.  You put your faith in science and in the opinions of scientists.  It’s just a question of what and who you want to believe and where you put your faith.” 

Well . . . not really.  I don’t put my faith in science.  Let me explain.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


In some of my prior essays I have been critical of fundamentalist Christianity for its rejection of the principles of evolution, as well as anything else in science that conflicts with belief in a literal interpretation of scripture.  But this essay is addressed to my Christian friends who embrace belief both in mainstream Christian doctrine and in mainstream science.  They believe these two realms are intellectually compatible.  I disagree. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Lately there have been accusations from the Christian community that atheists have been attacking Christians for just wanting to practice their religion.  Hmmm . . . It might have started last winter with charges that atheists were objecting to the use of the greeting, “Merry Christmas.”  And more recently, of course, there has been secular criticism of the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.  All of this has made me think about where atheists should concentrate their efforts and about how vocal they should be in promoting their point of view.

Friday, June 27, 2014


As with a lot of people, growing up I considered Albert Einstein one of my intellectual heroes.  So I found an article by John Marsh regarding Einstein’s beliefs about religion thought-provoking on a number of grounds.  Marsh’s basic thesis is that, contrary to what noted atheist Richard Dawkins has written, Einstein was a deeply religious theist.  Hmm . . . I have read at least three biographies of Einstein, and all of them take the position that he was essentially atheistic.  Here are my thoughts on the Marsh article.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I’m an early riser and a regular at my local Starbucks.  The baristas start pouring my coffee as soon as they see me walk through the door.  But I’m not the only regular.  Among the others are a couple of small groups of middle-aged men who I see almost weekly.  The men are generally studying books together.  I have never wondered what they are studying, because I already know: They are studying the Bible.  And they are very serious about it.  They pore over verses, sometimes making notes or consulting other reference material, conferring with one another.  I also know that these little study groups are not unusual.  There are groups, large and small, everywhere that regularly get together for Bible study.  And of course there are millions of other Christians who study the Bible on their own, as a daily devotional.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Over the past year I have had a number of “dialogues” with my Christian friends about religious faith.  One thing that has surprised me about these conversations have been the wide differences of opinion among Christians in what they believe.  To illustrate this point, I thought I would summarize some of those differences with respect to a few fundamental Christian beliefs.  And, yes, each of these is a firm and sincere belief espoused by one or more of the Christians with whom I have discussed these matters.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


As a young man, a friend of mine had a gambling problem.  Shortly after his 21st birthday and not into college, he took the Greyhound to Las Vegas and proceeded to wipe out his savings at the roulette table.  That summer I was living in L.A. and my friend, now broke, made his way there and asked if I would loan him some money so he could return to the roulette tables.  He insisted that he had finally figured out how to win and it would just be a matter of time until he could repay me on his way to becoming wealthy.  When I explained to him that winning is, in the end, just a matter of probabilities and that those probabilities inexorably favor the casino, particularly in roulette, he replied that those odds didn’t apply to him, since he was “lucky.”  There was no loan.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Scientific American.  I began reading it as a freshman in high school, particularly Martin Gardner’s monthly column on “Mathematical Games,” and I have subscribed to the magazine off and on throughout my adult life.  Even though I have felt that over the years the articles have gotten less accessible to the lay reader, perhaps that’s more a function of my waning patience than it is the actual difficulty level of the articles.
In the most recent issue there is an article by two psychologists, entitled “The World Without Free Will.”  I thought, aha, here finally will be scientific evidence to support my position that free will does not exist.  I saved the article for last, thinking how much I would savor what the authors had to say.  I was in for a major disappointment, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

Monday, May 12, 2014


They may have grumbled about it, but most of my friends have been willing to put up with my lack of belief in God.  But nearly all of them have been less tolerant of my lack of belief in free will.  I have written about my objections to free will before and if you are interested, you may want to check out my prior post on the subject of choice.  I’m not going to try to repeat the points I made in that essay, but I did want to deal here with one argument that my friends have made.  They have said that, as a practical matter, my belief that I do not have free will makes life ultimately meaningless.  What is the point of anything, they’ve said, if everything is laid out for us, if the end has already been determined, and if we have no actual control over our lives?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I have not been posting to my religion blog in recent weeks because, frankly, I have been disappointed in my inability to make any headway in convincing others of the virtues of reliance on the scientific method, objective evidence, and rational analysis in arriving at beliefs.  

