Tag Archives: Secular Humanism

Why did Dan Barker leave Christianity for atheism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Unbelievable’s  radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex or getting drunk in clubs with friends. They dump Christianity in order to have freedom to seek happiness in this life.
  2. They want to make decisions based on their emotions, rather than wisdom. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly. When God disappoints them by not make their recklessness “work out”, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with non-Christians. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely. This happens to a lot of young Christians the moment they hit college / university.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true, they drop it, so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. Some of this is my interpretation of his real motivations, based on my experience dealing with former-Christians.

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

Barker was generating an income from donations from churches where he entertained them. Gradually, his family grew to the point where conservative churches were not enough to support him. He had to change his message to appeal to liberal churches in order to cast a wider net.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. But Christianity is not a feel-good religion. It’s not a tool to make people like you. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. Christian apologists learn how to provide evidence for claims that non-Christians find offensive or hard to believe, but Dan hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so he couldn’t defend it. It’s hard to speak unpopular truths when you have nothing to back it up except your music composing. Eventually, Dan just quit making the truth claims entirely.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message. The Christian life requires a certain amount of wisdom that Dan did not have.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science, so that I don’t have to rely on donations. Additionally, I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

I actually met someone like Dan Barker recently. She grew up in an anti-intellectual hippy Christian home. Her mother came from a good family, and decide on a whim to marry a non-Christian. Like Barker, the family exalted feelings and irrational expectations of miracles from God for “fearless” acts. She got herself into trouble with alcohol and promiscuity in her 20s, by making emotional decisions and mixing with the wrong crowd. Her way of fixing this was to fly off on a one-year missions trip, wrecking her resume and finances. Now, she is in her late 30s, unmarried, and literally blaming Jesus for putting too many demands on her that she doesn’t have time for, e.g – morning quiet time. This causes her to feel guilty, and make her want to reject Christianity. She had no intellectual conception of basic core doctrines like God’s existence or Jesus’ resurrection, which might have attacked as a bulwark against her emotions. When I explained to her how I had structured my education and career so that I could have an influence without testing God, she seemed bored and said that I was too “fearful”.

This is apparently widespread, especially among anti-intellectual denominations. Another ex-Pentecostal atheist woman I heard about from people who knew her when she was young decided to drop out of college to travel around North America doing pro-life work. When she found herself penniless, unmarried and without children in her mid-30s, she decided to have a baby out of wedlock. The government will pay for it, she said. Rather than trying to justify this decision as a Christian, she blamed God for not making her madness “work out”. She is now an atheist, because God did not reward her decision to live fearlessly for him with a husband and children. It was all God’s fault. There is a whole subculture within Christianity, where the pursuit of fun and thrills can be masked with pious language, and all talk of prudence and restraint is seen as cowardice and lack of faith.

The Christian life requires a certain level of intelligence, a certain level of practical wisdom, and a certain level of self-control and discipline. Make sure that you don’t walk away from God because of your own bad choices.

Atheist Jerry Coyne explains why morality is impossible for atheists

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy

Let’s review what you need in your worldview in order to have a rationally grounded system of morality.

You need 5 things:

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

Theism rationally grounds all 5 of these. Atheism cannot ground any of them.

Let’s take a look at #4: free will and see how atheism deals with that.

Atheism and free will?

Here’s prominent atheist Jerry Coyne’s editorial in USA Today to explain why atheists can’t ground free will.

Excerpt:

And that’s what neurobiology is telling us: Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output. Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.

If you don’t have free will, then you can’t make moral choices, and you can’t be held morally responsible. No free will means no morality.

Here are some more atheists to explain how atheists view morality.

William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

When village atheists talk about how they can be moral without God, it’s important to ask them to justify the minimum requirements for rational morality. Atheists may act inconsistently with their worldview, believing in free will, expecting praise and blame for complying with the arbitrary standards of their peer group, etc. But there is nothing more to morality on atheism that imitating the herd – at least when the herd is around to watch them. And when the herd loses its Judeo-Christian foundation – watch out. That’s when the real atheism comes out – the atheism that we’ve seen before in countries that turned their backs on God, and the moral law. When God disappears from a society, anything is permissible.

Atheist Jerry Coyne explains why morality is impossible for atheists

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do philosophy

Let’s review what you need in your worldview in order to have a rationally grounded system of morality.

You need 5 things:

1) Objective moral values

There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.

2) Objective moral duties

Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?

3) Moral accountability

Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?

4) Free will

In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.

