Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Worlds Apart — Science and Faith

Posted by Jerry on August 12, 2009

Please let me introduce myself as a new contributor. My name is Jerry and I live near Santa Fe, NM. When I found FFF, I really could relate to the stories I read, so I contacted Paulo who encouraged me to join in. Thanks, Paulo. Here’s my story:

As a man of two worlds, I think I understand. I grew up in an sectarian restorationist Christian church and was headed for gospel greatness, but stuck in the closet. Not just a closet of sexuality, but far more importantly–of skepticism. It was a sickening sense that my deep religious convictions, over time, probably wouldn’t cut it compared to the science that had organized the rest of my life. I began to realize this as I took philosophy and math classes at the small Tennessee college run by my “non-denominational” denomination (that’s another story altogether). So what do you do when doubt and skepticism make you uncomfortable? Get more faith, of course.

Being good has its rewards, for sure. I changed my major to Bible and made my way up among my college’s aspiring gospel preachers and scholars. I was headed to graduate school to gain further credibility and authority as I interpreted the scriptures. I was even given a time slot and an audience of thousands as the showcased senior Bible major at my college’s lectureship series. The topic assigned to me: The Joy of Soul Winning. After college, it was on to seminary with an eventual plan to return as a professor–as one who held the keys to unlocking the mysterious scriptures. As others on FFF have pointed out, in many branches of fundamentalism, the worship of the Bible is more central than the worship of God.

Eventually, though, science won (I’m now a research scientist who does statistics for a living). People tend to construct world views that work for themselves, and the world of gospel just did not work for me. It had always seemed excessive, harsh, and mechanistic in its judgment on this species, which is probably why it resonated so well with my father. The church of my childhood taught (even to this day) that only true believers and perfect obeyers would enter the pearly gates. The legalistic arguments over almost anything ad nauseum would give even the Pharisees a run for their money. Most in my church didn’t even think that their Baptist cousins would make it to heaven, so you can see what I was up against.

The catalyst for clarity was, of course, my emerging sexuality of the queer sort, but that turned out to be minor compared to the total restructuring of my world based on science. I will never forget my first tortured semester at a famous seminary, reading a historical introduction to Old Testament literature and realizing that even in primitive times, the Yahweh I knew was an adopted concept, borrowed from even more heathen peoples and used as the head mascot for uniting ancient tribes. What astounded me about my fellow students and professors, though, was the schizophrenic split between their scientific pursuit of religious archaeology and history, and their own personal faith. I remember one classmate who was quite pleased with himself because the first few pages of his thesis had so many scholarly-like footnotes that it took a few pages into the thesis to actually finish an entire sentence. This was the perfect example of the grandiose scholasticism of my former restorationist church. But in spite of science, the faith of these scholars was untouchable and unchanged. This seemed so disingenuous to me, so cowardly. But, as I mentioned before, if your world view is working for you, why fiddle with it?

The bizarre notion of an eternal and certain hell for all of us who are just being human was the ultimate S&M trip. And this bloodthirsty god we worshiped, in spite of its omnipotence, omniscience, and omni-benevolence, made no sense to me. God was the ultimate holy, so he had no choice but to condemn the unholy for all eternity. Only sacrificial blood (quite literally, “blood” of Christ) could wash all this away. Isn’t blood sacrifice one of the cornerstones of idolatry? This connection to otherwise primitive sacrificial rituals is one good reason to be skeptical of Christianity’s claims.

Another concept that I couldn’t quite understand was this notion of sinful humanity. Where was all this “sin” they were talking about? Most of the people I knew were good citizens who worked hard, raised their kids, and could be accused, at most, of occasionally speeding on the highway. Oh yes, there were wars and floods, earthquakes, disease and accidents, but those were macro conditions that should, if anything, fall under the sphere of the divine. And where the heck was he in all this? For years, I had this uncomfortable feeling that – just maybe – these preachers and church leaders were overstating the case for sin in order to keep us all under their thumbs.

A critical decision point was realizing that if all I had been taught were in fact true, then this god was no less than Satan himself. These days, I’m a tough critic of Christianity because I understand the cruel nature of the disease. This gospel of “good news” is actually really bad news for all but a few lottery winners in the eternal contest. I could never quite understand how the infinitely powerful God had no choice but to condemn his creation for simply being human.

I still have friends in both worlds. Some in the gospel world still actually speak to me, probably in hopes that this lost soul will repent and return to that world. But my friends in the world of science who criticize the believers may not quite understand the heavy responsibility, even desperation, that some fundamentalists shoulder every day. These believers are yelling “eternal fire” in a crowded theater because they are convinced that the damnation of humanity is imminent. This basic belief about the world drives their apparent hatred. To the believers, nothing is more important than saving souls because so much is at stake. This is why some of them will put their own lives at risk in places throughout the world in order to win converts. They believe that each of us has only a short lifetime to turn into the light, beyond which our souls will be lost forever. To those of us who grew up being taught such things, eternal damnation doesn’t seem all that strange a concept. In truth, though, thousands of years of fear, social control, and human imagination have combined to create these sadistic and badly-reasoned mythologies. If God is so large and fabulous, then why does he depend so much on what we humans think or do?

