A Church Talk


This was a lecture I performed not very long ago. To a small group of two Norcross High School classrooms. We discuss atheism, evolution, simple philosophical problems with Christian theism and why it's so hard to swallow by some atheists. I was asked by Leroy Lamar to come to the school to discuss what I thought as an atheist. So, I entitled this an "Atheist Talk". But I guess it's really, "Reggie Finley discusses  evolution, god and the meaning of life."  :) About time a non-theist got a chance to talk to a comparative religion class.


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Atheism Talk

Updated: 01-12-2008
Prepared originally for Norcross High Comparative religion Class - 08-25-2006
Note: The two class periods were bused out to a church for the actual lecture. Norcross Presbyterian

Teacher -  Leroy Lamar

Lecture prepared and performed by, Reginald V. Finley, Sr.

 

Preconceived Notions Busted:


Now.. this man - was a miracle worker, taught in his youth, raised folks from the dead, could see events to come, taught mercy and compassion. Who is this?"

Answer: (Jesus!)

No, actually this is Apollonius of Tyana. The intent here was to show you that things may not be what they seem to be. With this in mind consider what you think about atheists. I am an atheist. You could be wrong in your assessment of atheists and what we may or may not believe. I must say this on the outset. I honestly do not care what you believe provided that no one is harmed because of your beliefs. At the same time, if you argue with me that your position is true and that I must believe it too, then it is now volunteering itself for critical analysis.

My goal this morning is to show you that this particular atheist has rational reasons why he doesn't believe in Yahweh, or any god for that matter... and to also address a list of questions Mr. Lamar has prepared for me in advance.

I see we have some stern looking and angry faces here. Who here has a problem with me being here, talking about atheism in a church? Show of hands. How many of you believe that things happen for a reason? (everyone) What about a particular person coming into your life? Well.. here I am! God sent me right? If God didn't want me here, he simply could have sabotaged my car or gave me food poisoning, right? So. how many of you still have a problem with me being here when God obviously doesn't? (no hands) 

Please take notes and I'll address your questions at the end if we have time.

The Start:

* Hello everyone... I'm Reginald Finley Sr host of The Infidel Guy Show and creator of InfidelGuy.com, readallthebible.com and atheistforums.com. For 9 years I have discussed and debated the issue of religion primarily, well, because it's fun and I like to learn new things. I am happy to see that all of you are secure enough in your faith that you are willing to listen to a different and opposing point of view.

Who can tell me why it's generally taboo to challenge religion? (Replies and Response to Replies) Politics can be questioned but not religion? Why? Sports can be questioned, but not religion as well. No wait, I take that back! Some people will fight you over sports. But seriously, questioning things is how we determine what's most likely true. If the Bible is true for instance.. questioning it, can only make it's position stronger, assuming that the answers are correct. :) Now.. I'm going to say some things that will challenge you and at the same time.. show you why some atheists have difficultly believing in Yahweh and other related god ideas.

Who here knows an atheist, has atheist friends or family members? Do you love them? Are you a Christian? So.. let's say the world explodes tomorrow... you'll be in Heaven and that person will end up in Hell. Have you ever considered, How will Heaven be Heaven when people you love and care about are burning in hell? (no response)

How many of you knew that 1 out of every 10 people you meet are probably atheist or agnostic? How many of  you feel oppressed as a Christian today? Hands? (a few) How many of you knew that over 75% of Americans classify themselves as a kind of Christian? Okay then, if 75% of the US Population are Christian, who's doing the oppressing? Other Christians would most likely be the culprit. Did you know that, just as 75% of the US population is Christian, 75% of the prison population is Christian too... while atheists are less than .2%. That's staggering considering that at least 3% of the US Population are atheists. Psalms 14:1 reads that non-believers are incapable of doing any good, how many of you truly believe this? (not one hand raised) Good! We'd expect at least 3% of the prison population to be atheists and agnostics. We don't. Maybe we aren't as bad as the bible says.

Now, I've been talking about atheism and atheists. Who here knows what an atheist is?  Respond to answers. (surprisingly, they all got the definition exactly right.)
Note - I didn't bother with distinctions of atheists, no need. For those exposed to atheism and agnosticism for the first time. I recommend you read Buck Cash's article about atheism and agnosticism.