5) Ultimate significance

Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.

Theism rationally grounds all 5 of these. Atheism cannot ground any of them.

Let’s take a look at #4: free will and see how atheism deals with that.

Atheism and free will?

Here’s prominent atheist Jerry Coyne’s editorial in USA Today to explain why atheists can’t ground free will.

Excerpt:

And that’s what neurobiology is telling us: Our brains are simply meat computers that, like real computers, are programmed by our genes and experiences to convert an array of inputs into a predetermined output. Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject “decides” to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. (These studies use crude imaging techniques based on blood flow, and I suspect that future understanding of the brain will allow us to predict many of our decisions far earlier than seven seconds in advance.) “Decisions” made like that aren’t conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we’ve made them, then we don’t have free will in any meaningful sense.

If you don’t have free will, then you can’t make moral choices, and you can’t be held morally responsible. No free will means no morality.

Here are some more atheists to explain how atheists view morality.

William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

When village atheists talk about how they can be moral without God, it’s important to ask them to justify the minimum requirements for rational morality. Atheists may act inconsistently with their worldview, believing in free will, expecting praise and blame for complying with the arbitrary standards of their peer group, etc. But there is nothing more to morality on atheism that imitating the herd – at least when the herd is around to watch them. And when the herd loses its Judeo-Christian foundation – watch out. That’s when the real atheism comes out – the atheism that we’ve seen before in countries that turned their backs on God, and the moral law. When God disappears from a society, anything is permissible.

Minnesota parents sue to force teachers and students to celebrate transgender child

Gay activist vandalizes pro-marriage sign
Gay activist vandalizes pro-marriage sign

It’s not about acceptance, now you have to forced to affirm and celebrate other people’s moral views – or else.

The Federalist reports:

Parents of a 5-year-old “transgender child” have filed a complaint against a St. Paul charter school, alleging it failed to protect him from bullying and refused to teach all the students their preferred transgender-awareness curriculum.

David and Hannah Edwards, whose child was born a boy but now thinks he’s a girl, has filed with the city’s Department of Human Rights, claiming their child “wasn’t able to take full advantage of Nova’s educational opportunities because of her gender identity and expression. This violated her rights.”

When the boy showed up at school wearing pink tennis shoes and wanting to wear a jumper like the girls in gym class, other children reportedly pointed and laughed at him. The parents contacted the school and wanted something done to protect their child from bullying, despite the fact that the school currently has an anti-bullying policy.

Nova Classical Academy’s executive director, Eric Williams, told 5 Eyewitness News the school has a mandatory policy, called the Bullying Prohibition Policy, which they are simply trying to follow. “He says that means providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their status.”

The Edwardses, however, wanted more—for the school to teach only their views of human sexuality and to be engaged in helping their five-year-old boy transition to a girl.

When it comes to the secular left, reality itself is no defense to their need to feel good about whatever it is that they decide they want to do. You better bake them a cake, or else. You better call them the sex they want you to, or else. You better let them use the bathroom they want, or else.

Meanwhile, in Colorado

ABC News reports that the appeal filed by Christian baker in Colorado has been dismissed, meaning that he will be forced to violate his conscience and participate in gay wedding ceremonies.

So, the ACLU and the Colorado Supreme Court decided that:

  • Christians do not have a right to own and run their own businesses in accordance with their conscience
  • Christians do not have a right to their personal beliefs, they must act as if they share the secular leftist beliefs of the ACLU and Colorado Democrats
  • Christians do not have the same right to equality and fairness as other minority groups favored by the secular lefist elites, including the ACLU
  • it is OK to use the law to discriminate against Christians and to punish Christians for acting on their religious beliefs
  • The right of LGBT people not to feel offended overrides the right of Christians to have freedom of speech and freedom of religion – in America

You will be made to care.

Canadian Liberal Party introduces bill to legalize euthanasia

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (right)

Life Site News has a story about Canada’s new assisted suicide bill:

The Liberal government’s euthanasia bill introduced Thursday will not protect vulnerable Canadians or the conscience rights of physicians, say anti-euthanasia activists.

While Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Bill C-14 is more restrictive than the legislative framework the special joint parliamentary committee recommended in its February 2016 report, it essentially provides “a perfect cover for acts of murder, absolutely,” says Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The draft legislation restricts eligibility for euthanasia and assisted suicide to competent patients 18 years of age and older who have “an incurable serious and incurable illness, disease or disability” which “causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions,” who are in “an advanced state of decline in capability” and whose “natural death is reasonably foreseeable.”

