Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Highlights from Hemant’s talk at Harding University

In Uncategorized on October 29, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Last night at Harding University, my wife and I attended Hemant Mehta‘s talk. For those who don’t know, Harding University is a Christian College sponsored by the Church of Christ.

Hemant’s talk drew a fairly large crowd, I think it even surprised him. His talk was very engaging, and presented in Hemant’s unique ‘friendly’ non-confrontational style, which is one of the things I admire about him.

After the talk, one of the professors from the university, Monte Cox, had a ‘discussion’ with Hemant, however it seemed more like an impromptu debate to me. He asked some good questions for the most part, but some of his questions seemed as though he was really grilling Hemant. He was asking some pretty heavy handed philosophy questions to Hemant. I felt this was a little out of line, since the professor had read Hemant’s book and should have realized it isn’t a heavy book on the philosophies surrounding the atheism/theism debate. I feel Hemant is more the “everyman” of the atheist world, He is not Dan Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Hemant is more down to earth and this professor should have realized that and asked some questions that were more on topic.

Then they opened up the floor to questions. Some of these were typical of what you would expect. There was an old man who asked him the “747 question”. Some questions were much better questions, like a gentleman who works with kids in special education and asked about “purpose” and “meaning” in life. I think Hemant handled these questions well.

The best part of the night in my opinion was actually after the talk. Several students came up to talk with Hemant and ask him questions. Among these were a group of Harding students on the more “liberal” or “moderate” side of Christianity. These students were more interesting in having a dialogue. Most of these were already familiar with the basics of atheist thought. After the talk, these students, Hemant, my wife and I went across the street to a small coffee shop and sat in the cold drinking coffee and having some of the best dialogue I’ve ever had with Christians.

However, it was obvious to me that these students were the minority at Harding. One student, John, commented as the night came to a close that he was glad he got to talk about some of these issues because if he spoke about these things in school, he would probably get kicked out.

This made me realize something. We atheists have something in common with these moderate Christians. The fear we sometimes feel when in places where fundamentalist conservative Christians are in high numbers, is the exact same fear these students feel. The same fear of speaking up and speaking your mind. The fear of free thought and inquiry. In the U.S., especially in the southern United States, freethought, skepticism, doubts and other such “virtues” of the skeptic, humanists and atheists, is severely repressed. I respect and admire these students for what they were saying. I would proudly call them “freethinkers” a label I usually only reserve for atheists.

I’d like to thank my new friends, for a wonderfully engaging night of discussion. I hope we can do it again sometime.

Here’s a link to Hemant’s write up of the night:

Friendly Atheist » Highlights from Harding University

Friendly Atheist in my neck of the woods

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Hemant Mehta, known as the “friendly atheist” and author of the book “I sold my soul on ebay”, will be speaking at Harding University in my home state of Arkansas. My wife and I plan to attend.

I’ll be speaking about the book at Harding University (a Christian college) in Searcy, Arkansas (about 50 miles north-east of Little Rock) this Sunday evening in the Heritage Building’s Cone Chapel at 7:00 p.m. (local time).

The event is free to the public!

More information can be found on Facebook.

Atheist Bible Study – In the Beginning…

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2007 at 5:49 am

I’ve finally begun my reading of the Bible. So far the biggest problem has been finding time to actually sit down and read some. I’ve made it about half way through Genesis so far. Remember that I’m trying to read this critically, so this will probably be slow going. I’ll be taking each “story” so to speak and posting my reactions to it. Trying to post something on an entire book probably won’t work (except for maybe some of the shorter books).

So, on to the first post!

Genesis – The creation stories

Everyone knows this stuff right? Well, I thought I knew all about this, but I’ve discovered lots of stuff I never saw before in reading the accounts of creation this time through. Truthfully, in my church this stuff was only talked about when I was really little in Sunday school, and then it wasn’t from the Bible directly. We used to have Bible study booklets we read out of. Also, since this happened when I was a child, there wasn’t much questioning going on, after all at this age I still believed in Santa Claus too.

One thing I didn’t realize, is that the Bible contains two accounts of creation. The first one is the one that starts with “In the beginning”. Most people are tangentially familiar with this one. It’s the one that takes place over seven days. So I’ll talk a bit about each one, posting my impressions. At the end of this, I’ll posit some questions I have.

Account #1

Right off the bat I’ve found something peculiar about this one. And it’s not even the seven day thing, although that in itself is a can of worms. It’s this bit in the 6th verse:

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the water from the waters. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day

Okay. Dome? I’ve looked this up, and in some translations this is “expanse” or “gap” or “firmament”. This sounds an awful lot to me like flat earth stuff, with a dome representing the sky. Which is what you would expect from a mythology this old. The thing that really threw me for a loop was this idea of waters ABOVE the dome. What the heck are they talking about? My best guess is this. I try to imagine what it would be like to not know about the earth being round, or that the sky isn’t a dome. Well, it LOOKS like a dome. And it’s blue during the day. Perhaps they thought the reason the sky was blue, was because there was water “up there”. If you stand looking at a lake or ocean, the water appears blue, so perhaps this is where the idea comes from. Let’s continue, there’s another clue I found.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night.

Wait, didn’t I mention? God creates day and night on the first day, but waits until the fourth day to create the Sun and Moon. Now some people might say “First contradiction!”. But I rather don’t. What I see is this… Isn’t it possible that these early people saw the day and the night being separate from the Sun and Moon? After all, if you’ve ever watched a sunrise you’ll know that it starts getting light WAY before you ever see the sun. And the Moon isn’t related to day and night at all, as it is up sometime in the daytime. This ties in with this “water above” business. The blue of the sky has NOTHING to do with the Sun in these people’s minds, it’s blue because in the daytime, the sky is blue, because of the water above it. At least that how it seems to me.

This account continues with more of the same strangeness, talking about creating all the beasts, etc. Then he creates Adam.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them

So, there are some footnotes here.

The translators here have taken liberties. It says in Hebrew, that “humankind” is “adam” and “them” is “him”. But of course, this wouldn’t make much sense if it said it created him and then said he “male and female he created them”. It just doesn’t read well. But, if this is truly the translation of the Hebrew, why is the text being changed?

Since this post is a bit long, I’ll stop here and post my thoughts on Account #2 later.

I’ll skip right to questions I have. Christians and Atheists are welcome to chime in with comments and answers.

Questions

1. Do a majority of Christians believe in the seven days thing? If so, how do you explain that? If you are a Christian who believes in Evolution, how do you reconcile that with the seven days thing?

2. Does this account indeed show that these people believed in a flat earth? And if this is written from that point of view, what does that say about it being the “Word of God”?

3. Why does God have to “rest” on the seventh day? Can omnipotent beings get “tired”?

4. And finally, If you are a Christian and you take this story to be only figurative and not literal, then what is the point of this story? What is the point of it talking about details such as the water above and below? In essence, why is this even in your book?