Christianity Gets Slam-Dunked


A review of Tim Sledge’s Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer
The Richard Dawkins 7-point scale, for rating the strength of belief or non-belief, has been widely referenced. Number 1 is Strong Theist, “I do not question the existence of God. I know he exists.” Number 7 is Strong Atheist, “I am 100% sure there is no God.” This is a useful guide, far more than many atheists realize. I am sometimes scolded by other atheists for ‘wasting my time’ debunking Christianity. “They never listen,” so I’m told. But note that Number 3 on the Dawkins Scale is Weak Theist, “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”

I’ve long maintained that Christians exist on a scale of 1 to 10, although I’ve never bothered to define each of the numbers, other than to say that the 10s are probably unreachable; these are the evangelicals and fundamentalists. Good luck trying to penetrate. But then there are the 5s, those who go through the motions out of habit, show up at church, but who have unvoiced doubts. They have noticed things that don’t make sense, and are skeptical of Preacher Answers. Just one book, just one article—about a big flaw in the faith—coming to their attention, somehow, can start the process of walking away.

Snake Worshippers! This Could Be You!

All it would take is for you to be born in a Hindu family in Prayagraj, India. Then you too would worship snakes! You would be convinced they heal you when ill. You could not be talked out of your culturally adopted religion. And you would be going to hell for not believing in Jesus, according to theology. Wouldn't you want to know which religion is true, if there is one? There is a way. Reject it at your own peril.

“A Simple Misunderstanding that Changed the Course of History”


The deep roots of Christian apologetics
“Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” There is some truth to this claim, but not enough. Our distant ancestors—those who first believed that priests could channel gods—were not fools: they managed to survive in perilous environments, and that took some doing. Fools no, but not gifted with critical thinking skills either. They did have imaginations, however, and were thus very susceptible to stories—as we are today.

It seems we’re wired to become heavily invested emotionally in stories; modern examples include The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, Downton Abby, Harry Potter, and comic book superheroes; the characters grab us. We can’t get enough. But what if you can convince people that God himself had written a particular story? And that believing the story is the key for escaping death: you win eternal life if you accept the story with all your heart, mind, and soul. Religious professionals of all genres exploit this level of emotional investment.

The Amount of Horrific Suffering Makes The Existence of God Improbable

Recently I participated in an online debate on an omni-god and suffering. My Catholic opponent mostly quoted from the Bible and Church fathers. Like so many others he had a strategy of nitpicking and using up my time in the cross-examination. Here are my opening and closing statements.

My 10 minute Opening Statement:

Believers will argue that not even a god could create a world without some minimal level of suffering in it. But what about the amount of horrific suffering that exists? That’s my focus.

Here’s the problem: If a god exists who is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good, then the amount of horrific suffering in our world needs an explanation. Either this god isn’t smart enough to eliminate it, or isn’t powerful enough to eliminate it, or doesn’t care enough to eliminate it. The reason is that an all-knowing god would know how to eliminate it, an all-powerful god has the power to eliminate it, and a perfectly good god would want to eliminate it.

For the sake of argument what if such a god exists?

Is a Real Jesus Hiding Anywhere in the New Testament?


A Review of R. G. Price’s Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed
It’s standard practice for art dealers to provide documentation that the works they sell are the real thing; ideally there will be a paper trail showing ownership back to the original artist. At the end of movies there are several minutes of rolling credits, hundreds of names, of all the people who helped make the film. At the end of any biography, the reader can find the sources used, commonly hundreds of them: this is where the information comes from—and any curious researcher can find them as well.

A couple of hundred years ago, Bible scholars began to grapple with the inconvenient truth that the gospels—those iconic titles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—have no such anchors: No documentation, credits at the end, or identified sources. They seem to position themselves as history, but what’s the evidence for that?

The Claim That There Are No Atheists


Instead of answering atheists' arguments, some believers just deny that there is such a thing as atheism. On their view, everyone knows that there is a God, and so-called atheists simply block out that fact because they don't want there to be someone who makes moral demands on them. (As everyone knows, we atheists just want to be able to do whatever we feel like, morality be damned — which explains why we are always robbing banks and torturing puppies.) But what reasons are there for thinking this is the case? Several have been suggested.

One common argument states that no one can consistently live like an atheist. So-called atheists obey moral rules, for example, which they should have no reason to obey. For according to atheism, it is said, it is no better to be kind and help those in need than to be a serial rapist and murderer. Yet many so-called atheists speak out against injustices in the world, and in doing so reveal that they are not true heathens.