Keep in mind that NOT all atheists will agree with what I say here today. I am NOT the Pope of atheism, my opinions are my own, although some of what I say may be agreed upon by other atheists. There is no atheist Bible and atheists are not Satanists. Atheism is NOT a religion or a worldview. Just as theism isn't a religion or a worldview. Worldviews are a collection of ideas and opinions about the world. Atheism, for me, is an inevitable conclusion that is spawned as a result of my worldview. One of which is that in order to accept something as true, there must be adequate evidence. I have a naturalistic/materialist outlook. A materialist believes the material, the physical, is all that exists. It doesn't mean that I am caught up in earthly and material pleasures. There simply isn't any evidence for the supernatural. If that changes and the evidence leads to a proof, then I will change my position. That's right.. I'm willing to change my mind if evidence proves to the contrary. How many of you here, will stop believing in God if I prove to you right now, that there isn't one? (no hands). Interesting. So, you have all admitted that you are closed on the issue. How can we grow if we cannot admit the possibility of our errors?

That out of the way, I'll quickly move through the questions given to me by Mr. Lamar.

First on my outline is:

Origins? Where did we come from?

The Cosmos' Origins

Origins is a two part question actually. There's cosmological origins and human origins. As far as cosmological origins. I have no idea ultimately. But God is a horrible answer. There is no explanatory power in "God Did it". It was believed once that demons made you sick. Hopefully by now, we all know better. Anyone can give answers, but a good answer can be supported with rigorous scientific testing and logic. A supernatural answer is equivalent to no real answer at all in my opinion, because in the realm of supernatural ideas, anything is a go. Why not believe in Unicorns, talking fish, Santa Claus, demons, angels, ghosts, goblins etc? I mean.. it's all supernatural and anything's possible right? I don't think so.

A fact that I have gained from the Universe is that "existence is". This is undeniable. As such, I think that there isn't a  nothing, "no thing", for how could something ever come to be, if nothing was all there was. In other words, there is no such thing as nothing. Therefore.. existence (in some form), has always had to exist. Universes to me would be subsets of Existence. That is, universes can only exist within existence. The "Why anything exists at all" has always been the deeper question for me. It simply has to be, for nothing, doesn't exist. Again, God doesn't answer these ultimate questions and neither does science at this point, so I remain wholly ignorant on the issue of the twisting and churning of bodies within existence and why they do what they do... generating Big Bangs and creating Universes.
"The Nothing." - RockBiter - Never Ending Story

So, at this point, we agree on something being.. possibly eternal, possibly infinite.. my problem is why do believers add unnecessarily some conscious entity to the equation? How does this being think without a brain to process thoughts? You think he does? Where is it? In Heaven? But I thought he was everywhere. A brain is a finite physical unit that processes electrical signals in time. How exactly would an infinite, spiritual, timeless version of this work?

Also, Yahweh for instance, is allegedly all-knowing? Would this being know his thoughts before he thought them? Wouldn't this being be helpless ultimately if it's all-knowing? I'm saying, if God is all-knowing then he shouldn't be able to change the order of events for which he foreknew. Or did he know he'd change his mind beforehand, but if he knew he'd change his mind, why make the prior decision in the first place? Seems this God creature couldn't do anything and would be indistinguishable from our natural Universe. Well, we have a name for the Universe, why call it God when God carries so much illogical baggage and paradoxes?

As far as human origins, I accept human evolution as the champion theory of man's origins. There are some very powerful evidences for evolution. I don't accept it on blind faith.. we actually have tons of evidence. Before I get into the evidence, might I add that most scientists in the field of biology are Christians and most accept evolution just fine. 

What is Evolution? Evolution is simply change over time. In biology, we could say, the change in allele frequencies over time. An allele is simply a small gene change from one generation to the next. When you have kids, they will have alleles of many of your genes. Essentially because, during cell division, you never get a perfect copy. As you may have noticed, obviously, our kids are not clones of us nor are you a clone of your mother or siblings.