Actually I had a number of goals when I started my blog.  One was simply to create an outlet for me to express myself philosophically.  Another was to refine and to sharpen my point of view, based on the simple act of writing my thoughts and on the responses that others, both religious and nonreligious, might make to what I write.  And I feel I have made progress on both of those goals.  It is the third goal--of persuasion--where I have come up short.  I’m not sure why I would think that anyone would be “converted” by my essays, but that was my (I now realize, naive) hope.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Growing up a Seventh-day Adventist, I was taught that the Bible was literally true--all of it.  Sure the Bible was written by men, but they were directly inspired by God, and their words, the stories they told, were considered inerrant truth.  (For example, when confronted with the fact that whales don’t have the physiology that would allow them to swallow a man whole, as is related in the book of Jonah, they would point out that God had prepared a large fish--not a whale--to swallow Jonah.)  I might also mention that we were taught using the Kings James Version, and that is how I thought the Bible was written, with “thees” and “thous.”  I am too embarrassed to say how old I when I finally realized that the KJV was simply one of many translations from the original Hebrew and Greek.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


When an individual becomes a Christian or renews his faith in Christ, it’s often the occasion for a public declaration followed by public rejoicing.  This generally happens in a church setting or at least with a group of like-minded Christians, frequently accompanied by numerous “Hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lords.”  It’s high fives all around.  Contrast that with what typically happens when one relinquishes his or her religious faith in favor of atheism.  Generally, one keeps the news to oneself, at least initially: No public declarations, no hallelujahs, no high fives.  In this essay I would like to explore the reasons for this difference in the context of my own journey.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I just finished reading the “Lottery in Babylon,” a short story by Jorge Luis Borges.  Actually, this is probably the fourth or fifth time I have read the story, and I can see myself reading it again.  Why am I talking about this fictional tale in a blog concerning skepticism and religious belief?  I believe that Borges asks interesting metaphysical questions about the nature of our existence, and this story in particular addresses what factors affect our actions and our fate.  Moreover, if nothing else, I am hoping to inspire anyone who reads this essay to explore Borges, not just this particular story but his writings generally.

Friday, February 7, 2014


In my essay, “The Myth of Christian Joy,” I dealt with the proposition that faith in God is a source of additional happiness.  God’s love, Christians argue, is both cause for continuing joy and a means by which they can recover their happiness in the face of adversity.  In this essay, I would like to address the flipside to that discussion, the idea that lack of belief in God is reason for despair.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014


“Accepting Jesus Christ as my savior was the most important moment of my life.  Knowing God’s love for me has brought and continues to bring me enormous joy.”  Sound familiar?  Many of my Christian friends regularly state that their faith has made them much happier and that they take great joy and comfort in knowing and experiencing God’s love.  I’m sure that many repeat this sentiment to themselves and to others, perhaps daily.  And I am sure they are sincere in this belief, that these sentiments are not simply empty mantras that they repeat as ritual.  In short, they believe strongly that their faith has made them happier than they would be without it, and by implication that those persons with faith are happier than those without.

I respectfully disagree.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


A comment my daughter Michelle made on a Facebook thread recently got me thinking about the concept of evolution.  She pointed out that evolution is nothing more than the natural outcome of a few basic principles of biology and that there is really nothing “theoretical” about it.  She was stating that evolution is simply the result of the operation of those basic principles and to call it a “theory” is like speaking about a “theory” of square.  Through the operation of a few basic principles of biology, on which we all should agree, evolution happens in the same way that following a few basic operations in geometry results in a square.

I am no biologist.  In fact, although I have had a great affection for science my entire life, I was always least comfortable with biology.  But I am hoping that that might give me an advantage in explaining evolution as a true layman.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Dear Friends,

You really are my friends, despite the different ways in which we view the world.  We have grown up together, gone to school together, worked and played together, enjoyed good times and not such good times together.  And most of you probably didn’t realize that I saw things that differently from the way you did.  Until, that is, more recently when I decided to start speaking up.  

I have decided to put my Skeptic Reflections blog on hiatus for now.  I have plenty more to say, but I thought year-end might be a good time to give things a bit of a rest.  Some of you may be relieved; others of you may have just decided to stop reading the blog because it was so different from your own point of view and you really weren’t interested in questioning your perspective at this point in time.  But before I suspend my writing, I thought I would summarize some of the more important points I have been attempting to make.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Does life have meaning?  

Atheists are routinely accused of denying that there is any meaning to human life.  This accusation is based on a couple of characterizations.  First, atheists do not believe in a creator who has established a long-range plan for humanity.  Therefore, there is no ultimate goal--heaven, salvation--to work for or to look forward to.  Second, most atheists accept that we are nothing more than sophisticated collections of chemicals whose behavior and destiny are driven by the same blind laws of chemistry and physics as everything else in the universe.  That means that our lives are short and when they are over, they are over, and it doesn’t matter what happens after we are gone--we won’t know about it.    