Daniel C. Maguire, My Other Professor, Is Much Closer to the Truth

Some say I haven't considered liberalism. Hogwash! My major professor for my PhD program at Marquette University was Daniel C. Maguire, author of this book: "Christianity Without God: Moving Beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative" (SUNY, 2014). Forget William Lane Craig. Maguire is much closer to the truth. LINK. My problem with him is that he's an enabler to the kinds of Christianity that cause harm.

Dr. Robert Price's Newest Book is in the House!

World renown biblical scholar Robert M. Price just stunned me by dedicating his latest book to me (see below)! I have to admit what he said is also a brilliant two-way slam against the Bible and William Lane Craig! Thanks Bob, it means a lot to know you love what I do! I never saw that coming. The book looks fantastic too. I hope others get it and read it. LINK. I must say Bob is a super duper wonderful guy as well as a first class biblical scholar whom I consider a personal friend.

Heads up, together we're making plans for an anthology on Jesus Mythicism. So stay tuned!

Religion is Cultural All the Way Down

More photos. When asked why one's religion is true over others, believers will typically point to their unique differences. But religious differences are only evidence of differences.

Differences don't show the truth of a religion, since all different religions have differences by definition!

Shame on Us for Flaunting Atheism?


…as long as Christians are reigning-champion flaunters?
I think it would be really cool to have a T-shirt made for myself:

Back: A picture of the cover of my book.

But where could I wear it without running the risk of getting beat up? Especially these days when religious folks are enflamed about being persecuted. At the very least, I’m sure I would be scolded for flaunting my atheism. “Why do you have to be so in our faces about it? Please keep it to yourself!”

Christians have enjoyed majority status for so long, it’s hard for them to grasp that they are champion flaunters: it’s part of what they do! They want to be noticed, they insist on being noticed, and they spare no expense getting noticed. Atheists have a long way to go before we can match flaunt for flaunt.

Was Jesus Potty Trained? by Jack Pyle

Now this is a hilarious question, which now claims the title to a book, Was Jesus Potty Trained? Professor Dale Allison recommends it. Here is the description:


One hundred twenty-six million American citizens have stated they believe Jesus will return to this earth by 2050. Most of them await his arrival with mental pictures and images obtained from the blockbuster Left Behind series of books of LaHaye and Jenkins, or Hal Lindsey's portrayals in his book The Late Great Planet Earth. Both books are fictional images of the end of the world created from the nightmarish and ghoulish descriptions of the author of the book of Revelation who wrote of events he believed were to occur in the Roman world before the return of Jesus. It was to be a time of unimaginable horrors to come upon the world. We read daily of alleged apocalyptic signs occurring now which individuals believe point to the end of the age of which Jesus spoke.

Stephen Hawking On the Nonexistence of God

It’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation: there is probably no heaven and afterlife either. I think belief in an afterlife is just wishful thinking. There is no reliable evidence for it, and it flies in the face of everything we know in science. I think that when we die we return to dust. But there’s a sense in which we live on, in our influence, and in our genes that we pass on to our children. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Hawking also explains himself in his last book of questions and answers, which can be seen in this excellent write up by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings

Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said


A Series of Flash Podcasts, Episodes 1 to 12

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story. But Christians are in just as much trouble. An observation by Dr. Jaco Gericke should snap them to attention:

A Bible Book Of Blunders


Introduction to a new series of articles
It doesn’t take much for the religious impulse to kick in. The thousands of gods that humans have imagined is proof of that, and there’s an episode in the Book of Acts that shows how easy it is to say, “Hey, there’s a god at work here.” In the final chapter of Acts (28), we read that, following shipwreck, the apostle Paul made it to the shores of Malta.

“Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, 'This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.' He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.” (vv. 3-6)

Dr. Chris Gadsden Obfuscates On The Outsider Test for Faith

Dr. Chris Gadsden
I must admit it's kind of gratifying when Christian philosophers take a look at the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), which I've defended online and in my book. Recently Dr. Chris Gadsden decided to look at it. He has earned two master’s degrees and one PhD in philosophy (University of Missouri). He appears to be some sort of expert on proper belief formation, as seen in his PhD dissertation, Epistemic duties and blameworthiness for belief. He also appears as the kind of guy who doesn't hunker down in the trenches willing to die rather than admit he might be wrong about something. We'll see, because he begins with a misunderstanding by saying, "Lots of internet atheists promote the 'outsider test' (OTF) as a potent weapon against Christians. But how potent is it? Let’s have a look."

Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel


The falsification of Christianity made easy
I recently completed, here on the Debunking Christianity Blog, my series of articles on all sixteen chapters of Mark’s gospel. Here are the links:

Introduction: Getting the Gospels Off on the Wrong Foot

Chapter 1: Did Jesus Graduate from Hogwarts?

Chapter 2: A Charming Bible Story and Its Bad Theology

Chapter 3: How Come Jesus Didn’t Know Better?

Rejecting The Outsider Test Means One's Faith Lacks Objective Evidence!

Summing up the main goal of my book The Outsider Test for Faith, I would say its goal is to get believers to think exclusively in terms of the objective evidence, and to proportion their beliefs based on the strength of that evidence. That's it! If it appears to be a threat to Christianity and other religions, it's not the fault of the test. It's the fault of the woeful lack of evidence for these religions. The OTF seeks to peel back the blinders of indoctrination and bias so believers can *see* for the first time that which they see when looking at other religious faiths. When looking at other religious faiths believers require sufficient objective evidence for them, or at least, they see the reasonableness of this evidential requirement. Believers need to see this same requirement with regard to their own religious faith. The OTF seeks to do away with confirmation bias as much as possible, so believers can start requiring objective evidence commensurate with the religious beliefs they were taught on their Mama's knees.

But this isn't what most believers see when it comes to the OTF. That's because they tacitly realize their faith would fail the test of objective evidence. So by disagreeing with the OTF they are disagreeing with the requirement for objective evidence for one's faith. To the degree then, that believers see the OTF "as a potent weapon against Christians", they're admitting there isn't sufficient objective evidence for their doctrines.

Dr. Darren Slade Disavows Liberty University, His Alma Mater

Professor David Eller first informed me of Darren Slade, who took some classes with him before attending and earning a PhD in theology from Liberty University, the one founded by Jerry Falwell. Dr. Slade has written a chapter for my anthology "The Case against Miracles" to be released in September (hopefully). He has also disavowed his alma mater! Read his testimony to understand why.

His testimony mirrors mine and many others who study in Evangelical colleges. It expresses the need for thinking outside the box of one's culturally adopted religious faith. He wrote:

Why Are Christians Okay with Torture?


“Sinners in the hands of an angry God”
When I was quite young I asked my mother if hell was at the fiery center of the earth. Devout Christian that she was, I never heard her talk much about hell, and she gave a hearty laugh to my question. No! was her response. She could say, about a lot of things in the Bible, “You can’t take that literally.”

Born in 1905 in southern Indiana, she had somehow escaped fundamentalism. She’d never gone to college, but read voraciously her whole life. She had picked up enough knowledge of the world to realize that neither heaven nor hell had locations in the geography of the cosmos. They were states of nearness to, or alienation from, God—or so she said. Maybe she’d heard some preachers with a touch of common sense. But alienation is watered-down hell; it is hard to deduct wrath from the Christian equation.

A Challenge for Christian Apologists

Here is a challenge to Christian apologists. How much time do you set aside reading books and essays outside your comfort zone? Let me be specific here. I have this book coming out in the Fall. Are you planning on reading it? There is no better way to become an apologist than to know the arguments of the opposition better than they do. You should try it. Here's some other helpful advice:

The Weakness of Christian Explanations of Evil


Here are a couple of the “reasonable Christian responses” (as he calls them) that apologist John M. DePoe offers for the existence of natural evils (True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, ed. Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, pp. 218-219):

(1) There cannot be free will in any meaningful sense unless the world is governed by laws that make it behave in a sufficiently regular manner. These laws, however, “are also the cause of various phenomena, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and diseases.” It follows that one cannot avoid the existence of such natural disasters without eliminating our ability to exercise free will.

(2) Natural evils aren’t intrinsically evil; they are only bad when they harm moral agents. It follows that “if people had not chosen to settle in an area prone to tornado activity or on a fault line, there would be no associated evil event.”

How to Tell If You’re a Real Christian


The fast-track answer in Mark’s gospel
New Yorkers in a rush tend to be impatient with strolling tourists gawking at the skyscrapers…“Welcome to New York, now go home.” No, we don’t say it. But then there was the tourist I saw recently, whose t-shirt was a testimony: “You‘all Need Jesus.” So many things I wanted to say to him…but didn’t. I wanted to bang by head against the nearest wall…but didn’t.