(At this point draw two images on the board or have it drawn before you begin. The "ladder of evolution" vs "tree of life". Explain in simple terms how evolution happens. Mutations which happen to be beneficial, help that species survive once it passes on those same positive mutations to the next generation. Each generation is slightly different than the next. If a population isolates itself, speciation can occur, etc. The ladder analogy fails because evolution isn't linear. One species isn't becoming another species in successive jumps or leaps. These species have relatives that survive while others have died. Like Chimps and Humans. Chimps didn't become human.. We have an ancient relative that isn't with us today. Just like your great great great grandfather isn't here today as well. Use cousin relationships as the perfect analogy.)


Ladder vs Tree

Image by:
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/home.php

Evidence: 

1.) Fossils are great evidence of evolution. Using various dating methods we can determine how old fossils are. Humans date as far back as 2 million years! Using comparative anatomy, scientists can show our relationship with similar species of ancient homind. Dinosaurs are much older of course. Many "Young Earth Creationists", try to argue that Dinosaurs and humans lived together no more than 6000 to 10,000 years ago. This is interesting considering that we have yet to find a single human fossil with a dinosaur one and various methods used to date the bones of dinosaurs and human fossils vary by tens of millions of years. Evolution predicts that NO human fossils will ever be found among Dinosaur ones. However, if the Great Biblical Flood story is true. One could argue that this is exactly what you would expect to see. Professor Kenneth Miller, a Christian, has been asked how does he accept evolution in light of his faith, his reply, "I do not believe that God is a liar." - Referring to the overwhelming scientific evidence of evolution.

How many of you have heard of the Human Genome Project (only one hand raised)

2.) The Human Genome Project is a project to map and identify all of our genes. It took 13 years to complete. It was completed in 2003. The HGP is more and more showing us our ancestry via our dna. A recent article in National Geographic showed how the HGP proved evolution by looking at allele changes in human ancestry. We know now for certain these changes happened and are happening still today. Did you know that some people cannot contract HIV? That's right.. because of evolution. In some people, they discovered a small cellular change in the cellular structure. This small and seemingly insignificant change in the structure of human cells disallows HIV to attach to it's hosts cell! The body isn't protecting itself! It just so happens that this cellular mutation protected the host from HIV infection and possibly similar viruses. 

Most of the religious community don't have a problem with most ideas about evolution. Slight changes of alleles within species is fine for many creationists. They consider this micro-evolution. Micro-evolution are those slight genetic changes that we have witnessed within a species. Now the problem many of the devout are having is with Macro-evolution, the idea that a species can produce offspring that, overtime, through many later generations can eventually produce a relative that's a complete distinct species. Example, an ape-like species giving rise to Chimps and Humans. However, we have actually observed some plant species, for instance, giving rise to new species in the lab and in the wild as well as insects. When enough allele changes occur within a species and that population is isolated with no new genetic material coming from it's distant cousins, speciation or macro-evolution occurs. Macro-Evolution and Micro-evolution is arguably the same thing! Time is the factor here. And depending on the organism, you can see it happen right before your eyes. :)


One huge smoking gun that most of you here probably haven't heard about are Endogenous Retrovirus insertions. Essentially a retrovirus can sometimes write itself into the DNA of our sex cells and that virus can pass itself along to the next generation, locking itself within our genome. But, because copying isn't perfect, as we mentioned earlier, you'll sometimes end up with a copy of the virus that cannot function but yet it's DNA is still there. Humans have thousands of these inactive insertions. 8% of our genome is composed of ERV's. To simplify, our ancestors passed on viral remants to us via sex.  Now.. here's the kicker! If evolution is false, two distinct and seperate species will NOT have the very same ERV's locked within their genome at the same place unless these organisms are related. However, we do! Humans, chimps, monkeys and gorillas share at least 14 similar insertions. Remember, these are passed on to us via sex! Evolutionary theory predicted we'd find these insertions only if common ancestry is true. We share a common lineage, to an ancestor that at one time contracted these diseases. We are related, cousins if you will, with other apes and primates! - Off Site Audio Link - 

