Having just watched the Nova episode “Intelligent Design on Trial” (HT: John Aultman) I was struck by the segment around the 1 hour mark where Bill Buckingham, one of the school board proponents of teaching ID in the schools says,


“I fail to understand how teachers can call themselves Christians - can go to church, talk about god, talk about Christ – and then go to school five days a week and talk about Darwin, and teach it as if it’s fact. Not a theory, but that’s how it happened. I don’t understand that, to me that’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.”


Honestly, I agree with him.


Supposedly on the “other” side of the debate is science teacher Bryan Rehm who stood against ID in the classroom, but is seen strumming his guitar as he and his wife sing the praises of Jesus and the Lord to a captive group of bible school children. The wife later complains about other Christians in their community falsely labeling her and her husband atheists (spitting the word "atheist" out like she might spit out a mouthful of snake venom). My own sister-in-law is an associate professor of Kinesiology, a well-educated woman, but fails to see the disconnect in reason between the science she practices and the blind Christian faith she expounds.


My question is, especially for those who have converted from believer to atheist, how in the world did you justify the irrational aspects of unfounded belief AND still advocate for science and the scientific method? Before you made the transition to non-believer, when you were confronted with a scientific contradiction to your faith did you know you were rationalizing, or did it really make sense to you that two incongruous premises could be reconciled? What mental hoops does someone like my sister-in-law have to jump through to keep both a scientific approach alive in her “day job”, but flip the switch to ardent believer in a 2000+ year old myth nights and weekends? I’m really interested in exploring the human condition here, and hope this community can offer some insights.

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Before I deconverted from fundamentalist Baptist with evangelical tendencies, I was an avid reader of science.  That was as a teenager in the 60s & 70s, in a small midwestern town where atheist is considered something next to satanic and where protestants considered the pope to be the antichrist.

I had a chemistry teacher in high school who was rumored to be atheist.  When asked, in the classroom, if that was true, he answered simply, yes.  I was amazed that he was so ignorant he did not know how god would punish him.  Now I'm amazed at his courage.  Back then, and there.

MY rationalization was that evolution was how humans came to understand the patterns of how the god Yahweh created life.  That he used the same chemical and biological templates and same materials, with different results, for all of the plants and all of the animals.  As for how long it took, I felt that the measures of time were subjective for humans, and if we view it as a millenium and Yahweh views it as a day, that's our miniscule human perspective, or that the god created the world with a built-in "history", an artistry, that we misinterpret as actual evidence for evolution.  That all inconsistencies are the flaws of humans, and it was hubris for humans to think we could know better than the god, how he created us and life.

I don't think we should have a "litmus test" for teachers to believe or not believe in science or evolution. There is no reason a teacher of chemistry or physics should be required to be atheist.  Biology is more difficult.  It's not possible to understand, and teach, biology without understanding, and teaching, evolution.  Evolution is key to biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, plant science, animal science, and medicine.  If the teacher can compartmentalize effectively, I guess it's OK.

Thank you S.B., I greatly appreciate your personal insight. Two questions: did you ever suffer from cognitive dissonance? And what was the tipping point for your de-conversion?


Yes there was cognitive dissonance.  Although to some extent human life and social functioning sometimes require forms of compartmentalization anyway.  

I don't recall a specific tipping point.  I remember thinking it was my responsibility as a child of the god, to read and understand the bible.  Unfortunately, that lead to far more cognitive dissonance.  The bible is full of contradiction and even more, contradicts modern christianity of all types.  Plus there are a lot of really stupid laws in the bible, given the same weight as the more serious laws, and the cognitive dissonance of  the "loving god" and the "vengeful and frightening" angry god, who got pissed off for no apparent reason and essentially squashed his followers like bugs.  Sometimes, loyal followers.   Plus, the bible does contradict science.  And there is no historical validation of much of its content.  There was a lot more.  But not a single specific tipping point.

Creationists (and their offspring the IDers) use stealth tactics to deceive voters and occasionally become school board majorities.

In southern California creationists became a school board majority and made so much trouble that the voters woke up and defeated their attempts at re-election before they did any serious damage.

In Dover, Pennsylvania, schools, the voters woke up only after the creationist majority got far enough along that a successful effort to get rid of them required a costly law suit.

Teachers' beliefs seldom become an issue because they have to teach the content chosen by state agencies whose members are appointed. Creationists don't often become majorities in these agencies' textbook committees--unless they live in Texas and a mentally incompetent governor appoints them. Texans who support science are fighting back.

In Kansas about 15 years ago, creationists gave school science a definition that required it to accept religious claims as evidence. They made the state an international joke and their actions were reversed.

In the states, candidates for legislatures win votes by promising to introduce creationist legislation. "Creation Science" and Intelligent Design have lost so often in court that creationist bills now invoke academic freedom or define science in terms so complicated that most of these bills die in committees before legislators hear of them.

Be assured, creationism will continue to evolve, and people who support science will have to remain alert.

For me, I was in so much pain because of all the violence in my birth and married home, I turned to religion for guidance for how to be a proper wife. All I found was mind-binding and realization grew in me that I chose the path to submission, obedience, passive non-action. I later named this "The Passive Gospel."

One day my 10-year old daughter put her hands on her hips and said to her dad, "You don't have the right to treat me this way!" CLICK How many other times had my children and I made good choices and were knocked around for it. Our imperative was to obey, submit, turn the other cheek, yield, pray, love and all of these were passive action. What we needed was well thought out action. I put the three 10-year old kids in my car and started a new life. It worked!

All three children are now 49 years old, good people, do not hit their spouses or children, and have incredibly fine tools for problem solving and conflict resolution.