Christians especially seem be clueless about the problem of Jesus. The glaring negatives about Jesus are on full view in the gospels. Is this the Jesus we need? Which Jesus are we supposed to believe?

Norman Geisler, Christian Apologist Extraordinaire, Dead at 86

Just two months into retirement Norman Geisler died Monday at age 86. See here. He will be missed. He was quite the accomplished apologist having influenced a generation of evangelical apologists, including William Lane Craig, who was my mentor for my Th.M. degree in the Philosophy of Religion, when I studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) from 1982-85. you can think of this progression, from Geisler to Craig to me! Actually there were two evangelical thinkers who had a good deal of influence on Craig, Geisler and Stuart Hackett, whom I also studied with at TEDS. The biggest influence on me was James D. Strauss. [Click here to see a photo of Strauss with Craig and me in 1985.]

You can hear Geisler's story of how he became a Christian in an interview with Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable program in 2008. Listen to it here beginning at 16:40.

While I didn't study with Geisler he tried to convince me I was wrong to leave the faith in a series of back and forth emails in 2007. He read my magnum opus Why I Became an Atheist, and recommended it using these words:
A thoughtful and intellectually challenging work presenting arguments that every honest theist and Christian should face.
Below you can read William Lane Craig's indebtedness to Norman Geisler (seen on the Reasonable Faith Facebook page):

One Ad Hoc Built On Top Of Another, Greg Koukl On People Who Have Never Heard the Gospel

This video was posted on Facebook by Cameron Bertuzzi who interviewed apologist Greg Koukl. It was on how their god could send people to hell who never heard the gospel. How could a good god do that? It's instructive of the ways on an apologist. You should watch it. There are plenty of things to learn, most notably how to obfuscate, or hide the truth.

Yes, yes, yes, there is so much to say, and not enough time. Regardless, here are several of my comments put into one response below (along with a link):

Questioning the Resurrection, Part 3 (of 3)


By Robert Conner, with interpolations by David Madison
[Note from David Madison: This article was written by Robert Conner, who asked me to review it and add whatever comments I wanted. I contributed about 15 percent of what you’re about to read.]

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

In the era in which Christianity appeared, a clear majority accepted visions and the appearance of ghosts as real events, and lived in the expectation of omens, prophetic dreams, and other close encounters of the supernatural kind. Like many people of the present, they were primed for self-delusion, expecting the inexplicable, accepting the uncanny. Given the mass of contradictions and implausibility in the resurrection stories, who bears the greater burden of proof, the apologist who claims the gospels record eyewitness history or the skeptic who can point to modern “sightings” such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary?

Questioning the Resurrection, Part 2 (of 3)


By Robert Conner, with interpolations by David Madison

[Note from David Madison: This article was written by Robert Conner, who asked me to review it and add whatever comments I wanted. I contributed about 15 percent of what you’re about to read.]

Part 1 is here.

If you still have questions, that’s understandable. For starters, if a hoard of dead men proved Jesus had risen, why didn’t Jesus His Own Damn Self just show up in Jerusalem? What could have been more convincing than Jesus Himself back from the dead, clothed in shining raiment, appearing to the Jewish and Roman leaders? After all, when the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?” didn’t Jesus finally break silence and tell the court, “I am! And you (plural) will see the son of man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven!” (Mark 14:61-62) Whatever happened to all that I’ll-show-you-and-then-you’ll-be-sorry blow and jive from Jesus’ trial? Why didn’t Jesus appear post mortem to his persecutors and settle the question of his resurrection then and there, once and for all, as he promised at his trial?

Why Doesn’t Bible Chaos Bother Christians?


…enough for them to just say, “NO”

In The Adventure of the Final Problem, published in 1893 in The Strand magazine, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes. Twenty thousand enraged fans canceled their subscriptions to the magazine. When Doyle published The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901 (he set the story before Holmes’ death), there were 30,000 new subscribers instantly. It is just a fact that humans make huge emotional investments in stories; more modern examples include, of course, Downton Abby, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones.

Good fun, right? But religion has demonstrated a particular talent for exploiting our attachment to stories; even I appreciated Father Andrew Greeley’s charming description of the role of stories in Catholic piety. Obviously, however, many different, competing religions have claimed that their stories hold the key to achieving favor with the gods, and above all, for escaping death. Christianity has specialized in the eternal life promise: “You’ll get there if you just do this.”