I don’t understand what people mean when they say that we should “respect all religions.” The believers certainly don’t respect mine. They have an unyielding double standard which demands proof for my atheism, but none for their intricate polytheism (yes, I am talking about the Trinity–that little problem that Christians have spent centuries trying to explain away). “Faith” is a sacred Christian concept marking a believer’s true devotion to God; but to me it’s just a label for defiantly asserting irrational beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Why would I respect something that is, at its core, so twisted, so in denial of reality, so unethical and so hateful of the human species? Why would I respect a religion with an eschatology devoid of morality and a god who is, at best, impotent, unwise, whimsical, robotic, and morally inferior even to the Greek or Roman gods? Why would the most significant unfolding of the divine will produce a religion as derivative as Christianity? Is God really moving in mysterious ways or are believers just kidding themselves because they fear their own mortality so very much?

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6 Responses to “Worlds Apart — Science and Faith”

  1. The Chaplain said

    Great post. Your comment on the demand that we “respect all religions” usually appears in a slightly different form coming from the Christians I’ve had conversations with. They will usually say, “Are you going to give equal time exposing your children to not only your own world view, but also the world views of others?” There is a lot of coded language in this question. What they really mean is: “Are you going to give your children equal exposure to Christianity?” It goes without saying that when Christians use general terms like “religion” and “God,” what they really mean is Christianity and Jesus/Holy Spirit/Yahweh. Obviously, they don’t really want me to give equal exposure to all of the religions in the world. Thus, what they are essentially saying is, “Are you going to try to indoctrinate your children into the Christian faith by teaching it to them as if it is truth?” In the end, it’s a stupid question, since the answer is obvious.

    Since you do statistics for a living, what do you make of Angry Calvinist’s use of statistics in this post? Here is the relevant section:

    Do you realize the number of prophecies that were made hundreds of years before the birth of Christ that were fulfilled in the life of Christ? Josh McDowell, in his classic book “Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Historical Evidence for the Christian Faith” (I highly recommend this one if you haven’t read it), points to at least 61 such prophecies. Peter Stoner, in his book “Science Speaks” (which was by the way reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation members and found to be dependably accurate in terms of scientific material), examines the statistical probability that these prophecies could be fulfilled in Jesus. He finds that the probability that any man who has ever lived could fulfill just 8 of the 61 specific prophecies is 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

  2. Paulo said

    “I could never quite understand how the infinitely powerful God had no choice but to condemn his creation for simply being human.”

    Yeah, that never made any sense to me either. No choice? He’s freakin’ God! If he loves us so much, why can’t he change his own rules? Either he’s able but unwilling, which makes him evil, or he’s unable, which makes him not much of a god.

    Great post, Jerry. Welcome to the site. Glad to have you.

  3. Jerry said

    Thanks, Chaplain and Paulo. I appreciate the comments. It’s also good to know that not everyone in the world is completely delusional and drunk on Jesus.

    Yes, Chaplain, I agree completely. You pretty well described what they’re really talking about when they ask for “equal time.”

    Here’s my take on your question about the large number: interesting “logic” they use, but it’s sort of like watching an illusionist and waiting for him to make the switch, when in fact, he already made the switch three minutes ago. That’s what the apologist’s use of the term “prophecy” reminds me of. They’ve already inserted God in their very use of the term. So as I understand it, the argument goes something like:

    1. We all know that no one knows the future
    2. If someone knows the future, then that ability must come from a supernatural deity
    3. Here’s a series of predictions about the future that have come true
    4. The probability that each of these predictions could have come true without supernatural intervention is so small as to be virtually impossible.
    5. So, something supernatural is behind all these predictions
    6. Therefore, the supernatural deity behind all of this can only be the Judeo-Christian God described in the Bible
    7. And of course, that means the NT and the Christian gospel are true.

    The arguments and logic seem medieval, but regardless, there are insurmountable problems with each one of these steps in the argument as well as the links from one to another.

    I guess I’d focus on #3 & 4 , though, because this is where apologists create blank checks for themselves when it comes to someone “fulfilling a prophecy.” Identification and interpretation of the actual prophecy and interpretation of its fulfillment create such fuzziness that almost anything would fit.

    Sometimes the arguments they make are even circular because a prophecy such as “born of a virgin” never did come true – except, of course, in the mythology. As for the calculation itself, I’d have to see all the assumptions that were made, but there are always many, many assumptions. The method is simple: for a set of independent probabilities, multiply each probability to get the overall likelihood. The switch, though, was already done, so the large number is just the bait.

    • The Chaplain said

      That is what I figured, although I was seriously thrown off by Angry Chaplain’s insistence that I suck at statistics (he is A.B.D. in a field that requires heavy use of them). I am used to people having certainty when they have evidence to support their assertions, so it caused me to wonder if I was missing something a bit more subtle going on. I guess evidence isn’t necessary for certainty in religion. Like I didn’t know that!

  4. Brandt said

    Jerry,

    Very well written post. Thanks, and welcome to the site–I’m kind of new myself.

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