I would agree with both characterizations, but that is not the end of the story.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


For years astronomers have speculated about the abundance of other intelligent life in the universe.  Recently a study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reporting that an estimated 8.8 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy have earth-like planets orbiting in their “habitable zone,” where the star’s energy would permit the existence of liquid water at the planet’s surface.  The researchers made this conclusion based on a survey of some 42,000 sun-like stars in our local region of the Milky Way galaxy.  Only a few years ago the existence of so-called exoplanets--planets orbiting stars other than our sun--was still just theoretical.  Now astronomers are routinely discovering exoplanets, and their numbers are already in the hundreds.  Hence this study.

Monday, December 16, 2013


The following recollection doesn't really have much to do with religion or skepticism.  It does, though, reflect a facet of my mother's character, and she surely had a major influence on who I am and how I think, though not in the way she might have wished.  In the spirit of the season, I thought I would include it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Every three years or so our Seventh-day Adventist church would schedule a series of revival meetings.  These generally featured preachers who had found their calling because of the charismatic and emotional quality of their delivery style--real showmen.  They were from out of town and probably traveled a circuit around the country, most likely giving the same series of polished sermons again and again.  And for these events they came into town accompanied by an entourage of assistants and musicians who specialized in this sort of evangelical appeal.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I recently attended the monthly meeting of SWiFT, a freethinkers group for the Milwaukee area.  The group uses the term “freethinkers” I believe to widen the range of members and interests, but I think most of the members would consider themselves to be atheists.  They hold meetings on Sunday mornings . . . of course.  The December meeting included a good deal of discussion on a broad range of topics of mutual interest.  And the thread of discussion that most caught my attention concerned the issue of the extent to which freethinkers should actively oppose religious belief. 


I never believed in Santa Claus.

I do know of one time when our mother took my sisters and me to one of the department store Santas when I was perhaps four years old.  I even have a photo that was taken on the occasion.  I recall being very afraid of the Santa and crying and not wanting to sit on his lap.  But I didn’t believe he was real.

And as for Christmas presents, my parents always succumbed to my and my sisters’ pleas that we open our presents on Christmas eve, not Christmas morning.  So Santa never had a role.  Nor did my parents ever try to convince me of Santa’s existence.  I was the youngest child in the family, and it may be that our parents had simply tired of trying to sell the Santa story by the time I was around.

But my wife and I taught our two children to believe in Santa Claus, and I’m glad we did.  Here’s why.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


As children, most of us were taught that the world was created and is governed by a personal God who attends to our individual actions and who can answer prayers but who doesn’t always give the answers that we are seeking.  So how do we know that God is actually there, that he is paying attention, that he answers prayers?  Those of faith reply that the Holy Spirit or other agency speaks to us internally and that we need to rely on that internal voice.  

But there’s another approach, and that is to rely on science and rational thought.  This approach makes no assumption that something is true because an authority (viz., scriptures) has stated it is true.  Instead, it relies on objective observation, rational analysis, and the scientific method to gain a better understanding of the world and to find solutions to the problems we confront.  

And there’s an easy and objective way to see which approach actually works, to compare the efficacy of reliance on faith and prayer with reliance on a scientific, rational approach to furthering knowledge.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I had occasion recently to review the Humanist Manifesto.  I know it sounds like some sort of subversive political tract, but it is actually a set of fundamental philosophical principles of those who call themselves Humanists (or sometimes Secular Humanists).  The Humanist movement was formalized over 70 years ago.  Essentially, it is an effort to identify an ethical and moral philosophical position that does not rely on any supernatural authority for its justification.  The Manifesto is now in its third iteration.
The Manifesto’s principles can be broken down into two components.  One is a list of ethical and moral standards--how Humanists believe we should order and live our lives as members of the human community.  The other component can be viewed as the beliefs that underlie and inform those standards.  
I thought it might be interesting to conduct a little test.  I have done my best to make a list of the ethical standards that are delineated in the manifesto but without including the beliefs that underlie each of those standards.  My suggestion is that you read each of these and decide if they are consistent with your own ethical and moral standards.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


On occasion I have observed the actual rotation of the earth’s axis.  I’ve done this by sitting quietly and watching the movement of a shadow cast by an object, such as the railing of the deck on the south side of my home, as the sun makes its way across the sky on a cloudless afternoon.  If I look carefully, I can even watch the slow, steady movement of the shadow.  I always find the experience just a little saddening.  It’s a little reminder of the inexorable passage of time and of the fact that my participation will come to a close at some point.  

But in another sense that melancholic feeling is good because it means that life continues to be an enjoyable, exciting experience for me and I regret that at some point it will have to end.  And that brings me to the point of this essay.  A friend recently asked me what, as a secularist, I thought of exit strategies.  Exit strategies?  Yup, that was what he was asking about.  He and his wife have discussed whether it might ever make sense to “leave before the show is over,” so to speak.  A heavy conversation without a doubt.