The Vitamin C broken gene: Essentially, humans have a broken gene that disallows their bodies to produce Vitamin C. Cats and dogs, for instance, have bodies thanCAN produce Vitamin C. Now, what's interesting about this is that Apes and Chimps have the same broken gene, in exactly the same place! This is another smoking gun in that, at one time, we both had an ancestor that did have the ability to produce Vitamin C on it's own, but eventually the gene was broken/damaged to the point where we no longer possess the ability to produce Vitamin C. Now, why would we have the exact same broken gene? The best explanation would be that we both share a common ancestor that passed on this broken gene to us via sex. Some would claim that God did it. That this was the result of "the fall". But why would God give Apes and Chimps this broken gene? What did the Apes do to deserve this? :)

As a side note: Hamsters also cannot produce Vitamin C but their broken gene is an example of convergent evolution. Sometimes, organisms will have some similar genetic features even though they are not related. This is why you'd look specifically at where in the DNA sequence these similarities occur. It's different in Hamsters but it's in the same place in Chimps and Humans. Evidence that it was acquired via a common ancestor.

A ".... prediction from Common Descent is that there will be species that are highly similar, so that they are fairly obviously a group. And, when we talk about groups of groups, we will see one notch less similarity. For example, we group the tree species that give oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, tangelos, lemonades (a rounded fruit that's sweet like lemonade) and grapefruits. They're called citrus trees. We also group the stone fruit trees - those are the ones with peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, peachcots (a cross between peaches and apricots) or peacherines. Gardeners can graft a branch from an orange tree onto a lemon tree, and get it to grow, so that they then have a tree that grows both oranges and lemons. Gardeners can mix any two citrus trees, and they can mix apple varieties, or pear varieties. But apples and peaches don't mix." - Pulled from Is Evolution Science 

Mixing incompatible species such as Ducks and Beavers will give you the Platypus and we don't want that. :) Just Kidding guys.

Image of Chicken Teeth

Lastly, Chicken Teeth: Chickens have teeth! Yep! A few chickens have been found with teeth. One was found 50 years ago with teeth similar to a Crocodile. It's a mutant chicken called a Talpid. But here's the clincher! Scientists can actually turn on the gene that express teeth in normal chickens and cause teeth to grow. How in the world is this possible if evolution isn't true!? It's pretty much widely accepted that birds and reptiles share a common ancestor. Teeth genes in chickens prove this. This is another smoking gun of the truth of evolution. Genes can ONLY express certain morphologies if they are setup to express them. Though cool! There is no gene for humans to grow wings for instance.  Chickens have a common ancestor that at one time had teeth. This, is a fact!!

Okay, now that the hard stuff is out of the way. I'll go on ahead and address the rest of Mr. Lamars questions, should go by fast at this point.

II. - IDENTITY - Who I'm I?

I am Reginald Vaughn Finley, Sr. A name given to me by parents. It means, Little King. I am the result of natural biology, a product of love, a form of the Universe. I am a portion of the Universe asking itself, how did we get here?

III. - Purpose and Meaning? What is the point of it all?

There is no ultimate point. No ultimate meaning. We make meaning for ourselves. We create purpose for ourselves. Even the religious do the same. They create a purpose for themselves by worshipping a God. Luckily, we all have similar purposes and meaning. This allows us to work together, build communities and develop and maintain a moral society.

IV. - Morality: How should we act.

We should act according to what trial and error/history,science has taught us about how to live together and how to preserve our lives. We are social beings by nature, humans cannot survive alone. It makes sense that we would evolve social mechanisms that would aid in the species' survival. If not.. we would have gone extinct long ago. We see this in many other animals species as well. Rabbits just don't go around willy-nilly killing off other rabbits. They'd go extinct. This goes against their biological make up. :) Mentally healthy humans have these same safeguards as well.

As an atheist, I am open to modification of moral laws as we gain more knowledge about how our world works and what works best for our survival. Racism, for instance.. is a direct result/and continuation of ignorance of basic biology. Racism today is considered to be quite an immoral stance... wasn't always so. As more and more understanding of human "race" on a biological level is gained..  humans can begin to treat each other better. It used to be quite accepted to kill people with mental illnesses. Folks thought they may have been demon possessed or the devil himself. Now, thanks to science, we know better.