Questioning the Resurrection, Part 1 (of 3)


By Robert Conner, with Interpolations by David Madison
[Note from David Madison: This article was written by Robert Conner, who asked me to review it and add whatever comments I wanted. I contributed about 15 percent of what you’re about to read.]

Chronologically speaking, the first person in history to mention a certain Joshua from Nazareth is Paul of Tarsus. These days Joshua of Nazareth is better know as Jesus—Jesus is the Latinized form of Iēsous, the Greek rendering of Yehoshua, Joshua, meaning “Yahweh delivers.” Joshua, the hero of the conquest of Canaan, embodied the hope that Gentile overlords would be overthrown, so Joshua was understandably a popular name among the Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine. In point of fact, archaeologists have discovered over 70 occurrences of the name Joshua/Jesus in Judean burials.

We Can Do Better than Religious Holidays


Why not celebrate things that actually happened?

Even devout Bible scholars—aside from hard-core evangelical denialists—concede that the Jesus birth stories in Matthew and Luke are fiction. Yet they’re the focus of attention and adoration every December. Likewise, the Empty Tomb stories in the four gospels (“He is risen!”) swarm with contradictions, gaffs, and improbabilities; they fail to meet minimal standards as historical reporting. But of course, every Easter they are piously recited and celebrated; believers have been persuaded to take them seriously.

We can be grateful that secular—and less harmful—renditions of these holidays have emerged, i.e., Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, a symbol of fecundity, by the way, which humans have celebrated at springtime from time immemorial.

Humanity would be much better off in the long run if we celebrated things that we know actually happened, and that have advanced our understanding of the Cosmos and our place in it: how we happened.

Episode 7 in my series of Flash Podcasts on Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said has been posted on my YouTube channel. Under 5 minutes.

Here are four holidays that could boost humanity’s grasp of reality.

Celebrating Hubble: Waking Up to Our Place in the Cosmos

It was just about 17 years before I was born that a most stunning discovery was made, which is far more awesome than any Bible folklore. Edwin Hubble, of course, is a household name, because an orbiting telescope was named after him. But why did he deserve that honor?

A bit of backstory: In April 1920, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., there was a debate between astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis:

“Shapley took the side that spiral nebulae (what are now called galaxies) are inside our Milky Way, while Curtis took the side that the spiral nebulae are 'island universes' far outside our own Milky Way and comparable in size and nature to our own Milky Way.”

Only a century ago—just think of it—that issue was still up for debate. Enter Edwin Hubble:

“Using the Hooker Telescope at Mt. Wilson, Hubble identified Cepheid variables in several spiral nebulae, including the Andromeda Nebula and Triangulum. His observations, made in 1924, proved conclusively that these nebulae were much too distant to be part of the Milky Way and were, in fact, entire galaxies outside our own…”

Cepheid variables are rare stars that can be used reliably to measure distances, and Hubble had spotted one in Andromeda. He marked “VAR!” on one photographic plate (a negative, with the center of the galaxy appearing as a black oval); this must rank as one of the most important photographs ever taken.

He presented his findings to the American Astronomical Society on 1 January 1925: “Hubble's findings fundamentally changed the scientific view of the universe.”

Hubble opened a new era in our understanding of the Cosmos. It turns out that our galaxy is one of billions, that our Milky Way—100,000 lights years across—is but a speck on the landscape of the Cosmos. Arguably, we would be much better off if every person on earth realized where we are in the scheme of things.

The primary lesson to draw from this is not how insignificant we are; we already knew that. Our star and its trailing planets is one of billions in our galaxy alone; just one orbit of the sun around the galactic center takes 235 million years. Humans might do better to contemplate how isolated we are and how much we don’t know about the Cosmos. There might be countless thinking species ‘out there’ in our galaxy alone, who have been contemplating the Cosmos many thousands of years longer than we have. But just consider this: the nearest star to our own star, Alpha Centauri (actually a three-star system), is about 4.5 light years away. So why doesn’t NASA aim a space ship that way to check it out? Our isolation is staggering: it would take the space shuttle, going 18,000 miles per hour, 160,000 years to get there.