The legislation mandates that a patient request assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia in writing, and that this request be approved by two independent medical practitioners, or nurse practitioners.

It mandates a 15-day waiting period after the request is approved, but that period can be waived if the two medical practitioners deem the patient’s condition will deteriorate before that time is up.

[…]Schadenberg says the bill “does not provide effective oversight in the law,” because while it calls for two independent physicians or nurse practitioners to approve a request for euthanasia,  “this is the system where the doctor or nurse practitioner who does the act also does the reporting.”

The legislation also provides “legal immunity for anyone, anyone who does anything at a person’s request, under Sections 241.3, 241.5,” he said.

[…][W]hile the bill acknowledges conscience rights in its preamble, it “provides no protection for conscientious objectors,” according to Albertos Polizogopoulos, a constitutional lawyer for Canadian Physicians for Life.

Canadian doctors are already forced to perform abortions against their conscience, so this last point is no great surprise.

In a country that has single payer health care, all medical care is paid for by the federal government. You pay into the system your whole life (at an average of 42% of your income, in Canada) and then at the end, you get in line and hope that the government will treat you. It is extremely convenient for the government to kill off patients who are elderly. Elderly patients won’t be able to vote in many more elections, but they will want to draw away funds that could be used to buy the votes of young people who want “free” breast enlargements, plastic surgery, sex changes and IVF treatment. So the government has every incentive to cut loose the old people and then buy the votes of young people with the taxpayer money they save. Single payer health care is a scam to help politicians stay in power.

Similar laws in places like Belgium and Netherlands have been used to cut down on the medical bills that the government must pay.

A Parliamentary committee brief that I found on the Canadian government web site says this:

A study published in the NEJM entitled: Recent Trends in Euthanasia and Other End-of-Life Practices in Belgium (March 19, 2015) found that 4.6% of all deaths in the first six months of 2013, in the Flanders region of Belgium, were by assisted death and 1.7% of all deaths were assisted deaths without explicit request representing more than 1000 assisted deaths without explicit request in 2013.

The supplemental appendix in the study informs us how the researchers classified the data.

It states: “If in the latter case the drugs had been administered at the patient’s explicit request, the act was classified as euthanasia or assisted suicide depending on whether the patient self-administered the drugs. If drugs were used with the same explicit intention to hasten death but without the patient’s explicit request, the act was classified as hastening death without explicit patient request. This can include cases where a patient request was not judged as explicit by the physician, where the request came from the family or where the physician acted out of compassion.”

This research study confirms that many intentional hastened deaths are occurring without the explicit request of the patient which contravenes the Belgian assisted death law and medical ethics.

Previously, I blogged about how the UK government provides bonuses to hospitals who put elderly patients on an end-of-life pathway.

Ethicist Wesley J. Smith comments on the Canadian law in National Review.

Excerpt:

The Canadian government has tabled its new euthanasia bill–and as expected, it will be the most radical in the world.

Since the death doctor need not be present at the demise, the bill creates an unprecedented license for family members, friends–heck, a guy down the street–to make people dead.

[…]In short, this provision is the perfect defense for the murder of sick and disabled people who requested lethal drugs.

The George Delury case is an example of what I mean: Delury said he assisted wife, Myrna Lebov’s suicide out of “compassion” and at her request due to MS.

But his real hope was not only to be free from care giving, but become famous writing a book about her death. (He did, What If She Wants to Die?)

It almost worked. But because assisted suicide was a criminal offense, authorities conducted an investigation and discovered his diary.  It showed that contrary to the compassionate face Delury was conjuring, in reality, he emotionally pressured Myrna into wanting to commit suicide, telling her, for example, that she was a burden and ruining his life.

He also withheld full dosage of antidepressants so he could use those drugs to kill her. And, he but put a plastic bag over her head to make sure she died.

If euthanasia Canada’s bill had been the law of New York when Delury killed Myrnov, he might have been able to coerce her into asking for lethal drugs. At that point, he could have killed her any time he wanted and there wouldn’t have been a criminal investigation to find his diary.

Canada has just paved the way for a person, hungry for an inheritance or ideologically predisposed, to get away with the perfect murder.

In the last election, the Liberal Party promised the Canadian voters the moon, in terms of new spending. They said it would only add 10 billion to the deficit this year. But now (after the election) the number has exploded to 30 billion this year and over 100 billion over the next five years. Could this euthanasia plan be the first step in balancing the books, so they can win re-election?