I do right because, one, it feels good, luckily.. my genes haven't dictated that my particular form do harm. Two, On a conscious level, I see that doing harm isn't beneficial for me or my family. I am smart enough to realize that doing harm actually thwarts my biological drive to work with others, raise my young, and be generally happy. Which most people wish as well. Unfortuately, some people don't understand that doing right by people is the best way to be happy. Many of our violent offenders in our prison system, for instance, are "mentally unhealthy"...through science.. we can now give them adequate medical care instead of conducting excorcisms.

As most of you surely know, religious beliefs tend to be quite stagnant and they don't like to be moved on doctrinal issues, especially moral ones. Religions will never be able to refine and advance moral issues as long as they continue to believe they are absolutely right. If the foundation is stagnant, it can never evolve to become better than it is. We have all probably heard the saying, "the Bible said it, that settles it, I believe it." What if the Bible said that atheists simply cannot do any good, are evil etc. Would you believe that as well? Oh wait, as we discovered earlier.. it does, in Psalm 14:1! You all said you don't believe that. You have evolved past the ignorance of that biblical statement. That's something to be proud of.

V. How will it all end?

1.) If history and experience pan-out, we can inductively conclude that, we die. The case could be that we could extend our lives, but ultimately.. for the individual, he cannot be sure. But death is a viable reality, a fate of which most of us are certain to visit. I'd love to live as long as I wish. I understand that this most likely will not be the case. As such, I try to make the most out of my life here, now, today. And doing positive things increases my chances of living a happy life until the end.
2.) As far as "the end" relating to the Universe itself... let's just put it this way. The Universe (if to mean Existence) can never, "not exist".
3.) At this point, some will say, "We'll Reggie, Christianity answers all of these questions... with ease!"  Well, having an answer, doesn't mean it's the right one. Many religions have their own answers about how our world will end, how it began. And they have there own doctrines about what happens to their soul. Are their answers right simply because they believe they have them? We must have reasons for our answers, and having truly good answers, are even better.

VI. Is There a Supreme power? God? Many Gods?

I know that there are greater forces, powers in the Universe. The question is, is this power conscious? And how do we know this? Do we really believe there is a being that would help you get an "A" on a test or your mom a new car... but not relieve millions of children dying of cancer, starvation, plague or even stop Tsunamis which kill 100s of thousands of devout believers? I think not, unless this being is uncaring, immoral, amoral or indifferent. Hmm... amoral sounds like the non-conscious Universe again. 

Does Yahweh exist? No... no at all. I'm pretty certain of that. 100% certain in fact. Just as I'm certain that there are no red-spotted singing lizards in my back pocket right now... or wet dragons flying in the Sun's corona.

Other Gods? Well, all of the ones I have heard of... No. Those of which I haven't been exposed to.. I cannot make a determination for I haven't heard a description of this entity? I remain a theological non-cognitivist on a god of which I haven't been exposed. However.. I am still an atheist because I don't believe in them either.

If we have time.. I am now ready for questions.. thank you.




NOTES: If time permits, other topics of interest.

Issues:

1.) Souls - material vs immaterial
2.) Heaven / Hell - Origins



ARGUMENT FOR NON-BELIEF ASSUMING THE CHRISTIAN GOD EXISTS 
1.) The Christian God wants all men to know he exists so that they can be saved and go to Heaven.
2.) The Christian God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnibenevolent.
3.) The Christian God knows what sufficient evidences he can provide to convince all men of his existence.
4.) Not all men are convinced of God's existence.
5.) The Christian God chooses to not provide sufficient evidence to convince all men that he exists.
6.) Therefore, The Christian God wants non-believers to exist.

NOTE: Atheists are non-Christians so this argument can be used to argue for atheism as well. [1] can be argued against on the outset, however, if one argues against this position, this would mean that God creates people just to go to hell. Doesn't sound like an all-good God to me. Most Calvinists will not have a problem with this or JW's, however, many Christians will find this disturbing. A typical rebuttle would be that God wishes for you to choose him freely. So he wants you to believe, but providing incontrovertible evidence would negate faith. Which God requires. The problem with this argument of course is that all religions have faith. So faith alone cannot lead people to the "right" God. Surely a God would know this. If so, he wants atheists to exist.

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Reginald Finley Sr