Even in my seminary days, I’d begun to wonder how theologians—on earth, in our profound isolation, with no hard data—could posture so confidently about God. Sam Harris has been blunt: theology must now be considered a branch of human ignorance. Theological systems that have their roots in ancient speculations and superstitions have done little more than refine their ideas, in a vain attempt to keep up. Over the centuries, with the painstaking gathering of knowledge—as Timothy Ferris’ title puts it, we have been Coming of Age in the Milky Way—theology has become irrelevant because it can offer no data whatever to back up its claims. Theology specializes in bluff and apologetics.

The human race would be better off if we had a World Holiday celebrating Edwin Hubble’s curiosity, his patient hours at the telescope, his desire to know. What an example to follow. But what’s your guess? How many people on the planet know what Hubble found out, and have absorbed it into their worldview? Carl Sagan pushed us in this direction with his eloquent description of the Pale Blue Dot.

Joseph von Fraunhofer: Figuring Our What We’re Made Of

This is definitely not a household name. Fraunhofer was an optics maker who died in 1826, at the age of 39. According to Timothy Ferris:

“He had an instinct for the essential, and his spirited research into the basic characteristics of various kinds of glass soon established him as the world’s foremost maker of telescope lenses. Fraunhofer started out using spectral lines as sources of monochromatic light for his experiments in improving color correction of his lenses, but soon became fascinated by the lines themselves. ‘I saw with the telescope,’ he wrote, ‘an almost countless number of strong and weak vertical lines which are darker than the rest of the color-image. Some appeared to be perfectly black.’

“He mapped hundreds of such lines in the spectrum of the sun, and found identical patterns in the spectra of the moon and planets—as one would expect, since these bodies shine by reflected sunlight. But when he turned his telescope on other stars, their spectral lines looked quite different.” (Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, p. 164)

A generation later, physicists Gustaf Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen “...determined that district sequences of Fraunhofer lines were produced by various chemical elements. One evening they saw, from the window of their laboratory in Heidelberg, a fire raging in the port city of Mannheim ten miles to the west. Using their spectroscope, they detected the telltale lines of barium and strontium in the flames. This set Bunsen to wondering whether they might be able to detect chemical elements in the spectrum of the sun as well. ‘But,’ he added, ‘people would think we were mad to dream of such a thing.’” (Ferris, p. 164)

“Kirchhoff was mad enough to try, and by 1861 he had identified sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, chromium, nickel, barium, copper, and zinc in the sun. A link had been found between the physics of the earth and the stars, and a path blazed to the new sciences of spectroscopy and astrophysics.” (pp. 164-165)

Lawrence Krauss knows that this knowledge far outclasses any awe that theology conjures:

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements—the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life—weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.” (emphasis added)

Because Fraunhofer, Kirchhoff, Bunsen—and many others in their wake—were driven by curiosity, we now know what we’re made of, and how the elements in our bodies were formed. Guy Harrison: “I am made of atoms that were forged inside of stars billions of years ago. I am literally part of this vast universe. That’s a big connection, certainly enough to prevent an inferiority complex. Clearly one does not have to look to the gods to feel a connection to something grand and spectacular.” (50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God)

Why not have a World Holiday celebrating Fraunhofer’s close scrutiny of natural phenomenon—and what other careful scientists subsequently discovered? What an example to follow. But what’s your guess? How many people on the planet know this story—this epic discovery—and have absorbed it into their worldview?

Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson: Figuring Out Creation

Einstein’s equations for the General Theory of Relativity indicated that the universe was expanding; he assumed that, somehow, he had it wrong. But Hubble’s study of galaxies revealed that, the farther away they are, the more their spectrums are red shifted—meaning that they’re moving away faster. Physicist Georges Lemaître—also a Catholic priest—thought that both the General Relativity equations and Hubble’s data were correct. He proposed that the universe had indeed emerged from the explosion of a primordial atom…in the inconceivable distant past. In 1949, physicist Fred Hoyle, who disagreed, derisively labeled this idea the Big Bang.

But might the residue of that Big Bang, so long ago, still be detectable? In 1964, Princeton University professors John Wheeler and Robert Dicke were on the hunt for the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). But someone beat them to it, by accident, just a few miles away in Holmdel, NJ:

“The discovery of the background radiation was a serendipitous one. In 1964, Bell Laboratories technicians Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias racked their brains for an explanation of the noisy signal recorded by their radio antenna. When it turned out that the ‘noise’ was actually radiation from the CMB, the two engineers found themselves unexpectedly pulled into the growing field of modern cosmology. The detection of the CMB earned them the Nobel Prize.” (article here)

Lemaître had been right about the inconceivably distant past: the Big Bang was 13.8 billion years ago. This also gives us perspective about humanity’s place in the Cosmos. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the oldest human ancestors—i.e., can be reasonable identified as human precursors—emerged maybe 5 or 6 million year ago. Humans learned how to write and build cities 5-6,000 years ago. And decided that the gods are preoccupied with us.