I have a new imperative: if a problem or conflict comes up, deal with it the best way I can. If it comes up again, I need to rethink, explore, experiment, do more or less of the same thing, do something different, look for an alternative that has a probability of solving the issue.

Sometimes, there is no solution ... the underlying causes are beyond our control, or it is a systemic problem. Climate change is beyond one person's control and one can learn adaptive behaviors and fight hard to raise awareness in the public consciousness. A violent home is a systemic problem and has to change or break it apart.

The good news for me, was to learn, with my children, effective and efficient interpersonal relationship skills. The violence never reoccurred, we have conflicts and a process to deal with them. We have different needs, and we have to learn when it is necessary to let go. My children are all grown up, have great minds, think for themselves, know how to stand on their principles, even as we disagree on economics, politics and religion. Our conversations are very lively ... and friendly as well as productive. It is all very good.

One of the atrocities I find most vile concerning religion – highly evident in Islamic religions but still with detectable undercurrents in many Judeo/Christian religions – is the demotion of females as something inherently inferior to men. I applaud your escape from that environment and am happy to hear that you’ve discovered your self-worth absent religion.

I only partially understand how I justified the irrational aspects of religion, and still loved science.  For what it's worth, here's my 2 mites worth:

I had 2 very loving and kind parents.  I think that helped convince me that they would never tell me something false.

Mormonism, unlike older religions, was made to be compatible with most of 1825 science.  That gave them a leg-up in believability over other religions.

Where mormonism disagreed with science, such as evolution, we were taught that science was mistaken in that area, mostly due to satan deceiving the scientist.  There was pressure to not study those areas of science.  One reason was so satan could not lead you astray.  I was strongly brainwashed to fear satan getting a hold on me.  In fact, that was the last fear I let go of when leaving mormonism.

Besides science, I loved science fiction and had a good imagination, so I was good at making-up reasons why my religion disagreed with science in some areas.

The mormon leaders cleverly let it's members, including lower-level leaders, make-up lots of rationalizations, excuses, reasons, and explanations as to why science is wrong in some areas, but the leaders don't officially say whether those are true or not.  That gives them an out when something is proven to be incorrect.  They can say "that's not official doctrine."

I don't have a personal story to tell, but I have a sister with a PHD in biology and is a college dean and a Catholic. I am only guessing now, but I think she can separate the Bible and science. She knows where's its wrong in the area of human biology. But I also have a sister who is an evangelical, a nurse and believes in ID or creationism, so there you go, I guess I can't answer this one.

The NOVA program told the story well.

For more, download Judge Jones' ruling in the case, read it and get an eye-opening education in the deceitfulness of those not-at-all moral xians who want to put Genesis into public school science classes. I found it when I googled "intelligent design" and "dover".

Tom, about converting from believer to atheist, you're asking a lot.

First, according to recent research, the relevant parts of the brain are not fully developed until after the high school years.

Second, there is also the brain's lifelong ability to hold contradictory ideas in "compartments" where they don't meet and conflict.

I was quitting Catholicism and completing the coursework required for a degree in mathematics, with a minor in economics and a near-minor in science, when I visited the Univ. (of Florida) Atheist club. Their repeated claims that there is no god did not qualify as evidence and I came away persuaded that atheists have no more knowledge than believers. I chose agnosticism.

In about forty years I saw no evidence for a god's existence and climbed down off the fence on atheism's side.

Do you consider yourself a positivist?

Am I a positivist? Good question. I believe that empirical evidence is a major factor in deriving what is knowable, but I also understand that some fields of study – economics and long-range hurricane forecasting for example – have so many variables that mathematical models are often inadequate at describing the entire system accurately. Having witnessed the parade of data and “facts” presented by both sides of a political debate, economic argument, scientific dispute, etc., lends credence to the axiom that liars figure and figures lie. Sometimes. Though I would soften the phrase to say that honestly misguided individuals can misinterpret data or not take into account all necessary factors, thus reaching erroneous conclusions. But that’s not as catchy. Positivism holds more water in the hard sciences, in my opinion, than social sciences.


Above all, I consider myself a skeptic – taking everything through a cautionary filter. I am more receptive than some I’ve encountered in wanting to listen to all sides of an argument, and am the first to play devil’s advocate to my own positions, freely admitting my boundless ignorance in many areas.

As Sentient's approach as a believer and a science buff, so are many scientists.

I know of many Christians who teach evolution and work in the evolutionary sciences.

An example are the two scientist teachers who helped in the fight against ID in that Dover court case.

Like many Christians, they consider evolution as part of their god's plan and method.

They sort of believe a kind of divinely guided evolution: "No protein, you cannot attach yourself there, you must go over to that chromosome to help create the creature I'm wanting you to."  LOL!   :-D-

This and similar concepts have arisen over the last 150 years in Christianity.

Catholicism by policy supports evolution, but gives limits, where it loses support if it crosses certain guidelines that interfere with their meaningless and brain dead Catholic dogma.

Even moderate Islamic scientists have similar evolution is god's method, scenarios.

Many of these are hardened and even vocal anti-Creationist/ID activists.

Yes, as far as anti-Creationist-loon, fights go, we have many Christian, Hindu and Islamic allies.

Yet, it appears that some Islamic countries like Iran, may be kicking out evolution completely and teaching nothing but Creationism.   They are distancing themselves from public scrutiny, social networking and scientific information.

A couple of friends who are from that region, believe that it won't be long before every book teaching evolution will be destroyed and a new dark age will hit those Islamic fundamentalist nations.

...and a new dark age will hit those Islamic fundamentalist nations.

Brilliant. That's exactly what we need in the middle east - less science, more fundamentalism. Peace is right around the corner, I can just feel it.


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