We are made in God’s image—no matter how you want to define this? Lemaître, by the way, was none too pleased when he got wind that Pope Pius XII was prepared to use Lemaître’s ‘big bang’ as proof for the Genesis story. He personally intervened to talk the pope out of it. Nice try, giving God the credit, but Lemaître the Scientist knew that no cause for the primordial explosion had been identified. How like a theologian to say, “Oh, we know!”

Do cosmologists think God was behind the Big Bang? See Sean Carroll’s essay, Why (Almost) All Cosmologists Are Atheists.

This sequence of serious thought and experimentation about the origins of the Cosmos—Hubble, Lemaître, Wheeler & Dicke, Penzias & Wilson—surely merits celebration as a World Holiday. We now know so much more about our place in the Cosmos—compared to those who lived just a hundred years ago. But what’s your guess? How many people on the planet are aware of these insights and discoveries—and have absorbed them into their worldview?

Charles Darwin: Figuring Out How Life Organizes Itself

When believers have their backs against the wall defending God, we commonly hear, “Well, where did all this come from? There had to have been a creator!” Then they might move on to crediting God with complexity. One fellow recently told me, “A Rolex couldn’t just happen from an explosion in watch factory.” There had to have been an intelligent designer, hence God. In 1802 William Paley famously argued that anyone who found a watch on the heath knows for sure there was a watchmaker somewhere. But, oh dear, the craftsman had lost track of the missing timepiece: a poor analogy for God.

Charles Darwin proved to be an extraordinary observer of nature. Well before the discovery of genetics and DNA, he figured out how evolution by natural selection works. His book, whose full title is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was published in 1859. He didn’t crave fame, nor did he savor the conflict with religion that followed in the wake of his publication. Few human beings have had more impact on the progress of our species than Darwin, and his insights have been confirmed overwhelming, especially after genetics and DNA came into the picture.

“The theory of evolution by natural selection, first formulated in Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring. Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology.” (article here)

So we know how complexity in nature occurs—just the opposite of ‘an explosion in a watch factory’—we know why design looks like intelligent design, yet religion remains the preserve of those who still rage against Darwin. Well, not all religion, clearly; outside the fundamentalist/evangelical domain, evolution is accepted. Even at the Vatican!

Abby Hafer’s book The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not

But what’s your guess? How many people on the planet understand what Darwin accomplished—and have absorbed it into their worldview? We already have a Darwin Day (12 February, his birthday), but it should be boosted to a widely and wildly celebrated World Holiday.

Unfortunately, so many major discoveries and events have escaped notice; have not been absorbed into the worldview of most humans. The mythologies and superstitions that took hold of human minds thousands of years ago have remarkable staying power. Curiosity, skepticism, and critical thought are the cure. Former Southern Baptist preacher John Compere points us in the right direction (Outgrowing Religion):

“The myth of Paul Bunyan makes a good story, as does the story of Jesus. But neither tale withstands factual scrutiny or gives us a clue about the meaning of life. For that, we have brains.”

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was reissued last year by Tellectual Press with a new Foreword by John Loftus.

The Cure-for-Christianity Library© is here.

How Do Religious Bureaucrats Get Away With It?


The Zero-Curiosity Factor

Ironically enough, most Christians don’t seem to be all that curious about the Bible. It’s supposed to be the Word of God, after all, so why not spend as much time studying the Bible as watching sports and movies? You know: really get in tune with God. But plowing through scripture isn’t all that rewarding; there is too much tedium, there are too many bog-down points. As John Loftus has wondered: Couldn’t God have done a better job of communicating?

Guy P. Harrison has done the research:

“In 2013 a Protestant preacher told me that he estimates no more than 15 to 20 percent of his parishioners read the Bible on a regular basis. Many Christians do read the Bible, of course. Some read it on a regular basis, even daily, but how are they reading it? Are they working their way through it, page by page and line by line? Or are they merely leapfrogging from familiar sentences to comforting stories?